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 Laurie Niles
September 7, 2012 14:12
Earlier this week, the UK columnist Norman Lebrecht pointed out that a number of important orchestras in the United States are facing dire circumstances: the Atlanta Symphony musicians have no contract, no paycheck, and no health insurance; Minnesota Orchestra management is pushing for a $40,000 pay cut for musicians; the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra management has proposed cutting the number of musicians by 17 percent and reducing their pay by 15 percent; Indianapolis Symphony management has proposed reducing its season from 52 to 36 weeks, reducing musician pay by 40 percent and cutting number of musicians from 87 positions to 69; and the musicians of the San Antonio Symphony have had to resort to filing a union complaint against management for non-payment of wages and failure to negotiate a new contract.
It's a lot of bad news, but does it really mean that "the era of the symphony orchestra is done"? That is what our V.com member Michelle Jones wrote in a thought-provoking and very practical blog yesterday called The End of the Symphony and How Today's Music Students Should Adapt. Whether the era of the symphony orchestra is coming to an end or not, I'd highly recommend Michelle's blog as a must-read for music students of today, who will undoubtedly have to be much more entrepreneurial and self-propelled then classical and symphony musicians of the 20th century had to be.
I would add one thing to her list of 12 adaptations students, teachers and professional musicians must make in the new century: We must learn to advocate for our art. This goes beyond marketing ourselves, and it goes beyond simple education efforts -- though it does encompass those two things. We need to each take personal responsibility for showing why music makes a difference in our communities, why we have devoted our lives to it, why we love it. We have to make music matter in the lives of people around us, to find ways to incorporate it into our communities. We have to participate in efforts to raise private funding, leverage public funding, and incorporate our symphonies into public life.
Because frankly, I'm not ready to sit back and wave the symphony orchestra goodbye across all the cities in the United States and around the world. The symphony is an institution capable of doing vast public good. It is a work of art that is alive and present in a community, and its members spread that spark of both high competence and knowledge when they live and teach there. The symphony is a mark of civic pride, and its musicians give people, young and old, something excellent for which to strive. The symphony provides a venue to welcome performing artists from around the world and to celebrate community holidays and events. It brings people to the city center for concerts, provides a social forum, provides business to area restaurants. I could go on.
One thing is certain: the era of taking the symphony for granted CERTAINLY is over. As for the future of the symphony? If you have a symphony in your community, it needs every advocate it can get, and that means YOU!
Sometime near the very end of my life, I'd like to be sitting in the balcony of a symphony hall, listening to a Brahms Symphony. I don't want to be singing this song:
September 6, 2012 20:48
Oh September, one of my favorite times of year. The breeze begins to carry a crisp chill, colors slowly creep onto the New England leaves, students take over the city with their brand new books, and we scramble to figure out our football pools (New England Patriots all the way, fingers crossed). It's a new concert season, a new academic season - a new year.
Like the New Year, it’s a clean slate and a time to dive into one’s work and priorities. For me, this will mean many countless hours (some dull, some exciting) slaving away alone in a practice room, hours of rehearsal with others chipping away at the finer points of Bach and Berg, a daily dose of (sometimes) frenzied phone-calls and emails, and last but not least the hours upon hours spent in airports, on airplanes, trains, etc. As at the start of each season I always seem to say that this year will be different, that I will slow down the time and savor as much as possible, that the season won’t become just another crazed whirlwind and race to the finish line. Yet, I always seem to look up the following summer and say, “what happened to September?”
As I was dissecting a phrase in the Brahms Concerto the other day, playing it over and over, analyzing each note, its direction, its coloring, its intonation, I realized that what we musicians ultimately attempt to do on a daily basis is to convey the innermost emotions and thoughts of a composer at one set point in time to a listener listening at an unrelated point in time. To do this, we must ceaselessly work to attain a greater understanding and mastery of the music, and certainly, we take our time (years and years) to do it.
And then, it dawned upon me that I can apply this same drive for greater musical knowledge to September and beyond. Though the rat race probably won't change all that much, there will always be the crazed times, ample work, and long hours, we can attempt to go through it all with a deeper understanding, always peeling away at the layers of whatever may come up.
