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Tidings of Comfort and Joy: 10 Ways to Tune Up the Holidays

By Liz Lambson
December 4, 2012 15:18

Sargent Major Mercy Diez sings Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas is You” for a United States Army Christmas concert. (Photo by United States Army Band)

The debate continues. The tension increases. Individuals and societies pit themselves against each other over THE question, yes, that question: when is it too early to start listening to Christmas music?

Whether you crank up tinsel-tunes before Thanksgiving, after Thanksgiving, or sometime in July, one truth remains: music brings meaning to the holidays. Unlike any other holiday throughout the year, there is more music associated with the Christmas than any other holiday–even Easter. Not only that, but every nation around the world that celebrates Christmas does so with song.

So what could be more appropriate than to celebrate the holidays by pumping them full of melody? Here they are:


1. Give the gift of music. First things first. You know you’re sweating over your Christmas shopping list. But here’s a little secret: everyone loves music. Easy peasy. Wrap up your favorite CD, give an iTunes gift card, or tie a bow on the violin your child’s been bugging Santa about for years. Don’t forget the frosting on the fruitcake: sheet music and accessories!

2. Go caroling. Bundle up and don’t even worry about bringing music along if you don’t want to. Sing the standards you know: “Jingle Bells,” “Frosty the Snowman,” “Let It Snow,” “O, Christmas Tree,” and all your other favorites. Gather a group of friends and family to carol around the block or drive around the neighborhood to loved ones’ homes. Organize a group of musicians to play or sing carols at a nursing home. You’re sure to brighten someone’s day.

3. Organize a holiday recital. During the holidays, people are looking for excuses to get together. If you’re a private teacher, schedule a holiday recital for your students to play for their parents, friends, and other family. If you’re a solo performer or play in a quartet, organize a performance with some traditional tunes. Don’t forget to pull out the cookies and hot chocolate after the show!

4. Host a singalong. It’s especially fun if you have a piano. Make copies of Christmas songs and put them in binders. Invite a pianist to accompany and ask guests to bring a holiday treat to share: think peppermint bark, caramel corn, and gingerbread men. Now there’s something to sing about.

5. Light the Menorah. Learn and sing the three Chanukah blessings when lighting the menorah: l’hadlik neir, she-asah nisim, and she-hekhianu. And don’t forget to sing “Dreidel, Dreidel, Dreidel,” when you pull out the top.

6. Hire a quartet. There’s nothing classier than a live quartet or small ensemble providing beautiful background (or foreground) noise at a holiday party. If you’ve never arranged for live performers at a gathering, ask around to find a good group of experienced players. Appreciative guests will be telling you all evening how much they love the entertainment.

7. Attend a concert. Holiday concerts are never few and far between. And school orchestra and choir concerts are only the beginning. Look through the paper or online to find out where and when you can attend. For some extra interactive fun, find a local “Messiah Sing-Along” to attend and rock out with Handel’s famous oratorio. Don’t forget to warm up those vocal chords before you go!

8. See The Nutcracker. What could be more classic? Enjoy taking part in a historical tradition by attending this popular ballet. Tchaikovsky’s famous, heart-warming melodies will definitely leave you feeling the spirit of Christmas.

9. Send a musical card. Come on, birthdays aren’t the only occasions worthy of the stationery sound chips. Distant family and friends will especially enjoy finding a tune in the mailbox to fill them with Christmas cheer.

10. Watch cartoons. Christmas brings out the kid in everyone, and there’s no better time to tune into classic holiday specials like A Charlie Brown Christmas and How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Sing along with classic toon tunes like, “Christmastime is Here,” and “You’re a Mean One, Mister Grinch.”


It’s time to celebrate, and what better way to do it than with music? After all, that’s our specialty. Happy Holidays!


