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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.

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Happy Thanksgiving!

By Laurie Niles
November 26, 2014 22:47

Thursday is Thanksgiving in the United States, and I'd like to thank everyone for the gift of your music, your ideas and your enthusiasm for the violin and its related instruments.


Below is a lovely version of one of my favorite American songs, "Simple Gifts." It's a Shaker Song, and the words are as beautiful as the music:

'Tis the gift to be simple, 'tis the gift to be free
'Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
'Twill be in the valley of love and delight.
When true simplicity is gained,
To bow and to bend we shan't be ashamed,
To turn, turn will be our delight,
Till by turning, turning we come 'round right

The Luna Nova Quartet performs in the video below -- I love the mandolin in this version. Happy Thanksgiving!

Ben Brussell, Mandolin
Candance Sanderson, Violin
Linda Green, Viola
Alex Kelly, Cello

Recorded March 15, 2010
Music at Meyer Concert Series, San Francisco

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Interview with Terry Borman: Modern violin makers share new ideas and disprove old myths

By Laurie Niles
November 25, 2014 22:55

Though the basic form of the violin has not changed much in the last 400 years, the culture of violin-making has undergone a radical shift in the nearly 40 years that luthier Terry Borman has been making violins and related instruments.

"It's changed a lot," Borman told me over lunch in Indianapolis, at the Violin Society of America's convention earlier this fall. "Twenty-five years ago, makers were fairly secretive. Maybe if you were working in their shop -- maybe they would talk to you about certain things. But even sometimes they would only give out certain bits of information. That has slowly evolved so that now, people are, for the most part, providing as much information as they can to others."

Terry Borman

For its part, the Violin Society of America sponsors an annual summer workshop for makers at Oberlin College -- a kind of continuing education summit that brings together luthiers from around the globe to study advanced violin and bow making, restoration, repair, acoustics and set-up for fine stringed instruments. The spirit of sharing information extends to the society's conventions and to other meetings of luthiers around the world.

"Makers are finding that, aside from the fact that it's one of those feel-good things, it comes back to you many-fold," Borman said. "By the time one idea has been churned around by 15 other makers, who have found 15 other opinions of doing it -- maybe some of them are brilliant ideas and some of them are not-so-great, but at least you have the option to pick through them. It's dramatically altered the landscape. It's more of a camaraderie (now), as opposed to -- it was almost like a sect."

Terry Borman operates from a shop in Fayetteville, Ark. and owners of his instruments include Kyung Wha Chung, Victor Danchenko, Pamela Frank, Nicolas Kendall, Jaime Laredo, Cho-Liang Lin, Anne Akiko Meyers, Joseph Silverstein, Pinchas Zukerman, and more. (My favorite testimonial: "Brilliant work! You've just saved me a million dollars!" - Peter deSotto, Quartetto Gelato.)

While the famous old Italian violins can go for millions, moderns range from about $4,000-$5,000 for a violin by a newly established maker, up through around $50,000 from more established makers. (Though in 2003, a copy of one of Isaac Stern’s Guarneri violins by Sam Zygmuntowicz sold for $130,000; and more recently, in 2013, the “ex-Ricci” Curtin & Alf violin sold in auction for $132,000, which appears to be the current record price for a modern fiddle!)

Borman began his career in France, first repairing electric guitars, and moving on to Flamenco guitars. "I ended up getting an apprenticeship building lutes and Baroque instruments, way out in the country in a little town of about 500 people," he said. He then moved back to the U.S. and went to the Violin Making School of America in Salt Lake City.

With the recent explosion in sharing information among makers, many have found niches as specialists in various aspects of violin-making: varnish, acoustics, etc. Borman's path led him to the scientific study of wood density and ultimately to an intense exploration of the mystery: Were the classic Cremonese violins by Stradivari and others made from special wood from the "Mini Ice-Age" that can't be replicated today? The techniques that he and others perfected in doing this research also led them to start a business called Instrumental Insight, which provides potential buyers of high-end instruments with comprehensive instrument condition analysis reports based on CT scan, dendrochronology, and UV varnish analysis. From this they can detect past repairs, patches, varnish touch ups, arch distortion, etc., as well as date the instrument. They did such testing on the record-high-priced 1741 "Vieuxtemps" Guarneri del Gesù before its sale; it is the violin now played by Anne Akiko Meyers.

The whole idea of testing violins scientifically for wood density began in 2004, when Kyung Wha Chung commissioned Borman to create an exact copy of her violin, the 1735 ex-Rabin's ex-Kubelik, Ferni Guarneri del Gesù. Borman sought to find out as much as he could about the violin.

