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 Julie Wilson
June 22, 2012 17:59
For the very first time, I went to a fiddle contest. I am an adult beginner taking classical lessons, but I have some relations that are rather well known in the bluegrass and fiddle scene, so there's a pretty powerful 'pull' in that direction for me.
I have attended the Northwest Regional competition in Spokane Washington recently, but a very dear friend of mine (Frank Wagner) absolutely INSISTED I compete at the national competition held every June at Weiser ID.
Frank is a wonderful older gentleman. He has offered a free workshop for the past 35 years teaching anyone and everyone interested how to play fiddle and guitar. There have been a number of notable national champions that started in his workshop, so he has done quite a lot to perpetuate old time and bluegrass music and keep it alive and well.
Now Frank has a way of ‘pushing’ folk to do things they don’t think they are ready to do, and he most certainly did that with me. I have a good friend named Linda for instance. He told me that Linda ALWAYS plays at Weiser and it’s just a cakewalk. If Linda does it, I should do it too, and since he’s being inducted into the NOTFA (National Old Time Fiddlers Association) Hall of Fame this year he REALLY wants to be my guitar accompanist onstage this year. How do you say no to that?
So, I sent in my application to compete. Then I made the mistake of Googling the contest. I immediately had a case of the vapors after seeing the level of experience plying their trade at the contest. I did NOT belong up there, I was sure of it! I nearly backed out, but Frank and my classical teacher both said to just relax and go for it – my teacher said not to worry, it’s not like I’d be competing against my famous cousins, right?
So after a few sleepless nights and weeks of preparation I did finally agree to follow through with my obligation and compete at the national competition. The night before my round, I was awakened at 2am by the din of fiddles and banjos across the field we were camped in…something you need to know about Weiser is that the music NEVER stops. Ever. You either participate or attempt to sleep through the jam session.
At 8:05 AM, I walked though the stage door for my round under the microphone. The judges are sequestered in a separate room and have no idea who you are apart from your number, so I was just Fiddler #2 to them. I did recognize the irony of competing in a national contest with a classically set up instrument – I have a classical bridge, only one fine tuner on the E string instead of all 4 fine tunes, and I also tend to play on Evah Pirazzi strings. I held my breath and Frank and I played Cincinnati Hornpipe, Tennessee Waltz and Red Wing for the crowd, who shockingly applauded my performance…that felt good! And it was such an honor to be up there on the stage with Frank.
Part of my horror at agreeing to participate was the fear of competing in any way with my cousins, to whom I feel immensely inferior. I inherited an ear for music and an inclination for it as well as love of violin, but my cousins have been playing since they were children and I did not have the opportunity. My teacher assured me I would NOT be in the same division as my cousin but she was sadly mistaken. Well, maybe not so sadly…due to the fact that I just had my birthday I did end up competing directly with my cousins, but I was so delighted by the experience of being onstage and then watching their performance I truly was not rattled in the end. My gifted relative took second place in the Adult division and it was such a joy to watch her perform that any misgivings I had were promptly erased.
The rest of Weiser was a blur….it is just a joyous experience of nonstop MUSIC. There’s bass players, banjos, auto harps, mandolins, and I swear a thousand fiddles. I read once that when Mary Queen of Scots was crowned she moved to the far side of the castle to try and get away from the din of fiddles and bagpipes playing in her honor…I can now see why! One has difficulty sleeping through the cacophony of noise, but it is so very beautiful.
Another joy of Weiser is watching someone struggle to haul (on wheels) a large bass AND a banjo across a field under the stars – AT MIDNIGHT! Weiser is roaming around looking for jams, the best in the country migrate here the third week of June and it is the most amazing musical opportunity every! My favorite memory is watching my friends Jim Schamp and Dave Whitehurst (both bass players) walk past a jam session with their bass instruments, pause slack-jawed while their eyes glazed over, and then slowly move in to the most incredible session comprised of musicians from Washington, Idaho, Utah, Arizona and Colorado. The look on their face and the mesmerized look in their eyes says it all. Only another musician could understand the allure of falling under the spell of inadvertently stumbling across some of the best musicians in the country and actually having the option to PLAY with them.
