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.
By Laurie Niles
June 2, 2012 13:41
"The most important thing a teacher can have is EMPATHY: how does it feel, when you don't know how to do it?"
By Laurie Niles
June 2, 2012 12:53
Perhaps if we can present some solid, scientific proof, we can take our argument farther. Dr. Laurel Trainor, a professor in the Department of Psychology, Neuroscience and Behavior at McMaster University in Ontario, is assembling just that kind of body of work. She is Director of the McMaster Institute for Music and the Mind, which recently received a $6 million grant from the Canada Foundation for Innovation for the scientific study of music. She spoke to us at the Suzuki Association of the Americas Conference about her studies so far, and what discoveries they have made about how music affects the brain.
"From a very early age, infants have certain musical preferences," Laurel said. "One of those is for consonance over dissonance." She showed a video in which six-month-olds listened to Mozart, then to dissonant patterns. The infants clearly lingered over the Mozart, whereas they turned away quickly from the dissonant sounds.
Another interesting discovery her team has made was that a short amount of listening to a certain timbre enhances the encoding of tones in that timbre. For example, a child who has listened frequently to guitar music is better able to process guitar music than he is able to process the same tune, played on a marimba. The brain changes neurally to process those tones.
Also, musical enculturation happens very early.
"What infants are hearing, really matters," she said. "Your brain, from listening to Western music, will become specialized for Western music. Already by one year, this enculturation process is happening."
Musical training actually accelerated infants' acculturation to Western tonality.
"The environment in which they are raised has a big effect on their musical learning." With one year of Suzuki training (yes they studied Suzuki students specifically), a child's musical discernment was significantly greater than their peers with no musical training.
"So music lessons accelerate the acquisition of musical skills," she said. That may be obvious, but it's good news that science bears it out. But not only that, musical training had an effect on children's burgeoning reading skills.
"Even controlling for age and socioeconomics, there is a correlation between how long they have been taking music lessons and their reading ability," Laurel said.
This plays out in the adult brain as well; "it's clear that non-musical and musical brains differ," Laurel said. Check it out:
I'll be very honest with you, I'm not sure about the specifics regarding the above chart. But clearly it shows that violinists have enhanced FFR, ML, N1, N1c and P2 (whatever those things are). It makes me feel quite brainy! But I'll try to explain it as Laurel did: the brain has more feed-back than feed-forward capacity. In other words, it has the ability to take in things, but it has even more ability to process those things. What this means for music is that "if you know what to listen for, you can hear it better." This power of the brain to review, analyze and anticipate based on past experience is called "executive function."
Musical training effects "executive function" development, and those functions were found by this scientific team to be "two to three years advanced in kids who are taking Suzuki."
I look forward to hearing about the results of their experiments in the future, and I hope that having some scientific proof will help us in our endeavors to create a more musically-educated society.Tweet
By Cesar AViles
June 1, 2012 13:53
Airplanes and violins are a delicate situation these days. If you are like me, you are in front of the line waiting anxiously for your group number to be called and be the first to hopefully find a space for your precious little guy. If no space is available then you will probably have to check your instrument.
I’m sure you will stay in that airport and wait for as long as necessary but my case was a little different.
Can you believe I sent my instrument with big suitcases? or at least that’s what I was thinking the whole time (the big suitcases).
I can’t still believe I did that. Nothing happened, thank God, but my conscience, soul and heart were eating me from the inside out for around 3 hours.
You see, I’m Puerto Rican and my country gets lots of hurricanes. One day after a really “life changing” summer festival in the U.S. I was going back home and a big one was headed to my country. I stayed in Newark for 3 days and since I was a student I couldn’t afford a hotel in the meantime. I slept on the floor (with the violin wrapped between my legs) those 2 nights because my money was for food only. Unfortunately, it was not the airline fault that a huge and massive hurricane was heading home, so they didn’t pay for food or hotel- it was my problem.
After 3 day in an airport with the same clothes, no showers and looking at desperate people trying to get a seat in the next available airplane, when I got my chance I couldn’t say no- I couldn’t afford one more second in that place listening to boarding calls and announcements.
