November 2005

November 28, 2005 23:33

Well, I am close to settling on a violin teacher for my almost-three-year-old daughter. We observed a lesson with her a few weeks ago, and while she wasn't as formal as what I expected from a Suzuki teacher, I felt like she would be tolerant of the fact that my daughter is (and acts like) a two-year-old rather than a five-year-old. And the location is decent; I'd thought it would be easy to find a Suzuki teacher in the Bay Area, but there are far fewer than I expected. (Perhaps the Suzuki method is too regimented for the "liberal minds" that inhabit this region?) Of the teachers I did call and left messages with, over half didn't bother to call me back. What's up with that? Even if they didn't have openings or didn't want to take a child that young, it's just basic professionalism to return a call and say so.

A question for the teachers out there: how do you feel about parents giving their input about what their child should be doing? On one hand I don't want to step on the teacher's toes, and I certainly don't want to contradict anything she says, but on the other hand I do have years of violin experience myself, and I know my daughter well. For example, Suzuki teachers are big on not teaching note reading until the child is older, but my daughter has been reading English for months and I'd like her to be introduced to notes sooner rather than later. Also, my one worry with this particular teacher is that she'll move her students to techniques before they're ready, e.g. using fingers before they've fully mastered proper posture. Since I suffered as a child from not learning fundamentals correctly, I'm extra concerned that the same thing not happen to my daughter. So would I be out of line in mentioning these things to her teacher, provided I do it in a way that doesn't undermine her authority (like over the phone, outside the lesson)?

My own playing is going well...two consecutive nights of 1/2 hour practice is no easy feat for someone who works full-time and has two children under three. The legato double stop section in the Saint-Saëns Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso is a killer, but I'm making progress. And I have utmost faith in my teacher that she can help me get past any obstacles I have.

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November 26, 2005 14:58

Another successful Thanksgiving is over. My husband and I celebrate the holiday every year with the two fraternity brothers he roomed with in college for four years. We rotate hosts every year, and this year was our year. I'm very grateful that we've been able to continue this tradition for ten years, despite all of us changing jobs, moving around the country, and (in our case) starting families. The huge Thanksgiving meal is not intimidating in the least anymore, and we've got it down to a craft, with the turkey, stuffing, and pumpkin pie as standbys and experimenting with side dishes a bit every year. And it's always a relief to me to have the "uncles" and occasionally a girlfriend with us, since they're so great with the kids. It was my younger daughter Kyla's first Thanksgiving, and she enjoyed the attention she often misses because her older sister is two and is constantly running around hollering.

Unfortunately, I have not done any violin practicing in the last few days. Partly because I haven't had much free time or energy with all the extra people in the house, and partly because I was a little bothered by the reminder of how poor my violin playing is. Both my husband's ex-roommates were accomplished violinists (playing Lalo's Symphonie Espagnole in high school, etc.), and I was always embarrassed in college that I'd taken lessons for longer than they had but was so inferior a player. I know now that it was largely because I had mediocre teachers, and I'm making tremendous progress now with my current, wonderful teacher, but I was depressed enough that I didn't feel like playing for a while. It wasn't the guys' fault in the least; they've largely given up violin, and they've never done anything to make me feel bad about my poor violin ability (except exist, which they can't really help!) but I'm a little embarrassed all the same. Nonetheless, they're all gone now, so I'm done feeling sorry for myself, and I'm going to go practice as soon as I get a load of laundry in the washer.

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November 20, 2005 00:07

Well, I finally got myself and my family up to Ifshin Violins in Berkeley today. It's a great place. We were going to rent a violin for my almost-three-year-old daughter, but they only have sizes down to a 1/16, which was still actually a bit big for her. Apparently 1/32 sizes are quite hard to come by. In the end my husband and I decided to go with it anyway, since she hasn't started lessons yet and when she does, she'll probably be doing bow and posture work for a while. I am thinking about buying an instrument from Shar or something, though. The rental rate at Ifshin is pretty reasonable, but if my daughter and her younger sister end up playing, I'd get more value from buying.

I'm still looking at various Suzuki teachers in the area. At one point I was wondering if I ought to just teach her on my own, but I'm afraid of teaching her badly, since I myself learned the fundamentals poorly. But I think it's better to have someone else teach her; there can be a weird dynamic if one's parent is also one's teacher, and I realized today that it takes tremendous time and patience to get even the basics right. We'll still get to work together during practice time, but she'll do better with a teacher who's trained on how to teach these things to young children.

I also got myself a new violin case, finally (the Bobelock 1017). I've had my old one for almost twenty years and it's completely falling apart. The cushioned area is still good, though; I hate to throw the whole thing away. Maybe one of my cats would like it for a bed. I also got a big practice mute so I can practice after the girls go to sleep. Not my favorite time of day to work since I'm usually pretty tired by then, but at least now I have the option.

P.S. 1/16 size violins are SO CUTE!

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November 17, 2005 22:39

Note: if you have to do something which you've been putting off because you'll feel guilty, do it when you're sick and you'll be too miserable to care.

