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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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V.com weekend vote: Who changes your strings?

By The Weekend Vote
April 24, 2015 12:20

Changing strings is its own art, and it takes a while to get good at it.

If you don't know how to change strings, or if you aren't yet very good at it, it makes sense to have someone else do it, particularly if you are short on time. Often, violin shops will offer to change them for you, either for free or for a small fee. This works well if you don't wish to take up lesson time, having your teacher change strings.

On the other hand, having your teacher change your strings can be an opportunity for you to learn how to do it. You can watch each step, as your teacher takes off the old string(s) and puts on the new, or if you are feeling confident, you can have your teacher supervise while you try changing them yourself. Of course, it does take up lesson time, but I'd say this is an important lesson in the maintenance of your violin. As a teacher, I do like to teach this skill to students, but the best time to do it is not the week before an audition or performance! Rather, plan that lesson for a break time or summer week.

If you have a relationship with a luthier, sometimes he or she can help show you how to change strings; I learned at least as much about changing strings from my local luthier as I did from my violin teacher. You can also learn from Youtube tutorials! (Maybe I'll make one!)

Recently I had to learn how to change strings with a new kind of pegs -- the geared pegs, or "planetary" pegs. Here's the secret: You change the strings in much the same way as you do with traditional pegs, you just have to wind, and wind, and wind, and wind!

Tell us who changes your strings, and if you do it yourself, how long did it take to learn this skill? Who taught you?

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Role Models, Historical Performance, and the Secular Self

By Dorian Bandy
April 23, 2015 08:05

My musical role model is a superstar.

I am a professional, full-time historical performer. Next year, it will be one decade since I last gave a concert on a modern instrument. This makes me something of an oddity among those who post to this forum, but I think it also gives me a unique perspective on role models.

Most (though not quite all) of what we know about how music was played in past centuries comes from treatises -- texts written by composers or performers as training manuals for students. The most celebrated 18th-century violin treatises are by Geminiani and Leopold Mozart, but there are hundreds of others, by the likes of Corrette, Cambini, Woldemar, Tartini, Galeazzi. (Not to mention those from earlier centuries -- Jambe de Fer, Prinner, Playford -- and later centuries -- Spohr, Baillot, etc.)

Every single one of these musicians fits our modern description of the superstar: we don't know them personally (in this case because they've been dead for multiple centuries), and, most important, they wield a disproportionate amount of musical and technical authority. (For every 18th-century Geminiani, there were countless other violinists who didn't publish a treatise that people still find useful 264 years later.) Many musicians who really commit to historical performance find that their other musical role models -- teachers and friends -- begin to pale in comparison with the 300-year-old superstars who help them chip away at the mysteries of the past.

So, as a historical performer, I may be preconditioned to seek superstar role models. This may be one of the reasons that my musical role model is Jascha Heifetz.

HeifetzGeminiani is an excellent mentor when the goal is to play three-octave scales without a chinrest, but for so much else, I turn to Heifetz. If we're talking only about violin playing, is there any other role model really worth wanting? (Of course, substitute Milstein, Oistrakh, Perlman, Ricci, or anyone else as you wish; the point doesn't change.) We know so much about how -- really, how -- Heifetz became Heifetz, from the mechanics of his playing to his practice routines. The slow-motion video of his left hand shows the wrist and knuckle movement, the extremely flat fingers, the floppiness; we know that he didn't use a shoulder rest. Interviews he gave about practicing (see: Violin Mastery: Interviews with F. Martens) detail certain aspects of his routine, which are supplemented by video evidence. And, of course, stage presence, bow speed, bow hold, bow use, right arm mechanics, are all plainly visible.

About a year and a half ago, I decided to actively incorporate Heifetz into my playing (though, granted, still on a baroque violin, so with countless concessions). I imitated anything I could, no matter how grand or seemingly-inconsequential: I limited my practice hours to match his, I wore suit jackets in the practice room, I began to play from memory again (definitely not something early musickers like to do), I raised my right elbow, I made sure that my left hand always looked like the slow-motion video of his, I tuned the way he did (very, very short bow strokes, never actually turning the peg while bowing), I stood the way he did, I moved (or didn't move) the way he did. Of course, there are so many things we don't know about how Heifetz played, but one has to start somewhere, and I imitated as much as possible of what we do know.

