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Top BlogsBy Gerald Klickstein
July 5, 2012 08:57
“At each concert, music is created anew,
Whenever we perform, we aim for that “in-the-moment” feeling. We strive to immerse ourselves and our listeners in the emotion of the music.
Yet although we aspire to be freely creative on stage, we also need to be consistently accurate.
How can we unite spontaneous creativity with technical security? Here are 4 ways.
1. Practice Spontaneity
Still, because practice involves repetition, staleness can easily creep in.
One way to vaccinate against staleness is to playfully vary any repetition.
For instance, after one clean run of solo passage, upon repeating it, we might tweak our tone and timing. In this way, we open ourselves to impromptu insights.
“Always try to find variety,” urged cellist Pablo Casals; “it is the secret of music.” (Casals and the Art of Interpretation, p. 161)
2. Feel Every Phrase
The trick is to make the problem-solving process as emotionally vibrant as it is intellectually engaging.
Personally, I bring a living quality to every sound I make, even when I’m unraveling technical snags. In so doing, my technical command serves my expressive notions.
Then, on stage, my practice habits empower me to give myself over to the music.
3. Embrace Possibility
For that reason, I ceaselessly look for new ways to shape the music I play. I never stop exploring, so I discover freshness everywhere.
In The Art of Possibility, the authors write that when we forsake this open mindset, we constrict into a sense of scarcity – we stop seeing options and opportunities.
But when we embrace possibility, there’s no limit to what we might come up with.
4. Savor the Moment
When we savor the temporality of our art, we stop trying to over-control the future and, instead, celebrate each moment, whatever it brings.
This savoring quality is especially crucial when we practice or perform repertoire that we’ve known for ages.
Singer Tony Bennett encapsulated this concept in a 2005 interview. Speaking of his signature song, I Left My Heart in San Francisco, he said, “That song made me a world citizen. And when I do it, it always feels like the first time.”
© 2012 Gerald Klickstein
July 3, 2012 21:16
I'm in a string orchestra (boot)camp this term at my community college, which means I'm currently in freaking-out-exhausted-will-I-ever-play-this-right mode. I'm glad to play with kids, if only because they're much more polite and much less scream-y than the kids I used to work with back when I was a teacher's aid for emotionally disturbed kids. But really the best part is I'm on a similar level to them, and they don't take things seriously enough to give me dirty looks (or allow my paranoia to imagine said looks) when my poor sightreading leaves me bow still, silently trying to catch up with my eyes. Technically I think I have some advantage, but they have fluency and I just gotta catch up quickly. It helps that the teachers also have to explain things simply, which is a breath of fresh air in the classical world of music if you ask me.
I'm the principal violist in this string orchestra, which is to say, I'm the only one save for an instructor who seems more inclined to share a stand with the cellos. That may change... After all, it's only the second day.
I'm a violinist generally speaking; I received the viola for my 20th birthday, to mark a year of violin and to help with the technical milestones to come. However, a lack of time and sheet music has left it unloved until I needed it, with the exception of a little bit of scales and general fiddling around, and that one time a string broke as I was busking with a friend. Now I must play it day in and day out, for our concert is next Thursday.
Though I'm still a little unsteady on viola, I kinda have to do this. It's not that I'm being made to; it's that I have realized that I only ever get good at something with some serious immersion and pressure. I am good at deadlines, in a weird way, and I go a bit crazy without one. Still, I'm more than a bit crazy on a good day, and I want to be equally competent on viola, because, well who wouldn't? It's pretty, and I like pretty things. However, my determination has set me up for wading through sheets of alto clef an inch thick; not to mention my muscles screaming for explanation as to why the violin grew in their language of soreness and exhaustion. It'll pass, it always does eventually, and as someone with 19 screws in their spine a little soreness is nothing. It's just strange to feel that feeling again, like when your pinkie is mad about having to reach allll the way to the C-string and wants you to feel it's suffering, for instance. The real price is getting up at 5am to commute to school, making me scary-diurnal and so separating me mentally from my nocturnal-working programmer boyfriend.
It'll all be worth it I hope! My fingers get mad stage fright, yet my mind is unaffected, does this happen to others? Either way I know no matter how immersed in the sea of viola the challenge will always be playing in front of others and trying to get my muscle memory to cooperate in doing so. I have anxiety disorder to the point where I'm kind of surprised that a doctor hasn't suggested beta-blockers before, not just for performance but for not panicking in school. Meh, may as well see if I really need them, I guess.
