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Violin Blogs

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.

Top Blogs

To Practice or not to Practice While Vacationing: That is the Question

By Shauna Kaske
July 28, 2014 14:14

It's always difficult to decide whether or not to bring the violin to a week of stress-free vacation that comes around only once or twice a year. Usually, when I travel to Florida or Nashville, I opt out and leave the precious goods behind, but when I was given the opportunity of a lifetime to spend a month of the summer in the south of France- (the first time in my life it was a major vacation that did not involve musical reckonings) I was torn. Lately, with all the trouble musicians have been enduring with airports and their bows, I was especially nervous (on my way back to the States I had to catch three separate planes, and once again go through security). It was going to be the only time as of yet where I would feel like work was not my first priority.

My trip was spent on the breath-taking and incredible landscapes of Cassis, where we went kayaking and snorkeling in the lagoons. We spent a week in Paris, and then later a weekend in Barcelona, but aside from the time spent in Paris and Barcelona, I was able to miraculously set aside time to practice nearly every day.

I think every musician deserves at least one week of the year off, where they're not intensely performing in the orchestra pits, or practicing for countless hours a day. So, I let myself enjoy the beautiful sights that are Paris and Barcelona, but I was also able to nourish a different side of the music that sometimes busy musicians don't have time for: I was able to sit back and watch others perform.

One day, after buying our lunch from a bakery and heading to a park, we ditched the park when we saw a violinist playing on the steps of the Musée d'Orsay. We listened to him for about an hour, playing gypsy music- so different from the classical training that I am accustomed to. It pleasantly surprised me how many people sat on the steps and watched the violinist, and most sat for a long period of time.

Another day, we we lucky enough to snag seats to a fabulous concert in one of my favorite venues in the world: Paul Rogers playing the Vivaldi's Four Seasons at the Sainte-Chapelle church in Paris. He lived up to the virtuosity of the piece and we sat mesmerized, listening to the vibrant sounds of the strings in the glowing world-famous stained glass chapel. I left enchanted.

While in Cassis, we journeyed to a nearby town and watched a pianist play Beethoven accompanied by orchestra in the hills. Every concert was magic.

I fulfilled my dream of visiting L’Opéra national de Paris, or the opera house of Paris, and merely taking a tour left me astounded by the beauty of it. To get the chance to play music in what seemed to me, a sacred place for music, was every musician's dream.

Sometimes, the classical scene in the U.S. is a bit worrisome, with the orchestra lockouts becoming more and more common. What was refreshing to me, as a young musician, was to see the fervor that people felt about music in Europe.

To attend a concert in the Musée d'Orsay, people lined up outside as early as two hours before the show, and when we finally did make it inside, we could barely see over the sea of people in front of us.

I was fueled by the atmosphere, the charm of the music scene over there. One day, while walking near the River Seine in Paris, where there are always small stands lining the sidewalk, I spotted an old score of the Lalo concerto, which I just happen to be currently studying. Of course, I had to buy it.

Yes, we climbed the Eiffel Tower and went to the Louvre, but it was all these "little elements" of the music that made this trip so memorable to me.

Occasionally, life throws you these little signs that you should keep doing what you're doing.

Whenever I wasn't practicing, I was able to relish these moments of music and beauty. It gave me perspective because maybe one day, I can travel with my music. It gave me hope, and sometimes that is all one needs to get back on their practicing grind when they return home.

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Expressing Individuality in Faculty Recitals

By Penny Kruse
July 28, 2014 11:06

One of the things I have enjoyed most about teaching at Bowling Green State University College of Musical Arts is planning and performing my annual faculty recital. I feel fortunate to have outstanding faculty members who are eager to collaborate. As a violinist, I always have a running “bucket list” of pieces that I have never played and want to learn. In addition to performing with members of our piano faculty and my other string colleagues, I have programmed works on my faculty recitals that include clarinet, trumpet, harp, and narrator. Some of the pieces on my “bucket list” are war horses that I want to add to my repertoire. Others may be something that I stumbled onto on the internet or browsing in a music store in Australia!

