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Top BlogsBy The Weekend Vote
May 24, 2013 08:53
I think that most people have a dominant hand, in their violin-playing, and it is not necessarily determined by whether they are right- or left-handed.
I noticed one of my teaching colleagues describing to a student how to feel something in the bow hand, and it dawned on me, that she herself tends to feel her playing mostly in the bow hand: in that tension of hair against the string, the feel of the stick against the thumb, even in the movement of hand and arm.
I feel that, too, but I think I mostly feel my violin-playing in my left hand: the strings into my fingers, the vibrating of the strings, the vibrato in my hand, the violin neck on my thumb.
On which side to you feel your violin playing most strongly, in the bow hand, or the violin hand?
May 23, 2013 12:25
Once upon a time, a long, long time ago (1986), in a land far, far away (New Jersey), I had a job. I had a job as an administrative assistant in a community music school. People (mostly children) came to the school for private instrument (mostly piano) lessons. The school hired musicians (mostly professionals) from the area to teach the lessons. I did the payroll. Bi-weekly. There were several dozen teachers on the payroll. I knew exactly what everyone was paid.
Junior faculty, college students, were paid pretty close to minimum wage, about $6.25 an hour. Regular faculty, local freelance musicians, all of whom had college or conservatory performance degrees, were paid from $9.00 to $15.00 an hour. Senior faculty included a woman with a doctorate in piano performance from Jacobs School of Music at Indiana University. She received $17.50 an hour. The most highly paid staff member was a section violinist from New York Philharmonic. She was paid the huge sum of $19.50 per hour of teaching time.
At the time, none of these numbers made much of an impression on me as I calculated payroll. It was clear to me, however, that all of the music teachers had a great deal of training and education, that they could play their instruments very well, and that they were all highly qualified for their jobs.
After a year or so, I left the conservatory to work for a computer company as a software instructor. Remember, this was a long, long time ago, and personal computers were just making their way in to the public sphere. Secretaries used typewriters back then. A portable computer weighed 13 pounds. My company sold desktop computers to businesses, and then I would go teach the employees how to use software with weird sounding names like Corel and Lotus. MicrosoftWord also existed back then, and I taught this one, too.
In fact, my very first assignment was a 3-hour private tutorial in MicrosoftWord for a secretary who worked for an investment banker, just block away from the community music school. Did I know how to use MicrosoftWord? No. Had I ever seen MicrosoftWord before? Maybe. Did I know how to use a word processor? Sort of. Did I know how to operate a PC? More or less. That was all OK. Being a diligent employee, I took the manual home that night to read through and spent an hour or so experimenting with the program. The next morning, I was ready to teach.
Everything was going well, until the third hour when the secretary wanted to know how to insert a page break. Oops! I punted. “Computer programs can be very complex. An important skill to learn is how to use the manual, with its table-of-contents and index. You have to be able to figure things out from it. Let me guide you through the process.”
And what did I get paid for this private instruction session for which I had no qualifications what-so-ever?
$25.00 per hour.
What was wrong with this picture? The discrepancy bothered me then. It still bothers me today.
By Laurie Niles
May 23, 2013 09:38
This year I can officially say that I've been teaching for 20 years. I've learned so much from my students, my colleagues and my mentors, and I still absolutely love to teach. I've also probably made every mistake you can make -- being an overconfident "new" teacher, feeling threatened by other teachers, etc.. I've watched fantastic teachers, I've seen teachers struggle.
But one thing has emerged for me: the importance of cultivating a supportive community of colleagues, teachers and students. It's important not just to our sanity and health as teachers, but also to our overall endeavor of promoting the violin as a worthwhile activity for all. And it doesn't just happen, we have to cultivate that supportive environment.
How do we do that? Here's a start: I've compiled a list of ways to be a supportive teaching colleague.
1. Learn to accept different ways of doing things. You may disagree with other teachers, but refrain from talking with students and parents about another teacher's faults. You can explain to parents why you do things your way without pointing fingers and accusing other teachers of being "wrong." When you publicly disrespect other teachers, you not only break trust with your colleagues, but you also show yourself to be insecure and unprofessional.
2. Share your good ideas with other teachers. Let them watch your lessons. This is how we raise the the overall standard of our profession, by spreading the use of good ideas and having a free exchange that feeds all of our creativity.
