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.
Top BlogsBy Dottie Case
July 30, 2012 16:10
The arts school where I work does two major productions every summer...a musical and an opera. (Our season is summer only, due to lack-of-heat and need-of-new-roof in our historical building). This summer we scheduled Carousel and La Boheme, and last week(19th-22nd) was show week for Carousel.
It ended up being a really amazing show (I had previous reservations about this show due to the truly-dreadful-and-insipid movie I'd seen, starring a young Shirley Jones) and, as is true of show week, it was all-enveloping. We lived and breathed Carousel for the last 8 days straight, and everyone involved felt highly invested in this really lovely performance. We closed on Sunday afternoon, exhausted but feeling like we had really been part of something major.
The very next Wednesday was the first orchestral rehearsal for La Boheme. I am unfamiliar with this Opera (I'm a slowly-learning novice when it comes to Opera), and am playing viola (!!!) for this show. As I dragged my tired self to rehearsal, I didn't know what to expect, but I was absolutely blown away. We had a skeleton string section there... 1 first, no 2nd, 1 viola.... but there were places where I could just HEAR the whole fleshed-out orchestra, and it blew me away. The lushness and romance was more than I expected.
On the way home that night, I found myself thinking, not for the first time, about the temporal nature of almost all that we do. Four days prior to that rehearsal, we were a part of creating something wonderful for Carousel... the audiences were moved to tears and thunderous applause. And yet, at the end of it, we erased our books, packed away the stand lights, and immediately moved into the next work that will (we hope) move an audience to tears and applause. While it's happening, it's huge and defining and all-encompassing...and then it's over and gone and we're onto the next thing.
This is the nature of what we do. The finest recording equipment cannot capture that 'thing' that exists between audience, actors and musicians, and a composer. It's ephemeral and fleeting... This is true of many moments in life too...'joy' cannot be captured and held onto. Just experienced and maybe even savored. Still, the balance for us all is to be able to be fully in the moment of making music, (in the hugest definition of that phrase) and then be able to move to the next thing, in its time, even if that means mere days later. AND, it's impossible, not to mention counter-productive, to attempt to live in the future. Meaning, there was no way to be experiencing Puccini while engrossed in Carousel...and the attempt would have robbed each.
It seems to me that the sort of ability to be 'in the moment fully' is a skill that might be well transferred to the rest of life. I'm better at in in music than I am in my daily life.
I've spent much of the last month virtually crippled with waiting and agonizing over what would/would not be my job status in September; and how might I prepare for the various possibilities. I've finally decided that since I cannot know, I'm going to let August be fully about August, and attempt to live as intensely in all of those things as I can, before September comes and demands its due.
Luckily for me, August contains La Boheme and a week of Chamber Music camp for me.
July 30, 2012 11:52
When you look at this logo, what do you see?
I recently read a business article that painstakingly pointed out, taking two entire paragraphs, how the arrow pointing from the a to the z was actually meant to resemble a smile. The article went on to praise the Amazon logo, and the smile in particular, saying that it was good marketing to associate the brand with smiling.
My reaction to the article was a little different. I've never been much of a smiler. In particular I've chafed under exhortations to "keep smiling" or to "put on a happy face," especially when I didn't feel like it. Smiles that are not spontaneous strike me as not genuine. Rather, to me they tend to look fake--manipulative, even. My conscious mind doesn't much like the Amazon logo smile, either. In fact, the "face" was the very first thing I noticed about it. I hadn't even realized the "mouth" doubled as an arrow, pointing from a to z. Even as my Amazon use has grown over the years (suggesting the manipulation is working on me), I didn't need an article to explain to me how I was being manipulated. Every time you order something from them, there's that creepy box, smiling at you even from depths of the recycling bin.
So why am I writing about an Amazon logo in a violin blog? Sure, I have ordered sheet music and CDs from Amazon, and have recycled my share of smirking boxes. But it was a different experience with smiling that has gotten me thinking about this. Several months ago I entered the "Rockin' Fiddle Challenge 2012." To enter, contestants had to learn to play Adam DeGraff's "Violinists Don't Stop Believin'" and post a YouTube video of themselves playing the piece to a special FB page that Adam had set up.
By the time I entered this year's contest, I thought I had already (mostly) gotten over the shock of seeing myself play violin on video. I had had a small solo with orchestra in the fall of 2010, which was recorded. I had entered the 2010-2011 TRFC challenge. So I knew I sometimes had this kind of "deer in the headlights" look about me when I played; I knew that at one point in my solo when I hit a bad note I had made what my daughter called a "scary face."