"I decided, the easiest way to get a whole bunch of information was to just do a CT scan," Borman said.

Violin CT

"I did get a lot of information, and that's when I started to realize I could use that information to check densities and things like that," Borman said. Specifically, he wanted to compare early and late growth in spruce; that is, the early spring growth, during which the tree has a big growth spurt, and winter growth, when it slows and produces the dark-colored grain lines and much higher-density wood. The problem was, he couldn't seem to repeat the test and get consistent results on the same piece of wood.

"I'd give somebody a section and say, 'You test it,' and then I would test it, and then somebody else would test it, and we would all have different numbers," Borman said. While in the midst of trying to work out this problem in the research, "I ended up reading a copy of Investigative Radiology. There was an article in there from a Dutch researcher, Berend C. Stoel, talking about the same problem he was having using CT scans to study emphysema: repeatability of density measurements. So I sent him an email and asked, 'Hey, do you want to work with violins?' I didn't even expect to get a response, but I got an e-mail back, 'Sure!' and we've been partnered in on this ever since. He's even written special software. It's extremely repeatable at this point."

The next step was to take the results and compare old Italian violins with newly-made violins, and that's when their results started challenging some popular modern notions, specifically a theory popularized by National Geographic, that Stradivari's violins were superior due to the density of the wood he used, wood that grew more dense due to "Little Ice Age," a sharp dip in temperatures in Europe that peaked between 1645 and 1715. The results of that work were published in PLOS One in 2008.

In a second study published in October 2012, Borman, Stoel and Ronald de Jongh compared 18 European instruments built before 1750 and 12 “modern” ones built within the past 50 years, using CT wood densitometry to study the differences density. Their conclusion? "Stradivari and Guarneri del Gesù did not choose, or have access to, wood significantly different in density than contemporaneous or modern makers."

"Nobody uses high-density wood," Borman said. "Basically our first article dubunked the whole theory of the 'Little Ice Age,' that it was higher-density wood, it was slow-growth, way-way up in the mountains, and you can't get that wood any more. What we found is that it was actually less-dense wood."

Density is a mixture of volume and weight. Comparing a piece of lead that is a square centimeter and a piece of foam that is a square centimeter, each would displace the same amount of water when fully immersed, so the volume is the same. But the weight is very different, making them each a different density.

"What we found is that makers today can access wood with similar material properties," Borman said, "so basically, let's just move on to something else" to another theory about Stradivari.

How about the theory that wood gets lighter -- less heavy -- as it ages?

"The general consensus amongst people who have studied wood their whole professional careers is that most woods become a little bit less dense, but it's not a huge difference," Borman said. When violin makers buy wood from a dealer, they know to test it for its density. "They sell wood that you pick it up and it feels like it's lead, and you pick up some other pieces and it feels like foam."

In Borman's research, "we did not find a classical Cremonese instrument that was over .40 grams per milliliter -- most of them were closer to roughly .37, between .35 and .38, something like that."

"The dealers are starting to catch on, that makers want to know this information, so sometimes they are starting to write the density on the blocks of wood," Borman said. "But I've checked some of those measurements, and they're wildly off, and interestingly, they always go lighter! But after you've picked through a lot of wood, you kind of get an idea, you can kind of tell from picking it up."

What if a violin maker wants to test the wood for density, a little more scientifically than just picking it up? There is an easy way that does not involve a CT scan:

"When I go to a dealer, I just ask them for a bucket of water," Borman said. "You slowly lower the wood into a bucket of water (and float the wood). Then you pull it out, and you mark with a pencil the line between the wet and the dry. Then you turn it around and do the same thing, you do the same test twice. Then you average those measurements, divided by the length. Basically, you're measuring the buoyancy. So if it's really heavy it's going to sink farther into the water."

"We've done super high-tech stuff, and yet we get pretty close measurements with a bucket of water," Borman said. "It's nice to be able to test it, to verify that the things the typical maker has access to, provide pretty good information."

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Student Becomes Teacher ?

By Mendy Smith
November 25, 2014 20:56

Last week I had my first ever violin lesson. Not as a student - but as a teacher. This was odd enough given that I'm not a trained teacher by any stretch of the imagination, but also by the fact that I'm a violist.

It started when my colleague saw me hauling my viola out to my car after work to head to my private lesson (as a student) and mentioned that he was trying to learn violin via YouTube videos. After some discussion, it became apparent that he was getting frustrated quickly with his inability to pull any sort of a good tone from his instrument. It turns out that he is playing on a a fractional sized viola strung as a violin (sigh), but it was better than his e-bay violin. So, I offered to bring in my real (and good quality violin) the next day and give him a mini-lesson to get him started after office hours in the break room.

