Piano Off the Page Class

I had my first class piano lesson last night. It is called Piano Off the Page, and it is basically a piano improvisation class through the University of Wisconsin Extension (Continuing Studies Program).

There are four people in the class, including me, but not including the teacher (she makes five). We each get to play on a real feel piano with weighted keys and we have headphones on so our biffery is not made public to the entire group.

I really enjoyed the first class and I think the skill level is a good fit for me. Basically, over six weeks, we will take four or five pretty easy but well know songs (Amazing Grace, Danny Boy, House of the Rising Sun, etc.) and learn to improvise on them, given only the melody line and the chord progression.

Already, after the first class, I feel like I made good progress. We just focused on roots and fifths of the chords. The songs are so easy and the melodies are so recognizable, that it simplifies the technical aspect of actually playing the songs and allows me to think about the improvisation part of it a lot more.

I had been taking private lessons for a while to learn jazz, and even though I liked the teacher, I was getting very frustrated because he was giving me very technically advanced songs to learn and they were ones that I was not as familiar with, so I spent a lot of time and energy just learning the songs and had very little brain bandwidth left for improvising. Basically, he was pushing me too hard and I couldn't make progress so I felt like I was failing.

But this class starts very basic and is for people with rudimentary piano skills, like me. The keys of the songs are ones with a lot of white keys and the melodies are easy to read and embellish. I can work on proper fingering too.

With these simple recognizable songs, I can actually think about expanding what I can do with the keyboard. So I am looking forward to the remaining classes and practicing some more.

That said, I have to miss next Tuesday's class because I am going to see King Crimson at the Barrymore Theater with a buddy, Bryon, who is coming to town. The teacher said we can play catchup on the missed material, which will focus on bass lines next week. As a decent bass player, I understand bass lines. But I understand them on bass, and piano is a different animal for me, so I still feel like I could benefit from the class material.

I biked to the class last night, but I won't be able to do that for long. It gets dark a lot earlier, and I think we put the clocks back an hour soon. Plus, it is getting colder outside.


The Next Couple of Weeks

The next couple of weeks culminates with a dog-friendly camping trip somewhere up in northern Wisconsin.

I can't lie...I enjoy the fall. At least, the early part of it when the cool winds descend from the northern plains, and the rains take on a knowing aire. Joni Mitchell captured this feeling in her song, "Urge for Goin'."

By the same token, "I'd like to call back Summertime, and have her stay for just another month...or so. But she's got the urge for goin'...so I guess she'll have to go."

I do get the urge for going when summertime starts fallin' down. I think it's genetic. Nomadic. Maybe even Gypsy.

Come to find my paternal ancestry is eastern European (thanks 23 and Me!). So there could be some Gypsy in there. I think a case can be made for genetic wanderlust. After all, my dad's ancestors ended up in Australia. That's some serious mobility.

Conversely, I have always felt more anchored to my existence due to my mom's no nonsense approach to life. Her ancestry is English and probably Irish (thanks 23 and Me!). These ancestors were island folk, forced to make due with limited resources in a small land area. It is no wonder her ancestors made their way to North America to seek better fortunes. An island can only support a finite population and this means that a larger percentage of island populations are forced to become innovators and creators.

I think I get my creativity and my grounding from my mom, although these two forces are sometimes at odds. Grounding usually wins. But the wanderlust is driven by the genes of both of the gametes that formed the zygote that eventually led to my current state of preparing for a camping trip almost a fortnight hence.

Travel is in my genes and I am compelled to it, especially when late fall transitions into winter proper and I long for the tropics. I get to fully indulge this compulsion this year when I travel to Australia in late November with my entire extended family. It is going to be awesome.

It is times like these when I give thanks to the cosmos that I am in a great place in my life. My contract job allows me to offer my skill set to those in need in exchange for cash, without all the drama of full time, long term employment, and I can travel at will.

Sometimes I don't see how good I have it. Then I do, and I am happy.

Anyway, between now and the camping trip some good things are happening.

My band, GUPPY EFFECT, is playing a show as part of BUBBLE MUSIC FEST in Madison WI. We are playing a set at the Rigby, a downtown pub with an apparent Beatles theme. We don't have that many Beatles songs, but we are such a good band that we managed to hash out a few at band practice tonight.

We will do a punk rock version of HELP, a ska version of HIDE YOUR LOVE AWAY, and a fairly traditional albeit better version of TAXMAN.

The band will probably hit the town on Friday night, before we play, to check out some of the other bands.

On Sunday, September 14, there is a big social bike ride being hosted by the Capital Brewery (of whose bike club I am now a member), followed by Oktoberfest (or, if you will, Rocktoberfest...and you will) celebrations. I think a bunch of my Madison biking pals will be participating in this, weather permitting.

Well, that's about it. Signing off.




I got a decent night of sleep last night, in part because I went to bed at a decent hour.

My sleep has been restless lately, and I’m not sure why. Life is good. Work is enjoyable. I am having fun living in Madison.

It is unclear why I wake up during the night and feel like I do not get deep sleep.

Maybe the Yellowstone caldera volcano is going to erupt soon, and like a wild animal of the forest, I somehow sense it at a deeper level and it agitates me.

However, that seems like a stretch.

It is probably more likely to do with things I want to accomplish and have not yet.

For example, I want to order some temporary tattoos for the band, but I never seem to find the time to do it.

I have an idea for a community service organization I want to start (top secret), but I need to find time to make business cards and t-shirts.

I want to get back into practicing piano.

These are little trivial things. But perhaps they add up and put unrest into my conscious mind.

I am going to go and meditate in the COMFORT ROOM at work for 30 minutes or so. Hopefully, that will ease whatever is keeping me from getting solid sleep.

But last night, I do feel I slept well. I got a full eight hours and only woke up briefly a couple of times.

I suspect I will not sleep soundly tonight, mainly because there are supposed to be severe thunderstorms all night and the mayhem will probably cut through the solace offered by my earplugs.