Since then, my technical improvement has been astonishing. What began as (mere) imitation of a superstar has become a set of good habits, an integral part of my practice routine. (Needless to say, I don't want to imply that I've reached anywhere near the Heifetz heights! That was never my goal -- though, if I did want to go further in that direction, I now know what I'd have to do.) Of course, I never sacrificed my own musicianship, or gave up phrasing, playing, and performing like me. In fact, the whole exercise ceased to be "about Heifetz" ages ago -- but the slow shedding of bad habits hasn't stopped. My musicianship and performing has continued to improve.

The incredible improvements I made during my "Heifetz period" really brought home to me just how important the choice of role model is. The Greats are great for a reason: they not only have the mastery, but they continue to do it. Any musician, of any level, can learn by emulating any of their good habits.

One final thought: today, 23 April, is "Openly Secular Day". As a passionate musician and secularist, I'd like to suggest that evolution itself lurks behind this way of thinking about the violin. The evolutionary image (simple organisms that, through billions of years of steady, imperceptible development, become complex things like beetles, trees or musicians) is a useful one to take to the practice room: normal people, given time, direction, and progress, can become just as great as the Greats. There's lots of talk about how divinely-inspired the best musicians are, but, ultimately, we're all the same species. No miracle is needed to become a Heifetz -- just the right role models, time, and the dedication it takes to learn from them.

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Talking to Jennifer Burns About Focal Dystonia

By Kayleigh Miller
April 22, 2015 19:12

Jennifer Burns is a violist, educator, and performer with the Toledo Symphony. She completed her studies at the Cleveland Institute of Music and the University of Illinois: Champaign-Urbana. She began to have unusual symptoms in her left hand around 2011, and went through a lengthy process of evaluation and testing to eventually conclude years later that she was developing focal dystonia. She recently worked with Dr. Joaquin Farias in Toronto, ON, to rehabilitate and is also working towards Montessori educator certification.

Kayleigh: When you initially had unusual symptoms in your left hand, you initially suspected focal dystonia, yet no one seemed to give you credence. How was your initial diagnosis process, and what is focal dystonia?

Jennifer: Focal dystonia is a neurological movement disorder, that for me, affects my left ring finger. When trying to play viola, the ring finger (along with the pinky) will pull in towards my palm involuntarily and/or refuse to lift off the string when I'm trying to use it to play a note.

After googling my symptoms, I was aware that my issues were similar to focal dystonia, but my physical therapist at the time quickly dismissed the idea. While I still suspected FD, I so badly wanted it to be something else that I was happy to believe her. I sought out many different treatments, but nothing seemed to help. Finally, I was being treated by two awesome physical therapists who said I should be showing more improvement with their treatments, and they suggested I see a neurologist. I knew then it was focal dystonia.

I ended up seeing 3 different neurologists with the hope of finding a suitable treatment. They all had a similar evaluation process. They checked for nerve and muscle issues, watched me walk, had me write/draw, and included other tests which ruled out other neurological disorders. We also discussed my symptoms, and then they watched me play my viola. They all concluded that it was focal dystonia.

Kayleigh:How many different medical professionals did you see in that initial diagnosis period, and did any of them diagnose FD?

Jennifer: Before I was diagnosed with FD, I saw 3 different orthopedic surgeons, 3 physical therapists, 2 massage therapists and a chiropractor. I was told by one doctor that I had the endings of trigger finger, and then 6 weeks later, that I had the start of trigger finger. (You read that right... ) Another doctor thought I had cubital tunnel syndrome and gave me a splint to use. The last doctor I saw said it was just tendonitis and that I should take 6 weeks off from playing... I also was given another splint to add to my collection. No one mentioned focal dystonia.

Kayleigh: What are the current treatment options for focal dystonia?

Jennifer: I know that some people have tried using medications that are used for Parkinson's disease because dystonia and Parkinson's are very closely linked. To my knowledge, they may help a little, but they don't cure dystonia or make a huge difference. They can also have some horrible side effects that, as much as I want to make this better, wouldn't be worth it. Some people have had success with Botox injections, which deaden the muscle that is causing trouble, allowing the correct muscles to start working again. These last about 3 months, and then another shot is needed. My concern with this is that I've heard from a chiropractor and massage therapist that they have treated people who have had muscle atrophy due to Botox treatments. I'm still hopeful for retraining my muscles and/or a cure someday, so I don't want to risk it with the Botox. Some people use it and have no problems, though.

Kayleigh: As a performer and educator, how has your relationship with music changed in the last few years? Have you shifted your professional goals?

Jennifer: Despite the grim prognoses with focal dystonia, I still feel like I will be able to play in orchestra again some day. I hear of people who come back from dystonia more relaxed, with better technique, and feeling more confident. I know that I have to keep working towards that, no matter what else I'm doing career-wise. I can't give up on my dream.

