April 3, 2009 at 3:56 PM
When I met my wife, Tania, a number of new things came into my life. One of these was an appreciation for figure skating. And when you think about it, figure skating has quite a bit in common with violin playing.
Holding an edge whilst gliding across an area of ice is a remarkably apt analogy to edging a bow and drawing it across the old cat-guts.
Now, if you know anything about the process of acquiring skill on blades you’ll have heard of something called ‘school figures.’ As a matter of fact until some 15 years ago they were a part – though rarely seen part – of every skating competition.
School figures are graceful circles, figure eights and such traced and then retraced on the ice by skaters. Skaters were judged on matters of form while skating the figures and their conformity to the shapes on each iteration.
When school figures went out of competition many in the skating world thought a certain purity and style in the sport was also lost.
The same may be said of violin playing, though in place of school figures I would be talking about scale study and double stop study.
Today many violinists learn their stuff on a diet too rich in repertoire – especially repertoire that is above their head. A diet deficient in the vitamins and minerals that come with technical studies.
Much of the time it’s not the students fault. Many teachers either don’t appreciate the real value of these tools or lack the creativity to bring them to students in a way that is interesting and at the same time challenging.
As a young man Nicolo Paganini was able to sight read a very difficult concerto put in front of him to test his supposed violin mastery. And as a result of his dazzling success he was given ownership of a Del Gesu violin.
Now let me tell you something. This is certainly not the sort of mastery that comes from a willy-nilly approach to violin study. The kind that skips from song to song, piece to piece, student concerto to major concerto in a heedless rush to satisfy a teacher’s, parent’s or student’s ego.
I’ve seen the result too many times. Young people showing up to university slashing away at the Brahms, Beethoven or what-have-you with no clue what utter noise pollution they’re ‘creating.’
Yet it needn’t be so. There is a beauty, a purity, even a meditative quality that permeates the space around who exercises his or herself, with full awareness of proper form, on the double-stop studies of Sevcik.
And the results from this kind of practice inform every piece of music that person is likely to pick up. There’s an evenness, a sureness, a ringing-ness that emanates from such a player that sets him apart.
She’s the one of whom people say, ‘I could listen to her play all day long and not tire of it.’
During my years of elementrty to high school orchestra we delt with only that which seldom ventured into 3rd position. I now see how violin illiterate I and all of us in Corpus Christi were! I thought we all were on top of the world. Why we were not driven and truly violinist educated?????
Compulsory figures., indeed.
I think that every competitive event for students including adjudications etc. should include the playing of Silent Night in 1st position.
Good post. This should be required reading for all students.
>As a matter of fact until some 15 years ago they were a part – though rarely seen part – of every skating competition.
I remember seeing this broadcast from the Olympics once when I was a kid (maybe ten minutes coverage for the whole Games) and feeling baffled that that, too, was considered figure skating, and a crucial part of it.
Great analogy, great point here. I loved the line about the meditative quality of this kind of violin practice. Yes, I so agree! As a relative beginner still, I spend a LOT of time on scales/arpeggios, and while sometimes I fret to myself that I'm not making nearly the progress some of my fellow adult beginners here at V.com are making, I'm deeply grateful to the whole slower process. It is indeed very meditative and teaches a player life lessons and skills that carry over to every facet of daily life. Especially patience, and a willingness to invest a lot now for what you might (or might not) reap some day in the future.
Well I too am a staunch ally of Mr. Sevcik, from A-Z. Books 2-9 (mainly for the bow)
All my students practice them every day (including yours truely)
I believe it is the "excercise" method for the violin, with that of Henry Wesley.
Which leads us to the "Etudes" methods for the violin by Kreutzer, Rode, Dont, Fiorillo, Gavinie.................and up to the next level the "Capriccios" Ecole Modernes" the 8 caprices by H. Wieniawsky and finally to the 24 Paganini Capriccios.
As for the concertos my teacher introduced me to a number of ??? but yet unknown concertos before touching any "so called" great concertos.I was very sad at first for I wanted to play Lalo, Max Bruch , Mendelssohn.......... ( he was absolutley right)
Well I've got news for todays youngsters, dont take my word for it, just try to play the following concertos then see how you really feel about them.
Viotti no.22, P.Rode nos. 10, 11, L. Spohr no.8, Charles de Beriot no. 9. D'Ambrosio,Kreutzer no.19 etc.
And its only after playing those beautiful concertos which are seldom played today, I felt proud of my teacher and happy about my interpretaion of master pieces like Brahms and Beethoven.
By the way David Oistrakh won his first violin competion by playing the Viotti no. 22.
My opinion is play simple but play well, rather than a difficult piece with lots of unpleasant notes and tone.
Dear Mr. Haslop:
Glad to see a teacher/professor mentioning the importance of excercises such as Sevcik to a violinist's technique. Can you suggest the numbers of Opus of Sevcik you would suggest for developing technique and keeping things in the fingers?
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