The next day we snuck into the break room after the end of the work-day with various instruments in tow. It was a violin-lesson flash mob-like experience. At one point we were interrupted by a guy working late walking in and being completely surprised by what was going on inside that break room. We couldn't help but laugh, and then proceed on.

I showed him how to figure out how to hold the violin comfortably. The technique I showed him is one that is written about in Primrose's book that has worked well for me over the years. He's starting with no shoulder-rest, but I had him try some sponges. The guy is well over 6' tall, thin as a rail with a very long neck. The sponges made a world of difference in his comfort & overall posture.

I then showed him how to hold the bow by holding out his hand and letting it relax and then bringing the bow to his hand. It took a little work to get his fingers in the right spots, but he got the concept after a few attempts. We then put the two together on open strings alone with a martele stroke. As expected, his bowing was not straight and he skimmed the surface of the string, so I held onto his bow hand and pulled it straight for a few strokes. He had a marvelous AHA moment when he realized that pulling a straight bow was a outward motion, not pulling back with his whole arm. After a few more minutes he had another AHA moment when he realized that it was the weight of the arm and not a pressing down that made the best tone.

And finally we got to making notes other than open strings. His intonation is actually pretty darned good. He has a good ear and corrects his intonation without the need of fingerboard tapes. I showed him how to work with open strings to check his intonation no matter the note. He already had a very firm theoretical and practical understanding of the various intervals. His problem was mostly in a collapsed hand and a weird thing he did with his fingers (curling them up when not in active use). We worked on correcting the collapsed hand and finger curling habit.

We then discussed practice techniques such as practicing in front of a mirror and what to look for, watching the sound point while practicing open strings, using open strings for intonation, and the "click" method for sustaining the tone from frog to tip. Basic and simple things to remember and take home.

Afterwards, he pulled out his mandolin and blew my socks off with his "fiddle" tunes. In exchange, I pulled out Bach and introduced him to the world of the C-string and let him give my viola a try.

At the end of the day, he went home excited to try out the practice techniques I showed him. We will do it again in a few weeks, and next time he promised to give me an intro to mandolin lesson. With any luck, a few of these "lessons" will get him past the initial frustration and into lessons with a "real" violin teacher. In the meantime, we have a really cool way to end a work day every once in awhile and get some "team-building" in while we are at it.

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What are your favorite YouTube violin recordings? (video)

By Sal Peralta
November 25, 2014 17:01

I am not a professional musician. My first exposure to the violin was by taking up the instrument while my daughter was studying the violin using the Suzuki method.

As a student and someone with new exposure to the violin, I have to say: What a wonderful time it is to be a violinist and a fan of classical music!

More than at any other time in human history, we have access to great music performed by a variety of artists in venues around the world. With so much music at our fingertips, it begs the question: What are your favorite recordings?

Please use the comments to link to your own faves!

I'll start the conversation by posting a few of my own favorites for your listening (and viewing) pleasure:

Maxim Vengerov - Sibelius Violin Concerto in D minor, Op. 47

One of my favorite concertos. I have seen it performed live by Jushua Bell and some others but I am pretty sure that this version by Maxim Vengerov has spoiled me for other artistic interpretations.

Hilary Hahn, Partita No. 2 Gigue in D minor, Bach

This was Hahn's encore following her German debut with the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra. It was the first piece of music that made me weep with joy at seeing a young teenager perform with such poise and talent.

Nicola Benedetti - St. Saens, Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso

There are versions of this out there by more accomplished violinists such as Heifetz, Isaac Stern, Perlman, Jansen, Joshua Bell and Maxim Vengerov, but Benedetti's version the one that made me fall in love with the piece.

Itzhak Perlman - Tchaikovsky - Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 3

There are very few versions of this wonderful concerto that I do not enjoy (unlike Sibelius), but this version by Perlman is wonderful. Perlman's confidence and humility really shine through in this recording.

Joshua Bell - Beethoven Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 61

This concerto is very well-suited to Bell's unique playing style and energy. Plus, what's not to like about the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields?

Hilary Hahn - Paganini Caprice 24

One commenter on Youtube called this the best 12 minutes of her life. 'Nuff said.

Yehudi Menuhin & David Oistrakh - Bach Double Violin Concerto in D minor BWV 1043

It's really a treat to see video of these two greats performing such a lovely piece of music.

