February 2007

Making music stick

February 28, 2007 00:52

Teaching very young children is slow business, but they take in more than you ever know.

Since September I've been teaching "First Grade Suzuki Violin" to 55 children at my kids' public school in Pasadena, Calif. It's a new program this year, and I'm having fun devising a modified Suzuki curriculum for it. I teach about a dozen kids at a time.

We take things incrementally, one micro-skill at a time. We repeat and drill each micro-skill. Between the repeating and drilling we sing and clap and have fun with music.

I make plans, and sometimes I use them. Other times they go out the window, and I'm teaching something that I just made up two minutes ago.

Like today, when I had them pointing to their tiny fingerboards, singing, "Where's my one-tape, where's my one-tape, here it is, here it is, hello mister one-tape, hello mister one-tape, here he is, here he is..."

On another day, I said, "Hey, you guys, let's walk over and play for the kindergarteners! Do you wanna?" Their eyes widened. At this K-8th-grade school, the first graders seldom get to be the big kids. They laughed and wiggled and some even jumped up and down. I told them they'd better calm down; they could go only if they walked quietly down the hall, in a straight line, etc., etc..

It was a great success; they played much better than I expected. We sang the "Rest Position Song" and did a very short piece for which I play an Irish Jig while they play open strings on the beat. Then the kids repeated a rhythm on the E string while I played a variation on Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.

Afterwards, the kindergarteners had some questions.

"How did they learn to play those songs?" was the first.

I was taking a breath to answer when I noticed my big-kid first graders standing tall, looking quite knowledgeable. Why not let them answer? "Isabel, would you like to answer?"

"Yes," said Isabel, standing up even straighter. "We get a piece of paper every week and then we go home and practice what's on the piece of paper. Then we go back to class and learn more, and practice it again. If we practice it, we learn it."

A big, giddy, slightly surprised smile broke across my face. "That's right!" I said, "Other questions?"

"Where did you get the violins?" asked another kindergartener.

Up went another little girl's hand. "Some of us bought them," she said in a businesslike tone, "and some of us borrowed them from the school."

It's amazing how concise children can be.

"Why do you play Twinkle?" was the next question.

This struck me as one of those marginally answerable "Why" questions that kids ask that make adults groan, "Why do you ask why?"

It made perfect sense to a first grader: "So we could learn how to play a song we already know and then get better at playing the violin."

On Saturday the school held its large annual fundraiser, a silent auction. For the occasion, the first grade violin students had their premiere on the auditorium stage. Thirty-four of them played in the performance.

Rehearsing in a classroom with the parents before the show.

I wasn't sure what would happen!

They did beautifully. They filed onto stage, made four little rows. They sang their "Rest Position Song" with strength and even with good intonation. We had one technical difficulty when a little boy's pegs somehow snagged a girl's curly hair when he was lifting his violin to his shoulder. We had to stop for a moment while Mrs. Niles untangled the situation! We played two other pieces.

The parents loved it, the kids were proud. I was proud of them.

I hope some of them stick with the violin; I hope all of them stick with music.

7 replies | Archive link

Commercial radio denies young classical fans

February 26, 2007 13:02

It's a sad day for classical radio in Los Angeles, California.

K-Mozart [KMZT-FM 105.1] was pulled from the FM dial today, relegated to the obscurity and lesser sound quality of the AM dial. In a nutshell: LA lost one of its two classical FM radio stations.

After 18 years of classical programming, owner Saul Levine chose to change the format of KMZT to country music. KMZT is one of the few commercial classical stations in the country (as opposed to viewer-funded stations), and Levine changed the format for business reasons, according to the LA Times.

I don't have a problem with Levine making a business decision, but I resent the fact that he chose classical music as the fall guy.

"It's something we haven't done on the spur of the moment," Levine told the LA Times. In fact, LA's only country station, KZLA, changed its format and left country fans marooned last August. Levin "called the void left by KZLA's departure 'an act of God' which gave him a chance to improve his bottom line, as well as slide into a comfortable format," said the LA Times.

"Levine said much of the KMZT audience is in its 60s, whereas advertisers covet the 25-to 54 ages group. He added that KMZT revenue had dropped 80 percent in the last year, losing accounts with BMW, Mercedes-Benz and AT& T," said the LA Times article.