I must forever challenge myself, always playing just a bit above my level, or I will not improve. This is my mantra through these two weeks. Tomorrow I have an extra lesson with my violin teacher to help me understand how to play everything. After that, I honestly have no excuse to not be practicing from sunup to sundown. I'm hoping to convince my dad to let me go to my favorite violinist Emilie Autumn's album release party after, and it's in Chicago, so I have a lot of impressing to do. Not to mention, sleep is for the weak. Or is it week? Whatever, I can always sleep when I'm dead.
Wish me luck!
P.S. One of the kids called my viola a muddy sounding weird looking violin. I'm gonna count that as my first viola joke received, which I know must count somewhere as an achievement in a video game version of my life.
By Laurie Niles
July 3, 2012 16:51
"Your student is here!" my husband yelled up the steps.
Ummm, my student? Now? Which one?!
It's summer, and to say that my teaching schedule is completely scrambled is an understatement. About a third of my students are out of town; another third have requested changes due to their different summer activities like swim lessons, soccer camp and summer classes; and another third are simply coming at their regular time, just like during the school year. Every year I think I can handle this ad-hoc situation, and every year I find my wall-calendar scribblings and memory come up short. Sure, I wrote that Jane is changing to a different time, but I didn't write anything for John. Does that mean he's coming at his regular time, or is he out of town? Or did his mom request a change this week? Maybe I'd better call...
And so I've called people to ask if they are coming, and found them halfway across the country. I've been sure that they were at camp, and then had them come to my door. And occasionally, we get it right!
One thing I've learned, though, is to take my own vacation, whatever the students are doing. Unfortunately it never lines up with anyone else's vacation, and sometimes it means a few months without lessons with me. But when I come back, usually I improve quite a bit, on both the record-keeping and the memory front!
We all need a break now and then!
By Daniel Broniatowski
July 3, 2012 12:42
Music surrounds us. It is arguably the most effective conduit for the expression of emotions and ideas. In fact, it is so effective that we don’t even need words! Yet, we are so accustomed to listening to music that we often take it for granted.
I would like to propose that you join me on a short journey as we stop and smell the roses and contemplate the enriching benefits that violin lessons can bring to you or your child. You may reasonably ask: “Why specifically violin?” You may substitute the word “violin” for “voice, cello, or even kazoo” if this makes you happy. As a professional violinist in Boston, however, I choose to speak about what I know best!
If I had to distill my personal reasons for pursuing my career as a musician into one word, it would be “Love”. In fact, I will go as far to say that this is the most important driving force behind doing anything worthwhile in this world. It doesn’t matter if you are a musician, doctor, or particle physicist. If you love to do something, the rest of your life will unfold like a flower.
Now, I know what you’re thinking: “I was expecting a treatise on the benefits of music in education, brain development of babies, or, at the very least, an article about the sense of discipline that music can teach our children”! While I believe all of these elements to be important consequences of music lessons, they are just that: consequences. Furthermore, as a teacher, I do not know if my violin lessons will have the same impact on every student. This is a beautiful thing. After all, when we learn how to write, some of us use our education to produce novels, others create scientific articles, and others solve complex mathematical formulas. Some do all! Of course, if there is a particular need that I can fill through my lessons, such as a desire to bring structure into the life of a child, I am happy to comply.
The bottom line is that if a student, whether child or adult, shows an aptitude and desire to learn how to play the violin, the rest will follow. Yet, a partnership is needed between teacher and parent so that a student does not give in to the human impulse to give-up when things get harder (violin is not an easy instrument).
Let’s examine what I mean by the word “Love”, as stated above. The giver of love does so through an expression of support that allows the receiver to develop and grow without pressure. It is a sad testament to our society that many do not know what real love is.
I am very lucky. In my formative years, music was always taught to me through love. It was never forced and I was never pressured to be the best violinist in the world. As a result, I was able to figure out things for myself with the guidance of supportive teachers and parents. Because I didn’t feel the need to conform to the standards of others, I was able to find my own unique personal expression. In fact, the journey of personal expression continues to this day and changes in accordance to my surroundings. At heart, we musicians are communicators. As a teacher, my role is to give my students the technical tools to musically communicate. Of course, I have the obligation to teach the traditions of our musical forefathers, but when the student ultimately reaches a certain aptitude for the instrument and the appropriate historical style of the performance, the rest is up to him or her!
