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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.

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V.com weekend vote: Do humans need music, like we need food, clothing and shelter?

By The Weekend Vote
November 16, 2012 14:53

Do humans need music, like we need food, clothing and shelter?

Vote first, and then I'l tell you my thoughts on the matter:

I think if you'd asked me this question when I was a teenager, I probably would have said, "No way, food, clothing and shelter are all you need to live, don't be ridiculous."

As I've grown older and become more aware of the fragility of human existence, I've changed my mind. I truly believe that music -- and art -- are necessary nutrients for the human condition, without which, we lack the engagement, imagination and will to survive.

Music can help us do our work. When I was younger, I had some truly boring jobs that I took to make ends meet -- the kind where you punch a clock, work seemingly forever and come home late, only to get up early the next day to do it again. At one of those jobs, we had little radios at our desk, and though I couldn't listened to Brahms symphonies (it was tuned to a pop station), the music kept me sane.

Music can greatly help people doing physical labor: people sing while they work in fields or on construction sites. I actually sing to myself when I go running; the beat falls in with my breath and it keeps me going.

Music somehow opens pathways to learning in our brains, allowing us to accept and understand new ideas. Would a child learn his or her alphabet, without a song to go with it? Perhaps, but I just haven't happened to meet any children during my lifetime who did not learn this fundamental skill without a song to help.

Music also has the power to lift us, motivate us and console us. Is it a necessity? Please share your thoughts on the matter!

Comments (22) | Archive Link

Two pieces by Fritz Kreisler

By Emanuel Salvador
November 16, 2012 08:18

On the 50th anniversary of Fritz Kreisler´s death, here is my tribute.
The live recording of Syncopation and Liebesleid are taken from a recital I did together with Jill Lawson at the Gaia International Music Festival last July.

Comments (1) | Archive Link

Thoughts from the Road

By Yevgeny Kutik
November 15, 2012 21:17

Being a musician on the road is equal parts exhaustion and exhilaration, poured on a base of hard work. Since the start of the season, I’ve run around the country performing in some exciting and unique venues: the Brahms Concerto in Juneau, Alaska, a fantastic experience, paired with rainy, cold, dark days - and seeing a black bear and her two cubs just 10 feet from me; the Mozart G Major Concerto in the “wild west,” aka Montana and Wyoming, where people take their cowboy boots just as seriously as their music; Chicago the day after the election when the entire city felt like it was running on three hours sleep; Bruch Concerto in Westchester; and filming in a cavernous studio in downtown NYC.

With it all came the mundane and sometimes infuriating norm of travel. The canceled flight and broken plane that added an unplanned night in Seattle to my schedule and caused a performance of Ysaye to be played on very little sleep. The other broken plane and resultant travel challenges that forced me to cancel my dress rehearsal in Chicago, 10 minutes in, because I felt so sick. And, of course, the endless security lines, empty hotel rooms, and search for reliable food.

Photo courtesy Yevgeny Kutik

As I settle back into my hometown for several short weeks, I begin preparations for the next round of it all. Yesterday, I worked on the Schubert Fantasie in C Major and spent about 45 minutes on the first note. A really, really long beautiful, extraordinarily difficult note that requires strict bow planning, purity of sound, vibrato control, and dynamic shading. It was both frustrating and addicting spending that much time on one note, all in the pursuit of artistic perfection, or something close to it.

It’s truly hard work. doing what we musicians do; it requires a seemingly bottomless amount of dedication and perseverance. No matter how many flights get canceled and hours of sleep get lost, that one long note will always be there beckoning for your full attention and being when you walk out on stage.

That is why it is so disconcerting and frustrating to hear about the problem we have in music today. Well established orchestras fight for their survival, arts education is the first to get cut, news organizations gradually reduce their art/music sections – music is being put second, or third, or fourth, all in a bid to save money.

The next time you go to a concert or listen to music, and feel some emotion cut into your core, think about the endless hard work, sweat, and tears that went into producing it. And try to imagine a world without music - it will be hard, as we are bombarded by music every day from every source – but try. I know without a doubt that hearing the music of Schubert, for example, has intangibly, yet directly, made me into a better person. And I think its not going far to assume that many of us have a piece of music or specific memory of music affecting us profoundly. So, the bottom line is that we need music. We must support art and artists and respect the enormous burden they shoulder upon themselves. Music is not a budget extra that can be cut and replaced as necessary; it is an unwavering necessity of life.

