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A string quartet = a tiny musical ensemble, capable of drama of soap operatic proportions.
Violinist Russell Fallstad ought to know -- he played professionally in one for 12 years. So perhaps it was a cathartic experience for Russell when he was hired as a hand-double and violin/viola coach for the movie A Late Quartet, in which actors Christopher Walken, Mark Ivanir, Philip Seymour Hoffmann and Catherine Keener bring the drama of a fictional string quartet to the big screen. (The movie is currently At A Theatre Near You.)
Russell, whom you may know as half of the rock-pop-hiphop-violin duo, The Dueling Fiddlers, was a founding member of the Fry Street String Quartet, in which he played for 12 years before taking a hiatus from the classical world a few years ago. He's been playing the violin and viola since the age of five, when he started in the public schools in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and he has two classical performance degrees from Northwestern University. Currently living in West Virginia, he is also working on an international online release of a new method for learning music at all ages called the HeartStrings Method, and he founded a music school chain called HeartStrings Academy.
When I heard that Russell had recently worked as musical coach for actors during the filming of the Hollywood movie “A Late Quartet,” I had to get the scoop about what this gig was like!
Laurie: What was your role with "A Late Quartet"? Where did you have to go to do this, and how much time did it take? How did you land this gig?
Russell: We filmed in New York City -- I was there with the Dueling Fiddlers doing shows at Town Hall and Le Poisson Rouge. I originally got called for my hands -- to audition as a hand double for Mark Ivanir. I went to the audition expecting to play, and instead was led right onto the set, where the actors were filming a rehearsal scene. The director and a few violinists gathered around a table, and we all laid our hands down next to Mark's. Everyone pointed at my hands, and they were excitedly saying, "Look at those hands!" I felt strangely flattered because my hands looked exactly like Mark's, and I got the job. It wasn't until later that day when one of the producers heard that I had just retired from a 12-year stint with a touring quartet and that I knew all of the Beethoven Quartets intimately. Since the movie centers around Beethoven's Opus 131 Quartet, they asked me if I would work with Mark as a violin coach, both in private lessons and during filming. I also helped Catherine Keener a bit with her viola playing, and at one point I was helping Yaron Silberman, the director, decide where to start and stop a few performance clips.
It gets really intense on the set when literally hundreds of people are waiting around while the director decides what to do next. I really got into the pressure-cooker aspect of this process, and I think I hit my pinnacle of movie-making at one point, when I jumped up and yelled, "Cut!" and something like, "Let's take it from the top!" I never expected to find myself (however briefly) directing Phillip Seymore Hoffman and Christopher Walken!
Laurie: What was the biggest challenge for the actors, in learning the instruments? How much did they have to learn in order to play their roles? What was your biggest challenge as a teacher?
Russell: The actors' goal was to actually look like they were playing Beethoven Op. 131 in several scenes, and I must say, playing Op. 131 is hard enough for someone who has played violin all his life! The actors took the challenge really seriously and put a lot of effort into learning how to play. My hat is off especially to Mark Ivanir, because he was hired just before the movie began shooting, so while the other actors had several weeks of lessons, Mark was learning how to hold the bow as shooting began! We had a lesson or two per day, for two weeks, and that was in addition to sometimes 14-hour days on the set.
Laurie: Did they have other questions for you, about being a musician, besides questions about how to hold and play the instrument? What are some of the things they wanted to know about?
Russell: We talked a lot about the character of the music and the mood of each particular passage, as well as how the events of the movie might affect the performer's state of mind in this particularly challenging time for each member of the quartet. It was oddly similar to discussing the Beethoven in a real quartet rehearsal! The actors were trying to get inside Beethoven and grappling with its complexity while marveling at its ability to express complex emotions.
Laurie: How do you feel about non-musician actors playing musicians in a movie? You played in a professional quartet for more than a decade -- how accurately do you think the movie portrayed life in a string quartet?
Russell: At first I found it funny because they were struggling so much to play the instruments, and for the string players coaching, it was hilarious at times. But in the end, I think it really worked. The movie really captured for me what it feels like to be in a professional string quartet. The members of a quartet are constantly challenged to give up more of themselves for the good of the group, and the movie portrayed that challenge really well. The movie is about one of the members of a long-standing quartet needing to leave the group, and since I had recently left my quartet, I found myself holding back tears at times when watching "The Fugue Quartet" from the movie grapple with the same thing. It really hit a personal note with me.
