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Top BlogsBy christian howes
August 27, 2012 10:10
Think about your best friends.
Chances are they are very different from you. Your relationships bring out those differences. Like mirrors, they show you for all the good and bad, helping you grow.
If you are a classically trained musician, especially a string player or aspiring jazz violinist, and if you want to learn to groove, I strongly suggest you make friends with the rhythm section!
No doubt, classical musicians endure some of the most rigorous training, developing an incredible range of nuance when it comes to phrasing, style, articulation, rhythm, intonation, sound color, and more. Nonetheless, one thing they do not generally learn is how to groove!
Drummers on the other hand spend at least half of their practice time and energy working on groove/swing, aka "time feel."
Someone once told me the best way to learn Spanish is to meet a Spanish girlfriend and move to Spain. Sure, you can take classes or read books, but there's nothing like living in a country with natives to get a real grip on the language.
Rhythm section players swing better and groove better than me so I constantly try to surround myself with good rhythm section players to improve. We all know that we get better by playing with people better than us.
If you're a classical musician, chances are you may not know a lot of rhythm section players, so here's a suggestion:
Go to a local jazz jam session or observe some college jazz classes.
Ask them if they would be willing to get together and play sometime.
Record yourself and listen back. Make notes about what you like and what you don't like. Ask the rhythm section player for honest feedback about your "time feel."
In this video my friend Cedric Easton plays drums. We improvise free, performing live for little kids at an elementary school while they paint pictures to the music. We had no idea what we were going to play beforehand.
Cedric is a "time feel" expert: I'll never swing as hard as he does - playing with him keeps me humble, and I know it's helped me improve my sense of time and groove.
I think the idea of classically trained musicians reaching out to grooving drummers makes sense on a larger level too. The classical music academy is largely guided by adherence to the "Western European Canon," i.e. centuries of thinking about music from a European perspective, which puts melody and harmony above rhythm. Jazz (and really all modern popular American music) borrows heavily from African music, which holds up the groove at the forefront. Part of the reason jazz studies departments and classical music departments can't get along is because they're all scared to try to understand each other's differences and learn from them. They self-segregate in their own insular cultures of learning. Some day it would be nice if "black" and "white" music weren't separated into ritzy theaters versus dingy clubs, and music students could simply study "music" in college, instead of choosing sides.
Don't live in a bubble. A drummer is a jazz violinist's best friend. Go out to the other side of the railroad tracks and make friends. You'll be amazed by how much you grow.
If you're a classically trained musician, especially a string player, check out our free trial at the Creative Strings Academy where you can develop improvisation skills in different styles of music. Click here to learn more:
August 26, 2012 10:49
What is your dream worth? Most of us would probably say that there is no price that we could put on achieving our dreams. But the answer for one 16-year-old girl from North Carolina is easy. Her dream is worth $200. With wavy strawberry-blonde hair, fair skin, freckles, and large hazel eyes, Savannah Brooks is a brilliant, naturally talented young violinist. She also comes from a foster home, abusive parents, and now resides with her aunt whose everyday battle with living expenses was already a struggle before generously taking in a growing teenager. Savannah’s life growing up has been a constant struggle and she doesn’t have a single dollar to her name.
This is who answered my online classified ad to purchase my violin for sale.
After acquiring a new violin for myself from a small overseas workshop at wholesale cost, I was so pleased with its beauty, quality, and sound that I decided to purchase a few more. My plan was to up-fit them, play them for fun to break them in, and then resell them for a nice profit. Of the three I had posted online, two sold rather well and their new owners were very pleased. But the last violin, a very lovely Russian spruce & maple Strad copy, seemed to avoid being bought. Some passed it over for another one of my violins. Other folks disappeared after an email or two. Still other prospective buyers canceled at the last minute when agreeing to meet and try it out. After four months of posting, this online Russian beauty was proving to be elusive.
That is until one day I received the following email:
While I thought it nice that a young lady was searching for a violin of her own, I thanked her for her interest but politely explained that the price I had set in my ad was as low as I could go without taking a loss and that perhaps her parents could help her with the price I was asking for it. (I mean, yes I wanted to give these violins a good home, but I was also looking to make some money from the sale. I am a dedicated musician and artist, but I’m also an entrepreneur by nature and so my mind is persistently attuned to function in the realm of profit.)
She understood and kindly requested to contact her if I changed my mind. Shortly after, I received an email from her aunt, her now legal guardian, who began to tell me the story of a girl who shouldn’t be:
Hmmm…now this was getting a little out of my comfort zone. This hard nut was starting to crack. I understood their situation, but was I willing to part with profit? I asked her, of all the violins that are listed for sale, what is it about mine that has attracted her to it? After a few days the response came:
Well, that was it for me. I knew right then that this violin was hers and why it seemed to squirm out of every previous sale attempt. It knew. She knew. I didn’t – not until now anyway.
