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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

The Week in Reviews, Op. 67: Maxim Vengerov, Aisslinn Nosky, Philippe Quint in Concert

By Robert Niles
January 27, 2015 14:15

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.

Maxim Vengerov performed the Tchaikovsky with the New York Philharmonic.

  • The New York Times: "...Mr. Vengerov delivered an engrossing account of the Tchaikovsky, enlivened by the glossy, warm sound of his 1727 Ex-Kreutzer Stradivarius..."

Maxim Vengerov
Photo: Naim Chidiac

Aisslinn Nosky performed the Haydn with the Handel and Haydn Society.

  • Boston Globe: "Nosky, who led the 15-member ensemble, was a mischievous soloist in the Allegro moderato first movement. The Adagio serenade over plucked strings went quickly, like an intermezzo, whereas the Presto finale was not rushed. It all sounded casual and easy, but not without heart."
  • Boston Classical Review: Her playing was consistently sparkling in its energy and finely attuned to Classical polish and style.That is due to Nosky’s shimmering tone and exceptional command of her instrument."

Philippe Quint performed works by Lera Auerbach in recital with Auerbach and cellist Joshua Roman.

  • Examiner.com: "His accounts of the intensity of the individual movements and the manic quality of the mood swings from one movement to the next seized the attention from the opening gesture and would not let go until the final cadence."

Elena Urioste performed the Elgar with the Vermont Symphony Orchestra.

  • Times Argus: "Urioste, with a warm and personal sound she used expressively, managed the full range of emotions from fiery virtuosity to intimate tenderness, with flair and depth. It was not only exciting, her playing in the slow movement brought many to tears."

Daniel Hope performed the Korngold with the San Antonio Symphony.

  • San Antonio Express-News: "British violin star Daniel Hope immediately proved why he is so widely recorded. Hope possesses a powerful instrument, a richely textured Guarneri, and he knows how to use it. His bow control is so complete, it widens his range of expression."

Gidon Kremer performed works by Weinberg and Mozart in recital with pianist Daniil Trifonov.

  • New York Classical Review: "Here and there on Friday he was able to muster a warm tone, but for the most part, he sounded anemic, his vibrato weak and his intonation unsure."

William Preucil performed the Dvorák with the Cleveland Orchestra.

  • NUVO: "Preucil played with an infectious liveliness well matched to the main theme of the movement, with the orchestra behind him in a consistently tasteful and complementary mood."
  • The Plain Daler: "Seated on a platform next to Hrusa, the artist dispensed with virtuoso display and concentrated instead on melody and feeling. The result was a compelling musical trilogy that was gritty, bright and resilient by turns, and often lyrical enough to suspend time altogether."

Julia Noone performed Szymanowski's Violin Concerto No. 2 with the New World Symphony.

  • South Florida Classical Review: " She has a wonderful tone, with a rich vibrato that gave heat to the soaring passages with which the work abounds, displaying a technique that allowed her to make effortless leaps up to the highest notes without a break in the melody. Yet she also imbued less showy passages, such as the long inward-looking melodies, with expressiveness and meaning."

Marc Bouchkov performed the Tchaikovsky with the Saskatoon Symphony Orchestra.

  • The StarPhoenix: "Saskatoon Symphony Orchestra guest soloist Marc Bouchkov was so animated Saturday night he could have been making a violin workout video...Bouchkov’s lively performance will linger long for those lucky enough to have witnessed it as the high point of the symphony’s Northern Lights concert."

Sarah Kwak performed the Glazunov with the Oregon Symphony.

  • The Oregonian: "She gave it lyrical depth, thoughtful phrasing, myriad shadings of tone and easy technical prowess — the last movement, a delightful set of variations on a jaunty tune, was a virtuoso thrill ride of flying fingers, double stops, pizzicato and high harmonics, and she coasted through it."

Kyra Humphreys performed Mozart's Violin Concerto No. 4 with the Royal Northern Sinfonia.

  • The Northern Echo: "Playing with characteristic zest, Humphreys delivered a scorching cadenza that explored every emotional possibility of her instrument, while her adagio was invested with an ineffable grace."

Bella Hristova performed the Sibelius with the Omaha Symphony.

  • Omaha World-Herald: "But though her virtuosity was evident Saturday night in Sibelius’ Violin Concerto, she never seemed to truly take command of the stage or match the passion and fire of the orchestra behind her."

