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Top BlogsBy The Weekend Vote
October 7, 2012 15:48
There's nothing like practicing for three hours a day for several months, polishing Mendelssohn's "Midsummer Night's Dream," Strauss's "Don Juan," etc. etc. to a shine, then being dismissed after seven minutes of playing at an orchestra audition.
I daresay that nearly everyone who has played a successful audition, though, has also had his or her share of experiences like this. Once I asked a section leader -- one I respected very much -- how long it took him to land his orchestra job, and he said, "Twelve years and a lot of failed auditions." I was astounded that a musician of such high caliber had ever been rejected -- not to mention for that long!
The audition process reminds me of a diagram I keep seeing on Facebook, showing success not as a straight line, but as knotted mess that curves around, doubles back on itself, doesn't seem to have any direction, yet at some point lands at "success." You have to take your chances and risk the wrong turns along the way.
Sometimes an audition is a great experience, whether you win it or not, because it forces you to practice and to push yourself. If you can play well and keep your cool while negotiating this rather cruel process of putting yourself up against 100 other well-prepared musicians, you have certainly accomplished something that can help you in the future.
However, there's another side to it. Too many auditions can wear a person down. It's possible to reach the point where "one more audition" might just be a physical and emotional drain. Sometimes you just need to stop, to re-focus, to play some music that you love -- and give those same 10 orchestral excerpts a rest!
What are your current thoughts on the matter? Is an audition worth taking, even if you don't get the job?
October 5, 2012 16:57
Music as a Reflection of Life
Recently, I was preoccupied with the quintessential existential question that plagues musicians in my field. That question is “What is the relevance of Classical Music in the modern world?”
I spent a good deal of time thinking about this and trying to figure out how to write about our purpose in society. Then it occurred to me. How much more could Bach, Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven have pondered the same question in an era when Classical Music was barely developed! Did they really care what the audience thought? Probably, to some extent, but it certainly didn’t stop them from composing the way they wished throughout their entire lives.
Suddenly, the atonal composer Arnold Schoenberg comes to mind. If you really want to explore the music of someone who was indifferent to being appreciated by society at large, listen to his atonal works, such as Pierrot Lunaire!
Now, let me clarify something: When I say "Security is an illusion", I do not mean that we should live in poverty.
The inner voice I referred to, my friends, is exactly what I am going to spend the rest of my article writing about.
You see, my personal belief is that it is this inner voice that can and will guide musician and non-musician alike in life. It is very scary to admit that our lives are not completely in our control.
In fact, I will go even a step further and say that the inner voice that I speak of is not even ours. We do not control what the voice says and we do not decide what it is going to tell us so that we can “make it” or “make it big”. Now, in order not to sound schizophrenic, let’s replace “inner voice” with “intuition”. Intuition is the process of realization that tells us “Ah hah, now I understand”. If you reread the above paragraph with this replaced word, you might come to a better understanding of what I just said.
Let’s bring my high floating ideas down to earth and apply this to everyday life. Take the example of a teenager or college student who is trying to decide what to do with the rest of his or her life. He or she might have many options. Yet, at the end of the day, the soul will incline toward a particular career or job. Think the young man or woman must be highly educated to even make these decisions?
Let me now share my experience. I know that I love making music. I love the experience of playing music and perfecting my talent, which only exists because of a gift from my Creator. Because my soul is naturally inclined toward sharing my gift with others, I get pleasure from presenting concerts and performances in which my talent comes through. Yet, I do not get a selfish pleasure in showing off. Rather, I know that the gift I was given came from a Higher Power and because of this, I recognize that whenever I pick up the violin, it is my way of saying “Thank You” to my Creator. I also know that when I doubt my ability to succeed with my talent, I am consequently doubting G-d’s plan for me because I know deep in my bones that this is my path.
As I continue the journey, I know that my intuition will keep me on the right path. To other musicians and non-musicians who question their relevance in an increasingly difficult economy, I say “Have faith and listen to that inner voice”. It will come to you if you cultivate the art of sitting quietly and learn to be calm under fire from whatever may come your way. Some call this skill meditation. Others call it reflection, while still others call it prayer. Meanwhile, let us all try our best to help each other and support our fellow man and woman in these tough times.
I’d love to hear your thoughts.