The Kennedy Violins Team

Archive Link

The 2012 Violinist.com Holiday Gift Guide

By Laurie Niles
December 4, 2012 11:15

Gift-giving is one of the joys of the holiday season, and we hope you will consider giving (or asking for) music-related gifts this holiday season. Each year, we put together a list of some of the year's best new offerings from violinists, with recordings, books and more. We hope this will give you a starting point for thinking about music-related gifts you'd like to give or receive. For example, if you receive a iPod for Christmas or Hanukah, you might want to load it up with some great violin music. Or, if you receive a Kindle or iPad, you might want to think about purchasing a music-related book. You can also do things like purchase tickets to live and local musical events, to support your local live music scene. If you are curious about exploring more high-quality music gifts and recordings recommended by Violinist.com, please see our guides from previous years: 2008 Guide; 2009 Guide; 2010 Guide; and our 2011 Guide. Please feel free add your suggestions in the comments section, as well (and yes, in this case, you are allowed to toot your own horn and recommend your own CD or book or product).

We know that CDs and books can make are nice gifts to wrap and give to someone, but we have also included links for iTunes and eBooks, in case this is your preferred way to get your music.

RECORDINGS (and more)

Nicola Benedetti
Decca / Simon Fowler

Italia, with Nicola Benedetti

In addition to Tartini's well-known "Devil's Trill" and Vivaldi's "Summer," Nicola Benedetti uncovers some lesser-known Baroque works, such as Vivaldi's "Grosse Mogul," as well as works by Tartini and Veracini.

Amazon CD | iTunes download

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French Impressions, with Joshua Bell and pianist Jeremy Denk

A gorgeous recording made by two artists who play like one -- they've performed more than 80 recitals together all over the globe, after all! Jeremy Denk makes that wicked piano part in the Franck Sonata seem like a dream and Joshua Bell is as expressive as ever. The recording also includes sonatas by Saint-Saens and Ravel.

Amazon CD | iTunes download

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Bach Sonatas with Lara St. John and harpist Marie-Pierre Langlamet

Bach's violin and flute sonatas were written harpsichord accompaniment in mind -- why not play them with harp? It's one of Lara St. John's wonderful musical experiments, and the result is as heavenly as one would think.

Amazon CD | iTunes download

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Anne Akiko Meyers

Air: The Bach Album, with Anne Akiko Meyers

Anne Akiko Meyers plays the Bach Double with herself -- on each of her two Stradivari violins, the 1730 "Royal Spanish" Strad and the more-recently-acquired 1697 "ex-Molitar/Napoleon" Strad, which she calls "Molly." The recording also includes Bach Concertos Nos. 1 and 2; "Air" from Orchestral Suite No. 3 in D; the Bach/Gounod "Ave Maria"; and "Largo" from Concerto for Harpsichord in F m.

Amazon CD | iTunes download

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Violinist.com tote bags and T-shirts

Quick, these are flying off the shelves! The V.com tote bag is the ultimate musician tote bag: Made of sturdy canvas, it measures 17 inches wide by 15 inches deep (plenty big for all music) and features adjustable carrying straps, a zip-up top, two mesh side pockets for water bottles, an exterior pocket, and two exterior pencil holders. The T-shirts, which go with everything, are made of high-quality cotton, and women have the option of getting the fitted T's.

Tote bags | T-shirts

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Bruch and Mendelssohn Concertos and Beethoven Romances, with Philippe Quint

Recorded at the Sala Nezahualcoyotl in Mexico City with Orquestra de Mineria, Philippe Quint gives us a great recording and sparkling performance of these well-known pieces -- good inspiration for a young student who is heading toward playing these pieces, and pleasing for all ears.

Amazon CD | iTunes download

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Tickets to a live concert by your local symphony orchestra!

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Silfra, with Hilary Hahn and Prepared Piano Specialist Hauschka

Highly experimental stuff! Hilary Hahn teams up with prepared-piano master and innovator Volker Bertelmann ("Hauschka"), to create an album of improvised, minimalist-sounding music inspired by the unique landscape of the Silfra rift in Iceland.

Amazon CD | iTunes download

* * *

Eugene Ysaye's Six Sonatas for Solo violin, with Tai Murray

Tai Murray calls Eugene Ysaye's Six Sonatas for Solo violin "an opus of love and expression" -- written from the composer's love for Bach, for his friends, and for the violin itself. Certainly her own new recording of these works reflects the same deep dedication.

Amazon CD | iTunes download

* * *

'On Our Way,' with Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg

It's nearly as interesting to listen to Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg speak as it is to hear her play or watch her conduct. This DVD explores her four-year partnership with the San Francisco-based New Century Chamber Orchestra where she has served as director since 2008.

