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By Emily Hogstad
July 23, 2014 15:23
On May 4, 2013, a sixteen-year-old girl messaged me via my Facebook page:
Hello Emily, my name is Emily Green and I am a Young Musician of Minnesota looking to do something about this lockout! I currently am in MYS [Minnesota Youth Symphonies] and a few of us students are forming a large group of young musicians to make a powerful video in regards to the lockout. Would you be interested in joining us? (Your articles are amazing, by the way!)
And that was my introduction to YMM, a group of talented young people determined to support the musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra during their 2012-14 lockout.
Over the last year, under Emily Green’s leadership, YMM has done a lot more than just shoot a powerful video. In their own words:
The Young Musicians of Minnesota (YMM) is a student-led and operated organization, consisting middle school through college graduate music students from across the state who have bound together to preserve and promote classical music throughout the state. YMM is entirely student-led, with students taking on roles such as conductor, orchestra manager, logistics advisor, concert event manager, and as performing musicians. YMM serves as a gateway to the professional music world, believing in offering students opportunities to challenge themselves, grow in their musical leadership and technical abilities, develop a greater appreciation for classical music, and work alongside professionals, all for NO COST. YMM members have held a presence in the community through filming our own YouTube video, participating in rallies, performing at the Minnesota State Fair, Orchestrate Excellence forums, our own youth orchestra concerts, chamber performances in the Orchestra Hall lobby, and as well as at We Day Minnesota 2013 (which is an educational event and movement of our time—a movement of young people leading local and global change).
Not bad for a teenager!
It’s been tremendous fun getting to know Emily. We’ve partied together outside of a symphony-less Symphony Ball – we’ve dressed in blue and white for the Finnish It! campaign – and we even ended up sitting next to each other at the grand opening of Northrup Auditorium, which also happened to be Osmo Vänskä’s first concert back as music director of the Minnesota Orchestra. In an exquisite twist of fate, that concert fell on May second, the first anniversary of YMM’s formation.
Emily started playing piano at five. Now at seventeen she is an accomplished horn player who has performed with the Minnesota Youth Symphonies, the MacPhail Wind Quintet, the Minneapolis Pops Orchestra, and the MMEA All-State Concert Band. This will be her senior year of high school. You can listen to a fabulous Minnesota Public Radio interview with her here.
For this Q&A, I wanted to ask her a few questions about her dreams and goals, the role she envisions young people playing in orchestral music, and the exciting concert that YMM is presenting at the University of Minnesota on August 1st.
EH: What specifically were you hoping to accomplish with YMM when you began? Did you have any specific goals at the beginning, or did you feel more like, this is a horrible situation and we need to do something to make our viewpoints heard and we’ll figure out the exact logistics of it later?
EG: When YMM began, I actually wasn’t expecting the group to become an “official” established organization. Our Facebook group “Young Musicians of Minnesota Support LoMOMO” was just a basic name that we came up with to describe who we were and what we intended to do. In fact, I wasn’t expecting to accomplish anything beyond making our YouTube video! After the video was created, students continued to ask me “What’s next? What can we do now to support the musicians?” and that’s when YMM’s journey fully began.
EH: So fast-forward to July 2014. The lockout’s over. You’ve said that the mission of YMM will stay the same, “to keep music alive in Minnesota.” And YMM isn’t alone in that goal; the two other audience advocate groups that formed during the lockout, Orchestrate Excellence and Save Our Symphony Minnesota, are still going gangbusters, too. I think they’re actually busier now than they were during the lockout! Which is maybe something outsiders don’t understand; it might seem like – “oh, the lockout’s over, why are these audience advocate groups still around? what are they doing?” So what are you guys doing? What does YMM have up its sleeve for the 2014-15 season?
EG: Oh, YMM’s got a lot up its sleeve for the 2014-2015 season. Instead of “it’s time to make music again,” we’re “keeping the music alive” and bringing music to the young generation of students in our community. YMM will continue to offer experiences to students that preserves and promotes classical music, whether it be offering YMM members discount tickets to sit in the “YMM section” of Orchestra Hall at Minnesota Orchestra performances, holding chamber performances in their lobby, sitting in rehearsals and shadowing the Musicians for a day, touring the MOA’s offices, providing information and resources to students about other music organizations in the community, and holding our very own annual YMM Summer Music Festivals. Not to mention our soon-to-be YMM expansion to Duluth!
EH: Do you know of any youth orchestras actually run by high school and college students, like yours is? I haven’t done a ton of research on the subject, but I’ve never heard of another organization quite like YMM.
EG: I have not. That’s what makes YMM so unique–it’s rare to find students who are so determined to work together in order to keep something that they’re so passionate about, alive.
EH: Do you think a YMM model – say, a student-run orchestra with a sort of activist bent to it – could be transplanted to other communities? Or do you think that model would only work within the unique context of the Minnesota Orchestra meltdown?
EG: Students feed off of each other’s energy and enthusiasm. All it takes are a few strong leaders, a passion and drive to keep classical music alive, and you’ve got your orchestra and organization! It’s time that young musicians nationwide–even worldwide–band together and stand up for what they believe in. YMM-modeled groups need to be thriving everywhere. It’s time to organize a multi-state and multi-nation movement!
EH: Everyone in the music biz is looking with dread to the end of July, as it appears the Met musicians are going to be locked out. The rhetoric over there is sickeningly similar to what happened in Minnesota. And as I’m sure you know, their general manager Peter Gelb has recently said that the audience for classical music and opera is dying, and that young people just aren’t interested in either of those art forms. And that’s in New York City, which is supposed to be the cultural hub of the United States. And if Peter Gelb is right, it’s clear that you and I are booking passage on the Titanic, professionally speaking. So I mean, you’ve got to have opinions about that whole Gelb-ian position. Is there something to what he says, or is it just lazy thinking, or – ? What would you tell him, or someone who feels the same way he does, knowing that there’s such persistent pessimism about our demographic’s involvement with orchestral music?
EG: You just got to look around you. The music students are EVERYWHERE. Music schools around the country are packed full of aspiring professional musicians, youth programs are often filled to the brim with elementary, middle, and high school students. Just about every school in the nation has a band or orchestra, if not several. Give students a place where they can gravitate and expose themselves to the world of orchestral music, and they will. That’s why many music schools are right in the hubs of the music industry. New York, Chicago, California, Nashville . . . Students follow great music. That’s one of the reasons YMM has been as successful as it has. Students are thirsty for great music. Give it to them, and you’ll have a mob on your hands. In just 12 months, YMM went from being non-existent to consisting of over 610 students–and yes–that’s ONLY in Minnesota.
