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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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The Living Symphony

By Laurie Niles
January 16, 2013 22:17

The beginning of Brahms First Symphony is so big, so resonant -- I could feel it in my elbows touching the armrests of the seats of the Ambassador auditorium, in the paper of my Pasadena Symphony program as I held it in my hands, in my feet that touched the floor.

On Saturday night I had come to hear violinist Caroline Goulding play the Sibelius Concerto, which she did with great skill, playing the c. 1720 General Kyd Stradivarius she has on loan from Jonathan Moulds. Also on the program was Peter Boyer's likable and rhythmically clever piece for strings, "'Apollo' from Three Olympians."

The Pasadena Symphony Orchestra could have used twice the string section for both the Brahms and Sibelius. As it was, the orchestra performed with 10 first violins, seven seconds (seven!), eight violas, eight cellos and six basses. Ah, "budget cutbacks." Would Monet have decided not to buy the color green, to paint his water lilies? Would have made no difference, right?

But the musicians who were there -- call them my colleagues, as I have played in this orchestra many times -- moved me greatly when they played Brahms. What musician gripes about Brahms, what musician does not love this work? My guess: the ones on stage Saturday love Brahms. Sure, there were problems: the small string section, some wobbly sound in the horns. Yet the sum of their efforts equaled more than those parts.

My heart felt better, listening to them play. What a beautiful thing they were bringing the audience; what a beautiful thing they were bringing me. And how special the occasion, when I can sit in a hall and listen to symphonic music, unfettered by the obligation to "multi-task" as it unfolds in the background, over speakers or headphones, as I drive or do dishes or work.

Maxim Vengerov said last week that every time we play a symphony or great symphonic work, we paint it anew, like a great masterpiece in a museum. He meant this in a good way, but people call a symphony a "museum piece" in a derisive way as well. I say such people do not understand museums. To stand within touching distance of a beautiful work, to see the brush strokes of the master, to understand the history that brought you and this painting into the same spot in the world at this moment in time -- this can be a profound and moving experience.

Brahms wrote his first symphony at 42; he would have been old enough to see the shifting seasons, both of the earth and of a human life. The changing colors of the first movement bring this feeling to mind: a slow-moving harmonic kaleidoscope.

As the second movement began, I thought about some of the beautiful stringed instruments that the musicians in the Pasadena Symphony play -- old Italians, relatively new moderns. No doubt all of those instruments have sung this symphony before; in many cases, before its current owner was born. My colleagues came here from all over the world. They studied with various masters at fine musical institutions -- I could think offhand of a few of their teachers: Ruggiero Ricci, Robert Lipsett, Josef Gingold, Ivan Galamian, Dorothy DeLay. Here they sat, together. Each of them brings that world of music into our community, with the students they teach, the performances they give, the projects they undertake, the conversations they have with friends as well as strangers. They've had their ups and downs, this human group: triumphant performances, failed auditions, celebrity and travel, partners and children, heartbreak, injury, ambition and disappointment. Here they were.

During the fourth movement's horn calls, which herald the theme that have led some people to call this symphony "Beethoven's 10th," the lights flickered. Would the electricity go off, on this windy and cold evening? It didn't, but if it had, I'm certain that most of these musicians could have finished the symphony in the dark.

A symphony orchestra is a live treasure in a community. Unlike a museum piece, it can't endure in a back room, to be brought out later. It has to beat like a heart and live through its musicians, its directors, its composers, its teachers, its supporters, its students, its administrators, its community. It must embrace its oldest and most knowledgeable patrons, educate its young, and provide artistic inspiration and growth for all.

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Johan S. Svendsen (1840-1911) + Hakon Børresen (1876-1954) vc's

By Bram Heemskerk
January 15, 2013 16:10

Johan Severin Svendsen (1840-1911) is more well known of his more often played Romance for violin + orchestra op.26 (1881), but he also wrote a violin concerto in 1869
Violin concerto opus 6 in A major
Movement 1 : Allegro moderato ben risoluto
Movement 2 : Andante
Movement 3 : Finale, allegro giusto
Less well known is Hakon Børresen (1876-1954) who wrote a violin concerto in G major opus 11 in 1904
Movement 1 : Introduction. Allegro moderato
Movement 2 : Adagio
Movement 3 : Allegro

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Two videos: Just Letting It Happen

By Javier Orman
January 15, 2013 14:06

My first post was about teaching and learning through exploration. The second one was about the O'Connor Method, and how it allows me to do exactly that. Here are two examples.