And in other news:

The New York Philharmonic has named Esa-Pekka Salonen Composer-in-Residence.

  • Gramophon: He will compose works for the orchestra for three years, beginning in the 2015/16 season. In the 2015-16 season the New York Philharmonic will perform Salonen's LA Variations (September 25-26, 2015) and Karawane (March 17-19, 2016), and Salonen himself will conduct Messiaen's Turangal?la-symphonie (March 10-12, 2016). Salonen will also oversee the Philharmonic's new music biennial festival in June 2016.

Violinists Itzhak Perlman and Nicola Benedetti will join manager Charlotte Lee at her new agency, Primo Artists.

  • WQXR: "A top manager at IMG Artists has left the management agency after 17 years and brought two of her biggest-name artists with her."

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

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Juilliard Announces $5 Million Gift for Entrepreneurship Program

By Laurie Niles
January 26, 2015 15:16

A high-level music program trains its graduates to be the finest in their fields -- but does it train them to go out and make a living?

The Juilliard School intends to increase its commitment to doing just that, with the announcement last week of a $5 million gift from Juilliard Board Trustee Michael E. Marks and his wife, Carole, to create the Alan D. Marks Center for Career Services and Entrepreneurship. The gift was given in memory of Michael Marks’s brother, the late Alan D. Marks, who earned his Bachelor of Music in Piano from Juilliard in 1970.


“Part of Juilliard’s mission is to provide our students with the skills they need to realize their fullest potential not only as artists, but also as leaders and global citizens," said Juilliard President Joseph W. Polisi in a press release. "Michael and Carole’s gift will reinforce and expand our current programs, allowing us to better equip our students to succeed as young professionals in a rapidly changing world.”

The Alan D. Marks Center for Career Services and Entrepreneurship will include:

Modules with emphasis on business skills and entrepreneurship will be incorporated into the first-year Juilliard Colloquium course for all first-time college students. New course offerings with an entrepreneurial focus will be made available for all students throughout their course of study.

The Alan D. Marks Center will expand Juilliard’s series of weekly Lunch & Learn programs (lectures, seminars, and discussions that bring students in contact with prominent industry leaders), as well as a new Entrepreneurship Residency program in which guest artists and entrepreneurs will be brought to campus for multiple days to contribute to the Lunch & Learn series, conduct roundtable discussions, provide individual and group consultation, and make classroom and studio visits. Students will also have the opportunity to participate in three-day Entrepreneurship Intensives, which will provide 20+ hours of instructions in areas of business, marketing, arts management, and more.

Financial Support
The Juilliard Entrepreneurship Challenge will be continued, providing financial and coaching support to student entrepreneurial ventures through a competitive application and interview process. The Marks Fellowship Program will also provide significant financial support to select graduating students each year, with career advancement grants of up to $10,000 annually.

Public Speaking
Students will have access to coaching and seminars on the subject of public speaking, as well as online recording and evaluation tools. As a component of recital adjudication, music students will be independently evaluated on their speaking skills from the stage.

Alumni and other industry professionals will be selected to serve as consultants for individuals, groups, and for various student-initiated projects. Bi-annual networking events also will be hosted in order to foster greater interaction among students and working professionals.

Online and Stored Content
The Center will expand its bank of online content, including non-credit online coursework, interviews, podcasts, presentations, subscriptions, and other resources. New software will provide students with easy access to center resources, job postings, articles, and resume templates.

Hire Juilliard Performers Program
The Alan D. Marks Center will ensure the continuation of the Hire Juilliard Performers program, providing students and recent alumni with training and experience as professional freelance artists. Training includes client interaction, booking, contracts, programming, and various other logistics. Over 500 students and alumni per year participate in the program’s over 450 performance opportunities in and around New York City.

Featured Concerts
The Alan D. Marks Center will oversee the more than 50 ongoing off-campus concert series and featured performances for various concert venues and arts/cultural organizations.

Career Consultation and Private Teacher Directory
The Alan D. Marks Center will provide career consultations and maintain Juilliard’s Private Teacher Directory.

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Beyond Overuse: Looking at the Causes of Injury

By Kayleigh Miller
January 26, 2015 09:02

When we talk about musician injuries, we tend to think overuse: playing too much or misalignment, which is sometimes (but not always!) the case. In Elizabeth Andrews' book, Muscle Management for Musicians, she outlines three different categories, which I find helpful to look at and expand upon.

