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V.com weekend vote: Do you play with a wooden or carbon fiber bow?

By The Weekend Vote
Published: July 26, 2014 at 07:03

A number of years back, I posted a vote that showed an overwhelming number of people preferred wood over carbon fiber bows.

With the passage of years and the great improvement in carbon fiber bows, I'm wondering if that's still the case. It's time for another poll about it!

Bow tips

I will word this slightly differently than the old poll; I'm interested in what you are using these days, rather than what you dream about buying. Do you use primarily a bow that is made of wood, or carbon fiber? And if you have both kinds of bows, please choose the kind of bow that you use most often. Also, please feel free to tell us the comments about your bow and its merits. Or, let us know if you use one kind but wish you had another.

Personally speaking, I now have one of each, and I am surprised at how much I like to play my carbon fiber bow, which has good bounce, feel and dexterity. It happens to be a Coda Diamond GX, but I while in Cincinnati I also have tried a carbon bow from the Baroque Violin Shop, and it also handled extremely well. (I tested a Tourte there, too, and yes, that handles best of all! Probably not in my price range, though!)

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Your Brain on Music

By Laurie Niles
Published: July 25, 2014 at 11:48

Brain on music

Science seems to be supporting us in the the idea that playing a musical instrument lights up every corner our brains. Here is a nicely animated and succinct TED video on the subject, for your pleasure:

A choice quote, beginning at 3:40: "How do we know that all these benefits are unique to music, as opposed to , say, sports or painting? Or could it be that people who go into music were already smarter to begin with? Neuroscientists have explored these issues, but so far they have found that the artistic and aesthetic aspects of learning to play a musical instrument are different from any other activity studied, including other arts. And several other randomized studies of participants who showed the same levels of cognitive function and neural processing at the start, found that those who were exposed to a period of music learning showed enhancement in multiple brain areas, compared to the others."

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Why We Need Classical Music

By Daniel Broniatowski
Watertown, Massachusetts
Published: July 25, 2014 at 06:53

Classical MusicGreetings dear readers,

For those of you who do not yet know me, my name is Daniel Broniatowski, D.M.A. I am a classical violinist, music school director, wedding and event classical music contractor, and a classical music advocate. Our music school and wedding music agency are located in Boston and we serve New England.

I write today's article with a focus on listening. Listening is, in my opinion, the most important part of the classical-music-experience. Without our ears, none of this would be possible. We wouldn't be able to play and we wouldn't be able to participate in a concert audience.

Note how I worded the last phrase.."participate in a concert audience". I didn't use the words "hear" or even "listen". I used the word "participate", which brings me to an even more important premise of mine.

I am convinced that Classical Music is a tool that can bring peace to the world. Does that mean that Classical Music will make you a better or more peaceful person? No! The mere act of listening to classical music might temporarily put you in an emotional state but it will not change your life forever - unless one additonal element is involved. It is the inclination of the listener and the performer that makes the difference between Classical Music being a conduit for peace vs. merely pleasant, beautiful sound. Before I get into this, let's set the stage:

We live in a world that is very dangerous. There is war in much of the world and things are getting worse. Many attribute conflict to fundamental disagreements between cultures, tribes, and clans. Others attribute conflict to one country wanting the resources of another country.

While all of the above may be true, there is a stronger, yet untapped, force in the world that connects all of us through our greater humanity. This is what many call "love". When I say "love", I don't mean the kind that we get from feelings. After all, feelings are never permanent, no matter how good or bad. What I mean by "love" is the true understanding of another man or woman's soul and using that understanding to better this person's life in a way that will empower them to help others. It is my belief that Classical Music fits into all of this by serving as a reflection off true love, when used correctly.

We musicians and music-lovers know that Classical Music is beautiful. It has an inherent harmony and structure that really can speak across all cultures. Furthermore, every emotion known to man (and woman) is represented in classical music because this music often imitates the voice - a voice that represents genuine emotion.

Yet, many people are unfortunately emotionally closed. They do not resonate with this music, or any music that depicts a reflection of genuine emotion. They might resonate very strongly with a pop song that talks about temporary feelings of love (or more likely, lust and sex), but they do not feel a deep connection with the emotions in Classical Music or pop music that deals with true human emotion. For the record, it is worth noting that not all Classical Music will speak to all lovers of Classical Music and not all Pop Music is lustful.