I truly love classical music, but the heart and feeling of fiddle music is so deep and reaching I would strongly encourage anyone who has not walked on the ‘dark side’ to do so from time to time with their instrument – there’s a wildness there that only enriches the bond with your instrument.
By Bryan Doherty
June 22, 2012 08:19
For my fist blog I would like to share a piece I wrote for solo violin, that was inspired by Wieniawski's "Scherzo Tarantelle."
I've been writing music for a few years and have had some theory. Most of my compositions are classical or romantic in style, but I am now experimenting with modern musical style's. The story of how I started writing music is embarrassingly similar to the tale of Don Quixote so I will spare the details. If you want a copy of the music, message me and I can send you a pdf.Tweet
By Laurie Niles
June 21, 2012 16:58
You might know David Garrett as a showman -- someone with a model's good looks who plays rock-n-roll in amphitheaters. After all, his last album was called Rock Symphonies; he's appeared on all kinds of TV shows, and he wound up with the Guinness World Record for playing Flight of the Bumblebee in 60 seconds.
But even if David has found great success and enjoyment covering tunes such as Smooth Criminal and performing the occasional stunt, he has never renounced his classical roots.
His new classical recording, Legacy, was released in the United States this month, and has been climbing the classical charts in Germany. It includes his performance, with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Ion Marin, of the Beethoven Violin Concerto with cadenzas by Fritz Kreisler, as well as other works by Kreisler.
David writes in the program notes: "My home has always been classical music…I know of no adventure more thrilling than that of discovering the works of great composers like Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, Brahms, Tchaikovsky and so many more. It is my hope and my wish that this album will help open the hearts of my listeners to the beauty of classical music."
We spoke over the phone several weeks ago, about his early years as a prodigy, about recovering from injury, about his Guadagnini and Strad violins, and about his attitude that performing should be joyful.
Born in Germany, David started playing the violin at age 4, mostly to be like his brother. "I always thought it was a cool thing to do because my older brother was doing it," David said. "It was typical for me to want to have the same things as he did, from clothes, to games, to the violin."
Unlike his brother, who was forced to learn an instrument, "I actually did want to play in the beginning."
Pop music -- which David certainly has embraced today -- did not meet with much approval from David's parents during his childhood. "It's not that they said, 'You're not allowed to listen to it,' but it was pretty clearly stated that it's not really something which is a quality product," David said. "I always felt almost embarrassed, at a certain age, listening to it. Of course, that's the most ridiculous thing, but when you're young, your parents have a big influence on you."
David was on that young classical prodigy track: he started winning local competitions at age five and playing in public at age seven. At age 10, he soloed with the Hamburg Philharmonic Orchestra, and he was working with conductors such as Zubin Mehta and Claudio Abbado by age 13. At age 14, he was signed to record for Deutsche Grammophon and proceeded to record Mozart Violin Concertos, Paganini 24 Caprices, Beethoven Spring Sonata, Bach solo works, and the Tchaikovsky and Conus Violin Concertos -- all by the time he was 17.
It was a lot of success for someone so young, but it was also rather stressful.
"I started having problems with my left arm, when I was about 15 or 16 years old," David said. "I pretty much had it until age 21, so that's almost 5 years. I would go on stage feeling miserable because I was in pain. I felt I couldn't really emotionally connect with music because physically, I was not free. It was a very difficult time in my life."
He couldn't convince his parents that he should see a doctor about the pain. "My father and my mother did not believe in seeing doctors," he said. "I was complaining, 'It doesn't feel right, I can't really move my hands properly.' But being a classical ballet dancer, my mom is kind of a tough cookie. She always said, 'Mind over matter.'"
Things did not get better, so after three years of pain, he went to the doctor on his own, at age 17. "It was just a combination of really bad stuff: the wrong positioning of the violin; practicing a lot; shoulder and neck problems and that went into the arms; a little bit of tendonitis here and there."