By Emily Grossman
October 5, 2012 12:57
If I'd known the press was going to show up to the dress rehearsal, I probably would have gussied up a bit instead of showing up in a grubby shirt and pony tail. Luckily, they didn't get too personal and left me in the background of the photo they used for the front-page article in the Peninsula Clarion. It's a pretty good read, and explains the gist of our annual Evening of Classics concert. You can also catch a glimpse of some of the wonderful people I get to join on the stage. The article doesn't really do justice to their hard work, incredible skill, and beautiful hearts. (Also, they incorrectly depicted me as the wise-crack of the bunch, when everyone knows I should only be taken very seriously. Very. Seriously.)
By Laurie Niles
October 5, 2012 11:29
When one of the foremost experts on violin technique writes a book of double-stop exercises, one must take note!
Roland's exercises are called Exercises for the Violin in Various Combinations of Double-Stops, published last summer by Carl Fischer, with an introduction by Rachel Barton Pine.
I recently spoke to Roland Vamos about both these technical exercises and about his full and fascinating journey as a musician.
In her introduction to Roland's book, Rachel writes that she began studying with the Vamoses at age 10 and spent the next eight years in their studio. Roland primarily led her technical development, while Almita took charge of her musical development and repertoire. "In one of my first lessons with Dr. Vamos, he handed me a one-page photocopy containing a set of double-stop exercises of his own devising. Little did I know that this innocent-looking little page was actually an entire exercise book, and that it would prove to be such a valuable tool in my technical development."
The one-page photocopy became legend -- circulating through the Vamos studio and beyond. "Explanations of how to decipher and use it were passed by word of mouth from one player to another," Rachel writes.
Roland told me that these exercises evolved from some of his earliest learning on the violin. Roland studied with a number of famous teachers, including Oscar Shumsky and violist William Lincer, but one of his most important teachers was the one he had as a teenager, named Susanne Gussow. She had studied and worked as an assistant to the great Czech violin pedagogue, Otakar Ševcík.
"I studied with her from the time I was 12 through the time I was 18. I went through just about everything that Ševcík ever wrote, and that's quite a bit," Roland said. "So I went through a huge amount of extra studies, while I was studying the repertoire."
"She gave me a book to study, a very thin book of double stops by this Russian pedagogue, Sergei Korguof," Roland said. "There were two Russians who came to the United States in the 1920s: Korguof came to Boston Conservatory, and at the same time, Leopold Auer came to Juilliard. The only reason I know that Korguof went to Boston is that this thin book was printed by the Boston Conservatory Press. I studied this book when I was young, then I always used it as a warmup. Somewhere along the line, I started expanding it. I changed the order of the exercises, I added something to do before it to develop the flexibility of the first joint, and something after it to add a bowing component to the exercise. So actually two-thirds of it is mine, and only one-third of it was Korguof's."
The exercises evolved both as warmup exercises for Roland, and as teaching exercises for his students.
"I did it for myself, and I still do it when I want to warm up," Roland said. "And my students all learn it. It's a wonderful exercise that goes through seven combinations of double stops, going through seven positions on each set of strings. It covers anything that you would do in one position; it doesn't cover shifting."
The exercises are appropriate for intermediate and advanced students who have already studied some positions. Roland said that they have helped students correct and perfect their left-hand position.
"It self-corrects," he said. "If you have a bad hand position, and you do these exercises correctly -- carefully and slowly -- over a period of time, your hand position is getting corrected by itself. Little-by-little, you develop a solid, good hand position."
One warning: don't over-do it. These kinds of double-stop exercises can cause strain, if done incorrectly. "You have to be careful not to tense up," Roland said. He has devised some exercises to loosen the fingers, prepare the hand and take tension out of the thumb, before the student begins the double-stop exercises. He writes about these in the Introduction and illustrates them in the DVD that accompanies the book.
He has also changed the notes from eighths and 16th notes, as they were written in Korguof's book, to quarters and eighths, to emphasize the fact that these should be played slowly.
"At first your muscles can't take too much, so at first maybe you'll only do four positions," he said. "Then after a week, go to the next combination, the next exercise." In the back are some charts, meant to help the student keep track of doing the exercises. Once you get good at it, you can go through all the exercises, in all the positions and on all strings, over the course of 21 days.
"There are a lot of teachers that teach technique only through the repertoire, and I disagree with this approach because I think it develops a spotty technique," Roland said. "You might spend three months on a concerto, and during that three months you're doing this little technique here, this little technique there. The next thing you know, you get another piece. Maybe one of those techniques will be the same, but there will be a few others. It will take you forever, and you wouldn't be systematically going through all these things. If you can develop a systematic approach, you've learned all the combinations, now you just have to put the combinations together in a musical setting. Now, when you go to the music, instead of taking 10 hours of practicing until you learn a certain passage, you learn it in one or two. Over a period of time, of course."