EH: Describe your relationship with the Minnesota Orchestra musicians. I think they’re the kindest people I’ve ever met. Have you had the same experience? Did you know any of them pre-lockout?
EG: I didn’t know many Minnesota Orchestra musicians pre-lockout, just the few that I had collaborated with through my private instructor or had received sectional coachings from in Minnesota Youth Symphonies. The Minnesota Orchestra musicians make it easy to do what I do every day with YMM. They remind me why I spend countless hours doing redundant drudgery, or why I put in so much work to make sure that every YMM event is successful. They alone are the raw inspiration as to why YMM was founded in the first place. They are the kindest, most genuine people you will ever meet. I cannot describe in words what it’s like to walk backstage before one of their concerts and to be greeted with countless hugs and smiling faces. Or to have YMM students performing in the lobby before a concert and to see some of the Minnesota Orchestra musicians come out to hear the students perform; introduce themselves, shake their hands, and thank them for performing. The musicians even come in and volunteer their time, coaching our YMM orchestra members, and perform alongside us in our concerts . . . . We’re all one big happy family. I couldn’t be more proud to call Minnesota my home, and the Minnesota Orchestra my orchestra.
EH: Newly reappointed Music Director Osmo Vänskä. Discuss.
EG: I think I did the happy dance times one million when I heard this announcement. Couldn’t think of a better man to get the Minnesota Orchestra back on track and lead the Minnesota Orchestra in their first official season back than Maestro Vänskä himself.
EH: I wanted to talk about the YMM summer music festival concert. It’s August 1st at Ted Mann Concert Hall in Minneapolis at 7pm. You guys played Tchaikovsky 4 last summer, and now you’re taking on Tchaik 5 this summer. Is Tchaikovsky just fun for you guys, or is there some kind of deeper meaning to programming him twice, or – ?
EG: I think our YMM orchestra does a fine job of performing Tchaikovsky’s symphonies, and his work is at a manageable skill level for our musicians to handle. With the Minnesota Orchestra lockout just ending months ago and this being YMM’s first performance post-lockout, we have decided to select “celebratory” repertoire to reflect the fact that our Minnesota Orchestra is home, as well as the fact that Maestro Aaron Hirsch, YMM’s Artistic Director, will be heading off to graduate school in Washington state this fall.
EH: Why should people come to this concert? Stretch your promotional muscles. Really sell me on it!
EG: YMM is truly unique in many ways. As stated before, YMM’s operations are all student-led–this concert is entirely being put on by the young musicians that we have in our state. Practicing, rehearsing, booking concert venues, fundraising, creating the concert program, you name it. We do it. Not only are we unique in that way, but no other organization has such a wide diversity in student ages and ethnicities. Youth orchestras often offer their programs to students through high school. However, in YMM, our youngest student is a mere 13 years old, and our oldest student is 26 years old. Many students want the opportunity to continue playing their instrument through college but aren’t music majors, and maybe can’t afford to go away to a summer music festival. YMM’s 2014 Summer Music Festival has offered a summer orchestra program to students ranging from middle schoolers, high schoolers, college students, and college graduates, all wanting the same common mission–to perform some great music at a high level, make new friends, have fun, and to continue keeping the music alive–all for no cost. When are you going to be able to sit down and say that you’ve heard a youth orchestra perform Wagner’s Flying Dutchman Overture? Even better: a STUDENT-LED youth orchestra? Performing with guest musicians from the Minnesota Orchestra? And say the concert was FREE? Never. YMM consists of the next generation of professional musicians. And let me say, they’re working their butts off to ensure that the crowd will react nothing less than with a roaring applause and standing ovation. Who knows? Maybe we’ll even throw in an encore. Guess you’ll have to come and find out for yourself! Come hear the Young Musicians of Minnesota’s 2014 Summer Music Festival participants in their grand finale concert at Ted Mann Hall, and hear a little more about what we have in store for next season! You won’t want to miss it!
EH: And you’re raising money to pay for the concert hall rental. As of this writing, you’re 73% to your goal of $4500. [And as of yesterday, they've reached their goal, with nine days to spare!] Congratulations on that, and can you maybe explain a little bit why you’re doing that? Why Ted Mann Concert Hall?
EG: YMM is performing at Ted Mann Concert Hall because of the high demand we need for more space, access to percussion equipment, and a hall that seats more people. Since last summer, our YMM orchestra has grown from 46 musicians to this summer’s 72 musicians! With such a substantial growth, we are unable to use the MacPhail Center for Music’s Antonello Hall and the Breck School’s theatre because our orchestra is too large to fit on stage. We are an ever developing and growing organization, and are expecting a larger audience than our previous venues have been able to seat as well. Renting Ted Mann Hall is the next step that YMM needs as it develops and evolves after the Minnesota Orchestra lockout ending!
EH: You’re graduating from high school next year and hoping to go into arts management, which is a career path the lockout inspired you to take. And I know it’s a dream of yours to become the CEO of the Minnesota Orchestra. So. The search committee is currently searching for Michael Henson’s successor. Pretend you got that job tomorrow. What would be your three top priorities?
EG: My first priority would be to establish good communication, between all departments of the organization. It’d be important for me to meet with each department, hear about what they’re currently working on, address any issues they may have, and maintain a relationship with them throughout my days with the Minnesota Orchestral Association. My second priority would be to make sure that we’re interacting with the community. Many people don’t realize it, but community in and of itself is a huge promotional factor for an organization. Holding free concerts for the community, community forums, meet and greets with your musicians, etc, can highly benefit how your patrons and donors perceive the organization. That’s how you gain audience members: community outreach! Lastly, I find it very important to make sure that the venue that “represents” your organization (in this case, the Minnesota Orchestra’s home is Orchestra Hall) is presentable and reflects your mission. Orchestra Hall is a center for the arts, and should look like an arts hub–simple things like putting a grand piano in the lobby and holding performers before the Minnesota Orchestra concerts, displaying the Minnesota Orchestra’s Grammy (or a replica), honoring our past Minnesota Orchestra conductors and musicians through plaques . . . The possibilities are endless. Orchestra Hall needs to reflect the Minnesota’s Orchestra’s history. Anyone should be able to walk in there and say “this is the home for a world-class symphony orchestra”.