Last year when a doctoral pianist told me how much she enjoyed my faculty recital, she said, “It was so YOU!” I knew exactly what it meant, because my repertoire choices reflected much of my personality. I included a beautiful work by Rebecca Clarke, Three Pieces for two violins and piano. Having grown up with my older sister also playing the violin, I always think I know the entire repertoire for two violins or two violins and piano. However, musicologists continue to discover works that have not been published. These beautiful pieces by Rebecca Clarke fall into that category. Having heard them on a recording, I knew I had to play them. I had a new violin colleague last fall and so it was a wonderful way to include him in my recital program.

Another piece on my recital, Ferdinand for Violin and Narrator by Alan Ridout and text by Munroe Leaf, was something I stumbled onto surfing the web, curious if there was anything written for violin and narrator. This humorous piece is based on the children’s story of Ferdinand the Bull. Geoff Stephenson who teaches voice and musical theater at BGSU was more than a willing and enthusiastic conspirator. Such fun to interact with Geoff and hear the audience laughing at a violin recital! If interested, you can watch our performance on YouTube.

My repertoire selections also reflect my current interests. One year I performed works by all women composers. Having attended a performance of Blue Man Group, I wanted to find a way to break down the division between the audience and the performers. I wrote first person narratives on each of the composers. I had female members of my studio stand up with only a flashlight and speak the narrative before performing each selection.

So what will I play this year? This program may be the most atypical to date. Of course there is a piece from my “bucket list.” I will play Jennifer Higdon’s String Poetic. Higdon is a BGSU alumna. I will also play a piece that I have performed many times throughout my life and one of my dear friends played it at my wedding, The Lark Ascending by Vaughan-Williams. The second half of the program is when I will step outside my comfort zone. First, I will play A Night in Jakarta by New York composer David Snow for 5-string electric violin and recorded sound. I first performed this piece at BGSU on a Halloween concert, the fall after I had convinced my department chair to purchase an electric instrument. A large number of my violin students coming to BGSU already owned an electric violin.

For the first performance of David Snow’s piece, in keeping with the Halloween theme, I dressed up like Mark Wood! I do not know what I will be wearing in September, but I will not be hiding my identity this time. The violin I will be playing is a Mark Wood Stingray that he has autographed. The next piece will be Improvisation on a Bach Prelude for Solo Violin and Loop Pedal by Christian Howes. In July 2013, I attended Chris’ Creative Strings Workshop. I am taking baby steps in learning to improvise. Once again, I convinced my department chair to purchase more equipment, including the looper. At string conferences, I attend any sessions that deal with looping. Playing this piece in public involves a large leap of faith in electronics that I do not understand, as well as freeing myself from playing what is written on the page. Keep in mind, I have spent many years practicing to perfect the art of playing what is on the page. The final piece on my recital will be Adam DeGraff’s arrangement of Led Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven. When I was in the Kansas City Symphony, I was hired to play concertmaster for the re-emergence tour of Plant and Page. We rehearsed without the band to a CD, playing what we call footballs, whole notes that sounded quite beautiful. Our naiveté was revealed when we approached the deafening sounds of the arena. We did not play in every song. There was no conductor and I was a fearful leader. The presence of sound shields was comical. One piece seemed to run right into the next one. We could not even tell if we were supposed to be playing. Though this felt and still seems horrifyingly embarrassing, I do not think the audience noticed or cared. If you had told me then that I would one day play Led Zeppelin on a Faculty Recital, I would have declared you insane!

Yes, I will be stepping out of the comfort zone, but I will also be having fun. I hope the audience will as well! Wednesday, September 3, 8 p.m., Bryan Recital Hall, Moore Musical Arts Center, Bowling Green State University, Bowling Green, OH. Also streamed live on the web at http://www.bgsu.edu/musical-arts/college-information/media/live-streaming.html

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Helping Students and Parents Enjoy the Competitive Journey: Part III, Preparing for Final Rounds

By Amy Beth Horman
July 28, 2014 06:19

This is my third installment in a blog series intended to help me gear up for another competitive calendar in my private studio. As I reflect on what has worked for us, I hope it sparks some discussion with other teachers who have similar challenges. Click here to read Part I, The Application Process and Part II, Managing Expectations.

This blog centers around the invitation to be “in the arena”! You are in the finals! Nothing is more joyous than getting phone calls from students as they receive this news. I was actually able to deliver this news to someone last year and it was thrilling for both of us. The students work incredibly hard and the process for some of the larger pieces spans an entire year of preparation. Being recognized in this way is indescribably validating and rewarding for all involved. Happiness all the way around! But now what?