Hilary Hahn - Mendelssohn Violin Concerto in E minor, Op 64

There are very few professional versions of this concerto that I don't adore, but for me Hahn edges out Heifetz as my fave.

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Reverse Engineering

By Kate Little
November 25, 2014 15:10

At one lesson, the teacher asked me to perform long, legato bow strokes. Nothing unusual, except that the violin and bow were not included in the exercise. We call this “air-bowing.” The objective is to teach the right arm to orient itself in violin-space, independently and free of weight. Eventually, the bow arm should develop muscle memory to a degree that it can keep the bow tracking parallel to the bridge regardless of whatever other activity is simultaneously performed, such as fingering a melody, shaping a phrase, etc. With the teacher’s guidance, observing and gently correcting the free bow arm, my right arm found the parallel track during the lesson. The trick was: could I do this on my own?

In practice at home the next day, I tried to repeat the exercise, only to find my bow arm flailing about. What follows is an explanation of how I worked backwards to find a point of capability, and then re-built the exercise until I could repeat independently what had been previously accomplished with the teacher’s guidance. This is a story of attentive problem solving in the practice room, the essence of violin study.

Step 6: Try air-bowing, as at the lesson. The arm flounders about, cluelessly wondering where the violin and bow should be.

Step 5: Add the violin, tucking it into place and try again. Air-bowing results are a bit better, but not enough to be useful.

Step 4: Remembering when an instructor once held a stationary bow against the strings and parallel to the bridge, and asked me to slide my bow-hold up and down the stick to notice the arm motion, I feel inspired: Pick up the bow at the tip and, awkwardly with the left-wrist resting in the C-bout, allow the bow to drape off the strings. But the weight of the frog makes the bow awkward and tiring to hold.

Step 3: Turn the bow around and hold it by the frog so the bulk of the bow’s weight sits in the strings. Now try gliding a loose bow-hold up and down the stick. The stationary bow, held by the left hand and hanging off the strings, is exactly parallel to the bridge. In the mirror, I can see the moving bow arm comfortably and correctly oriented to the violin.

Step 2: Watching in the mirror, spend time gliding my bow hold up and down the middle third of the bow allowing the arm and wrist to orient themselves.

Step1: Remove the bow to the side and continue the motion in free space, ensuring the right hand and arm tracking do not change. If they do, bring the bow back and re-orient the arm. Repeat these steps in the upper and lower thirds of the bow, and finally with the whole bow motion.

Step 0: Once the arm is tracking reliably with an imaginary bow, take the violin away and continue the motion freely, but accurately, in violin-space. Pay attention to possible tension in the neck, shoulder, back, and stop to release. Go slowly and be observant.

After 5- to 10-minutes of air-bowing, studying intently the interaction of arm and wrist, scanning for interfering shoulder tension, making corrections, and striving to establish consistent motion, take bow in hand and repeat the whole process with wood and sound. Bowing the strings, seek the same comfortable, relaxed and rightly-oriented arm motion that will produce the most beautiful sound possible. As weeks pass, the shape of my stroke and its resulting voice gain reliability. Muscle memory is becoming established. Eventually an unsolicited comments as to the quality of my sound, and I feel progress is being made.

This story is shared as an illustration of effective practicing. Mindless repetition and adherence to a clock doesn’t get one far. Keen awareness of and attention to physical process and its resulting sound; specific problem solving, including working backwards to a point of capability; building capability slowly, adding and incorporating elemental tasks one-at-a-time, these allow the development of beautiful tone, melodic sequence, dynamic phrasing, and eventually, music.

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The Week in Reviews, Op. 58: Patricia Kopatchinskaja, Fumiaki Miura, Leonidas Kavakos in Concert

By Robert Niles
November 25, 2014 13:51

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.

Patricia Kopatchinskaja
Photo courtesy the artist

Patricia Kopatchinskaja performed Mansurian's Second Violin Concerto and an early work by Mendelssohn with the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra.

  • St. Paul Pioneer Press: "...she launched her tenure as a St. Paul Chamber Orchestra artistic partner by leading an adrenaline-fueled thrill ride of a concert, one that inspired three standing ovations and will doubtless be one of the year's most memorable concerts in any genre."
  • Minneapolis Star Tribune: "Her playing was free and flowing, quite exhilarating in its airy exuberance and exquisite, delicate high notes."

Richard Tognetti performed Haydn's Violin Concerto No. 1 with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment.

