In the Hands
Paul Cantrell’s music
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Piano music old and new from a devoted amateur,
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Brahms Waltz Op 39 No 15

At the New Year’s Eve party my family has been attending for the last … oh, at least 20 years, we have a tradition of doing waltzes. By “doing,” I don’t much mean dancing — sadly, only a few brave souls do that — but playing them, since it’s a musical crowd and it’s easy to form a pickup group. (It’s another instance of the sort of informal playing together, not playing for, that I wrote about in Comparing Notes.) Waltzes for the new year are a tradition our hosts imported from Austria…

Chopin Etude 25.1

The word “étude” means study — a practice piece, designed to exercise a particular technique. Études for musicians are generally dry, repetitious pieces, not music to perform, but just exercises for practice. So Chopin’s choice of that title may seem a little understated, or even ironic: his études certainly do exercise one’s technique, but they are expressive, poetic, passionate, and anything but dry.

I think the title fits beautifully: shouldn’t learning always be this way?

An interesting aspect of the piece I work to bring…

Chopin Nocturne 15.2

It’s organic, and sounds almost improvised — except that it is impossibly perfect in every detail. Its soundscape is vast, deep, and richly pianistic, but look at the construction and you’ll see the spare elegance of Bach. It has a loving tenderness, and a longing, that’s unlike anything else, yet seems instantly familiar. And it’s gorgeous.

What is it? Chopin, of course!

There’s nothing quite like learning to play a piece of music to really get inside it. With this one, like many I’ve shared here, I knew it was excellent…

Brahms Intermezzo 116.4

Something sweet today: a bit of magic from Brahms.

Brahms
Cantrell

These late Brahms pieces — same with the first recording in this blog — are amazing to me as a composer. They sound lush, but the writing is actually quite spare and elemental. The structures are at once formal and organic, like Bach preludes. And the incredible emotional intimacy, their sense of being so personal, is like no other music I know.

This was the first Brahms I ever learned to play. It looked to me like a relatively…

Improvisation: Rozer

Today’s improv is a bit of fun with one of my favorite sounds from extended piano technique, made by damping a low string with a finger or two at about the point where the copper winding ends. This sound also makes a prominent appearance in the second movement of The Broken Mirror of Memory.

Cantrell

I have been practicing some new material to record, and I’m getting the piano tuned later this week in anticipation of actually recording it. So stick around — I hope to have a few treats for you in February!

Improvisation: Alcova

Shelter. A safe place.

Cantrell

I’m returning from Colorado tomorrow, but it will likely be a while before my piano is back in tune and I’m recording again. Will the blog go silent, you ask? Fear not! I recorded a little round of improvs a few weeks ago, so that’s likely what you’ll be hearing here for the next couple of weeks.

When I post a bunch of improvs in a row like this, part of me cringes at them starting to feel like filler material — but I set out to post recordings twice a week, and by golly, I’m sticking to that! So I hope you can enjoy…

Todd Harper: Questions

Perhaps it would have been better if I’d just admitted to myself (and the world) that I’d be taking the summer off from In the Hands. But where’s the fun without the suspense?

Here’s what I currently have in the pipeline (not necessarily in this order):

  • Some newly composed pieces of my own.
  • A new recording of at least some part of The Broken Mirror of Memory, my bass clarinet / piano work.
  • A fine new recording from Don Betts.
  • The remaining remasterings of my older recordings.

…And that’s my autumn of music…

Sueoka
Harper
Minczeski
Cantrell

The Broken Mirror of Memory (cello version), 2nd mvmt

This is one movement of my cello piece, The Broken Mirror of Memory. Unlike most of the recordings in this blog, this isn’t a recording from my home studio, but rather from a concert at Macalester. And yes, I admit, it’s actually an old recording (2003), which is sort of cheating on this whole “two new recordings every week” scheme — but it is at least previously unreleased, so I hope you’ll enjoy it anyway.

The cellist is Diana Frazier, a family friend who was just wonderful in taking…

The Monster's Theme

In college, I won an award from the Math/CS department for being the most outstanding procrastinator of my senior class. I don’t think it’s exactly fair to say that I procrastinate, though; I’m just perpetually late. My life is like a finely tuned Swiss watch that’s set to the wrong time.