First we celebrate by announcing studio wide and take a moment to catch our breath. Then a new exciting phase of preparation begins! I divide this preparation for final rounds into three categories - mental prep, musical prep, and studio networking for moral support. Of course their violin playing has to be on point. But in addition to that, their heads have to be in the right place, and their support systems should be called in to cheer them on.

In our studio, over the course of the last few years, we have accumulated personal accounts and files on our regional competitions and even a few national ones. As a student completes a final round, I request that they answer a small list of questions detailing their experience. During the competition itself, I task the parents with taking simple pictures of the halls, practice area, warm up rooms, even parking and nearby facilities. I offer this folder of info to the finalists and their parents each year so that they can familiarize themselves with the unknown – their venue, the orchestra and conductor if applicable, the stage, and the facility. Sometimes we might have a testimonial or two about the organizers themselves if they are incredibly organized….or the opposite! Even pictures of what previous finalists have worn can be helpful. What color is the concert hall or the drapes? Is the stage elevated? What kind of piano is there? If we are new to the competition, I email the organizer and ask similar questions politely and collect information for the whole studio so we don’t have to ask it twice. This is undoubtedly an exciting time. You can see it in their faces as they walk in for every lesson. The students are starting to visualize themselves on stage and playing their best.

Having said all of that, if I have learned one thing in the past several years with kids in the final rounds, it’s that you can always expect the unexpected no matter how prepared you are. Even with a file of things to familiarize them, you can always count on a fluke to enter in there somewhere. I can’t protect them from that. The best I can do is to tell them to be ready for it and smile as they see it. I compare it visually to an elf entering the room. He is like an extra variable meant to put you even more on your toes, and strengthen your resolve. We are covering the rest so thoroughly that my hope is that this will reserve some coping energy for whatever surprise the universe has in store for them.

The musical preparation and practice is different for each child. If they are still adjusting to performing their work on stage and it is “in process” we might schedule another practice performance through the studio. I try and form an ideal schedule of lessons and rehearsals specifically tailored for each of the students as soon as they are announced as a finalist. If we are blessed enough to be playing with orchestra in the finals, I shoot their full score up on a wall using a projector in their lessons to help them visualize and quiz them. We even rehearsed their concerti movements with arrangements for string quartet and a conductor last year. I was delighted to find area players were happy to volunteer for them to simulate the need to telegraph. They even got a sneak preview to challenges in transitions or the allowance for rubato. And of course we record lessons, rehearsals, prep concerts and take notes to apply to our work. Rinse, lather and repeat!

When I was growing up and competing, finalists weren’t friendly with one another, sometimes even within the same studio. Last year we always had multiple students in the finals together. One competition even had three of our kids together in the finals so we found ourselves communicating a lot for common questions, strategies, and scheduling with pianists. I loved seeing the kids get closer even in the planning stages of the final rounds. They had been in enough studio events together outside of competitions to get to know one another and friendliness prevailed. In one competition, I watched my students fist bump one another as one walked off stage yielding to the other. In another, I saw two of them snapchatting each other and giggling. I realized as I witnessed it that this is something I always want to nurture and encourage in my studio. Anything that helps this feeling of being one with their classmates is so golden and they all play better for it. By creating common opportunities and opening up rehearsals, they were able to celebrate each others’ strengths and genuinely root for each other in that final round. They saw the placement of prizes shift and swap around as the competition year went on and celebrated each others’ victories knowing they were all sharing the stage.

Over the past many years we have accumulated a nice following for our students through events we host. There is a good amount of networking between youth orchestras, teacher organizations, and other studios. We also all participate to maintain a strong online community and this contributes to the kids feeling supported and encouraged. Between school orchestra, youth orchestra, family, friends and church, there is a virtual fabric of support that is truly palpable. So last year one thing I started doing to celebrate the announcement of finalists was to invite this studio following to the live final rounds. The finals are exciting and full of great talent. I also invite the rest of the studio. Many students who attend are not competing yet but will be in a year or so and they are very inspired just watching the process with a classmate involved. Frequently the finalists themselves have their own troops to call in. I then get the privilege of getting to know them as well. Celebrating the final round as an achievement in and of itself helps reinforce the idea that being “in the arena” is winning already and whatever happens after that point is icing on the cake. I want the finalists to feel the warmth of people who have seen them grow both as musicians and also as people. They have rooted for them all along in all of their separate circles and share a sense of pride for all they have accomplished. We have a quote we use in all of our programs in the studio which reads “the development and success of an artist is always connected to the support of their family and community”.