Laurie: What is the funniest thing that happened on set?
Russell: Apparently, Christopher Walken said, "We need more cowbell," at one of the rehearsals before I joined the movie. Too bad I missed that (it's a famous line he used in a skit on Saturday Night Live).
Laurie: What did you enjoy the most?
Russell: I very much enjoyed seeing the actors work. Even when a scene would end up being shot over and over again, they kept working at it--trying out different things in each take, and often coming up with a dozen different, yet really moving performances of the same scene.
* * *
"A Late Quartet" uses a recording of Beethoven's Opus 131 String Quartet, performed by the Princeton University-based Brentano String Quartet, which includes violinists Mark Steinberg and Serena Canin; violist Misha Amory and cellist Nina Lee.
Here is the trailer for "A Late Quartet":
These are 70 great tips, from the composer and pianist Robert Schumann. Many of them made me smile. And with a few I disagree. But they are all interesting.
What is your favorite?
I like 37. XD
1- The cultivation of the Ear is of the greatest importance. Endeavour early to distinguish each several tone and key. Find out the exact notes sounded by the bell, the glass, the cuckoo, etc.
2- Practise frequently the scale and other finger exercises; but this alone is not sufficient. There are many people who think to obtain grand results in this way, and who up to a mature age spend many hours daily in mechanical labour. That is about the same, as if we tried every day to pronounce the alphabet with greater volubility! You can employ your time more usefully.
3- There are such things as mute pianoforte-keyboards; try them for a while, and you will discover that they are useless. Dumb people cannot teach us to speak.
4- Play strictly in time! The playing of many a virtuoso resembles the walk of an intoxicated person. Do not take such as your model.
5- Learn betimes the fundamental principles of Harmony.
6- Do not be afraid of the words Theory, Thoroughbass, Counterpoint, etc.; you will understand their full meaning in due time.
7- Never jingle! Play always with energy and do not leave a piece unfinished.
8- You may play too slow or too fast; both are faults.
9- Endeavour to play easy pieces well and with elegance; that is better than to play difficult pieces badly.
10-Take care always to have your instrument well tuned.
11- It is not only necessary that you should be able to play your pieces on the instrument, but you should also be able to hum the air without the piano. Strengthen your imagination so, that you may not only retain the melody of a composition, but even the harmony which belongs to it.
12- Endeavour, even with a poor voice, to sing at first sight without the aid of the instrument; by these means your ear for music will constantly improve.
13- In case you are endowed with a good voice, do not hesitate a moment to cultivate it; considering it at the same time as the most valuable gift which heaven has granted you!
14- You must be able to understand a piece of music upon paper.
15- When you play, never mind who listens to you.
16- Play always as if in the presence of a master.
17- If any one should place before you a composition to play at sight, read it over before you play it.
18- When you have done your musical day's work and feel tired, do not exert yourself further. It is better to rest than to work without pleasure and vigour.
19- In maturer years play no fashionable trifles. Time is precious. We should need to live a hundred lives, only to become acquainted with all the good works that exist.
20- With sweetmeats, pastry and confectionary we cannot bring up children in sound health. The mental food must be as simple and nourishing as the bodily. Great composers have sufficiently provided for the former; keep to their works.
21- All bravura-music soon grows antiquated. Rapid execution is valuable only when used to perfect the performance of real music.
22- Never help to circulate bad compositions; on the contrary, help to suppress them with earnestness.
23- You should neither play bad compositions, nor, unless compelled, listen to them.
24- Do not think velocity, or passage-playing, your highest aim. Try to produce such an impression with a piece of music as was intended by the composer; all further exertions are caricatures.
25- Think it a vile habit to alter works of good composers, to omit parts of them, or to insert new-fashioned ornaments. This is the greatest insult you can offer to Art.
26- As to choice in the study of your pieces, ask the advice of more experienced persons than yourself; by so doing, you will save much time.
27- You must become acquainted by degrees with all the principal works of the more celebrated masters.
28- Do not be elated by the applause of the multitude; that of artists is of greater value.