Amazon DVD

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'Sounds of Defiance,' with Yevgeny Kutik

Kickstarter dreams really do come true! Violinist Yevgeny Kutik recognizes his Soviet beginnings and pays tribute to his Russian and Jewish heritage with this recording that includes the Sonata for Violin and Piano, Op. 134, by Dmitri Shostakovich; Sonata for Violin and Piano No. 1 by Alfred Schnittke; "Hebrew Lullaby" and "Hebrew Melody" by Joseph Achron; and "Spiegel im Spiegel" by Arvo Part. All are in collaboration with pianist Timothy Bozarth. Yevgeny plays a 1916 Stefano Scarampella violin.

Amazon CD | iTunes download

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David Garrett

'Legacy' with David Garrett

First he "crossed over" to become a rock violinist playing to sold-out crowds in huge venues. Then for this recording, he crossed back. In reality, he loves both. Violinist David Garrett teams up with with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra for the Beethoven Violin Concerto with cadenzas by Fritz Kreisler, as well as other works by Kreisler. The works by Kreisler are fun to hear with orchestral accompaniment, much which Garrett himself helped arrange.

Amazon CD | iTunes download

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A subscription to The Strad magazine

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The Nielsen and Tchaikovsky Violin Concertos, with Vilde Frang

The violin concerto by Danish composer Carl Nielsen might not be the most commonly recorded or performed, but it has a passionate and highly competent champion in the 26-year-old Norwegian violinist Vilde Frang.

Amazon CD | iTunes download

* * *

Eternal Echoes: Songs & Dances for the Soul, with Itzhak Perlman

Itzhak Perlman calls this his album of "Jewish comfort music": Jewish liturgical and traditional music, recorded with Cantor Yitzchak Meir Helfgot.

Amazon CD | iTunes download

* * *

Brahms and Berg Violin Concertos, with Renaud Capucon

French violinist Renaud Capucon performs the Brahms (with Kreisler cadenzas) and Berg with conductor (and good friend) Daniel Harding and the Vienna Philharmonic. Capucon plays the 1737 "Panette" Guarneri del Gesu that Isaac Stern played.

Amazon CD | iTunes download

* * *

Out of Nowhere: Violin Concerto by Esa-Pekka Salonen, played by violinist Leila Josefowicz

It's the first recording of conductor and composer Esa-Pekka Salonen's violin concerto, written for violinist Leila Josefowicz and premiered by the two of them in 2009. The music reflects Salonen's feelings about leaving the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

Amazon CD | iTunes download

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Beethoven: The Late String Quartets, with the Cypress String Quartet

If you saw "A Late Quartet" and liked the music, the Cypress String Quartet released a new recording this year of all of Beethoven's late quartets, with three discs (if you get the CD version) including Opuses 127, 132, 130, 133, 131 (the one in the movie) and 135. The San Francisco-based ensemble includes violinists Cecily Ward and Tom Stone, violist Ethan Filner and cellist Jennifer Kloetzel.

Amazon CD | iTunes download

* * *

String Theory, with jazz violinist Sam Weiser

The young jazz violinist Sam Weiser -- still not yet 20 -- has released another recording that fuses classical, jazz and bluegrass styles into something all his own. Watch this guy! Listen, too, he does some really creative things with our instrument.

Amazon CD | iTunes download

* * *

A Second of Silence, with The Knights

This recording is a study in the kind of sound we associate with silence, with pieces that "are not merely tranquil -- quiet meditations are frequently interrupted by by violent gesture -- but dissolution into silence remains their ultimate object," as the New York-based ensemble The Knights describes it. They perform works by Erik Satie, Philip Glass, Franz Schubert and Morton Feldman.

Amazon CD | iTunes download

* * *

Serenade for Strings, with the East Coast Chamber Orchestra (ECCO)

Intense! And well-played. Nick Kendall and Tai Murray are just a few of the members of this group of musicians, the East Coast Chamber Orchestra, who met at various summer festivals and continue to meet up several times a year to make great music. This, in spite of the fact that the players live all over the place. Here they've recorded the Tchaikovsky Serenade for Strings and Shostakovich's Chamber Symphony in C, and attention Suzuki-ites who want to shake up your concept of "La Folia" a bit, the finale of this recording is a great, energy-filled arrangement of "La Follia," based on the Geminiani version of the piece.