I gave up and said:
“Yes, you can put it with the big guys under the plane!”
No space for my baby onboard.
My fiddle didn’t have insurance at the moment but I didn’t care. I was tired, mad, hungry and sleeping in a hard floor, I wanted to go home.
After I took a shower and analyzed the situation I couldn't believe it! It was one of the first music festival I attended and I didn’t know so much about traveling- to be honest I was scared.
Since then, I have visited many countries (thanks to music) and I’ve been through a lot of different experiences but never again had to go through something like that again.
Fortunately there have been space for my violin in overhead compartments.
Anyways, make sure you are one of the first people who enters the plane (at least one of the first in your section or group) and get a place for your violin ASAP.
If you have certain strategies I will love to know them! Please contact me and let me know!
By The Weekend Vote
June 1, 2012 11:25
I recently faced the decision of whether or not to travel with my violin, and after hearing a lot of horror stories, I decided against it.
As it turned out, I probably could have brought my fiddle on my U.S. Airways flight with no problems; both a violin and a big guitar traveled as carry-ons, on the same flight as me. But others had scary stories about the same airlines. I did see that I would have likely needed to pay extra for early boarding, as all the overhead space filled fast.
It seems we musicians take a few steps forward and then a few backwards again with this issue.
On the positive side: this February, the U.S. Congress passed an FAA Bill of Rights for passengers, part of the FAA Air Transportation Modernization and Safety Improvement Act of 2012. The relevant part for us is Section 713, which "requires an air carrier to permit an air passenger to carry a violin, guitar, or other musical instrument on a passenger aircraft without charge if it can be stowed safely in a suitable baggage compartment in the aircraft or under a passenger seat." If you are concerned about traveling with your violin in the U.S., you might want to copy the bill and put it in the pocket of your fiddle case. Here it is for you to copy. You also might want to highlight Section 713.
While this seems like good progress, news from the U.K. has us going the other direction: a recent change in British Airways policy will effectively make it impossible to travel on that airline with a fiddle -- unless you'd like to put it in the hold (and you wouldn't).
What has been your experience, flying with your instrument? Have you ever had trouble with it? If you've had more than one of the bad experiences listed below, just check the one that was most memorable and then describe the others in the comments.
By Mendy Smith
May 31, 2012 19:00
It is that time of year again. Recitals are over, regular lessons turn sporadic, I head down into the pit for the annual Houston Bar Association musical comedy (though this year the orchestra is on stage and :::gasp::: acting!), and begin working on music for camp.
Yes... there are music camps for us older-ish types. Each August I head up to Interlochen to attend a week-long chamber music camp for adult amateurs. I look forward to it for many reasons:
This year is special. The cellist who I've played with down here in Houston for 2 years now is attending camp with me. We have worked on and off again on the Beethoven 'Two Eyeglasses' piece and will be getting coaching on it in the first half of the week. We've also arranged to play some cello quintets and sextets with some folks I've played with before. Outside of that, I signed up to play the Britten Divertimento, Beethoven Op. 132, 95, and Grosse Fugue. Daunting and difficult pieces that I'm glad to have some advanced notice to practice.
So, in this "In-Between" time, I'm pulling out all my notes from lessons over the past year and studying how to practice these pieces: slow with metronome, scales in the key signature, string crossings, planning shifts and bow distribution, hearing the underlying chord structure, rhythms, etc...
I have one maybe two lessons before Interlochen. We'll see how well I learned how to practice on my own.Tweet
By Laurie Niles
May 31, 2012 11:32
A big part of being a teacher -- particularly a student's first teacher -- is understanding how to lay the groundwork for the advanced techniques that student will need, years in the future.
To this end, a number of sessions at the Suzuki Association of the Americas Conference were aimed at dissecting advanced literature and pulling out the techniques and approaches that a student can start building from the beginning. (Here's a fun example: Did you know, the first "Twinkle Variation" was designed to teach the bowing that appears at the beginning of the "Bach Double"?)