1. Musician Versus Instrument: This can mean the size and shape of your particular instrument (one violin vs. another) or having to play a lot of contrabassoon/bass flute/subcontrabass sax/etc. in relation to your normal workload. This can apply to folks who play multiple instruments (violin+viola, or violin +piano) or just people adjusting to a new instrument. This can also be as simple as pointing out that not everyone can reach the keys on a flute (without contorting one's hand) or that a full size violin doesn't work for your body (or your student's) yet.

2. Musician Versus Environment: This is a category orchestral players are certainly aware of- chairs, stand height, conditions of the room/space/concert hall, temperature, etc. This can also include clothing restrictions (violinists in tuxedos, high heels for performance, or simple elevating one foot to play bass or guitar) or even carrying one's instrument.

3. Musician Versus Self: In my mind this includes the other things we do that stress our arms, spine, hips, etc., which includes computer use, cell phone use, driving, standing (!), sleeping, exercise habits, movement habits, etc.

I love Elizabeth's categories, and although I've altered the descriptions a bit to be more relevant, I think they're great points. I would however, add a fourth category.

4. Musician Versus Music: Sometimes, even against your best intentions, the repertoire that you're studying, playing in ensemble, or preparing for an audition is too much for your body. Last week I talked on my blog about how Paganini may have been hypermobile- for some folks, the extensions and left hand demands of the caprices are too intense and not practical. This is true for a lot of contemporary repertoire in general- as our levels of mastery and virtuosity have skyrocketed, so have the demands of our pieces, often bringing near impossible pieces into the forefront of music. (For example, some violists find the extensions in the Schnittke concerto to be too extreme.) That doesn't mean that those pieces don't deserve study, they just may not be the right piece for you, or for you right now, or for you with your current instrument setup. Another example might be an orchestra or opera company planning to do a Ring Cycle performance, which is a huge undertaking for any musician. The rehearsal schedule alone might be very taxing, let alone the music itself. Even if you're doing your best to take care of yourself, the repertoire, concert schedule, rehearsal schedule, or audition list might be too much for you, either now or in general.

If you've been injured, reflect on what it was that may have caused or exacerbated the injury- which categories were applicable? Having an awareness of these categories can certainly prevent future injuries, especially if you know what previously caused an injury.

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I don't have an hour for Basics either.

By Stephen Brivati
January 26, 2015 01:38


I found something like these words on Youtube:

"I think you need to do some scales. Get away from the music. Forget the music because everything can be an exercise. The exercise improves your technique to be able to express yourself. It is a misconception. We are not expressing Schubert. You are expressing your feelings. Its not what's written, it's what you feel. But you have to have the mechanism organized so you can feel free to express yourself."

The speaker is Pinchas Zukerman, and he is giving Helena Baillie a viola lesson. You can start at 3.12 to get right to them if you so wish.

They express why I feel so passionately about Basic things to perfection. In my last blog, the perfectly reasonable recurring point about there "not being enough time to do Basics as well as everything else," cropped up again. In this blog, I am going to try to get around this issue, in the hope that more people will take a second look at what Basics has to offer rather than consigning it to the piano stool. So, first clean up your piano stool and buy it a potty......

The negative response to Basics is often couched in one-hour terms, as in "If only I had an extra hour to spare." Most people don't. But we can approach the problem from another angle. Suppose you adopt my suggestion and just do one exercise from each half of the book every da , for perhaps three days or whatever feels right. Then tick it off and go to the second. Set a kitchen timer for five minutes and read the first page. If you don't have time to do the exercise, who cares? When that ping goes, reset the clock and go to the second half. Reading, digesting and doing the little exercise is probably not five minutes work, so you might even want to stop the clock early. In the space of ten minutes, you have absorbed and perhaps put into practice two crucial aspects of playing and your technical knowledge of the instrument has increased quite substantially. It's quite possible that in the two areas addressed you now know more than your teacher!

That is worth ten minutes, I think.

But even this idea does not fully address what Basics can do. Exercises feed into your playing, both consciously and unconsciously. Let's consider the latter first. Suppose, hypothetically, you are practicing two hours a day.  You want to spend half an hour of that time on scales and studies and the remainder on music.  You have just reduced your time spent on music by ten minutes. Is that good or bad?