We met in a grocery store parking lot. She showed me the violin she was currently using and I asked her to play it so that I could hear. The pride and appreciation she had towards this violin-shaped object (VSO for those in the know) was so great that I didn’t have the heart to tell her that I was surprised she could get any decent sound out of it at all. But she did, and it was beautiful. She was also right about her fingers being crowded. The neck was about a half inch too short for a full size violin. For an instrument where even a single millimeter can make a difference in sound, a half inch is like a football field.
I then asked if she was ready to try mine, and she excitedly said yes. With a little timidity at first, she slowly explored the strings and fingerboard and the bow. Then her face lit up and a big smile graced her expression. She jumped over to her case, grabbed her sheet music, and began to play the theme from Titanic with such grace and focus that I could see she was doing what she loved to do. After hearing her play some more I grabbed my violin out of its case and started to play. For the next two hours, as the sun began to make its nightly descent, we played and talked about violins in a grocery store parking lot.
As the late-summer overcast day draped into a typically humid North Carolina night, the time came to talk about the price of the violin. Money – the bane of so many people’s lives. The fine invisible line that often separates us from what we are from what we can be.
I knew I couldn’t set a price. What do you charge a 16-year-old girl that has only a pocketful of dreams to pay with? So this is what I did. I took out my luthier’s business card that I placed in the case along with a black marker. I flipped it over to the blank side and gave the marker to Savannah. Then I asked her to write the price of the violin that she believed she could earn. At first she told me that the violin was priceless to her and she couldn’t possibly put a price on it. But I insisted. I explained to her that every goal needs a target to aim for and that the progression and achievement of that goal would bring her such a feeling of pride and accomplishment, knowing that she earned her dream on her own.
While neither she nor her aunt need any lesson in overcoming, Savannah understood that her dream would come with a price – one that she would choose. After much deliberation and thought, she perked up and said, “I got it!” And in big black writing she wrote $200 on the back of the card.
I told her she made a fine choice and her aunt agreed. The deal was done. I then explained to her that I would never ask for a payment and that this is something she would be on her own honor to do. The length of time it took to achieve this goal did not matter. The important thing was to always keep the goal in front of her and continuously progress towards it.
With that, we packed up her new violin and after giving Savannah a few more parting thoughts of encouragement, she gave me a big hug and tried to thank me as best she could. I could see that she was struggling to find the right words, but there is only so much one can say when your dream has just been handed to you in a little black case in a dusk-filled parking lot.
Before they drove away, I made Savannah promise that she would keep in touch so that I can follow her successes. She agreed and with another round of “Thank you, Andy!” they drove off into the muggy North Carolina night.
I didn’t make a profit on this violin. In fact my luthier even told me that he could probably sell my violin on consignment in his shop for upwards of $800-$900. But an aspiring young violinist - born into a lifestyle that she did not ask for and doesn’t deserve - not only got a new violin of her very own, she also got hope. And that truly is priceless. No, I did not make a profit on this violin…but today I am a rich man.
Take a moment to reflect on your own life. Think about all the things you are grateful for. Ask yourself if you would be where you are today if it wasn’t for the kindness of single person, one act of generosity, one piece of useful advice, one person giving you a lucky break. If the answer is no, which is undoubtedly the case, seize upon the next opportunity to make a difference in another person’s life. You may just make a dream come true.
By The Weekend Vote
August 25, 2012 21:00
In other words, would you purchase a violin that sounded good, but looked ugly?
Certainly, one could argue strongly for either side of this. The "looks" of a violin -- the quality of its varnish, whether it has nicks and cracks -- affects the instrument's monetary value, sometimes more than the sound does! Also, the violin is such a beautiful, elaborate instrument, certainly the details of its craftsmanship means a great deal.
At the same time, no two violins sound alike. If you are a musician and you fall madly in love with the way a particular violin sounds, you may spend the rest of your life looking for that sound, to no avail. What is a beautiful fiddle, if it doesn't have the sound?
So let's say you have the money and you are committed to buying a violin. Would you buy a violin that sounded good, but looked ugly?
By Emily Grossman
August 25, 2012 18:12
Mozart's Sinfonia Concertante seemed pretty straight-forward on the viola--especially when using scordatura and playing in the easier key of D major instead of E-flat major. By playing with the viola tuned up a half-step, the brightness of the open strings would allow it to match the violin's timbre, whose tone adversely would be darkened by the flats. In only a couple of days, I'd hashed out the bowings and fingerings of the first movement, leaving just a bit of polishing to do and some time in the brine to season it up to performance level.
Satisfied, I flipped to the Andante, ready to hoe out some lines and plant some ideas. But instead of tidy little self-explanatory runs similar the first movement, I discovered troublesome phrases that lacked purpose. I fumbled clumsily for a bit and put it away, feeling awkward and thwarted. If I'd had a teacher, I could at least figure out what to do with the bow, or at least they could tell me "Louder here!" "More articulation there!" or something like that. I needed input. Consulting youtube, I dug out a performance by Itzhak Perlman and Pinchas Zukerman to take notes on their bowings and fingerings. Of course, then my jaw fell off my face: I was nowhere near this level of playing! To an untrained eye, they're just moving their arms back and forth, sticking their fingers here and there, and then these beautiful, expressive phrases come out, simple as that. Anyone could play like that, right? The answer is, unequivocably, no.
