Thunder, and Practice?

Thunder rolls through Manhattan, rain spatters, and only Ignaz’s waltzing, promptly at 9:30 AM, stood between me and sleeping until noon. Outside, the honkers honk, displeased I am sure by weather and traffic and having woken up early to deliver goods and services; a snarled mess of roughly parallel-facing cars sits at the east end of my little corner of 91st St., and from this human and vehicular knot a recurring musical sequence emerges: long honk, followed by a series of screams. A Morse code meaning frustration. I shut my window to this aggressive music; it makes my coffee taste funny.

On my piano, behind me, sit three volumes: one is Book I of the WTC, the other the complete Beethoven sonatas. In months coming (April, and February respectively) I have to do my duty to those volumes and admittedly I feel a heavier-than-usual responsibility towards them. And with thunder and rain making the joyful streets of Manhattan a battlefield of frowns, puddles, and umbrella domes, what better time than now, in my own dry apartment? Certainly this is not the time to prance through Soho streets, admiring the beautiful people in the Apple store, lusting after $175 sneakers in Camper; it is no time to lay on the lawn of the Park, except encased in plastic; enthusiasm seems lacking as I consult my inner self for museum attendance; it seems even inadvisable to walk one block to the grocery store–there are three corners at least between here and there and at each may lurk a grayish puddle of uncertain depth through which an angry taxi may crazily swerve, sending forth fountains of sooty spray. So it appears to me from the eighth floor: a dangerous world.

But I have to admit those Beethoven Sonatas seem a bit dangerous today too, with metaphysical puddles and soot which will have to be wandered through before any “happiness” can be attained. For sure, I will run through them the first time and they will sound really good to my new ear and then will begin that magnificent erosion of self-delusion where the true difficulties of playing the piece well (for me, now, at this moment–is there any other time?) will appear, icebergs in my ocean of practicing. This fear and anticipation of the larger, difficult process plays against the desires of the moment, the lamplit pleasures of a few chords in E-flat major in my apt with a cup of coffee on the shelf in its usual place, which admittedly seem like insane, effete, aesthete, capitalist-luxurious pleasures compared to the people below trying to drive their trucks full of fish, bagels, and pipes between double-parked cars. This is my work?

All of which boils down to the same childhood classic moment. Your mother from the next room: “Jeremy, time to practice!” (in various tones, from reasonable to shrill). Your response (always whiny, unjustly interrupted, a young man with things TO DO): “Aww, mom, just a little more TV?” With the years, I have fortunately cultivated an inner mother to remind me to practice, but perhaps I have also unfortunately cultivated an inner TV, or an inner child, or an inner whine: I cannot decide which.

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  1. gabe
    Posted November 22, 2005 at 12:23 pm | Permalink

    i couldn’t have put it better myself. good to know i’m not the only one who doesn’t want to crack open the bach on a blustery pre-turkey morning…

  2. R J Keefe
    Posted November 22, 2005 at 1:03 pm | Permalink

    We are indeed having a North Atlantic winter’s day. I hope that you’ve started playing.

  3. Lane Savant
    Posted November 22, 2005 at 1:10 pm | Permalink

    Keep the inner whine, you’re an artist

  4. Anonymous
    Posted November 22, 2005 at 1:44 pm | Permalink

    The Fra Angelico exhibition at the Met is a must see and it will suffuse your Bach with a golden glow….

  5. Anonymous
    Posted November 22, 2005 at 7:44 pm | Permalink

    congrats on the props… however, it’s a shame that the “top 10 sources” listed you as “Think Dent”

    Is there some odd obscure silly reason for that?

  6. Jeremy Denk
    Posted November 22, 2005 at 9:05 pm | Permalink

    Thanks, anonymous commenter. The required persons have been notified of the misprint.

  7. Anonymous
    Posted November 23, 2005 at 4:00 am | Permalink

    anonymous Denk student…

    It’s really hard to practice in this weather! One is inspired to think of what Bach did in his cold, dank North German enclave without modern, capitalist conveniences. Denk makes a good musical parent…

  8. Hucbald
    Posted November 24, 2005 at 9:12 am | Permalink

    “I shut my window to this aggressive music; it makes my coffee taste funny.”

    That’s a beautiful line, and a perfect representation of why you couldn’t pay me to live in NYC again.

    I love inclement weather: If it’s nice outside the last thing I want to do is practice.

    And, “inner whine” is fine… so long as it’s the whine of a highly tuned motorcycle ripping through the gears.


  9. Anonymous
    Posted November 27, 2005 at 8:08 pm | Permalink

    Hmm…why didn’t I think of using Ignaz to wake up?? I have to say Denk’s mazurkas are better than Ignaz’s. Sometimes Friedman elevates the mazurka lilt rhythm to such a dogmatic principle that the more lyrical aspects don’t come across. Denk is able to convey the poetic ideas of these works with an unsentimental and convincing rubato. I would pay A LOT of money to hear a Denk solo Mazurka CD!!

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