29- All that is merely modish will soon go out of fashion, and if you practise it in age, you will appear a fop whom nobody esteems.
30- Much playing in society is more injurious than useful. Suit the taste and capacity of your audience; but never play anything which you know is trashy and worthless.
31- Do not miss an opportunity of practising music in company with others; as for example in Duets, Trios, etc.; this gives you a flowing and elevated style of playing, and self-possession.—Frequently accompany singers.
32- If all would play first violin, we could not obtain an orchestra. Therefore esteem every musician in his place.
33 - Love your peculiar instrument, but be not vain enough to consider it the greatest and only one. Remember that there are others as fine as yours. Remember also that singers exist, and that numbers, both in Chorus and Orchestra, produce the most sublime music; therefore do not overrate any Solo.
34 - As you grow up, become more intimate with scores (or partitions) than with virtuosi.
35 - Frequently play the fugues of good masters, above all, those by J. Seb. Bach. Let his “Well-tempered Harpsichord” be your daily bread. By these means you will certainly become a proficient.
36 - Let your intimate friends be chosen from such as are better informed than yourself.
37 - Relieve the severity of your musical studies by reading poetry. Take many a walk in the fields and woods!
38 - From vocalists you may learn much, but do not believe all that they say.
39 - Remember, there are more people in the world than yourself. Be modest! You have not yet invented nor thought anything which others have not thought or invented before. And should you really have done so, consider it a gift of heaven which you are to share with others.
40 - You will be most readily cured of vanity or presumption by studying the history of music, and by hearing the master pieces which have been produced at different periods.
41 - A very valuable book you will find that: On Purity in Music, by Thibaut, a German Professor. Read it often, when you have come to years of greater maturity.
42 - If you pass a church and hear an organ, go in and listen. If allowed to sit on the organ bench, try your inexperienced fingers and marvel at the supreme power of music.
43 - Do not miss an opportunity of practising on the organ; for there is no instrument that can so effectually correct errors or impurity of style and touch as that.
44 - Frequently sing in choruses, especially the middle parts, this will help to make you a real musician.
45 - What is it to be musical? You will not be so, if your eyes are fixed on the notes with anxiety and you play your piece laboriously through; you will not be so, if (supposing that somebody should turn over two pages at once) you stop short and cannot proceed. But you will be so if you can almost foresee in a new piece what is to follow, or remember it in an old one,—in a word, if you have not only music in your fingers, but also in your head and heart.
46 - But how do we become musical? This, my young friend, is a gift from above; it consists chiefly of a fine ear and quick conception. And these gifts may be cultivated and enhanced. You will not become musical by confining 24yourself to your room and to mere mechanical studies, but by an extensive intercourse with the musical world, especially with the Chorus and the Orchestra.
47 - Become in early years well informed as to the extent of the human voice in its four modifications. Attend to it especially in the Chorus, examine in what tones its highest power lies, in what others it can be employed to affect the soft and tender passions.
48- Pay attention to national airs and songs of the people; they contain a vast assemblage of the finest melodies, and open to you a glimpse of the character of the different nations.
49- Fail not to practise the reading of old clefs, otherwise many treasures of past times will remain a closed fountain to you.
50- Attend early to the tone and character of the various instruments; try to impress their peculiar sound on your ear.
51- Do not neglect to attend good Operas.
52- Highly esteem the Old, but take also a warm interest in the New. Be not prejudiced against names unknown to you.
53- Do not judge a composition from the first time of hearing; that which pleases you at the first moment, is not always the best. Masters need to be studied. Many things will not become clear to you till you have reached a more advanced age.
54- In judging of compositions, discriminate between works of real art and those merely calculated to amuse amateurs. Cherish those of the former description, and do not get angry with the others.
55- Melody is the battle-cry of amateurs, and certainly music without melody is nothing. Understand, however, what these persons mean by it: a simple, flowing and pleasing rhythmical tune; this is enough to satisfy them. There are, however, others of a different 28sort, and whenever you open Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, or any real master, their melodies meet you in a thousand different shapes. I trust you will soon be tired of the inferior melodies, especially those out of the new Italian operas; and of all vulgar ones.
56- If, while at the piano, you attempt to form little melodies, that is very well; but if they come into your mind of themselves, when you are not practising, you may be still more pleased; for the internal organ of music is then roused in you. The fingers must do what the head desires; not the contrary.