Before I was diagnosed, it was getting harder to enjoy music because of my struggles with my finger. I also blamed myself a lot and felt like I should be practicing Every. Single. Second. It was exhausting, with disappointing results. In a weird way, I was a little bit relieved when I was diagnosed because I realized that I wasn't crazy(well...for this anyway! :) ), it wasn't totally my fault, and I could start working on how to treat it.

Now that I am making steps forward, I am enjoying practicing and working on the interesting puzzles my fingers present. It is still frustrating at times, but I am headed in the right direction and have hope.

I am grateful to still be teaching private lessons, and I am enjoying being in the music scene even while not performing. I have also started teaching in a 3-6 year old classroom at a Montessori school, while doing training to be a certified teacher. I really appreciate what I am learning about teaching and how to work with kids, but I am also enjoying the different teaching setting. It's nice to have the whole morning to work with different kids on language, math, and other work that helps them develop and grow. I can also better relate to them in violin and viola lessons.

Kayleigh: How has your teaching changed in the last few years, especially when you can't always demonstrate?

Jennifer: I have had to get creative in lessons, and I've been singing way more than anyone should have to hear! A lot of my students are through the Suzuki method, so they are used to listening to their pieces so that they can learn them by ear. We do sing together, and I can play piano with my right hand when needed. I think they have also had to become more patient and listen to me describe things instead of always demonstrating. I have also been helping them more with "hands on" teaching by moving their bow with them or for them to help them with a particular bowing issue, or I help manipulate their left hand for tricky things. I did this before, but now it's an even more helpful tool for me. YouTube has also become my best friend. It's great for a quick demo when needed.

Kayleigh: How has your relationship with your body and diagnosis evolved in the last few years?

Jennifer: When I was first diagnosed, of course I was devastated. However, the more I work on figuring out how to recover, the more I learn that I am being forced to become healthier and happier. It's hard to cure a neurological issue if the brain is sleep deprived, high on caffeine, and stressed out. I tend to fall into the guilt pattern of thinking I need to work more, despite getting less sleep, but then I get less done and deprive my brain of rest. It's started sinking in that if I take care of my health first and foremost, everything else is manageable. It's still not easy to balance, especially when my favorite yoga classes are at 5:30 am and I sometimes don't finish teaching lessons until 8pm... I just do what I can and try to listen to my body.

Kayleigh: I know you're also pursuing Montessori certification- when did you begin that process? How has that affected your teaching?

Jennifer: I started taking classes on the weekends last August to become certified. For my practicum, I started in a Montessori classroom as an assistant, as well. It helps me to know what the kids that age are learning as far as math, language, fine motor and gross motor skills and think of how I can relate that to music. It is also really helpful for me to see what they do in a day, so I can understand why they come into their lessons tired or excited over something special at school. It's another window into their lives that I love seeing. In the lessons, I feel like I have more patience (sometimes), and I have new tools for how to deal with different issues that come up a little better.

Kayleigh: Aside from music, how else does FD affected your daily life?

Jennifer: I haven't been typing on a computer for over a year because it causes my symptoms to kick in. Recently, I tried again, and things were improving! I don't want to tempt fate, and I want to save my fingers for viola, so I still mostly type everything, including papers for class, with my thumbs on my phone. I'm pretty sure I could out-text even a teenage girl with my mad skills!

I have also cut out gluten, dairy and coffee. I had an acupuncturist and chiropractor who separately mentioned to try eliminating these foods. Apparently gluten is processed in the same part of the brain as dystonia. I have felt better on this diet, maybe because I'm eating a lot more natural foods. It's really hard to tell if it's helping my dystonia, but it's worth a shot! (I do tell myself that chocolate has no dairy, so feel free to keep enabling this).

Kayleigh: Thanks so much for sharing your story with us! Jenn is currently running a half-marathon to benefit dystonia research, which you can donate to here.

You can also read more about Jenn's experience here.

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Applications Open for 2016 Menuhin Competition in London

By Laurie Niles
April 22, 2015 09:00

The Menuhin Competition is accepting applications for its 2016 competition, which will be held in April 7-17, 2016 at the Royal Academy of Music in London. Click here for the application and repertoire information. The deadline to apply is October 31, 2015.

The Menuhin Competition, which includes a junior and senior section, is open to violinists of any nationality under the age of 22, as of April 17, 2016. Junior candidates must be under 16 years on April 17, 2016. (Violinists aged 15 may also enter the Senior Section.)