Roland Vamos's life and early career is a testament to the fact that the road success can be a circuitous route, and that late bloomers can indeed bloom.
Roland was born in New York to non-musical family, though his father was an amateur violinist. By profession his father was a house painter and his mother worked in a millenary shop. Roland started playing the violin at age 10.
"My father sort of psychologically wangled me around into thinking that I was the one that wanted to start, but I think he was the one that wanted me to start!" His father remained the force behind his practice sessions. "He would work with me all day long. I had to practice two hours a day -- two of HIS hours. I would think, 'I've practiced one hour, I've got one to go,' then he'd say, 'You call that last hour practicing?' So I might end up with four hours anyhow. He was a taskmaster. I hated the fact that I had to do that instead of going out and playing ball! But that's what probably gave me a firm technical foundation: I had the instrument in my hands a lot."
Roland's father died when he was 15 years old, and when he was 17, his mother had a stroke that paralyzed her left side.
"Someone had to earn a living, and there was an audition for the Denver Symphony," Roland said. "Next thing you know, I was on my way to Denver." But he was back in New York after just a season or so, due to the not-so-great pay in Denver.
"I came back to New York, where all the auditions were," Roland said. At that time, "all the conductors came to New York. They would hire out a hall and listen to auditions there. Then they went to Philadelphia and they hired a hall there, and then they went to LA and hired a hall. Basically, they would go to those three major cities to get their players. Anybody that wanted to take an audition went to one of those cities to audition with them."
He found a better deal with the Houston Symphony, "and I decided wow, this is great, I think I'm going to stay here forever." But then he ran into a major career roadblock: "there was a little thing going on called the Korean War. My brother was already on the front lines, fighting in Korea, and I was led to believe by my draft board that I would be in the Army by the fall." He let the Houston Symphony know that they needed to replace him because he would be drafted.
"I left Houston and came back to New York, and for three weeks I was practicing the baritone horn." Roland said. "I figured, if you're drafted into the Army, and they say, 'What do you do?' and I say, 'I'm a musician.' Then, 'What do you play?' and, 'I play the violin…' They'd hand me an M-1 rifle and send me straight to Korea! Maybe if I said, 'I play the baritone horn,' I'd get into an Army band. So I practiced four hours a day, until I couldn't feel my lips, they were so numb."
Around that time, a friend told him that the University of Miami orchestra conductor was in town, looking for scholarship students. It had been too late to try out for Juilliard, so this looked like a good possibility -- one that would help him get a student deferment. "I hadn't touched the fiddle for three weeks," he said. "So I opened my fiddle case and made sure I still had four strings on it. I took the audition downtown in New York, and I got the student deferment. They accepted me as a full-time student with a scholarship and everything."
His draft board agreed to the deferment, and he was off to Miami. "At that time, you couldn't earn a living in Miami by playing legitimate music," Roland said. "The only kind of music that was possible was strolling violin in the nightclubs and the hotels. So I bought a Fake Book that had 1,000 tunes in it, with the lyrics and everything. I took that and started trying to memorize tunes! Every tune has a beginning part, a middle section (which you call the 'release') and then back to the beginning. I always got my releases mixed up -- I would start one piece and then go to the release of another piece, and then how in the hell did I get into that?"
He stayed in Miami two years, strolling and studying, then he finally decided, "I should get this darn Army business out of the way and then go about my business, living my life."
The U.S. Army band looked good, as it did indeed accept violinists, and with just a three-year enlistment. "The audition was the longest I ever had in my life, it lasted around three hours!" Roland said. "They had a stack of (music) books to read, and they gave me some reading from everything you could imagine." Of course, the Army could afford to be very picky at these auditions. "During the wartime, every decent instrumentalist wanted to get into a service band because they'd avoid having to go overseas and fighting."
"I got in," so he spent the next two years in Ft. Myer, Va. Toward the end of his enlistment, a friend encouraged him to come back to New York and audition for Oscar Shumsky at Juilliard.
"So at age 25, I started my college career," Roland said. "I spent five years at Juilliard, where I was majoring in violin. By age 30, I got a bachelor's, and I got a master's degree, and then I was working in Radio City Music Hall, playing in the pit."
While at Juilliard, he met a rather younger girl -- Almita. She was still in high school!
