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 The Weekend Vote
June 9, 2012 22:52
I've said it before, and I'll say it again: the violin can be a pain in the neck!
Rather, it can cause a pain in the neck, or the upper back, or the arm, or the wrist, or the lower back, or maybe in your right big toe.
The fact is, it's one awkward instrument to play. For me, I tend to get quite the tight upper back, and I think my family members are getting mighty sick of my requests (demands?) for them to dig their elbows into my back to relieve the pain!
How about you? Does your fiddle playing cause you pain of any kind? And how do you alleviate or prevent it?
By Jonathan Hai
June 8, 2012 00:18
Post. No. 16
Ahh, if I had a dollar for every time someone walked through the door of Yonatan’s workshop and asked this question!! I could happily retire to the Caribbean :)
I stopped by the workshop the other day and saw that he was almost done with the soundboard of the cello (so credit for the last three pictures goes to me this time around:)…) Yonatan explained that he is currently at the point in which the thicknesses of the four backs have been completed and the “f‘s” were drown on all four soundboards. He said that at this point he must leave the “Quartet View” of things for a while and focus on each instrument individually. So now he basically finished carving out the “spessori” and cutting the “f‘s” of the cello and he will continue working on it until the cello’s front and back have been glued to the sides and the body of the instrument (called “cassa“, or ‘box’ in Italian), is closed.
By Emanuel Salvador
June 8, 2012 00:12
J. Sibelius Violin Concerto with Emanuel Salvador (violin) Orquestra do Norte and Philippe Bender (conductor). Concert part of Guimaraes European Capital of Culture 2012 on the 12th May 2012 at Centro Cultural de Vila Flor.
By Russell Fallstad
June 7, 2012 10:35
By Rosita Hopper
June 6, 2012 08:06
Not long ago I heard on the radio an interview with Princeton religious scholar Elaine Pagels, during which she quoted the Book of Thomas. Theological illiterate that I am, the words she spoke sounded completely fresh to me, and I was so excited by them that as soon as I got home I rushed to jot them down in my journal. Their central idea seemed to so beautifully express what it was that made my viola studies empowering.
The quote was: "If you bring forth what is within you, then what is within you will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, then what is within you will destroy you."
Hyperbole? Perhaps, but repeating the words now, I feel again that wonderful sense of connecting to something essential, something wholly reinforcing my conviction that being a viola student is one of the most important journeys I will ever take. And yes, it is also saving me.
When I discussed the quote with my sister and my brother-in-law, my sister ventured, "What if you don't know what is within you?"
Indeed. As an adult amateur player, my gift then is not necessarily musical talent. It is an even more wonderful gift, and one which I think might be far more common than musical talent: it is the gift of knowing that within me lives a longing to play, and play seriously. Do you too have that gift? And if so, do you know how lucky you are?
I firmly believe that for a large percentage of the population, a longing to play is likewise within them, although only a fraction ever bring forth, proclaim and honor their wish. In fact only this morning a colleague confided to me that at one time she had wanted to and tried to play violin.
So what stops adults like her from starting/continuing to study music? I suspect that it is primarily fear of failure. Inevitably they find other more superficial excuses such as lack of time or lack of money, but in fact those excuses generate the surface noise that drowns another voice insidiously whispering, "You would never be any good, so why bother."
Which leads me to assert finally that as a beginning or maybe by now even an intermediate violist, I am definitely not yet as good as I want to be, but after five years of applied study far better than I ever thought I could be!
But does it matter how good I am? What matters is only the richness that studying viola brings to my life... unqualified, intense richness. The musical and anatomical awareness with which playing fills me is like some inner river of vitality, inspiring and comforting me no matter what else goes on. I play for no one but myself, answering an inner call that is far more important to answer than the call to please an authority figure, or the call to be anything simply because it is approved of, or expected!
If you are reading this blog, you probably play. I hope what I write makes you appreciate that you do so, no matter your skill level. And if you don't yet play, what are you waiting for? Carpe diem!
By Susan Pascale
June 4, 2012 13:20
I first got the idea for my 10-year-old daughter Jenna to spend a day at Juilliard, last fall. I was visiting the school to help my oldest daughter, Ariana, an 18-year-old violist, settle in to her first year at the renowned N.Y.C. school, far from our Los Angeles home.