Amazon CD | iTunes download

* * *

Handel: Messiah (Dublin Version, 1742), with the Dunedin Consort and Singers

I'm extremely impressed with the spot-on pitch and purity of the singing in this version of the "Messiah," which was actually issued in 2006 by the Scotland-based Dunedin Consort. Apparently Handel's Messiah wasn't a big hit when premiered; it was actually much more popular when he took it on the road, to Dublin, where Handel did some arranging to make the oratorio fit the voices available at the time. This version tends toward the Baroque in style.

Amazon CD | iTunes download

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Exercises for the Violin in Various Combinations of Double-Stops, by Roland Vamos

Want to get your left hand in shape and keep it that way? Violinist/violist and pedagogue Roland Vamos, who taught Rachel Barton Pine and many other wonderful musicians, knows how to help. His new book lets us in on his famous-but-secret double-stop exercises, which for years have been passed from student to student by means of tattered xeroxes. It comes with a DVD in which Mr. Vamos demonstrates the warmups and exercises.

Buy on Amazon

* * *

Before the Chinrest, by Stanley Ritchie

Even if you (like I) have no intention of ditching your chinrest or shoulder rest any time soon, this book's combination of history, practicality and sheer love for Baroque music is both enlightening and inspiring. Stanley Ritchie is a Baroque violinist and longtime violin professor at Indiana University.

Buy from Indiana University Press

* * *

Scales, by Simon Fischer

British pedagogue Simon Fischer, author of "Basics" and regular columnist in The Strad magazine, set out to write the ultimate scale book, and he's done a mighty fine job. "Scales" includes all the basic one-, two-, three- and four-octave scales and arpeggios, and it also lays out a detailed scheme for understanding intonation as well as exercises for building solid shifts and finger motion in scales.

Buy from SheetMusicPlus | Buy from Simon Fischer

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The Violin: A Social History, by David Schoenbaum

Scheduled for release on Dec. 10, this 700-page hardback book is an impressive feat of research, tracing the five hundred-year history of the violin. The book is divided into four sections, "Making It," about the evolution of lutherie; "Selling It," with many specific stories about violin dealers and prices; "Playing It," about the instrument's proliferation and most famous players; and "Imagining It," about its place in culture. A good read and a great resource, with an exhaustive bibliography.

Buy from Amazon (hardcover) | EBook for Kindle

Comments (7) | Archive Link

For the violinist considering a 14-inch viola:

By Rob Schnautz
December 3, 2012 21:10

I know this has been brought up in the forums before, but the discussion seemed to be guesswork. This season, our violists are sitting out for personal reasons, so I, a 1st violinist, decided to fill in for them.

I've noticed several differences, and I've never been one to hold my learnings from the world. I've been playing the 14-inch viola now for nearly two months, so the changes are quite fresh in my mind still.

The models I'm comparing here are probably an unfair comparison, but they're what I've got to work with. The violin is a Mathias Thoma European Hand-Crafted Instruments violin, model 441, and the viola is an E.R. Pfretzschner copy of a 1977 Strad.

Size: Not just a violin with a C string
It's a common myth that the 14-inch viola is a violin with a C string. When I picked up my rental from the shop, I myself wondered if I'd just made a mistake until I made some side-by-side comparisons.

The 14-inch viola is the same length as the full-size (4/4) violin...BUT put it under your chin. It's deeper, measuring from front to back. This requires a shallower shoulder pad.

I'm not sure if this is model-specific (it might be), but the viola I'm renting has a more pronounced arch on the front and back panels. I gather this causes the sound to reverberate differently within the soundbox, producing a darker timbre.

A heavy-duty bow
The next thing I noticed is that the bow is heavier. It's a stronger bow that is designed for getting the right force to rub that C string instead of playing delicately on the violin's E string.

While I'm on the topic of bows, I should mention the rosin used is a darker rosin. This is stickier and helps grab the C string. It's really quite amazing the difference the viola bow and dark rosin make, and I'm considering switching to a viola bow for my 5-string.