57- If you begin to compose, work it out in your head. Do not try a piece on your instrument, except when you have fully conceived it.
58- If your music came from your heart and soul, and did you feel it yourself,—it will operate on others in the same manner.
59- If Heaven has bestowed on you a fine imagination, you will often be seated at your piano in solitary hours, as if attached to it; you will desire to express the feelings of your heart in harmony, and the more clouded the sphere of harmony may perhaps be to you, the more mysteriously you will feel as if drawn into magic circles. In youth these may be your happiest hours. Beware, however, of abandoning yourself too often to the influence of a talent that induces you to lavish powers and time, as it were, upon phantoms. Mastery over the forms of composition and a clear expression of your ideas can only be attained by constant writing. Write, therefore, more than you improvise.
60- Acquire an early knowledge of the art of conducting music. Observe often the best conductors, and conduct along with them in your mind. This will give you clearness of perception and make you accurate.
61- Look deeply into life, and study it as diligently as the other arts and sciences.
62- The laws of morals are those of art.
63- By means of industry and perseverance you will rise higher and higher.
64- From a pound of iron, that costs little, a thousand watch-springs can be made, whose value becomes prodigious. The pound you have received from the Lord,—use it faithfully.
65- Without enthusiasm nothing great can be effected in art.
66- The object of art is not to produce riches. Become a great artist, and all other desirable accessories will fall to your lot.
67- The Spirit will not become clear to you, before you understand the Forms of composition.
68- Perhaps genius alone understands genius fully.
69- It has been thought that a perfect musician must be able to see, in his mind's eye, any new, and even complicated, piece of orchestral music as if in full score lying before him! This is indeed the greatest triumph of musical intellect that can be imagined.
70- There is no end of learning.Tweet
Many of you haven't heard from me in a while. I was duly affected by the hurricane, as I live in Brooklyn's Coney Island area. My car was totaled by the tidal wave, and I was without power and heat for 2 weeks. But life goes on, and I'm already in the midst of a very busy period (though I'm always open to more good quality work!). Some of you have asked me to keep you posted about interesting musical activities, and beside many orchestral concerts, here are some highlights for the near future:
I'm playing Concertmaster for a production of the Broadway show, "Oliver" in Staten Island. There are a number of very prominent violin solos in this show. This will be held at the Hill Academy at 850 Hylan Blvd. on Friday, November 23 and Saturday, Nov. 24 at 8PM.
On Sunday, December 2, 8PM I will be playing Concertmaster for the well-known pop star, Clay Aiken. This will also be in Staten Island at the beautifully-restored St. George Theater, 30 Hyatt Street.
On the following dates, times and locations I will be playing as concertmaster for the Treasurehouse chorale orchestra, where I will also be the featured soloist in "Winter" from the Vivaldi "Four Seasons". I'll be both soloing and conducting the ensemble!
Saturday, December 8 7:30PM St. Mary's Church, Wappinger Falls, NY
Sunday, Dec. 9, 7:30PM St. James Church, Carmel, NY
Sunday, Dec. 16, 4PM St. Elizabeth Seton, Shrub Oak, NY
I may go into more detail on some of the above in future blogs.
In the spring I'm planning a completely unaccompanied recital! I'll keep you posted.
Yeah!! Nehh!! I didn’t mean actually going-to-the-gym working out. I meant the equivalent of working out for violinists. (Just in case you thought I was going to send you to the gym).
If you are tired of doing scales, feel a bit bored by etudes and want to jump straight to the concerto or sonata, keep reading and be changed forever.
We violinists are like professional athletes. Warming up, eating healthy, stretching after a practice session should be taken as a daily exercise. It will all contribute to your performance and endurance.
But what do I mean by “working out for violinists”?
We actually “work out” when we play scales. The reason to playing such a boring Carl Flesh etude is to strengthen a certain area of your technique (bowings, sound, fast fingers, etc.). It’s not in vain! There is a purpose behind everything especially when it comes to scales and etudes.
Athletes and violinists agreed in one thing; they must hardened their muscles.For different reasons and by doing different exercises but the principle is the same. An example of this can be found in your copy of the Basics by Simon Fisher, p.125—your pinky will never be the same after a month of doing pinky work outs. Speaking of which, that book has been a great influence on me since I started reading and working on it.
