In the Hands
Paul Cantrell’s music
blog & podcast
Piano music old and new from a devoted amateur,
all free to listen to, download, and share.

Chopin Nocturne 15.3

One of the most fundamental, most important principles in music is return: when things happen, they come back. Throughout a piece of music, there are recurring elements that unite the whole. The beginning and the end connect. If we depart from where we started, we return there — or at least look back.

The familiar verse / chorus / bridge form that underlies so many pop songs follows this principle: we might get a new melody, the bridge (“Why she had to leave, I don’t know”), but we still come back to the original repeating verse / chorus music (“Yesterday…”). Many, many classical…

Schumann Bunte Blätter 6

I’m just back today from a wonderful, wonderful trip to NYC and New Haven, CT, which was a reminder of just how wonderful family and friendship are. And although I’m really looking forward to sleeping in my own bed (I’ve been up since 5:20 AM Minnesota time), I did manage to edit and master tonight something I’d recorded beforehand for you.

Schumann
Cantrell

As I mentioned last week, I’m working on a set of short pieces, and in that set, I’m thinking constantly of Schumann. He wrote many sets of short…

Bach Invention 6

I love the word “invention” — it may capture what’s going on in the pieces of music it names better than any title I know of. What’s this? It’s just an idea, a creative spark. Bach has fun, and he’s sharing.

Just an idea: one scale coming up, one going down, alternating steps. And from that idea, a little world unfolds.

Bach
Cantrell

Schubert D946.1, played by Don Betts

I’m a fellow of diverse musical tastes, and there are a great many composers I love who don’t appear in the meager list over on the right of this page. So it’s a delight to post this recording, because I get to add a “Schubert” category. Yay for Schubert!

This is another one of the recordings I made in the living room of my teacher, Don Betts. He’s playing a little gem of Schubert’s that one doesn’t hear often — in fact, I’d never heard it at all until he played it for me. When I looked up some recordings by others, I was surprised to find that most people play it very fast, even

Carei Thomas: The Usual Topic

Here is a second selection from this year’s Keys Please to follow Todd’s little musical rattlesnake adventure. This is an improvisation by Carei Thomas, the rattlesnake’s narrator, now on piano. I thought — and he said afterward — that there was a little nod to my own funny little improvs in this one, especially in the way it starts with a very low note and a very high one … but it’s definitely a Carei thing!

Some improvs have a definite form (head…

Improvisation: Jelm

Crystalizing, particle by particle.

Cantrell

That’s the last of the January improvaganza. I’ve been composing day and night (and it’s a perfect night for it tonight: new snow and a near-full moon!), and that will yield some new recordings just as soon as I manage to get some of these new pieces learned. But next time, I have a quirky little treat in the works for you. No, no, it’s a secret. Only Joel knows.

Northwoods Police Report

After a cold (which left my voice in bad shape for podcasting) and MinneBar (which was a great pleasure), it’s back to In the Hands! I’m continuing from last time the series of recordings I made recently with soprano Kim Sueoka of songs by Todd Harper.

For several years, Todd has been writing songs full of the sort of jazz changes that are his roots, but as much in the tradition of lieder as anything. He always makes them short…

Sueoka
Harper
Cantrell

Improvisation: Torrington Lope

Today’s improv is a quirky, silly little thing — a lopsided dance for good (if uneven) measure. I encourage you to invent some dance steps to go with it, and post any here that didn’t result in physical injury.

Cantrell

The Broken Mirror of Memory, Part 2

The Broken Mirror of Memory is now released! (Fanfare!) And the best place to get it is straight from the artist. (That’s me!)

In this episode is one track from the new album. This is part 2; you heard part 1 in the last episode.

The bass clarinet has a kind of talking quality throughout part 2 that involves some unusual sounds you might not have heard before. You’ll hear a few bends and microtonal adjustments, and in many spots, Pat actually sings through…

The Broken Mirror of Memory (cello version), 4th mvmt

Here is the fourth movement of The Broken Mirror of Memory, with Diana Frazier on cello. The second movement, the one from Saturday’s post, comes straight out of the cello, and all the extraordinary sounds it can make. (It also serves as a break for the pianist, who has rather an exhausting job in the first movement.) This movement doesn’t have all those wild sounds; it is pure and unabashed melodic counterpoint, a melody that’s been there playing all along throughout the piece. But listen closely — that second movement…

In a Perfectly Wounded Sky

Today’s recording is a composition of my own, which I see I play a bit faster than I did three years ago. I like the new version — I think the faster tempo in the middle sustains the structural momentum a bit better — but of course I may have changed my mind about that three years from now. That’s the fun of interpretation: it’s never done!

