Sight, Sound and Beyond

Posts tagged ‘piano’

A Reluctant Organist

unnamedIf you asked me ten years ago if I would ever consider learning to play the organ I would probably say, “Nope.”  For the last couple months, I have been pondering the idea, and with the help of a fellow choir member and colleague, I found someone who was willing to teach me.  I am schedule to have my firt lesson a week from tomorrow.

How did all this happen?  Well, after our church music director got a job closer to home, the choir scrambled to find someone who could fill in until our pastor could hire a permanent replacement.  After playing a few masses on piano at my church and even playing a mass on Christmas Eve with another parish at Westchester Department of Correction, my interest in playing music at church became even stronger.  There was one problem.  I didn’t know how to play the organ, and the more I thought about it, the more curious I became.  Could I actually learn to play?

Once I began considering the idea of learning to play the organ, my mind began to attack me with negative thoughts.

Are you kidding?  At your age?  You’re too old to learn a second instrument!

As a classically trained musician, I have often heard it said that to be a good musician on any instrument, it is best to start very young.  Most accomplished pianists begin their piano studies between the ages of 3 and 5.  I was 8 years old when I started, and according to classical standards, that is considered to be over the hill unless you happen to be a genius.  In case you are wondering, I am not a genius.

Now here I am at 35 years of age wanting to learn the organ.  Besides learning to play on at least two manuals (keyboards), I would be required to play on a pedal keyboard using my feet.  P.S. I am not the most well-coordinated person.  If you don’t believe me, you should check me out when I am out on the dance floor.  I may enjoy shaking a tail feather, but I don’t know if others enjoy watching me do so.

I took 20 years of piano lessons, and it wasn’t until my mid 20s that I began to play at a pretty reasonable level.  How long would it take me to play at a decent level on the organ?  Would it seriously take me another 20 years?

I haven’t even started lessons yet, and I have already been faced with my fair share of challenges.  I thought finding a teacher would be one of the most difficult parts, but there was something even more challenging: getting access to an organ.  I didn’t get the green light from my own home parish, and once I informed my father about it he quoted Luke 4:24

No prophet is accepted in his hometown.

Finally after many emails and telephone calls, I finally cut a break with another parish in my neighboring town.  The music director there was a huge help, and through him I was able to gain access to the organ in their small chapel.  The chapel has less activity than their main church, so I would less likely be an intrusion on other people.  This chapel is actually closer to where I live than my actual home parish.

I do not know what the outcome of all this will be.  I have been told by a couple people that God is calling me to pursue this and to become a church organist.  So far, I am not feeling like that’s the case.  Now don’t get me wrong, I initially felt it when the idea first popped into my head, but the feeling only lasted for a few minutes.  My own mother was confused by my interest in becoming an organist and said:

I don’t understand why are you doing this.  Holy Rosary doesn’t need an organist.

She failed to see that this was something beyond Holy Rosary.  Besides, I wouldn’t say that I am Holy Rosary’s most popular choice for church musician (although the choir likes me yay!).  To be quite honest, I am the one that fills in when there is absolutely no one else available.  For example, I played piano at a healing mass once because none of the musicians from the folk group were able to attend.  It was summertime and people were away on vacation. Let me just say when I was asked to play, I was pretty excited and gave it my best effort.  Sure, I was the only person left in the pool of choices, but I still got the call!

Last Sunday, we had no organist to play for the 9:30am mass and so with only 15 minutes prior notice, I jumped in, hoped for a miracle and played the mass on piano.  I will add that before I arrived at the church, my mother gave me some of her useful advice:

Don’t interrupt the priest by coming in too early with the Sanctus.

She was referring to the last time I played at mass.  Before all the angels and saints could begin proclaiming God’s glory by saying “holy holy holy,” I had already gotten started.  I am thinking all of Heaven was like “Whoa!  Check out that anticipation on Earth right now!”  Either that or Heaven had a good chuckle.  Whatever it was, I hope, it to some extent, pleasing to the Lord.  Messing up in church is truly a humbling experience.  P.S. There were twice as many holies sung at that particular mass.  There’s your silver lining!

Anyway, my parents happened to be at the impromptu mass that took place this morning.  My mother said:

You did very well.  I didn’t hear any mistakes.

Well, I managed to fool her.  There were plenty of mistakes and thankfully, our Lord was very gracious in helping me cover them up.