 If we recognize that exercises are a short cut to fast and effective improvement in both pieces and scales, then we can answer positively. The unconscious integration of your new knowledge into your playing has already improved the sound you are making by one ten billionth of a degree and increased your satisfaction by a similar amount. It has also decreased the amount of time you might need trying to locate a tension problem so the time saving is already eating away at that ten minutes. But you have just started. In the second half of the week you switch to the second exercise in each section. Now the input can really begin to make a difference and the time saving starts to increase exponentially without you realizing it.

However, it's when you get to the point where you start to consciously apply an exercise you have worked on in this ten minutes that you start to make huge gains. This process may take a little longer, but it will happen if you are consistent in the procedure. Suppose, for example, you are playing a work that requires you to crescendo and increase intensity across a long note. Your teacher has told you this but, as is fairly typical I'm afraid, not told you how to achieve this. Whereas in the past you have fumbled around trying to express the music musically and got more tense and screwed up, now you can remember exercise 39 and move from the fingerboard to the bridge using the slanted bow. This is pretty easy basic knowledge, but in all the years I studied, not one teacher at any level discussed this idea with me!

Or perhaps you are wanting to focus on intonation as the main area for improvement. You can save a lot of time by playing exercise 255 for five minutes in the key of that piece. The actual time on the music would decrease slightly, but the amount of faulty intonation would have decreased without you working on it so more time and space is available for higher order skills. 

I could carry on giving examples all day but I think the approach is clear enough. One starts slowly and carefully with the minimum investment of time, and once the incremental but consistent improvement in performance becomes obvious, one wonders what one was spending time on before. Sadly, the answer might be not quite as much as one originally thought.....


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How Nora Germain got her Jazz Violin Education

By Becky Chaffee
January 24, 2015 17:28

 I listen to music videos of musicians I stumble upon on facebook. That's how I found Nora Germain who plays jazz violin. I love her style. I know that a jazz education on violin is not so easy to come by. I love jazz music, partially because there was access to jazz in the public schools where I grew up; and because my brother became a jazz, then a Klezmer-Jazz trumpeter, band leader and composer.

Interview with Nora Germain, Jazz Violin Part 1

Nora Germain is a professional jazz violin player, recording artist, composer, producer, singer, session soloist, and string section violinist. She is skilled in on-camera performance/ sidelining for TV and film, recording for soundtracks and scores, and improvising on recordings or in live performance.

She is currently "playing a lot in Los Angeles and San Diego, and sitting in with a lot of great musicians. I've been playing in some movies as well, and getting to do some more recording soon which I am thrilled about!"

Nora Germain
Photo by M. K. Sadler Photography, 2014

1. Violettes:  I understand, both your parents were professional musicians, but you didn’t start with jazz violin until age 16? Did you not come across jazz in your studies until you went to the high school where Marshall Hawkins (former bassist for Miles Davis, Shirley Horn) taught? Did you specifically apply to this high school to study from Mr. Hawkins?

Nora: I had been interested in improvisation particularly in fiddle music, like Celtic/ Irish fiddling and of course American fiddling. I had heard some jazz growing up, but hadn't become inspired by it until meeting Marshall, and around that time, I discovered Stephane Grappelli, and his music deeply inspired me also.

I applied to Idyllwild Arts, a boarding high school, as a classical violinist and as a dancer for my junior and senior years. I hadn't focused my artistic path and was really into ballet and jazz dance at the time, so my thought was that if I could just get to a school where the whole idea is to sharpen a young artist's path, or further focus the already existing vision (and mine was rather vague -- all I knew is that I wanted to play violin!) then I would find a path. And I did!

2. Violettes: You learned jazz violin from a bass player? Did he have a specific method? Or did you learn the theory, and just practice with people that know what they are doing on a daily basis? Can you tell us a little more about how you became so proficient seemingly so quickly?

Nora: It doesn't seem so quick to me! Ha! There are new things to learn every day, even master players like Marshall still say that! That's the truth.

When I started playing jazz, I had a good ear and had a wide range of musical influences. So many, in fact, that I felt a little lost. I wasn't sure what I really liked versus what was just ok.

I used my ear to really practice improvising on melodies and also playing improvised cadenzas. It was a lot of ballads.