Comments (2) | Archive Link

Why I use the O'Connor Method

By Javier Orman
November 14, 2012 22:28

For the last few years, I’ve been looking for a violin method that is thoughtful and exciting, comprehensive and musical. I’ve always been an open-minded guy, so my search has been wide and practical. After teaching the O’Connor Method for the last two years at the SOL-LA Music Academy, I can say that it is what I was looking for: it fits my priorities and my students love it.

There are certain qualities that I was looking for and here is why I think the O’Connor Method nails them. A perfect method should be...

1. Musical - the repertoire must be fun, interesting, inspiring and relevant.
The songs in the O'Connor method are recognizable classics that are tuneful, memorable, singable and trace the tradition of American fiddling as well as much of American music in general.

2. Intuitive - it should take minimal effort for a child to figure it out before they can start playing.
Once a child can play with three fingers, they can start volume 1. The first three songs are easy variations of Boil 'em Cabbage Down, an old African-American song. The note changes are slow, they go with the harmony and are easy to remember. Similar to Twinkle variations but less cumbersome and more harmonically-oriented (more on that next).
Each song naturally flows from the one before, so the student feels comfortable and confident. If you try to teach from the written music first, you'll run into trouble, so by ear is definitely a better way in. Isn't that, after all, how so many great musicians learned and passed on their musical traditions? With each new song, just start singing, clapping and playing. Trust me, reading after that is a piece of cake.
I only wish that the full lyrics were included with each song, though maybe not the full original lyrics with their 20 verses.

3. Comprehensive - it's not enough for violinists to know how to put one note in front of the other. It should help me, as a teacher, to teach harmony, rhythm, form, all within each song.
If you want your students to be well-rounded and intuitive musicians, teach them to feel the harmony, the rhythm and the form. The O’Connor Method has chord symbols (if you don't know what they mean, learn them tonight!), cool rhythms and easy forms that we use every day. Verses and choruses are more important to understand nowadays than sonata form, and a good ole' AABABA may apply as much to an Irish jig as to an old German one.
Grown-up descriptions often get in the way: listen, sing, play and your 5-year-old student will master sub-dominant chords without ever saying 'sub-dominant chord'.

4. Open - it should give me and my students the freedom to improvise or compose variations, solos, accompaniments, etc.
The O'Connor Method makes it easy for me to teach by exploration and play, which, as I talked about in my previous blog-post, I see as the basis for artistry and learning. With the chords, I not only can accompany the students in any way I want (besides the published piano part), but I can also easily teach the students to accompany me or even themselves (with GarageBand).
The songs are meant to be variated, arranged and improvised upon just as they have always been by both professional and amateur musicians. With this method, a beginning student can do all those things as well and learn so much in the process.

5. Practice-friendly - Students need to be able to practice the music on their own, so it must have practice resources like recordings or guides.
Most methods provide this and the O'Connor method is no exception. The violin part in the CDs is recorded by Mark himself, so the students get a sense of how to play these styles. This has been helpful for me as well, as a newbie to some of the American fiddling traditions. It's also helpful that the CDs include accompaniment-only tracks.
It would be great if we could get slower versions (maybe 3 tempi for each song), since not everyone has access to tempo-changing apps such as the Amazing Slow Downer. This could easily be made available as mp3s and would make practicing that much easier. For now, students can only play along with a track once they have already mastered the song.

6. Communal - some of the most effective and enjoyable learning happens socially, so the method has to make playing with others easy and interesting.
This is where the O'Connor method really brings it home. The music was born out of communities and traditions and Mark has been an activist for extending this spirit of making music together. I saw this aspect of the method when I attended his most recent summer camp in Charleston, South Carolina. Every day, students and teachers got together and jammed for two hours. Also, students were encouraged to play music outside as much as they wanted in any way they wanted: singing, tapping, clapping, playing and chopping. Just friends making music. I observed Pam Wiley (Mark's passionate collaborator for the method and Suzuki veteran of more than 30 years) engaged the students in all kinds of improvising schemes that I wish were included in the method in one way or another.

The method is a mammoth effort for violin, viola, cello and string orchestra, one level at a time and with ten in mind. There are three violin volumes published so far, so it will be a while until the whole thing is finished. In the meantime, I have already incorporated what’s out there so far into my teaching. To be sure, I teach other music as well, but this has given me such a great set of tools that I can’t even remember how I managed to teach before.

