A Grand Day

Yamaha C7X E3 Pro

Today was an indescribably grand day, not withstanding my burnt toast breakfast. Weighing 913 pounds and measuring 7’6″, my very own Yamaha grand piano was delivered from Japan and now sits in my formal living room. And it’s practically perfect in every way.

This majestic piano sings with refined grace, and as my hands glide on the keys, the hammers respond to my nuanced expressions and forceful fortissimo. The rich sound diffuses into the room with its vaulted ceiling shared with the kitchen and throughout my multi-level house. As I write this, the piano is actually performing on its own, aided by piano player technology in which I can record my musical stylings or play others’ performances and control its playback via iPhone. And the keys and pedals move, directed by an invisible muse.

Growing up, I took 12 years of piano lessons beginning at the age of six. Our family’s Kawai piano stood upright in the center of the household activity, next to the fish tank and kitchen table. As I practiced in the mornings before school, burnt toast was an often familiar smell…the result of an unattended toaster in the daily race to get dressed, comb hair, eat breakfast and finish farm chores. It happened regularly enough, that burnt toast became my psychological cue to calm my nerves before music performances or public speaking.

“Burnt toast!” I’d pencil atop my sheet music and speech index cards. That and “Sit Down” since in my early years, I sometimes began playing my recital and contest pieces before I was sitting on the bench! So, it seems rather appropriate that my new piano is next to the kitchen in my house, and it will be awesome for entertaining.

In addition to posting photos on my blog, one focus for 2013 will be documenting the creative process of my fourth music album. Since grad school, daily piano playing has taken a backseat to life’s other adventures. In fact, I haven’t composed or arranged any finished music in five years due to lack of time, and hopefully my brain will rain with ideas on this musical drought. Ironic as it may sound, part of that is committing regular time for spontaneous creativity.

At any rate, the house is alive with music once more—burnt toast and all.


Yamaha grand piano C7XYamaha grand piano keys

The Spots


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Tonight was the first ever corporate choir sing-off at Minneapolis’ summer Music & Movies in the Parks at Lake Harriet. You see, I’m one of 30+ members in the Target choir, The Spots. We were joined by choirs from General Mills, Wells Fargo and Ameriprise in a program titled “Sing United,” in which we each sang 4-5 numbers as individual choirs and joined together for four choral pieces. In other words, it was on like Regionals in Glee.

I’m fortunate Target offers many networking groups and encourages team members to be themselves and focus on all aspects of well-being. Or as they say during orientation, “Be You. Be Target.” The Spots is one of those networks, and our summer season began in late February. We’ve been learning the music and the choreography to nine songs at our twice a week, lunch-hour rehearsals and our all-day boot camp in June. Yep, we’re that dedicated to creating quality music. It’s a lot of time invested, but it’s a lot of fun, a lot of laughter and many new friendships. The Spots mostly perform for internal meetings, though we usually have a few public performances.

At Lake Harriet, the energy was palpable with grins ear-to-ear, the acoustics were sharp, and a summer breeze swept in from the lake. The Spots’ tight harmonies wove through the electric night air, fortified by measures in unison, and our arms and feet moved with the beat. We sang a little Motown (Up the Ladder to the Roof), some Bollywood (Jai Ho from Slumdog Millionaire), some Swahili (Baba Yetu), Taio Cruz’s fist-pumping Dynamite, and the Beatles (With a Little Help from My Friends). It was one of my favorite musical moments in recent memory.

And if there had been a Glee-esque panel of judges, I’m certain my friends and I would be heading to Nationals.


Buskers


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When I leave the office each day, I never quite know what kind of gypsy show I’m gonna find on Nicollet Avenue. I say that in the most endearing sense possible. I dropped an Abe Lincoln before snapping some shots, as this group went to town jamming on their (improvised) instruments. I talked with these buskers between songs and learned their band name is “Hateful Bread and the Corn Babies.” Hmm…no more questions.

Video of “Hateful Bread and the Corn Babies” performing on Brady Street in Milwaukee.

Pianos on Parade

Pianos on Parade
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I did a double take the other day, after noticing an upright piano on the sidewalk next to the Dakota jazz club. That afternoon, I found another decorated piano in City Center. Was it a case of orphaned pianos? No. Turns out, it’s part of Pianos on Parade, a project that places ‘artistically transformed’ pianos around the Twin Cities in outdoor locations for all to play and enjoy. Isn’t that nifty?

Pianos on Parade is spearheaded by Keys 4/4 Kids, a local nonprofit that refurbishes and sells donated pianos. Through mid-September, the Twin Cities will host 20 unique and colorful pianos, inviting people to spontaneously engage with art, music, and one another. But wait, there’s more. As an added bonus, open the piano bench to participate in the free music exchange. You might find a booklet of music by Minnesota composers (as I did), or someone’s gently used sheet music donation.

Pianos on Parade

Blue Chicago

Blue Chicago
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A busy “life after 5” today. First on the agenda was a brown bag apple pie and a Green Line pale ale at P.J. Clarke’s with a social media benchmarking friend. Simply delicious on both counts. Then, I had a cajun dinner at Heaven on Seven with two fellow McDonald’s alumni. Lastly, as I was hunting for my daily photo on Michigan Avenue at 9pm, I literally ran into some connections in front of the Wrigley building and they were headed to a blues show. Hard to believe, but I’d never seen a blues show in Chicago! We ended up at cozy club, Blue Chicago, and there was a lively crowd of mixed ages to cheer on Shirley Johnson. Surprisingly I even knew several songs. We stayed until 12:30am and then decided to order Rosati’s pizza at a late-night spot one block away. Full night, for certain.

 

Hennepin Theatre District

Pantages Theatre
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I love magic, and I love the arts. So, it’s probably no surprise that I love the magic of the theater. Hennepin Theatre Trust, which manages the Orpheum, Pantages, State and New Century Theatres, offers tours on the 2nd Saturday and last Monday of the month. You’ll be able to see whatever theaters aren’t currently featuring a production. Summers have a slower schedule, so I was excited to see the big three on Hennepin Ave.

The Pantages–which now seats 1,014–opened in 1916 as a vaudeville house and part of Greek immigrant Alexander Pantages’ renowned consortia of theatres. The Pantages’ first show was a vaudeville lineup that included singers, comedians and a banjo player.

The State Theatre–which seats 2,181–opened in 1921 and was then considered the most technologically advanced and elaborate U.S. theater. The opening night program included a silent film, newsreel and travelogue.

The Orpheum Theatre, originally known as the Hennepin, opened in 1921 and seats 2,579. Its first performers included the Marx Brothers with more than 70,000 guests attending the opening week run. The largest vaudeville house in the country when opened, the Orpheum  was major outlet for entertainers like Jack Benny, George Burns and Fanny Brice and big bands including Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey and Count Basie.


Pantages TheatreHistoric State Theatre
Historic State TheatreHistoric State Theatre, Minneapolis
Historic State TheatreHistoric State Theatre, Minneapolis
Orpheum Theatre


Lighting and rigging, Orpheum Theatre