Music · 2006-04-09

Band practice

I just read this great New York Times article on Condoleezza Rice and her amateur chamber music group. I would never claim to have the same dedication or virtuosoisticness, and it’s for sure that our genres are pretty far apart (mine requires playing in pubs rather than living rooms — and we practice in a place called the Groovebox). I’m pretty sure Condi would never say “Sorry, I can’t make that state dinner with the President of Burundi next weekend; I’ve got band practice.” But I understand well the satisfaction that comes from rehearsal sessions and performances.

Though the Schumann went well, Ms. Rice felt that things had become shaky in the exuberant push to the coda. “Can we try the ending again,” she asked, “just for our pride?” So they did, and they played it with more solidity and just as much spirit.

Ms. Kim commented on the articulate way Ms. Rice played a series of thick chords. “You’re playing them really short, Condi,” she said. “I hadn’t thought of that,” she added, warming to the idea.

“I like them separated,” Ms. Rice replied. “Not too short, maybe kind of sticky.” Everyone knew what she meant.

The process of tweaking and ultimately nailing a passage feels great, particularly when you’re playing with emotionally (and actually) mature people who can give and take constructive criticism, and who can appreciate and take advantage of each person’s talents and insights. Let me tell you, the maturity is worth as much as the talent.

Our gigs tend to fall a couple of months apart at this point, and in between we try to learn a handful of new tunes and improve the weakest handful of our current tunes. Right now we’re learning, among other pieces, Lonnie Smith’s Love Bowl — big fun. I often joke about practicing keyboards without a license, but since the band keeps picking keyboard-heavy tunes, I’m definitely stretching my abilities. Luckily, a pocketful of blues organ riffs goes a long way…

Paraphrasing Condi, “‘It’s not exactly relaxing if you are struggling to play [Stevie Wonder],’ she explained. ‘But it is transporting.'”