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New Inspiration

By Tyrone Wilkins
November 13, 2012 19:09

The amazing Serbian violinist, Andrej Kurti came to my school today to help the violins with our all state pieces. He is a really cool guy in my opinion. Very funny and easy to talk to.I love his attitude. He wanted to play a little bit of his CD for us and he said something about wishing he had brought the sheet music with him so we could all follow along.(Most people hadn't heard of the pieces he was talking about) Me being the classical music freak that am....I raised my hand and suggested that I should plug my laptop into the t.v. screen because I have all the pieces on file :)

It worked out. Everyone got to see the beautiful madness that is Ysaye. He thanked me for helping by giving me one of his CDs for free! He even signed the booklet\poster inside!!! At the end of his helping I went to talk to Mr.Kurti. He asked about my concerto concert audition (remembering that I was the one that played the Accolay) he said he was very impressed, especially since I've only been playing for 2 years. He asked about my plans for college and what I want to major in. After all that he suggested that I go to Northwestern to study with him. He said 'Institution is nice, but you really need a good teacher to get you moving , free you up,etc. because you're serious about this,not just *makes giggly noise* around. Julliard and Curtis are greats school but really hard to get into. I'm not trying to discourage you in any way,if that's what you want to do, but you know I studied at the Moscow Conservatory and you've heard me play, ah?' After telling him I'm a sophomore he said he wasn't sure where he'd be teaching in 2 years but encouraged me to study with him.

As you can see he's pretty awesome! Very confident but not cocky at all. He's really down to earth and very funny. Anyone who gets the opportunity needs to see this guy play! I'm going to attend his performance of the Ysaye sonatas in spring :) Maybe one day he'll be my teacher...you never know. Well I've got to get back to practicing. Till next time.

T.W.J

Comments (2) | Archive Link

Excellence, Not Perfection

By Gerald Klickstein
November 13, 2012 19:05

“You must play for the love of music. Perfect technique is not as important as making music from the heart.”
–Mstislav Rostropovich, cellist/conductor (The Musician’s Way, p. 133)

To practice music is to pursue perfection – or so we often hear.

What nonsense.

Rather, we musicians practice to grow as artists, to achieve excellence, and to share heartfelt music with our listeners and coperformers.

Sure, public performance obliges us to be accurate. But there’s a big difference between precision and perfection.

Photo of Mstislav RostropovichActually, when it comes to music, the notion of 'perfection' seems like an oxymoron. That is, we might perform without any noticeable flaws, but a musical phrase can't be 'perfectly' expressive. Can it?

And no performance, no matter how profound, can ever be 'perfect' because artistic experience is necessarily subjective.

Worst of all, musicians who insist on unattainable perfection can sabotage their creativity and let loose torrents of negative emotions.


The Perfectionist Mindset
As an illustration, here’s singer and writer Shannon Sexton recounting how perfectionist convictions smothered her ability to perform (from Yoga International, Aug/Sept, 2004):

"I was one of those paralyzed perfectionists—I didn’t want a soul to hear me sing until I had everything right, and that, I believed, would take at least a decade. Ironically, I was told that I had a beautiful voice. I won a vocal scholarship with no previous training and starred in operettas, musicals, recitals—but mostly, I thought I was awful . . .

"No matter how much I rehearsed, I never felt ready for the stage. Instead, I felt like a deer stumbling into oncoming traffic on a dark road. The scene is the same every time: I blink at the blinding spotlights, the sea of faces beyond them—then the stage fright smashes into me like an 18-wheeler. My heart is a frantic drum; my belly, a riot of butterflies. My breath is caged and my mouth is full of sand. My limbs tremble like leaves; my hands quiver and my knees begin to quake."

Shannon epitomized the perfectionist belief that her work would never be good enough. As a result, she was rocked by performance nerves because, presumably, she imagined that her listeners would judge her as harshly as she judged herself.

Other characteristics of perfectionists may include all-or-nothing thinking (e.g., “If every note isn’t perfectly in tune, the performance will be ruined”), extreme sensitivity to criticism and mistakes, an exaggerated need for approval, the habitual setting of unrealistic goals and standards, a tendency to brood over past performances, and chronic procrastination.

Needless to say, such traits form a recipe for defeat rather than accomplishment.

Countering Perfectionism
To counter perfectionism, we first need to adopt a growth mindset, recognizing that musical problems can be overcome through learning and effort.

Then, as opposed to chasing after 'perfection,' we must set attainable goals, practice deeply, and strive for excellence.