So I finally got around to putting The Monster from Keys Please! up on the site. To celebrate the occasion, here’s the opening number in its original, bare, single-piano form:

Compare that with the full-on decked…

Chopin Nocturne 55.1

You probably were all wondering when I’d get to some Chopin, no? Well, wonder no longer! Voici!

This piece is a subtle, spare thing, and its spareness makes it much more difficult than it sounds. Listening to this recording again, I think I could play some sections better now; perhaps I’ll record it again in the future. A really fine piece of music is a lifelong exploration, so I’m certainly not opposed to posting new versions of pieces I’ve already recorded! Still, this recording is decent — the idea of the music certainly comes across, and people do seem to enjoy this version.…

Improvisation: Lusk

A mysterious improv: snaking, atmospheric, perpetually unresolved … sort of … lusky. What can I say? The word seems right.

Cantrell

My family has always loved Wyoming names, particularly three neighboring towns we’d sometimes see driving between Colorado and Minnesota: Lusk, Lingle and Torrington. Such fine words! They’ve long been part of our family lexicon, and I’ve dedicated my first three improvs to them to help…

Improvisation: Niobrara

The Niobrara River starts in Wyoming and flows through Nebraska. Wikipedia tells me that the original native name in the Omaha-Ponca language, Ní Ubthátha khe, means something akin to “water spread out horizontally” or “wide-spreading waters.”

I did not know that when I chose the title; the word’s music simply seemed to me to fit my piano’s music. Though it’s accidental, it seems to me that the visual fits.

Cantrell

I later produced a remix of this piece, with an…

Nomade à Clef

I don’t usually write jazz tunes, but my friend Todd asked me to write one for him. It sounded like fun, and he had written several great pieces for me, so I took up the challenge. Nomade à Clef is the result.

Todd premiered it at this year’s Keys Please, with David Edminster on tenor sax, and I think they did just a marvelous job with it. They really made it fly. I only wrote a lead sheet (just melody and chords) with a bare-bones piano part underneath to suggest voicings in the piano …

Cantrell
Edminster
Harper

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…

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 Outside and the Inside

Last night in tango class, Florencia was trying to impress upon us leaders the importance of learning to follow as well, so we know what the dance feels like to the followers, and so we have a chance to feel what the really good leaders do. You can’t just learn by watching, she explains, because so much of what’s in the body’s motion isn’t apparent to the eye. “Sometimes, you’ll see somebody dancing and they look really good, but then you dance with them and ugh!” — she screws up her face — “it feels terrible!” Conversely, many…

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.

Improvisation: Wyarno

I can’t decide: is this one emotionally charged, walking in an unfamiliar place, breath held? Or is it something moving without human intention, like water flowing beneath the ice, seen through human eyes?

Cantrell

Hmm. I think this one went on too long, but I do like the ending.

Disembodied Dance (very rough)

I have been busy applying for a fellowship, and also writing writing writing more music. Here is a new one in the set of dances I’ve been working on — as with the others I’ve recorded, a rough performance (there’s a section in the middle that is horrendously hobbled together), but enough to give you the idea. (The score.)

This is probably the weirdest, most abstract thing I’ve ever written. I love it. But be warned: those of you who found the

The Broken Mirror of Memory, Part 1

The Kickstarter project for The Broken Mirror of Memory has passed its first major milestone! I’m now able to pay for printing the CD, and distributing in online music stores. Huzzah!! In celebration, and as a huge thank you to all the awesome backers who have pitched in so far, I’m posting part 1 (out of 4) of the piece.

Here it is!

This music comes right out of the gate at full speed, the piano and the bass clarinet in a…

Chopin F minor Fantasy (introduction)

Here’s a preview of a piece I’m working on — this is the march that opens Chopin’s Fantasty. The whole piece is quite an epic (about 14 minutes), and rather difficult, so I’m not going to be posting the whole thing in the near future.

This opening, however, is neither so long nor so difficult, and so I’m posting a rough version of it as a little appetizer. It almost stands as a little piece on its own, but right where I stop in this recording, instead of winding to a close, the music takes off full throttle.

In the future…