Ariana had been born in New York, but even after we moved to Los Angeles, when she was 8, her dream had always been to go back to New York and attend Juilliard. During her childhood, Ariana was relatively self-motivated; I didn’t have to do a LOT of nagging to get her to practice. With a lot of hard work, Ariana made her dream come true.
By the time Jenna came along – 8 years younger than her big sister - our family had relocated to Southern California, where we established a music program in 2001. Jenna was born into the family business. She was surrounded by music, and participated in multiple lessons and ensembles, many days a week. Instead of starting her on an instrument at 6, like Ariana, we started Jenna at 2 ½ on violin (too early, we discovered); at age 3 ½ on piano, and at 4 on the cello.
Jenna had natural ability, and she was putting in a lot of time in lessons, so she progressed well. But she was not motivated to practice. My begging, bugging, badgering and bribery skills went in to high gear. Any and all the practicing she did was all the result of my nudging. I tried every trick in the book to get her to practice, and while they worked for a time, I eventually started to run out of tricks. In short, she was a typical kid, and I was a typical nagging mother.
It wasn’t that I was married to the idea of Jenna becoming a cellist. If she had told me she wanted to quit, that would have been okay with me. She’s also talented at drawing, and could have pursued that. But no, she refused to quit the cello – she just didn’t want to work hard at it.
I admit it: that attitude bugged me. It went directly against my personal philosophy: If you’re going to do an art, whether it’s music or visual arts, I say, don’t do it half way. Go all the way. There’s no “cello lite” in my personal philosophy.
But I was desperate to find something that might inspire her. She was already the principal cellist of our program’s Los Angeles Children’s Orchestra (LACO), and our even higher level chamber orchestra, which is conducted by L.A. Philharmonic violinist Robert Gupta. So there were no advanced peers for her to look up to.
During my visit to Juilliard in the fall of 2011, as I was walking around the school with Ariana, the thought hit me: Maybe THIS could inspire Jenna! What if she came and took a lesson from a Juilliard teacher?
My friend and client Lynn was in a similar position with her ten-year-old son, Sebastian, who studies at our school. He’s our principal bassist, but Lynn, like me, was exhausting herself every day to get him to practice.
The more I thought about Juilliard-for-a-day, and the more we discussed it, the more we liked the idea. I talked to Jenna and Sebastian’s teachers on our staff, both highly accomplished musicians. I asked them each to find a Juilliard teacher who would be willing to give Jenna and Sebastian a lesson.
Our teachers came through, with two world famous cello and bass teachers at Juilliard. We were worried that they would be too famous to teach our children. But because the recommendation came to them through fellow musicians, both teachers were happy to give our children a lesson.
I started working with the kids’ instructors to prepare challenging music. Each child was given scales, etudes, and one piece – just as if they were preparing for an audition. They met with a piano accompanist weekly. They took extra lessons. Their teachers bumped up the practice requirements. Now, instead of bribing them with trips to the local frozen yogurt store or new DS games, we dangled, “Do you want to go to New York City?” We explained to them that New York has a three-story M&M candy store. And yes, sometimes we scared them a bit by reminding them that world-famous teachers would be listening. We played tapes and recordings of those teachers.
What was interesting was how focused all of us became – parents, teachers and both children. We began viewing practice in a new way, with an eye toward reaching a higher level, on a deadline.
The trip finally came. We bought a seat on the plane for Jenna’s cello, and Sebastian rented a bass when we arrived. The kids were so excited when we arrived at Juilliard. Sebastian was particularly impressed with the retractable turnstile at the school entrance, and Jenna adored shopping in the Juilliard gift shop. (She bought a chic dancer’s tote bag with the school name emblazoned on it.)
The lessons themselves were wonderful. They’re famous but these teachers were also kind, unpretentious people who had a real knack for communicating with children.
Jenna learned that there are different approaches to the cello, physically and musically; her teacher offered new ideas that Jenna found interesting and fun. And just being in the Juilliard environment made an impact; she knew she was in the presence of greatness and seriousness. The teacher’s reaction to Jenna was overwhelmingly positive. He told us she had all the makings for success in music, including enthusiasm and parental support. And he said that he looks forward to seeing her again in a few months.