How did he get rid of it? First of all, he changed his daily practice routine to several 20- to 30-minute practice sessions, with breaks in between. "It's actually much smarter than practicing for two or three hours in a row," David said. "I find my brain does not function as well after a half an hour. For me, you have to be 100 percent there, physically and mentally. After 30 to 40 minutes, you kind of start practicing wrong. And there's only one thing which is worse than not practicing: it's practicing wrong!"
He also learned to re-position the violin, and he hit the gym.
"Violin playing is not necessarily the most comfortable and the most natural position, so you have to train your back, your whole body," David said. "You've got to be in shape, to be able to play two-and-a-half-hour shows. There's no way you can do this without physically being quite athletic."
What kind of physical activity has helped?
"I do a little bit of cardio, and mostly weight training, just really to get the right muscle groups," David said. "Of course I'm careful, in the sense that every motion is controlled. I'm not stupidly just pushing pushing pushing, I'm very aware what I do. But I do do the weights, and I push myself hard. I think its very important that you build up muscle groups; it really helps in the playing. Of course, I'm not going to go extreme and bulk up a lot; that would be counter-productive for playing."
"In the beginning, it feels uncomfortable and you think it's going to ruin your playing," David said. "But that's just because you've never worked those muscles. People give up too quickly. If you do this for three months, you will see a big difference -- you're going to be more relaxed. I even work out on the day of a show. Three hours before, I hit the gym hard; no problems."
And how does David mentally prepare for a show? He doesn't feel that it's so much mentally preparing as it is being fully ready. "You're either ready or you're not ready. Confidence is, in that sense, worked. You prepare yourself -- you practice, you make yourself comfortable with the piece, and then there's nothing you can do on the day of the show."
"All practicing is practicing your concentration, practicing performing," he said. "It's very important, not just to practice the piece, but to practice playing music. Then when you're on stage, try to make yourself as comfortable as possible. See the stage as your home, as your friend. Don't see it as something you feel uncomfortable with. And invite people to listen to music. It's a blessing to be playing for people, and you should enjoy it. Anything to do with nerves or not being secure with what you have to do is always going to lead to not performing as well. You have to know that you just play better if you're relaxed. You can't stop mistakes from happening. Of course when you practice and you're well with your concentration, they won't happen. But nerves only get in the way, they will not make it better. Once you realize that, you're not nervous."
In terms of teachers, David has worked with some of the strongest personalities and best players of the last century: Ida Haendel, Isaac Stern, Yehudi Menuhin and Itzhak Perlman. He started taking trips to London to see Ida when he was still very young.
"Ida is such a character," David said. She always insisted that she was not a teacher. "We would just listen to each other -- she played a lot for me, I played a lot for her. She always insisted that it's not about doing it her way. She wanted me to realize that she had really worked on her own interpretation. Then she would say, 'I put my thoughts into it, now show me what you want to say with it.' She would never say 'Do it like this,' or 'Do this fingering,' or 'Do this bowing,' or 'Phrase it that way.' It didn't matter if she liked it or didn't like it, but it was very important for her that I think about it for myself."
At age 18, David made a unilateral decision to move to New York to study with Itzhak Perlman at Juilliard. "I was readjusting my violin-playing, because I had been without a teacher for quite some time," David said. "Of course I saw Ida, but it was not very regular. So when I went to Juilliard, for me it was more about adjusting certain things that had gotten a little loose: bow arm technique, being aware of sound."
"You can play beautifully, but if you are not being heard properly through the orchestra, nobody will hear it," David said. "It's all about projecting and really being a serious soloist, and having the right physical position in order to get this sound. So that was what I learned mostly from Perlman."
It was at Juilliard that he won a composition competition in 2003 for a Bach-style fugue, and composition remains an important facet of his playing career, both in crossover and in classical music.
In his new album, "All the Kreisler pieces have been newly arranged by me and my good friend, Franck van der Heijden," Garrett said. Those pieces, which they have set to rich orchestration, include Praeludium and Allegro; Kreisler's version of 'Variations on a Theme by Paganini' by Rachmaninov; Caprice Viennois; Variations on a Theme of Corelli; Romance: Larghetto On A Theme By Carl Maria von Weber; Tambourin Chinois; and Liebesleid.