The title is based on my mishearing of a Tori Amos lyric (from Cruel). I generally go for titles that are evocative and somehow seem to fit, without actually having any clear meaning that listeners will try…

Dance for Remembering and Forgetting (rough)

Here’s another piece from the suite of dances I’m working on, the same set which also includes the Entropic Waltz and Cradle Waltz.

The composition, which was tricky, has actually been done for a while … but learning to play it has proved quite a bit of work! Though it may not sound like it, the piece is quite difficult — it has different layers moving in different registers of the keyboard, and so playing it essentially involves using two hands to create the illusion of three or four.

Manic Dance (rough)

Things may have been quiet on the blog, but I’ve been doing tons of music work lately. The recent round of Zo went well: I took a bit of a risk playing mostly pieces that were fresh out of the practice oven (or, in a couple of cases, still baking), but people seemed to enjoy it, and I was certainly satisfied.

(If you want to know about future concerts, you should get on the mailing list.)

Concerts done, I’m now composing day and night, quite productively. I now have a complete first draft of my set of dances! The last big obstacle was…

How I make recordings

Several people had expressed an interest in how I make my recordings — so I posted an explanation of my methods that includes far, far more detail than anybody actually wanted.

I’ve tried to include enough technical detail to make it genuinely useful to others setting out to record pianos and/or set up home studios, but I also tried to keep the discussion at least semi-approachable to the casually interested but not technically inclined. Whichever of those categories you fall into, I hope you’ll find it interesting.

The Internet and the Future of Art

Last weekend, I lead a session at MinneBar in which I talked about my experiences producing In the Hands, my sense of the past relationships between art and society, and my wishes for the future. The audience joined in, and it was a very interesting 40 minutes of discussion.

Tim Wilson has very kindly made an audio recording of the session available on They Savvy Technologist. He did a good job of capturing a very interactive session with only a single…

The Music is the Mission

Tucked into today’s encouraging tidbits of news about the Twin Cities orchestras is one telling detail. The MN Orchestra board wants to restore the organization’s mission statement to its former proper state (they removed the word “orchestra” last year, if you can believe…

Piano in a hurricane

During hurricane Sandy, I tweeted (yes, I have a Twitter account; can you believe it?) about how wonderful it is that pianos still work when the power is out. Turns out that while I was thinking it, one In the Hands listener was living it. I will let him tell his story in his own words:

Since we last emailed…. we were hit with Hurricane Sandy. (I live in Jersey City NJ just outside of NYC). If you followed the news… we were basically in a war zone out here without power, heat, phone, internet…

Chopin Preludes 4 and 9 (as a pair)

Visiting the house of my composer friend Matthew Smith (who has an outstanding CD out now, by the way), I noticed the score to Chopin’s E minor prelude out on the piano. It turns out that his wife, children’s book illustrator and author Lauren Stringer, is taking piano lessons, and she has been working on it. I was delighted — the piece is a favorite of mine. I dug out my recording of it for her to hear…

Noah’s Song

I wrote this piece for a former piano student of mine. He was (and presumably still is) exceptionally thoughtful, patient, and sensitive for an eight-year-old; in fact, he had the better of most adults I’ve known in those respects. I wanted a piece that would give him a chance to be really musical — he had the right stuff for it — but was within his technical reach and within the physical limitations of the birth defect in his right hand. So this is what I came up with.

Cantrell

He did learn it, and played it quite nicely. This, of course,…

Chopin Prelude 4

To conclude this trip down prelude memory lane (at least for the time being), here is the veeery first piece I worked on with Don Betts. I’ve actually hardly played this one since that first year of lessons, but I found it came back quickly. Is playing a piece like riding a bicycle? Maybe a little.

Don always gives this one to his beginner students. At the time, although I’d had piano lessons for many years as a child, and had recently played piano in a dixie band, I was still really a beginner in many ways. I’d brought Louis Lortie’s recording of…

Todd Harper: Rattlesnake Song #2

Things don’t look good for me to create more new piano recordings in my home studio in the immediate future, so I’m going to have to stall — but I figure I might at least stall with something good!

This is a piece from the most recent Keys Please! concert. It adds a nice little bit of variation to the blog: not only is it not Cantrell, Chopin, or Brahms, but … it doesn’t even have a piano in it! (Yes, I’m really going out on a limb.) It’s also stylistically different from what I’ve published so far, hopefully in a refreshing…

Harper
Ultan
Thomas