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I'm back!

Actually, I never left... but you couldn't tell from my online presence. I haven't been answering e-mail or posting to the blog for several days. Sorry about that. I've been pretty busy.

With what, you're quick to ask. A lot of mundane things, but there's one thing worth mentioning here. I started taking piano lessons a few weeks ago.

For most of my life I didn't pay much attention to music. This is something I'm very curious about. I believe it has something to do with my learning style, which I've realized lately is uncommon. It's very difficult for me to learn through demonstrations — you can't show me something and expect me to "get it." I need an explanation, I need to be aware of the hows and the whys and the what fors.

That probably has a great deal to do with my prior indifference to music. I had trouble in my elementary and middle school music classes because the teachers didn't communicate the theory of music. They wanted to say, "It's like this!" and demonstrate — but I didn't understand what I was listening for. They were talking about measures and time signatures and I was wondering why they weren't measuring things in seconds and hertz.

I had (and still have) a lot of ignorant questions: Why did we standardize on eight notes to span a doubling of frequency? Why are there gaps in the sequence of black keys on a piano? What does it really mean to be "in the key of" something? Explain why the "dominant seventh chord" is named what it is — are there "submissive" chords? And what's the deal with playing the allegedly same chord with three keys or with four keys but with two of them different? What generates the feeling that a tune needs to "resolve," and oh by the way, what does that really mean if you don't grasp it intuitively?

Music notation is bizarre, harmony is ultra bizarre, and now I'm wishing that they'd taught more about music in physics class. When explained in physical terms, music makes sense.

If anyone can recommend a "music for physicists"-style book, I'd be grateful.

Due to my difficulty learning music, I avoided it for a long time. Very unusually, I barely cared about music while I was in high school. I almost never listened to the radio, and almost never purchased music. I was out of touch with my generation. :)

The exception to the pattern is that I took one semester of choir when I was a freshman, because I had a music teacher in middle school who I had great personal respect for. He urged all his students to at least try choir in high school, so I did. (But I didn't enjoy it, so I stopped.)

It wasn't until I was in college that I developed a normal interest in music, and then only because I was very depressed and just listened for the emotional release. A few things grew on me after a while — thank you Rachmaninoff — and I started paying more attention.

Waiting so long has probably made it much more difficult for me to learn music today. I'm already aware that I have an awful sense for tempo and pitch. I have trouble playing notes for the correct duration and when I play a wrong note I can tell that it's wrong but not if it was too high or too low, unless the magnitude is extreme. These things feel like a serious handicap.

My most recent challenge is training my hands to play at different intensities. I need to figure out how to play my left hand softly but my right hand loudly, which is an entirely new skill for me. I've been practicing it today, but still can't do it consistently. Or even often. :)

What I'd really like to play is Rachmaninoff's Prelude in C-sharp minor, but that's probably a few years away, even omitting the crazy part.

BTW, all you people waiting to hear back from me, I plan to use Sunday to catch up. Sorry for disappearing without notice.

Tiny Island