I hope that by preparing them in all of these ways I am not only helping them experience something empowering for each event but that I am also contributing to them managing this on their own one day. They have so much to offer through their music making and I believe preparation often gets lost in a practice room. By employing all of these methods of preparation, they are honoring every part of themselves and each other.

Next in this blog series: Competition Etiquette, and Carrying the Experience Forward.

* The picture above features student Sean Yongjoo Lim with quartet musicians Gavin Fallow, Christian Simmelink, Howard Van Der Sluis, Steven Honigberg, and conductor Joel Lazar preparing for the Landon Symphonette String Competition Finals.
Joel Lazar is currently the conductor of the Washington Sinfonietta and the Symphony of the Potomac.


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Practice Attitude

By Kate Little
July 26, 2014 08:39

One way to track violin practice is with a simple checklist of tasks. For the weeks of Wednesday, July 16, through Tuesday, July 29, mine looks like this:

Not all tasks are checked off every day. This is because, with 14 elemental technique exercises, 2 scales, 3 technique books, 3 review pieces, 2 repertoire pieces, fiddle bowing technique and 3 fiddle songs, 3 aspects of viola, and 3 musicianship exercises, it would take about 8-hours to practice everything, and I simply do not have 8-hours a day to devote to practice. Therefor, on any given day, I have to pick and choose what I will practice, depending on how much practice time is available that day, and what needs are most pressing.

My checklist indicates that priorities tend toward technique over repertoire. In fact, about 2/3’s of my practice time is devoted to basic exercises. For example: Last Thursday the first hour was spent simply bowing open strings in various ways to develop clear, consistent and (hopefully) beautiful tone. Quality of sound is the heart of playing violin, and if I’m not going to work hard at this, why should I even bother trying to learn?

The next 45-minutes were spent on exercises from Schradieck and Melodious Double Stops. Here the emphasis was on intonation, intonation, intonation. This is the second priority after tone quality. I work hard at pitch accuracy every single day, for, my songs will never be songs if not played in tune. They’ll just be a mess.

After lunch, an hour devoted to 2- & 3- octave G-major scales, and a Wohlfahrt exercise. The emphasis is finger preparation, agility, speed and precision, working to offset the ravages of age. Perhaps it is easier for a child to learn these things. However, my physical therapist says that with time and effort I can accomplish the same, so I am determined to put in the time and effort.

Finally, time for music. Since the previous week had emphasized fiddle tunes and review pieces, I worked on the repertoire from Suzuki Book III. They were rusty from lack of daily practice, but returned quickly to better-than-before: progress that I credit wholly to the solid daily emphasis on fundamental technique.

Do I find all this technical work boring? No way! Continuously searching for inabilities, exploring ways to correct them, listening for nuances of sound and establishing their physical expression: this all makes for satisfied curiosity. Practice is not stale repetition. Practice is prolonged and focused study: Do I like what I hear? What is wrong? How can I fix it. What level of nuance can I discern? This is the crux of progress in the skill of making music, and it is exhilarating.

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V.com weekend vote: Do you play with a wooden or carbon fiber bow?

By The Weekend Vote
July 26, 2014 07:03

A number of years back, I posted a vote that showed an overwhelming number of people preferred wood over carbon fiber bows.

With the passage of years and the great improvement in carbon fiber bows, I'm wondering if that's still the case. It's time for another poll about it!

Bow tips

I will word this slightly differently than the old poll; I'm interested in what you are using these days, rather than what you dream about buying. Do you use primarily a bow that is made of wood, or carbon fiber? And if you have both kinds of bows, please choose the kind of bow that you use most often. Also, please feel free to tell us the comments about your bow and its merits. Or, let us know if you use one kind but wish you had another.

Personally speaking, I now have both kinds, and I am surprised at how much I like to play my carbon fiber bow, which has good bounce, feel and dexterity. It happens to be a Coda Diamond GX, but I while in Cincinnati I also have tried a carbon bow from the Baroque Violin Shop, and it also handled extremely well. (I tested a Tourte there, too, and yes, that handles best of all! Probably not in my price range, though!)