"We even put an organ in the background!" David said. "It kind of works, it really is that period, with that Bach kind of sound. I just felt the chords were so very choral-like, like in a Johann Sebastian Bach choral, so it fits," David said. "It was really nice, especially with the Corelli, to add some harpsichord. I was trying to go with the same basic idea which Kreisler intended, and just update it a little bit more."
The result, to me, is rather epic, check out the Praeludium and Allegro, a piece that I've never heard accompanied by anything other than a piano:
"Some of the pieces, they work beautifully that way," David said. "Of course, you can't just rewrite everything 'epic,' some pieces you have to just leave in that chamber music mode, there's no way to change that. But if it's possible, I'm of course a fan of making it substantial.
Even when David plays his big-ticket crossover concerts that feature popular music, he believes in hiring a substantial orchestra as well. "If I go on the road on a tour and it's basically me lining up the people, it's normally like 50 to 60 people on stage, which is a good solid symphony orchestra."
Why not just use a synthesizer for the pops concert?
"Because it sounds better with an orchestra, it sounds alive!" David said. "There's nothing more important than music being alive. You can't manufacture music, it needs to come out of the moment. It's like when you talk: you think in that moment, and you say something which means something to you. That's very important in music. Although we repeat the things, it always has to have conviction. With a synthesizer, it would just be repetitive, and I don't like that.
Also, "I never use anything but a classical violin, and I'll tell you why: I think the sound sucks from an electric violin -- for me, personally," David said. "If you know how to play the classical violin properly, the electric violin is not even five percent in comparison. Everything you need is in that instrument, to do any music you desire. "
What makes a violin great is its subtlety and range. "The colors, the different dimensions, the phrasing, going from little to everything -- these kinds of things, you cannot do with an electric violin. It's just a synthesizer sound, even if you play it live."
For acoustic, classical performances, Garrett uses his Stradivarius, the 1716 ex-Adolf Busch. For his crossover concerts he uses his Guadagnini -- the instrument that was strapped to his back when he fell down a flight of stairs after a 2008 performance of the Mendelssohn Concerto with the London Philharmonic, at the Barbican Arts Centre. He described the incident last year in the Sydney Morning Herald: "It had been a rainy day and the steps leading to the car park were wetter than I realized. Still wearing my flat-soled concert shoes, I lost my footing and took the entire flight on my back in classic slapstick fashion, riding the violin case like a sledge."
It was a devastating loss at the time, but he told me that now, "to be quite honest, it sounds the same because I went to a really, really good restorer and he did such a good job. It looks the same, too; but of course, value-wise, it kind of lost the special value." (He declined to name the New York luthier who restored his Guad to playing condition.)
David said that he sees his crossover shows as an opportunity to connect with young people and give his audiences new ways to think about music.
"I don't need to do educational concerts for the young people because I have so many young people coming to my shows," he said. "Basically, my educational concerts are my real concerts. I always talk about music, always explain what I'm doing, what my influences are, why I arranged something like this. For me, it is part of the show, to educate a little bit. People might see it only as entertainment, but my underlying goal of course is always to say something which has substance, which will kind of change the way that they listen to a piece."Tweet
By CARLA LEURS
June 20, 2012 17:08
It has been a while, but after a nice evening with some colleagues from the Netherlands Radio Chamber Philharmonic and Holland Symfonia, two orchestras on the brink of extinction, I feel I could at least write something on a big public platform such as violinist.com
A couple years ago I worked frequently in both orchestras. In fact, Holland Symfonia was my first professional orchestra gig and I had my first contract as concertmaster with the RKF (Radio Chamber Philharmonic). This week I am appointed as the new concertmaster of the Netherlands Symphony, and in recent years I have been a guest-concertmaster with orchestra's as the London Philharmonic and Rotterdam Philharmonic. However, I could have never done it without Holland Symfonia. That's where I learned what it means to be an orchestra musician and what it means to be a concertmaster. At the time I first came there, there were 2 concertmasters: Hebe Mensinga and Tinta Schmidt von Altenstadt. Later Sarah Oates was added to the team. Let me tell you, these three violinists would give you a run for your money. Hearing them perform the big ballet violin solo's would give you shivers down your spine. Combine that with a never-ending serving attitude and you have the perfect concertmaster team. That serving attitude is something very striking for Holland Symfonia. They accompany the National Ballet in Amsterdam, one of the best ballet groups in the world. Accompanying ballet is a discipline of its own, a dying swan without Tchaikovsky just does not impress as much. Imagine having different dancers for the same role, one evening a jump takes this long, the other it is just a little bit shorter. The orchestra has always used their talents to serve the dancers, the choreographer, the music, always hidden underneath, no shining lights on them, but with always an unbelievable dedication. But that is not the only thing they do. I have done the most amazing children's programs with them and also in the symphonic repertoire with their chief conductor Otto Tausk they would make me feel so grateful that I got to make music with them.