Just then, they finished the cadenza, and the orchestra made its reappearance. Something about that C minor chord... What was the impression I just got? I backed it up and listened repeatedly. It was such a vivid, undeniably clear image, the exact taste and color of... of death. Did someone just die? The music so deeply affected me as to haunt me all the way into town. Hopefully, I could change this heavy subject for something lighter to go with my coffee break.
Over an americano, I chanced upon a seemingly random article Laurie Niles had posted on facebook. Apparently, a well-meaning elderly woman, though lacking any formal training in the restoration of fine art, had taken it upon herself to repaint a fresco of Christ that had badly deteriorated. Her intentions were the best, I'm sure, but the result sadly resembled a crude finger painting of a monkey in a tunic. Wow, how would you like to make the global headlines for destroying a work of art with your ignorance? For making a laughingstock of Christ? For being the sole creator of Monkeyjesus? I couldn't look at it without laughing at the pitiful desecration. And then, something suddenly didn't seem so funny anymore. Changing subjects, I checked my email and found an uncannily well-timed note from Michael Avagliano regarding the Andante:
"There's a story, possibly apocryphal, but it makes sense in the timeline of Mozart's life. He was on tour when he wrote the Concertante, and he received the news of his mother's death. The story goes that this movement was a kind of final conversation with her. It is pretty apparent, though, that he tended to reserve C minor for the most somber and tragic works he wrote."
Chills ran up my arms. What an amazing piece, that Mozart was able to convey to an uninformed person like myself such a graphic sensation of loss, and that Perlman and Zukerman were able to communicate it so specifically through their playing that I understood this without ever being told. And to think I'd been tromping around, hacking up those phrases like a hoodlum vandalizing a graveyard! Have I no respect for the dead?
Tiptoeing back into the studio later, I attempted to reverently resume practice, only to be haunted by images of Monkeyjesus hiding around the corner of every phrase. I could barely lay bow to the string without seeing his crude, disfigured mouth and vacuous eyes. What now? Something had to change; I had to get this monkey out of the studio!
Monkey in tow, I reconsulted Itzhak and Pinky, but this time with a different purpose in mind: if the two instruments are having a conversation, then I should listen to what they are talking about. Instead of watching the bows and fingers, I paid attention to how the violin and viola related to each other, noting the underlying orchestral setting as well, which added a context to each phrase. In the margins, I wrote words that would help remind me of these concepts.
Back to the studio. Cautiously bringing the strings up a half step, I finally got to experience C minor on the viola for the first time, and the colors literally unlocked the piece like a decoded secret. This time, instead of putting the cart before the horse and focusing on technique, I focused on the ideas I'd imagined that would fill the canvas with the proper colors and shapes.
Hopefully, the more particularly I envision what I want on this canvas, the better I will be able to find the technique to make an accurate rendition. After all, I want to paint a convincing picture of that final conversation between Wolfgang and his mother. The clearer the image in my mind, the better chance I'll have of getting it there.
I still can't help but wish I'd had a little more formal training, though...
(14:35 for the Andante)
By jennifer steinfeldt warren
August 25, 2012 15:49
I have been reading through my own blog archive while sitting in a hotel recovering from a long labourious rehearsal so that I can be fresh for the concert in less than a few hours. It is fascinating (oh, I am SO modest, yes?) and interesting to read unfamiliar text that at one point shared the same brain that I use today. Except.... I used to be so much more articulate and organized and introspective and... understandable in my writing than I am now. The past few years have seen me in increasingly obscene amounts of time spent with my nose in a book as opposed to living life, so you'd think it would influence the literary organization of my thoughts. But no. It seems more that I am impressed with who I used to be in the form of expressing myself in conjunction with having useful and worthwhile things/topics/subjects...to talk about. Real content.
After three years or so of feeling lost and stuck in a musically "dead zone", I am waking up and feeling like something that has been broken in my music has been put back together in a new and unpredictably exciting way.
So why isn't that reflected verbally (the written version of a thought or concept). In the years when my music was broken, did I also lose other things that I'd never consciously associate with being musically healthy? All my life music defined who I was. Then I didn't feel as if music made me or was even inside of me. It was torture at first, but then I discovered that I was more than just a musician.
This was not necessarily a good thing. On one hand, I'd lost my drive, my passionate side of my soul. On the other hand, I think that getting burned out and turned off and feeling the deep despair of a sense of one failure after another in the hugest part of who you are... that cannot continue very long before it destructively dissolves your life in general.