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Your Brain on Music

By Laurie Niles
July 25, 2014 11:48

Brain on music

Science seems to be supporting us in the the idea that playing a musical instrument lights up every corner our brains. Here is a nicely animated and succinct TED video on the subject, for your pleasure:

A choice quote, beginning at 3:40: "How do we know that all these benefits are unique to music, as opposed to , say, sports or painting? Or could it be that people who go into music were already smarter to begin with? Neuroscientists have explored these issues, but so far they have found that the artistic and aesthetic aspects of learning to play a musical instrument are different from any other activity studied, including other arts. And several other randomized studies of participants who showed the same levels of cognitive function and neural processing at the start, found that those who were exposed to a period of music learning showed enhancement in multiple brain areas, compared to the others."

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Why We Need Classical Music

By Daniel Broniatowski
July 25, 2014 06:53

Classical MusicGreetings dear readers,

For those of you who do not yet know me, my name is Daniel Broniatowski, D.M.A. I am a classical violinist, music school director, wedding and event classical music contractor, and a classical music advocate. Our music school and wedding music agency are located in Boston and we serve New England.

I write today's article with a focus on listening. Listening is, in my opinion, the most important part of the classical-music-experience. Without our ears, none of this would be possible. We wouldn't be able to play and we wouldn't be able to participate in a concert audience.

Note how I worded the last phrase.."participate in a concert audience". I didn't use the words "hear" or even "listen". I used the word "participate", which brings me to an even more important premise of mine.

I am convinced that Classical Music is a tool that can bring peace to the world. Does that mean that Classical Music will make you a better or more peaceful person? No! The mere act of listening to classical music might temporarily put you in an emotional state but it will not change your life forever - unless one additonal element is involved. It is the inclination of the listener and the performer that makes the difference between Classical Music being a conduit for peace vs. merely pleasant, beautiful sound. Before I get into this, let's set the stage:

We live in a world that is very dangerous. There is war in much of the world and things are getting worse. Many attribute conflict to fundamental disagreements between cultures, tribes, and clans. Others attribute conflict to one country wanting the resources of another country.

While all of the above may be true, there is a stronger, yet untapped, force in the world that connects all of us through our greater humanity. This is what many call "love". When I say "love", I don't mean the kind that we get from feelings. After all, feelings are never permanent, no matter how good or bad. What I mean by "love" is the true understanding of another man or woman's soul and using that understanding to better this person's life in a way that will empower them to help others. It is my belief that Classical Music fits into all of this by serving as a reflection off true love, when used correctly.

We musicians and music-lovers know that Classical Music is beautiful. It has an inherent harmony and structure that really can speak across all cultures. Furthermore, every emotion known to man (and woman) is represented in classical music because this music often imitates the voice - a voice that represents genuine emotion.

Yet, many people are unfortunately emotionally closed. They do not resonate with this music, or any music that depicts a reflection of genuine emotion. They might resonate very strongly with a pop song that talks about temporary feelings of love (or more likely, lust and sex), but they do not feel a deep connection with the emotions in Classical Music or pop music that deals with true human emotion. For the record, it is worth noting that not all Classical Music will speak to all lovers of Classical Music and not all Pop Music is lustful.

Let me take one quick step back again, for the record:

By "emotionally closed", I am not insinuating that these individuals do not feel emotion. Nor do I insinuate that they are worse people than Classical Music lovers. My point is that there is a rich world of emotion that they have not yet opened up to. Hence, the word "closed".

So where do we go with this? Should these "emotionally closed" individuals be sensitized to Classical Music? And how does one do this?

The reality is that no one can or should force anyone to do anything in this world. Yet, if Classical Music can be a reflection of true love, which is my premise above, then I believe very strongly that there are millions of individuals out there who are already receptive and willing to support our cause. For their own personal reasons, they have come to a point in life where they have realized that there has to be more to our existence than mere feelings and desires.

I bet that most of my readers are not yet convinced with my argument that Classical Music can represent true love and some might even think I'm crazy. In fact, some of you might think that I am towing a narrow line and am putting this into black-and-white pop vs. classical terms. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, the principle that I am about to discuss can equally apply to pop music of value as well. Now we're getting to the nitty gritty and this is the true crux of the matter:

Quality Music of all genres is a tool in which one can learn to listen.

That's it - full stop.