"She was hanging around the school, and I got to know her. She also studied with a teacher from the Juilliard School." Roland said. "I was hanging around with her a lot, and then at a certain point, hanging around got more serious. When I discovered that she was that young, it was too late already!"
The pair have been married for 52 years. Somewhere along the way, each of their careers became "our career."
"At a certain point, it got to the point where I wouldn't accept a job, nor would she, unless it came as a packaged deal," Roland said. "Somehow or another, we didn't have any trouble getting these situations. Of course, both of us are qualified enough that you weren't going to get one person and say, well we'll have to take the weak sister with it. You were going to get two decent players that were both qualified, and two decent teachers."
The Vamoses (the "Vami"?) currently are on faculty at Northwestern University and at Music Institute of Chicago. But they have taught all over the U.S. Midwest: at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music, Western Illinois University and the University of Minnesota.
Many students over the years have studied with both husband and wife, simultaneously. Roland said that this kind of collaboration evolved several decades ago, when the couple was teaching members of the Ying Quartet.
"The violist wanted to take lessons with me, while the first and second violinist took lessons on the violin with my wife," Roland said. "I was giving the violist a bunch of technical things to do, and the first violinist said, 'I'd like to do some of that, too!' The next thing you know, they were all taking lessons with me, devoted mostly to technique, while my wife was continuing to work with them on the repertoire. When it got close to the concert, I'd move in on the repertoire. By then they'd gotten tired of hearing my wife say the same things over and over again, so a new voice saying the same things was good. It was a combination that worked pretty well."
That's an understatement. The combination of Almita and Roland Vamos has "worked pretty well," not only for the Ying Quartet, which is the quartet-in-residence at the Eastman School of Music and maintains a full performing and recording schedule, but for an entire roster of today's hottest violinists and violists. Former and current students have placed in (and won) the world's most esteemed violin competitions and have gone onto careers as well-respected soloists, concertmasters, professional chamber and orchestral players. Those students have included Rachel Barton Pine, Jennifer Koh, Benjamin Beilman, Cathy Basrak, Benny Kim, David Bowlin, Alexandra Switala, and many more. (Here's a more complete list).
By Laurie Niles
October 5, 2012 09:28
Good news, at last you can buy our nifty Violinist.com tote bags and t-shirts!
We have our online store up and running, and here are the links:
Also, we did make them NICE! The tote bag has all the fancy features a tote bag could have: it zips to protect your music, it has two side mesh pockets for water bottles, another front pocket for perhaps your shoulder rest, adjustable straps, even a couple of outside loops for keeping your pencils handy. Here's a picture (you do have to provide your own books!)
Violinist.com music bags!
As for the t-shirts, we have the nice women-shaped ones for women, and your regular t-shirt shape for guys, and they are 100-percent, really-nice, organic cotton. Also, when we had these printed, we did not use some cheap online shop. We actually went to a local silkscreen shop and drove them crazy, making them do it over at least three times, even having them create an extra screen to get the color gradients right. These shirts should go with jeans, khakis, a black cardigan -- pretty much everything. Perfect for rehearsals, practicing, sleeping, exercising, wearing to a gig...We love them, and we hope you do, too!
P.S. They even go with a yellow hat and mountains, here's a picture of me in my V.com shirt, up in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado last summer:
By Jonathan Hai
October 4, 2012 15:06
Post No. 23
Remember how in my last post, two weeks ago, I wrote about the instruments tanning in the special UV closet? Well, by now they are all nice and tan (lucky them – no sticky sun lotion, no sand in their hair, no worries about skin cancer …. just an air-conditioned studio with their very-own UV closet!). All four are ready for the final phase of construction – inserting the necks into the bodies.
Apparently, inserting the neck into the body of the instrument –a process which as always has a much better name in Italian: "incastro" (with accent on the "ca") – may seem like a technical step. However, it's actually one of the more decisive factors that influence the sound of the complete instrument. Way back when Stradivari and other 17th century builders built their violins, they used to connect the neck with nails to the instrument, in a way that created a very wide, almost flat angle between the neck and the body. Gradually, as the violin progressed and modernized, this changed: the neck now connects to the body via a combination of physics and glue (more below) and the angle has become sharper. In fact, as Yonatan explained it to me, numerous variables must be considered by the violin maker when implementing the "incastro" so as to make sure that, when the strings are placed along the neck and on the bridge of the instrument, the right balance will be struck. What balance? You may ask, as I did. Well, it's a balance between the quality of the sound and the volume of the sound; between a "muddy", impotent sound, and a sound that's too tightly wound, lacking harmony and warmth, and-so-on-and-so-forth…
Wow. So now that we got all our history straight, we can follow the process by which the neck was inserted into the body. As with other processes before (such as when the two parts of the soundboard were glued together) the neck must fit exactly, perfectly, into the body. So again, Yonatan tried to fit it, then shaved off another miniscule layer of wood, tried again, checked if the fit is really perfect, and shaved off yet another sliver - - until it was really, absolutely, uncompromisingly perfect. The neck's part that must enter the body is trapezoid shaped, becoming narrower towards the end (left hand side in this picture), but also trapezoid shaped in its other dimension – wider towards the instrument and becoming narrower on the outside. Like so:
Get it??? It's what carpenters call "dove-tail", or more simply put – it looks like a wedge.