So, I for one resolve this season to learn more, work more, understand more, and just live more. To not just go by rote, but to scrub the daily routine, as we musicians so often do with music, and find the deeper meaning as often as possible.
Happy new season!
By Michelle Jones
September 6, 2012 20:00
The era of the symphony orchestra is done. I’ve said this with a heavy heart for the past fifteen years. It has gone the way of dozens of other artistic mediums (portable mp3 players replaced CD players that replaced their tape predecessors; digital photos taken by camera phones replaced film that replaced its predecessors, etc.) It is no longer commonplace for every city to have a professional symphony orchestra, but rather a luxury for certain cities and for those patrons that can afford to keep it going (private and corporate.) Don’t get me wrong – I really hate stating the obvious, especially since I am a lover of classical music. I love playing it, studying it, practicing it, and teaching it. The history of each piece is so unique and representative of the times in which they were written. The great works will always withstand the test of time. However, the number of people who will pay to see them performed live is dwindling. The costs are going up, yet the demand is going down.
Then why are the universities sending out thousands of graduates into a field where they can only hope to land a position in a rare, well-funded orchestra? These graduates are not only not finding jobs, but are missing most of the skills necessary to find other work, or more importantly, having the skills to create their own work.
I have a theory.
Universities are slow to change. The bureaucrats and academians (yes, I made up this word) are not as open-minded as one would think. They want to protect their jobs more than they care about the students that merely pass through their halls. It’s self-preservation for them. By creating more graduates, they increase their numbers and tenure. Since only a tiny minority of the music school graduates land the coveted symphony jobs, those that don’t usually end up doing a career not in their chosen field, or end up teaching themselves. Universities expand to meet the demands of the higher population of students going to college, and they expand the departments where people want to major. Since most universities only want professors who have masters or doctoral degrees, those who have these credentials get the jobs. Those who usually have these credentials also were a product of the same university system where the goal is to get and keep their job. Many of the university professors that I have encountered throughout the past twenty-plus years have not had to create their own businesses and make a living as freelance musicians. They have had the regular job of teaching as their “fall-back” and have not been forced to make the same decisions that today’s students face.
It’s a perpetual cycle. I don’t see a change coming, yet. But I’m hoping for it. And this is what I propose:
1. All music students should be required to double major in business. The music program teaches you how to play music, but the business program will teach you how to make a living performing music. Marketing, taxes, accounting, licensing, advertising, legal, etc. are all extremely important subjects to know to be a freelance musician. Most musicians don’t realize what they can and cannot deduct on IRS forms, and have to pay an accountant to deal with it. Most also do not realize that they are offering a service; this service needs to be marketed and advertised.
2. All music students should be required to learn about unions. This is not just the musicians’ union, but all unions in the field of the performing arts. Not all states have the same rules or laws, and many times music graduates hope to work and tour all over the world. These students need to know the policies and procedures, as well as the laws, of every potential performing arts venue.
3. All music students should be required to learn about insurance. This is every type of insurance from instrument to liability to even health insurance.
4. All music students should be required to learn about contracts and the legalese. Even if they are offered a position with a prestigious symphony, it is usually under a contract, and each person needs to be able to read it and understand it. They need to know that everything is negotiable, and they should never sign it without reading it thoroughly. This subject of contracts is even more important when you are freelance, as all work should take place under a contract. Details should be in writing to avoid confusion, and it binds all the parties involved to certain responsibilities.
5. Universities should offer classes in multiple styles and genres, and encourage students to study those other than their chosen major style. Jazz studies will help classical music majors with improvisation, while theory classes will help vocalists understand chord patterns and progressions.
6. All music students should learn about recording arts. I’m not asking that each musician learn every detail of a mixing board, but rather to understand the specific microphone placement and recording of their chosen instrument(s). Most musicians will have some experience with recording during their lifetime, especially if they are submitting a recorded audition for a symphony orchestra.
7. In addition to learning about recording arts, all music students should learn how to play to a click track/pre-recorded track. This is especially helpful to have some experience with this, as many of the jobs that require a symphony are film and television studios.
8. All music students should learn how to amplify their instruments electronically. They should learn the difference between pickups and microphones, wired and wireless, amps and speakers, direct-input boxes and pre-amps, etc. More and more of today’s jobs include specific amplification of instruments for live settings and large venues.
