Happy holidays to everyone at V.com!
We are enjoying Christmas with Robert's family in Celebration, Florida, where we have experienced snow. Actually, we experience the nightly showering of “Disney snow” in the downtown area of this Disney-made town. As the kids learned quickly, Disney snow is warm, and made out of soap bubbles. A shirt soaked in soap-bubble snow gets very itchy!
Christmas away from home does involve some compromising, some improvising, and for me, some music-stand devising.
It's a shoebox music stand. Go to a strange city, buy shoes, and you get a music stand, free! (Robert calls this “chick logic.”)
Though I knew my entire schedule would be thrown out of wack, I did bring a fiddle to Orlando so that I could practice. I'm learning Pag Caprice No. 4, and I'm considering that deal with the devil. Does anyone know the devil's e-mail address? If I take the deal, will I really be able to whip up and down the fingerboard in a perfect sequence of tenths? How did Nicolo work this?
But I digress; the topic here is Christmas, and here I am contemplating a potentially fiery future.
Christmas is about babies, and traveling enormous distances to see them. That is what we are doing this year; we flew from LA to Orlando to meet a baby:
She is my new niece; Robert's sister's new baby and my children's only cousin. We brought her little clothes and drawings from the kids, a stuffed Pooh bear, etc. We love her madly, just because she exists.
And that is all I shall say about Christmas, other than have a great day today, whatever you celebrate!
Robert and I like to throw a holiday “Cookie Party” every year for the kids, our (mostly non-musician) friends and my students, with hundreds of cookies made by me along with lots of awesome food made by Robert.
Last year, the party turned into a kind of spontaneous sing-along, so this year we decided to make it official. We told everyone that we'd also be having a little holiday jam session, so bring your ax. Then everyone said, “Bring my ax?” and I said, “Just bring your instrument, or at least, I'm going to make you sing!”
So we had: violins, a viola, a cello, mandolin, several flutes, clarinet, guitars and a number of small pianists. My daughter played a quiet guitar rendition of “Up on the Housetop.” Robert even got out his viola! One of my smallest violin students played “Jingle Bells” on the piano. “I only know part of it,” she said, so the rest of us filled in for the more challenging “dashing through the snow” part. One of my students and her cello-playing sister brought a book of holiday trios and played from that. I played “Meditation from Thais,” while my good friend Trina, a professional cellist and Suzuki cello teacher, accompanied on a quarter-size cello, along with Carrie, another professional violinist who has been helping me teach this semester.
I played “Joy to the World” as a piano duet with my son (as a pianist, I'm a great violinist...), and one of my daughter's friends played “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” on the piano, with her dad accompanying her on guitar. Several little girls played Mozart minuets on the piano, and another played “Jingle Bells” on the flute. Another girl brought her clarinet, but ended up playing a carol on the piano.
It's the first year we've tried this idea of having everyone bring their instruments, but I think I like it! It allows everyone to play in a setting that's not a classroom and not a formal performance. It's at least part of what our instruments are for, yes? Making merry!
I took a trip down memory lane a few nights ago, watching two of my current students play in the city youth orchestra. I don't think I'd been to any youth orchestra's concert since I'd last played in another one which is...a rather long time ago!
But youth orchestra is where I fell in love with orchestra playing. Somehow the collective voice of some 100 musicians has always pulled at my heart more than my own instrument's voice alone. In orchestra, the violin on your shoulder literally resonates with the sound of everyone else's instrument. When everyone plays well, the feeling can be tremendously uplifting. And when there is disharmony or trepidation, it can spread like wildfire.
In a youth orchestra, the ups are almost a frightening surprise, and the downs...Well, a sight-reading session in a youth orchestra, as I recall, can be replete with hopelessness. I remember that after the elation of getting into the city's best youth orchestra came the reality check of the first rehearsal, where we sight-read “Capriccio Espanol” by Rimsky Korsakov along with Dvorak Symphony No. 8. “I will never, ever, ever, figure this out,” I thought with depressing certitude.
I was wrong, I did figure it out. By now I've got it down cold; I've been sight reading and learning orchestra music since I was a child.
That's the point of youth orchestra, to learn and a young age that those challenges are surmountable.
A few nights ago I heard moments of professionalism and moments of tentative playing. I heard excitement and harmony, and the occasional momentary derailment. I heard parents whispering about chairs, about who was in the first or second violins, and wondering if their young musician would make the better orchestra next year.
It's all part of orchestra, forever. For any orchestra to grow, it must program both pieces that fit comfortably and other music that stretches its capacities. And the drama over chairs, who gets called to play, who sits where and who plays what section...it never ends.