Yehudi MenuhinThe Menuhin Competition was started in 1983 by violinist Yehudi Menuhin (1916-1999) -- who would have celebrated his 99th birthday this April 22.

Prizes for Senior Section include: First prize, £10,000 and a 1-year loan of a golden period Strad from J&A Beare; Second prize £7,500; third prize £5,000; fourth prize £3,000 and other special prizes. Prizes for the Junior Section include: First prize, £5,000; second prize £4,000; third prize £3,000; fourth prize £2,000; fifth prize £1,000; and other special prizes.

Jury members for 2016 will include Pamela Frank of the U.S., Chair; Joji Hattori of Austria, Vice-Chair; Ray Chen of Australia; Martin Engstroem of Sweden; Ning Feng of China; Julia Fischer of Germany; Dong-Suk Kang of Korea/U.S.; Tasmin Little of U.K.; and Jeremy Menuhin of Switzerland.

Past Menuhin Competition winners have included Julia Fischer, Nikolaj Znaider, Chad Hoopes, Isabelle van Keulen; Ilya Gringolts, Ray Chen, Alina Ibragimova, Daishin Kashimoto, Tasmin Little, Lu Siqing, Ning Feng and many others.

The 2014 Menuhin Competition was held in Austin, Texas. Winners in the 2014 Senior Section included 1st Stephen Waarts; 2nd In Mo Yang; 3rd Christine Seohyun Lim; fourth Stephen Kim. Winners in the 2014 Junior Section included 1st Rennosuke Fukuda; 2nd Daniel Lozakovitj; 3rd Ludvig Gudim; 4th Alex Zhou; and 5th Jaewon Wee.


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The Week in Reviews, Op. 79: Leila Josefowicz, Christian Tetzlaff, Rainer Honeck

By Laurie Niles
April 21, 2015 12:59

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.

Christian Tetzlaff performed the Beethoven with the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

  • The New York Times: "...the superb German violinist Christian Tetzlaff proved an ideal soloist. All the delicacy, lyricism and magisterial elegance of the music came through in Mr. Tetzlaff’s playing. Yet, being an artist immersed in contemporary music, he also revealed the experimental strangeness in this piece, especially with his impetuous dispatching of passagework. Mr. Nelsons and the orchestra were with him all the way."

John Adams
John Adams. Photo by Margaretta Mitchell

Leila Josefowicz performed Adams's "Scheherazade.2" with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, conducted by John Adams.

  • Cincinnati Enquirer: "Adams' 'Scheherazade.2' is a Scheherazade for our time, and Josefowicz, Adams said, embodies the 'empowered woman.' ...Josefowicz was sensational in what is a marathon for the violinist. She entered with a rhapsodic line, playing with immense beauty, against a pulsating, atmospheric sound world in the orchestra. It wasn't long before her playing became agitated, as she dug into her strings and propelled her way through stunning technical fireworks, almost nonstop."

Rainer Honeck performed the Britten with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra.

  • Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: "The violinist, also making his local debut, had a matter-of-fact style of playing that did not belie the technical difficulty of the work. His flexible, coppery tone yielded to steely harmonics and dizzying runs; the final movement offered a surprising warmth or even optimism for a poignant piece that expressed the composer’s despair during the Spanish Civil War."
  • Pittsburgh Tribune-Review: "The soloist gave an impressive performance, beautifully sung in the first movement, sharply argued in the Scherzo middle movement, and emotionally intense in the finale, a passacaglia with nine variations. The orchestra also played brilliantly."

Alexander Velinzon performed Schnittke's Violin Concerto No. 4 with the Seattle Symphony.

  • The Seattle Times: "Both contemplative and assertive, Velinzon demonstrated a secure technique with a fluid bow and clean fingerwork."
  • The SunBreak: "Velinzon’s violin sang throughout: mellifluous, lyrical in many areas, soaring or contemplative in others, fast, wild or arpeggiated in still more, peaceful or powerful, but always with a firm, rich tone, never scratchy, which fit the music like a glove."

Alexi Kenney performed the Sibelius with the Santa Fe Symphony.

  • The Santa Fe New Mexican: "Violinist Alexi Kenney was an impressive soloist in Sibelius’ Violin Concerto, playing throughout with technical precision and meticulous intonation."

Gil Shaham performed the Britten with the London Symphony Orchestra.

  • The Guardian: "Shaham was technically impeccable, also drawing on an ample range of colour and articulation to encompass the music’s needs while being consistently vividly supported by Vänskä and the LSO players."