Sounds complex? Even a beginning 4 year old can transcend basic music through self expression. They don’t even have to try! Ever hear kids sing a playground song over and over (and over) again? What they are really doing is emoting through the music. As they “work it out”, they are perfecting their own expression in a unique way. Children are already creative by nature.
Applied to violin, once a child knows how to hold the violin and the bow, he or she can make up songs. Adult beginners can also find again what is all-too-often a long-lost creative impulse that we were all born with. In fact, practicing the violin is a wonderful outlet for this, and on an elemental level, is equivalent to singing in the shower. The beauty of this is that the journey never stops. What would you like to do with YOUR music?
I’d love to hear your thoughts!
Daniel Broniatowski, D.M.A.
By Bram Heemskerk
July 2, 2012 15:53
By Arashi Lilith
July 1, 2012 03:46
As a violinist with contemporary leanings, I end up listening to quite a bit of cover songs done by the Vitamin String Quartet. I always feel like I'm discovering a new dimension to my favorite songs as I sit with my computer and studio monitors. However, I've just picked out one new reason for that extra awesome I hear. I can actually hear the bass line!
Seriously, when was the last time you heard the bass line, distinctly, in a pop/rock song? A cello or a standing bass totally fix these issues. Suddenly it goes from a background noise requiring high quality sound to even pick out, to a distinct counter melody.
It's also great to really hear the melody of the vocal parts with the violin. Words in music are great, but they can be distracting. Luckily, most violin music is instrumental, if only because A) singing is difficult with a violin and B) the human voice just cannot compete with the violin's need to steal the show (it's one of the things that makes violin amazing, if you ask me). Modern music, with the exception of the heavily electronic sort, has forgotten this to a large degree. However, the melodies of many songs, when played on an acoustic string instrument, when freed of their vocals in this wonderful manner, tend to take on a whole new life. The beauty of subtle key changes and syncopated rhythms comes to life as in other styles such as jazz, classical, and folk. We get to really notice the influences of these styles on rock and pop, two very confused genres with multitudes of influences from all corners of the earth.
I play contemporary violin because this is what I would like to express in my music. I want to take the classical style and translate it to a new era, where we have chopping bows, and distortion, and synthesizers, and electric violins that look like guitars from the 80s, and you have an entire orchestra at your fingertips, and all the knowledge of centuries of music to draw from, all nice and written down or recorded just for you to make something even more beautiful.
I will still play classical, if only because my weakness for baroque cannot be denied. However my goal is to play every genre that appeals to me, which pretty much means every genre in existence. I'm 20 years old. I have been playing the violin for one year. I am dedicated, I have resources, I know I can do my part to add to this rich pool. But sometimes I do wonder how many people like me are out there. Artist recommendations are always welcome, so if you have any there's a lovely comment box just for that.
By The Weekend Vote
June 30, 2012 17:51
I have found, with my students, that something very important for them is having the opportunity to play their instrument with other children, whether it's in Suzuki group class, school orchestra, youth orchestra or some other kind of regular playing situation. It's important for adults, as well, whether they are amateurs or professionals. If violin is just a solitary activity, it's hard to stay motivated to practice and improve. The problem is easily solved if you are in an orchestra, but it also may mean that you form a quartet, play chamber music, join in a Celtic music band, play at church -- there are many different ways to fulfill this near-universal need to make music with other people.
Do you have the opportunity to play in a group? And feel free to describe your group, or your feelings about this matter, below.
By Emily Hogstad
June 30, 2012 14:45
After I made the decision to delve deeper into the viola, I scheduled a second lesson with my Professional Violist Friend. (Some of you may remember PVF from his appearance in Part 2 of Emily Visits Violaland.)
We talk a lot on this board about good teachers, without often defining what a "good teacher" is. Whatever a "good teacher" is, I have one in PVF. It's always a little disorienting when you befriend someone, and you think you're getting a handle on who they are, and then suddenly they surprise you with a random blinding talent. PVF's teaching ability has been one such pleasant shock.