EH: Why do you think more young people aren’t interested in arts administration? Is there a big group of us somewhere I haven’t met yet? Because I’ve dreamed of running my own music festival since I was in my early teens. And as best as I can tell, that’s a pretty far-out nerdy goal, even in the music world, which is full of people with far-out nerdy goals. I really wish that more young musicians aspired to leadership positions and board positions and that sort of thing. Agree, disagree? What are your thoughts on the whole subject of young people and arts administration?
EG: I believe that the reasoning behind the lack of interest in arts administration is that nobody knows about it! I didn’t know that there was a such thing as an MBA in arts administration until someone recommended it to me. Students don’t receive those administrative kinds of opportunities, to see the behind-the-scenes to organizations, such as the Minnesota Orchestra or even YMM. The community needs to provide more opportunities for students to learn about the music administrative world and what it entitles. I am currently interning as a “student CEO” with the Mississippi Valley Orchestra, who happen to be working with me to develop a permanent arts administration “student CEO” position with them, so that more students in the future can experience what I have. Without YMM and the Minnesota Orchestra lockout, I would’ve never found my passion to want to become the CEO of a major symphony orchestra. Arts administration is a new industry, and has all the potential to become very successful if enough people are exposed to it.
EH: One last question. I have my own complicated thoughts on this topic, and maybe I’ll verbalize them someday, but I’m super curious what you think… From your current perspective, did the Minnesota Orchestra lockout strengthen the institution or weaken it? Or was it a net wash? Because yes, a lot of very bad things happened, but some amazing things happened, too. Amazing things. Like YMM, and our friendship, for instance!
EG: The Minnesota Orchestra lockout strengthened the institution, in my opinion. Even though the lockout did a lot of damage and hurt a lot of people, organizations such as YMM and SOSMN would have never come to existence without it. The Minnesota Orchestra musicians wouldn’t have such a strong bond with the community as they do right now, specifically with the music students who participate in YMM. Beautiful things grew out of the dark storm. We just have to remember that the storm is temporary and the resultants of the storm will be around forever. Now is the time for musicians, patrons, and the Minnesota Orchestra board to band together and rebuild what was destroyed. We’re breaking down the walls that separated each department of the MOA and breaking down the fourth wall between the orchestra members and the community. I have all the hope in the world that lockout might just be the thing that the Minnesota Orchestra needed in order to evolve into one of the most thriving and successful symphony orchestras out there. It’ll be a slow and steady process, but we’ll get there. Without the lockout, I’d still be a typical high school senior hoping to major in actuarial sciences, attend a local college, and live at home. And now . . . Well, let’s just say in many more years you’ll be interviewing me again hopefully to ask about what I think about my new position as the Minnesota Orchestra’s newest (and youngest) President and CEO.
Let’s totally plan on that!
If You Want To Go…
Who: Young Musicians of Minnesota
What: An orchestra concert featuring Tchaikovsky, Wagner, and Glazunov
Where: Ted Mann Concert Hall, University of Minnesota campus, Minneapolis, MN
When: 1 August 2014, 7pm
YMM’s Kickstarter has reached its goal to fund the Ted Mann rental, but you can still donate to cover the cost of future events. Keep up-to-date with YMM by following their Facebook page.
This entry was re-posted from my blog Song of the Lark.Tweet
By Karen Rile
July 23, 2014 10:39
When I was a kid I loved elephants so much I wanted to be one. Long before I had any sense of the political and philosophical controversies surrounding the de Brunhoff books, I was mesmerized by Babar, Celeste, and their triplets, Pom, Flora, and Alexander. I decided that I wanted to be king of the elephants when I grew up. My mom had to explain to me that my career aspirations were problematic on multiple levels.
When I asked for an elephant of my own, she told me that large animals were not allowed in our apartment building, so we would need to stable our elephant at the zoo. My elephant's name was Petal; my mom took me to visit her regularly. That's before I learned that zoo-bound elephants often live lonely, cramped, unhappy lives. (The elephant I believed was mine lived to age 52, and later in her life was the subject of much debate; our local zoo no longer exhibits elephants.)
There's a lot I still don't understand about elephants; as my own insight evolves, I begin to suspect no human truly understands them, though many claim to. In the West we romanticize them: noble beasts; artists; jazz musicians, opera supernumeraries. We're enchanted by their intelligence, their grace, their astonishing multipurpose trunks. Like us, they are communal animals with highly structured societies. We see ourselves in them—and whether that's a mirage or not, who knows?
A couple weeks ago my husband and I traveled to Tanzania to visit a good friend of mine who is there on a Fulbright fellowship. We spent some time in the city of Arusha and then traveled through several national parks on a safari trip. At last, I would be able to see my beloved elephants in their true habitat. I admit I was beyond excited, almost nervous, when we first drove into Tarangire National Park and came face to face with dozens—dozens—of wild elephants calmly grazing near the park entrance. I and the others in our group were overwhelmed almost to tears. (See the photo at the top of this essay. Here are some more photos of that moment.)
And here is my philosophical disconnect. I also love classical music. President Obama's Executive Order forbidding travel with objects containing ivory has been heavy on my mind lately. I can't discover any sense in destroying or devaluing the vast many existing musical instruments and bows made with old ivory. In fact, I passionately believe that the ban on instruments is a terrible mistake. But how do you make sense of a situation that tugs your heart and mind in opposite directions? While I was in Africa, I and another member of our group who is an amateur violinist took the opportunity to converse in person with African wildlife officials and naturalists on the topics conservation, the ivory ban, and its consequences for the music world.
The first thing any Tanzanian will tell you is that elephants are in crisis. In their country alone thirty elephants are killed each day by ivory poachers—that's nearly 11,000 elephants slaughtered per year. Some are shot, then hacked apart; others are poisoned with spiked pumpkins and watermelons, robbed of their tusks, and left to rot. Especially vulnerable are the largest elephants, matriarchs whose loss is devastating to a herd. (Did you know that elephants grow continuously throughout their lives? The older they are, the larger, and the more attractive to poachers.)