Sebastian’s mother Lynn, felt similarly. “When Sebastian started playing for the teacher, he was trying so hard to do everything right. The teacher’s message was, ‘Relax and feel your own weight.’ He showed Sebastian how to use his body to center everything. The teacher as also pleased with Sebastian’s progress. He said, ‘You’re doing great, your teacher is doing great, stick to what you’re doing!’”
Along with the lessons, we all toured the school, attended a quartet master class and a student recital, and ate lunch in the cafeteria. The bass teacher invited Sebastian to attend a student performance the following day, and to visit him at the Aspen summer music festival. Another thrill for Sebastian: His small instrument made a big impression in the Juilliard lobby: Tim Cobb, the principal bass player of the New York Philharmonic, came over to shake Sebastian’s hand.
Beyond the lessons, both of our kids learned that hard work pays off. Along with the promised visit to the M&M store, they ice skated at Rockefeller Plaza at night, ate at a delicious, bargain Italian restaurant on the Upper West Side, rode the subway, and enjoyed the world’s best hot dogs (according to the street vendor who sold them).
For both children, the experience was transformative. My nudging has been reduced; Jenna has plunged into the whole idea of being a cellist. She’s practicing in a more serious and detailed way. She’s now interested in fixing sloppy shifts and scratchy sounds; and she’s now eager to perform in recitals.
In April of 2013, when our orchestra travels to New York for a return performance at Carnegie Hall, we will definitely go visit those teachers again. The trip met all our goals. But maybe there’s still one question: will all this help get Jenna or Sebastian into Juilliard for college eight years from now? Juilliard is one of the hardest schools in the country to get into, taking about 5% of applicants for its college division – which is even lower than Harvard. But – hey – it couldn’t hurt!
By Laurie Niles
June 3, 2012 17:56
Brian Lewis is one of those few people who can say that he studied with both Shinichi Suzuki in Japan and Dorothy DeLay at Juilliard. The son of longtime Suzuki teacher Alice Joy Lewis, Brian is now professor of violin at the University of Texas.
He taught four young students from all over the United States.
Brian Lewis with Finian, Maya, Serena and Benjamin
First up was Benjamin, from Minneapolis, who played the last movement of Wieniawski's Concerto No. 2 in D Minor. The piece begins with a flourish, a wild race up the fingerboard.
"Wieniawski was a wild man," Brian explained. "He had a girlfriend in every city, he drank a lot of er, milk…he even gambled away his Guarneri del Gesu violin once!"
At the beginning of the movement, he wanted Benjamin to "react to the piano, GO!" Then after the wild race up the fingerboard comes the crest and the descent.
"Have you ever fallen down the steps? Tripped on the carpet?" Brian asked. When you do, it goes something like this, "Ow……Ow……Ow…Ow…OwOwowowowowowow…" Until you get to the landing, which in this case, is that low "A" on the G string.
"Let the bottom 'A' be your goal," Brian said. "The 'A' needs to be the completion of all this virtuosity."
And speaking of virtuosity, Brian has a saying on his wall: "Virtuosity is not about speed; virtuosity is about control." So true!
One of the big techniques to bring under control for this movement is spiccato, which is done at the balance point, plus about two inches. The right hand must be flexible, but "too much flexibility will give us ON the string. Let's have a little more strength in the bow hand," Brian said. Spiccato is simply legato that is off the string.
Brian had him do an exercise, using Perpetual Motion doubles: first play it scrubby and ugly, on the string; then let it go off, and keep alternating between the two.
Next, Maya, 12, from Rapid City, South Dakota, played Paganini Caprice No. 20. Brian's first piece of advise for everyone was to be sure to study an urtext edition (an edition with the composer's original markings) such as Henle, as major competitions are requiring the use of these editions.
A bit of history about the infamous Niccolò Paganini: "He didn't actually sell his soul to the devil, but the story did help him earn some money," Brian said. Paganini's best friend was the great opera composer Rossini, and "they were so famous, they couldn't go out, so they would dress up as beggar women."