I didn't have a phone or a watch on me, so I'm not positive how long we spent working, but it was over an hour. PVF made good use of the time, chatting, demonstrating, exaggerating, tweaking, thinking, notating, singing, dancing, and even sharing some inconsequential viola-y gossip in between the brain-twisting. That night I wrote a list of the things we discussed, and I came up with around forty. Talk about intense.
The issues we discussed fell under a few main headers:
I went into the lesson stoked to show off my new relaxed bow arm. That had been the main focus of my last lesson with PVF in January. I'd really taken his suggestions to heart, and I'd spent a lot of time in front of the mirror, and I was finally feeling confident I was playing (drumroll, please) Tension Free! As soon as I finished the Prelude from the first Bach suite, PVF gently pointed out that the tension brought out by the difficulties of the string-changes had not actually disappeared; instead, it had just...moved to my left hand.
And so the endless game of Tension Whack A Mole continues!
I was instructed to play the notes above the fingerboard without touching the string, and then to stop them as lightly as possible. Think of the third and fourth fingers as the base for contact instead of the first finger. Let the elbow be flexible and move around to support them. My fourth finger wasn't coming down smoothly; it was either in an up position or a down position, and when it did come down, it whacked the string with unnecessary force. To help, PVF prescribed a nerdy tabletop finger exercise that will cause people to look at me strangely in public.
Within a few minutes, everything began feeling much more relaxed. It felt easy and effortless and exhilarating. It really is surprising how little weight is needed to stop strings, even on a viola.
One passage (measure 19 of the Bach G-major prelude if you're following along at home) was coming out consistently problematic. It was a descending line of sixteenth notes with a simple down-up-down-up bowing pattern. But I was pulling on the downs so much that it was all very choppy. PVF instructed to accentuate the up-bows. I tried that. Then he told me to accentuate even more. And even more. I finally ended up feeling like I was making all the downs staccato and all of the ups a sweeping legato. "That," he said, "was the smoothest you've played it yet." Well, okay, then. Once again, a reminder that what we feel under our fingers is not always what the audience hears.
I was so busy with the notes themselves that I wasn't paying much attention to the dynamics. "Exaggerate those," PVF encouraged. "Play completely tastelessly." I tried. "No, not tasteless enough." I tried again. "Nope, still way too tasteful. Break up the bows, do something. Make it just totally over the top. Feel what that feels like, and then apply that feeling to the correct bowing." Alas, I never did lose all my taste entirely, but I'll work on it. This was rather a liberating idea. I'm going to have to apply it to other instances when I'm being too straight-laced. Sometimes we need to allow ourselves to go wild...if only for an experiment to see how far we can push our intensity of expression.
Structure of the Prelude!
PVF suggested that it might be interesting to think of the notes after the fermata at measure 22 as a classical era cadenza. Measures 20 to the fermata at 22 are the orchestra with their closing thoughts; the fermata at 22 to the C at 29 is the cadenza; the C at 29 is the orchestra gently coming back in. Thinking that way lent a real sense of cohesiveness and momentum to the second page of the movement.
My Skepticism About the Allemande!
For some reason I have always found this movement problematic. I don't know why. It just seemed kind of...there? Kind of long-winded? I don't know. We'd spent a while with the Prelude and were pondering going to something else entirely when I turned the page to the Allemande and made the fateful, offhand comment that I thought it was boring.
I was interrupted. "Um, no. Actually this is probably the strongest movement in the suite."
"Yeah. It's so strong that sometimes at auditions they will ask for just this specific movement."
"Okay," he said, stepping forward and smoothing down the page. "We really need to work on this."
So I played through the first half of the Allemande. And even as I played it, after just having gotten done working on phrasing and such in the Prelude, I knew I'd been approaching it all wrong. There was so much subtlety there that I hadn't been seeing or feeling before. Phrases echoing one another, long passages stretching for line after line, breaths in and breaths out. I hadn't been hearing long-windedness; I'd been hearing long lines, and getting the two mixed up. As PVF admonished, "If you can't find the phrase in Bach, it's your fault."
At measure 13, when the music switched to treble, I made a mistake I'd memorized. "This is interesting," PVF said. "You're reading this wrong. And you know what? This part is in your clef! You're reading all this alto clef without a problem, and then you made the biggest mistake you've made yet while reading your own clef."