3. Try ideas from your colleagues and observe their lessons; it brings you closer and can enhance your teaching greatly.
4. When you recommend, recommend highly. Stick with the truth, to be sure, but don't hold back your praise of other teachers' strengths.
5. Help other teachers when they ask; give good advise to beginning teachers.
6. See new teachers in your area not as a threat, but as an opportunity to grow your community of students. Having more students in your community will provide everyone with more opportunities for music-making, so join forces and build it up!
7. When working with another teacher's student at a workshop or during the summer, take care not to damage their relationship. You might even seek to praise their "home" teacher. If you feel the student needs to change something, go about it in a positive way. Don't blame the other teacher for "teaching wrong." The problem could be something that the teacher has worked hard to fix, or that the student misunderstood. So many times, I've heard, "My teacher told me to do that!" then I discovered later that the teacher said, or at least meant, something else entirely. (I've even heard "YOU told me to do that," from my own students when I'm correcting them, because they misunderstood!)
8. Participate in teaching workshops and make an effort to learn your colleagues' names and special interests. Socialize, if it seems appropriate!
9. Go to other teachers' studio recitals. Nothing shows more support than being there in the audience and seeing the students at their best.
10. If there are problems with a colleague, seek to resolve the problems by address them honestly with that colleague. Don't tell 30 other people about the problem first!
11. Have your students buy sheet music; don't xerox the music for them. This is how we support composers, arrangers and publishers that make a living by creating wonderful things for us to play! If possible, pass this attitude on to your students and their parents: that we buy the music, especially from a living composer or arranger.
12. Encourage your students to support each other, not to tear each other down. Again, stick with the truth, but conspicuously praise their strengths, and encourage them to acknowledge each other. Have them play together. Don't pit the students of your studio against the students in another. Instead, think of ways to have them make music together.
I'm sure I've left some things out, please feel free to add to this list and comment!
By Laurie Niles
May 22, 2013 13:11
One might think that after 10 days of grueling competition -- playing Paganini, solo Bach, Ysaye, Mozart, a new modern piece, a recital program, a full concerto -- Belgian violinist Marc Bouchkov might be able to rest, having won the gold medal. Not so!
Yet he seemed very much up to the task of being the laureate, with all the interviews, socializing and extra concerts that involves.
Last Friday, after playing Ysaye's "L'Aurore" from Sonata No. 5 for a special group at CBC Radio-Canada headquarters, then appearing for a long radio interview in French, he sat for an interview -- in English -- with me. This was all just a few hours before performing the competition's Gala Concert, followed by a reception in which he greeted many well-wishers, sponsors and fans.
Marc Bouchkov and Laurie, at the CBC Radio-Canada headquarters in Montreal
It's no wonder that Marc is rather at-home with the whole process -- violin competitions are in his blood. Marc's father, Evgueni Bouchkov, placed third in the Queen Elisabeth Competition in 1989, and his paternal grandmother, Zoria Shikmurzaeva, placed fourth in the Queen Elisabeth Competition in 1963. Born in France to a Russian family, Marc started playing at the age of five, with his grandfather, Matis Vaitsner, as his first teacher.
"The violin was part of our family," Marc said. "Of course, when it is like this, it is a very musical home -- you can hear the violin from every room. As a child, it's like hearing someone speaking. If you hear somebody speaking, you start to speak the same language -- usually! (he laughs) So if somebody plays the violin, you will not say, "I want to play the trumpet." You probably want to play the violin. That is what happened to me. Of course it starts with the imitation, you take a wood thing and pretend to play like a big soloist and things, and then the parents ask, 'Do you really like it? Would you really like to do this?' And the child answers, 'Yes, of course! I want to be like you!'"
His grandfather taught him for about eight years, then he studied with Claire Bernard at the Conservatory of Lyon, then with Boris Garlitsky, first at Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique in Paris, then in Hamburg. He has participated in many contests competitions, including the 2012 Queen Elisabeth Competition, at which he was an unranked laureate.
He played his first big competition at age 15, the Louis Spohr Competition in Weimar. "I did it because I saw that a lot of other people were doing competitions, and we decided to try," he said. He was well prepared and made it to the finals -- then, "I didn't get anything, no prize! At that age, this is really a shock, like taking hammer shot on the head." It brought him down to earth with a big thud. Fortunately, his parents had perspective. "They taught me how to learn from the mistakes; how to learn from a failure." One failure should not make you give up and be destroyed; instead, one can learn and come back even better afterwards. And that he did, winning first prize in the Henry Koch International Violin Competition in Belgium several years later.
