Violinist.com members may keep personal journals on the website. Violinist.com's editor selects the best entries for the column below. Links to all other recent blog posts may be found in the column on the right.
By The Weekend Vote
December 19, 2014 10:26
Have you built a personal library of sheet music?
These days one can obtain sheet music in a variety of ways: buying it in person at a music store, shipping it from a music store, downloading it for printout, or even keeping it in digital form to be read on one's tablet with something like Musicreader.
The public-domain Internet library IMSLP is a great resource that gives us immediate access to music, without having to go to the store or wait for it in the mail. But sometimes what starts as a stopgap measure (we'll just print this out so you can get started) turns into: nine weeks later, we're still using computer copies -- torn and ragged by now -- to learn a piece. And all the valuable information like bowings, fingerings, other suggestions, have been written into the disintegrating copy-part.
You can see my view here: I do think it's important to get "real music" for the pieces you study. And for copyrighted pieces, you'd better at least pay for that download! That said, my library certainly has photocopies in it. In many years of orchestra-playing, I have saved a lot of the practice parts that were sent to me, so that I have them for reference. I've used digital music only a handful of times, mostly for reading orchestra charts that were sent to me for practice and were too numerous to print out.
Certainly, trends are changing. I am curious about people's sheet music collections. While I may still like my music printed professionally on creamy, thick sheets of paper, technology has improved greatly for digital storage and use, so many people might be collecting music in a digital form. Also, if you are strapped for money, it's cheaper to print out the music (though I might argue a false economy, here, if that printed music falls apart and you lose your valuable markings).
What are your thoughts on sheet music? Do you collect it? How do you store it? Do you insist on quality copies? What is your ratio of "real" copies to printed copies to digital copies? In what direction are you personally going, with this issue? Please cast your vote for what best fits, and add your comments below.
By Michael O'Gieblyn
December 18, 2014 09:40
It's getting to be that time of year now that juries are over, perhaps we're traveling home for the holidays, and we should start thinking about summer festivals. But getting into those involves a lot of planning and work, and of course.....an audition!!
It's tough to prepare for an audition, especially if you're away from your teacher for a few weeks, and you're supposed to be learning a new concerto or a recital program. It's also tough if you're preparing for a professional orchestra audition and aren't surrounded by fellow classmates and a supportive environment.
I've been in all of these situations, which is why I started ViolinExcerpts.com
I'm starting a new monthly feature, specifically to address the last part of audition preparation: playing while being nervous.
The way I see it, there are three parts to playing a successful audition:
The majority of my life, I focused heavily on # 1 and #2, and I bet you are in a similar situation. I would do my best to learn the excerpts, get some input from a teacher, maybe play them for a friend once, and then see what happened.
Over the years, I've learned that #3 is really the only part the panel hears and considers to make their decision.
All the countless hours I spent were gone in a moment because I couldn't get my heart to stop racing, my bow to stop shaking, and my mind to stop telling me I was a failure and should just resort to teaching snotty kids in some backwards remote country, who wouldn't appreciate my talent or my efforts!
So, today I'm starting a new project, I hope you'll join me for: On January 12th, 2pm CT I'm holding a live webinar audition.
Wherever you are in the world, you can join an intimate community that wants to help you succeed at your next audition.
You can choose to perform or just to listen and offer constructive feedback.
If you want to perform, you can also choose to make it a "blind audition" and only use your audio.
This webinar is currently free, and space is limited to the first 25 participants who sign up at
I hope to see you there,
By Amy Beth Horman
December 18, 2014 08:22
I am writing this blog to detail what I think is the importance of special events in private studios. With a full studio of advanced students, most of whom are actively competing, it seems we could have an event every other week to keep everyone up and running. House recitals, church performances, master classes, or bigger events - they all add something to a student's education. Performance opportunities are key to teaching a student the art of performance and allow me to guide them through effective practice, stage etiquette, and performance anxiety.
About twice a year now, we engage in what I define as "Special Events" for our studio. For these events, we explore a new genre of music, or experience something new together. It is a departure from what we do week to week and the kids are given a rare opportunity where they are able to continue bonding as a peer group. We are almost a month past our Special Event with Symphony of the Potomac and the memories for all of us are still flowing.