For those who have been to orchestra concerts in the United States, I am certain that you have seen the myriad of cultures and ancestries represented by looking at the faces of the musicians or their last names. Rarely do we musicians or concert-goers ever place importance on the music played as "typically German" or "typically French" anymore. Yes, there was a time when this type of nationalism mattered, but those days are gone in Classical Music.

So the beauty of Classical Music is that some 100 individuals in the orchestra have rehearsed all nuances, phrases, and timbres in the music so that the important emotional content of the composer is delivered with the conductor's interpretation. These individuals, all of various beliefs, have all come together to listen to one another and create a symbiotic relationship.

This relationship is only symbiotic if all the musicians are in this together. Furthermore, it is necessary to truly understand where the other musicians are coming from to create this whole from many parts. I would imagine that such a project would be even more effective if a bunch of musicians came together to create their own composition!

Do you see where I'm going with this? Through listening, one can understand. Through understanding, diverse individuals achieve synthesis.

Now, of course not all of my readers can play in orchestras. The beauty of this philosophy is that one need not do so in order to derive the benefits of learning how to listen. The benefits can be derived through two means:

1. Take music lessons. Whether you are 4 or 104, music lessons teach you to know thyself. When learning music, you develop a dialogue with your mind, body, and soul in order to achieve that same type of symbiosis above. Only this time, you are achieving a balance within. Again, this can only be achieved if your inclination is to do so, as opposed to the student who learns because his/her parents pressured him/her. Of course, as a teacher, I know full well that when the going gets tough, kids need to be taught to "stay the course", but that is a topic for a different time.

2. Learn how to be an active listener. Listening to quality classical music recordings with two to four parts for just 10 minutes per day teaches us to listen to more than one perspective. I would suggest picking just one short piece for strings per week (look for duos, trios, and quartets on Youtube). Listen to it every day for one week. You will be amazed that you can hear more and more detail and musical exchange of ideas, emotions, and thoughts, as the days go on. This is what I mean by active listening. Of course this type of listening requires attention. You can't read, do homework, or write e mails while doing this type of listening.

3. Attend concerts! By experiencing live music with a host of other like-minded individuals, you are coming together as a community. Of course, the challenge of the artist and concert programmer is to bring everyone together under a common theme.

Still, you'll become a better listener if you view the concert as a genuine dialogue between composer, performer, and listener. Listen carefully and you will understand!

Stay tuned for next week's blog post where I'll outline some of my favorite suggestions!

Musically yours,

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


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Helping Students and Parents Enjoy the Competitive Journey: Part II, Managing Expectations

By Amy Beth Horman
July 25, 2014 05:55

This is my second installment in a blog series intended to help me gear up for another competitive calendar in my private studio. I hope it strikes a chord in many teachers with similar challenges. (Here are links to the other parts: Part I, The Application Process and Part III, Preparing for Final Rounds.)

This blog details the need to manage student and parent expectations on stage with larger pieces as well in competitions or auditions.

I am fortunate to have a lot of talented, competitive, and eager violin students in the studio currently. It has not always been this way but after twenty years of teaching, I hear all the major concerti within the week and find myself spending mornings reviewing what I will hear for the day in my mind just to prepare my ears for work.

The students have big dreams and practice both passionately and thoughtfully, having made many sacrifices in their families to play as beautifully as they do. Their efforts are equal parts heartfelt and ambitious. They can’t help but have big expectations! It seems like human nature when they are placing faith in what are sometimes long processes of preparation before competitive events. At the highest level of my studio, the students know each other well and so do the parents. The expectations coming from them vary however. A big challenge for us last year was managing these expectations in a way that would ensure a beneficial experience for each child entering competitions and auditions.

In performance, the larger concerti and virtuoso works are bigger than all of us. They have stood the test of time and most of us who have performed them with orchestra would agree that they improve on two planes: the practice room and the stage. It would be unusual to find a pre teen or teen who has played one of the romantic concerti in full multiple times in public let alone with orchestra. Yet to fully explore and grasp these works and be able to truly play them fluidly, this would be ideal.