I had tried to make my peace with these foibles, to view them as endearing little quirks. To point out that, hey, at least I take playing the violin seriously. I would call to mind a live performance I'd seen of Midori playing the Shostakovich violin concerto: her posture had been hunched over, her face unsmiling. She'd wrung the pain and passion out of every note of that piece, for herself and for the audience. My teacher understands, she says that she and her professional colleagues can also look very serious, even to the point of scowling, while they are playing. It means something good for the sound of the music. Although you wouldn't know it from the images on google, passion, seriousness, even grace, do not always wear a smile.
And yet. In practicing for TRFC, I recorded myself multiple times and started to get a more complete picture of how I looked while playing. One thing that was completely new to me was that I do weird things with my mouth:
What the heck? The next time through, I realized that some of this comes from making sure to breathe while playing. It also comes from moving my chin around on the chin rest and flexing my jaw so I don't get neck and shoulder pain--both good and necessary actions, but geez, it looks funny.
And then, in response to another one of my posted practice run-throughs, Adam suggested that I play the piece while donning a pink wig and bejeweled sunglasses. He also suggested a bigger smile.
Smiling? Really? Oh dear. Did I mention I'm just not a smiler? Can't I just wear the glasses? I don't have a pink wig, but would a boa help?
It was a couple of days before the final upload was due, and so, for the first time, I consciously started trying to practice while smiling.
It's a lot harder than it looks. What I discovered is that trying to smile while playing is a lot like trying to play with/without a shoulder rest if you're used to the other way. Or like trying to keep the wrist straight to get rid of a pizza wrist. Or like trying to remember to keep the left index finger poised over the strings instead of waving in the air like a flag when doing vibrato. In short, it's pretty much like learning an entirely new technique, or breaking a bad habit. That first video became almost comical to watch. The smile would start out okay:
And then I'd start to lose it:
Going . . . going . . . gone:
And then, something would bring me back and I'd remember:
And the cycle would start all over again. It repeated several times in less than 3 minutes.
Smiling absorbs a lot of bandwidth, making my brain run more slowly, like nothing so much as a computer with a virus running in the background. And yet I kind of liked that smiling violinist. She surprised me with how happy and enthusiastic she looked, playing the violin. I wanted her to be less of a stranger. I'd certainly rather be (and listen to) her than this gal:
My final upload was better than the first, not as good as I'd like--on many levels. It's still a work in progress. But I still feel like I learned something important in the attempt.
By Robert Niles
July 30, 2012 09:48
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By Bram Heemskerk
July 30, 2012 07:37
2 Swedish composers. Berwald wrote a violin concerto and Stenhamer 2 Romances for violin + orchestra like Beethoven.
By Gabriela Olcese
July 29, 2012 20:52
We are pleased to announce the results of the Second International Violin Competition Buenos Aires 2012 just ended:
1st. Prize: Erzhan KULIBAEV (Kazakhstan)
Here is first-place winner Erzhan Kulibaev of Kazakhstan playing "Cuando tú no estás" by C. Gardel; and "Adiós Nonino" by A. Piazzolla; with Juan Pablo Navarro, bass, and Diego Schissi, piano:
Congratulations to all and we said goodbye to the Winner's Tour 2013 and the III International Violin Competition Buenos Aires 2014 !
By Tyrone Wilkins
July 29, 2012 10:14
I'll be dropping 'violin life' and starting a new series after this last post.
When I started middle school, I started learning piano from my daily piano class. We had a book filled with easy, little pieces that we had to perform every friday for a grade. That was never a problem for me because piano comes some naturally to me.
By the time I began to learn violin I was already pretty good at piano and descent at guitar. I was also (and still am) very good at guitar hero which I believe is responsible for my fast hands,shifting,and hand eye coordination. Playing piano was great for right and left hand coordination,right hand strength (I'm left handed) and speed. No wonder violin comes so easily!
I've always wondered why everything about violin came so naturally to me while others struggle on them. Well,I know for a fact that the instruments I've learned previous to violin had a positive effect. My 2-3 years of guitar hero playing has helped me way more than I ever thought possible.
If you have any interest in guitar hero I'd advise that you do your best to master the hardest songs on it as they are GREAT finger exercises that I use all the time. Sometimes I warm up on guitar hero before playing my scales! For those of you that are more 'normal' than I,try taking up a different instrument. I suggest piano,viola,cello,or guitar.If you take them seriously you can take your playing to a higher level,you'll understand more about stringed instruments in general,and hey! You learned a new instrument! Now you can enjoy music just that much more.