In this first one, my student Lucas took all the variations of Boil 'em Cabbage Down in books I-III, added a couple of his own variations and together we came up with a fun way to play the whole thing. He got his practice on rhythms, positions, string-crossing, etc. AND had a great time performing this in a recital.

In this next one, Emily started out by re-ordering the sections Soldier's Joy, and ended up creating a whole new version altogether. She came up with the intro, solos, harmonic changes and anything that is not originally in the book. In all honesty, I did very little but letting it happen.

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Ground Zero for Violin

By Kate Little
January 15, 2013 11:20

Tension is the issue. Unnecessary tension. Tension that lifts the scroll up to nose level and bow weight off the string. The neck is gripped, fingers are late, and sound is thin. Both violin and viola teachers have commented on the problem for several months. Relax the hand, relax the arm, relax the shoulder, relax the back they both say. The tension always creeps back in: five decades of muscle memory at work. Tunes sound like crap. Sevcik sounds like crap. All I want is one resonant measure.

Ok, so general instructions to my musculature are getting me nowhere. I need to dig deeper to make progress, and start with this assumption: It will be possible to dissolve counterproductive muscle memory and replace it with new effective muscle memory, even at age fifty-three. I just have to figure out how.

Monday practice starts with Svecik, Op. 1, No. 1, m. 1, open A: Pick up the violin and bow. Place the bow on A, allow it to rest in place, feel the weight in the string. Starting with the fingers and thumb on the right hand: scan for dispensable tension, figure out which muscle, and release; repeat this process with the palm and back of the hand, the wrist, the forearm, the upper arm, the shoulder, the back. Oh wait, I’m slumped over. Try for just the arm weight, not the entire body: allow the head to rise up and the spine to suspend below. Feels good. Now check the left side. Dang. The left arm is pushing the instrument up to meet the bow. Put everything down. Shake it out. Start the entire process over. This time, by the time I get to it, the scroll is not quite so high, the grip on the neck not quite so tight. This is progress. Now start scanning the left side. Slowly, thoughtfully, release the grip, release the wrist, release the arm up to the shoulder, release the shoulder, allow the head to rise up and release the back. Ah, the instrument and bow feel in a natural position. Enjoy for a moment. Put everything down. Shake it out. Start the entire process over. This time it doesn’t take quite as long. The bow feels ready for its stroke. Wait. Put everything down. Shake it out. Start it over. Do just this another half-dozen times. Finally, draw the bow. Ooh! That sounds ok. Try all of this another five times or so. At length, the first note rings. Did that take ten or fifteen minutes? I’ve lost track of time. Oh well, fretting is of no use. This may be the only way. It’s time for the second note.

Pick up the violin and bow. Place the bow on A. Scan the right and left sides. Tension is becoming easier to identify and release; the process is becoming quicker. Try placing the left index finger on B, damping the string to the fingerboard. The entire left hand takes over, clenching the neck. The grab reflex is strong. Maybe this is why young children have an easier time learning to play: muscular response is not so deeply embedded and it is easier for them to learn new physical patterns. In contrast, I have to eliminate a lifetime’s worth of physical habits to make way for new processes. Neuro-muscular reprogramming. Perhaps this is the basis of rehabilitation for brain-injury and stroke victims. There are probably articles in the professional journals about how to do this. Maybe this is why everyone keeps telling me that I will never master the violin: compared to a child, I have more work to do and less time to do it in.

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Life Partner

By Emily Grossman
January 14, 2013 04:25

Another curious thing happened during the time since I last wrote in October: I fell in love. I know, I'd already previously committed to another, but I guess deep down, I knew I hadn't yet found what I was looking for, and my heart went searching elsewhere for what was lacking in our relationship. Years went by with no luck, yet I continued with compelling persistence. But you can't rush fate, and when the moment is right, you'll meet the One, and there won't be any question about it.