Apparently, this "double trapezoid" shape creates a very tight, perfect and strong fit, so that once it's glued into place, the shape itself helps keep the neck in place.
Alas, that's not all there is too it. Now enters the variable of the angle of the neck and fingerboard vis-à-vis the bridge. To make sure the angle is right, and also that the fingerboard is exactly straight and doesn’t tilt to one direction, Yonatan connected the bridge to the cello with rubber bands, just to keep it in place, and then positioned the neck in exactly the right angle, right tilt, right height, right distance…. You get my point: this is a very difficult phase that again relies heavily on the eye and intuition of the violin maker.
Finally, here they are: neck and bridge perfectly aligned with each other, the neck can finally be glued into place – incastro completed.
What will happen in the next couple of weeks is that as soon as one instrument is finished, Yonatan will begin to varnish it, while working in parallel to finish the incastro on the next instrument and so forth.
Hopefully next week I can show you the process by which the rough neck of the viola becomes the beautiful, curvy spiral (or chiocciola, meaning "snail") that to me is one of the most fascinating, impressive and, yes, mysterious steps in the violin making process.
Till then – have a great weekend!
By Jesús Fernández
October 4, 2012 07:54
Is the Bach's Chaconne the best piece for violin solo ever written? I think so. I never get tired of listening.
And I never get tired of (try) playing it.
And I love the Gidon Kremer version.
By Heather Broadbent
October 4, 2012 07:27
Good Morning Violinists:) I wish everyone a beautiful day and one full of love and light.
Today I am inspired to write about the importance of keeping the violin fresh. It is possible for some to have the daily practice routine or the approach to the violin become stale. When this happens do some self analyzing and ask why?
I am sure at one point all of us were inspired to study the violin for a reason. Think how can I tap back into that source of energy, the driving creative inspiration. Maybe studying difficult repertoire has become dull - maybe orchestral playing has lost it's lustre - maybe the students coming to the door are not inspiring. Everyone may have different reasons for the lull. One important thing to remember if you have experienced this feeling it is normal. It is a sign to reinvent a part of yourself as a musician.
How do I pull myself out of the lull you ask?
Try different things and see if that spark returns. Try some different styles of music - start listening to new music. Maybe do some listening research of different styles and times - Paris in the 30's or Berlin in the 20's. How can you incorporate that into your daily routine.
Violinist.com is wonderful - read blogs that may be inspiring to you. Find a new way to teach to reach out to your students using the internet as a teaching tool. The spark never leaves - it just hides for awhile until you find it again in a different place and in the long run that is the place you needed to gravitate to anyway.
All my best to my fellow violinists and Happy Practicing!!!
If you found this blog helpful be sure to register to my newsletter at www.onlineviolin.net
By Mendy Smith
October 2, 2012 18:50
Sunday, after a very productive day of practice, I had a very unfortunate accident. I got my ring finger of my right hand squashed in my garage door. It hurt like all creation, but I managed to get it free and drove myself down to the local urgent care clinic.
The only thought going through my mind was "Thank Goodness it is my right hand". At least I can bow with a disabled fingertip...
Four stitches, a broken (not compound) finger tip and a splint later, all I'm thinking about how soon I can get back to playing. I know... take all the time I need and heal. But (there always is one), I'm playing for my sister's wedding in 4 weeks.
I go to see the hand orthopedist tomorrow morning. I promise to take his advice.
By Laurie Niles
October 2, 2012 11:25
Here are three versions of J.S. Bach's "Sarabande" from the D minor partita, for your enjoyment this Tuesday:
Julia Fischer, 2008:
Hilary Hahn, 2010
Anne-Sophie Mutter, 2010
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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