  • Gazette & Herald: "If ever a man played as if completely in love with his violin then it was Tognetti. Haydn’s Violin Concerto No 1 in C asks much of the soloist. Tognetti delivered with compound interest....The clarity, artistry and effervescence of his playing was consummate; one particular cadenza, with crystal clear, perfectly pitched high notes was spell-binding. And you could tell by the stillness before applause that it had washed into everyone’s soul: Unforgettable."

Fumiaki Miura performed Saint-Saëns' Violin Concerto No. 3 with the Utah Symphony.

  • Salt Lake Tribune: "He met the concerto’s virtuosic demands with apparent ease, navigating extended passages of high harmonics with near-surgical precision and singing out beguiling melodies with a rich, full-bodied tone."

Leonidas Kavakos performed works by Brahms and Respighi in recital with pianist Yuja Wang.

  • The New York Times: "... despite alluring moments — like Ms. Wang’s tenderness in the autumnal themes — they didn’t seem like a cohesive team."

Ray Chen performed works by Mozart, Prokofiev, and Bach in recital with pianist Timothy Young.

  • Violinist.com: "With the audience's cheering and thunderous applause at the end, begging for more encores, I no longer felt like I was at a classical music concert. Everyone felt free to enjoy themselves, the music, his awkward humour and the incredible atmosphere at the end. It was thoroughly refreshing."

Anne-Sophie Mutter performed Previn's Violin Concerto No. 2 and the Bach Double with her Mutter Virtuosi at Carnegie Hall.

  • The New York Times: "This wasn’t a performance you could relax through. It demanded attention."

Gil Shaham performed Prokofiev’s Second Violin Concerto with the San Francisco Symphony at Carnegie Hall.

  • The New York Times: "The violinist Gil Shaham always provides secure, thoughtful playing, and there was that aplenty in the latest round of his continuing traversal of 1930s concertos. But he and Mr. Thomas seemed determined to play everything as quietly and as prettily as possible, deliberately downplaying Prokofiev’s bite."

Simone Porter performed the Barber with the Fort Worth Symphony.

  • Theater Jones: "Porter played with a singer’s phrasing, taking time to breath between phrases. Her tempi were excellent and she (and Franco) made the most of Barber’s building and extended ritards that reach shattering resolutions."

Augustin Hadelich performed the Brahms with the North Carolina Symphony.

  • News & Observer: "Hadelich’s lean, silvery tone pulled the listener into the billowing phrases of the first movement, his high-lying notes achingly sweet, aided by his 1723 Stradivarius.... On the other hand, Hadelich didn’t stint on the technical fireworks when called for, especially in the fiery third movement."

Caroline Goulding performed the Mendelssohn with the Albany Symphony Orchestra.

  • Albany Times Union: "Caroline Goulding...played beautifully. She gave the first movement's cadenza a lovely push and pull of dynamics and tempo. Unfortunately, the piece started with the woodwinds out of tune."

Juliette Kang performed the Stravinsky with the Philadelphia Orchestra.

  • Philadelphia Inquirer: "The question of individualism always arises when the orchestra turns to its own ranks for a soloist, and Juliette Kang, first associate concertmaster, was sturdy enough in the Stravinsky Violin Concerto in D Major. Astringent and playful, the piece looks back on the baroque, an aspect Kang clearly understood, though as soloist she remained a notch beneath charismatic."

Vesa-Matti Leppanen performed the Mendelssohn with the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, stepping in for Stefan Jackiw.

  • New Zealand Herald: "Concertmaster Vesa-Matti Leppanen stepped in at two days' notice. Eleventh-hour pressures occasionally took their toll in virtuoso passages, but Leppanen, playing from memory, showed an individual and thoughtful response to the score. The nicest moment? The warm blend of soloist and colleagues in the first movement's second theme."

Andrew Sords performed Bruch's Scottish Fantasy with the Windsor Symphony Orchestra.

  • Windsor Star: "His control and beautiful tone suited every bar of the Bruch work from the adagio of the Prelude to the frenzied, familiar Finale."

Alexander Sitkovetsky performed the Sibelius with the Isle of Wight Symphony Orchestra.

  • On the Wight: "Mr Sitkovetsky played deliciously fast and passionately, his fingers flying, and he was obviously deeply entranced by the music itself."

Please support live music in your community by attending a concert or recital whenever you can!

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Music Lessons Instill Self Actualization

By Daniel Broniatowski
November 23, 2014 15:22

Self-ActualizationDear music teachers, performers, students of music, and parents,

Today I approach you with a principle that is often so overlooked in our music lessons and practice sessions that it is akin to mistaking the forest for the trees. It is a principle so important and vital that it is perhaps the most positively life-changing benefit that learning and practicing a musical instrument brings to our lives, no matter what your age. This, my friends, is the principle of self actualization.

