Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Another Recital and Related Thoughts

I played the Piano at a small recital organised in my teacher's home last month. This was my second recital this year. I played two pieces - Theme and Variations by Theodore Kullak and Rocking Horse Ride (Opus 98, No. 5) by Alexander Gretchaninov. Kullak's piece presents a theme followed by five variations of that theme. The hand positions are fixed and the tempo increases in the fourth and fifth variations. 'Rocking Horse Ride' is taken from Gretchaninov's 'Children's Book'. It tells about a rocking horse that starts off slowly enough but soon accelerates and almost rocks too far. But all is well in the end.

The single most important difference from my previous recital was my increased confidence. This was not entirely surprising given that I had prepared myself better this time around. It helped that I had been out of work for a couple of weeks before D-Day. And I forced myself to take a quick nap in the afternoon before the event. It was a refreshing contrast from the previous before-recital afternoon when I was tightly wound up and excited.

All of it paid off in the end. I did not mess up any notes but I did feel that I could have done better on the dynamics.

On a related note I was told that my music practice had noticeably improved ever since I left my job. This was a bit surprising especially since I had not drastically lengthened my practice sessions. I think reduced stress levels made most of the difference. In retrospect I can see that work had been so draining that I had become used to being perpetually wound up and did not notice how it was degrading the quality of my life.

I don't seem to be the alone in being stressed out. I learned from my teacher that there was a time when recitals were far more frequent. According to her pupils these days (that includes me) take much longer to get ready for a recital. She stressed how barely half a generation ago pupils - who were also at school, had a job or were otherwise busy - were somehow able to find time to do justice to music. With every passing year pupils seem to have less and less time to practice, or indeed to focus on anything much outside work.

I have decided to actively combat stress the next time I start working a job. This would mean working regular hours, leaving work behind on stepping out of the office, learning to turn off my phone after hours and during weekends. I don't know how I'll achieve all these but I certainly am not going to let work deprive me of life again.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

State of the Sabbatical

Yesterday marked the end of the first month of my sabbatical. I used the opportunity to sit back and take stock of how far I have progressed towards achieving my goals. For the record I started on my sabbatical aiming to achieve the following before November:
  1. Work through Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs (SICP), exercises and all
  2. Learn to play Muzio Clementi's Sonatina in C Major (Opus 36 No. 1) well enough to give a recital
  3. Read one (non fiction) book every fortnight
Here follows then a quick summary of the state of the sabbatical.

At the time of writing this I have completed the first of five chapters of SICP and started on the second. I am presently working on the second of three movements of the Sonatina. I finished reading 'The Audacity of Hope' and am looking for another book.

Working through SICP is proving to be an eye opener. The exercises look deceptively simple until you try to work them out. I was *very* frustrated in the beginning but am learning relax and re-focus. Some of the ideas took a while to wrap my mind around due to various factors. I had never worked in Scheme before and found it difficult to write programs without explicit looping constructs and variable assignment. For this reason the Chapter 1 exercises dealing with converting recursive procedures to iterative and vice-versa troubled me for several days. I was shocked to notice how long it took me to understand and digest fundamental concepts like lambda. Easy work in enterprise software for 8 plus years seems to have damaged most of my gray cells :(

The Sonatina is proving tough to crack. The first movement was relatively simple. But then came the second movement with its triplets, trills and one-sixteenth notes. It quickly deprived me of the warm glow of working through the first. So far I have hammed my way through five lines. The last line is adamantly refusing to submit.

'The Audacity of Hope' is a very engrossing read. It is rare to see a politician writing for himself without relying on ghost writers. It was evident after reading the book that Senator Obama can not only write for himself but matches his words with sharp thought and keen observations.

That is all in this week's report. More soon.