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

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Role Models and the Spiritual Self

By Karen Allendoerfer
April 20, 2015 12:44

Last weekend vote, there was a poll: “Who is your musical role model?” The choices were: a teacher, a superstar, a fellow student, a colleague, or I have no role model. I had a hard time choosing between my violin teacher and a friend/colleague who passed away a few years ago. But, I went ahead and picked “a teacher,” which both then and today was narrowly the most popular choice, picked by ~40% of the respondents.

It no longer surprises me, but it still puzzles me, that “a superstar” comes in a close second. I have never really understood how superstars are supposed to work as role models: people one doesn’t know, probably will never know, and, unless one is uniquely gifted (I’m not), cannot reasonably hope to emulate. As a spectator or consumer, one can taste and enjoy what they bring to the world on special occasions, but my day-to-day life, at least, flows on without many ripples from superstardom.

Music is “just” a hobby for me though. I didn’t go to music school, and I don’t usually make money at music. I had industrial-strength performance anxiety until at least my mid-20s, and while it has gradually waned since then--after much effort to combat it on my part—it has never fully gone away. To me, performing on the violin, especially solo, is rather like eating quinoa, or like vigorous exercise. I know it’s good for me, and I’m always glad to have done it. But that’s only if you ask me after it’s over.

So maybe I just don’t get the appeal of the superstar role model on the violin because violin isn’t my passion and my everything. By profession, I am a PhD scientist and science educator. I care deeply about STEM education and about a scientifically literate public, and I want to see all students succeed, including students from diverse genders and cultural and economic backgrounds. So, what was my reaction when I saw this article this morning?

“Virginia student earns admission to all eight Ivy League schools, and others”

After reading and mentally processing the article, I am filled with admiration for this young woman. It’s a short article, but in it she appears to be gifted, hard-working, and humble. A woman of color and the daughter of immigrants, she has made the most of her opportunities, and she demonstrates an uncommon level of maturity and generosity. She’s clearly a superstar, and deserves admission to any top college in the country or in the world.

But my first reaction was still, “yikes!"

The yikes don’t have to do with this brilliant young woman herself, but rather specifically with the idea of her as a role model. Her principal calls her a “STEM superwoman.” Her guidance counselor is quoted as saying that the senior is “dedicated to pushing herself in the classroom . . . 'she’s taking the hardest courses, the most challenging we offer' . . .” And, her decision to apply to all 8 Ivy League schools is “not typically what we advise.” Some commenters say that we “need more” of students like this. Others want to know “how she did it.” Either way the implication is that others should read this article and emulate its subject. This superstar can be their role model.

Yet, I already know entire high schools worth of kids, kids from all different backgrounds and cultures, some privileged and some less so, who want, and who try, to be like the student described in this article. Who overload themselves with too many AP classes and too little sleep in order to gain that precious Ivy League acceptance. I have a teenager in one of these high schools now. Thirty or so years ago, I was one of them too (but back then the acceptance rate at my alma mater, Princeton University, was around 17%, not the 6.99% it was in 2015). There isn't a shortage of teenagers trying as hard as they can, to be super. It’s just that most of them don’t succeed, at least not by this definition.

A few spaces in my Facebook feed down from the article about the Ivy League-bound student, I saw this one: Why kids who believe in something are happier and healthier. A little put off by the title at first, I read it anyway when a friend summarized the contents. The author, Lisa Miller, a clinical psychologist, sees a lot of unhappy teens. She claims that over the past decade, up to 65% of teens have been shown to struggle with intrusive depression symptoms at some point, and often with anxiety and substance abuse as well. And this is especially a problem for the kids who should, theoretically, have the easiest chance for happiness: those who are economically well-off and whose parents provide them with opportunities and choices.

Her theory to explain this paradox is that “an increasingly narcissistic culture and the constant reward for achievement, whether on the playing field, the music stage or the math test, creates what I call in my book the unbalanced “performance self” of the child; a child who feels his or her worth is founded on ability and accomplishment."

Her antidote to the unbalanced "performance self" is the development of the "spiritual self,” which she says is neglected in our culture. The spiritual self is not connected to any specific religion, or even to religion, per se. It is measured as a deep spiritual connection with a sense of a sacred world. It can be encouraged and fostered by steps such as meditation, prayer, or long walks in nature, and modeled by such traits as caring for others, empathy, and optimism.

“In contrast to the performance self, the spiritual self is sturdy and resilient, happy at a win, but not dependent on it to feel worthy as a human being."