So. What is my point? It has come back... because of interaction with other musicians. Because professionally I felt so screwed over that it became transparantly clear that I'd put all my efforts into an organizational system that I cannot control at all. I had no idea that my music had gotten so poisoned that I could not even TELL that it could exist beyond the perameters currently keeping it barely alive.
Then came along a few people who changed the way I saw so many things. Then came along the thing I am worst at doing: stepping away from comfort zones and taking leaps of faith...and getting involved whether or not it will be too much to handle and I will fail. Then came along the realization that friendship and musicianship can equal chamber music and relationships that rekindled a spirit of music that is parallel to what I used to feel, but more mature. And less isolated. Shared.
Now I am in the midst of perhaps overwhelming myself in the attempt to start new musical experiences and relationships and careers so that the ones existing don't tear me up so much when there is nowhere to go but down. And it is SO EXCITING. That in itself still surprises me. I'm not the type of person who embraces change. Of any sort. It is usually scary.
The point is still eluding me. I think it has something to do with understanding that music is the people who make it with us. Not all those standards and technical points. Not the hours spent practicing and the "canon" or education of it. That is necessary of course to develop the skills.
But as you mature and grow into (for me, my thirties)... you must go beyond all that to find meaning and happiness in this very stressful career in which sometimes we can be made to feel as if there is never an end to having to prove yourself every time you pick up your instrument.
Oh my! Time to get ready for the concert!
By Kendra Jacque
August 25, 2012 14:31
Recently got back from a little vacation I took, and today I took down my violin again (I keep it on a "String Swing"). It was a little out of tune so I fixed that, and started to play around with scales. This was my first time playing in about a week, so I felt a little out of practice.
I started playing around with some pieces that I am working on (particularly a piece called Il Mostro by Ashram) and I noticed my vibrato sounded a lot smoother and cleaner. My intonation still could use a bit of work, but it's definitely progress.
So, what's that like for you? How long can you take a practice break to really see what progress you are making? I practice just about everyday (scales and etudes probably once every two days, and performance pieces everyday). I know some people may practice a lot more than I do, but nonetheless I can see I am gaining more skill by the day. Hey, you can't get any worse right?
Enjoy your day,
By james holmes
August 25, 2012 04:43
What is it that plagues musicians, even the healthiest ones, and at all levels?
I can not answer for the rest of you, but when I come down with these symptoms, I too begin to panic. The music comes out droll, forced, and blah! My mind races as I frantically rummage through all my music books to rekindle that creative luster. But even still those once meaningful notes appear to just be random black dots that look more like scattered ink droplets- far from those inherent values that once gave form and depth.
We are musicians, not self sustaining drones that play note-for-note, turned on like the mindless action of flicking a switch. We must, like artists, find the shades in between: the slight threshold of when it starts to change its hues, the texture, and the build up of form from the blushing gradation of its values. This is what draws a viewer to immerse himself or herself in the artist's work. We musicians need to find these shades in the notes we play and saturate those notes with our individual color.
To do this, we may need to look not at the score itself, but at what is around us. Take a glance out your window. Most likely, you will see greens of the grass, leaves and plants. We see this every day, yet we still can find the beauty in the landscape. Music is like this: we can always find the beauty
I say take a step back. Look away from the printed notes for now. Go enjoy what others are playing. It does not matter if they are less skilled or more advanced than you. It is a gift that is being performed. Listening to them will spark as of flint grazed. You will start to feel that churning inside. After a few false starts, your drive and creativity will burn once again.
Perhaps we get too wrapped up in perfectionism isolating ourselves
By David Yonan
August 23, 2012 21:02
It was with great sadness that I learned of Ruggiero Ricci's passing on August 6, 2012. Ruggiero Ricci was truly the last great violinist of the 20th century. He was one of the great child prodigies, who gave his historic Carnegie Hall debut at age 11 and performed as a child for famous people such as Albert Einstein, President Theodore Roosevelt, and Fritz Kreisler. He was the first violinist to ever record the 24 Paganini Caprices. He premiered the Ginastera violin concerto as well as works by many other contemporary composers, and he discovered unknown works of the Romantic era. He made more than 500 recordings and performed well over 6000 concerts in 65 countries. He had a tremendous influence on the string world as well as on classical music world overall.
But Ruggiero Ricci's passing was also a tremendous loss personally for me -- I wouldn't be the violinist and person I am today without him. It was my mother, and my violin teacher, Abraham Jaffe, who encouraged and prepared me to audition for the first International Ruggiero Ricci violin master class festival and competition in my hometown Berlin when I was 12 years old. At the time, I was preparing for my debut at the Berlin Philharmonic Hall with the Berlin Symphony Orchestra. I was very excited to have the opportunity to audition for Mr. Ricci, who was already a living violin legend at that time. About 50 contestants from all over Europe auditioned, and only 10 would be accepted for a week of public master classes with Maestro Ricci, with a final concert and awards ceremony. The awards were solo engagements with major orchestras in Germany.