For a while, and I still do this, I'd learn the melodies of ballads or play other tunes slowly, pay a lot of attention to the chords and also the sound of each chord and the feeling of the phrase. Marshall and I would sit at the piano and he'd play the chords and I'd take my time playing the melody on the violin, then repeat it with variation or embellishment, and before I knew it, I was soloing, totally improvising, but in a "melodic context," which is to say, always thinking of a melody. Not the notes, or the scales, but a melody.

Theory can be very helpful and it is an important part of the foundation of a musician, but when improvising, the theory of what I am playing rarely crosses my mind. If there is a tune with particularly tricky chords or something, it's good to take a closer look. In general, I go from the melody. Straight from the heart! That’s swing!

Marshall always taught us to play what we feel and to go for it. Don't shy away from dynamics, extremes in acoustic range or tempo or intensity, a new technique or approach, or even silence. He was and is a man of expression, so we all learned principally that way.

Listening is key also! Especially important to listen to things you are drawn to. They lead you to your own sound if you keep drawing on things you like and keep making them your own. And listening helps you to sharpen your soloing, your ideas, everything! If you don’t like something and you’ve listened to it quite a bit, maybe it’s not meant to influence you, or maybe just not yet.

Some people think it’s interesting that my first jazz teacher was a bassist, and not a violinist, but really, in jazz, no matter if you’re a singer or a guitarist or a trumpet player, you can always be inspired by or even steal ideas from one another. It’s not like classical music where each instrument has its own repertoire and if you play oboe and you want to a play a piece written for cello that it may be weird. In jazz, what’s weird is welcome, as long as it swings!

So learning from a bass player was great. It gave me all sorts of insight that helped me develop my foundation and understand the basics of jazz, like timing, the feeling of the quarter note, the importance of intonation when playing jazz on a string instrument, understanding and feeling bass lines, using the bow in creative ways, and most importantly, learning from Marshall in particular is a school in itself. There will never be anything like it in my life.

See Ms. Germain in action in this delightful video.


Watch for Blog Sequel, "More about Nora Germain, Jazz Violin Part 2"

Visit her web site at: www.noragermain.com

Blogger Becky Chaffee is owner of Violettes by Becky making Music Purses and Gig Bags

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Chee-Yun and Basics

By Stephen Brivati
January 24, 2015 02:31


Chee YunThis week I`ve been looking at Chee-Yun masterclasses and performances. She is a terrific player with a gorgeous sound and tremendous musical sense. I watched three teenagers being taught by her and was very impressed by her ability as a teacher. However the masterclasses themselves probably didn't reveal as much as one could wish for since it seemed to me that she was in a slight dilemma: a masterclass is not a setting in which one begins tearing down an unknown student's technique and yet that clearly needed to be done with two out of three of these young players at the most basic level. As a result I think Chee-Yun found herself in the position of having to just briefly mention the most basic weaknesses (core of the sound, vibrato control etc.). Anything more than a simple suggestion was not really possible.

But the problems of the participants did, in my opinion, raise some very important points. Clearly those players not only had talent, but had worked hard on their major concertos. And it's pretty impressive to be getting through the Tchaikovsky and Bruch at pre-college level, I suppose. But what we saw was to my mind a classic demonstration of the failings of the teaching profession on all continents, which is letting down talented kids like these, through no fault of their own.

I believe this is linked to the following issue. Traditionally violin study has revolved around scales, etudes and pieces (some people started doing songs for some reason, but I have never understood that....) The average talented kid who plays in a good youth orchestra and may or may not go to music college will play scales badly, do a limited number of etudes without knowing exactly why and learn progressively more difficult pieces according to their potential while retaining the same fundamental flaws in the Tchaikovsky that they has in Nardini, Accolay and Kabalevsky.

The reason for this is that violin study actually revolves around exercises, scales, etudes and pieces. The problem is that the majority of teachers don't actually know that many exercises other than the handful they got from their teacher (which may be extremely good). And yet, if I had to choose only two out of four of the above it would be exercises and pieces, hands down. That is why when Simon Fischer published his groundbreaking work Basics ten or so years ago the teaching profession really no longer had any excuses left .

What exercises do is save time. They get to the core of the problem or provide an intense focus on one issue, in a way that many studies don't. And that is how we work best: Short, focused work on one thing. Very often, the exercises in Basics are played on open strings. Again, this enables them to be more focused than etudes because we are only worrying about one thing at a time. That is why I have frequently suggested in a number of forums that teaching exams at music institutes require a working knowledge of Basics. Had the students at that master class been given tone production exercises, intonation exercises, vibrato exercises and so on, in very small doses from an early stage they would not be being held back as they are now by simple things like being unable to use the lower quarter of the bow.