Miller is writing generally here; this is her life’s work, and she has book coming out. But I couldn’t help but think specifically about music, the violin, and the role of the performance self vs. the spiritual self. Historically people came to music through the church, and music served a spiritual function, first and foremost. This is especially true for what we call “classical music” today, and for large parts of the violin, symphonic, and choral repertoire. Personally, its spiritual meaning is what drew me to this music, and is why I play the violin in the first place. Although I have been through several marked changes in religious and spiritual path along the way, the constant thread has been music. Music still makes me cry in embarrassing moments, mortifying my performance self.

It has actually taken me a long time to develop any kind of real performance self at all, and that which I do have is still fragile and easily injured. I regularly like to give the performance self a rest. Maybe it’s the introvert in me. I feel pretty content in this approach, at least for myself. But I still wonder, especially as I look at the suffering this imbalance between personal and performance selves seems to create in our culture, how music can help it heal.

From violinist.com blog

Also on my word press blog, at Role Models and the Spiritual Self

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Getting to Yes: Skype Lessons with Kelly Hall-Tompkins

By Samuel Thompson
April 20, 2015 09:34

Violinist Kelly Hall-Tompkins is a person who possesses a deep understanding of the power of music, and her work is a beautiful example of how one can use that to connect with the world. Currently riding a beautiful wave that is highlighted by the tremendous response to her “Imagination” DVD, a spectacular performance of the Barber Concerto at the Brevard Music Center and the expansion of the Music Kitchen series to include performances in Los Angeles, Ms. Hall-Tompkins remains committed both to music making at the highest levels possible while truly engaging with communities and taking classical music into larger public spaces.

Keenly aware of the power of the internet and social media platforms, Kelly first reflected on “Imagination” a DVD that was released in early 2014 from which the videos were made available online via YouTube. “The YouTube format allows music to be shared immediately, and it also allows us windows into the numerous creative things people are doing across the world. That format also allows access much more quickly in the field of music. The demographics of those who watched my video are definitely international, and I’m very grateful for that.”

Kelly has also embraced technology to reach the world as a teacher and coach via Skype. “I remember Pinchas Zuckerman teaching lessons via videoconferencing while I was a student at the Manhattan School of Music,” she said. Launched in 1996 the Manhattan School of Music's Distance Learning program was the first of its kind at a major conservatory. The school’s use of videoconference technology has since expanded exponentially, and organizations including the New World Symphony have adopted the technology to connect young musicians with internationally-recognized teachers and coaches.

“For several summers I performed and taught at a festival in South Dakota, and it was during that time that I proposed that the students continue lessons via Skype. These were students that I had seen in person and who wanted to continue the work that we were doing. One of those students has since graduated and enrolled in college. Through our work she became concertmaster of All-State Orchestra and soloist with orchestra in her hometown and was also accepted into both Tanglewood and the Brevard Music Center.”

“Personally, the benefit of Skype is that I can reach students anywhere in the world and connect from wherever I find myself through my travels - depending on my schedule,” Ms. Hall-Tompkins said. As our society increasingly able to connect via technological means, however, Kelly is a firm believer in the value and necessity of maintaining true personal relationships. “It is most ideal that students and teachers who interact via Skype for lessons have first had an in-person rapport, but more so that the students have achieved a significant level of advancement and personal maturity. Skype lessons do give the mature player access beyond his circumstances; however, with children, I feel that for their sense of creating the first neuropathways of music and interactions with both music and a teacher, all of those things are best done live and in person.”

Ms. Hall’s early life was filled with great musical examples and teachers, yet a summer at the Boston University Tanglewood Institute fired her curiosity. “I was very curious as to what my ‘big city’ friends had access too. There is undoubtedly great value in being rooted to a musical community - Gene Berger of Horizon Records in Greenville, South Carolina, is still going strong with his store and I’m so grateful to him for still carrying my CDs - but there is also something wonderful as a student about having access to someone outside of your own locale.”

This philosophy of global access is balanced with an understanding both of time and of being involved in one’s local community. “All of us need to be involved in our respective locales, and young people especially need to be in the pipeline of their local musical activities including recitals and performance in youth orchestras. The students that I have taught had teachers in their local communities, and I worked with them based on what their needs were at the time.”

“Combining this use of Skype with my on location teaching as a guest artist is a wonderful tool, but I do acknowledge that technology does help us, it is not a short cut. We have to remember that mastery takes time and focus.”