These numbers are disastrous. Tanzania's elephant population has shrunk from about 109,000 in 2009 to fewer than 60,000 today. At this rate, elephant herds could disappear entirely from the landscape in less than a decade. We were told repeatedly that the blame lies with greedy marauders profiting from China's insatiable thirst for ivory objects. No doubt, but who greases the wheels of the poaching machine? How exactly does illicit raw ivory exit the country? The problem is systemic; poachers are abetted by widespread internal corruption among government officials and rangers. In other countries, poaching funds are known to fund bloody wars.
Elephant conservation is a big topic in Tanzania. But every time my violinist friend and I brought up our own special interest—the Executive Order's impact on the music industry—we got a blank expression followed by mild bemusement. No one we spoke to had even heard of the issue.
As readers of this forum know, it's not easy to come up with a succinct, easily digestible synopsis to explain why older instruments and bows often contain legal but impossible-to-validate ivory, and why most of these tools cannot simply be discarded or retrofitted to suit the new regulations. It's even more difficult to hold someone's attention when you start to spell out the damage this ban will do by isolating American classical musicians from the rest of the world. This is not surprising; one needs to be invested in a culture before one can care about preserving it. All the long verbiage and arcane explanation is off-putting, and reeks of self-involvement. As for my anxiety about confused, possibly corrupt customs agents and U.S. Fish & Wildlife inspectors making uninformed spot-decisions about musicians' treasured tools—the reaction is predictable. What citizens do of this world do not have to deal with cruel, inconvenient bureaucracy? How is our little problem even special? In light of the life-or-death issues in Tanzania, one of the poorest countries in the world, my babbling about the difficulties of crossing international borders with ivory bow tips sounded a tad effete.
But everyone was polite. One conservationist, a church-going man, pointed out that the ban is distressful for elderly priests and nuns whose ivory crucifixes have been at their sides their whole career and are suddenly illegal. (Now, there's something I'd never thought about. It's all about context, isn't it?) Although this man had no particular affinity for classical music, he chimed in quickly about the importance of ivory cultural artifacts, and noted that American and European museums are chockablock with the stuff. "It's a viable, precious material; old ivory and even ivory from elephants who die naturally should not be wasted or destroyed."
"This is an African problem, not an problem of the US," said an official, who asked not to be named. Without taking the trouble to understand the complexities of the situation, the US has arrogantly and paternalistically rushed to the rescue, using a "sledgehammer to destroy an ant."
It might behoove me and the rest of us Americans to take a break from our pontificating to consider the problem from the Tanzanian point of view. Tanzanians don't have the luxury of romanticizing elephants from afar as we do. Elephants are destructive and dangerous to farmers and their crops. They damage the savannah by debarking and breaking trees. If not properly managed, the herds can have a negative impact on the ecosystem in conservation areas. Elephants are also a valuable resource, particularly precious in a country poor in mineral deposits. (And before we get all sanctimonious about that idea, consider what our forebears did to the American buffalo.) Lucky for elephants, they attract tourists, and tourism is one of the biggest growth industries in the country. But, the harsh fact remains that an elephant is worth more shilingi dead than alive.
In 2012 the Tanzanian government made a proposal to CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) to sell some of its ivory stockpiles, claiming that they would use the profits to fund elephant conservation projects. They withdrew the proposal under pressure in early 2013. So: no money exchanged for their legal stockpile of an enormously prized commodity that would have brought millions of dollars of cash to their impoverished country. Meanwhile, the illegal ivory remains as valued as ever, and the black market thrives in Tanzania and elsewhere in Africa.
Where does that leave us in the music community? Does anyone out there really believe that the destruction and banning of instruments, along with the de facto destruction of the American classical music industry, will "save the elephants" when the real danger to elephants rests in the hands of poachers, corrupt officials, and nouveau-riche artifact collectors in China? Are we that self-important?
Do we toss our instruments on the pyre in a gesture of solidarity towards the noble beasts who died generations ago? Or do we move forward and throw energy into the conservation of elephant herds and the conservation of what is arguably the greatest art form Western culture has produced? In good faith, musicians with their—yes, ivory-tipped—bows and their bassoons with ivory bell rings, their antique Martin guitars can perform to help raise awareness and funds for conservation, conservation of wildlife and conservation the music industry.
By Heather Broadbent
July 23, 2014 06:50
Feel free to add more tips and your personal orchestra stories (we all have a few funny ones) in the comments below...
July 23, 2014 04:13
I've been very taken with the late Ruggiero Ricci's book on left hand technique. (Ricci on Glissando).
He is of the opinion that when Louis Sphor came along and invented the modern chin rest things went downhill. (I heard Alan Loveday say similar things about Tourte and the modern bow - not sure I agree about that though).
The modern way of playing thrusts the violin into the kneck and some players even want to hold the violin in an almost vertical position. The criticism of letting the violin drop with the scroll a bit lower than the chin rest is that the bow wanders over the fingerboard more easily. However, a good bow hold and bowing technique should counteract this tendency.
But back to the left hand, Mr Ricci said that we are a bit too keen on positions (although they can be useful in describing some things) - and that rather than jumping around we should glide and crawl about the fingerboard.
This is also tied up with unusual fingerings and forward and backward extensions, and keeping the thumb in one place as much as possible. Nothing wrong with using the same finger even over four or more notes if it works. He also thinks that one finger scales are excellent for mapping the fingerboard and for ear training, sometimes with a drone (or open string) for those who are unsure of the relative pitch of notes.
He claims that Paganini's fingerings were just that, and also crossed strings rather than leaping about. Playing the fiddle is dangerous enough without the added risks of huge leaps.
I find that changing fingerings to allow small movements and also using the same finger for a shift is safer. (As Pag also claimed).
If the position of the left hand is with the palm more horizontal (parallel) with the kneck then the fingers are not curled over the strings and you can push up to a note (or drag back) very easily, and this uses the pads more, and can help vibrato as well.
So improved left hand technique can be enhanced if you become a creep rather than a jumper and this should also lead to greater security. That's Ricci's opinion anyway, and I'm happy to give it a go and see what happens.
I would also add that there is nothing wrong with the trombone - but if you use this method (al la trombone) with shifts then it becomes a hit and miss affair. I have also found that passages where I have had an awkward shift down and which is not on the main beat can easily throw me. So now I organise it so that I change always on the first of four semi-quavers or the first of three triplets, and it seems to work much better. (Maybe this is obvious but it wasn't to me).