Here are 7 tips that help aspiring musicians embody constructive work habits:

  1. Choose appropriate material and practice it regularly.

  2. Evaluate your playing or singing in balanced ways, acknowledging both successes and areas needing improvement.

  3. Treat errors as information and opportunities for learning instead of as failures.

  4. Seek feedback from fellow performers.

  5. Take your work seriously, yet also be playful and humane.

  6. Celebrate your imperfect humanity and the privilege of being able to make music with and for others.

  7. Merge technical accuracy with artistic expression to form a unified experience of music making.
Psychologists such as Robert W. Hill caution that most of us carry around both positive attitudes toward our work and also perfectionist ones that can scuttle creativity.

So, given the demands of professional-level music making, we all do well to take note of our perfectionist tendencies and replace them with productive actions.

© 2012 Gerald Klickstein
A version of this article first appeared on The Musician's Way Blog

Comments (10) | Archive Link

How to Plan a Student or Solo Recital

By Liz Lambson
November 12, 2012 15:20

When I was younger, the word “recital” conjured up a distinct memory of only one thing: “Coda,” Episode 7 of Season 2 of The Wonder Years. I love this conversation between Kevin Arnold and his piano teacher, Mrs. Carples:

MRS. CARPLES: Have you thought about what you’d like to play for the recital this year?

KEVIN: I think I’m busy that night.

MRS. CARPLES: I haven’t told you what night yet.

KEVIN: I mean, um . . . I’m probably gonna be busy that night. See, I’m in junior high now, and there’s a lot of demands for my time.

MRS. CARPLES: Last year’s excuse was much better. Did your uncle ever pull through?

Kevin ends up facing off with his musical arch nemesis, local piano prodigy Ronald Hirschmuller, in Mrs. Carples’ student piano recital. Both boys are playing Canon in D . . . and Kevin absolutely biffs it.

And so, after watching this I came to only one natural conclusion: recitals were created for one (and only one) purpose . . .

. . . Humiliation.

________________________________________

Fast forward about 15 years to the day I played my very first solo recital. I practiced and practiced for hours every day throughout the summer in preparation for my big showcase. When the day came, I knew it wouldn’t be perfect, but I was unusually excited—and confident—to finally share a talent I’d developed over the course of my lifetime.

I performed in an historic lecture hall with elegant balcony seating and soft lighting. I wore a bright yellow blouse and printed my programs on yellow paper to match. I wore a beaded flower pin in my hair. Family, friends, and strangers filled the hall, applauding as my pianist and I took the stage.

And then I performed.

Doesn’t it seem a strange thing to do, to practice hundreds of hours for one 50-minute performance? And it wasn’t even perfect—of course it wasn’t.

But, on the other hand, it was a wonderful, wonderful experience. My first recital turned out to be one of the greatest accomplishments of my life so far—something I’m so proud of. Not only did I feel great about it, but those who came were edified by the performance—even inspired to develop their own talents to share with others.

I left not remembering the mistakes, but the feeling of the instrument in my hands, the applause, the warm hug from my bass professor, the taste of the cinnamon rolls we ate afterwards, and the satisfaction of so many years of lessons and practice finally being brought to fruition.

Recitals aren’t meant to be a chore or just another chance to feel overwhelmed by stage fright. A recital is simply an opportunity to share. Yes, yes, recitals are a lot of work in the sense that they require diligent preparation. But there is nothing that will motivate you more to practice and develop yourself as a musician as an opportunity to perform. And, seriously, what’s the point of practicing in a closet and never performing? Music is meant to be heard.

HOW TO PLAN A RECITAL

There are two main types of recitals: student recitals and solo recitals.

A student recital is a recital organized for multiple performers who are students of the same teacher. A private teacher may have seasonal or annual recitals scheduled for students to perform what they’ve learned in their lessons for parents, friends, family, and other members of the music studio.

A solo recital is a recital by a single performer, usually with an accompanist. Solo recitals might include a duet or small ensemble piece. Joint recitals are sometimes organized with two soloists contributing to one program.
________________________________________

Whether you are a private teacher or solo performer planning a recital, you’ll want to keep a few things in mind. Here are some basic steps to follow when as you organize your program:

1. Set a date. Give yourself enough time to practice and prepare. Think months in advance instead of weeks. Consult with family members and friends to pick a date that’s convenient for your most important guests.