Let me take one quick step back again, for the record:

By "emotionally closed", I am not insinuating that these individuals do not feel emotion. Nor do I insinuate that they are worse people than Classical Music lovers. My point is that there is a rich world of emotion that they have not yet opened up to. Hence, the word "closed".

So where do we go with this? Should these "emotionally closed" individuals be sensitized to Classical Music? And how does one do this?

The reality is that no one can or should force anyone to do anything in this world. Yet, if Classical Music can be a reflection of true love, which is my premise above, then I believe very strongly that there are millions of individuals out there who are already receptive and willing to support our cause. For their own personal reasons, they have come to a point in life where they have realized that there has to be more to our existence than mere feelings and desires.

I bet that most of my readers are not yet convinced with my argument that Classical Music can represent true love and some might even think I'm crazy. In fact, some of you might think that I am towing a narrow line and am putting this into black-and-white pop vs. classical terms. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, the principle that I am about to discuss can equally apply to pop music of value as well. Now we're getting to the nitty gritty and this is the true crux of the matter:

Quality Music of all genres is a tool in which one can learn to listen.

That's it - full stop.

For those who have been to orchestra concerts in the United States, I am certain that you have seen the myriad of cultures and ancestries represented by looking at the faces of the musicians or their last names. Rarely do we musicians or concert-goers ever place importance on the music played as "typically German" or "typically French" anymore. Yes, there was a time when this type of nationalism mattered, but those days are gone in Classical Music.

So the beauty of Classical Music is that some 100 individuals in the orchestra have rehearsed all nuances, phrases, and timbres in the music so that the important emotional content of the composer is delivered with the conductor's interpretation. These individuals, all of various beliefs, have all come together to listen to one another and create a symbiotic relationship.

This relationship is only symbiotic if all the musicians are in this together. Furthermore, it is necessary to truly understand where the other musicians are coming from to create this whole from many parts. I would imagine that such a project would be even more effective if a bunch of musicians came together to create their own composition!

Do you see where I'm going with this? Through listening, one can understand. Through understanding, diverse individuals achieve synthesis.

Now, of course not all of my readers can play in orchestras. The beauty of this philosophy is that one need not do so in order to derive the benefits of learning how to listen. The benefits can be derived through two means:

1. Take music lessons. Whether you are 4 or 104, music lessons teach you to know thyself. When learning music, you develop a dialogue with your mind, body, and soul in order to achieve that same type of symbiosis above. Only this time, you are achieving a balance within. Again, this can only be achieved if your inclination is to do so, as opposed to the student who learns because his/her parents pressured him/her. Of course, as a teacher, I know full well that when the going gets tough, kids need to be taught to "stay the course", but that is a topic for a different time.

2. Learn how to be an active listener. Listening to quality classical music recordings with two to four parts for just 10 minutes per day teaches us to listen to more than one perspective. I would suggest picking just one short piece for strings per week (look for duos, trios, and quartets on Youtube). Listen to it every day for one week. You will be amazed that you can hear more and more detail and musical exchange of ideas, emotions, and thoughts, as the days go on. This is what I mean by active listening. Of course this type of listening requires attention. You can't read, do homework, or write e mails while doing this type of listening.

3. Attend concerts! By experiencing live music with a host of other like-minded individuals, you are coming together as a community. Of course, the challenge of the artist and concert programmer is to bring everyone together under a common theme.

Still, you'll become a better listener if you view the concert as a genuine dialogue between composer, performer, and listener. Listen carefully and you will understand!

Stay tuned for next week's blog post where I'll outline some of my favorite suggestions!

Musically yours,

Daniel Broniatowski, D.M.A.
Music to Warm the Heart
Maestro Musicians, LLC


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Helping Students and Parents Enjoy the Competitive Journey: Managing Expectations

By Amy Beth Horman
Washington, Washington
Published: July 25, 2014 at 05:55

This is my second installment in a blog series intended to help me gear up for another competitive calendar in my private studio. I hope it strikes a chord in many teachers with similar challenges.

This blog details the need to manage student and parent expectations on stage with larger pieces as well in competitions or auditions.

I am fortunate to have a lot of talented, competitive, and eager violin students in the studio currently. It has not always been this way but after twenty years of teaching, I hear all the major concerti within the week and find myself spending mornings reviewing what I will hear for the day in my mind just to prepare my ears for work.