Last Fall our studio met with Lady Gaga's violinist, Judy Kang and had a special event at Strathmore Hall where we learned how to follow our ears and improvise. We ended the class with an "Orpheus" styled performance of Saint Saens Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso. We transcribed the Saint Saens for our group to perform with her and had met in rehearsal for weeks going over our parts. The kids had fun picking popular tunes to improvise on in front of an audience. Our students were so excited to participate and the event sold out. The energy off of this event lasted months for many of them. Watching them after this performance, I knew I should keep my mind open to the next opportunity for my students to do something out of the box and inspirational.
This past Spring, when I saw the video of Arvo Part's Passacaglia for duo violins online, I posted it on our studio Facebook group jokingly stating "now all we need is a vibraphone!". In my artist's mind, we had the full sections of violins and siblings on lower strings plus soloists who would love the opportunity to perform with orchestra. It was a vision I could easily conjure up. Within minutes, a conductor who I have worked with for years responded " I can get you a vibraphone and would love to do this". My heart leapt. And just like that, a Special Event started taking shape in my mind. We were lucky to be sponsored by the Symphony of the Potomac and conductor Joel Lazar and have access to a beautiful space in our area to present such large works. I smile when I reflect back on the beginning of the planning stages because the artist side of me that fully embraces the "vision" is now paired with an administrator's job running an advanced studio. A vision of the final product is one thing... but the planning, developing, advertising, and coaching of such a thing is quite another. Still, I sit here today with absolutely no regrets. The effects of planning, preparing, and performing something like this are so long lasting and we benefit as a studio more than I can describe in words.
Something about learning big concerti most of my life has taught me to embrace the long haul so I slowly started planning, plugging in an hour or so a day. I worked with the Symphony of the Potomac on renting parts, hired extra musicians, and chose the students I knew would benefit the most from an experience like this one. I knew the second half would be with orchestra on works by Part plus one of younger students performing Bartok with harp but I still needed a first half to lead us to it. So I formed a first half of lesser known works for violin and piano by composers like Ysaye, Sibelius, and Previn featuring our younger elementary and middle school students and the concertmaster chosen for our second half. These kids performing with piano on the first half would then sit and accompany their peers in the orchestra on the second half. I took a month to handpick the pieces for each student and then learned them side by side one lesson at a time. Some of the students loved the pieces right away and some were trusting and simply followed my lead. We bonded over editing them together. With the performance event in mid November, I sent them into a competition in October with these newer pieces to try them out. I made a point of calling them 'ambassadors" of music that doesnt get enough stage time. They surprised me and swept the competition with prizes and their excitement was palpable. They WERE ambassadors! We held a house recital to put some finishing touches on and the kids for the first half were smiling and ready to perform for a larger audience.
Next I received their parts for the Arvo Part pieces from overseas. I carefully formed an orchestra seating chart, edited each part, and sent them out for the kids to bring to lessons.
For three to four weeks, I took 15 minutes in their lessons to review their orchestra parts for the Part works. Our first half soloists would be accompanying their peers sitting in the orchestra together so they would be playing a lot that night. With multi meter pieces like these, many of our students had never seen or heard anything like it. They were eager but challenged. Special effects, playing on the fingerboard, senza vibrato and learning to blend in softer dynamics kept them engaged and busy. Meanwhile, I continued to train the soloists on their parts. I sent tempo markings and recordings to the conductor and got organized for our first rehearsal. I took a lot of happy deep breaths. Parents organized a reception, passed out flyers, and even donated their services in recording and videography. We notified the Estonian Embassy and watched with wide eyes as our event got listed on the Arvo Part Centre website alongside events at Carnegie Hall. I could honestly feel the kids gearing up in every lesson. They knew they were part of something big, special, and that they were going to bond and experience something completely new together.
At the first rehearsal, things came together easier than I could have expected. Despite the multi metered mayhem, it was thrilling even with lots of work left to do. The conductor was wonderful, generous, and sensitive to the age group. The adults and members of the Symphony were warm and supportive to our students, adding stability to allow them to experience the music without fear. I watched my students bright eyed and ready to open their ears to a kind of music they had never encountered before. It was spellbinding and gratifying for all of us.
