Hear Me Play the Piano

Playing the piano has been a lifelong learning experience. At least I was learning until the downturn due to having a rare disease called ataxia. More of my thoughts about having ataxia are all over this site and specifically here on the topic of playing the piano. You can also click on About Me or Site Index to see what else is here.

I think music is magic. Good music doesn’t blandly follow rules; it has magical qualities that can’t be explained. I want to go beyond listening to music and be the creator of it—I don’t mean composing or performing for others, just recreating magic for myself.

Listening to music has its place and is very satisfying. But whenever I hear music that I like, I cannot rest until I know how it was done. Even though I don’t have a great “ear,” I can extract melodies and often harmonies as well, though not perfectly.

Recordings in 2008

Never in my life was it my goal to be a piano performer. As a classical piano playing hobbyist working on the musical repertoire that has been recorded by generations of the true masters, there has never been a reason for others to hear recordings of me.

In 2008, a few years before ataxia started ruining my finger coordination, I recorded myself playing some non-classical pieces—two in particular. They are my own transcriptions. I put some MP3s on my website, and in a few years, I had close to 500,000 hits.

I’d Hit That

I’d been thinking about this 500,000 number again recently. Having a rare hereditary disease (ataxia) that affects just a few thousand (in the U.S.) made me stop and realize that my MP3s had been downloaded about 100 times for every person with my disease. If I can get people to go through YouTube and get even minimally exposed to what ataxia is all about, then my MP3s are serving more of a purpose.

But is this 500,000 number meaningful? I don’t know. It seems like a lot, especially for YouTube these days, but I see no reason to have bots out there downloading MP3s just to be nuisances (like spam bots, which are rampant). But who knows what I’ll learn?

Song 1 of 2: Laputa

In about 1992, a friend lent me two things: a videotape of Hayao Miyazaki’s 1986 animated film “Laputa: Castle in the Sky,” in Japanese, and a printout of the dialog translated into English (I don’t know Japanese). It was challenging to follow along, but that’s what people did back then with foreign films without subtitles.

天空の城ラピュタ = Tenkū no Shiro Rapyuta

Shortly thereafter, I acquired a CD of the soundtrack. The liner notes were entirely in Japanese. I loved the music (composed by Joe Hisaishi), especially one solo piano track, which I transcribed. I did not know until about a week ago what the English translation of this track’s title was, or any of the others:


I transcribed Track 8, given in English above as “Sheeta’s Decision.” In Japanese, it’s “シータの決意,” romanized as “Shīta no Ketsui.”

I transcribed this in the mid-1990s and recorded it in 2008. My goal in transcribing it was to remain true to the original, though I know now that I missed a few notes. Only in recent years has there been an explosion of sheet music and recordings available of this piece. Am I adding anything unique to the Internet din out there now? I suppose not. But here’s the MP3 and the sheet music PDF anyway.

Download [MP3] [Sheet Music]

Song 2 of 2: Lǐ Xiānglán

I came to know this song in Cantonese, and referring to it is hard to do on an English blog. There’s no definitive standard for romanizing Cantonese. Then again, the song was originally in Japanese before Cantonese, and to be standard, I also want to refer to the Chinese version in Mandarin. Here’s a summary:

  • Japanese version (1989)
    • Title: 行かないで = “Ikanaide” (i-ka-na-i-de)
    • Written and performed by: 玉置 浩二 = Kōji Tamaki
  • Cantonese Chinese version (1990)
    • Title: 李香蘭 = Lei5 Heung1 Laan4
    • Kōji Tamaki is known as Yuk6 ji3 Hou5 yi6
    • Performed by 張學友 = Jeung1 Hok6 Yau5 = Jacky Cheung
    • (This is the only version I knew until about a week ago.)
  • Mandarin Chinese notes, using simplified characters
    • Title: 李香兰 = Lǐ Xiānglánli xiang lan
    • Kōji Tamaki is known as Yùzhì Hào’èr
    • Performed by 张学友 = Zhāng Xuéyǒu = Jacky Cheung
    • The title is the Chinese name of Yoshiko Yamaguchi

I was listening to a lot of Cantonese pop music in the 1990s. I acquired a Jacky Cheung CD with this song on it and put it directly into my car’s CD player. This happened to be a few days after I learned that my mother had hereditary ataxia and that I might have it, too.

When I first heard the song, I didn’t know what it was about. Immediately (in my car at the time), and still today, I felt that it is about longing for something lost. It communicates that to me to the utmost, more incisively than anything else ever has. Still today after 20 years, it magically expresses how I feel about ataxia.

Transcription notes

I did this transcription in 2003, working from Jacky Cheung’s 1990 Cantonese version of this song. I started with the melody, then the opening piano line, then the bass, then the chords, and then the “filler.” The filler is the result of me trying various note sequences (arpeggio-like figures) and combinations until they sounded good, staying true only to the bass and chords.

The song is in A minor, and I was stumped for quite a while with an A in the bass that didn’t work with an Am, F, Dm, or any other chord in Am. I remember the revelation that the chord was an A major in the key of A minor. It was the magic of Kōji Tamaki that compelled me to complete the song.

Download [MP3] [Sheet Music]

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