& 1 & 2 & 3 & 4!
I'll skip talking about the alto clef. If you can make it out, congratulations! You'll be sawing away in no time. But by the time rehearsal is over, you'll definitely feel it. The 14-inch viola will strain the muscles of the full-size violin player.

Your left hand and arm will tire quickly from the heavier strings (especially if you try to play double-stops on the C and G strings). Your right hand and arm will tire from rubbing the strings harder with a heavier bow, especially if you are playing at a volume that lets a single viola compete against a full section of horns. Your neck, jaw, and shoulder will tire from the thicker instrument and any additional unexpected weight from the viola itself. I advise anyone who has a private instructor to consult them for tips on minimizing unnecessary strain.

Pop goes the fiddle!
"Chicken fiddle", if we want to use the technical country term. Trivia - the cello is the "turkey fiddle", and the upright bass is the "bull fiddle".

That aside, accidents happen. I broke a G-string the other night. [Insert violist joke here.] The only strings I had on me were some Red Label strings I bought about ten years ago when a music shop was having a store closing sale-- my good strings were at home. And wouldn't you know it, a Red Label on a viola has a bright sound compared to the other strings it is outfitted with, as should be expected.

After putting the string on the instrument, I took a close look and noticed the G-string was practically thinner than the D-string. Woah. No wonder the left hand is undergoing so much stress-- with a year's experience on a 5-string, I didn't expect the left hand to have stress issues, but this explained it. The viola is outfitted with viola strings, which are heavier and sound darker. Don't try to put a violin G-string on your viola unless you have to!

So....should I just get a full-size viola, a 14-inch viola, or restring my violin?
That's purely up to you. What are you trying to accomplish? In my case, I think renting a 14-inch made sense. I'm basically squeezing "learn the viola" into 3 months (I didn't want to learn new finger spacing just yet) without sacrificing my violin that I use for side gigs. If you are thinking about becoming a full-time violist and have no rush, you might want to try a full-size, keeping in mind it will probably have a better tonal quality and richer sound. Are you just looking for a no-risk trial and can spare a violin for awhile? Restringing the violin might not be a bad idea, and if you decide to simply drop-tune it a fifth instead, be extremely mindful of how firm your instrument is so you don't damage it permanently.

I hope this clears up some of the myths about 14-inch violas and answers any questions people have about how they compare to violins.

Comments (7) | Archive Link

Could Soo-Boon Lee improve after playing this level for an child of 11?

By Bram Heemskerk
December 3, 2012 02:01

Really unbelieveable how some people could play when they are 11 years old. Could Soo-Boon Lee still improve and play at a higher level when she will be 30? Should she have enough time now to play with her Barbie dolls?

Comments (7) | Archive Link

V.com weekend vote: When it comes to holiday music, would you rather play, sing, listen or stay away from it?

By The Weekend Vote
December 2, 2012 16:00

It's that time of year, when holiday music fills the air -- at the grocery store, on the street corner, in great wonderful concerts in churches.

No doubt you'll get your fill, whether you'd like it or not!

As easy as it is to overdose, I still love holiday music. I adored playing in the pit for the Nutcracker the many years I did that. I love to play selections from Handel's Messiah.

I also get a lot of gratification from singing; back when I lived in Omaha and worked at the newspaper there, a group of us musically-inclined reporters would drive from house to house, visiting retirees from the paper and singing them carols in four-part harmony. What a happy memory!

Lately, with my son singing in the Los Angeles Children's Chorus, my favorite holiday experience is to simply enjoy being in the audience for their winter concert.

What kind of holiday music experience actually warms your heart? Or are you not a fan of holiday music?