These master classes were highly publicized in the Berlin media, which gave an extra edge of excitement. I had prepared Bach's Sonata in G minor, Lalo's Symphony Espagnole, and Sarasate's Introduction and Tarantella, all favorite pieces of Mr. Ricci. When the results came out, I was overwhelmed with joy. I was one of the lucky 10 violinists selected for the privilege of working with the Maestro for an entire week. I was also the youngest.
A young David Yonan with Ruggiero Ricci in Berlin, 1987
Little did I know what an intensive week of work would lay ahead of me! Though kind and encouraging, Mr. Ricci's standards were the highest. He had no patience for faulty intonation or rhythm, for tasteless glissandos, or for unintelligent phrasing. He would make that very clear, even if it was in front of 300 people. At the time, he also did not believe in playing with a shoulder rest, and he made me play without one for the week. (Since then, he did change his approach on that subject.)
A vivid memory I have from that week was from one master class, when he did his notoriously famous "scroll-to-wall" test: I had to play Sarasate's Introduction and Tarantella with the scroll against the wall, and without moving the violin. The purpose of that very efficient exercise was to lessen the weight of the fingers of the left hand during shifts. Little did I know that Mr. Ricci would become an influential mentor to me for the next 26 years. It was he who recommended that I continue my studies with the renowned violin pedagogues Roland and Almita Vamos at the Music Institute of Chicago, and later with Professor Werner Scholz at the Berlin "Hanns Eisler" Music Academy, both whom Mr. Ricci held in the highest regard.
As the years went by, the Ricci master classes and competition in Berlin became more and more sought after. In 1995, more than 200 people from all over the world auditioned. He continued to accept only 10 violinists by live audition, no matter if one came from Berlin, New York, or China. These annual master classes and competitions were created by the late Guido Schlemmer and his wife Astrid, who continued this tradition for 10 years until 1997. Guido, a local violin teacher at a community music school in Berlin, had met Mr. Ricci at the Carl Flesch Academy in Baden-Baden, Germany, and was inspired by his artistic mastery and determined to create an annual festival to celebrate Ruggiero Ricci's art in Berlin, where Mr. Ricci had given his debut with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra at age 12 and where he studied for some time.
Again I competed, but this time against many more contestants than in 1987. I played the Sibelius Concerto, Kreisler, Recitativo and Scherzo Caprice and Wieniawski's Faust Fantasy, and I was honored to win the top prize: to perform in a subscription concert with the Berlin Symphony Orchestra at the Berlin Philharmonic Hall.
As the years went by, I attended every concert he gave at the Berlin Philharmonic Hall and elsewhere, and I continued to play for Mr. Ricci when I had to prepare for important concerts. At this time, he was professor at the Mozarteum Academy in Salzburg, Austria. I realized then that individual lessons with Mr. Ricci were very different from a public master class. A lesson might last six hours or more, ending only when his wonderful and devoted wife, Julia, would call him to dinner (and students were always invited to join.) I will never forget the generous hospitality of the Riccis. After a lesson, we would listen to recordings of all of the violin greats: Kreisler, Heifetz, Oistrakh, Heifetz, Milstein, Gitlis, and Pikaizen, all with whom he had friendly personal relations. Those were truly inspiring years.
In 1995, the International Music Festival in Iserlohn, Germany, presented an International Ruggiero Ricci Competition, under the auspices of the European Union. Mr. Ricci immediately suggested that I compete. As in most international competitions, the competition had three rounds, with repertoire that was very demanding. The jury was of the highest caliber: Ruggiero Ricci (president of the Jury), Igor Oistrakh, Victor Pikaizen, Herrman Kerbbers, and Igor Ozim. After months of preparation with my teacher Werner Scholz in Berlin, he suggested that I play for Ricci before the competition. I traveled to Mr. Ricci's house in Salzburg, and he gave me his blessings.
I took a train to the competition wearing jeans, sneakers and a T-shirt, listening to recordings. At some point, I fell asleep. By the time I woke up and arrived, my entire suitcase with my concert attire was gone! There was a press conference for all the contestants and judges, and everyone was surprised to see what I had come to the competition wearing. I was terrified! Obviously I couldn't perform like that. Mrs. Ricci immediately announced that she had to buy new clothes for me. She took me to the best boutique in the town and said that I should choose the best tuxedo and suit for each round. I felt rather intimidated and obliged by her offer, and I asked Mrs. Ricci how I could ever pay her back. She responded that I could pay her back by winning a prize in the competition. To this day I remember how I played the fiercely difficult Ysaye Sonata No. 6 in the semi-final round, with one thought: that I had to make it to final round to pay back Mrs. Ricci! I eventually won second place and paid her back in full.
In 1998, I was selected to compete in the Indianapolis violin competition, and Mr. Ricci was on the Jury panel. I was happy to see him, his wife Julia, and his poodle, Pamina, again. Pamina was the Riccis' beloved mascot and would often give her approval with a howl at my performances -- I noticed this also during my performance in Indianapolis. She was a special part of Mr. Ricci's life, and traveled with him and Julia in a little handbag, wherever they went.
