November 26, 2011 at 4:59 PMI haven’t been practicing much lately. Playing, yeah; practicing, no. I’ve spent much more time listening, thinking, and writing than actually practicing. Since I’m aiming to become a music writer rather than an actual professional musician, I have a feeling that in future the practicing will take a back seat more often than not. This is dispiriting.
I should have a goal, I think to myself.
I page through the music crushed in my overstuffed folder.
Yeah. A goal would be nice.
I have some goals. Had some. At one point. Last Christmas’s goal was to play the first movement of Bruch. I can hack through it now. Or I was able to, a couple months ago. So…checkmark. On the other hand, I ruined it for myself for a good long while, at least when it comes to using it for orchestral auditions, which right now is the only use I’d have for performing it. I played it too much and practiced it too little, and now it needs a lot of detail work. Especially rhythmic detail work. Why is my rhythm so awful? I’ve always had problems with rhythm. I never was taught a consistent method of how to count. One-ee-and-a-two-ee-and-a…I can’t keep that straight in my head, so I limp along with other less effective homemade methods. I should teach myself another way. How do I teach myself another way? I page backward. Kabalevsky? Do you play Kabalevsky at an orchestra audition? I heard a rumor one of the players in the first violins soloed with a local orchestra once in Paganini 1. Hmm. Actually. No. I read that in a program book once. It wasn’t a rumor. Hmm. Well. There’s another orchestra in town. Maybe I could audition for that. But it rehearses so late at night. It would screw with my sleeping and medication schedule… A goal. I need a goal.
I page back further. Bach. Solo Bach. The g-minor adagio. I smile at that. I’m making progress with that. Unlike everything else. Probably because I brought that to my lesson early last month. I have five copies of it. A beat-up one I’d learned off originally – one with the pencil marks my teacher made – a copy of the one with the pencil marks my teacher made, in case it got lost – one where every fraction of each beat is slashed off, so I can see what notes fall on what portions of what beats. That one looks like heiroglyphics. I can hardly see the notes. And then there’s the one smooth clean plain one that I’m hesitant to mark. A few weeks ago I determined that I need to make a master copy, with only the necessary markings. I need to spoil that clean sheet of paper. I haven’t had the heart to yet.
Amy Beach Romance. I love that piece. I’ve had this idea of presenting a recital of pieces dedicated to female violinists, and chatting a bit with the audience in between each piece about the woman it was dedicated to. Yeah. That would be cool. Beach Romance, Coleridge-Taylor violin concerto, Mozart K454, Lark Ascending. Something like that. I’ll have a lot of fun finding an unpaid pianist for that endeavor. Or getting the nerve up to embark on such a project without needing colon hydrotherapy afterward.
Orchestra music. I can sight-read that, luckily. Christmas music… Lots and lots of Christmas music… God, the year’s gone fast… So many changes… So many things to think about… Stop. Focus.
I page further back.
A Mozart duet. Another smile, fainter this time. No excuse to bring that one out. Unfortunately.
Then I see a piece which, for the moment, will remain nameless, since I’m embarrassed to admit I’m trying it. My motives for learning it are not entirely musical. It can’t be used for auditions. It wasn’t dedicated to a female violinist. I don’t have anyone to play it with. It stretches me technically, probably too far. It meshes with exactly zero of my musical goals.
I take it out of the folder.
After a moment of deliberation, I prop it up on the stand.
The logical side of me collapses and starts weeping in frustration. The illogical side rejoices.
I take a closer look at it. Actually, it features lots of techniques I’d like to work on. Double-stops. Lots of those. Double-stopped fifths. Lots of those. High shifts. Lots of those. …Am I insane?… Some trickier timings, for me leastways. Some new styles of bowing. All in short spurts, easy to split up, easy to practice, easy to focus on. If I take it slowly…
Yes. I like it. I like this choice.
I spend an entire practice session on this piece. On a single line from this piece. On a single simple line from this piece. I go over it and over it and over it. The metronome goes click-clack, click-clack, click-clack. Over. And over. And over. And over. And over.
My obsessiveness feels a little unnerving, especially since it’s so calm and exacting. Calm obsession strikes me as being more dangerous than wild obsession. More productive, too. I inch the metronome forward notch by notch. I trance out in a haze. Once in a while I will skip backward or forward, but I know it’s just a little rest for my brain and my hand, and my concentration always finds its way back to that same line. Two grace notes, four sixteenth notes, a quintuplet, eighth note, eighth note… Two grace notes, four sixteenth notes, a quintuplet, eighth note, eighth note. Two grace notes, four sixteenth notes, a quintuplet, eighth note, eighth note. Blahduh – one-ee-and-a trip-uh-let-plus-two da da.
I suddenly feel a swell of happiness, secure in the knowledge that this is (apparently) all I need to occupy myself. Happy, and a little scared.
When I start to get tired, I turn off the metronome and try it, see if I can play it while hearing the click-clack in my head. I can. But as usual, my dependence on the metronome has resulted in a total lack of understanding of where the line rises and falls. So I try shaping the notes a new way. Suddenly the notes sound like someone talking – like a person sassing back while imitating someone who has frustrated them. I like that. I like the way it sounds, and I like the way it makes me feel as I play it. I like the things I’m finding to pick out to improve. They’re things I wouldn’t have picked out last Christmas. They’re proof I’ve improved this year. Somehow. A little. Maybe.
I snap the case shut and turn off the light.
A few notes, I’ve decided, is a perfectly acceptable goal.
I'm dying to know what piece you were working on today. I know what you mean about picking up a piece that just grabs you. I won't commit to putting a piece in a recital unless it's one I can't stop playing, because that's exactly what I'm going to have to spend months doing!
Have fun playing!
I've come to starting my practise with an easy, romantic, piece - something like the Paradis sicillienne or a dvorjak - to get into the mood and warm up. Then I switch to my current challenge for the main work. Once that is exhausted I start to fool around - my current project (which compliments the concerto I'm working on) is to read through all of the Mozart sonatas (and eventualy as many quartets as I can stomach)! I didn't even know there were Mozart sonatas till a few months ago.
I think sight reading the violin canon should be a part of every practise session - its so amazing to just immerse in these and discover all those gems right out of your own instrument!
Oh, yes - and then there's the goal issue... :-\
I'll give one more hint, it's not for violin solo, and it's not for violin and piano, and the instrumentation is the primary reason I chose it. And that's all I'll say.
I like your ideas, Elise. I need to figure out some kind of routine, but unfortunately I'm paralyzed with self-doubt and once I settle on an idea for warm-up and technical practice, I feel like I'm focusing on the wrong things, and I end up abandoning the routine. I think this will be one of my new year's goals, to get a better handle on trusting myself to create beneficial routines and knowing what I need to work on. I just read an interview with Victorian violinist Maud Powell, who basically said that reading through the Mozart sonatas when she was a child opened all sorts of doors for her and helped her become a true musician. Wouldn't argue with one of the greatest violinists of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries!
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