If you wonder about how all this will turn out,look at me. I'm not perfect (yet) seeing as how I've only been playing for a year and a half,but I was concert master of the intermediate orchestra at my high school and I'm preparing for chair placement audition for the school's Chamber (advanced) orchestra in the fall.I'm in Suzuki book 5-6 and I'm working on completing Kayer's op.20 by the end of the year! Good fortune to anyone who tries! :D
By Laurie Niles
July 28, 2012 10:54
Here is a little epistle from Lara St. John, in inimitable Lara St. John style. She invites us all to hear her play at Central Park on Tuesday, Aug, 7 -- either in person, over radio or live-webstream -- for 25th Anniversary of the Central Park concert of Astor Piazzolla and his quintet at the Naumburg Bandshell, check it out:
I am letting you know about this show because:
a) it is in New York City, and like a modern-day Rome, all roads seem to lead here
b) it's broadcast live on both WQXR 105.9 FM and at www.WQXR.org, lest your road may have led elsewhere
c) it's free
d) it's in the top five of Coolest Things I Have Ever Done
It's the 25th Anniversary of the Central Park concert of Astor Piazzolla and his quintet at the Naumburg Bandshell! (for exact location, please see artistically hand-drawn map, and address below)
It will feature the pianist-of-legend Pablo Ziegler, who was part of Piazzolla's quintet from 1978-1989 and played on the famous Central Park concert/recording from September 6, 1987, as well as the albums Zero Hour, La Camorra and then some.
We'll also have the fabulous Hector Del Curto on bandoneón, Claudio Ragazzi on guitar, Andrew Roitstein, bass, and me on violin, making up the original quintet instrumentation. We'll be doing many tunes from the 1987 concert, and many more....
At a glance:
WHEN: Tuesday, August 7, 2012 at 7:30 PM
WHERE: Naumburg Bandshell, Concert Ground of Central Park, between the 72nd Street Transverse at Bethesda Fountain and the Mall/Poet’s Walk, New York, NY.
WHO: Pablo Ziegler, piano, Lara St John, violin, Hector Del Curto, bandoneón, Claudio Ragazzi, guitar, Andrew Roitstein, bass.
(This concert will be on WQXR.org both live, and streaming, about 24 hours later.....)
Hope to see you there! Lara
Photo by Twain Newhart
By The Weekend Vote
July 27, 2012 14:23
We know that playing the violin requires a certain kind of elite physical and mental fitness. Shouldn't there be a few events for fiddle players (besides playing 'Chariots of Fire' with Mr. Bean?)
Here are a few ideas, please vote for the one that you like most, then let us know if you have any ideas for other "events"!
By Eloise Garland
July 26, 2012 09:29
Finding the 'correct' instrument for a child is something which can take a lot of time and money. Some people are more suited to the violin, such hundreds of us on this site, where as others are suited to a wind instrument and some to the likes of the piano.
How many people have you met who have said 'Oh I wish I could play the piano,' or 'I started the clarinet but gave up after grade 5?' The likelihood is you've come across many, and the fact that you've revealed your musical skills to them seems to trigger one of the many common regrets people have - their lack of understanding music.
I was lucky to find my instrument the first time around. I remember at the age of six watching the Proms on television and it was the first time I had ever seen an orchestra (or at least, taken notice of one). The violinists captured my imagination, and for three years I dreamed of one day becoming a violinist. When I was nine and received my first violin, it was probably the most life changing event I have ever been through to date.
Talking about how someone - especially a child - is suited to a particular instrument is something which I find intriguing. What makes a child 'right' for an instrument? Why does one thing capture the imagination so much more than another? There are a few books out there which I have had a quick look at which delve into this new 'science' about music, children and instruments.
Some children don't remember not playing their instrument. Their parents may have started them on the violin or piano so early on that it just developed with the child. I think I'm right in saying that only one in ten children who start in this way succeed at their instrument. Others pick it up later and take to their instrument like a duck to water. Then there's those people who go through several instruments before settling on the one they like the most. And finally, there are those who start an instrument, lose interest and never really get given the opportunity again.
If I use my own experiences as an example once more, then it is obvious that piano has never felt suited to me. Piano was always a struggle; I've never been able to play it well, my technique is probably shocking and I've never really had any interest. I can just about play to the standard of a piano reduction of Beethoven 7, but put me next to a 'real' pianist and I'm outshone by a mile.