Working out for violinists means taking seriously those etudes/exercises/boring stuff that help us play the interesting stuff at a higher level. This next mind map is often confused to be made by Dorothy Delay but it’s really Simon Fisher’s. It details everything actually, but I circled what I believe it’s the “work-out” section for us violinists.
Check it out!
Picture taken from Simon Fischer's website: http://www.simonfischeruk.com/page20.htm
Playing Sevcik for 6 hours is as fun as doing sit-ups for 6 hours. It will bore you to death if it won’t kill you before. But knowing how to practice these exercises (time-wise), being patient and trying to cover all of them in a year or two, will make a huge impact in your development as a violinist.
Understanding what etudes, scales and boring stuff will add-up by the end of the month, could change these practical exercises into a more interesting ritual.
A two hour work-out in the morning before your day starts will dramatically enhance your violinistic future!
How long do you think we should do these work out sessions?
What have considerably changed your technique?
Please share a comment!
You can find me at www.tipsforclassicalmusicians.com
Yesterday I finished a Music Video for my Violin Klezmer Duo, Chapeau Klez. It is the first time me cutting a music video and to be honest the synchronisation was the hardest part and isn't perfect. But it takes lots of time, wich I don't have always. So I want to share my work here to get some opinions on what is good and what could be done better.
I recorded the videos with a canon 600D (wich is an awesome toy!). The audio was played in a hannover church, wich opened spontaneously just for us to record for 15 minutes and recorded with an Zoom h2. We were lucky to get a decent take in that short time. The Audio is uncut due to the lack of similar takes in the same environment.
Hava Nagila! Lets be happy!
It was the early 1980's. I was in my tween years and had been studying viola for a scant few years. My parents signed me up for private lessons at the Cadek Conservatory at UTC. I remember being taught how to tune my viola, change strings, playing Wolfhart etudes and strange modern music written by some guy named Alfred Uhl.
I remember playing second chair in the community orchestra at UTC - Flight of the Bumble Bee. My stand partner, several decades my senior, taught me how to play harmonics as a fun "trick", and challenged me with who could play the fastest trills.
I remember playing some strange piece for someone's senior composition recital at the university, and then somehow ending up at the Suwanee Summer Music Festival later that same summer. I remember that I learned to play Eine Kleine at that festival and performing it on one of the staff's 16" viola. I was twelve. The viola was huge. I still have that picture in my viola case.
I barely remember quitting viola in the mid to late '80's when I was a "proper" teen. However, I do remember quite vividly that itch for the C string that re-developed two decades later.
I've been able to keep in touch with every viola teacher I had since I started back up again nearly a decade ago, but getting in touch with my very first private viola teacher was elusive.
Until a week ago.
I posted my one and only email on a violists group page seeing if anyone knew of her or her whereabouts. To my delight, an e-mail from her appeared in my inbox a week or so later. It was a pure joy to hear what's she's been up to since my last lesson with her over 30 years ago, and a struggle to let her know what's been going on with me without writing a novel (I'll leave that kind of writing to Karen or Terez!).
This past weekend, that old faded copy of Uhl was pulled out, dusted off, and played through for the first time in 30 years. What it was supposed to sound like was a faint memory, but somehow I was able drudge up those age old lessons and make it through the piece without having to stop too often.
After all this time, I now realize how I first developed a preference for modern music.
The New York Times had an interesting Sunday Dialogue this week: Is Classical Music Dying?
I'm not entirely thrilled with the way the question is cast, I mean, Are Newspapers Dying?
But never mind, I'll take a stab at the question, which asks us to consider this particular article, in which the writer argues that the younger generation "must be weaned away from the cacophony of rock and the neon glitter of 'American Idol'-type TV shows. Instead of dragging children to concerts, where they squirm with boredom, rent some old movies featuring soundtracks of classical music…"
I'm sure more than a few people, young and old, would take exception to that. I also don't think it would work.
If there is a problem with the "younger generation," it is something that is not their fault: many received no musical education because it has been routinely cut from the curriculum in schools across the United States. They never had the opportunity to play in an orchestra or band, or to sing in a choir.