He advised that students study all the Paganini Caprices, but "find which of the Paganini Caprices are yours, the ones that you will own your whole life," he said. You only really need two of them for competitions; pick two that suit you, and learn them very, very well.
He said he once played Paganini Caprice No. 5 for the Juilliard teacher Dorothy DeLay, and when he was finished, she said, "Honey, you got 95 percent of the notes." He thought she was complimenting him -- not so! They spent the next two and a half hours combing through the entire caprice, from the last note to the beginning.
Finion of Ithaca, N.Y., played de Beriot's "Scene de Ballet," Op. 100. Brian pointed out the appoggiaturas -- that is, the notes that don't belong. "The notes that don't belong are the fun notes," Brian said. Sometimes they are upper-neighbor notes, coming from above, or lower-neighbor notes, coming from below. In either case, lean on those notes to bring them out.
Serena of Glen Ellen, Ill., played the first movement of Wieniawski's Concerto No. 2 in D Minor, and they talked about the importance of deciding what to emphasize most.
"You keep slowing down on every mountain," he said to her. "You have to decide which mountain you want to have the picnic on."
Also, this movement requires up-bow staccato, and up-bow staccato requires a lot of work. You can still perform the piece while working on this technique, after all, "The audience doesn't know you are working on it." But making up-bow staccato a strong part of your technical tool box is a long-term project. Dorothy DeLay recommended Kreutzer Etude No. 4, "Every day, for one year!"
But it's worth it. "It's through acquiring technique that we become free to make music," Brian said.Tweet
By Laurie Niles
June 3, 2012 15:36
Suzuki pioneer John Kendall was not just a teacher, he was a teacher of teachers.
A number of those teachers who benefitted from Kendall's wisdom gathered at the Suzuki Association of the Americas Conference last weekend to present some of those ideas from their mutual mentor, who died a little more than a year ago.
Suzuki teachers Christie Felsing, Carol Smith, Susan Kemptor, Kimberly Meier-Sims, Allen Lieb, Margaret Shimizu and Vera McCoy-Sulentic
When it comes to the Suzuki movement in the United States, John Kendall was a major player. Kendall pioneered the teacher training program, he organized the first Suzuki Institute, he started the Suzuki newsletter, and he was crucial in getting the Suzuki books published in English. He was literally a farmer, and "he was more of a planter than a harvester," said Carol Smith.
So many of ideas are now widely used in string teaching, they don't even seem new or unusual any more, she said.
One of his ideas was to use the pieces that students know to build technique, she said. "Be your own Sevcik," Kendall would say. In other words, you can make up your own technical exercises, building on pieces already learned, which fits with Suzuki's idea of review and repetition.
Kemptor spoke about Kendall's saying, "Teach by principles, not by rules." While rules are precise and process-oriented, principles are more slippery and result-oriented, allowing for more experimentation. Discussing and experimenting helps us to become better teachers and learners. "We don't do something because someone else tells us to do it, we do it because it works," Kemptor said. "Value the process, experiment with the process, and all of us will benefit."
Teacher Kimberly Meier Sims spoke about Kendall's saying, "Finger, Bow, Go!" A violinist prepares finger and bow before moving with the bow. Inserting these preparation breaks in practicing can help a student get their act in order; if the fingers go after the bow, we know that the result is a mess!
Allen Lieb spoke of Kendall's fondness for "unit practice"; in fact, Kendall sometimes joked that unit practice was one of the three great discoveries of man, besides the wheel and fire. It's important to stop and set things up for correct repetition, to isolate patterns and not to practice mistakes.
Another favorite of Kendall's was to "reduce it to open strings," said teacher Margaret Shimizu.
It's almost always possible to isolate a bow stroke and to play it on one note. Margaret held up a piece of paper on which Kendall had written, "Life and violin playing is a series of alternatives."
Vera McCoy-Sulentic spoke about the idea of teaching the big muscles first. "Playing the violin happens with the back," Kendall used to say. The more one can use those larger muscles, the less the strain on the smaller ones.Tweet
By Laurie Niles
June 3, 2012 14:23
I was chatting with a group of teachers at a reception when I realized that the school group playing in the background was actually playing the Corelli Christmas Concerto. More specifically, they were all playing the more-difficult solo part, by memory, playing it WELL, and they were all younger than fifth grade!