Finding your instrument is something which is a personal journey. Many of us on violinist.com had the opportunity and privilege of starting an instrument as a child, and for many, succeeding in finding the right one straight away. Those who never had the opportunity but have started later are to be admired; many people out there have no feeling of worth and refuse to even try, or at least give up very early on.
Everybody has the potential to be musical. Parents who are not musical should encourage their children to find the right musical instrument, and if they don't get it right first time then they shouldn't give up. In my opinion, one of the many beauties of music is the fact that human beings have a natural instinct towards the pure, universal language which can express so much emotion, and many more people out there should have the opportunity to express that.
By Emily Hogstad
July 24, 2012 08:31
On Sunday I went to see the Minnesota Orchestra in Winona, Minnesota. Things have changed since I saw them there last, in the summer of 2010. To put it bluntly, the musicians’ contracts expire in September, and from the outside, things are looking unnervingly unsettled. The musicians have written a few carefully vague blog entries that include such sentences as “management’s current proposals would seriously diminish the artistic quality of the orchestra in its ability to retain and attract the best musicians possible and, thus, jeopardize its current top-tier status.” The orchestra’s CEO has sent a couple of odd emails to patrons discussing some of the fundraising triumphs of the past season, with a mention at the end that oh, yeah, by the way: “We continue in contract talks with our musicians, hopeful that we will be able to find common ground to resolve our significant financial challenges.” It is tempting, if ultimately futile, to read between those lines. Staff members have been fired; the upcoming season is short and unabashedly unadventurous; Orchestra Hall is in the middle of a major renovation, and everyone is working in temporary spaces. Maybe I’m paranoid, but this feels awfully like the uneasy calm before a storm.
Some people have seized upon the conflict with a kind of ghoulish delight, braying opinions with all the class, subtlety, and intellectual prowess of CNN covering the Supreme Court’s ruling on the Affordable Care Act. I understand why: it’s a chance for everyone, no matter how ill-informed (and at this point, just about everyone is ill-informed) to advance their pet theories about why orchestras are doomed. And oh, how people in the classical music biz love debating why orchestras are doomed! Add in a juicy topical debate about the role of unions and the ultra-wealthy in a community’s artistic life, and the topic becomes irresistible. Mix, bake, set out to cool. Serves a savory meal for hundreds of cultural critics – professional, amateur, and those in the gray netherworld in between.
In short, this may become a big story. There is, potentially, a lot at stake.
Only none of us on the outside knows exactly what.
So, we wait.
Anyway, those were some of the uplifting thoughts cycling through my head on Sunday. I’ve been looking forward to this show since it was announced (especially since the program included the concerto debut of the Orchestra’s new concertmaster Erin Keefe), but there was a part of me that was weirdly hesitant to go. I’m only too aware that, thanks to the abridged season, I’m more than likely not going to see the Orchestra until 2013. (Rather unbelievably, there are only four daytime classical concerts left in 2012, and two of those are holiday performances of Brandenburg concertos and The Messiah…) There’s so much uncertainty in my life right now – personally as well as musically – that at this point, 2013 seems like a distant mirage that might never actually get here. What will transpire in the next six months? As I drove the two hours to Winona, I tried my best to shake the feeling I might be saying a kind of good-bye.
The opening was the Coriolan Overture: dramatic, defiant, burning with a raw, almost sinister power. The sound was savage, striking again and again with brute staccato force. Quiet dolce passages offered no relief from the tension; they only tightened the screws, making the next terrifying forte blast all the more devastating. By the time the quiet, albeit emphatic, pizzes brought the piece to an end, it was clear the artistic gauntlet had been thrown. Top that, was the unspoken insinuation. Clearly, despite (because of?) what’s going on behind closed doors, this is an orchestra that knows exactly what to say and exactly how to say it…maybe now more than ever.
After the fierce overture, Erin Keefe strode onstage looking like a veritable goddess in a violet gown, long pleated skirt pooling at her feet. Not only was this her first time soloing with the Orchestra, it was her first time playing the Beethoven concerto; she learned it specifically for this set of concerts. Although she didn’t look it, I had to wonder if she was, at least on a certain level, terrified. What violinist wouldn’t be? But from the moment those opening octaves pierced the air, it was clear she – and we! – had absolutely nothing to fear.