Fortunately, life presents opportunities, and this interview with Ms. Hall-Tompkins included the opportunity to experience a Skype lesson during which we worked on the coda of the first movement of Brahms' Fourth Symphony. During the course of ninety minutes, not only did Kelly listen, speak, and demonstrate with the clarity one usually finds in face-to-face interactions; that ninety minute session was probably the most productive lessons that I have had in quite some time. As she possesses over twenty years of experience playing in top-tier orchestras across the globe, the quality of Kelly’s observations was outstanding as the advice she shared could be applied to many things, thereby raising the level of one's playing overall.

“Let’s start that again," she said, "and this time pay attention to the chordal intonation of those first two bars,” she said. “In addition, it is important to make sure that the strokes are even and with good bow distribution during that passage (measures 392-393)– even more so with the presence of a crescendo – so I recommend that you practice open strings, putting more attention on the up bows to even out your stroke, while allowing the down bows to ‘play themselves’. ” As we continued, Kelly emphasized the rhythmic aspects of measures 407-417. “This excerpt is one in which all of the strokes and the nuances must be heard clearly.”

Upon discussing the option of staying on the A string during measures 400-402 or staying in third position, which would result in a huge leap in measure 403, Kelly said “It’s good that you tried a new fingering – it’s always important to question your assumptions.” As we experimented with fingerings I did find myself stumbling (as we do) and found myself saying "No" – to which Kelly responded with an encouraging smile, “Let’s get to yes.”

* * *

Kelly Hall-Tompkins Plays the first movement of the Barber Violin Concerto with Keith Lockhart at the Brevard Music Festival, July 2014.

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Laurie's Violin School: Nine Tips for Preparing for a Successful Recital Performance

By Laurie Niles
April 20, 2015 07:54

Recital success

Whether you are preparing for a long solo recital or to play as part of a studio recital, here are some tips to help you prepare for a successful performance:

1. Commit to your repertoire well in advance.

What will you play for the recital? The time to answer that question is at least a month or more in advance of the performance, and perhaps even a year in advance, for a larger program! Knowing what you are going to play allows you to fully commit to preparing it. If you are still choosing between pieces, then you will waste precious preparation time vacillating between one thing and another. Moreoever, the indecision can put you on an emotional roller coster, changing your mind every day and questioning your strengths and weaknesses in relation to the pieces in question. With commitment comes a sense of assurance, and it also allows you to make your plan of action, with conviction.

2. Prepare your piece(s).

This may seem obvious, but it bears saying: You must thoroughly learn your music. Listen to your piece(s), study the score, learn the notes, break down the difficult passages and in a word, face the music! Attend to the nitty-gritty details early in the process, so you aren't still learning notes in the two weeks before the performance.

3. Memorize a month in advance.

If you plan to play by memory, then get your piece(s) memorized a month in advance, so that you can have a good month to practice playing it by memory. Warning: once it is memorized, be sure to still use the music on occasion. I often recommend that students play the whole piece twice, once with music, once without. Why? Because occasionally, when playing something many times by memory, it begins to change without your noticing. Small (or even big) sections get left out, or additional little phrases creep in. Notes get changed, dynamics get forgotten...So even when something is memorized, find a consistent way to check that memory.

4. Check the easy stuff.

It only makes sense that we focus on the most difficult and intimidating challenges in the music we are playing -- those places generally do require more work. In doing that work, it's natural to take for granted the "easy" parts -- but this can haunt you in performance. I can still remember one of my college recitals, when I was so worried about playing the Wieniawski Concerto that I didn't really focus too heavily on the Mozart Rondo I was also playing. Much to my surprise, I had several memory slips in the "easier" Mozart!

5. Rehearse with your accompanist and know the score.

If you are playing a piece or pieces that require accompaniment, you need to schedule time to put that together. Even if you've listened to the piece and know the score, it's important to come to a series of understandings with your collaborator about tempos, pacing, balance, rhythm and more. Give yourself adequate rehearsal time for this.

6. Play for other people.

Isn't it enough to play for a teacher? It's not the same thing as playing for someone else. Play for a relative or friend, and if your friend reads music, give him or her the score and a pencil, to write down suggestions. It's amazing how quickly any weak spots will come to your attention, when playing for someone else. And consider playing for someone who really scares you -- someone very knowledgeable, or someone whose opinion you regard highly. As Perlman once said, "15 minutes on the stage is worth 2 hours in the practice room." It's not exactly the same as being on stage, but it does have the effect of clarifying your practice.