Giving a keynote lecture called, "Advanced Student's Explorations of Interpreting Bach," was Katie Lansdale, who has recorded all the Bach Sonatas and Partitas, performed all of them live as a cycle more than 12 times, and also won the Schlosspreis for Performance at the Salzburg Mozarteum for her performance of Bach. Katie was once a Suzuki student of Ronda Cole's, and now she is on faculty at the Hartt School of Music in Hartford, Connecticut, as well as a member of the Lions Gate Trio and founder of a school outreach program called Music for 1,000 Children.
We began by talking about the music of Bach in general, then moving to specifics. "How smart was Dr. Suzuki to thread Bach through all the books?" Katie said. "You see a braid that keeps twisting back and back to Bach."
When it comes to the Solo Sonatas and Partitas of Bach, that repertoire can be very intimidating to students, because "teachers have taught students to fear these pieces and put them at the top of a mountain. Instead, make these pieces a gift to your students. It's their world of inquiry and personal choice. I think this is a highly malleable repertoire."
What techniques must teachers cultivate early in their students, so they can successfully play the Bach Solo Sonatas and Partitas? (You might want to have your S and P book handy for this…)
Generally, a student will need flexible fingers in the bow hand. In fact, "nowhere do we need it more than in Bach." For example, a number of movements, especially Finales, have motoric rhythm, or 16ths that go on and on. "The only way to play that fast is with tiny muscles."
Another important concept to understand is "release," in other words, the music must have "swing" or as the Germans say, "schwung."
"It don't mean a 'thung' if it ain't got that 'schwung.'" Katie said with a smile.
Slow movements run the danger of losing their hierarchy of beats, and with that, the "schwung."
The word baroque literally means 'pearl,' as every pearl is different. It also refers an ornamented style, in art, architecture or music. Many of the slow first movements in solo Bach are highly ornamented, and this can get in the way of finding that "swing."
The preludes in the Sonatas (titled "Adagio," or "Grave") "lay out the carpet for the fugue" in the second movement. Though these are slow movements, what does the student encounter, on first sight?
"They encounter a lot of ink, a lot of notes," Katie said. No kidding, check it out:
Bach G minor Adagio
It's not easy to count that, but that's among the first steps. "We have to get the math straight before we find our way to freedom," Katie said.
For example, the bassline is quite elegant -- if you can find it! -- in the first-movement "Grave" in Sonata No. 2 in A minor. It starts on an "A" and descends by step, until it reaches the subdominant D, then elegantly modulates to the dominant by raising to a D sharp, then ascending to E.
Basically, it sounds really cool when you clear away all those notes. She wrote it out for us, reducing all that ink to seven simple quarter notes.
"It makes for a beautiful musical underpinning; it simply goes stepwise," she said. All those notes are decoration, ornamentation. "We want that sense of being free within the beat. If we can find the spine or the skeleton of the music, it's usually a big relief to the students. They can finally see the forest for the trees."
It's important to feel that simplicity, even with the addition of a lot of complex notes, woven in with hard-to-count rhythms. She also deconstructed the first movement "Adagio" of the Sonata No.3 in C major, which blooms harmonically, by measure; and the Sonata No. 1 in G minor, which has a simple melody at its core.
Here are a two reminders Katie gave us, about playing chords:
1. Playing on two strings takes no more bow weight than playing on one.
2. Playing a chord takes no more muscle than playing a single note, it's just at a different angle.
That sounds simple, but many students will press and crunch and wonder what's wrong, rather than simply lifting the arm to the proper angle.
Another genius aspect of Bach's Sonatas and Partitas is in the way he manages to make one violin play several voices at once. Considering the limitations of the instrument, one has to work to pull this off.
For example, in all the fugue movements, one has to bring out two, three, and even four voices at once. For the music to make sense, one must pick which voice to emphasize, then understand the technique for doing so. One technique Katie demonstrated was what she calls "tip backs." That's when you hold the bottom-string note longer than the top string note, in a chord.