And on 12-12-12, that is exactly what happened. We met in Philadelphia, and it was love at first sound. A 1927 Sannino, he had all the qualities I was looking for, and then some: a crisp and projecting, yet deep and woody thick tone, sensitive responsiveness, great clarity and ease of playing--and something else I can't quite put my finger on, except to call it Magic. As the days passed while I considered our long-term commitment, he and I fell deeper and deeper in love. Our playing chemistry was out of this world; we were already on the same page on so many levels! My throat opened as if to speak, and he stole the words right from my mouth.

But what do you do when you meet the violin of your dreams and he's out of your league? Well, you cry, you pray, you try one thing and then another before you consider dark, criminal behavior, and then, with a little help from loved ones, your dreams come true, and you bring him home.

I own a new violin--or rather, it owns me! January opens a new door, and the possibilities that lay beyond seem endless.

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V.com weekend vote: What is your favorite musical period?

By The Weekend Vote
January 13, 2013 15:07

What is your favorite musical period? Mine changes pretty frequently; a moving performance of something from a certain musical period tends to renew my interest in it.

Here are some basic definitions for you (and perhaps your students). Please share what your (current) favorite musical period is, and what makes it your favorite.

For these definitions, I've quoted directly from an excellent article we have on V.com by Liz Lambson, called Classical Music Genres of the Common Practice Periods, which explains three of those periods very well, the Baroque, Classical and Modern periods. I've borrowed her style and added Renaissance and Modern. Feel free to add to (and argue about) these definitions! (Most up-in-the-air is the definition of the "modern" era!)

RENAISSANCE (1400-1600)

Definitive Composer: Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina
Other Renaissance Composers: Guillaume Dufay, Josquin des Prez, Johannes Ockeghem, William Byrd, Giovanni Gabrieli, John Dowland
Defining Characteristics: Use of modes, multiple parts, polyphony and independent voices, counterpoint
Performance Style: Use of pre-violin stringed instruments such as the viol (played like a cello, resting between the legs), lute, hurry gurdy

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

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

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

MODERN (1910-present)

Definitive Composer: Igor Stravinsky, Aaron Copland, Arnold Schoenberg
Other Modern composers: Bela Bartok, Claude Debussy, Dmitri Shostakovich, Leonard Bernstein, Sergei Prokofiev,
Defining Characteristics: impressionism, atonality, dissonance, syncopation, neo-Classicism, neo-Romanticism, new styles, cross-genre experimentation, use of technology, frequently changing meters, minimalism
Performance Style: extremely variable, often experimental, with techniques such as Bartok pizzicato, col legno bowing, aleatoric passages (somewhat improvised and chaotic), unusual annotation, and more.

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Jazz Strings Chamber Ensemble at Berkeley's Jazzschool Institute

By Mads Tolling
January 12, 2013 16:09

Attention String Players!
Learn how to improvise & groove and discover your instrument in a new way.

Former Turtle Island Quartet and Stanley Clarke violinist Mads Tolling will lead a Jazz Strings Chamber Ensemble at Jazzschool Institute in the Spring Semester in Berkeley, CA. It's for intermediate to advanced violinists, violists, cellists and bassists - all ages are welcome. Material covered will include music by Jimmy Hendrix, Stevie Wonder and Miles Davis. Techniques such as walking bass, shuffle bow and "the chop" will all be part of the curriculum.

Classes will commence on Monday, January 28th and will go till mid May. The ensemble will meet every Monday, 4-6pm. It's a two-unit class for credit, and registration is taking place at this time,

Berkeley Jazzschool Institute: 510.845.5373 & info@jazzschoolinstitute.org. www.jazzschool.com
The Jazz School is located at 2087 Addison Street in downtown Berkeley.

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Baroque Music

January 12, 2013 15:22

I think a lot of us can say the same thing:

We love Baroque music.

I've never had to force myself to love or appreciate Baroque music; it was a passion that came as easily as breathing, and I'm sure there are plentiful others here who've been in a state where Bach is obviously FAR superior to breathing.

There is something beautiful about this era of music. Beneath the seeming simplicity of its works, there are a plethora of brilliant lines and instruments working together in such a way that you almost forget about the time signature. The Chaconne is not in 3/4 time; it's utterly timeless.

