Thursday, July 17, 2008

Help yourself to a bit of what is all around you

If you have ever been in the same room with me and a piano (and ahem, we have quite a few of them in our house), you know that sooner or later I'm going to go play "Martha My Dear." Only my most favorite Beatles song ever, with sugar on top. "She Loves You" is a very close second, but "Martha" wins the day for me for its sheer pluckiness and relative obscurity.

My love affair with "Martha" started back when I was a teenager and taped WNEW's "A-Z Beatles Weekend", to supplement my growing desire to learn the entire catalog. My parents had no Beatles records other than an instrumental version of the Hollyridge Strings doing Magical Mystery Tour - my mom said, "Every time you turned on the radio, they were playing a Beatles song, so who needed to buy the records?"

Later in my teenage years I would start teaching myself to play songs by ear, playing my tapes (and eventually, records) over and over, writing down lyrics in a large spiral notebook and adding in my fake chords above them, in red pencil. I would even write down the date, so thorough was I. Generally, fake chords were good enough for me, but there was something about "Martha".... this was something that I might actually be able to play. I've never had piano lessons, and my big thing prior to this was studying the sheet music and teaching myself the intros to "Against All Odds" and "Honesty". But for some reason, I found myself loving this song and wanting to play it exactly like the recording.

I think I was 16 or 17, and I remember a summer where I spent a lot of time at our broken-down piano with a tape recorder by my side, playing, listening, rewinding, replaying, finally pressing the piano keys, and listening again. And finally, I HAD it. Same key, same intonation, same exact notes, same everything. I had to go back to fake chords once the orchestra kicked in at the middle section and I couldn't hear the piano as well, but the main part, the part that makes "Martha" MARTHA, I had. I owned it.

Over the years, I played it all the time - because we were passing a piano, or to cheer myself up, or once even on the radio, when I was called as an early morning phone gag and wound up taking them up on their offer to play it on the air, and they sent me prize money and a sweatshirt. I played it when I was pregnant and the kids must have heard it in utero!

About 20 years have passed since I taught myself to play "Martha My Dear." And while I've grown in that time as a musician and singer, my piano skills haven't improved - I still play "Martha" the exact same way; awesome intro, fake chords in the middle section. And I was starting to feel a little frustrated about it, because I could hear everything I wanted to do, but couldn't figure out how to make my hands do it. Oh, and the three preschoolers and the job and the lack of any semblance of quiet have put the kibosh on any arranging time too. :)

Yesterday, while looking up something entirely different on YouTube, I found a tutorial. TO PLAY MARTHA MY DEAR. This was so exactly the way I needed to see and learn this, that I swear that the sound of something clicking into place in my brain must have been loud enough for the neighbors to hear. Sheet music for this song looks like this, and while I have an amazing piano teacher for a husband, looking at that jumble of notes makes me dizzy. This guy shows his fingers, and then posts the notes of the chord above the keys. Yes, yes, and for goodness' sakes, YES already. It's like someone tapped right into my brain to see the way I'd learn best, and then made a video.

My family has been enjoying watching me running back and forth between the computer and the piano. I watch the computer.... pause it ..... say the names of the notes over to myself ... bang away at the piano, shout, "AHA! D major 7th! Yes!", and then run back to the laptop. I was watching it yesterday, grabbing Paul and yelling, "OCTAVES! He's doing OCTAVES in the left hand! Yes! Why didn't I think of that?" You would think I was discovering gravity or something to hear me go on, but my family's getting a kick out of it. Silly girl...

So in case you have ever been secretly jealous of my amazingly single-minded talent, you too can learn how to play my favorite Beatles song. And thank you to the Internet, for proving that while I may be obsessed, I'm certainly not alone.

And please see...

Wikipedia's entry on Martha My Dear. Lyrics from James Joyce? Uh, I don't think so.

How to Play Martha My Dear, Part 1 and Part 2. The tutorials I've been watching and exclaiming over, and he does many other songs as well. I plan to write him a thank you note.

Martha My Dear performed on classical guitar. Just amazing and really lovely. If this man has an album, I'm buying it. Lots of other songs too; give him a listen.

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