Every student hopes their first performances will be exactly what they have planned. I remember feeling this way myself. But realistically, I believe it would be healthier to consider those first performances as just a foraging for information. Where does the body tense up under pressure? Where does our score study sag or fail us with adrenalin on high? What sections of our concerto embrace and thrive off of the electricity of the audience and which sections threaten to fall apart? What about our ability to create long lines, sustain tempi, and create smooth transitions? I believe you can’t know a piece until you experience it on stage multiple times. Not only do I advise my students and parents to accept their mistakes in early performances or competitions, I also instruct them to take notes afterwards and apply what they experience to their practice going forward. My goal is for them to play passionately but remain clinical. I urge them to shut off all internal judgment in order to open the door to fascination as to how their bodies respond to the excitement of stage and audience.

I have frequently seen parents disheartened by the first few performances assuming this is a marker for how their child will fare long term in the competitive arena. In fact, one has almost nothing to do with the other. In my studio last year we offered 7 performance opportunities to students in master classes we hosted. In addition to this, we selected students upon request to perform in classes for The National Philharmonic, WPAS, Fairfax Symphony, and ASTA master classes. I make attendance of these classes a factor in whom I choose to perform because I want them to witness their classmates in process. A performance that is rocky at the beginning of the competition season will soar by the end of the year. Soon they see on their own that the early performances aren’t as much a reflection of promise as they are a body adjusting to pressures and factors. They start to manage their own expectations and embrace the process.

This would be the end of the blog if it weren’t for the unpredictable nature of the competitions and auditions. We often compete for the performance opportunities awarded or the scholarships. With competition results often catching us off guard, if the prizes don’t contain one or both of those things, I rarely encourage competing over just performing in an opportunity we can provide ourselves. Some students thrive on goal setting and the pressure an audition or competition can provide. It can serve as a great motivator. But eventually they will need to find that motivation within themselves!

The expectation to win a competition or advance to a higher round needs to be managed very carefully. I often describe to my students how many times I won a competition on a performance that disappointed me to tears backstage while losing a competition after my best playing. Sometimes it truly feels there is no rhyme or reason to it. In fact, in most circumstances, there is – just not necessarily in everyone’s favor. If only we could look at the iTunes library of the judges beforehand we might catch a glimpse at what rendition of our pieces they preferred. We cant please everyone (we shouldn’t!) and often I think with a different jury we would see a different outcome. Once in the finals it is so much anybody’s game in my opinion, I advise people to pretend they have won already stressing that the ordering of prizes could swap around very easily. I have been on juries enough to know that some battlegrounds will form and perspective can get lost. When I was a young competitor, I once had a cellist who was head of a jury approach me after I won only to tell me he was annoyed he had to fight for me to win because the violinist on the jury was so put off by my f holes not consistently being out. Quizzically that comment wasn’t even on my critique that was mailed later. I myself almost missed a flight judging a competition once fighting for a child to receive the award I believed they had merited only to find out one of their score sheets from another jury member had gone missing deducting 50 possible points from their overall score.

Being “invited to the arena” or named finalist is an opportunity to perform, be inspired by others in your category, receive critique, and carry this information forward. It is a privilege to even play this literature let alone be identified as exceptional in your interpretation of it. With gradual preparation through multiple performances, our best outcomes in competitions last year came from students who felt they had already won as they walked out on stage, not just as they were handed the award afterwards.

Next in this blog series: Preparing for Final Rounds, Competition Etiquette, and Carrying the Experience Forward.

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Bowmakers' letter published in this week's New Yorker

By Karen Rile
July 24, 2014 16:25

My friend and neighbor, Philadelphia bowmaker Elizabeth Shaak and her colleague Matthew Wehling, wrote this letter to the New Yorker which was published in the July 28th issue. The letter is in response to Elizabeth Kolbert's recent piece "Save the Elephants" (July 7). Ms. Shaak has asked friends and concerned musicians to share the letter, which I reproduce here (click for a larger resolution):
The New Yorker, Jul 28, 2014

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Interview With Emily Green, 17, Aspiring Minnesota Orchestra CEO

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.

YMM outside Ted Mann Concert Hall, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, Minnesota, summer 2014.

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 re-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.

Emily Green

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.

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"Where did the Suzuki CD go?"

Suzuki Violin School Good news! All the Suzuki Violin School CDs are available now as digital downloads on Amazon.com. But why take the time to search for them all? We've collected links to each album for Suzuki Violin Books 1 - 8.

Get them now! Vol. 1 | Vol. 2 | Vol. 3
Vol. 4 | Vol. 5 | Vol. 6 | Vol. 7 | Vol. 8