I hadn't yet told my orchestra director that I was going to quit for a semester, because I know how desperate he is for first violinist, and he's such a sweet man and really tries to make it a good experience for everyone. But it's a time sink I just can't afford right now, particularly because I don't think it's making me a better violinist.

Anyway, so yesterday I had an awful cold but went to rehearsal anyway, and after 2.5 hours of playing I was ready to drop to the floor and pass out. I gave him the news, and he was crushed, but I was too out of it to feel really bad. He did beg me to come back for the second spring concert, and I said I'd think about it (it's fun music). I hate not being able to do everything I want to do, but at this time in my life I've got to make the tough choices.

Oh, and it's pretty funny when a brass player (which the director is) inadvertently makes a viola joke:

Director, turning to the violin section: "Ok, start again, same place."

Violist: "Do you want violas too?"

Director, absentmindedly: "No, just strings."

My stand partner and I had a good giggle over that. :)

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November 15, 2005 14:26

Emily's joy over her successful straight bow stroke just reminded me of something my violin teacher taught me recently that was so cool I want to pass it on.

We all know that it's impossible to tell if your bow is going straight without a mirror or something, since the angle of vision messes up your perception. And you can only do so much practicing in front of a mirror staring off to the side. Well, Virginia showed me that the bow slides perpendicular to the strings if it isn't moving straight, and you can tell which way it's off by the direction in which it slides.

Try it! If you're pulling the bow too close to your body on the down stroke (the more common error among beginners, I think), then the bow slides toward the scroll on the down stroke and toward the bridge on the up stroke. If you're pushing the bow too much away from your body on the down stroke (which is my problem...I overcompensate for the tendency described above), then the bow slides toward the bridge on the down stroke and toward the scroll on the up stroke. So you can tell which way you need to correct by watching which way the bow slides.

This is the kind of stuff my previous teachers never showed me. So many errors are possible on the violin, to be sure, but nothing that isn't correctable if you know what to look for. There's reason for optimism. :)

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November 11, 2005 18:48

Oh, my aching neck...

I haven't really been playing that much, just a 2.5 hour rehearsal on Wednesday and a 1.5 hour lesson yesterday, but clearly my body isn't used to this. When I exercise, I like the mild soreness because it makes me feel virtuous somehow. But violin playing is its own reward, so the pain is just that: pain that prevents me from playing more.

I really need to get up to Ifshin Violins in Berkeley to buy a new violin case. I've had my current one for almost twenty years and it's got a broken shoulder strap, exposed screw, and the swively things that hold the bows swivel too easily so my bow falls off all the time. But given how much I dislike that city (it brings back memories of my five miserable years of graduate school) I require significant incentive to make the trip. Maybe I'll also try out some shoulder rests and bows, though I don't plan on buying the latter until (unless?) I get my end-of-year bonus at work. And how carefully should I pick out a 1/32 size violin for my young daughter? I know it's just about impossible to get decent sound on something that small, so I'm really tempted just to find something cheap for her to learn on.

I haven't yet told the director of my community orchestra that I'm staying in the country after all, because I've decided to drop out of the group regardless, at least for the spring semester. He's such a sweet man, and the orchestra really, really needs first violins. But it's just such a time sink, and I don't think it's really making me a better violinist. I have little enough time to work on my solo repertoire as it is, so I think I really need to prune down my activities and focus on the ones I find truly rewarding.

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November 8, 2005 14:17

Life is getting back to normal. First, thanks to Robert and Eric for your comments in my last entry. I ended up declining the Swiss offer for a multitude of reasons, including the high cost of living, not wanting to leave my young daughters for three months, not wanting to stop violin lessons with my wonderful teacher, and the realization that there will be other opportunities to move to Europe in the future. One main reason I want to do it is so I can learn to speak another language fluently, and Swiss German (which is very different from High German) wouldn't really have been the most useful choice. Maybe next time I'll find something in France, German, Spain, or Italy, which I'd like better.

So, the stress of that decision is over and I can get back to focusing on my violin. Virginia said I could start on the Saint-Saëns' Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso, which I'm really excited about. I think I was ready to take on a new piece, because I have this renewed enthusiasm for practicing. It's definitely a challenge for me, but one I think I can handle. I've said this many times before, but...what a difference a good teacher makes! I've made so much progress in the six months I've worked with Virginia, and it's just so depressing to think of the thirteen years I wasted as a child with mediocre teachers.

My 2.5-year-old daughter has apparently picked up on my enthusiasm, because she now begs to play with my violin every time I start to practice. I let her pluck the strings and sometimes she bows (with my help) while I finger some kid's song. I've started looking for a Suzuki teacher for her, but many of them don't take kids that young. I could start teaching her the fundamentals myself, but I'm afraid of passing on any bad habits I might have, now that I know how poorly I was taught in my early years.

I've been doing well trying to practice every day, even for just fifteen minutes, but last night I fell off the wagon. After a full day's work and a very intense three hours of Spanish interpreting at the clinic where I volunteer, I just didn't have the mental or physical energy to play. So I watched my "Art of Violin DVD" instead, figuring that I could learn something by watching the old masters. Tonight, I'm back to playing. Promise.

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