May 2006

What is really neccessary?

May 31, 2006 01:27

This is a bit of a rant about one of the units I need to take. It's Harmony 3/Orchestration 3 (two seperate units taken at the same time because the course content is practically the same).

The idea behind making students take Harmony and Orchestration units is so that they have a better understanding of the subjects and so they can apply it to their performances. It also helps if you are going to head into Education, but being primarily a Performing Arts institute, I think the course should be aimed more at how to integrate Harmony and Orchestraion (and your understanding of it) into your performances.

In Third year, you are generally looking at 20th Century Harmony and Orchestration. This has been ok, so far. We looked at Impressionism and Dodecaphonic music - yea, I can understand how to put that into my performances. There are Impressionist string quartets, violin sonatas, there's Dodecaphonic string quartets and concerti and other instrumental forms that knowing the theory behind the harmony and the orchestration will be a definate help in performing these works.

Now today, we watched a documentary that was supposed to be related to the course. There was supposed to be something in there relating to Electronic Music. What did we get? A couple of minutes with this guy who was a pioneer of Music Concrete, which is considered part of classical 20th Century music. The rest of it was talking about the various types of "Dance" music - Trance, Techno, House, Jungle, etc.

Now, I do like to listen to this type of music, I do have a Ministry of Sound Annual CD, and have dabbled in creating tracks like this. But do I consider it Classical? No. Do I think knowing this can help me in my performances? Absolutely Not.

Apparently, later on there was going to be a bit on Pierre Boulez and other "classical" electronic artists. But all the same, is it really neccessary for performers of instrumental music to know about this stuff?

In the next semester, we study this electronic music, and also Post Modern music. Now, For me, I cannot understand why electronic music is a neccessary part of Harmony 3/Orchestration 3. This "music" is supposed to not need instruments. It's Noise. This is not going to be an issue for the majority of performances.

Why can't this course deal with issues that are most likely to arise in our careers as professional musicians. Sure, keep Impressionism and Dodecaphonic, but why not look at some other compositional styles that instrumentalists (who make up the majority of the class, there's about 3 or 4 composers) are going to run into. Why not look at Film Composition and TV soundtracks? With many major orchestras being aligned with Movies these days, if we're lucky enough to get a spot we are most likely to going to need to know about this sort of music. What about contemporary Australian compositions? Why don't we learn about the music of composers such as Sculthorpe, Percy Grainger, Ross Edwards? These are Australian composers who are composing right now.

But no, we learn about electronic music. Why? Because that's what our composition lecturer - a noise artist - specialises in.

There are rumours about that WAAPA is going to be losing full-time staff. I'm hoping that in this reshuffle that this lecturer gets replaced, or at the very least the Harmony 3/Orchestration 3 course is overhauled to better suit the students.

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Musical Interpretation

May 29, 2006 07:46

O, vos omnes, qui transitis per viam,
attendite et videte, attendite et videte:
si est dolor similis,
sicut dolor meus, sicut dolor meus.

O all ye that pass by the way,
attend and see if there be any sorrow like to my sorrow.



Text is from Lamentations, 1:12 and is the text of a song by Giovanni Croce that the choir I'm in will be singing in our concert tomorrow.

The idea is that you are sitting on the side of the road, asking the travellers that pass to stop and observe your pain, because you have suffered so much more than anyone else, and to take pity on them - to pray for them, or give money or something.

Singing the words (even words in a different language) can be difficult, but to put yourself back into the 16th century (when Croce wrote his O vos omnes) can be extreemly difficult. There aren't many people these days who have been to the 16th Century.

Our director asked us to think about all the many people who are suffering at the moment - survivors of the earthquake in Indonesia, people affected by famine and poverty in Africa. In 400 years, the amount of suffering hasn't changed, it's just moved.

Putting a meaning behind the lyrics that we could relate to (in a sense) made all the difference and the piece came to life. Now, with songs, you get a bit of a hand with the text - it helps you out and can put meaning into the performance. But what about pieces? What about that violin concerto, or our latest sonata. Putting meaning into our performances is just as important.

But where do we find that meaning? How can we interpret notes on a page, and come up with meaning? What about music that apparently has no meaning and is just music for music's sake?

Well, I can't answer that, kind of...

Each piece is different, and each person will have a different interpretation. It's this that makes music such a versatile art form. With visual art, once the paint is on the canvas, it's there for the world to see. Someone won't walk into the Lourve and see the Mona Lisa wearing green while the person next to them sees her wearing purple. But in music, interpretations of pieces can vary wildly. And the great part about it is that there's no wrong answer. We aren't the composer - we don't need to get into their head to figure out what they were thinking when they wrote it. Sure, there are some pieces that have obvious meanings in there, but there are others that you can leave it up for yourself.