"By holding the bottom string longer, our ear is directed to the lower voice," she said. "It may feel like standing on your head for the first time." Also, if a lower note is a bass note, it should go on the beat, not before, and then have a light release, so to emphasize the bass note and not make it sound like a grace note.
Another difficulty in the fugues is simply memorizing them. Katie shared some strategies: First, it can help to look at the map; that is, study the music away from the instrument. "Send the student home to find the themes," she said. She said she once had a student delineate the themes and episodes with different-colored pencils, returning to her lesson with her music looking like a rainbow work of art. But it makes sense to have different colors, or different visual representations, for each voice. "Your approach is different if you think of four different voices, rather than the same voice appearing in four different places," she said. For example, she often tells students to think of the opening of a fugue like it's a family argument.
It also helps to create an aural appetite for the piece -- "The more you fall in love with a piece, the faster you learn it." You can be creative and use imagination in describing the episodes of the music. Students can practice without the bow; sing in their head; memorize the fingering; and practice from the end of the piece, learning the last chord and backing up from there.
In auditioning potential students, she listens for the shape of the phrases and the message in the music.
"I would rather hear Bach with shape and effect and an emotional message, rather than perfectly clean but lacking in shape," Katie said.
You can also introduce students to the other places where these fugues occur: the G minor fugue was also an organ piece (BWV 539); the A minor fugue, a keyboard piece; the E major Preludio, the prelude to Cantata, BWV 29 for organ, strings, timpani and trumpet.
Use what ever bowing works to bring out the right voicing in a fugue. Those other versions of the pieces, with other instruments, can be a guide. For example, Bach's C major fugue, from the Sonata No. 3, was actually based on a Lutheran hymn, with the words, "Come holy ghost, come here." Knowing that it was sung, and knowing the content of the words, can be helpful. By the way, the C major is also the longest fugue Bach wrote for any instrument!
She also suggested arpeggiating soft chords instead of playing them organ-like; "This is something that holding Baroque bow inspires you do to."
One person in the audience (me), asked Katie how she felt about period performance and the early music movement, in regards to Baroque music.
"I'm totally fascinated by the early music movement," Katie said. She also said that she has a Baroque bow, though she doesn't consider herself a practitioner of period performance. She said she feels "gratitude that there are people immersing themselves in this study," and that we should soak up their discoveries like sponges. "You can play with heart and conviction in any style -- they pieces work in so many ways."
After her lecture on Bach, Katie performed, and regrettably I missed her performance! (William Starr was giving a lecture, how was I to choose?) My colleagues raved about her performance, and fortunately, I will remind you, you can still hear it by getting her recording of the Bach Six Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin.
Clearly Katie has exceptional stamina; after her lecture, and after her performance, she also gave a masterclass on Bach! Here's a rundown of that:
First we heard the "Loure" from Bach's E major Partita, played by Maryanne, 17, of Ohio.
"You are supposed to feel the gesture in your body," Katie said. "Don't lock any part of your body." If you bend your knees for strong notes (which she was doing a bit), the bow has to chase the violin. Instead, think of the violin as being on one plane, and "try to enjoy how tall the violin is."
The Loure is the most serene movement of the E major Partita, and Katie suggested adopting what she called the "Adagio body." Since "adagio" literally means "at ease," we can imagine what this means.
"It's also a little dangerous to change strings by changing the level of the violin," Katie observed. Instead of bringing the violin string to the bow, bring the bow to the violin string.
"Loure," being a light dance, doesn't need the thick carpet of sound that a Romantic piece would need. For example, the Tchaikovsky concerto calls for endless vocal sound in its introduction. In the violin pieces of Mozart, bow changes are articulations, not connectors. The "Loure" is less sustained and can have more of a swing, like Mozart. The upbeat can be kind of a lift. In those cases when trying to bring out the lower voice, "if we think about the left hand, vibrating the bottom melody, it helps us bring it out. If you bring out the imitation more clearly, it's really a duet, it's no longer solo Bach."
Next, Sofya, 15, of Colorado, played the Gavotte and Rondeau from the E major Partita.