Comments (9) | Archive Link

Composer's intentions: Enescu 3rd Sonata

By Nathan Cole
December 2, 2012 11:44

Enescu 1st page

I just received a video from the Mimir Festival, of my performance this past July of Enescu's 3rd violin sonata with Alessio Bax. It was fun (but as always, scary) to see a performance as it really happened, as opposed to the memory that I've been carrying around for a few months. Especially when I only get one shot at a performance (i.e. not part of a series or tour), there's a strange mix of pressure and freedom. Pressure since I only have one chance at each bar, but freedom because I might as well go for broke: this is it! You can see the video on YouTube, so here's the first of three movements:

This got me thinking about something else though. Check out that first page of the violin part! Is that music or some kind of secret code? In addition to the "normal" dynamics, we've got bf and pf and some variations; special glissando markings; tons of fingerings; plenty of non vibrato and molto vibrato. That's a lot to process! Enescu did this because he wanted to translate a certain style of violin playing into readable music. Judging from his own performance of the work:

he did a great job! I would never have been able to play in this style without his instructions, at least not without putting an enormous effort into studying that musical tradition. So the obvious question is: am I really playing in that style? And what is "that style"? Is it "Romanian style", as Enescu says on the title page? Or is it really Enescu style?

I certainly can't claim to know the Romanian style, whatever that may be, after studying and playing this piece. But I have played close to a hundred Beethoven pieces. I consider myself well versed in his style! Yet I've often wondered, as millions of people before me have, what Beethoven's personal style might have been. How many times did our student string quartets at Curtis say, "If only Beethoven were here right now!" It was always amusing to me to read that the Guarneri Quartet said the same kind of thing in exasperation. We assumed that his presence would have been a comfort: he would simply explain what he meant by dots, wedges, or a certain "p": was it a crescendo up to, or past, piano?

But what if his presence instead became a nuisance? A distraction? What if, given the chance, he decided to "re-edit" his works along the lines of the Enescu? He might mark some or most of a piece non-vibrato, for example, according to the style of the time. Quartets would forever be locked into his choices! He might mark glissandi, many more than I'm used to playing in his music. He might change half notes into double-dotted quarters with sixteenth rests, to show that he really wanted space in between! Imagine a page of Beethoven, so powerful in its simplicity, marked up like the Enescu. Would that free us to concentrate on interpretation, now that all our problems had been solved? Or would we feel that there wasn't much left to interpret?

None of this is meant to detract from the brilliance of Enescu or this 3rd sonata. This piece could only have been written by a composer of deep musical conviction. And his own performance has a wonderful freedom that sounds not at all constrained by any markings he put into his violin part. In fact, the more I played this sonata, the freer I felt, as if the markings were only logical musical and expressive choices that I had come up with! I even found myself playing with expressive devices that were not in the part, because they "felt" good. When I discovered the discrepancy, I often thought, "would it really be so bad to change that? It sounds great!" Of course that's exactly what quartets struggle with all the time playing Beethoven.

And let's not forget that those markings in the Enescu were, for me, a window onto a new style of playing, one that I would not have fallen into naturally. Perhaps that was the composer's intent all along: once the performer gains wisdom and insight through the specific instructions, he's free to "interpret" once more, and keep only what he likes. Or, like Ysaye, he might have written the notes, markings, and fingerings as a whole. Ysaye cautioned violinists not to change his marked fingerings in the unaccompanied sonatas, as they would alter the sound and effect of his music!

By far, most composers I've worked with personally have been eager to change anything they thought would make for a more effective performance. They've been especially quick to take the suggestions of performers. But few of these composers have been virtuoso performers, and that's what makes this Enescu case so interesting. I'll have to revisit the question the next time I'm fortunate enough to play the piece. And I'll certainly be thinking about it this afternoon when we play Beethoven's 2nd Symphony at the LA Phil!

Comments (2) | Archive Link

A Thanksgiving Story

By Kate Little
December 1, 2012 22:52

I am thankful that I get to study violin.

When my first child was born, I had a choice: to continue working for pay and hire nannies; or to stay home and care for my babies myself. I chose the latter, knowing that when the youngest left home, I would return to school and then to a new career. A number of options attracted my consideration: lawyer, accountant, computer programmer, math teacher, nurse, engineer – all of potential interest to an analytical problem solver. But, by September 2011, when I was finally alone at home, none was yelling at me: “I am it. I will hold your interest.” I still needed to choose, to make a decision as to what to do next.

All those years, a violin had sat in its case, ignored, in a corner of our living room. It had once belonged to my mother-in-law, and before that, to her cousin and to her uncle. On an impulse, needing activity to bide my time, I decided to take ten violin lessons. That would fill the gap until Christmas, by which time I would decide on an education and career path. I did not expect anything to come of the lessons. Experience had taught me that I am not a musical person; and apparently violin was extraordinarily difficult to learn. Yet I was curious what it would feel like to try. By lesson five I was hooked.