But in 30 years, all that drama, politics and ego-checking has never extinguished my love for orchestra playing. I live for those rare and unpredictable moments, when 100 voices speak in astonishing synchronicity, when time seems to stand still. Everything else just melts away; it's all music.
At last! We have Violinist.com T-shirts!
In celebration of our 10th anniversary on the Web here at Violinist.com, we decided to fashion some T-shirts that reflect what we're all about.
"I want these to be everybody's favorite T-shirts," I told Robert early in the process. "Totally comfortable, a good fit, with an awesome design."
He gave me the thumbs up to do it right, and I immediately searched out a graphic designer. I found LA artist Colleen Tashima, who, fortunately, seemed to be able to read my mind. I told her what we were about: connecting violinists worldwide, perfecting and performing our art, etc., and she gave me two great designs using our little kokopelli logo.
The kokopelli, the little guy you see in the upper lefthand corner of Violinist.com, was drawn by me about eight years ago. The original kokopelli, who plays a flute, is rather ubiquitous here in the U.S. southwest, a Native American symbol for joy and fertility. He's also a prankster.
Robert joked that I ought to put a violin in the kokopelli's hands, so I did. My little drawing made its debut on my business card, and then on Violinist.com. I like to joke that I taught the kokopelli to play the violin!
We have two designs, and incidentally, they both go great with jeans or black pants, possibly even with a tux or black skirt. ;) The first one, "Global," is on a white shirt, and it is meant to reflect our mission to bring people together from all over the world. The second, "Evening," shows our little violinist in the spotlight for a night performance.
This website started out when Robert gave me the "Violinist.com" domain name as a Christmas gift in 1996. Neither of us knew what we'd do with the site, but it has been a labor of love. Thank you for your part in making this site a place where people can share ideas, commiserate, receive enthusiasm, laugh and be inspired.
We hope you like the shirts: Violinist.com T-shirt Store
After eight weeks of practicing with egg-carton violins and pencils for bows, my 57 first graders got their "real violins" this week.
Preparing the violins took quite some time, and fortunately several aspiring Suzuki teachers volunteered their time to help. We put tapes on the fingerboards, tapes on the bows (yes, go ahead and be appalled, but until I'm an experienced expert, teaching huge groups of six-year-olds, I'll use the crutches, thanks!), and "donuts" (corn pads) for pinkie and thumb placement on the bows. We roughed up the rosins with sandpaper, we gave them foam sponges and rubber bands for shoulder pads, and we tuned the fiddles for the first time. I also stuck inside their cases a poem I wrote just for them:
The children were extremely excited to receive their real violins. My fear was that each child would fling open the case, place the violin somewhere between his neck and belly, with the scroll drooping to the floor, and start sawing.
To prevent this nightmarish scenario, I had to be as rigid as a drill sergeant. They had to sit in their lines. I brought the violins to each child. We opened them at the same time. We took out the bows; we rosined the bows in unison counting together out loud with each swipe, "One! Two! Three!", etc.
Because they had practiced a system of bringing their violins from rest position to playing position, we tried this, in drill fashion, call and response:
Me: Get ready! Them: "Stand straight!"
I must say, they looked darned good.
In addition to getting real violins ready, I also was getting my real teaching credentials in place. Though I have a bachelor's degree, a master's degree, 10 books of Suzuki teacher certification and 15 years' experience teaching children, none of these qualifies me to teach in the California public schools. (Though I could teach in a private school....)
This morning I had to take the CBEST, a four-hour test of basic educational skills including reading, math and writing. It's been a few years since I took a standardized test, but I felt good about it, despite the revelation a half-hour after the test that I multiplied something I should have divided!
The written part was interesting, broad questions requiring me to do nothing less than solve the world's problems. (Robert said it would have been right at home in the Miss America pageant.)
I had to write two essays, and I somehow I found a way to write about what I learned from the teachings of Shinichi Suzuki! I didn't mean to write something so personal, but in typical fashion, I did. I ended it like this:
For my Suzuki training I had to observe some 80 hours of other teachers working with children. My written observations were then graded by my teacher trainer. For one observation, I wrote,
"This girl seems to have a deep musicality, it just needs bringing out."
My mentor wrote in the margin, in red pen,
"In every girl, and every boy, FIND IT!"
And that is what I learned.
Hear more from the world's top violinists in The Violinist.com Interviews: Volume 1, which includes our exclusive conversations with Joshua Bell, Sarah Chang, and David Garrett, and others, as well as a foreword by Hilary Hahn.
Enter to win Handel's "Messiah," performed by the Handel and Haydn Society for their bicentennial.
Laurie Niles is from Pasadena, California. Biography
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