"I could hear your lively thinking all the way through," Katie said. (I love how Suzuki teachers compliment -- always specific and true, never empty praise.) "You really convinced me this is a bouncy piece in two."
But Katie took issue with the tempo. Here, she drew examples from "Gavottes" in the Suzuki books (and there are many!), playing each one at the tempo Sofya had played the Bach Gavotte. Indeed, it seemed a bit slow.
"Sometimes the ideas can get in the way of the long line," Katie said. "Telescope your ears back, so you hear the whole phrase."
She advocated a faster, simpler approach. Then they checked the hard part at the fast tempo -- "We have to make sure that it swings at this tempo," Katie said. Even though it's a faster tempo, "the feeling of this piece is never in a hurry." It worked.
She also talked about the dissonances being "juicy blueberries -- we want to enjoy how they're tart." At another point (m 74-77) she advised, "enjoy the laughter in it, and maybe it can be two voices."
She also advised having direction, as if you are "wandering through the forest, but always see the end of the path."
Being aware of Bach's original bowings (and one can find the manuscript in the back of the Galamian edition) can also give one ideas. "Trying Bach's bowings is always informative," Katie said. "It may not necessarily be what you do in the end, but they can inform what you do."
Students Maryanne, Sofya and Katie Lansdale, after the Bach master class
By Rosita Hopper
May 31, 2012 07:04
I appreciate the comments my first blog entry generated and I agree with one of the commentators who observed that a key advantage for the amateur player is the lack of pressure. This is certainly something I've experienced and I attribute it to the modest expectations we generally have for beginning adult amateur players.
In spite of potential criticism for having modest expectations, it can certainly be a blessing when one is attempting something as challenging as playing a bowed string instrument. I have frequently remarked inwardly on the difference between my own attitude to my music studies and the attitude of some child students (and their parents!) While I am inevitably thrilled with each incremental improvement, I observe some child students ever anxious to be promoted to the next piece, the next bigger instrument, the next orchestra level, etc. I may be wrong about this but I suspect competitiveness is something children learn from their parents, and probably the element that contributes least to their musical development or spiritual growth. (Didn't Dr. Suzuki teach that you couldn't have the first without the second?)
As the parent of violin students, what I have learned to want for them is a lifetime of playing, a sense of inner growth and reward from making music. Any accomplishment beyond that is for them to choose to pursue, hopefully without the pressure of needing to meet my expectations. Am I guilty of having at times imposed upon them my long held admiration for professional musicians, and applying inappropriately high expectations to their music studies? Yes, but becoming a player myself has helped me loosen that coil, and focused me much more on my own process rather than theirs.
I share my observations here only in hopes that they might inspire others--especially adult beginners--to play! My knowledge is however incomplete and my opinions potentially mutable. Most of all I am humbled by the opportunity this blog affords for dialogue with members of the violinst.com community. I hope you will continue to read my blog and share your comments either publicly or privately. In the future I hope to write about practicing, performing, ensemble playing, and attending summer camp. Join me!Tweet
May 31, 2012 03:22
Our fellow member, Ronald Mutchnik, recently started a discussion in response to an article on Huffington Post. In it, the writer was discussing/bemoaning how the classical music has practically turned into North Korea, in which the protocols are so strict that music is not as enjoyable. He writes:
Although I loved the music I heard that evening, I was struck at the time by how matter-of-factly my guide dismissed my observation that concerts might not be easy to figure out for a first-timer. And he took it for granted that I would find the impressive edifice and music itself a satisfactory recompense for my troubles. And he might have been right, I suppose, had I at least been allowed to authentically enjoy the performance going on inside that hall as I might spontaneously appreciate any other cultural pursuit like a movie or a dance or a hip-hop concert -- if I could clap when clapping felt needed, laugh when it was funny, shout when I couldn't contain the joy building up inside myself. What would that have been like?
Now, I've been on both ends, as a performer looking across those "thousand dead looking eyes" and being one of the "thousand dead looking eyes". The truth is, what this writer is saying is half-truth, and half-inaccurate.