As I bring this blog post to a close, I recall a phrase that someone very close to me said a couple weeks ago:

“Go where God leads you.”

Let’s see where He takes me.

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My Love Affair with Math

pythagoras-theoremI was chatting with two of my girlfriends at Starbucks last night, one of which is finishing up her master’s in education.  She is doing her student teaching now and was talking about the math lesson she prepared for a second grade class.  Of course I was all ears.  Math was my strongest subject in school.  I learned how to add and subtract before learning to read and at age 9, I solved my first algebraic equation.  None of my friends liked math.  I was the only who could get excited over a good math problem.  I had plans to major in mathematics in college but once I completed calculus I, my passion began to fade.  I think the math department was slightly disappointed when they learned that I had not pursued a mathematics major, but Our Lord had other plans.  Music, unexpectedly pulled me in and the interesting part is that I was probably a stronger mathematician than I was a musician.

But as I began my studies of music analysis, the glories of mathematics remained with me.  When I was a sophomore in college, I completed a math project using Microsoft Excel in which I calculated the frequencies of all 88 notes played on the piano.

The lowest note on the piano is A, which has a frequency of 27.5 Hertz.  That means the string vibrates 27.5 times per second.  To find the frequency of the note A# (A-sharp), which is one half step above, you multiply 27.5 by the 12th root of 2.  The 12th root of 2 refers to some number multiplied by itself 12 times that will give you something close to 2.  Why are we talking about the 12th root of 2?  Because the octave consists of 12 half steps.

The 12th root of 2 in computer lingo or on a graphic calculator is expressed as 27.5 * ^ 1/12.  The 12th root of 2 expressed as a decimal is about 1.0594631 (rounded).  That means if you take that decimal and multiply it by itself 12 times, you will get close to the number 2.  The 12th root of 2 is an irrational number just like PI

Oh and here is a little side note, the asterisk (*) stands for multiplication because if you use the traditional multiplication sign, it might get confused with a variable X that you find in algebra.  The caret sign (^) is used to indicate an exponent.  So if you want to say 2 squared, you write 2 ^ 2.  To express a square root of a number like the square root of 4 you write 4 ^ 1/2.  Note that you express the exponent as a fraction for square roots, cube roots, fourth etc).  So if you want to say the cube root of 8 you would say 8 ^ 1/3.   The cube root of 8 is 2 because 2 * 2 * 2 = 8.

Now on excel you can use one formula to solve all the frequencies so you don’t have to do it 87 times.  The formula that I came up with is:

Y = 27.5 * 2 ^ (x/12)

Y (the frequency of a note) = 27.5 (the given frequency of the lowest note on piano) * (multiplied by) 2 ^ (X/12).  Okay, I know the factional exponent looks strange with the X and all.  The best way is to show you.

The X stands for the number of half steps away from the given note, A.  For A#, we substitute X with 1 because A# is one half step above A.

Substitute 1 for X and we get

Y = 27.5 * 2 ^ (1/12)

Y = 29.16 (roughly)

Now if I wanted to find the frequency of the next note B, substitute X with 2 (two half steps away from the given note A).  How does this work?  What you are really doing is 27.5 * 2^1/2 * 2^1/2.  Since you are multiplying 2^1/2 by itself you are really doing 27.5 * 2^2/12.  Meaning you are taking the 12th root of 2 and then squaring it.  the Denominator equals the root so in this case, the 12th root of 2 and then squaring it.  The numerator refers to the power (in this case the 2 on top means to square it).

Below are my findings for all 88 frequencies.

88-frequencies2_page_188-frequencies2_page_2

Here is a line graph of all the frequencies.  Notice the shape of the graph.  The higher you go, the larger the gap between each of the frequencies.  Frequencies always double at the octave.  Therefore, if you play A above middle C on the piano, the frequency is 440.  The next A above that would have a frequency of 880.

88-frequencies2_page_3

Music and math go hand and hand.  In math we have substitution where you substitute numbers or expressions in place of letters.  In music we do have chord substitution.  Don’t get me getting on that discussion.  I love secondary functions in both math and music!

If you found this whole thing confusing don’t worry about it.  I must confess that I posted this help preserve the memory.  I was quite proud of myself after I completed this.  I never considered myself a genius, but that was a very high moment in my life because it was my own individual project.

I believe that all things, both living and non living, are a reflection of the Holy Trinity, separate entities that are all connected as one.  I always believed in a common oneness in everything since everything that is comes from God.

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