Mr. Ricci was a very kind, humble and generous person; he didn't have an aura of arrogance or snobbism around him despite all of his legendary accomplishments and popularity. He didn't have a big ego, which was something I always admired about him.
Often when I hit a roadblock in practicing and preparing certain virtuoso pieces, I would pick up the phone and call him. Even over the phone, he would always have a solution to the problem. Several times I played for him the 24 Paganini Caprices, knowing he was the absolute authority on them, having been the first person to record them in 1947 and then recording them four more times throughout his life. His approach to the left hand was one of utmost elegance, economy and style. His left hand pizzicato was hard to believe and impossible to beat. Even in later years, watching his technique was like observing a natural phenomenon. You would learn so much by just watching and listening to him.
His modest lifestyle and matter-of-fact attitude made it rewarding to be around him. On top of that, he had a great sense of humor. He was always interested in hearing about my latest accomplishments and developments in my career, often giving me important career and life advice. For example, in 2000, the famous violin pedagogue Dorothy Delay invited me to continue my studies with her at the Juilliard School with a full scholarship from the German Academic Exchange Program, and Mr. Ricci recommended I take that offer. Delay's class was for decades the mecca for every young violinist from around the world, and I was excited to come back to the United States, where I had studied as a teenager with the Vamoses.
When I began lessons with Ms. Delay that year, I had no clue that the next year -- in 2001 -- America would be hit with one of the greatest tragedies in its history, on Sept. 11. The following year, Ms. Delay passed away from cancer. With the passing of Ms. Delay, I had to make some very difficult life decisions: whether I wanted to continue my career in the U.S. or go back to Germany. In 2002, I decided to move back to Chicago, which has been my home ever since. That same year, Mr. Ricci moved from Europe to Palm Springs, California, to enjoy a warmer and drier climate. I made annual visits to Palm Springs, to play for him and spend quality time together.
Meanwhile in Chicago, the late Geoff Fushi started a master class series in his legendary violin shop, Bein and Fushi, in the historic Fine Arts Building. In the same building, I started my own concert series, the Fine Arts Music Society, of which Mr. Ricci was an honorary member of the advisory board. The Chicago media publicized those master classes and I established myself quickly as a concert violinist in the city by performing all 24 Paganini Caprices in a tribute concert to Mr. Ricci during one of Mr. Ricci's visits to Chicago in 2002. I had already performed them successfully at the Aspen Music Festival and was excited for the opportunity to perform them in Mr. Ricci's presence in Chicago. The day of the performance was hit by a blizzard, and I doubted whether or not the Maestro would arrive. Needless to say, I felt honored when he walked through the door, with snow on his coat, despite the unfortunate weather. When Mr. Ricci promised to be somewhere, he would be there. Similarly, if I asked him to write me recommendations for competitions or conductors, they would usually arrive within a couple of days after I requested them, in the mail.
In 2003/04 I became very interested in Mr. Ricci's solo transcriptions, some which have been never published. During a visit to his home in Palm Springs in 2004, we went over his famous Tarrega "Recuerdos del Alhambra" and "Spanish Romance" guitar transcriptions, as well as his cadenzas for the Brahms concerto.
We also went over the complete solo Sonatas of Eugene Ysaye, which he recorded in their entirety. I vividly remember how he stopped me after the first page of Ysaye Sonata No. 2, the movement "Obsession," which is based on Bach's Prelude from the Partita No. 3 in e-Major. He stopped me and shouted, "Do you have rushitis?" It took me a moment to understand what he meant and that he was referring to my rushed playing. We both laughed -- that was his way of loosening you up during a lesson.
It was a great honor, when he allowed me to make a copy of his "Spanish Romance" transcription's handwritten dedication -- it is now framed and will always remind me of that particular visit, in which we covered mostly violin solo repertoire.
Mr. Ricci continued to perform until 2003, when he gave his last public performance at the Smithsonian Institute in New York. He continued to listen to and teach young violinists until the very end of his life. In fact, he continued to perform in public master classes up until 2010. His home in Palm Springs remained a very inspiring place, where he would share his knowledge of the violin with visitors from around the world. Often a lesson would last an entire day, with shared meals and listening to recordings. By that time, I had established a String Performance Program for highly gifted violinists in the Fine Arts Building, and I would prepare deserving young students of my program to play for him at the Bein & Fushi Ricci master classes. It was a very inspiring and rewarding experience for them as well. I became even more interested in Mr. Ricci's recordings, especially re-releases from his early years, which were not available for some time. All of the major record labels such as Decca, Vox, started to put out tribute compilations albums of his music, and I became more aware of his significance in music history -- and the time spent with him was becoming more precious.