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You might also like:
By Robert Niles
July 22, 2014 14:01
In an effort to promote the coverage of live music, each week Violinist.com brings you links to reviews of notable violin performances from around the world.
Julia Fischer performed the Dvorák at the BBC Proms
Photo © Uwe Arens, courtesy the artist
Joshua Bell performed Lalo’s “Symphonie Espagnole” with the Boston Symphony Orchestra
Karen Gomyo peformed Saint-Saens Violin Concerto No. 3 with the Cleveland Orchestra
Midori performed the Tchaikovsky with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra
Mayuko Kamio and Augustin Hadelich performed the Bach Double with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra
Tasmin Little performed the Moeran with the BBC Philharmonic
Emma Meinrenken performed works by Schubert and Saint-Saëns with the Utah Symphony
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In other news,
Seiji Okamoto has won the 9th International Johann Sebastian Bach Competition, in Leipzig, Germany
Hilary Hahn is taking some time off
Did you attend a concert in the past week? If so, please tell us about it in the comments. And if not, why not? Please support live music in your community by attending a concert or recital whenever you can!Tweet
Helping Students and Parents Enjoy the Competitive Journey: The Application Process for CompetitionsBy Amy Beth Horman
July 22, 2014 09:00
I am sitting on a beach vacation a lot this week and am finding myself physically and mentally preparing for the next competition calendar. Some time off allows lots of brainstorming and much needed reflection on how to make next year's competition season more rewarding for my whole studio. So I am starting a blog series both to focus my thoughts and hopefully give some new insights to other teachers who find themselves in my position.
I see multiple challenges inside of my studio's competitive calendar each year but the first challenge is perhaps the most important one of all: the application process.
Last year, I dealt with international, national, and regional submissions on 14 competitions. Just when I thought I had a full list, another parent would chime in with a new possibility that seemed too good to pass up. Getting the applications in and filled out correctly felt like a major accomplishment. Most competitions now have even added a polite but definite threat saying if we made a mistake in our applications, our submissions would be discarded. This is their right and even makes sense on an administrative level from their perspective but nothing springs fear in our hearts like this line in print. While the applications are similar they are also murderously different on some subtle level seemingly to confuse us....cue lots of sleepless nights and late night emails from parents! One had a word count maximum for bios, another needed specific format I didn't have on my computer. Then the referral letters. One from me and one from a reputable violinist… but which one? Signatures, bios, letters, repertoire lists, performance experience.... and that is just the written portion of the application process. Many parents are applying for things for the very first time and seeking assistance or advice, nervous they will misstep. Others have done this before and learned from it but even a veteran competitive parent can fall prey to multiple application processes.
The written apps would have been almost manageable. But then there is the media content. Who knew I needed a technical degree in computers and recording equipment to run a competitive violin studio? Where should we record and how many sessions would we need? What equipment do we use? Do we do it ourselves or hire an engineer? Some needed photos in different formats… press quality, different sizes, black and white versus color… names or without names. Then the obligatory attaching/uploading/entitling files, using new file sharing services, or registering on youtube. I found myself enjoying a glass of wine more often after long hours of teaching. So much to keep track of that my conservatory degree just didn’t cover!
In the end I consulted with friends, rallied in expert parents who worked as engineers, borrowed equipment, and for our international submissions got engineer referrals and an acoustic space, even managing a group rate. The administrative work involved was kind of staggering. But by the time everything was submitted, we had become a team in this process. We were fortunate after countless hours of recording, emails, and coordinating to reach the finals in all of our competitions except the international competition and the parents were thrilled. I figured things out as I went along. And I learned a lot about how I want to accomplish next year so that all of our lives are simpler.
Here are the tips I gathered for simplifying or streamlining the application process:
• communicate with parents to choose appropriate competitions and repertoire letting them know of your system so they are well prepped for how you like to organize and apply for things.
• use your (google) calendar and put it on your website for all parents. Pinpoint the 2 weeks before any deadline, the deadline, competition finals, and when results come. I color code it. Copy website, application info, competition organizer contact info, and how and when results will be posted for the “description box”.
• print checklists for each of the competitions to place on a stand as parents walk in and designate 5 minutes of every lesson to check on progress.
• identify the parents that can help with technical issues and let them know you may need their help.
• talk to parents about a visit to the luthier to troubleshoot any and all problems with violin and bow before recording.
• as soon as the final round info is posted, book a pianist and only use that person in rehearsals in the month prior.
• instruct parents to record at any performance opportunity just in case they catch something on their own.
• know your equipment and do test runs on how it works. Have parents bring at least one form of back up equipment just in case you have the perfect "take" but an issue with your method of recording.
• if you are there, take notes on top of a clean score in recording sessions that can be sent by scan to the student to apply to help in the next session.
• identify who has heard students in the past 6 months and could supply a great recommendation letter. Write them and ask them in advance if they would be willing so they see it coming.
• make good and polite contact ahead of time with each competition organizer for repertoire exceptions, eligibility concerns, and know their name, contact info, and background.
• as components of a strong application are completed, build a running and updated competition file for each student. Best video or audio takes, publicity photos, updated bios….keep at it. Soon they can apply for things quickly as all things are at “arms reach”.
In the end, if the application isn't done correctly or doesnt represent the students or the teaching effectively you have wasted a ton of time and energy. We are stopped dead in our tracks. So this is where my brainstorming starts this week. As a great new friend of mine said - "It's such a privilege to be in the arena!". But to be invited into the arena, the application process has to be successful! The more we organize this process and streamline it, the more energy can be placed into music making and coaching. And if that doesnt help our chances, I don't know what would!
Next in this blog series: Managing Expectations, Preparing for Final Rounds, Competition Etiquette, Carrying the Experience Forward
By Jacqueline Vanasse
July 21, 2014 09:06
I heard the Ukrainian violinist Valery Solokov in concert only once. It was very long ago, but I remember everything about it. Most of all, I remember his magnificent sound – one of the most beautiful violin sounds I have ever heard since. I remember how stylish and handsome he looked on stage. I remember how accomplished he was with the orchestra; the smiles, the looks of complicity.