He continues to seek to learn from the mistakes, and even from the victories. "You need the nerves to think this way, but if you do, you will never stop. There is no moment when you will say to yourself, 'Well now it's over.'" Marc said. It's tempting to reject negative comments from judges, but analyzing those comments can lead to great self-improvement.
"You analyze and you analyze -- it's a very important characteristic to have, to be able to analyze what's going on: to analyze yourself, to be self-critical, and to analyze the people around you," he said. He said he learned a lot from his colleague, Andrey Baranov, who won first prize at the 2012 Queen Elisabeth Competition. "I basically discovered him, not only on the violin but also as a person, and I must say that I learned a lot from him. I really respect what he's doing, and I think he is a model, as far as being self-critical, being able to analyze, and also -- not speaking too much! The more you keep for yourself, the more then you can provide on the instrument later. And he's very good at it."
Marc plays on a Jean-Baptiste Vuillaume violin from his sponsor, Brigitte Feldtmann. The shoulder rest on the back is home-made -- a very low rest designed simply to keep his shoulder from dampening the sound:
Back of the Jean-Baptiste Vuillaume that Marc plays
One obvious characteristic of Marc's playing is his presence -- his involvement in the here and now -- and his awareness of his partners in music-making, be they one pianist or a whole orchestra.
"The music we are performing can be personal, but you have to share it," Marc said. "You have to share it whether is is a symphony, or a concerto, or chamber music, or even if it's solo music. If it's alone, you have to listen to yourself, and to the silence which accompanies you. You have to share it with the silence around you.
"In chamber music, you have to play with other people -- their part is exactly as important as yours," Marc said. "Without their part, you're nobody, and without your part, they're nobody." Even in an orchestra, everyone's part is equally important, "everybody has to participate, everybody has to be involved." A soloist may play louder, may play for a longer time, may have the melody or more notes, but the other parts must be given equal consideration. "To consider every part is extremely important, and a pleasure, when you come to play with an orchestra," Marc said. "It's a very social thing to be a musician. You don't have to be social out of the music -- maybe you can be totally alone and living in your place. But as soon as you take out the instrument to make music, you have to be social. Even if you're alone, you have to be social with the atmosphere around you."
Another place that Marc feels a link is with the orchestra, and not just as a soloist, but as an orchestral player. He has played for several years as a section player in the North German (NDR) Radio Symphony Orchestra
"I respect it and I love it," Marc said of orchestra playing. "This is my counterstrike against all this policy of: 'Never go in the orchestra, you're a soloist! The losers go into the orchestra!' You hear this from a lot of teachers and from a people who consider themselves big artists. But never listen to it! It is totally wrong."
For Marc, playing in the orchestra has allowed him to see how it works from the inside. "If you know it from inside, really from the inside, then you can build an image when you're coming to play as a soloist with the orchestra." In other words, he can feel at home, as a soloist playing with a professional orchestra.
And what if the orchestra is conducted by Maxim Vengerov, as it was in the finals and gala concert in Montreal?
"Honestly speaking, it has been an unbelievable experience," Marc said. "I grew up with Vengerov's recordings. I loved so much the way he played Max Bruch Concerto, I wanted to learn like him! I even studied some concertos by ear -- I didn't have the score, but I would play with earphones, listening to his recordings. For me, Vengerov is still this unbelievable figure of the violin of this century. He conducts very well."
"I was really pleased that he was going to conduct (at the competition)," Marc said. "I didn't know him at all as a person, and I was a bit scared to meet him, of course! But when I saw him and when we started to speak, I was sure that it could be nothing but good. He's very respectful towards the younger musicians and towards the less-experienced musicians, and he helped us. His way of dealing with the orchestra is very respectful and very noble. I love that -- this has been a very nice experience."
* * *
BELOW: Marc Bouchkov performs Ysaye's "Caprice d'après l'étude en forme de valse" in the semi-finals of the 2012 Queen Elisabeth International Violin Competition:
By Danielle Gomez
May 20, 2013 18:09
I never quite outgrew watching cartoons. It's not like I get up every Saturday at 7am to watch them like I did back in the good ol' days. But I rent series on Netflix on a pretty regular basis. Good cartoons can have very provoking plot lines and interesting characters. "Avatar: The Last Airbender" being an excellent example.