Self actualization, as defined by Wikipedia, "is a term that has been used in various psychology theories, often in slightly different ways. The term was originally introduced by the organismic theorist Kurt Goldstein for the motive to realize one's full potential. Expressing one's creativity, quest for spiritual enlightenment, pursuit of knowledge, and the desire to give to society are examples of self actualization."

In other words, self-actualization is the inherent desire to use one's unique talents and abilities to to what he or she is meant to do on our planet and for each other. We, in the United States, often take this principle for granted, but such thinking is only but a recent development in the long history of mankind.

An intuitive teacher, who really is a mentor, knows how to bring out the qualities of each individual student in such a way that he or she feels empowered to realize his or her full potential. Of course, this can mean different things to different people. Two fundamental questions arise.

1. If a student is young, isn't he or she too young to worry about such a big concept as self actualization?

2. What if violin lessons (or any other instrumental lessons) do not fit into the big picture for a student's life goals? What if he or she doesn't wish to become a professional musician?

Both of these questions can be answered by one statement:

It's not the destination that matters, but the journey.

In other words, it is the process of learning that makes life meaningful. I don't care if my students are learning violin, math, science, or history. We all are born with unique proclivities in life toward various subjects and it is the process of learning that truly allows one to self actualize. If a student is gifted enough with the ability to derive benefit from music lessons, he or she is gifted enough to learn the principle of self actualization by harnessing this unique talent.

But wait, there's more!

Learning, for learning's sake isn't enough. Whether learning math or music, a student needs to apply the subjects to real life to make them truly meaningful and relevant. For instance, what use is knowing the periodic table of elements if one never intends to use the knowledge in a laboratory? Similarly, what use is it to spend hours in the practice room if a student of music cannot communicate with an audience?

Sure, there are known therapeutic effects of playing for oneself, in addition to studying chemistry (if that's what keeps you sane), but to achieve TRUE meaning in life, we must use our talents to better our fellow man or woman.

How can this be done? Well, this is where you come in, my dear reader. The answer lies in your unique situation. You might not yet know the answers, and that's ok. These answers get revealed over time and one thing's for sure - You cannot force the answers. Being impatient with oneself is certainly not going to help. Furthermore, finding meaning is a life-long process. I am convinced that a life of meaning and purpose is what ultimately makes us happy.

Here are some questions though, that could help you find YOUR musical purpose:

1. What are my earliest memories of performing/learning my instrument?

2. Who am I playing for when I'm on stage? or Who do I wish to play for on stage?

3. What do I believe music can do for humanity? There is no wrong answer, no matter how idealistic you might think it sounds!

4. What do I, as an individual, have that no one else has that I can contribute to society as a human being through musical or non-musical channels?

As you can see, it's all about the I-You relationship. I conclude with some wise words from the great ancient Rabbi Hillel the Elder who said "If I am not for myself, who is for me? And if I am only for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?"

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

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Time-outs and Comebacks

By Karen Rile
November 23, 2014 07:59


One minute you're a violinist, practicing and rehearsing six days a week. Then, boom! A giant project gets dumped in your lap at work, or your elderly parent has a crisis, or it's Thanksgiving and 37 people are coming for dinner.

One minute you're the parent of a violin kid, and then boom! She breaks her arm in a fall from the uneven parallel bars, and it's six weeks or more in a cast.

When your routine gives you pleasure and purpose, being wrenched away feels significant. You worry you'll never return. Or that if you do return, you'll have lost your mojo.

When my daughter was eight I got a call from another parent telling me to come immediately to the emergency room of the local hospital. I arrived, heart banging in my chest, to discover that she was okay, except for a broken right arm. Her gymnastics coach, who knew she was a violinist, greeted me with the words, "I'm just afraid of what her violin teacher will say!"

My daughter was lucky. After a painful night, her arm was reset the next day in the operating room and we were told that in six weeks she'd be good as new. The problem is, she didn't want to be good as new. She wanted to be good as she'd been where she left off.

Six weeks is, of course, a very long time when you're eight. But the time-out also felt monumental to me, even though I was old enough to know a thing or two about the passage of time. I was worried that my daughter would lose all of her carefully earned facility on the instrument. Only practice on the days that you eat, my kids' first Suzuki teacher had intoned. What if she forgot all her skills and found herself back at square one, miserable and frustrated?