7. Get a good night's sleep.

Once you are through practicing for the day, then set it aside and take care of your health. Eat well, sleep well, exercise a reasonable amount, and avoid too much caffeine, sugar or alcohol in the days before the recital. You want to give yourself the best chance of being alert, relaxed and physically ready to perform.

8. Wear something comfortable.

For some (sorry guys) this isn't possible -- if you are required to wear a suit with a tie. But even so, you might consider bringing your violin when picking such things, just to be sure you can play comfortably. As for me, I try to pick a dress that looks very nice but actually feels like pajamas! Avoid any clothing that makes it hard to play.

9. Focus on the music.

In the few days before your recital, shift your focus from fixing the details to performing the music. On the day of the performance, it's all about the music. As Lara St. John quoted a friend telling her: "When all else fails, lower your standards!" The time for being a perfectionist is in the practice room; once you walk on stage, your job is to be in the moment and bring whatever you have to your audience. Let go and enjoy your time on stage!

I hope you find these tips to be helpful. Please share any tips you have for preparing for a successful recital!

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Conquering Octaves at Fast String Crossing Speeds!

By Ben Chan
April 18, 2015 18:03

Hey violinists!

My student who has been working on the Wieniawski D minor concerto 1st movement is getting ready to perform it at a solo festival called "NYSSMA" in a few weeks.

One of the hardest parts for him right now is the last page octave runs with string crossings. So I created a YouTube video to help him practice and addressed it to everyone hoping to help someone else out there!

I'll be the first to admit that my octaves aren't perfect, but I do think the techniques I discuss in this video are applicable to everyone regardless of where you're at skill-wise.

In summary:

RIGHT hand:

- Tilt the bow as little as possible when moving between the two strings.

- Move closer to the lower middle part of the bow to access more natural bow weight/gravity to produce a nice sound without having to work too hard

LEFT hand:

- Use your 3rd finger up against your 4th finger to help push it up. Keep your 1st and 4th finger forming an octave (hand frame).

- Practice RELAXED. If you practice relaxed all of the time, when performance time comes you can continue to relax and things should continue to work! It has done wonders for my own playing - good-bye to the vast majority of my stage fright!

Best of luck to all of you! Please let me know if this helped you and if you have other suggestions for the rest of the violin community as we all struggle with (and hopefully conquer) this very difficult set of violin techniques!

-- Ben Chan

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V.com weekend vote: Who is your musical role model?

By The Weekend Vote
April 17, 2015 09:57

We human beings tend to be inspired by other human beings that we hold in high regard -- as long as we don't go down the wrong road and get jealous!

Inspiration is something we need -- it keeps us in that practice room, holds us to a higher standard, makes us strive. Sometimes that's a superstar whose playing is an example of near-impossibly high standards -- Heifetz, Joshua Bell, Hilary Hahn come to mind. It can also be someone closer and more personal in our lives: a teacher, a fellow student or a colleague.

violinstarWhen I was a child, my first "role model" was probably the late Eugene Fodor, who at the time was quite a superstar, having more or less won the Tchaikovsky Competition. I could not stop listening to his recordings, and I was mesmerized by his playing in real life. He was a native of Denver, where I grew up. I wanted to play the way he could play!

But I've not always been inspired by superstars. When I was in college, I felt more inspired by my fellow students, and not simply because they played well. I remember one student, not even a violin student but a piano student, who had the most amazing practice ethic. Every day, several times, without fail. Such discipline! This was a person who knew how to say, "No, I have to practice." I wanted to be that kind of practicer. To have this role model, this steady example of someone with such iron discipline, was a great motivation to me at the time.

I've also been inspired by teachers. When I was at Indiana University, even though my teacher was not Josef Gingold, I felt inspired by both his wisdom (which I saw at master classes) and his example as a generous human being who had a successful life in music. Sometimes teachers seem to know so much and have such a rich connection with the world of classical music (or other kinds of music) -- this can also fuel our fire.

Out in the "real world" I have been inspired by colleagues, particularly the ones who continue to try new things. One colleague self-produced a beautiful recording -- over one weekend! Wow! Others have found such interesting ways to live their lives in music -- touring with pops groups, starting a chamber series, etc.

Sometimes I can be inspired simply by someone who has kept up their chops -- the professor Stanley Ritchie, for example, plays all the Bach Sonatas and Partitas better than most humans ever will, and he's in his 80s! I'm also inspired when I go to international competitions and see young people who have worked so hard and who have brought their standards to such a high level at a young age.

If you examine your sources of inspiration these days, who is the greatest role model for you at the moment? Please submit your vote and also tell us about who inspires you, and why!

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