One of the lastest series I've been going through is "Star Wars: The Clone Wars." At the beginning of every episode they have what one of my students calls "a Yodaism" (we bond over the episodes we've seen). It's a little one or two sentence bit of wisdom/life advice that usually has something to do with the episode that will follow.
So one one of the episodes I recently watched it said: "Adaption is the key to survival." It struck me as really relavant to a topic that has been coming up a lot lately in lessons. I currently have this large batch of students that have "stuck it out." Meaning I started them all when they were 3/4/5 years old when I had a ton of lesson openings in my studio.
It's been a few years so that same batch is now 7/8/9 years old which is a totally different kind of kid. If you've ever taught/raised this age, you know that the eight year old knows everything. They're independent in some areas but not all. And while they know how to play the violin, they lack the maturity to do consistent, correct repetitions.
Which leads to parent meltdowns. They know their kid is mucking up the piece and they're frustrated because all the cute little games and tricks that worked before when the student was four no longer seem to have the same impact.
Therefore, adaptation is the key to survival.
The bag of tricks no longer works so new tricks need to be added to the bag. It's unreasonable to think that the things that motivate a child when they were four will be the same when they're eight. The child has changed and so must you.
Practicing should never be a static concept. It's very dynamic. So while practicing should always take place, what goes on in the practice session must change if the child is going to both progress and remain interested in their instrument.
May 20, 2013 13:11
Violinmaker Bob Spear has said that playing a mezzo violin will make a better violin player out of you. In my case, he is right. I don’t know if I would have practiced as much and kept playing on my good German trade fiddle from the twenties. My Chinese mezzo designed by Bob is only a high grade instrument. But this is an instrument that responds easily and allows one to realize the art of violin playing. Like a really good hand made violin it demands better technique than the basic high grade trade fiddle.
The mezzo violin, right, is perfectly scaled up from the Strad grand pattern instrument. For reference, my 1920's German fiddle, left, measures perfectly to the grand pattern. Although the pictures appear to show more difference, the mezzo body is only 1/2" longer.
My old violin has a nice little dark tone but not the easily produced projection of the mezzo. Both are on the same basic quality level. I am one who picked the violin up again in retirement. In many ways I am better now but the vibrato still isn’t working. Maybe it is in the chin-rest shoulder-rest collar-rest setup that I don’t have right quite yet.
Until the beginning of this year I stayed in first position in order to work on intonation. But slipping into third was beginning to come more frequently where a phrase worked better in third. But shifting just came back and was just right there naturally most of the time. When I was a kid, I didn’t think that practicing Flesch scales had done me that much good.
The instrument has continued to bloom in fullness of sound quality. It’s sound quality is in the middle of what one expects a violin to be. Neither dark nor shrill. It is equally strong on the G string and E string with only the expected note to note variations that all string instruments have by the laws of physics.
An anomaly happened this year. About three of four months after installing new strings (two sets of Pro-Arte and one of Karneol) the open A string would develop something like a loud wolf tone. And the first and second fingers on A would sound strange harmonics. At last, I noticed that when the G was plucked violently, it had a rattle. Of course I looked in all the usual places to no avail. Soon, I noticed the silk wrapping on the G string. It was half way up in it’s radiused groove of the nut. The thickness of the silk was lifting the aluminum winding just a few thousandths above the groove at the edge of the nut. That was the G rattle. When the G string resonated sympathetically while the open A was being played vibration in this minute gap caused those strange sounds.
The resolution was simple, I carefully cut the silk back about ?th of an inch being careful not to nick the aluminum. The reason is that on my mezzo the nut to bridge length is 16 mm longer than on a normal violin. Since the G string peg is closest to the nut, there isn’t very much allowance to give the string makers any extra length to shorten the G string silk. At this time, there aren’t enough mezzos in the world for the string makers to create a special G string for the mezzo but using a small viola G might work. In the future, I will just trim the silk back.
It is reassuring to read the trials, tribulations and solutions from you string players who share your experiences on V.com. I know now that I am not alone when I have a problem here or there. I thank you for your sharing and also to Laurie and Robert for keeping this site on the net.