Heh. Maybe I am a violist, after all.
PVF pointed out the dramatic leap of a seventh at measure 13. "Look at that seventh! How can you say that seventh is boring? How can you possibly say such a thing?"
Yeah. He does have a point.
We worked quite a bit on phrasing. The first four measures are a prime example of what can be done with a seemingly simple set of notes. The pattern starts out with a G that comes back over and over. Don't emphasize that as much, because it doesn't change for quite a few measures, and it can start to feel monotonous. Pay the most attention to the changing notes on top. Notice what chords they make. What narrative can that chord pattern be transferred into? Confidence, followed by a slightly less confident thought, followed by true doubt, followed by encouraging reassurance? Try playing the chords unbroken. Don't they sound familiar? They should; they're in the Sarabande. No note is an island. Everything is part of something else. The prelude may be an unrelenting series of sixteenth notes, and for the most part it is, but it also has a narrative arc. Don't be so caught up in what finger goes where and what angle the elbows have to be at that you lose sight of what you're saying. This is an easy trap to fall in. Communication sometimes takes a back seat to learning how to actually do the darn thing. But that is like spending hours and hours learning how to clean a stove, and then not actually baking anything. What's the point (unless you get some weird twisted thrill from stove-cleaning?).
And so on and so forth.
"It's all there," he said, to sum the afternoon up. "The technique is there. Trust it's there. Now it needs humanity."
Humanity: easier said than done.
As we were packing up, we somehow got onto the topic of what size instrument I was playing. "What size is that one again?" he said.
"A fourteen." I took off the shoulder rest and slowly turned it around, looking at the front, the side, the back. "It's nice for the size and for the price, but..." I thought back to all the work I've done with relaxation, all the hours I've spent in front of the mirror. All the dismayed expressions I've made when the rich gutsy viola sound I wanted just wasn't there.
I looked up. "But I'm ready for the fifteen."
PVF smiled. Muahaha, I'm sure he was thinking. Mua-ha-ha-ha-ha.
By Jonathan Hai
June 30, 2012 12:02
Post No. 19
By now it’s time to finalize a meaningful phase in the Quartet construction process – and finally close the “body” of each instrument. As you may remember, at the beginning of the process, Yonatan started with a wooden mold, on which he glued first the ribs and then the back of each instrument. Meanwhile, as I have told you, the sound boards of the cello and the viola have been constructed – including cutting the “f‘s” and reaching the exact “spessori” (thicknesses). But one step remains before the “body” of each instrument is closed. It’s an extremely important and very technical step – fitting in place and shaping the bass-bar (catena in Italian, read ka-tè-na).
As I wrote a few weeks ago, the process of working on the sound-board, cutting the “f‘s”, fitting and gluing the “catena“, gluing the back into place, removing the mold and finally, finally closing the body was all completed first for the cello. This is important for Yonatan, as it allows him to concentrate on finishing the body of one instrument before moving on to the next.
…and here is the entire Quartet, with the viola newly-glued (kinda’ like newlywed…) so still with the special clamps all around it, and the cello already closed and dry behind it.
Pretty cool how they are actually starting to look like instruments, right?
As we summed up what was a truly breathtaking concert: Yonatan had two instruments and a sister on stage!!
By Roy Bak
June 29, 2012 19:54
Dear Fellow Violinists,
As a devoted amateur violinist and reader of the many wonderful blogs on the violinist.com, I thought it my duty to send out an amazing Youtube link of my dear mentor & friend Maestro Ruggiero Ricci. I've already posted on Youtube several personal video recordings of him playing in the mid-80's, but this post was recently sent to me by David Bellugi, who is the son of the esteemed Italian conductor Piero Bellugi. Maestro Bellugi just recently passed away and this concert is a testament of their wonderful collaboration. I think violinists throughout the world can learn much from watching one of the Great Masters performing in his "prime." This is some of the most amazing violin playing I have ever heard or seen. He is one of the true Legends of our Instrument. Note how he holds the violin with his left hand (for those who have read his book on Left Hand Technique). Please enjoy!!!
Here is the link:
Violinist.com editor Laurie Niles wraps up her coverage of the 2013 Starling-DeLay Symposium on Violin Studies, held at The Juilliard School in New York.
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