We had organized our family's routine around practicing, rehearsals, and lessons (not to mention 8 hours of gymnastics practice every week.) Now, all of that was gone. What would we do with the extra hours? After a few days we settled into our new normal of sleeping later, reading more, watching TV. It was relaxing, but I felt uneasy. We'd been on some kind of treadmill and now we were off. Was the violin-phase of our lives now over? (Gymnastics sure was, after that accident.)

Six weeks later, as promised, the orthopedist removed my daughter's cast and told her that it was fine to resume practicing; in fact, he said, the bowing motion would be excellent healing therapy for her arm. When we got home my daughter asked me to help her unpack her violin. Gingerly, she took up the bow, supporting her right arm with her left at first. Then I handed her the little instrument. Her sheet music was waiting for her on the stand just where she'd left it six weeks earlier. She placed it the on the string and began to play: a wobbly sound that grew slowly fatter. Tears streamed from her eyes. It was as if she'd never stopped.

I'd never wish a broken arm on any child, but for my daughter (and for me) the experience was a great lesson. Because everyone gets blindsided now and then, and it's good to know you can come back.

Over the years my daughter, like many violinists, has had a few of setbacks that kept her from practicing, sometimes for weeks. The timing was always terrible, often an injury as a result of over-practicing towards some goal, which would then need to be abandoned. Recently, she developed arm pain after practicing too hard in preparation for a competition at her college. The doctors told her the injury wasn't serious but prescribed healing rest. Her teachers and dean advised her to drop out of the competition. Forget it, they said. It's just a small blip in a lifetime of healthy playing. She knew that her teachers were right, but the time-out was more painful than the injury itself.

I'm sitting in my room and all I want to is practice, she texted me. That was a few weeks ago. Now her arm is healing and she's back. The disappointment is behind her.

A successful comeback after an unplanned hiatus give you courage to plan some well-timed sabbaticals. An occasional break from routine gives you the opportunity to rest, recharge, and to expand your mind in new directions. A couple summers ago my daughter had an chance to spend a few weeks backpacking in Europe after an orchestra tour. At first she worried about how she would manage to keep her instrument safe and to practice during her trip. The logistics of dragging a violin through a series of youth hostels and small aircraft seemed so daunting that she decided to leave her instrument in London while she traveled. It worked out fine. Within a month she was back in the US, refreshed and rested, and practicing again as though she'd never skipped a beat.

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In Memory of Virginia Baker, my Violin Teacher

By Francesca Rizzardi
November 22, 2014 23:27

My violin teacher, Virginia Baker, passed away last Saturday. She was almost 92, so I had imagined that one day I'd be writing these words on my Violinist.com blog. But until today, I couldn't have imagined I'd write the rest of what follows.

She was my teacher for about eight years. As I was already 50 when I became her student, I realize now that she probably didn't expect that I would remain her student for so long. But I learned from her daughter, also a
violinist, that if I had started much younger, I probably would have already switched teachers as my development as a violinist dictated.

Virginia was also our neighbor, recommended to me by another musician neighbor. For a long time I wasn't sure she was a good fit for me as a teacher, but in the past few years I came to see how perfect she was for me--her
insistence on discipline, self-awareness, building a solid basis, and not forcing too much music theory on me. (But I did learn to appreciate the latter!)

We also had a lot of outside interests in common. Our extracurricular discussions sometimes stretched out the lessons. I welcomed these breaks as a chance to escape having to play because for a long time, I was afraid to play at my lessons. Then one day I decided to just forget that I couldn't play as perfectly as I wanted. From then on we chatted less and I played, and advanced, more.

Virginia had all her "marbles" up to the end. The only "old age" impediment was that she had to have a hearing aid especially tuned for hearing music. One day she noticed a funny noise coming out of my violin. She said to me, "Do you hear it?" I had to admit that I didn't. After a little more listening, she said, "Just a moment ... Ah, it was my hearing aid!" (Whew.)

Virginia had a long, rewarding, career as a violinist. She told me many stories over the years but I don't have all the details straight so I won't try to elaborate. But she was approximately age 90 when she "retired" from the
Berkeley (California) Symphony and the UC Berkeley Young Musicians Program (YMP), where she taught every summer. Both of these were already retirement jobs. I know that she played for the Pasadena Symphony for a long time. In
her (much) later years, she had a few other beginning students and students from YMP, but I was the last one left.

Virginia's health failed quickly over the past couple months and she recommended another teacher to me. I've learned over the years that I need the violin in my life. I've also learned the hard way that the more I play, the more bad habits I develop without ongoing lessons. So I will move on.