2. Find a venue. Because recitals are usually for smaller audiences in intimate settings, there are many excellent options as far as performing spaces go. House recitals are wonderfully cozy. Homes with vaulted ceilings usually have lovely acoustics. School and city auditoriums, cafes, libraries, community centers, and even outdoor parks and amphitheaters are great options. Call in advance to book a venue.

3. Choose your music and finalize your program. Try choosing a variety of pieces to round out your program with a variety of composers and pieces from various eras (Baroque, Romantic, Classical, Modern, etc), or pick a theme (Bach, autumn, arias, movie music). Try not to add pieces last minute, throwing off your practice schedule and leaving you with inconsistently prepared pieces. For beginning students, Suzuki pieces are an excellent choice for student recitals, giving young players confidence to play on stage from the start with wonderful standard tunes. Kennedy Violins now carries sheet music perfect for the occasion.

4. Find an accompanist. Choose someone experienced over an acquaintance or neighbor who just happens to play the piano. Remember that accompanists are usually paid per service.

5. Practice with a plan. Write out a schedule devoting equal time to each piece on your program. You don’t want your favorite piece to sound great while everything else doesn’t. Consider focusing on one piece per weekday while still running through each piece daily.

6. Keep up with lessons. Having a mentor is key when preparing. You need someone who can not only listen to you play, but give you pointers to perfect your performance.

7. Invite people. Invite anyone and everyone! You can have small recitals for family members or open it up to the general public–whatever you want to do! Recitals are excellent opportunities for community members and loved ones to get together.

8. Print programs. Keep the program simple. Take a look at program examples online for ideas. Include the title of each piece with the composers name. You could also include the composer’s birth and death dates, a bio about yourself and/or accompanist, and the names of each performer in the recital for group, joint, or student recitals.

9. Arrange for audio/video recording. For student recitals especially, parents love a good video of their child performing. For professional recitals or to record pieces you’re like to submit as audition sample recordings, find quality equipment and possibly a sound engineer to record for you.

10. Consider refreshments. Assign a friend or family member to take care of this for you so you don’t have to worry about it the day of the performance. A little munch and mingle after a recital is a great opportunity to receive positive feedback and plenty of hugs from all your fans.

11. Decide what to wear. Choose something comfortable and cool. Practice in your outfit before hand to make sure you’re not restricted or uncomfortable while playing.

12. If possible, practice in the venue. Test out the acoustics and balance with your accompanist.

13. Have a dress rehearsal. Be sure to play through your entire program without stopping at least a few times on your own and at least once with your accompanist. If you can, have your teacher present for your dress rehearsal to give you any last pointers to prepare for the big day.

14. Perform. Don’t stress about each and every difficult passage–just go for it! Let loose and do your best! Put in everything you’ve got and relish your moment in the spotlight. Performances like this don’t happen every day!

15. Celebrate! Enough said.

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Classical Music Genres of the Common Practice Period

By Liz Lambson
November 12, 2012 15:09

Playing music is more than just playing notes on a page. Simply playing the notes would be like saying words without expression, asking questions without the rising inflection at the end of the phrase, writing without punctuation, eating food without salt or spices, seeing the world without color . . . you get it. Creating beautiful music happens when you add flavorful touches and techniques:

vibrato
dynamics
articulation
style

That last one is hard to define for students and sometimes hard to teach. But when you understand the following classical music genres, you’ll know how to better shape a piece to represent the period in which it was written.

_________________

THE COMMON PRACTICE PERIOD

The phrase “classical music” usually refers to any music played by an orchestra or ensembles including stringed instruments, piano, or vocals that feels . . . old. Music written by dead people who wore powdered wigs. Music directed by some guy in coat tails holding a stick.

Much of the classical music you hear today on classical music radio, Pandora stations, and Spotify playlists comes from the Common Practice Period. The term “Common Practice Period” refers to the three centuries between roughly 1600 and 1910 when the techniques, ideas, and written language of Western European music as we know it today were standardized and systemized.

THE THREE CLASSICAL GENRES OF THE COMMON PRACTICE PERIOD

You’ve probably also heard the terms “Romantic” and “Baroque” and “Classical” as sub-genres of general classical music. Well, that’s confusing. How can there be a classical music sub-genre of classical music?

Understanding the genres of classical music becomes increasingly important as beginning students develop into more mature performers. To bring some light to the subject, let’s break it down. From “oldest to youngest,” here are the three subsets of classical music.