9. All music students should learn the basics on how to clean and care for their instruments, including minor repairs. This seems so obvious, yet I know professional string musicians that still are not sure how to reset the sound post if it falls, or even how to shape a bridge to their liking. Yes, I do leave major work to the professionals, but in a bind, I know how to repair most any problem without doing major damage so the professional luthier can later do a permanent repair.
10. All music students should learn preventative medicine. For this, I am specifically referring to how to stretch and warm-up properly before every practice session, as well as every performance. Diet, exercise, and overall health are essential to being able to perform, regardless of instrument. You have to learn how to stay healthy in order to prolong your career. Professional athletes have a much shorter career than most professional musicians, yet musicians are sometimes required to do more physically every day. Taking care of your body will ensure you have a longer and rewarding music career.
11. Universities need to hire experienced, professional musicians who have been in the field and know how to teach it. Degrees are wonderful, but the experience should weigh more when it comes to wanting students to understand the realities associated with a music career.
12. And finally, as old-fashioned as this sounds, all music students should be required to learn how to act and dress for each role. Musicians must be versatile in appearance in order to fit the jobs. Symphonies prefer traditional appearance (no strange hair colors, no tattoos, neutral fingernail shades, conservative makeup and jewelry, long-sleeved blouses, long dresses, well-fitting tuxes, polished shoes, etc.) Jazz ensembles sometimes prefer a mix between symphonic dress and all black attire with nice suits being an option to the tuxes. Rock ensembles usually prefer nothing traditional where most anything is acceptable. The working musicians I know fit into ALL these styles of appearances, and more. When I need to fit into “rock,” I sometimes wear hairpieces in bright colors, paint my nails, and wear short skirts and fishnets. When I play with a symphony, I wear long black formal attire, conservative makeup, no or clear nail polish, natural hair in a neat style, sheer black hose and closed-toe black heels.
Just as most companies are slow to change, schools and universities are slow to change, too. Today’s society and marketplace seem to adapt quickly to the constant fluctuations and “improvements,” and I simply think that our educational institutions need to adapt, too, by giving us graduates that are actually trained and employable immediately. Perhaps our employment rate would be different overall if the educational system really did recognize what companies want in their graduates, and would only graduate those students that are truly ready for those jobs. Again, it’s just my theory.
I invite you to read more entries at my website: Vinylinist.com
By Emily Grossman
September 6, 2012 14:06
"They should have known want; they should have known hunger. Zimbalist, Elman, Heifetz, Rosen, Seidel - they all came of poor people. There is something, I know not what, that is bred in the soul by poverty. It is something mystic. To feel this terrible need is the motive power that drives genius. It develops feeling; it makes both force and tenderness." ~Leopold Auer
I didn't grow up poor, but I do know about hunger: tell me about long winter months of uninterrupted silence and musical deprivation, and I will tell you about hunger. Hunger comes from the starvation of the soul. Throw me a single scrap of enlightenment after such cultural poverty, and I will pounce on it, begging for more.
For three weeks after the summer music festival concert, I went on a muse-inspired practice binge, stuffing my fingers full of Bach, Brahms, Mozart, and Bruch. My appetite flourished, completely insatiable; with great big mouthfuls, I devoured them all, readying myself for the next great musical experience. I was on fire.
About three weeks of unreturned emails and coffee shop back-outs from other musicians is also about the amount of time it takes to put a fire hose to my bonfire of enthusiasm. Three and a half weeks into this inspired journey, and I suddenly threw up my hands in disgust. What is this? Another haphazard finger in the blender of musical repertoire? It felt like I'd been cut off, and the wound bled a painful, seeping stain into my hours of investment.
Meanwhile, the wind shifted, stripping yellowed leaves from the trees in gusts. Parking lots in town emptied of their flux of RV's and fishing boats. Cranes and chickadees rounded up into their respective flocks, and the porcupines took to crossing the roads. As a well-seasoned Alaskan, I knew what would follow; I could scent it on the wind.