We were witnessing the results of a Suzuki strings program at Parker Elementary School in Houston, Texas, a music magnet public school since 1975. A group of about 50 violin and cello students and their teachers and parents had traveled to Minneapolis for the Suzuki Association of the Americas Conference, to play for us and tell us about their program.
Certainly, here is an example a success story, applying and adapting the Suzuki method to a public school setting. Their performance also included an arrangement of Scott Joplin's "The Entertainer," Brahms' "Hungarian Dance," and a tango piece -- as well as a half-dozen pieces from the Suzuki Books one through five.
Impressed with their performance, I sought to learn more at a presentation the next morning given by Parker Elementary teachers, administrators and parents. Here are some features of their strings program: it consists of about 150 violin students and 50 cello students, who are accepted into the program as kindergarteners or first graders and go there through fifth grade.
Each student receives a 15-20-minute private lesson during the school day and a 40-minute group class every day. A parents is required to attend the private lesson, take notes and help the child practice at home, just like in private Suzuki lessons. The school provides instruments to those who need them, and the students remain with the same private teacher through fifth grade. Group classes are divided according to level, with about 30 to 40 kids per class. They all learn to read music, and they have a lot of public performing opportunities.
Teachers spoke about some of the things that have helped keep this program alive and thriving for nearly 40 years.
"Integrating our current culture into the Suzuki method helps make it sustainable," said violin teacher Elizabeth Benne. Cello teacher Lisa Vosdoganes creates many of the arrangements, which give violins and cellos equal opportunity to play melody and harmony. They incorporate the learning of many songs outside of the official Suzuki literature.
It's also important to tie lesson plans to core subjects: English, math, science, etc. Unfortunately, no school board in the U.S. will buy into the idea of teaching instrumental music for the sake of music's inherent worth as an academic subject. They need to know that the instrumental music program will help the school meet the English standards, math standards and other things considered a priority to the district and state.
"Write out lesson plans that integrate those standards," advised the Parker teachers. They showed an example of a lesson plan for teaching the song "Lightly Row" which included a list of more than a dozen ways in which the plan aligned with "Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills" standards in the areas of English, math and science. (These included listing the specific numbers and sections of the standards, with explanations such as: students use relationships between letters and sounds, students understand elements of poetry; student distinguished between declarative and interrogative sentences; students use concrete models to represent fractions; students understand force motion and energy….)
In other words, you have to constantly justify your music program, and in concrete ways, even if your program has been running for nearly 40 years and is wildly successful.
Also, Frequent public performances not only motivate students and help them become more confident players, but they also help raise the profile of the program within the community, making community members more likely to support it.
"When your program is given opportunities for exposure, take them!" said one of the teachers.
Parent Melanie Rosen said that "the Suzuki method has been a huge connector at the school. In a program like this, you are committed, whether you work or not. It's a unit, a team." Parents come to school for the lessons and wind up meeting other parents and becoming involved in other ways with the school. "The Suzuki method has been very strong in our family, and in building our school community," she said.
Parker Elementary principal Drew Houlihan said that having this kind of program involves an aligned commitment of time, teachers, finances, students, administrators and parents. The school has 900 students, 50 percent of which are on the free or reduced lunch program.
"In a time where every state is facing budget cuts, what is the first to go? Music and fine arts," Houlihan said. "At Parker, we give the gift of music to students every day. I think Suzuki in the schools is well on its way to a bright future."
Here is a recent performance of the Parker Suzuki strings students, playing Brahms' "Hungarian Dance":
By Bram Heemskerk
June 3, 2012 03:12
The 6th Mozart concerto is also doubtful, but just like the 7th they have been recorde by big names like Airoff, Fichtenholz, Grumiaux, Menuhin, Odnoposoff, Oistrach, Stucki, Suk en Szeryng.
From holiday tunes from Joshua Bell to a biography of Jascha Heifetz's early years in Russia, you'll find plenty of great gift ideas for violinists and violin fans on this year's list.
Violinist.com has not reviewed, and does not endorse, the content of any of the articles below.
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