Last night the intro to Go The Distance (written by Alan Menken, from Disney's Hercules) was eating my brain, so I sat down at the piano with my Sony Network Walkman plugged into one ear and learned the notes. Too many black keys, so I did what I almost always do, and transposed it into C. No more pesky black keys. Worked out the intro, sort of - it would take at least three hands, maybe four, to do it justice - and added my own left hand part. And discovered two things:
1. It is a very simple tune.
2. It has no bridge
This, and the fact that it is based on a myth/fantasy movie, makes it filk, don't you agree? :-)
But seriously, while I'm talking about piano and Go The Distance , a little history.
I never had piano lessons. They taught us the notes on the keyboard in grade school music classes, but only the treble clef (right hand). I never really learned how to read bass clef (left hand) beyond the theory that the colon in the clef symbol shows which line in the music is F. I know treble clef well enough from trumpet lessons that I can tell you what note any line on the staff is as soon as you point to it. For bass clef I have to think, and count on my toes.
Long story short - I cannot sight read piano music, and it's easier for me to invent chords on the bass clef side than to try to eke them out from the sheet music.
When I was in high school, I was TA for the music teacher. My high school music teacher was a fellow named Howard E. Akers. Mr. Akers at one time was the chief arranger for the Henry Filmore Music Company, and his arrangements of The Star Spangled Banner and Battle Hymn of the Republic remain the most-played versions of those pieces. When I told him I had written a piece of music, he offered to give me some lessons on writing a score and arranging**. The first lesson was to sit down at the piano and learn to use it to visualize. A score is written with the highest-pitched instruments on top, lowest-pitched at the bottom. Like a piano turned on its ear. Just imagine the left hand is "down" and the right hand is "up".
We had three piano practice rooms. While I was plunking out my arrangement (it took months) a couple of other students were using another practice room to work out a stunning 2-handed rendition of Malegueña for a concert they were giving. I love that piece, and was kinda jealous, so I started plunking out the tune by ear, and little by little figured out chords to use. After a couple of weeks I could play it pretty well - nowhere near as well as they did, but passable. From then on I fell into the habit of trying to learn a tune each week. Most of the time it was songs, not instrumentals, and what I would do is type out the lyrics, and prop those up on the piano to remind me how the tune went. By the time I graduated from high school, I had a 3-ring binder with about 30 sets of song lyrics which I could play on the piano. I was still 16 when I graduated.
For my 17th birthday my Mom went halves with me on an old upright, a Schilling "Theater Grand" which the guy from Sherman Clay said had been built in the '30's and was used at one time to play the accompaniment in a silent movie theater. That's the piano I still have today.
The last time I had it tuned, the nice man said the piano was a lot older than 1937, and gave me a URL to look up the serial number and find out for myself.
It was built in 1896.
** I didn't finish the piece, a processional, until my second year in college, when I was in Wind Sinfonietta, whose conductor, Dr. Walter Welke, was composition class professor. I managed to land a seat in that group because Mr. Akers, who was writing a book on composing with Dr. Welke, put in a good word for me. Dr. Welke had the Sinfonietta play the piece so I could hear what it sounded like and fix some typos, and then Rainier Beach High School's orchestra played it for my sister's commencement at the end of that year. I played French Horn for that.