A major milestone for Mr. Ricci was when he published his second book, Ricci on Glissando, with Indiana University Press, which is a continuation of his first book, Left-Hand Violin Technique, published 20 years earlier by Shirmer. The book is accompanied by a DVD and explains in great detail Mr. Ricci's philosophy on the artistry of his left and right hand technique. While acknowledging the publications by the significant pedagogues Carl Flesch and Ivan Galamian, he makes the case of a more fluid approach to the violin by going back to the art of Paganini, Spohr, Wieniawski, Vieuxtemps, Ernst, and other great Romantic violin virtuosos whose works he performed like no one else and which he knew from the inside out. I preordered it and immediately shared it with my students.
In 2007, I planned a trip to "Casa Ricci" with three selected young students from my program to do a chapter-by-chapter review the book with the author himself, all filmed on DVD. Every day, my students, their parents, and I would meet the Maestro at noon, for an entire week. He would teach until dusk, teaching the great violin repertoire and going over each chapter of the book. It was for me the most intensive week with the maestro.
At Mr. Ricci's home in Palm Springs, 2007
This was also the last time that I performed the 24 Paganini Caprices for Mr. Ricci. He pointed out 26 misprints in the Paganini, which I had not realized before, although I had studied them with the critical Urtext Editions by Henle and Ricordi. The trip was truly inspiring for me and my students and thus in 2009, I approached my teachers Roland and Almita Vamos to present the book in Chicago for their students. We arranged a Fine Arts Music Society master class and book presentation in April 2009, given by Mr. Ricci at the Music Institute of Chicago, which was attended by many prominent musicians in Chicago.
For one last time we all witnessed a musical legend. A legendary man, who made the difficult and successful transition from world-famous child prodigy to one of the greatest artists of the 20th century. It was a wonderful celebration of his art and his life, and it was his last trip to Chicago. Afterwards we celebrated with a dinner in a local Italian restaurant, accompanied by students and friends, with whom he shared many humorous anecdotes of his amazing long life with a chuckle in his voice and his witty, dry sense of humor. He loved sharing his vast knowledge and wisdom with the younger generations, whom he inspired with his extraordinary artistry and generous personality.
That is how I will always remember him.
By Emily Grossman
August 23, 2012 20:31
Over two weeks later and I admit, I'm still basking in the afterglow of the Kenai Peninsula Orchestra's performance. I've played in better symphonies, but I've never been more proud to see what returns could be yielded when choosing to invest in my little widespread community. Take a handful of dedicated musicians scattered throughout a wilderness about the size of West Virginia, assemble them for just two weeks to do battle with Tchaikovsky and Dvorak, and I dare you to accomplish as much as our ensemble managed to produce on the stage that night.
If I wasn't already before, I'm now a believer in magic, miracles, and dreams come true. I kid you not: the three violists managed a perfectly matched solo in the third movement of the New World Symphony. If you don't believe me, I have recorded proof at 24:08. If we could manage a feat like that, I can't help but think maybe anything's possible. What better way to begin the school year, than with a teacher that believes in miracles? My students are in for a real treat.
Now is the time to make things happen, and I'm striking while the iron is hot. Here's my ensemble hit list:
Brahms, horn trio
You know who you are. Resistance is futile; I will prevail. So, you'd better be practicing. (18 hours so far this week, but who's counting?)
And some day, mark my words, the cellist of my dreams will fall from the sky with a copy of Brahms in his hands. Anything's possible. I believe, I believe...
By Karen Allendoerfer
August 23, 2012 15:24
One of the reasons I know that fall is coming is that the ArlPO yahoo group, the email list for the Arlington Philharmonic Orchestra, where I play violin, is getting active again. And one of our long-time members posted this: "The Mountains and Music committee of AMC's Boston Chapter sponsors three weekends each year that combine music-making and outdoor activities." There is one of these weekends coming up in October, and they are playing Beethoven's Eroica and Schubert's Rosamunde overture. I check my calendar, I'm free that weekend, I could register. But hmm, Eroica again? I just played that last December here in Belmont, with an orchestra so good that they were doing a favor by opening participation up to the likes of me . . . And then I catch myself: am I really thinking that ("again")? About *this* piece?
The first time I played Beethoven's 3rd was about 30 years ago, with the Greater Buffalo Youth Orchestra. It was a bright spot in an otherwise rather difficult year, musically. It was a stretch for me technically, and to be frank, a stretch for most of the orchestra at that time. I don't think our tempos were very fast, and we didn't have any trouble endowing the second movement with appropriate dirge-like qualities. But to this day, I don't think that--the imperfect struggles of an ambitious youth orchestra that may have bitten off a little more than it could chew--was what I was hearing when I played it.
I had a cassette tape (yes, I remember those) that I had made of a recording that I begged or borrowed from someone, or maybe got from the library. I have no idea now which orchestra it was. I listened to it all the time when I wasn't in school or practicing. I listened to it while I was getting dressed in the morning. This doesn't sound at all remarkable now--and I think in fact if I'd had my current teacher back then, she would have recommended against it. She says to listen to 3 recordings and not to let any one interpretation have too much influence. My adult, iPod-owning, iTunes-and-YouTube-using self, awash in recordings and interpretations galore, agrees with her and thinks this is good advice.