The Radio Chamber Philharmonic (RKF) was my first real concertmaster job. At that time Jaap van Zweden was their chief conductor. I literally would come out after a project feeling a better violinist and musician, when he had been there for a week. The RKF belongs to the broadcasting system, maybe comparable to the Bayrische Rundfunk Orchester or the BBC orchestra's. When our current government came in place one of the easiest decisions they apparently made, in order to save money, was to say the radio orchestra's, choir and the biggest music library of Europe had to disappear. Thank goodness they did not stop all the funding so at least one symphonic orchestra can survive. So they are now "melting" the two orchestra's together. Both Radio orchestra's have a long tradition of 3 very important series in the Netherlands (there used to also be 3 radio orchestra's), two of them in the Concertgebouw. Besides highly praised more well-known performances (one of them, Parsifal, just received an Edison) they also regularly perform premieres, by Dutch and other composers. The RKF is unbelievably versatile: one week they perform a beautiful, style conscious, Rameau with Frans Bruggen, the next week they can perform the premiere of a Dutch composer, with James McMillan as conductor.
Sadly, there is a very big chance these orchestras will not be heard from 2013 on. I can't imagine what my colleagues are going through.
June 20, 2012 16:15
There has always been something about Bach that made me prefer his music over even the Romantic composers. I could never quite put into words why, but Adrienne Rich did:
This antique discipline, tenderly severe,
Form is the ultimate gift that love can offer -
A too-compassionate art is half an art.
By Jesús Fernández
June 20, 2012 01:37
A beautiful song by the great multi-instrumentalist, singer and whistler
By Tyrone Wilkins
June 19, 2012 10:39
When I woke up this morning I was very excited to start practicing my violin until.....
Have you ever had one of those days where nothing goes right for you during practice? Well I'm having one of those days. I can't get comfortable with my bow grip and my intonation is a little off.(because of my struggle with bow grip) My vibrato feels weak,my shifting is bad basically...EVERYTHING IS OFF!My rage is over powering my urge to practice. Who's to blame?... my cheap violin and bow. I was going to save this for later but I can't hold this in any longer.
My 'violin shaped object' is a $100 SV 130 and my bow might as well be a tree branch with rosin on it. My mom bought it for me last fall and I was a late beginner then so I didn't notice any flaws,but now that I'm on an intermediate level I can't take it anymore. My teacher keeps nagging me about getting a better violin as if I'm not aware of my OWN needs. I mean... She can't be serious! I'm 15 years old......I'm not sitting on hundreds of dollars for a new violin/bow. My mom is no help because she thinks all violins are the same. My dad is aware of everything but is in no hurry at all.He wouldn't even take me to the violin shop to look at more bows. I'm not sure if you have noticed or not but I'm pretty much on my own.(as usual)
I tried selling brownies and candy at my school to save money but I spent all my savings on my sister's new cellphone so I dropped back to zero. It's summer now and I have about $30 to my name.The violin I want is $800.(1998 copy of a 1713 strad)I have no job so I'm forced to put up with what I have until a miracle happens. I struggle to have productive practice sessions because I spend more time and effort on getting a good clear sound than actually studying my materials. I'm not asking for advice because I know there's nothing I can do. I'll just try my best to move forward...OH GREAT. I have a chair placement audition AND a violin competition audition for my school. This is gonna be embarrassing :D
Sorry for the rant/depressing post. I had to get that off my chest.I feel so stuck I don't know what to do. :\Tweet
By Henrique Meirelles
June 18, 2012 21:40
Dear friends from violinist.com,
My name is Henrique, and I'm writing from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. I've been dealing with a situation over here for some weeks now and I feel that I need some kind of guidance from my fellow violinists.