Valeriy started the violin in a small middle school in Ukraine. At the time he was also enrolled in ballet school. The two schools were next to each other. For several years the young boy was wondering if he would be playing the violin or dancing ballet. But when he was younger the violinist says that he was kind of chubby so in the end the choice was made by itself. In the Russian and Ukrainian cultures, parents make children study a lot of different subject on a high level in order to develop their abilities. Therefore the violinist studied English, rhythmic, arts, etc. He was good at playing the violin and his violin teacher pushed him, as did his mother. From then on he was almost only playing the violin. Valeriy says he never really had choice of playing or not. He was doing what he had to do. That was what he was doing all day long. Of course he wanted to have fun and be with normal kids instead but he felt the pressure of doing well.
At a relatively early age, the young man left his parents’ home in Ukraine to go study at the Menuhin Music School near London. Leaving his home gave him a kick but again it was also a lot of pressure. “Of course I did all kind of things when I had the freedom out of my parents’ sight but I always felt the pressure from back home,” he remembers. “So I always tried to do well. Plus there was the motivation of wanting to be different. There are many people in Ukraine and in this world and I ought to be different.”
After all Valeriy says he is very happy to be a violinist. “It’s so interesting all the time. I learn how to be a better person everyday in all aspects. Not only on a music training level but also on the personal level. I am not such a media person. I am not interested in showing-off. I am just trying to do my best, playing concerts everywhere, playing with great people. Giving happiness around.”
For him playing the violin is worth it. First of all it’s very difficult to learn but when you have learned it it’s such a special skill to have. “The best with it is that you don’t need to know people’s language to communicate and meet with people, to travel all around the planet and see different places.” By learning how to play the violin you learn a very handy means. By learning how to play the violin you make sure people will accept you wherever you go, people will accept you because of how you do things. “It’s incredible there is almost no other professions that offer you such a lucky way of doing thing, that offer you a passkey to people,” adds the young man. Of course you have to be good in what you are doing and you have to have something to say. With music if you want to do it well you have to be perfect. Daily practice is not doing all the tricks to stay at the top, reminds the violinist. You also have to attempt to be up-to-date with everything that is going on around. “I feel a little too small to answer the question whether it worth playing the violin or not but what I am sure of is that it’s very important to do something that you are very good at.”
The violinist especially loves playing the 20th century repertoire because it’s a language close to ours. It’s fresh, contemporary; it feels like it’s simply telling about us. That said, the young man is also interested in understanding and playing very well the classical repertoire; the great Schubert Sonatas and Beethoven and Mozart Sonatas. “Contemporary music, baroque music; you play what you like. If you like to play contemporary music please do. If you play this music just to be fashionable, to please a certain type of people and be famous, that‘s another reason. We can’t condemn it, it depends on what you are looking for.”
You have to be true to yourself, find you own ways and enjoy the process, believes Valeriy. “Competitions, for instance, are very important but not so much for the result. Competitions are very important because they make you play better.” The next season will be very busy for the violinist. For next, the violinist just hope to keep playing as well as he can. In fact with music you never know what is going to happen, so you better do the best you can, take the opportunity and enjoy the moment.
For other articles please visit my blog at: www.jacquelinevanasse.comTweet
By Gerald Klickstein
July 21, 2014 07:55
“The details are not the details. They make the design.”
For musicians and designers alike, our approach to detail largely determines whether our work soars or flops.
Simply put, meticulous work outfits us with the command we need to make inspiring music. I’ve noticed, though, that many music students aren't consistently detail-oriented in their practice - they might run through compositions, scales, or exercises without zeroing in on excerpts or attending to nuances.
What’s going on? Often, such students deem detailed practice boring or don't know how to work on details. By comparison, we veterans savor delving into the minutiae of phrases - we possess strategies to tailor every fine point and we enjoy doing so.
Fortunately, students can acquire the practice habits of professionals, but most need guidance. Here, then, are 6 suggestions to help students permeate their practice with precision and fascination.
Six Ways to Enjoy Detail-Oriented Practice
© 2014 Gerald Klickstein
July 19, 2014 14:37
Violin Design: How can a violin produce such a wide range of compatible notes? (Or are they less compatible than we would like?)
These are the highlights from a discussion that I found to be especially useful and enlightening, about violin design and resonance, and what these means for people searching for the right violin. A lot of knowledgable people really delved in deep, describing the physics of the violin. I have edited the discussion to its most essential points.
(Here is the original discussion, posted by Darlene Roth earlier this month: http://www.violinist.com/discussion/response.cfm?ID=25862)
Darlene Roth: "How can a violin produce a compatible set of notes when the violin (body) itself has discrete and limited resonance characteristics? I do not question that I can get any pitch per vibrating string arithmetic but that is not the same as tone quality or volume. For instance, how can an open string "E" and "G" coexist if violin behavior is not essentially similar at those frequencies? Finally, does all this suggest that poor intonation is possibly a matter of tone quality in addition to pitch problems?
Adrian Heath: There are some "big" resonances: the contained air volume (around C# on the G-string) contained air length (around open A) and wood length (B to C on the A-string.
As we go up on the E-string, many small zones in the plates come into play, different for each note, and different for each violin. They also determine whether the tone is dull, bright, nasal, penetrating, harsh, silky, sweet etc. as they provide the overtones (timbre) for the lower notes.
Carleen Hutchins and others have mastered the first two octaves in a scientific (i.e. repeatable) way, but the higher tones are much less predictable.
Scott Cole: I don't really understand the question, but I will say that E and G "coexist" (?) only if properly tuned first. Also remember that E and G exist in the relationship of a 3rd/6th, an interval for which there is more room for variation than the perfect intervals. Most people, for example, don't mind that 3rds and 6ths are tuned pretty wide on a piano.
Darlene Roth: Maybe the question can be simplified. If I attached four strings to a violin body and expected acceptable results, would it be unreasonable to speculate that the violin (body) has flat response which is not the case? Has anyone determined what portion of the violin volume originates from the "f" holes?
Scott Cole: What do you mean by "acceptable" or "flat?" Acceptable tone? Flat response curve?
Adrian Heath: "Has anyone determined what portion of the violin volume originates from the "f" holes?" Try covering the F-holes with, say, PostIt's (not too adhesive): you will lower the air resonance by many notes, but you will also lose a lot of power.
Todd Crim: Darlene, here is an interesting article on that subject: http://blog.feinviolins.com/2013/04/why-f-holes.html
Darlene Roth: Todd C, Good information re f holes. I also noticed the use of the word "evolve" and it is obvious that the odd-shaped modern violin did a lot of evolving!