Survival instincts are three: fight, flight, or play dead. To get through the upcoming onslaught of solitude and darkness, I had my three plans figured out: 1.) Pester people until they play music with me. Kidnap a cellist. 2.) Move to Austin. Eat brisket. 3.) Buy a large bottle of spirits and shut it all out. Repeat.
Prompted by the persistent wind, I picked up the phone and gave Tammy another call. Tomorrow? Bruch? Your place? Simple as that, I'd finally pinned her down. Immediately, my shoulders felt lighter during the evening's purposeful practice.
Who knows, maybe we will actually make it to the Khachaturian this time. I'm going to do whatever it takes. Whatever it takes...
By Laurie Niles
September 6, 2012 11:38
Our Celebrate Classical Music project inspired 22 blogs from Violinist.com members all over the globe, young and old, student and professional. Choosing a winner from among these blogs proved no easy task; they were all so good! Many thanks to our guest celebrity bloggers, Hilary Hahn, Philippe Quint, and Adam DeGraff, who wrote blogs at my request. (The guest bloggers weren't eligible to win!)
And now, I'd like to name the Violinist.com member with the winning essay…drum roll…it's Sam Rubin. Sam is a senior in high school from Monroe, New York, whose wonderful blog describes his evolution as a young musician, from a resistant child, through periods of experimentation and transformation, to a thoughtful young adult who appreciates many kinds of music, especially classical.
Celebrate Classical Music produced a wealth of beautiful and thoughtful blogs. I have listed them all below, with a a link and my favorite quotes or ideas from each blog. If you ever want to convince a friend, or a student, or a symphony board member, or anyone else, about the merits of classical music, here are many ideas to help you!
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Christian Vachon is from Ottawa, Canada.
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Mendy Smith is from League City, Texas.
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Rupert Kirby is from Lynton, North Devon, United Kingdom.
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James Holmes is from Connecticut.
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Sam Rubin is from New York.
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Bronwyn Edwards is from Williamstown, Australia.
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Laurie Niles, Editor and Founder of Violinist.com, is from Pasadena, California.
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Kendra Jacque is from Makkovik, Canada
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John Saunders is from New Orleans, Louisiana.
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Joseph Howell is from Conroe, Texas.
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GUEST BLOG: Adam DeGraff of The Dueling Fiddlers
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Jim Hastings is from Huntsville, Alabama.
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Karen Allendoerfer is from Belmont, Massachusetts.
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Azucena Pintado is from Toulouse, France.
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GUEST BLOG: Philippe Quint:
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Karis Crawford is from Ada, Michigan.
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Ingrid Popp is from St. Louis, Missouri.
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GUEST BLOG: Hilary Hahn
By Hilary Hahn
September 6, 2012 08:51
EDITOR'S NOTE: Award-winning violinist Hilary Hahn has written a special guest blog that wraps up our series of blogs on the subject Celebrate Classical Music. As she does in music, she came up with a wonderful and unique interpretation!
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I have realized something recently about classical music, something that both surprises and delights me. As a player, I have a constant backdrop of classical music in my thoughts and in my inner soundtrack, and there is unlimited potential for discovery within this music’s history and ongoing offerings. Like most people who are reading these words, I fell for the works, the emotions, the directness, and the nebulousness within classical music long ago.
But this thing that I realized about classical music has little to do with any of that. It is rather that classical music is the ultimate rebel. This overarching body of work kicks butt so much, and has such seniority over us, that it does not care whether any one person likes it or not. It will be what it will be. Its composers will write what they will write. It does not need to cater to us any more. By now, it is greater than the sum of our human contributions, and that is terrific! Despite this, it humors us. It lets us practice and theorize; it enriches our commutes and our evenings in and our evenings out; it runs through our heads taunting us; it brings infamy to its creators and challenges to its interpreters; it teases us, amuses us, makes statements, and generally does its own thing while allowing listeners and performers to see themselves in it. All the while, classical music -- this messy, brilliant, ever-evolving giant of a genre -- encompasses a uniqueness that we hope to retain. It is beautiful, and it is unpredictable.