The event itself was the most attended event we have had thus far. This was not your regular violin recital with music most had never heard before played by students ages 10-17. They were so proud of what they had created. They had involved their ears and technique in making art happen. This wasn't about playing faster or cleaner and their focus had to be more linear and specific. I was able to enjoy their performance as a musician and really relish it as their teacher, predicting its effects on their progress individually.
The weeks that have followed have been active and back to business as usual. We have all returned to our normal literature of lessons, competitions, and auditions. I even had a solo performance with orchestra last weekend. But the air in the studio is different. It is more inspired. The students' eyes light up when they see each other and they are more bonded than ever. And, of course, we are already thinking about next year.
I hope this inspires other educators to plan outside the box for their students. At this level of teaching, in private studios where we are not part of an institution that serves us, it is on us to provide inspiration, opportunities, and ear awakening projects. It goes without saying that it takes hours of effort, planning, and development but what you see afterwards is beyond worth it.
The following are links to the dress rehearsals for our performances of Fratres and Passacaglia by Arvo Part led by conductor, Joel Lazar.
By Paul Huppert
December 17, 2014 10:50
Learning aids that address a multitude of endeavors are nothing new. The ubiquitous training wheels are a vital, sometimes necessary component in the travails of the learning process. How much of a price do we pay for added security and comfort? When do we venture away from that security? When do the training wheels come off?
Tapes on the violin fingerboard are meant to help give definition, clarity, and security, in an endeavor that (for most) is an adventure into the unknown. I will submit in this article a couple of concepts, and a couple of ideas (i.e. opinions) that are really meant to contribute to the conversation. A discussion that I suspect is not either/or but an opportunity to address a relatively accepted pedagogical concept, and see it from a slightly different angle.
I use tapes with my beginning students (generally age 6-9). However, my journey as a violin instructor has taught me that tapes on the fingerboard are not a good idea for two reasons. 1. For the student they offer an opportunity to avoid the responsibility of aural integrity (i.e. play in tune dude) and more...the fingerboard is not a keyboard, there are many shades of grey, and a multitude of subtlety involved with intonation. That's one of the things that makes playing the violin, and other fret-less instruments so great. 2. It allows the instructor an easy path to a mediocre end. It's just plain easier to 'teach' the beginning student that has the added pitch crutch of a placement indicator for most, if not all of the notes they wish to employ in a given selection of music. The point in this humble diatribe is to express a different point of view concerning the use of tapes on the violin fingerboard.
Imagine for a moment that instead of the usual four tapes in the first position, we utilize only two (first, and third finger) but not for the reasons generally assumed. My personal epiphany came courtesy of the left thumb. Thumbs are basically the anchors for both left, as well as right hand technique. Noticing that many violin students early on have difficulty with thumb placement, and have (not yet) established a good frame in their left hand. The first finger tape is a good landmark position for the thumb and first finger, especially when engaging the third and fourth fingers. My beginning students become quite accustomed to hearing "check your thumb tape." In addition, I like to introduce the G string early on, and instruct the student to practice a basic four finger pattern, this also helps to establish the 'frame' for the left hand, as well as better left arm positioning. The second finger being the strongest, and the student needing to learn the difference between 'higher and lower' generally progress quite nicely without the aid of a tape. Now on to the third finger tape....
Mark O'Connor, in his early competition days distinguished himself in the fiddle world by frequently shifting between first and third position, and utilizing fourth finger extensions from the third position. None of these techniques were anything new in the classical world, but applied to a different genre, were ground breaking. O'Connor took an old concept from baroque times and applied it to improvisational folk playing. The point here is that a violin instructor, by shifting their perspective on what is taught when, can incorporate some interesting and beneficial changes in how violin technique is addressed for the beginning violin student.Tweet
By Robert Niles
December 16, 2014 12:46
In an effort to promote the coverage of live violin performance, Violinist.com each week presents links to reviews of notable concerts and recitals around the world.
James Ehnes performed the Walton with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and the Brahms with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, on the same day.
Stephen Waarts performed works by Beethoven, Bartok and Ravel in recital with pianist Chelsea Wang.
In Mo Yang. Photo: Neda Navaee
In Mo Yang performed Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 5 with the Boston Classical Orchestra.