Occasionally a lush tone would emerge from my squeaks and squawks. With time and practice, the hues envelop me. The challenge is absorbing; the beauty, elusive; the horizon, infinite. I feel compelled. I practice every day. Every day. Every day. My husband gifts me the time and the money that it takes to learn. “It makes you happy,” he says, “and if you are happy, than I am happy, and my life is easier.” My husband is a very practical man.

Does the world need another half-baked violinist? No, it doesn’t. But then, does it need another lawyer or computer programmer? What the world does need is more beauty, more truth, more kindness and honesty. More integrity. More compelling.

I am grateful that I get to study violin.

Comments (3) | Archive Link


By Jonathan Hai
December 1, 2012 13:49

Post No. 27
This is it. The Quartet was finally done, perfected and finished about three weeks ago and Yonatan presented it at the VSA (Violin Society of America) Competition in Cleveland, Ohio. Yes, that was our pressing deadline, although we didn’t want to say anything specific so as not to jinx it…. It was all done in time, but at the very last moment. The instruments were finished only days before the competition, and Yonatan gave them to some terrific young Israeli musicians that he knows, who played them intensively before they were sent to the competition.

Actually "sent" is not the right verb here, because Yonatan flew to the US carrying the four instruments with him – on one shoulder he carried a special case in which the two violins fit together, on the other shoulder he carried a case with the viola, and he also carried the cello with him on the plane, paying an additional full ticket so the cello could literally sit next to him throughout the cross-Atlantic flight.

Here is the Quartet packed and ready to go:

DSC_0145 (3)

Anyway – as you can imagine the last few weeks were hectic to say the least, and in fact we were so busy with freeing up as much time as possible for Yonatan to work, to make sure the instruments are ready and perfect on time, that only during the last couple of days before he left we started to actually get excited over the fact that the competition has arrived… And then it really hit us – a full year of intensive, painstaking work has come to an end, and this challenging, almost impossible Quartet project was actually realized.

So Yonatan went to the competition. To make a long story short (and to save you the tension that we went through until that entire week was done and the competition was over), he didn't bring back any medals…apparently the VSA is an extremely complex and intricate business and you really have to participate at least once to even understand what the rules of the game are and what you need to do to in the future. However, as disappointing as this initially was, the Quartet received good grades, got a lot of attention and compliments, and then the cello of the Quartet was sold on the spot – which as we all know is the ultimate compliment for a violin maker!

And that's it. Yonatan came home with the three smaller instruments and they will probably soon also go their separate ways…

But before this happened we took one last picture of our "four kids", and here they are:

DSC_0148 (2)

What an amazing, unforgettable year this has been! In parallel to the Quartet Project we bought a house for the first time in our life, renovated it and moved to a new community, put three kids into a new school and two new kindergartens… and wrote this blog:)

So now we go back to a calmer, more ordinary routine – although knowing us, I'm sure we'll come up with a new challenge. Personally, writing this blog was a truly terrific experience. I wrote my first entry almost exactly 11 months ago. I just reread it, and it seems to me as if it was more like a decade ago that I wrote those words. So much has happened since! Between the pressures and pleasures of life – two jobs, three kids, varying number of animals in the house, family, friends, Israeli politics, house renovations, moving and, you know, LIFE - it was at times a real challenge finding the time, the energy and the peace-of-mind to write. But I truly enjoyed it and maybe I'll still write from time to time. But this project is over for me too, and following the construction of Yonatan's stringed Quartet is now done.

I hope you enjoyed this at least as much as I did. And don't worry – Yonatan already started to work on a brand new violin… you can check it all out
in his website!

So long, and thanks for following (and for all the fish)!!!

Avivit Hai

Kiryat Tivon, Israel

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V.com Interview with Russell Fallstad: coaching actors in violin and viola, for 'A Late Quartet'

By Laurie Niles
November 30, 2012 15:49

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 Fallstad

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":

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Advice to Young Musicians, by Robert Schumann. 70 great tips.

By Jesús Fernández
November 30, 2012 02:12

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.

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