Pardon the dramatic tone here, guys, but I really need to vent about this, because it means a lot to me.

I'm a beginner, so I know there's a long road ahead before I can really beautifully play - and possible even comprehend - the depth and genius these works have to offer.

But regardless of age, sex, race, favourite kind of tea, or whether you play an instrument or not, Baroque music has a universal appeal.

Baroque violinist Monica Huggett described gut strings as being somewhat nutty in flavour - simple sounding, but full of depth, and an instrinsic lightness. I think this perfectly describes not only the tone of the gut strings, but of Baroque music as a whole.

A favourite piece of mine is H.I.F. Biber's Passacaglia. When you listen to it, it sounds puritan, fresh, simple; but even listening a fraction harder will open up the more intricate details of the piece.

I have always been able to connect to Baroque music and earlier music in a way that I have not connected to Classical music, or Romantic music. I love them all, but the former has a special place in my heart.

Like in all music, there is a work for all moods. When I'm happy, I love the bounciness and freedom in Bach's Partita No. 2 Gigue, the simple but lovely theme of Charpentier's 'Te Deum' Prelude, or a relaxing piece of Handel.

And then we have the darker works; of course the Chaconne, but the Albinoni-Tomaso Adagio, Dowland's rather melancholy lute works, and - strangely - Handel's Harp Concerto in B-Flat Major. I always cry at the last movement - although perhaps not through sadness.

When I'm in a position where I believe I can do these wonderful works some kind of justice, I would love to arrange some kind of musical evening at my school, with Baroque music quite predominant - if not totally dominant in the programme. Everyone should be introduced to this wonderful music. Even if this is all you take from this rant of a blog - tell the world why you love Baroque music!

One day, I have no doubt I'll be able to satisfy my dream and put on some kind of 'show', if you will, of Baroque music, with some other friends. My music teacher is a pianist, and adores the Bach harpsichord and organ works.

A friend on cello has yet to be convinced.

I'll tear him away from the Elgar and get him some Vivaldi if it kills me.

Thanks for reading. Have a lovely day or night, wherever you might be.


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BBC - Bill Bailey's Remarkable Guide to the Orchestra

By Joshua Iyer
January 12, 2013 11:46

If you haven't seen this video, you've missed out! I'd seen the whole thing a long time ago, and I just "rediscovered it" today. It's a fantastic video that shows, in a hilarious way, just what an orchestra is like. Parts of the video discuss various instruments, both some you may have heard of and some you may not. Others describe various pieces of music - like TV themes and classical music. Just watching it now inspires me to practice, so if you haven't seen it, click the link, check it out, and leave any comments on what you think! Enjoy!

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Violinist Recovery from Broken Wrist - Finger Strengthening

By Heather Broadbent
January 11, 2013 06:53



November 2010, Thanksgiving week, was a Mexican vacation I will never forget.  It was the vacation when I broke my left wrist.  It was a very strange incident or accident rather. I was walking down some rocky stairs without a railing, hit an uneven step and down I went.  Right before the tumble the words came to me "Everything will be all right."  I didn't tuck my hands under when I fell - no, I fell right on to my left hand, it stung and my eyes smarted.  I got myself up and spent quite a bit of time after the fall in hot tubs.

As soon as I returned to the states, I got out my violin to play to make sure everything was OK.  I was a bit surprised to have pain in my fourth finger every time I used it especially past third position.  I went to the Doctor and they took x-rays but did not find a fracture.  So they diagnosed it as a sprained wrist.  As all musicians know this is a very busy time for concerts.  I had a very special concert along with my regular Christmas season Orchestra concerts and gigs.  December 17, I was invited to showcase myself in all aspects.  This concert included my students playing with me accompanying them, my solo playing of Piazolla tango, Paganini Caprice, Bach Sarabande, and La Paloma violin and guitar duet.  After all of this I played with two rock bands.  It ended up being a three hour concert.  I did this with a small brace on my wrist and I was using pain patches given to me through physical therapy.  After the concerts were done, I visited my family in Utah and did not touch the violin hoping that with rest the pain would go away.  My oldest brother Tom, saw how limited use I had of my wrist and being a volunteer fireman with some knowledge of broken bones he told me my wrist was broken.  I told him no, they took x-rays and found nothing.