Perhaps a better way to frame the problem is not that classical music is dying, but that musical literacy is dying. And yes, it is possible to sing a song or even strum a guitar to a pretty high level without it, but musical literacy actually improves ALL kinds of music, not just classical.
What is musical literacy? It involves fluency on an instrument or with the voice, the ability to read music, and a basic understanding of music theory. At higher levels, it involves a knowledge of things like the physics of sound and harmony; the ability to compose melody, harmony and fugue; an understanding of various instruments, etc.
The best pop musicians, the best songwriters, the best guitar players -- they tend to be those who can read music, understand chordal progressions, have a high level of technique on their chosen instrument (including voice), and have overall discipline regarding their art. They also consider their art to be an art, recognizing its depth.
No doubt, people can press a few buttons on a synthesizer and make a "song." But that doesn't make an appreciation for a song, it doesn't make them understand why one thing works and why something else doesn't work. People who are musically literate tend to lose their taste for music that uses the same two chords for the entire tune, or a melody based on three notes, or a long improvisation that never changes chords, etc. They see through "autotune." They aren't satisfied with the stagnant nature of a synthesizer sound. There are many subtle things that make music a success or a failure, and I daresay they are a mystery to most people.
The best way to engage kids (for that matter, anyone) in classical music, and also to enable them to recognize good music in any form, is through participation. Teach them to play instruments or to sing, and start very young. Provide opportunities for older people to do this as well. Taking children to a couple concerts or renting some old movies does something, but not much if it's not part of an overall music education program. We teach people to write when we teach them to read, and we have them read and study many, many books. We don't just read them a good story out loud and then congratulate ourselves for "exposing" them to good literature.
"Weaning" people from rock 'n' roll is ridiculous and unnecessary. We don't need to wean people from any kind of music -- we need to engage them in it.Tweet
I hope everyone had a good Thanksgiving (and I suppose Black Friday)! I certainly did. I guess since this is my first Thanksgiving on this site, I'll go ahead and describe how it was. On Wednesday (of last week), we went to my grandparent's house in Indiana, and I brought along my violin. Because it was only Thanksgiving, I only brought my Solo and Ensemble piece (Vivaldi's Concerto in G Minor) and a binder chalk-full of sheet music from various classical composers, video games, movies, and some of my own work. It was fun just playing through a few things from there, although I didn't use it much. And although I didn't bring my orchestra binder, I played a few Christmas tunes as well. On Thursday, I had my instrument out from about 1pm-8pm, playing off and on and enjoying the feast. I also plucked out a few tunes for my 1-year-old cousin, which was cute. :)
Yesterday at 6pm after putting up some Christmas decorations outside the house, I was feeling a bit 'Lord of the Rings', so I brought out my violin Lord of the Rings book which contains a play-along CD that I used. I did a video of part of my short session, and even though I kinda failed keeping time in a couple measures, overall it was alright and sounded fine. Just thought I'd mention this. :P
And now it's Monday morning! I'm all set for a good day of school - and preparation in orchestra class for our Prism concert. I have to play four times (Thursday and Saturday at 6pm and 8:15pm), but it should be pretty fun!
Thanks for reading!Tweet
On behalf of myself and Laurie, I'd like to wish all our Violinist.com readers a very happy holiday season. I also hope that you will join me in taking a few moments to thank some of the others who help make this online violin community possible.
They're the businesses and institutions whose financial support allow Laurie and me to publish Violinist.com, and for Laurie to bring you all these great interviews, tips and blog posts. As you do your holiday gift shopping online over the next few weeks (or as you compile your wish lists), I hope that you will consider these violin shops, schools and retailers first - to thank them for the support they've given this community.
You always can find the complete list of current Violinist.com sponsors on the right side of any Violinist.com page. (They're over there now, under the "Holiday Shopping" header this month.) If you'd like to find out a little more about many of our long-time sponsors, please visit our Business Directory page, too. You'll find expanded listings, links, phone numbers and addresses for many top violin shops and gift retailers on that page.
Laurie and I are always thankful for your time and attention in reading Violinist.com, and we hope that you will join us in thanking those businesses who help us pay the bills that keep this community open and welcoming to violinists around the world, 24 hours a day and 365 days a year. Thank you, again, and happy holidays, everyone!Tweet
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