The students have big dreams and practice both passionately and thoughtfully, having made many sacrifices in their families to play as beautifully as they do. Their efforts are equal parts heartfelt and ambitious. They can’t help but have big expectations! It seems like human nature when they are placing faith in what are sometimes long processes of preparation before competitive events. At the highest level of my studio, the students know each other well and so do the parents. The expectations coming from them vary however. A big challenge for us last year was managing these expectations in a way that would ensure a beneficial experience for each child entering competitions and auditions.

In performance, the larger concerti and virtuoso works are bigger than all of us. They have stood the test of time and most of us who have performed them with orchestra would agree that they improve on two planes: the practice room and the stage. It would be unusual to find a pre teen or teen who has played one of the romantic concerti in full multiple times in public let alone with orchestra. Yet to fully explore and grasp these works and be able to truly play them fluidly, this would be ideal.

Every student hopes their first performances will be exactly what they have planned. I remember feeling this way myself. But realistically, I believe it would be healthier to consider those first performances as just a foraging for information. Where does the body tense up under pressure? Where does our score study sag or fail us with adrenalin on high? What sections of our concerto embrace and thrive off of the electricity of the audience and which sections threaten to fall apart? What about our ability to create long lines, sustain tempi, and create smooth transitions? I believe you can’t know a piece until you experience it on stage multiple times. Not only do I advise my students and parents to accept their mistakes in early performances or competitions, I also instruct them to take notes afterwards and apply what they experience to their practice going forward. My goal is for them to play passionately but remain clinical. I urge them to shut off all internal judgment in order to open the door to fascination as to how their bodies respond to the excitement of stage and audience.

I have frequently seen parents disheartened by the first few performances assuming this is a marker for how their child will fare long term in the competitive arena. In fact, one has almost nothing to do with the other. In my studio last year we offered 7 performance opportunities to students in master classes we hosted. In addition to this, we selected students upon request to perform in classes for The National Philharmonic, WPAS, Fairfax Symphony, and ASTA master classes. I make attendance of these classes a factor in whom I choose to perform because I want them to witness their classmates in process. A performance that is rocky at the beginning of the competition season will soar by the end of the year. Soon they see on their own that the early performances aren’t as much a reflection of promise as they are a body adjusting to pressures and factors. They start to manage their own expectations and embrace the process.

This would be the end of the blog if it weren’t for the unpredictable nature of the competitions and auditions. We often compete for the performance opportunities awarded or the scholarships. With competition results often catching us off guard, if the prizes don’t contain one or both of those things, I rarely encourage competing over just performing in an opportunity we can provide ourselves. Some students thrive on goal setting and the pressure an audition or competition can provide. It can serve as a great motivator. But eventually they will need to find that motivation within themselves!

The expectation to win a competition or advance to a higher round needs to be managed very carefully. I often describe to my students how many times I won a competition on a performance that disappointed me to tears backstage while losing a competition after my best playing. Sometimes it truly feels there is no rhyme or reason to it. In fact, in most circumstances, there is – just not necessarily in everyone’s favor. If only we could look at the iTunes library of the judges beforehand we might catch a glimpse at what rendition of our pieces they preferred. We cant please everyone (we shouldn’t!) and often I think with a different jury we would see a different outcome. Once in the finals it is so much anybody’s game in my opinion, I advise people to pretend they have won already stressing that the ordering of prizes could swap around very easily. I have been on juries enough to know that some battlegrounds will form and perspective can get lost. When I was a young competitor, I once had a cellist who was head of a jury approach me after I won only to tell me he was annoyed he had to fight for me to win because the violinist on the jury was so put off by my f holes not consistently being out. Quizzically that comment wasn’t even on my critique that was mailed later. I myself almost missed a flight judging a competition once fighting for a child to receive the award I believed they had merited only to find out one of their score sheets from another jury member had gone missing deducting 50 possible points from their overall score.

Being “invited to the arena” or named finalist is an opportunity to perform, be inspired by others in your category, receive critique, and carry this information forward. It is a privilege to even play this literature let alone be identified as exceptional in your interpretation of it. With gradual preparation through multiple performances, our best outcomes in competitions last year came from students who felt they had already won as they walked out on stage, not just as they were handed the award afterwards.

Next in this blog series: Preparing for Final Rounds, Competition Etiquette, and Carrying the Experience Forward.

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