When I returned to Wisconsin, I knew I needed more tests.  I don't remember how, I think it was a referral from my GP, I was able to have an MRI and they finally found the fracture.  I had fractured my hamate bone.  It is a very rare break and is very difficult to heal.  The doctor said I had a five percent chance of healing and a smaller chance to heal correctly.  Immediately I was put in a cast.  Now remember this is over a month from the initial break and I had played hard on this broken wrist.  At this point in my life - music was my life.  I knew no other.  I practiced at least three - six hours a day, studying with Rachel Barton Pine, performing recitals, working as a orchestral violinist in over twenty orchestras and teaching my private students accompanying them all on piano and here I was with a broken wrist.  I was sick.  I had to have the cast for a minimum of eight weeks, which actually turned into twelve weeks.  I couldn't type, play the violin, obviously, or the piano.  At least I could still swim with the cast.   I was so glad the cast was removeable this way after I went swimming, I could put on the new cast.  I requested two casts so I could go swimming.  If I didn't have swimming in my life at that time I don't know what I would have done.  There were a few months I couldn't use my arm at all so I found many different ways to swim using the rest of my body for example only kicking, dolphin kicks on side, back and stomach.  I was very creative.

I honestly don't remember what I did with my time except for watching youtube videos, reading books on musicians and thinking about what I can play as soon as I could play again.  I did a lot of soul searching  - I had a lot of time to think and looking back, I needed this catastrophic event to re-evaluate my life.

I was so thankful that I was still able to teach my students.  They were what got me through that difficult time.  I remember there was a snow day and the students couldn't come to my door.  We were all snowed in.  I was devastated.  What was I to do.  It was a very difficult time for me  to avoid the depression doldrums.  I had to stay positive that my wrist was going to heal - I knew nothing else in my life except for being a violinist.

In February, I was able to see dear friends of mine perform at Carnegie Hall.  This was a great diversion for me.  In this picture you can see me with my cast.  I tried to hide it in all of my pictures and this is the best picture to see the cast.


The cast went all the way up to my elbow.  As you can see in this picture my fingers were like jello.  I lost all muscle definition in them and they were the weakest they have ever been in my entire life.

At the end of March, I received great news based on a cat scan of my wrist - I was very lucky and my wrist did heal perfectly against all odds.  That was just the beginning - I had to go through three months of physical therapy.  When I first tried to play the violin it was an impossibility and that is not an exaggeration.  I couldn't even turn my wrist to face the violin.  I couldn't even hold the violin let alone put my fingers on the fingerboard.  It was more painful to turn my wrist to play the violin than the actual break.  I practiced very small increments once I could get my fingers to the violin.  I had support from other fellow violinists that had more catastrophic injuries than mine.  Violinists that I never knew had problems - we were stand partners and they were and are great players.  After my injury, I learned that one lost the tips of his fingers with a table saw accident and another had ruptured her tendon and could not straighten her fourth finger.  I had no idea until they told me and they only told me to help me.  I knew if they could pull through that I could too.  By the end of April 2011, I was back playing my normal concert schedule with the orchestras combined with ice and physical therapy.

So hopefully this post will be helpful to other musicians with injuries.  Besides stretching every day, I had a few tricks to help regain strength in my left hand.  The therapists had me use gripmasters.  I started with very small weight and then slowly increased.

I also squeezed different sponges - again starting with easy and increasing the difficulty.

I have used Chinese Balls as well.  You want to eventually be able to roll them in one hand without having them touch.  The chimes are wonderful for relaxation.


For any pain, I have always found Tiger Balm to work the best for me.


This is the finger strengthening exercise I use with my students young and old.


Please know I am not a physician or a therapist. This is all based on my life experience. If you are having any pain issues please see a physician, chiropractor, therapist etc. Everyone has different issues and different bodies.

Now looking back - it had to happen - I had to break my wrist and have performing completely absent from my life for a short time in order for me to re-evaluate and grow as a person. To climb the next steps in the ladder of life..........

Happy Healthy Practicing

Heather Broadbent

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