Inventions and “Leaning In”

I remember practicing, as a child, Carl Czerny’s two- and three-part Inventions: essentially practice pieces for students, each meant to teach a particular skill. They weren’t (to me) especially musical and I did not particularly enjoy them, but I did do them, as they were assigned by my beloved Mrs. Shirley Lebow, my first piano teacher.  

I thought of those Inventions twice yesterday. The first was when Steve and I went to see the Milwaukee Art Museum’s Kandinsky: A Retrospective, which still runs through the first of September.  I knew next-to-nothing about Kandinsky, so took the audio “tour,” which put him into context for me. I confess to not particularly liking his work, but do admire the determination with which he pursued it, through all kinds of political nonsense and war. I was especially interested in the fact that he apparently divided all his work into three categories: “Impressions,” “Improvisations,” and “Compositions.”  Since this blog has recently discussed improvisations, I took note.  As I understand it, “Impressions” were quickly done “sketches.” At the other end of the spectrum were “Compositions,” which took months or even years to come together in his head, and for which he did numerous “studies” or drafts. “Improvisations” were somewhere inbetween—not as “off the cuff” as the name implies, in fact, usually structured in some way beforehand.  (But then even jazz improvisations are not really “off the cuff”: there is a fairly strict, pre-determined structure within  which the improviser can then “play.” )

The other time when I thought of Czerny’s Inventions occurred yesterday when I started to meet my own challenge of entering the ZO contest I mentioned, in which the winner will be  s/he who has made the “most inventive” poem based on the painting by Luis Jose Estremadoyro, a contemporary Peruvian painter. The painting is called “The Nightly Unfolding of Madame De Loynes,” and is a fascinating hybrid of realism and, I guess, surrealism.  Well, I whipped up my three poems in a little under two hours and had a lot of fun in the process (I’m still tweaking them).

On reflection, though, I realized that I had invested little of myself in the poems—that, indeed they had been “inventions” rather than “discoveries.”   I played happily with the image, metaphors which occurred to me,  words that often play by themselves if you let them,  visual effects, and a little research into the painter.  And while doing so kept me from the “blank page” (it was easy to start), I wonder if my time might have been better spent just staring at that blank page.

Sometimes I think one has to “lean in,” as they say, to what is most difficult, even if it is merely waiting and listening.

I think that is why I associate the great blue heron (tattoed on my shoulder) with poetry—indeed all waterbirds. They are experts at listening and waiting.

But of course I will still enter the contest. I could use the $300 bucks and it hasn’t cost me much (at least I hope it hasn’t).

Speaking of “leaning in,” I haven’t said much about my practice of late, but I have been doing a lot of “leaning in” to the most difficult parts—the dreaded left-hand trill in that last Beethoven variation, for instance. And I have been working doggedly to get the fingering in both the Bach and the Beethoven “into my hands” so that I will not have to think about it so much when I attempt to speed up the music and/or make it “sing.”

Unfortunately, that extra work with my left hand, arm, and shoulder this morning, in combination with lugging grocery bags to the car right after, has apparently aggravated the torn rotator cuff on that side of my body. I underwent a lot of therapy for that last year and completely changed my swimming stroke, and have had no trouble to speak of in months. In fact I was just congratulating myself on that fact recently. But for now it is a return to rest, ice, ibuprofen and not swimming until the pain is gone. Bummer.

So maybe one has to learn to “lean in” a bit less sometimes, especially as one’s body parts age? A difficult lesson. Are there Czerny exercises for that? Heron exercises?

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