Well, my teacher (who, by the way, is a dear friend and great musical peer) offered to sell one of his violins, from his very personal collection. The instrument is said to be a Vuillaume, made obviously in Paris, France. I fell in love with the instrument the moment I set my eyes on it. The tone is amazing and it feels really comfortable to play it. However, as I made a true effort to read the tag, I could see that it "dates" back to 1814.
Now, as far as I know, Jean-Baptiste Vuillaume started to truly make violins around the 1820's. I believe that in 1814 he wasn't even in Paris, what makes this instrument here a mere copy, right?
I would like to know what kind of documents I could expect from my teacher proving the instrument's origin. Are there any certificates I could ask to see?
I know that during Vuillaume's high time many other luthiers adopted his name, but all the copies I could see on the web had no dates on their tags, so why would this specific copy carry the weird date of 1814?
Please let me know what you think I kinda need to figer out how to go about the whole thing.
By Bram Heemskerk
June 18, 2012 16:52
Here a Russian guy plays the 3th mvt of the 5th Paganini violin concerto on guitar with piano. he has a special guitar for the very high notes in the round (f-?) hole in his guitar:
By elise stanley
June 18, 2012 03:30
"Flying Crooked" [Robert Graves]
The butterfly, the cabbage white,
So I started with the Bach Aminor, about 3 years ago. It was hard to play but kept me interested and I could almost get through the first movement.
Then I went to Accolay #1. It was easier to play in some respects - except for the double stop bit at the end. But other than the initial theme, got boring...
Then I tried the Mozart G - lovely music and learned a lot - but it was hard to get it right and I never could get right through the first movement...
Then Scene de Ballet, de Beriot. This was fun and felt like a 'real' concerto. Probably sounds like one too to the non-violinist at least. Fast bits, slow bits, high bits and low bits - not to mention swooping cadenzas. But I didn't finish it cause I fell in love with...
Bruch violin concerto in G. It was spectacular to work on - but unfortunately not possible for me to finish. Specially those high broken chords in the first movement... (we don't talk about the third movement). It eventually became a bit frustrating so...
Haydn G. First one I managed to play all the way through - and even perform it (though its not something I would care to share... :-\ ). Still, it was a milestone and what a way to celebrate a Big Birthday?
Mozart D. Nice change and progessing nicely - until I realized I shoulda finished Moz G first...
Moz G. Definitely easier this time round - but still not performance quality. OTOH I can't think of a better learning piece, I just don't get bored with it... still working on it but then my summer training retreat told me that I will be focusing on...
Bach A minor. I've been workin on this for about 3 weeks - and you know I might just be able to finish it. I'm memorizing this time round too. I mean really finish it, to the point of doing a recital. Wouldn't that be neat. Since I'm as competetive as the next violinist, it was a bit of a downer when I went back to this and still couldn't play it. However, I've discovered that its actualy a different piece. My skills (intonation, timing, musical interpretation) have advanced significantly so there is so much more to achieve, so much more to learn.
I guess thats my point: the notion that there is a linear sequence through this great music is really just a teaching convenience. Sure, you can not play a piece beyond your technical abilities - but you sure can learn from one. On the other hand, you might think you can play a technically easier piece - but you really haven't even scratched the surface. 5 years from now I plan to come back to the Aminor and study it again - partially to learn more about the music but mostly to learn more about myself.
So what will be next? Maybe Oscar Reiding... or then again maybe the Beethoven...
Violinist.com has not reviewed, and does not endorse, the content of any of the articles below.
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