For example, the Presto from Bach's G Minor Sonata (BWV 1001). To me, when I play this, I picture a grand european cathedral (probably German). There's no-one else in there, apart from me and my violin. I'm standing in the centre and playing this piece. As I play, the reverb comes back and I just hear lush harmonies. Now when I play that in the dead of a practice room, I might be lucky if I get a reverb to the next note - but I'm imagining it going for a couple of bars. When I do this, the piece takes on a meaning that is unique to me. Someone else might see this piece as Bach describing a river he lived near. It's this interpretation that allows music to be performed again and again.

Take your musical performance to the next level, and get inside your piece.

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My feelings of the avanti

May 26, 2006 18:41

Hi all,
I've had the Avanti for a week now. I quite like it, for it does play well. My tone (I feel) has a bit of a darker character to it, but it's a more powerful tone. I'm able to get much greater change in dynamics and still have lots of control. Response for sforzandi and pianofortes and the like is much more instant, and there is little noise at the extremities - it still produces a good tone.

Things I don't really like about it - the colour. It says it's supposed to be burgundy walnut diamond, but for me it doesn't look that nice. I think it's too flat (the colour that is), and doesn't look great in direct sunlight. I think some variance in colour added into the mix would've been nice.
Also, the feel of carbon fibre in your hand is different to wood. And I still feel I'm getting ripped off for the price. I had a look around at other dealers on the net, and think I could get it just under AUD$1000, which would mean that I don't have to pay anything at customs - but this all depends on the conversion rate at the time of payment.

But I'm not going to think about that just yet. I've got two bows coming in on Monday which I will try out and see how they compare to the Avanti - and then make my decision.

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First bow... but the price...

May 21, 2006 21:39

Well, I took home the JonPaul Avanti to try out. Trying it in the shop I liked what it could do. As I play on it more and more, I am liking it more and more. I haven't got the bows from my teacher just yet, as he only got in from China yesterday. He said that he liked to bow very much, except for one thing - the price.

The price my dealer is quoting me is $1600. That's about US$1200. He says the difference is that he's got to cover courier charges, insurance, possible rehairs if the hair isn't quite right, and storage. But surely, that can't be worth $600 more than the retail price of the bow. Personally I think he's overcharging, by a fair margin. My teacher thinks that for carbon fibre you shouldn't pay more than $500 (approx US$375), but I think you'd be struggling to find a good bow for that price.

What I'm thinking is that I'll look into ordering it from overseas, that is, if it's cheaper to get it delivered that way and if I decide that it's the bow that I want. By my estimations, I think I should be able to get it for about $1200 (US$900) which is much more affordable for my buget.

But anyway, I still have two more bows coming in, that should be here next monday, so that will be nice.

One problem with this Avanti is that it doesn't fit in my case very well. It's slightly too long. If I put it in, stick up, it won't fit, and the guard will disect the hair. It fits easier upside-down, but it looks like it's stretching the hair. Is it ok for me to store like this, or should I really get another case if I am to get this bow.

I play at a chamber music concert this Friday. Need to get myself a red tie, because I refuse to wear a red shirt. It makes me look sunburnt (And if i'm already sunburnt it makes me look like a tomato). So I'll have to go find one of them soon. I've got two quartets performing. In one, I'm playing first violin in the first movement of Mozart's Quartet K. 387 - the first of his "Haydn" quartets. In the second, I'm playing second violin in Haydn's "Sunrise" quartet (First movement as well). I'm looking forward to these performances, especially seeing as I'll be using this new bow for them. I had a bit of a play through them by myself this morning, and I've got much more control with dynamics and also starts of notes. I'm able to pull out the tone that I really like. It's great.

It's great, if just not so expensive.

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Last Day with my bow... I think

May 18, 2006 18:02

Yep, today should be the last day with my bow. Tomorrow I'm going to try out some Jon Paul carbon fibre bows, which I've heard good reviews of on here, and also the dealer that I'm going to recommends them as well. Hopefully on Monday my teacher will bring me some bows that he was having sent up from his dealer for me to try out, and hopefully on Monday as well there should be some more bows for me to try at my workplace, including a Coda Conservatory.

It brings me to try and think back over what this bow has brought me through. It got me through Secondary examinations and got me into Conservatory, it got me into the youth orchestra, and gave me a music scholarship for the final two years of secondary school. And really, it's not that good a bow. I got it for about $250 (i think), and it's never really been that great a bow. I don't know who it's made by, and have no idea what type of wood it is. But back then, I was a naïve string player who thought the bow didn't make any difference. Now I know more and am looking for the bow with the best playability that I can afford.

One of my peers has said that I shouldn't go with Carbon Fibre because it won't go up in value. This may be true, but I don't really see the point. I'm not buying the bow in order to make money from it valuing. I'm buying the bow in order for it to be played. If a carbon fibre bow within my price range can give me the playability of a pernambuco bow far beyond my price range, then I'll get the carbon fibre bow.