An intoxicating result of this nonchalance is that, as if classical music were the popular kid in high school, many people are hopelessly in love with it. If we -- its admirers -- were told that as of tomorrow, all classical music would end, mayhem would break out amongst us. We would campaign, we would scrounge, we would stash, and we would sob. We would feel that our souls were being sucked out of us. I may seem to be exaggerating, but am I, really? We truly care what happens to classical music, because we are better off for its existence. We are its biggest advocates, creating outreach programs, working overtime out of sheer dedication, and populating concert halls. Even in trying times, we are not about to let classical music slide. We worry. Oh, how we worry. But that is because we love it.
A few months ago, I was reading a blog that mentioned a web application called Cleverbot. That post pointed out how little Cleverbot “knew” about a certain topic and encouraged its readers to start “talking” with the program to “educate” it. (Here’s how it works: Cleverbot contributes phrases as its part of a typed exchange; those phrases are lifted from a database of sentences written by earlier online conversational partners.) I decided to conduct my own experiment, to see what would happen if I “spoke” with it about classical music.
The result generated some zingers. I’ve cut and pasted that conversation below, shortened -- but not re-written -- for clarity. A challenge to classical music lovers waits at the end. Why not plant some great phrases? Better yet, don’t stop at one conversation: spread the classical music appreciation to your friends. You know you want to.
By Andrew Lukonis
September 5, 2012 10:26
As musicians and artists, inspiration is our fuel and desire is our drive. The smallest spark of imagination can ignite the composition of an epic orchestral suite, the painting of a priceless work of art, the creation of a time-defying marble sculpture…or just the writing of a simple encouraging blog.
After posting The Price of a Dream, I was overwhelmed by all of the caring positive comments from those who read it and felt its impact. Certainly there are many young folks out there that are in need of assistance in one way or another. And certainly many of them have dreams they would like to fulfill. But when one of these stories personally enters into your life, like it did mine, something changes. The little Ebenezer that exists in all of us seems to shrink ever smaller and the goodness of the human spirit begins to shine.
It is said that people usually have two reasons for doing a thing, one that sounds good and the real one. Truth be told, I also had two reasons for providing Savannah with the violin she so greatly desired but couldn’t afford. After hearing her story, I was compelled to help fulfill a young girl’s dream. When something as impactful as this is placed directly into your hands, there seems to be only one inherent choice to make.
But the real reason for my small act of kindness goes a bit deeper. You see, in recent times I have been repeatedly discouraged by the unaccountability of people not doing what they promised to do. I have been taken advantage of by individuals and companies to whom I entrusted my money & time. I have seen the corruption of major establishments at the highest level. And I have felt that much of the kindness I have previously given has been shunned and brushed aside.
I am ashamed to say that I was beginning to lose my faith in people.
So when this opportunity to help a troubled young lady was dropped into my lap, I had a choice – give up on trying to help people or give it one last shot. If you read my original blog post, you already know that I chose the latter. I am not a quitter. And I don’t give up.
I wanted to believe in the power of the human spirit again. I wanted to show a young girl that she was not forgotten by the world. I wanted to prove to myself that one small act of kindness could really, truly make a difference in another person’s life. I wanted to get MY hope back!
And all of you at violinist.com as well as others that have graciously shared my blog post with friends, family, and colleagues have shown me the best side of what it means to be human! In just the few short weeks after my story was posted, positive comments with tears of joy and inspiration have poured in. I have had requests to reprint my short story in school newsletters. I have had offers to send unused violin sheet music to Savannah. And most graciously, there is a plan underway by the music directors of the Eastern Music Festival to aid Savannah in her enrollment to attend the five-week summer music program in Greensboro, NC that hosts aspiring young musicians from around the world! Truly and humbly, my dwindling flame of hope has been rekindled!
But I am a big thinker, and when inspiration hits me I must utilize it to its fullest extent. So this holiday weekend, I spent a majority of my time learning and researching how to create a e-book, as this is something I had never done before. I compared the differences between online publishers, I blasted through a ninety-something page styling guide for formatting, I designed my own book cover, I worked and reworked my synopses…until finally my first e-book, The Price Of A Dream, was born! There are still some small tweaks to make, sure, but it is ready for the world and debuted on violinist.com!