Stefan Jackiw performed Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 5 and David Fulmer's Jubilant Arcs with the ProMusica Chamber Orchestra.
Joshua Bell performed Mozart and Schubert with pianist Menahem Pressler and "Death and the Maiden" with a student chamber group:
Vadim Gluzman performed Prokofiev's Violin Concerto No. 2 with the Tucson Symphony.
Remus Azoitei performed the Tchaikovsky with the Philharmonic Chamber Orchestra of London.
Gil Shaham premiered David Bruce's Violin Concerto “Fragile Light” with the San Diego Symphony.
Jack Liebeck performed Bruch's Violin Concerto No. 2 with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra.
Please support live music in your community by attending a concert or recital whenever you can!
In other news: Our apologies for missing a Grammy nominee last week! A big congratulations to the Turtle Island String Quartet, which was nominated for a Grammy in the "Best Classical Compendium" category for an album recorded with mandolinist Mike Marshal, called Mike Marshall & The Turtle Island Quartet.Tweet
By Laurie Niles
December 15, 2014 16:04
For many years, violin teachers have been helping their students explore fiddle and folk music in addition to their classical studies. With help from a lot of great teachers (listed at the end of this article) I've compiled a list of some of the best resources to help teachers, students and musicians explore various types of fiddle music and American music. Categories I've included are fiddle (which includes a variety of kinds of fiddle music), Canadian fiddle, and a few entries for jazz, rock and tango. In the future I hope to make other (or expanded) lists for genres like gypsy, klezmer, mariachi, Indian, jazz, etc. (Tell me which you'd like, most!)
Below, if you click on the name of the book, CD or method, in most cases that will bring you to the link for how to buy it. There are also some great books out there that are either out-of-print or not available on the Internet, and I wanted you to be aware of them anyway. If you wish to find those, I have given links that should provide a lead, and you also might check with your local library or university music library.
I hope this list of resources helps in your learning, teaching and exploration of fiddle music. If you have additional resources to share, please do so in the comments section or e-mail me with your ideas. Enjoy!
The Children's Session Book, by Karen Ashbrook
The Fiddle Series, by Greg Baker
Mel Bay books for violin and fiddle
Fiddle Heart Scandinavian Fiddle Tunes, by Göran Berg
The Fiddler's Fakebook: The Ultimate Sourcebook For The Traditional Fiddler, by David Brody (Oak Publications)
A Guide to American Fiddling, by Andy Carlson
Fiddlers Philharmonic, by Andrew Dabczynski and Bob Phillips
Fiddlin' Favorites, by Lisa Manning Deakins
String Connection Music Book, Vol. 1 and 2, by John Dewey
Top Fiddle Solos, by Craig Duncan
Elmore Fiddle Camp, by Randy Elmore
String Groove, by Edgar Gabriel
Fiddlescapes by Deborah Greenblatt
Fairfield Fiddle Farm, by Charles Hall
American Fiddler, by Edward Huws Jones
The Contemporary Violinist, by Julie Lyonn Lieberman
Bluegrass Fiddle, by Gene Lowinger
The Fiddle Club, by Dean Marshall and John Crozman
300 Fiddle Tunes, by Ron Middlebrook (Centerstream Publishing)
Ruffwater Fake Book, edited by Judi Morningstar
The Phillips Collection of Traditional American Fiddle Tunes, by Stacy Phillips (Mel Bay) (Scroll down to find book)
The Portland Collection, Vol. 1 and Vol. 2, by Susan Songer and Clyde Curley
Ashokan Farewell, by Jay Ungar
Children's Fiddle Method Books 1 & 2, by Carol Ann Wheeler (Mel Bay)
The American Fiddle Method, by Brian Wicklund
Martha Yasuda arrangements
Fiddleworks 1, 2, and 3, by Zav RT (Frederick Harris Music)
The Dungreen Collection - Traditional Celtic Violin Music of Cape Breton, by Kate Dunlay and David Greenberg (1996)
Danse ce soir! Tunebook: Fiddle & accordion music of Québec, by Laurie Hart
Teaching CDs by Laura Risk
The Fiddle Music of Newfoundland and Labrador - Volumes 1 and 2, collected by Kelly Russell
The Easiest Dance Tunes from Newfoundland and Labrador, compiled by Christina Smith
Canadian Old Time Fiddle Hits, by Gordon Stobbe
Jamey Aebersold Jazz: Aebersold Play-A-Longs
Stylistic Duets for Two Violins, by Jeremy Cohen
Scott Joplin Ragtime Favourites, arr. by Colin Cowles (Fentone Music)
Creative Strings Academy, with Christian Howes
Jazz Fiddle Wizard by Martin Norgaard