Anyway, tomorrow I shall be entering a new phase of my playing life. As the old saying goes "Today is the first day of the rest of your life."

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Is it really worth it?

May 3, 2006 08:43

I had a rehearsal tonight, a continuation from the one I had blogged about on Monday. At the end of the rehearsal we had a big deep and meaningful with our "lecturer".

He's going in tomorrow to talk with the director of the institution that I'm at. He's basically saying to them that there isn't enough for the string students here at WAAPA, and the only way to give the students what they need is to have full time staff (Currently, we have 4 lecturers, 2 voice teachers, 1 piano teacher and a "composer" full time). Unfortunately, there's not enough money to provide full time strings staff, so there's no interest from students because there isnt' any full time staff, and because there's no interest, there's no money to provide for such things...

It got me thinking - am I really happy here? Am I really getting what I should be getting?

Here's a look at my week:
Performance units:
Principal Study - 1 hour/week
Concert Practice - 2 hours/week
Chamber Music - 2 hours/week
Faith Court Chamber Orchestra - 9-12 hours the week before a concert.
Eneksis Vocal Ensemble - 3 hours/week.
String Class - 2 hours/week
Regular performance hours: 10 hours/week

Theory Units:
Aural - 3 hours/week
Harmony and Orchestration - 1 hour/week
History - 3 hours/week
Music Criticism - 3 hours/week
Pedagogy - 1 hour/week
Total Theory Units - 12 hours/week

Doesn't sound like much of a difference, right?
Chamber music - run in such a way that the two hours are taken up with performances and discussion - you are expected to have rehearsals in your own time. I'm cool with that. It's just that you only get two sessions a year... that's two hours of chamber music tutoring a year.

Concert Practice - run in a similar way - required to do two/three performances a year. Unfortunately, because there's so many people, you only get about 15 minutes when you perform - if you're lucky. So, that's 30-45 minutes of tuition on concert practice...


Our lecturer (who has two hours a week with us, and then 3 cello students) studied at the same institution a long time ago. Back then, they had resident ensembles all over the place. There were three cello teachers! There was always someone available to tutor their chamber music group.

Now, it's a completely different scenario, where if chamber groups want tuition, they need to find someone to tutor them, and it will cost them money.

So it makes me wonder, since I'm not getting what I should be getting - where can I go? THe other music school in WA? No, for one reason, the vibe there is way too competitive. At WAAPA, whenever you get up on stage, everyone wants you to succeed. At UWA, everyone wants you to fail. Also, it's far too strict - if you want to form a string quartet, you have to not only get permission, but also get permission for the repertoire.

So what else is there? There's other schools in Australia, but I think many are in the same situation, in that money is lacking so they can't provide what they really want to do.

So that leave overseas. I've always wanted to study in England, so should I try out there? Personally, I don't think I'm up to the standard, but you never know.
I think study in England would be a great opportunity for me, not only studying there, living on my own, but for not having anything to do, I would be left to practice, so theoretically more practice, plus greater tuition, means better me, right?

But anyway, I'm probably kidding myself. I know that I'm a couple of years off overseas study level, so I resign myself to studying at an Instituion that I love (and I really do love being here) but that has not many facilities.

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Leading a rehearsal

May 1, 2006 07:41

Today, I lead a rehearsal. Today, I got incredibly nervous. After today's rehearsal, I just wanted to flop on a chair and do nothing.

Leading a rehearsal, especially one that isn't going to have a performance at the end, shouldn't be all that difficult should it? And yet, I got extreemly nervous. I was having difficulty playing my part. And it wasn't anything incredibly difficult or anything like that - it was Bach Brandenburg Number 3. Yea, you know the one. Everyone knows the one. Yet, because this was the first time that I had really led an orchestra (even if there were only 9 of us there), I got really nervous.

When the cellist noticed this, she suggested that we swap instruments and play through it. I swapped with the third violist and played through a bit. I was glad of that - as it left me more relaxed when we headed back into the rehearsing of the piece.

I found the experience of leading an orchestra stressful, mainly to find spots to rehearse. Listening to everyone else and figuring out whether they are playing the way I have heard the score in my head, and if not what to do about it, and yet at the same time playing my part. It's incredibly difficult.

At the end of the rehearsal, we played through a couple of times standing up, and I felt more comfortable like that - I felt that I could move more, I could communicate more with the other players, and still get the notes in my part.

I found the rehearsal stressful - I can see that this might be a reason why many orchestral leaders are bald.

And dispite all of that, I want to lead the group again. I need to be more picky - think through each phrase of the score and work out how i want it played, and then be able to express it in words that the players will be able to understand.

I think leading an orchestra is something like skydiving - you'll always be nervous, especially for the first time, but it'll be something that you'll want to do again and again.

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