I’ve never heard the first movement of the Beethoven concerto played with such a striking narrative arc. So often so many passages can feel superfluous, leading to the old “it’s nothing but scales!” complaint – but here every note, every phrase, felt indispensable. Her sound was silvery, her dynamics breathtaking, her Kreisler cadenzas shudderingly bold and fearless. Maybe there was a little fatigue in the second half – or certain places where the sound felt a tad scrunched – or a few barely out of tune notes here and there – but these teensy tiny things were more reassurances of her humanity than actual flaws. Tears ran down my face…tears of joy, sadness, satisfaction, yearning, triumph, defeat, and every irreconcilable emotion in between. When played well, the Beethoven concerto has the power to say everything. And thanks to Erin Keefe and her colleagues in the Orchestra, Sunday, it said everything.
After intermission came the Eroica. This is one of those Beethoven pieces that I like and respect and admire but don’t wholeheartedly love…I’m more of a seventh symphony girl, I guess. But nonetheless, what a transporting joy it was to hear live: the orchestra played with all the tightness, conviction, and fire they’d displayed in the Coriolan. Precision – purpose – boundless, limitless, endless energy - all underlain with a restless, arresting passion that – at least in my listening experience – has never been so potent.
For whatever reason (probably in light of…recent events), throughout the afternoon I was struck by the humanity of the people onstage, and by the individuality of each player. Principal cellist Tony Ross warmed up with the devastating opening of the Elgar concerto. A violinist played through a portion of Dvorák New World over and over (they’re performing it in Minneapolis on Friday). Concertmaster Stephanie Arado mouthed some words to a cellist; he nodded. The air conditioning made a racket in the first half of the program, so it was turned off for the second, resulting in the word going round of “lose the jackets and ties!” Men came back out sporting exposed suspenders and rolled-up cuffs; women took off their white sweaters to reveal short-sleeved shirts and bare arms. Sweaty faces glimmered determined in the lights. In between movements of the Eroica, a violinist’s shoulder rest fell off (I sympathized; it looked like the same model as mine, and golly that thing has a tendency to fall off during the most inconvenient times). Everyone watched the reattachment except for Maestro Vänskä, who stood by impassively, pretending to be lost in abstract contemplation of the music before him, only raising his hands again once the rest was re-secured. At the very end of the show, when Vänskä gave each section the opportunity to stand and receive plaudits from the audience, the musicians gave a resounding congratulatory whoop to the ever under-appreciated violas, in one of the group’s many awesomely orch-dorky traditions.
In short, I remembered how the Minnesota Orchestra is not a monolith, not a hive of mindless worker bees, not a colony of bow-tied ants, no matter how often it can look like it, what with the single-minded discipline and bows moving in breathtaking unison and all. It’s made up of a diverse collection of passionate, obscenely talented, well-rounded individuals. For most of them, merely playing an instrument at the very highest level was not enough. So they also became conductors and writers and competitors and composers and historians and educators and artistic directors…among other things. They are the best of the best the musical world has to offer, and their love of their art serves as an example to the rest of us. May we listeners never take them – or musicians like them – for granted.
The Minnesota Orchestra is clearly in flux. They have a new concertmaster who over the course of the last year has proven herself to be an orchestral musician, chamber player, and soloist of the very first rank. A number of important names from the orchestra roster will not be returning in 2012-13 season. Next year a renovated Orchestra Hall will be opened, and if the renderings are any indication, it will be stunning. There are indications that programming in the future will be…um, different. Eventually, a new contract will be signed. Those five changes are likely just the tip of the iceberg. I have my fingers crossed that throughout all the changes, the glory of the core product remains unaffected. My hoping won’t actually do any good, but whatever. It makes me feel better.
I’m not delusional enough to think that anyone with any power from either “side” in Minneapolis is actually reading the bloggy ramblings of a 23-year-old amateur string-player from Wisconsin, nor am I delusional enough to think that they should. But I do hope that as they make the difficult decisions that lie ahead, they never stop remembering the passion of the people onstage, not even for a moment. If the organization’s plans to “Build for the Future” neglect to harness the musicians’ passion, then those plans aren’t worth making. Simple as that. Passion is an asset no budget can buy, and Sunday afternoon, I got the distinct feeling that we underestimate the power of that passion at our peril.
If you feel moved to do so, like the Musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra Facebook page in order to show support and stay up-to-date with negotiations. While you're at it, you might also want to stop by the Musicians of the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra Facebook page....because yep, they too are going through negotiations. It's a fun fun fun fun fun time to be involved in the Twin Cities orchestral scene.
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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Some psycho-sublime Stuff - but nothing to do with violin
Rules for violinists students in 1890, and rules for violinists students in 2013.
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