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When a classical music concert stops feeling like one: Review of Ray Chen in concert in Melbourne.

By Daniel Tan
November 22, 2014 23:03

This can also be read here at my personal blog.

Last night I had the absolute pleasure of attending the penultimate concert of Ray Chen's national recital tour of Australia with Timothy Young (Piano) in partnership with Musica Viva Australia. The warm wooden interior of the acoustically superb Elizabeth Murdoch Hall (Melbourne Recital Centre) provided an ideal setting for the two hour feast of repertoire to follow. (No literally, Ray described in concert how he sees concert programming like a multi-course meal).

Ray ChenAs someone who has attended many classical music concerts, and performed in many, the air of anticipation prior to this concert was like something I have never experienced before. The energy in the room before Chen and Young walked onto stage was palpable, the audience obviously eager to get proceedings underway.

The two walked onto stage to hearty applause before launching into the evening's entree (the leafy green salad as it were) of Mozart's Violin Sonata No.22 in A Major (K305). Whilst a very palatable opening, something about the choice of repertoire didn't seem to sit that well with me personally. There were many nice moments throughout, and both performers clearly seemed to enjoy themselves but despite this I was left a little wanting after it was through.

Luckily, the main course for this evening (Prokofiev's Violin Sonata No.2) proved to be a fully satisfying choice. This in my opinion is where Chen really came into his own. (This was made more interesting by the fact that I am also learning this sonata currently). The playing was diverse, exciting and had much variety of colour, musical idea and emotion. So much so I had to control my urge to clap after the first movement was over. The rest of the sonata proceeded in this fashion, and you could feel the entire audience along for the ride with the performers. The sonata concluded to thunderous applause bringing the pair back onto stage 3 times to bow before interval. In actual fact, I felt quite relieved at he end of this portion of the recital, realising only after this was because I pretty much held my breath throughout the entire sonata.

The after interval palette cleanser was Bach's Partita No.3 in E Major. This provided an opportunity for Chen to show of his sound and his Strad, and this did not disappoint. From the very opening of the Prelude, the audience was clearly taken by his warm and rich sound, which reverberated stunningly around the hall. Whilst his interpretation again did not quite do it for me personally; to sit and bask in his wonderful sound whilst watching his flawless string crossing and intonation was none-the-less very enjoyable. Again, this was rewarded by heavy applause and cheering.

Finally onto the dessert for the evening, a trio of Sarasate; including two of his Spanish Dances (Habnera and Playera) followed by the famous Zigeunerweisen. From the word go, it became evident that Chen and Young's virtuosic flair, combined with the repertoire choice would produce a very tasty dessert. Indeed none of the pieces left anything to be desired, with wonderful extroversion and risk taking combined with strong ensemble and technique. The applause became progressively louder as each piece concluded, with the cheering and applauding becoming a standing ovation at the conclusion of the revealed program. Upon conclusion of the third bow, Chen grabbed the mic to announce an encore; "if you can stand more Sarasate...". The audience went wild and the pair launched into Introduction and Tarantella. This was the first of what would be three encores for the evening (the other two being Meditation and Theme from Schindler's List). I'm fairly sure the audience would have kept spurring them on to play more if they had been able to, but sadly after the three encores were through, it seemed like our concert was officially over.

At this point, it would be remiss of me not to applaud the wonderful work of the pianist Timothy Young who proved a worthy partner for Chen, matching him in his virtuosity, flair and technical security. His playing had the perfect amount of sensitivity and the two clearly have a wonderful partnership (both onstage and off-stage). This was further evidenced in the post concert Q&A which was well attended.

There are a few other things well worth noting. Firstly, it is clear how effective Chen has been in galvanizing a younger audience to see classical music live. The audience was significantly younger than I'm used to seeing at other similar concerts and Chen was mobbed after the Q&A for photos and signatures (myself included). The second, is how charismatic he is both on and off stage. Whilst his playing clearly connected with everyone in the audience, the portions of the recital where he interacted and bantered with the audience removed any sense of pretense or snobbishness. With the audience's cheering and thunderous applause at the end, begging for more encores, I no longer felt like I was at a classical music concert. Everyone felt free to enjoy themselves, the music, his awkward humour and the incredible atmosphere at the end. It was thoroughly refreshing.

I greatly admire what Ray Chen is doing for classical music in making it more accessible for people. Not only does his playing deliver in a major way, but so does everything else about his personality and off-stage efforts. I thoroughly enjoyed this concert and will jump at any future opportunity to see him live again!

Chen and Young answer questions post concert.

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