The power of exercises has also created a potential revolution in adult education and late starters. Those players can now build up quickly and easily any aspect of their technique without the help of a teacher who may not even want to be bothered by them. Sadly I often meet resistance to the book by members of this group who feel a little over-whelmed by its apparent density. (Actually its extremely clear and simple.)

Aside from complete beginners, this need not be the case. Slow, careful study of the tone production, vibrato, tapping, finger patterns or whatever exercise will automatically feed into your general playing, perhaps without you realizing it, until suddenly people start complimenting you.... An adult beginner who approaches Basics slowly and thoughtfully in the same way they might learn a new computer program for their job will not only know more about the fundamentals of playing but actually be more competent in performance at their level than those hapless teenagers who, through no fault of their own, will probably never know how good they could have been or how badly they have been let down.


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V.com weekend Vote: Did you ever have a violin teacher who used fear to motivate you?

By The Weekend Vote
January 23, 2015 11:19

These days, teachers are pretty nice.

I have not seen recent masterclasses where a teacher publicly rips a person to shreds, or heard of many private lessons where the teacher rages at the student every week. Certainly, times have changed. People like Suzuki encouraged "nurturing with love" and higher-level teachers like Dorothy DeLay couched criticisms with "Sugar Plum, what is your concept of F#?"

And yet, the violin has a long, proud (?) history of tyrannical teachers!

Kreutzer Fit

It can make for amusing stories when it's all in the past, but it's not too fun when you are terrified to go to a lesson for fear of being yelled at angrily, humiliated, etc. I'm sure that teachers still use fear to get results from students; I'm pretty sure that it was used more in the "olden days" than it is now.

I was fortunate that the teachers I had as a child were quite kind. Now, in college -- I did have one good, old-fashioned yeller. I liked him quite a lot, but it was occasionally pretty stressful!

Did you ever have a teacher who used fear to motivate you? Or one who regularly became angry, one who yelled and scared you into playing well? In the comments, you can describe!

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On Practice

By Krista Moyer
January 22, 2015 16:20

Playing the violin is a little weird. Because what you are doing is showing a piece of yourself to the world, it gets wrapped up in this messy little ball of emotionally charged angst. It’s like being a hormonal teenager without the zits. One moment you love that wooden box; and the next you want to set it on fire just to watch it burn.

There’s one thing that always makes things better. It’s painful, and humbling, but it always works.

Practice Better

I didn’t say practice harder, or longer. I said better for a reason. It never fails, but when I start feeling the most frustrated it’s because I’m mindlessly playing through my pieces without focusing on the details. It’s a lot more immediately satisfying to play something all the way through. Then we can say we “finished” practicing and feel accomplished when all we managed to do was reinforce what we’ve been doing all along.

It’s not fun to tear a piece apart and practice the same three measures (or three notes) over and over until our fingers can’t do it wrong any more. It really stinks. I hate doing it, but it works. When I take the time to identify what is going wrong and work on it until it’s right, suddenly everything else just gets better.

For some reason, one wrong thing can set up a cascading chain of wrong things. Can’t vibrato on that one piece? Maybe it’s because your brain is busy chanting “Oh crap, that string of 16th notes is going to suck!”. And guess what, it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. You were so distracted that not only did the 16th note arpeggio totally fall apart, but you couldn’t vibrate either, and just to make the party fun, your bow started bouncing too. Yay! All that training and it just comes down to whether or not you use your energy wisely.

Also posted to my Wordpress.

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Yu-Chien ‘Benny’ Tseng, 20, of Taiwan wins the Singapore International Violin Competition

By Laurie Niles
January 21, 2015 21:03

Congratulations to Yu-Chien ‘Benny’ Tseng, 20, of Taiwan, who has won first prize in the first Singapore International Violin Competition, held Jan. 10-21. He will receive $50,000 in prize money, as well as a recording with Naxos, the three-year loan of a fine instrument from the Mr. & Mrs. Rin Kei Mei collection, and other performance opportunities.