Electrify your Strings, by Mark Wood
Folk Melodies of New Mexico and the Southwest, by Susan Kempter and team
Care to Tango, by Michael McLean
* * *
Many thanks to the following teachers for contributing to this list: Jody Harmon, Kristen Herbert Vance, Becky Lennon, Sarah Montzka, Laura Dalbey, Martha Yasuda, Marcos Kreutzer, Jenny Visick , Michael Fox, Redding Farlow Soderberg, Danielle Gomez, Göran Berg, Julianna Chitwood , Douglas Locke, Keenan Christensen Fletcher, Suzanne Edwards, Linda Louise Ford, S Ann Schluter, Rebecca Appert Kaltz, Julie 'Bamberger' Roubik , Sarah Skreko, Rafael Videira , Nathan Allen Wood, Vera Dragicevich, Laura Nerenberg, Aimee Morrill Briant. Thanks also to Kerstin Wartberg and the Suzuki Teaching Ideas Exchange Facebook group.Tweet
December 13, 2014 05:17
Hi Everyone, when I started the blog, I made a bargain with myself and you, that no matter how the work went during the making of the violin that was what I would be writing about.
Two weeks (or 8 days of school) ago I had great plans to have finished the two centre joints and then begin the boosting (or removing the waste wood) from the top plate. THAT was what I was expecting to be writing about this week.
It didn't happen.
The above picture represents 7 of the 8 days of school. Yes, 7. This was a centre joint that no matter what I tried it refused to come together until the very last day. Seven days to flatten one very wicked (and I think mockingly) twist I have ever seen in a piece of wood as you can see in the next picture. Especially if you want those two pieces of wood to be jointed together to make a violin top.
What I needed to do was first flatten the side facing the table, then square the smaller sides to that side, and lastly square the two pieces of wood to each other. When the joint is good there is not even room (anywhere) for even the space for a hair. Anything less will mean you will have a joint failure when the violin is under the pressure of being played. Not a good time for the top or the back to be flying apart.
To make such a joint, you will be planing the wood one or two shavings at a time- 0.03 mm thick (yes I measured) and then checking for square. An open door to the outside or it seems if you look at it side ways is enough to throw off a days work.
After 7 days of patiently-and after the fifth day not so patiently- I had a top centre joint whose joint is not too bad.
This spruce is made from wood that was cut about 120-140 years ago. And something that I've never seen before is what I can only call flamed spruce. Here is a picture of the finished top centre joint and a very remarkable piece of wood.
Back Centre Joint
Where the top centre joint took 7 days to complete the back joint took less than one day.
The only hiccup was the glueing of all things. John, who has many years of working with violins said that he had never seen anything like it. Either because of the age or because of the amount of natural oil in the wood or both it took coating the joint 4 times (normally it takes only 2). The wood just seemed to be drinking in the extra glue before allowing us to clamp the joint together. To test to be sure we had a good joint we gouged a piece out and the wood broke before the joint so all was well.
In the end, I have a good joint and a flamed back of the kind you rarely see. I am very pleased with the two joints and now able to move onto the next step!
John closes the shop in 4 days and reopens in the New Year. I plan on taking a couple of days off but will also be bringing work back to my flat, to work on during the break. So likely I will not be posting a blog until after the break.
Thanks for following my journey, so far, the great questions and comments, and those double tweets! Hope everyone is warmed beside your fireplaces with a warm drink in hand, good music being played, too much food to eat, and friends and family close by.Tweet
By The Weekend Vote
December 12, 2014 13:04
How do you like your "A"? Particularly, how do you like your "A" when it comes to Baroque music? Generally, we tune our modern violins to an "A" that is 440 hertz, but the pitch did not used to be so standardized. Those who adhere to "period performances" practices generally tune their violins to a lower pitch that is thought to be more in line with the pitch actually used in the Baroque era: an "A" that is 415 hertz -- much lower. In fact, if you want to just here the pitches, here is a 440 A and here is a 415 A.