But it's hard to emphasize enough how different it was for me back then. My family didn't listen to music at home, except for pop radio in the car. We didn't go to concerts, either. Most of my days were spent in quiet, and the only classical music I heard was when I practiced or rehearsed, or when my teacher played for me. I had only recently acquired a radio/turntable/tape player with a decent stereo sound. And so this recording, imperfect and unknown though it was, *was* the Eroica. If I had to answer to my current teacher, I'd tell her that I wasn't listening for "interpretation." That would come later. I was listening for much more basic things: rhythm, pitch, tempo, when to rest and when to come in. I was just learning what the piece was *about*.
Nevertheless, when the concert came around, I knew what I was doing. At one of the later rehearsals, the conductor, frustrated with how the orchestra was playing generally, singled me out for public praise, saying there were a few players, like me, who "were getting every note." I was a little embarrassed, but I was also gratified that he could see me all the way back there. At the break, my stand partner looked at me too, with large eyes. "Wow," she said. And added something like "you've been practicing a lot, haven't you?" I don't know for sure, but I assume that the people up in the front of the section--those who were headed to conservatories and music majors--always played like that, always knew when to come in, generally "got every note". That level of playing was apparently remarkable coming from me, and for the first time, I began to understand why. This time I knew the music better than I ever had before. I had spent a lot of time with it, day in and day out. I even thought about it when I wasn't practicing. I heard echoes of Boromir blowing his "great horn" in the Fellowship of the Ring, which I was reading at that time. This wasn't what I usually did for orchestra music.
After that, I didn't play the piece again for 30 years. I heard it in concert several times, played by good pro orchestras, I bought recordings. I enjoyed all these performances, but it wasn't the same as playing it. And then last winter, over Christmas, I got the chance again. I blogged about it a little bit here: it was a 4-day festival with an orchestra consisting primarily of high-level student musicians who'd known each other in the Greater Boston Youth Symphony Orchestra (I got in by virtue of being a town resident and member of the local community orchestra). Three long, consecutive rehearsals and then bang, the concert.
I've thought about which performance I liked better. It's hard to say. The 1982 version had its charms, but the 2011 version was musically and technically superior, and a privilege to be playing with such accomplished musicians. And even though the last time I'd played the piece was before most of the other players were born, and the tempos were brisker, the muscle memory came back. I didn't get "every note," but I kept up, I didn't embarrass myself. What I think tips the scale in favor of the 1982 version for me, however, is the timing. Back then, you had months, rather than days, to prepare for a performance. You could do what I had to: sit with the music, spend some quality time with it, get to know it. There was time to let it become part of you. Even now, I prefer the community orchestra schedule, which allows for a concert about every 3 months. When concerts are more frequent, and the program changes from week to week and even day to day, I start to forget what they are about and why I am there. I lose interest. The music goes, literally, "in one ear and out the other." There is no way I could have played Eroica the way I did either time, from scratch in 4 days.
I have a natural tendency towards the traditional and the deliberate. I like recordings, I like to reminisce. And, especially, I like to take my time, anticipate, experience in depth, and savor afterwards. It has always been upsetting to me, after an entire month of Advent, to see Christmas trees kicked to the curb before the New Year. Sure, I like closure and all that, but I don't like being pushed to "move on" before something is really over. And I especially dislike aspects of our disposable culture, and the inordinate value placed on experiences and trends being "new." So in that way, studying classical music has been a natural fit for me.
But as I've gone further in music and the world has speeded up, I've also been introduced to a concept that I'm still getting used to: being "in the moment." And, the idea that some things, like art and music, are more beautiful because they are fleeting and cannot be captured and recorded. People say this in particular about live performances. The 2011 live performance of the Eroica was made all the more lovely by the 19-year-old conductor's pre-concert comments. He talked of the composer as Prometheus unbound; he asked us to play for the audience short excerpts that illustrated new and daring musical innovations that Beethoven had introduced with this symphony. He was discovering and conducting the symphony for himself for the first time--and made it new again for all of us. If I play it again in October, will I be able to capture some of that fleeting magic too? Maybe, with these two performances under my belt, freer of having to think so much about the logistics of bowings, fingerings, and intonation, I'll be able to interpret more, and to connect.
Classical music is so rewarding for me because it is timeless, because it doesn't have to belong to a particular era, because it is not disposable, because it doesn't matter if it's new. Because once a piece of classical music becomes part of you, 30 years between performances makes so little, and so much, difference.
Revisit Violinist.com editor Laurie Niles' coverage from Canada of the 2013 Montreal International Musical Competition, including her interview with gold medalist Marc Bouchkov.
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Confessions of a Former Suzuki Teacher by Pamela Wiley - May 2013
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