1. BAROQUE (1600-1750)

Definitive Composer: Johann Sebastian Bach
Other Baroque Composers: Antonio Vivaldi, Arcangelo Corelli, George Frederic Handel, Henry Purcell
Defining Characteristics: Continuous bass line (basso continuo), use of harpsichord and pipe organ, introduction of written works such as cantatas and oratorios, smaller ensembles with limited or no wind and percussion parts
Performance Style: added embellishments and tremelos, little or no vibrato, trills starting on the higher note

2. CLASSICAL (1750-1820)

Definitive Composer: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Other Classical Composers: Christoph Willibald Gluck, Carl Philipp Emanuel (C.P.E.) Bach, Joseph Haydn, Ludwig van Beethoven (early works)
Defining Characteristics: short melodies and phrases, obvious cadences, larger orchestra than Baroque, music in sonata form, eventual disuse of harpsichord and introduction of piano, quartet music
Performance Style: light and clear articulation, trills starting on the lower not, modest use of vibrato, more dynamic contrast

3. ROMANTIC (1820-1910)

Definitive Composers: Ludwig Van Beethoven (transitional later works), Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Johannes Brahms
Other Romantic Composers: Franz Schubert, Felix Mendelssohn, Frederic Chopin, Robert Schumann, Richard Wagner, Antonin Dvorak, Edward Elgar, Gustav Mahler, Richard Strauss, Sergei Rachmaninoff
Defining Characteristics: reflective of human emotion and expression; a response to social and political movements; rich and song-like melodies; more modulation and key changes; larger orchestra with more winds, brass, and percussion; programme music and symphonic poems
Performance Style: dramatic, expressive, wide vibrato, dramatic and high-contrast articulation and dynamics, rich texture, virtuosic playing, lyrical and song-like phrasing

_______________________

Next time you pull out your sheet music, take a look at the composer’s name and their birth and death dates (usually included after the name). Identify the musical period from which your piece was performed, then try adding the stylistic characteristics relevant to that genre of music. Perhaps you’ll find yourself developing a greater appreciation and understanding of the historical value of music as well as the brilliance of these amazing composers. Enjoy taking your performance to a whole new level of musical maturity!

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Goals, Priorities and Working Hard

By Tim Yip
November 12, 2012 09:29

I read an amazing bio of Dan Gable, olympic wrestler and all star college athlete. In 1972, in Munich, Germany, he won a gold medal at the Summer Olympics without surrendering a point to any of his opponents. Some very inspirational quotes that reveal his high standards and work ethic:

Gable on Goals

“I’m a big believer in starting with high standards and raising them. We make progress only when we push ourselves to the highest level. If we don’t progress, we backslide into bad habits, laziness and poor attitude."


Gable on Priorities

“When you finally decide how successful you really want to be, you’ve got to set priorities. Then, each and every day, you’ve got to take care of the top ones. The lower ones may fall behind, but you can’t let the top ones slip. You don’t forget about the lower ones though because they can add up to hurt you. Just take care of the top ones first. In 25 years as a head coach and assistant, I think I might have missed one practice. Why? Because practice is my top priority. A day doesn’t go by when I don’t accomplish something in my family life or my profession because those two things are my top priorities."

Gable on Hard Work

“The obvious goals were there- State Champion, NCAA Champion, Olympic Champion. To get there I had to set an everyday goal which was to push myself to exhaustion or, in other words, to work so hard in practice that someone would have to carry me off the mat."

I hope you find that as inspiring as I did. As a quick update for my projects I just finished a few more Wohlfahrt recordings and scale accompaniments. Check them out and use them for teaching and helping your students!

Have a great week.

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How Close This Time

By Terez Mertes
November 12, 2012 06:50

I’d been thinking it might happen this time. I didn’t want it to, of course, but when that feeling hits, it can take you down hard. When it hits you for the tenth time, well, that might be it.

This time I even said the words to my teacher. “I’m very discouraged. The truth is… I’m thinking it might be time to quit.”

This was last month. I was a coward and said it to her answering machine, two days after a particularly discouraging violin lesson. I told her I just needed some space, some time, and that I wouldn’t be practicing, or coming to the lesson that fell the day after my birthday. It was my gift to myself. When skipping a lesson and a week of practice is the biggest gift you can give yourself, well, that’s saying something.