Scott, "acceptable" means good musical sound and comparable volume, "flat" means flat frequency response (of the body). I consider the body to be only a transducer (of unknown characteristics)(unknown to me, that is :)
David Burgess: "How can a violin produce such a wide range of compatible notes? (Or are they less compatible than we would like?)"
Violins produce notes which can be highly dissimilar. That's part of the charm and the magic, and why we generally prefer their sound to the "violin sound" produced by early synthesizers, on which a range of notes would sound basically the same. ;-)
Vibrato on a violin will not only produce a pitch change, but also a tone color variation, as different vibrational modes are enhanced and diminished with the pitch change.
Carmen Tanzio: Associated with each resonance is a "spread," sometimes called the quality or "Q" factor. This determines how much gain a note gets from a resonance when the note's frequency does not line up with the resonance frequency.
There are two general situations:
1. The note frequency is less than the resonance frequency.
In this case, the note gets a lot of gain from the resonance. All those middle to high frequency resonances get the violin to sound the note and its harmonics. If there are a lot of resonances around the 1kHz region, all the notes will sound "nasal", like a braying donkey, as their harmonics get a boost in this region. If there are a lot of resonances in the 2khz to 3khz range, the notes will sound brilliant. If there are many prominent resonances above, say, 6khz, the notes can take on a harsh quality.
2. The note frequency is greater than the resonance frequency.
In this case, the gain from the resonance drops off rapidly, but continues to add measurable drive to notes whose frequency is maybe 3x greater than the resonance.
For more information, you can research forced, damped harmonic oscillators.
Darlene Roth: Fascinating post and I appreciate mention of other literature references.
Paul Deck: I think largely empirically, because Mr. Stradivarius did not have piezoelectric devices, frequency generators, digital storage oscilloscopes, or good algorithms for Fourier transformation...
Darlene Roth: I was mostly expecting that kind of answer, but then the violin design is a major accomplishment of human effort. Awesome!
Carmen Tanzio: "Would it be accurate to say that the basic violin design was derived empirically?"
Differential calculus would not be invented until near the end of the 17th century, so the mathematical techniques to define and solve complex dynamics did not exist at the time the violin took on its current form. However, levers (the violin is essentially a simple lever mechanism) and simple vibrating systems could be described and designed using mathematics for a great many years before that.
I think a watershed moment occurred when some clever builder decided to focus on the violin forms that could played with the button end on the chest and a palm down bow grip. A few mechanical and frequency calculations would reveal the possibilities, then empirical feedback from players would finalize the dimensions of the instrument.
When someone plays a violin, a second person can quickly map the strongest vibrations of the body to certain notes by touching the surface. If a certain frequency range sounded weak, one would have a general idea of what areas of the violin could be modified to strengthen the notes.
I have no idea how they would empirically observe and map "brilliance". I suspect the best builders had no trouble producing sonorous violins, but if it happened to also produce a brilliant sound, they praised the gods and charged a premium price.
Darlene Roth: Again, very interesting. I am always impressed to learn that much of what I take for granted was really, as you say, a "watershed moment".
Trevor Jennings: There is the speculative possibility (I put it no higher than that) of undocumented input from the polymath Leonardo da Vinci somewhere along the line. He lived in the area in the relevant period and would have been known to the instruments makers.
Allan B. Lewis: An interesting article in the March 2013 The Strad reviews Librum Segreti. This is a notebook written in the late 1700's about the geometry used at that time for design of the violin. An English translation has just been published in the last three years. Geometry was the cutting edge in mathematics in those years. From this geometry violins of that time were derived and the makers knew how variation of the geometry changed the violin's acoustics. Some current makers are currently working through the text, a lot of which is only incomplete notes, to understand for application to their work.
Tom Bop: Unfortunately, the violin was designed way before engineers decided to design products by optimizing whatever they can easily measure. imo, "flat response" is way overrated in sound production-- but it's a much easier to measure than "sounds great!" or "moves my soul!" Research and scientific measurement have their place, but they should supplement the hand and eye of a master craftsman/artist, but never replace them.
I do not expect anyone to make that choice for me but there is one topic I need to know more about.
Here is my question about this: Should I expect "better" violins to be free of this
Adrian Heath: Darlene, bad notes, caused by anarchic vibrations in the wood dominating the string, are never a bargain: they render good intonation and tone impossible. If subtle adjustment cannot cure them, keep right away from that violin. Whatever geniuses on v.com say, the instrument matters!
Darlene Roth: Well, I'm glad to hear even that much so I know it is not entirely my imagination. I really do not want to have to work to rescue notes and I certainly don't want to purchase the problem.
Tom Bop: If a violin doesn't play all the notes, what good is it to you? How long do you look at a car with 3 wheels? It's a challenge to find a less expensive violin that has even response and good tone, but they are out there. Persistent looking can pay off. It's much easier to pay the price, if you can afford it, and get one that offers you more.
Carmen Tanzio: "Imagine that I play a simple C major scale and I notice that "F" doesn't sound right..."
One can imagine the plates of a violin as a handful of somewhat independent areas. If each of these areas are carefully carved to vibrate freely and if the resonant frequencies are distributed evenly across the playable spectrum, the notes spring easily into life and sound rich.
That is half of what you pay for with an expensive violin: carefully graduated plates that provide oscillators to drive all the playable notes. The other half is the setup, i.e., strings, sound post and, very critically, the bridge cut. My personal feeling is that the bridge plays a key role in filtering out the nasal qualities of the string and highlighting the brilliance.
That's why I would suggest that if you are going to take the financial plunge, you make sure you allocate some non-trivial bucks to have it setup by someone who knows what they are doing. Or buy it from a store, online or otherwise, that makes a point of carefully setting up and testing the violin.
Other than that, it sounds like you can use a procedure for systematically evaluating a violin. I think the experienced professional musicians on this forum might assist.
David Burgess: "Do I accept "bad" notes as the nature of the beast at moderate prices?"
Depends on what you mean by "bad notes". No acoustic violin sounds the same on every note. Even the most expensive violins usually have a "bad" note or two, including a wolf note which can require a lot of skill and compensation to make the note even usable.
Darlene Roth: Not bad in the literal sense. But little distractions for me, when that is the last thing I need.