Yu-Chien Benny Tseng



  • Goh Soon Tioe Violin & Piano Recital: Richard Lin
  • Best Performer of Commissioned Work: Sirena Huang
  • Best Performer of Bach: Lim Hyun Jae
  • Best Performer of Paganini: Sirena Huang
  • Master Bow by Pierre Guillaume Best Singaporean Performer: Loh Jun Hong

For more information on the prizes, click here.

* * *

Here is Benny’ Tseng's performance in the Singapore Semi-Finals, from Jan. 15. (Skip to 7:00 for the beginning of the performance)

Beethoven: Sonata No. 8 in G major, Op. 30/3 (begins at 7:00)
E. Koh: kilo (begins at 26:30)
Brahms: Sonata No. 2 in A major, Op. 100 (begins at 35:30)
Sarasate: Carmen Fantasy (begins at 59:10)

For more videos of performances, click here for the Singapore International Violin Competition's Youtube page.

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How Suzuki Helps Us Be Better Parents, as Well as Better Music Teachers

By Laurie Niles
January 21, 2015 14:20

Our very first interactions with the smallest of our kind are so important, and yet they often go by without notice. When we speak to a baby, when a baby tries to speak back -- we send a message and we set a precedent about how much we are willing to tune in to each other.

It might be even more important than violin lessons.

See the moon!

Every child learns to speak. In fact, that was the entire premise of Shinichi Suzuki's "Mother Tongue" approach: every child learns to speak his or her native language, without fail (excepting situations like deafness or severe disability). German children run around speaking German, Japanese children run around speaking Japanese. Children soak it up from their environment, and by the time they're about five, they speak with proficiency. Replicate that patently obvious situation with music -- fill the environment with violin music and supportive parenting and community -- and they can learn to play the violin with the same kind of fluency as they learned to speak.

Except that it's not actually patently obvious to all parents, how to teach language to a child. And the outcomes, in terms of a child's vocabulary and ability to effectively communicate, differ greatly. A recent New Yorker article called The Talking Cure, by Margaret Talbot, made me think more deeply about this. Her article describes an effort to help low-income parents speak more to their children, to give them a better foundation for their education and life.

When I was taking Suzuki pedagogy classes some 18 years ago, I probably learned as much about teaching my own children to speak as I learned about teaching my students to play the violin. In fact, my two-semester Book 1-4 training at the University of Denver, with the excellent pedagogue James Maurer, coincided directly with my first pregnancy -- I had quite the large belly by the end of the school year, and my daughter was born in July.

When Mr. Maurer (I can't call him Jim, none of us can) enumerated the patently obvious ways in which parents support their children's language learning, a lot seemed completely obvious. But -- I would not have acknowledged it at the time -- I might not have actually instinctually known all of it. Here are some of those ideas about language-learning:

  1. A baby's environment is filled with language.
  2. Parents celebrate their baby's first words with affirmation and enthusiasm.
  3. Parents don't berate a small child for using the wrong word, they don't say, "No, you're wrong." They encourage the effort and suggest new words as well.
  4. Parents don't tell a child "Use your words!" when they don't have the words. They give them the words, saying it correctly for them, so the child learns.
  5. Children learn by imitation, a parent encourages this.
  6. Once a child learns a word, he or she repeats it over and over, and it becomes part of his or her vocabulary.
  7. Children also learn language by testing it out with one another.

I embraced all of these ideas about language learning, but in the back of my mind, I had the vague idea that not all parents do this. Hadn't I'd seen people talk in frustrated tones to their small children, for using the wrong word? Hadn't I witnessed parents withholding something from a child, saying, "Use your words!" The New Yorker article provides more such examples: berating a child, "Quit copying off of me," or discouraging a child who wanted to repeat a favorite word.

Perhaps an underrated component of Suzuki's genius was not just that he translated language learning to music learning, but that he recognized what it was that is actually effective, in teaching children to speak and communicate.

I've been a parent long enough to know that my children's successes are not mine to claim; they are an occasion to give thanks. But I still think Suzuki's ideas helped me do a better job of teaching my kids to speak. My daughter starting speaking when she was eight months old, and it was probably all that Suzuki training that allowed me to see her efforts as words and communication. I loved our interactions. When she pointed at the moon and said, "Ba!" I said, "Yes! It's round like a ball. It's the MOON!" Then her baby voice, "Mooo!" By the age of one, she was kind of the amazing talking baby. Not all kids will speak so early, but they all can be encouraged in the same way: nurtured by love.

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