For one thing, any genre with long history already has established protocol. You do not scream in a ballet performance, for instance. You clap when the ballerina does the 32 fouettes or jetes around the stage, but that's about it. Similarly, if you shrieked "WOOHOO" in an opera performance, you'd be momentarily kicked out. It's called tradition. And for a scene newcomer, it is confusing and oppressive. But just as one would not eat a French 5 course meal without proper silverware, you don't clap in between movements.
Another thing is, the audience expects this oppression. People have a tendency to slap on the tag "culture" as soon as they hear classical arts. Breakdancing is ghetto but ballet is classy. Rock concert is common and even crass but classical concert is posh. While we performers don't regard it as such, others do, and that's undeniable.
The reason why we don't regard it in any special manner is because we are immersed in it. You walk through a conservatory, or any music department, and you'd see people with cellos on their backs, voices drifting from the windows, someone struggling through Scriabin (and cursing), Italian streaming through the doors and the teacher yelling "TEMPO!". You kick out the opera singer from a practice room without much deference, pointing out that you're a violinist and you need the room, the singers can sing outside (or maybe that's just me). Music is music, period.
But for others? How many times have I heard people hastily say, "Ah, I always wanted to go to the opera, I just didn't have time to..." when I casually mention that I saw the Aida performance last Friday, and Radames wasn't that good in his Celeste Aida? It's almost like it's a status symbol. I don't hear "Ah, I always wanted to go to a rap concert, but I just didn't have time to...". It's almost as if they immediately place me in the "upper class" section of the social strata, and feel the need to match up. "My daughter plays the violin!" is a brag-worthy mention. "My daughter plays the drums!" evidently is not.
Personally, I hate it when people clap in between movements. The music is not over. The story is not yet fully told, and people clap as if it is, and then my concentration is smashed away and I'm pulled back into this world. Do you clap or hoot when Queen is performing Bohemian Rhapsody? No! When the concentration is broken, you have to start from base one again and build up to the height you were at before. This is MUCH harder to do than the first time because you're already tired. When you're concentrating so much that you even forget where you are and then people clap in between movements and your concentration is broken, you have to get back into that mindless state much more quickly when you're already getting tired. NOT a fun thing to do.
The basis of the concert protocol hasn't changed much, folks. DON'T break the musician's concentration by noise. Appreciate loudly when it's appropriate.
FYI, Yes has produced a few tracks that are in movement form. The fans are NOT clapping in between movements. And people stand up and clap crazily in classical performances too.Tweet
By Bram Heemskerk
May 30, 2012 13:38
Mozart wrote 5 official violin concerto's but also a 6th and 7th and Adelaide violin concerto. Here the 7th. This composition is possibly not by Mozart, but nevertheless fine music, here played by David Oistrach. Information from imslp
Dated supposedly on (lost) autograph Jul 16, 1777 in Salzburg; possibly sketched out by Mozart and finished by Sauzay or Baillot; perhaps played in Salzburg on Jul 26, 1777, however authenticity doubtful. Bär (MISM 1963) believed written for FX Kolb in Salzburg in 1777; Mahling (MJB 1978) states possibly it is a draft by Mozart, or considered it could be a copy by Mozart of another master's concerto. NMA (1980) placed it in Works of Doubtful Authenticity; Levin (Who Wrote Mozart 4-Wind Concertante? 1989) gives nod toward authenticity by stating Baillot copy lists instruments in exact order used by Mozart, and with Hn solmisation same as other Mozart Concerti f/Vn
By Hilary Hahn
May 30, 2012 13:22
Taken during soundcheck at the El Rey in Los Angeles, a chain snakes and dances its way over strings in Hauschka's piano:
(Note from Laurie: In May and June, Hilary and the prepared-piano artist Hauschka will tour together, presenting duo improvisation concerts to reflect the worldwide release of their recent recording, called Silfra.You can find that schedule right here, as the dates are announced. Next week we'll be giving away some of these CDs on V.com. )Tweet
Violinist.com has not reviewed, and does not endorse, the content of any of the articles below.
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