Peter Charles: Some violins, including multimillion £ instruments, are more difficult to play. But you just have to adjust. These violins are often more rewarding in the end. Violinists need to be flexible and adaptable. Spend more time on this aspect of violin playing and less on what rosin to use, and other trivialities, and you will be a better player.
David Burgess: "Not bad in the literal sense. But little distractions for me when that is the last thing I need."
We don't have any way of knowing what your threshold is for such things, and what it takes to distract you. These things are also almost impossible to describe with words. I'd suggest playing lots and lots of violins, until you get your own sense of what is normal and acceptable, and what is unusual. Or you could take someone with that kind of experience with you when you try out violins.
Casey Jefferson: I suggest that one go with the instinct rather than thinking and analyzing too much. If you play a violin that you find exciting to play and without obvious flaw and is able to do everything you throw at it, then by all means go ahead. With each violin shopping you will learn something, and eventually develop your criteria of what sounds good and play well to you.
Darlene Roth: Yes, I have taken a high road intellectually and now I know almost everything but the answer. Time to play. Other big decisions will have to wait.
Carmen Tanzio: A soloist who needs a brilliant and loud violin with a huge dynamic range in order to project the performance into a big hall or over a loud orchestra might be willing to work around the troublesome bits of a violin because of the rarity and cost of such instruments. For everyone else, I see no reason why there should any a compromise in playability. You might be limited to small recital rooms or orchestral play, but all the notes should leap out full, easy and focused with a smooth bow. And changes in dynamics should be evident with moderate changes in bow pressure and speed.
Darlene Roth: That is certainly an encouraging and welcome opinion.
David Burgess: Darlene, I really think you'll need to experience "good" violins to know what they are, what they can do, and what they can and can't compensate for. I don't think forum definitions will help you much, compared to experiencing a few really fine instruments (along with some bad ones).
Darlene Roth: I certainly agree. However, in this thread, I benefit from the many qualified replies which makes me much smarter and saves time. And there is a bit of information that I still need. Should I expect a "good" violin to require frequent attention from a luthier?
Carmen Tanzio: "Should I expect a "good" violin to require frequent attention from a luthier ?"
Once you are happy with the setup, you might use a luthier to replace strings if you are uncomfortable with doing that sort of thing. Positioning the bridge can be a fussy business because violins tend to be sensitive to the location of the bridge relative to the sound post. Changes in temperature and humidity should be easily adjusted for when you tune the violin before each play/practice session. Pitch changes will be small but noticeable. Certainly within the range of a fine tuner twist or two. If the basic timbre of the violin changes dramatically with the weather, it better be one helluva good sounding instrument to put up with that aggravation.
The only other ongoing maintenance is cleaning the violin and strings after each practice/play session. A soft cloth for the wood and a gentle rubbing with a cork for the strings is all it takes.
Peter Charles: You need to change the gearbox oil every 100,000 notes (especially if the are minims or whole notes) and get the air filter changed every week.
Darlene Roth: Unfortunately I have only dealt with two luthiers and I wish I had gone for an oil change instead (or a root canal). What good is an instrument which I may not be able to maintain? That would be a big disappointment and a waste of money. Now, sound posts adjustments should/can fix everything but I read one report where the luthier privately called sound post adjustments "mission impossible".
As far as I know there is no guild to enforce credentials for people wanting to fix violins. So how many times can I afford to experiment at perhaps $200-$400's pop?
Tom Bop: It can take some trial and error to find a good luthier, but it's worth looking. There are directories of professional organizations, and contest winners are usually very good. Violin dealers can be good or bad- some are better than others, but you have to realize they're trying to sell you something! Do you have a teacher or some friends with experience? What area are you in? Can you afford David Burgess?
Carmen Tanzio: If the sound post is located reasonably close to the treble foot, then you can make fine adjustments yourself by just sliding the bridge +/-1mm. You can find you tube videos describing how to grip the bridge while making teensy position adjustments. If you need an adjustment of more than that to get the violin to sound good, the sound post might be badly located to start, the violin is a loser, or you are too fussy about its sound. >grin<
Allan Lewis: These adjustments take months of training and years to master by a competent luthier therefore, without proper training, one should not try these adjustments on your good instruments at home.
Darlene Roth: My thoughts right now are to buy from a shop that employs or is qualified to work on violins. Not just from an individual or dealer. I think this establishes a kind of service advantage. I have a good lead here in NC. When I lived in Ct. I went to a first class shop up by Amherst college (Stamell?) and I'll never get over the loss. I may have to go back. P.S. I know from the internet and papers in the literature that there are a good share of brilliant members on V.com.
Darlene Roth: Carmen T., I once read that seasoned amateurs have expressed the opinion that sound post settings do not work very well because the vertical forces of a new post location (i.e. inclined plane) soon distort the plates back to the original conditions. ?? I do know that I've had "great" changes somehow just dissipate?
Todd Crim: Here's a neat page about violin acoustics from the University of South Wales:
John Cadd: Since you are choosing a violin look for one that plays harmonics easily. I don’t know what makes harmonics better on one rather than another but it would be a good thing to talk about. Also slide a finger slowly along each string as you bow to detect any unwanted wolf notes. Allow for the normal one.
Carmen Tanzio: My current thinking is that the sound post location changes sound mostly by altering the efficiency with which the bridge transfers force into the bass bar foot. When you move the post away from the treble foot, more of the rocking energy goes into the treble side rather than the bass bar side. A challenge is to position the post so that forces do not exceed the yield strength of the violin plates. Otherwise the plates will just deform over time and alter how the bridge rocks on the plate.
I've seen people wield a post adjusting tool like a sledge hammer and smack that post all over the place, most likely wedging the post so firmly into the plates that they will deform.
By Michael Fox
July 19, 2014 13:03
Free, unstructured improv may be the most easiest way of music making (just watch what a young child with no lessons will do with a piano), but often well-intentioned teachers causes us to un-learn this natural skill, or not appreciate its value in trusting our own creativity.
I believe the ability to spontaneously create music without thinking about it is an important skill, and should be practiced regularly. In this video, I demonstrate how I go about it.
For more information, I highly recommend improvisational violinist Stephen Nachmanovitch's excellent book Free Play.Tweet
Violinist Hilary Hahn offers the foreword to The Violinist.com Interviews: Volume 1, an engaging collection of interviews with some of the world's top violinists, including Sarah Chang, Maxim Vengerov, David Garrett, and of course, Hilary herself.
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