More interesting to me, though, is how different these tuning systems sound, when one plays Baroque music. I've put together two examples of the same piece, one played in a standard "modern" way, using A=440, and another played in the "period performance" way, using A=415. Which do you like better? Please participate in the vote, and then share your comments and thoughts about tuning.
Our two examples are the first movement from the Bach Double (Concerto in D minor for Two Violins and Orchestra)
A=440 (modern): Itzhak Perlman and Isaac Stern play the Bach Double, I
A=415 (period performance) Rachel Podger and Bojan Cicic play the Bach Double, I
By Laurie Niles
December 10, 2014 13:20
What is a music student to do, over the holidays?
Though the holidays can be a very busy time for musicians, music students may find a bit of a lull in their studies during vacation days. Perhaps there was a motivating fall recital or holiday concert, but now it's over. School lets out. Teachers go on break, and lessons go on hiatus. Perhaps one travels to see family or friends.
Should the violin go along, or should it just go on break, too?
I never begrudge people a short break. It's important to connect with family and friends, to do charitable work, to attend a religious service, to throw a party, to do whatever makes that spirit of culture and community come alive for you.
But I'm not ready to tell you to put the bow down entirely! Most people have at least a few days off from work or school during the holidays, and if time and family/religious obligations allow, this "in between" time can prove quite fruitful for you and your violin. Without the pressure of a recital next week or even a lesson next week, you can plan some practice sessions that are purely experimental and a little less goal-oriented. Maybe it's time to sight-read some new music, or just try something that isn't an assignment. Did you stop doing scales, because you were so busy preparing for concerts? Well, do some leisurely scales, or focus on a technical matter that's been on the shelf. Maybe you want to play something from a long time ago, something you just simply liked. Maybe you'd like to just mess around and improvise. If you're lucky, perhaps you will see people who can play chamber music with you, what better way to bond over the holidays?
For some, it's just not possible to take the violin on holiday break, or to get to practicing. If that's the case, then you can still accomplish something by keeping your ears open. Long plane ride? Load your iPod with a recording (or several!) of your new piece and bring some nice headphones. Staying at home? Consider attending a concert or religious service with live music.
What ever the next few weeks holds for you, I hope it will be filled with good music! I welcome your suggestions for making the most of holiday break time.Tweet
By Kate Little
December 10, 2014 11:19
In the formidable final movement of Beethoven’s 9th symphony, the bass drum enters pianissimo, anchoring the tenor solo. In general, tenors receive sufficient attention. It is the bass drum that interests us today.
Erik also danced the gongs in the Utah Opera production of Turandot. Surrounded by a frame suspending a dozen bronze disks, his weight shifts, focus pivots, arms ripple, choreographed by the melody. Precise yet relaxed, the ringing tones originate in Eric’s thoughtfully, carefully prepared physique.
It’s physical. It’s mental. It’s emotional. It’s a personal thing, playing an instrument: An expression of the self. When you hear Eric play, you hear his childhood: his curiosity, his desire, his intention, his commitment. That is what has made his sound what it is today. When you hear Eric play, you hear his life: his joy and his fears. That is what allows him to perform. All of this in the bass drum of Beethoven’s 9th. Dancing for sound. Live. From Eric to you. That’s music.
Hear more from the world's top violinists in The Violinist.com Interviews: Volume 1, which includes our exclusive conversations with Joshua Bell, Sarah Chang, and David Garrett, and others, as well as a foreword by Hilary Hahn.
We've compiled a list of some of the year's best new offerings from violinists for you to consider.
Violinist.com has not reviewed, and does not endorse, the content of any of the articles below.
Wonder What Happens at Digitrax Entertainment SoKnox Studios?
How NOT To Move Your Violin or Viola when Practicing Vibrato
Why Can't Your Left Hand and Right Hand Just Get Along?
There is no one size fits all correct playing position
Please consider supporting Violinist.com by becoming a sponsor, and reaching our dedicated community of violin professionals, students and fans!