If you are shopping for a strong violin at a modest price trying out a mezzo made or designed by a student of Carleen Hutchins is well worth your time. Possibly you want to leave your valuable instrument home when you play on a cruse ship. An imported mezzo might fill in.
ABL (aka the Mezzofiddler)
By Laurie Niles
May 19, 2013 21:24
How heartening to see such a big turnout on Friday night for the final Gala Concert of the 2013 Montreal International Musical Competition!
The three laureates -- Marc Bouchkov (first prize), Stephen Waarts (second prize) and Zeyu Victor Li (third prize) -- and three remaining finalists -- Fédor Roudine, Ji Young Lim and Chi Li -- played to a nearly-full house at the Maison Symphonique de Montréal.
Above, I have linked the performers' names to their semi-final performances, because I do believe the semi-finals truly showcased their emerging artistry, and in many cases they gave truly stunning performances.
Left to right, Maxim Vengerov, Stephen Waarts, Chi Li, Zeyu Victor Li, Ji Young Lim and Marc Bouchkov. Photo: Gunther Gamper
This final concert -- well, it was a bit more like those final Olympic figure skating exhibition galas, when the competition is over, the athletes are exhausted, and nobody is making their triple-lutz jumps any more. Maxim Vengerov finally did get to conduct something besides the Tchaikovsky Concerto, with Chi Li playing the last movement of the Mendelssohn, Ji Young Lim playing Saint-Saens "Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso," Zeyu Victor Li playing Ravel's Tzigane and Marc Bouchkov playing Sibelius Concerto. Fedor Roudine reprised his last movement of the Tchaikovsky and Stephen Waarts, the first movement of the Brahms.
Winners of the special awards were announced in an awards ceremony that preceded the performance. They included:
Best performance of the Compulsory Canadian Work ("Rhapsodie pour violin et piano" by Jean Lesage)
Radio-Canada People's Choice Award
Wilder and Davis Award for the Best Semi-Final Recital
MIMC Grants for the Unranked Finalists
By Mendy Smith
May 19, 2013 16:50
I'm on my second week without a You-Know-What. Collarbones were made for holding the viola. The biggest thing I have to watch out for is not raising my shoulder and going into "clamp the darned thing between my jaw & shoulder" mode. I probably used to do this all the time with a You-Know-What, but without one it is much more noticeable when I do that dreaded act.
I have discovered that the thumb is a movable object. Sometimes it is high, sometimes it is low, sometimes behind the first finger and sometimes between the 1st and 2nd finger. But by all means it shouldn't stay completely stationary. A stationary thumb tends to lead to tension.
My bowing straightened itself out over the past week. I now have that nice squared stance that has eluded me for years. I also discovered that I can reach the very tip of the bow without having to do odd right-arm stretches.
But best of all is that my vibrato is starting to finally loosen up and has become less spastic and more continuous. Now if I can break through this muscular speed limit before tensing up, I'll be golden.
May 19, 2013 09:37
In 2 hours I will be at my outside of school orchestra trying out for one of their ensembles I' Solisti. My mom received the email encouraging me to trying out, but told me very late, so I learned the music late and now here I am with a mostly memorized piece nervous that I'll screw up. Screams are itching their way out of my throat and I have the urgent sense to go and hide and not do the audition.
But then what would that accomplish? I don't know if I'll make it in or not, but this audition experience is important. There is college next year and that will be even more nerve racking. It doesn't matter if I make it in or not( well it does a little bit), but I need to get over this fear of being judged. Of course I am being judged, but why fear it? The worst they can say is that you did make it in. There is already a 50 percent chance of Not making it in.
What makes people so nervous about auditioning? The fear of messing up? Playing in front of people you don't know or better yet you do know? Not being able to impress? If there is one thing that people outside of the music world don't seem to think about it that not only is it hard to play the instruments, but it's hard to perform it in front of others for people. Music is so hard in every sense, but I'm willing to go through the fear and fire to make it my life...it's just going to be a little flight getting there.
Off to my audition I go
By The Weekend Vote
May 17, 2013 22:09
What do you use to tune your fiddle, when you have no orchestral oboist around?
Revisit Violinist.com editor Laurie Niles' coverage from Canada of the 2013 Montreal International Musical Competition, including her interview with gold medalist Marc Bouchkov.
Violinist.com has not reviewed, and does not endorse, the content of any of the articles below.
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