The Price Of A Dream is essentially a reformatted version of my original blog post. I am charging 99 cents for the short story and I have made the first 50% of the book free to download. It is available in nearly all major reading formats. And the best part, a large portion of the proceeds will go directly to helping the advancement of Savannah’s music career as she pursues her dream of becoming a professional violinist!
Of course, the original story will always be free on violinist.com and it is encouraged to be shared, as no one reserves the right to corner the market on hope. But the e-book will serve to directly help improve Savannah’s financial struggles, and it can be shared far and wide to reach the greatest audience, regardless of whether they are musicians or not. If you find it in your heart as the right thing for you to do, please read and share!
Thank you for all of the wonderful support and encouragement! The music community is so much like an extended family.
By Thomas Cooper
September 3, 2012 14:33
What began as a tragic happening mid-season for the Youth Philharmonic Orchestra, when conductor Benjamin Zander was fired, has now transformed into a new and wonderful opportunity. I remember the very conversation in the hallway when my fellow orchestra members and I asked Mr. Zander if we could have another opportunity to play under him again. Now, as the members of the Boston Philharmonic Youth Orchestra look towards the inaugural season, excitement builds every day.
I plan to write a blog entry twice a month about the inaugural season of the Boston Philharmonic Youth Orchestra with Benjamin Zander. I will detail the journey of an orchestra, as a member, preparing to perform three highly publicized and anticipated concerts, play with world class soloists, and embark on a demanding 12-day concert tour of Holland culminating in a final concert at the legendary Concertgebouw in Amsterdam.
Our repertoire includes Mahler, Strauss, Beethoven, Schumann, Elgar and more. Our soloists range from BPYO members, to the famed concert cellist Alisa Weilerstein, to the young wunderkind pianist George Li, winner of the 2010 Thomas and Evon Cooper Competition. In addition to writing about rehearsals and concerts, I plan to interview some members of the orchestra and, if I am lucky, some of our brilliant soloists. Most importantly however, I hope to share with you the feelings of what it means to be apart of such a journey, and some of the unspoken truths of a young person being in a demanding youth orchestra.
Before all of the mayhem can begin however, there is much work to be done. Seating excerpts were just sent out a couple weeks ago, and many members simply gazed at them, not knowing what to do. These excerpts are from Richard Strauss’ Ein Heldenleben. “He’s nuts…,” was what my teacher said when he saw the title of the piece. Ein Heldenleben, the final and perhaps the most demanding tone poem written by Strauss, is a piece that even top orchestras would shy away from. It requires depth and facility within the strings and so much more from the winds. To top it all off, you need a good concertmaster to play some of the whimsical and virtuoso violin solos. When the music was put on the stands of the Cleveland Orchestra under George Szell, the members would begin to breath heavily, wondering how they were going to pull it off (Member, 51’-65’). To give you and idea of just how hard a single part within this piece can get, take a look at the viola part around rehearsal 94-97.
This part would be hard for anyone, but keep in mind that it is incredibly difficult to shift quickly on the viola as the instrument is so big. Now, even if the viola section plays all of that together, it still has to fit in with the other parts of the score. Perhaps we will need a miracle; perhaps we won’t. All I can say is that I am glad that these parts are required excerpts, as the sooner we know our notes the better things will be.
Our first concert featuring Ein Heldenleben is November 25 in Boston's Symphony Hall. The concert will also feature the Elgar Cello Concerto with soloist Alisa Weilerstein and Venezuelan guest conductor Rafael Payare, winner of the 2012 Malko Competition. My next entry will detail our first rehearsal, but until then, I have to go practice excerpts…
By Bram Heemskerk
September 3, 2012 14:28
By Joshua Iyer
September 3, 2012 08:57
Click here to play the game.
The soundtrack I composed for this game is as follows.
01: Title Screen
It's not a very big soundtrack, but it's a good game to practice writing one on. I may be able to continue writing soundtracks for games, but I'd like to do one for a movie, so I'll have to work out a way to do that.
Still, please enjoy Maze Craze!
Violinist Frank Almond tells the life story of the 1715 Lipinski Strad in his new recording, "A Violin's Life."
Violinist.com has not reviewed, and does not endorse, the content of any of the articles below.
Confessions of a Former Suzuki Teacher by Pamela Wiley - May 2013
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