I understand the importance of perseverance here. In the past, I’ve managed to work my way out of it. The unwillingness to practice could always be bullied. “Just put in the forty-five minutes, dammit, and then you’re off the hook.” Or the gentler “at least start. Pick up the violin and run the bow across the strings. Routine will take over, and it’ll feel good.” Or the sugar-coated approach of “play something fun, whatever you feel like.” But this time, I resisted them all. Fiercely.

What came around the week of the missed lesson was an eerie, ungrounded feeling. I didn’t want to practice, to go back to that dutiful, hopeless, uninspired place. And yet, I felt so darned sad about it, missing the touch of my pretty violin. It was sinking in what I’d lose if it were permanent, even as the relief was undeniable. There’d been simply too many Friday afternoons when I was too tired and I pushed myself to practice anyway. Or weekend days that I was busy, or out of town, and oh, the guilt, to go both weekend days without practice. The busy school night where parenting challenges (okay, I confess, also the two glasses of wine that followed) stole my practice time slot and I just didn’t care, I didn’t need one more challenge that night, I wanted only to top off my wine glass and sit in a quiet room with zero stimulus. To drop the heavy sense of responsibility to this craft, to say “screw it, no more,” was a true load off my shoulders.

I’d told my violin teacher we could talk in my following lesson, since clearly I wouldn’t have “what I was working on” to present during the lesson. She was understandably alarmed by it all, and called one night. I have a good relationship with her, but like any long-term relationship, it is not without its bumps. Seven years, steady weekly payments from me without fail, and suddenly this enraged me. Jobs give you two weeks off, kids get summers off school. Why no long break for me, the paying student, ever? I was sick of it. It came to me that if I needed to quit to get a month off without paying, well, that was one more reason to quit.

She’s a smart and seasoned teacher; she knew when to listen, when to assure, when to agree. Between that night’s call and the following lesson, we discussed and agreed on new parameters:

- Lesson time reduced by a third, to thirty minutes. Less time for me to feel responsible for filling with pieces I’d worked on (or failed to). Further, if I have to cancel a lesson—another thing I decided I wouldn’t torture myself about—the cost I sacrifice is less.

- I am free to take a month off if I feel I need it, with advance notice and the understanding that she can’t guarantee my preferred time slot upon my return. Fair enough.

- I’ve decided to seek out familiar, beloved classical tunes, like Mendelssohn’s “Nocturne” from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Grieg’s Peer Gynt excerpts, Bach’s “Bist du Bei Mir,” among other pieces, all with uncomplicated sheet music accessed free online, to supplement the lesson books we’ve been using. During my practice time, after scales, I work on a piece because I’m enjoying it. If an assigned piece brings me more frustration than pleasure, after a decent effort, out it goes.

- If I miss a day of practice, even two (or, gasp, three), really, it’s okay in the big picture. If practice time averages twenty-five minutes and not the previously requisite forty-five, it's better than nothing. Only ten minutes? Hey. Better than nothing.

- I understand, as a result of all these choices, that I will most likely never “go somewhere” with my violin playing. It may remain a home practice, certainly now, given my various obligations elsewhere. There it is.

I ponder the reality of the final one and there’s a certain poignancy to it as I recognize it might well apply to my writing career as well. A dream of “going somewhere with it” is failing to actualize and, in truth, it’s pretty damned tiring to keep trying. (This is likely a rehash of my last blog, the process of turning fifty and the life introspection it produced: www.violinist.com/blog/Terez). I’ll keep writing, regardless. The need in me is too strong, too innate. But I’m letting go of the pretty dream. Relief mingles with grief, and yet it’s a softer grief than it might have been a year or two before. Paradoxically, it relaxes me, and up springs a renewed desire to “go have fun” with my other art form, playing the violin. It’s easier now, knowing that there’s nothing to lose, nothing at stake.

There is no failure here. That is my new motto, in so many aspects of my life. I show up, I have an honest experience, which means I put my heart into my practice and go with whatever my energy/mood/motivation dictates. Walking away from the violin after fifteen minutes is not failure. Staying an hour to plug away at something challenging and/or rewarding might feel like success that day, but it’s no promise of a repetition of such days, or that it will all propel me to the next level. It just happened to be that day’s honest experience. I imagine when you tally them up, you come up with equal parts good and “meh” days. No planning or theorizing or self-berating is ever going to change that.

How close I came this time to losing my violin practice in the process of discovering all of this. But it didn’t happen, and for that, I am so very grateful.


© 2012 Terez Rose
www.terezrose.com

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