I'm 39. I listen to nothing but classical radio. I own this website. Our readership breaks down like this: The average age of Violinist.com readers is 32. Their median household income is $80,000. You can read more about it if you like.

Yes, we are a niche website, so we attract mostly people interested in the violin and classical music. But all radio is niche as well. And, no matter what anyone outside our niche might believe, this niche is not old and dying. Can it be supported commercially? It is on this website. Maybe all the young classical fans have given up on radio and flocked to the Web.

Losing 80 percent of one's revenue in one year sounds a lot like a tank job to me. I could do a great job of losing 80 percent of V.com's revenue, too, I'm sure, through sheer neglect.

But don't tell me there's no market. Don't tell me there are no listeners for classical music or that all classical music fans are senior citizens. Don't tell me there are no possible advertisers.

Don't worry everyone, we will NEVER change our format. It is up to every single one of us to spread classical music to the world, because we apparently believe in it more than our elders do!

23 replies | Archive link

Promote your violin career... on Violinist.com

February 20, 2007 17:08

When you plan your big recital or concert, we want to hear about it!

That's why we've created a new calendar section on Violinist.com. This is a section where you can list all the important information about your event, along with your picture. It even provides a link to a Google map to your event, if it is in the United States.

If you are a member of Violinist.com, you may enter listings for free. (Because this is a free service for members, though, we expect you to enter your listings yourself or to have your agent do so on your behalf. Please don't e-mail asking me to input your listings for you....)

Also note that each entry says "Submitted by _____." It is best if the event is submitted by the artist, so that it will link to his/her Violinist.com profile.

We have set up the new Calendar section so that as the list of events grows, we eventually will break it down by month and by location. Until then, we will simply list all the events chronologically.

If you have not updated your Violinist.com profile recently [click the link if you are loggged in], why not take a moment, right now, to do it? You can make this page an excellent showcase for yourself, with sound clips, photos and whatever biographical information you choose to include.

Here are some nice examples of members who have used their profile pages to the fullest:

Igor Yuzefovich
Xenia Akeynikova
Lorenz Gamma

Each of these Violinist.com profile pages has:

(By the way, Lorenz, with his upcoming recital, inspired this whole calendar section – if you are in LA you can thank him by coming to his recital, 8 p.m. Monday at UCLA!)

I also want to announce that we've improved our In Concert feature, with new pages for each uploaded audio and video piece where other Violinist.com readers can comment. We've also added the ability to host your performance mp3s here on Violinist.com, so you no longer have to go through the hassle of finding another place to upload them on the Web. (Of course, if they are already up somewhere else, you are welcome to continue linking to them.)

All mp3s uploaded and linked to 'In Concert' are included in our Violinist.com podcast, which is available through iTunes. We hope that pros on the site will use their personal pages, the concert calendar, 'In Concert' and the podcast to promote themselves and introduce their work to the thousands of violin fans who read the site each day.

Thanks, again, for being part of the Violinist.com community!

4 replies | Archive link

Your violin is your teacher, too: So get a good one

February 14, 2007 23:28

As of this month, I've been playing the violin for 30 years. My violin anniversary is February 18, to be specific. I know because I started on Melanie Mayer's ninth birthday, as did Melanie. She reminded me every year. So wherever you are, happy birthday, Melanie!

I've been playing on an excellent violin now for one year, and it has opened my mind in ways that nothing else could in the 29 years before.


That's right, my nine years of violin instruction before college, four years in college, two years in graduate school, years of performing in dozens of orchestras, solo recitals, not to mention literally thousands of hours in the practice room – none of it taught me what a good violin has taught me.

One sees this phenomenon in small children: the child with a quarter-size violin who is ready for vibrato, for example. The child can do vibrato, even, but neglects it because he or she can't see the point. Then the child gets a larger violin that resonates, and suddenly vibrato makes sense and he or she can learn it.

The highest violin technique makes sense only on a fine instrument.

I've been looking back at pieces I played in college and reading the notes my teachers wrote in the margins. At the time, I played on a German factory violin given to me by my grandmother; it had been in her attic. For all her good intentions, though, it was a squeakbox.

"More tone!" implores my teacher from the page of a Brahms sonata.

"SUSTAIN" in the last movement of the Saint-Saens concerto.

"Darker sound on the G string" was a comment in a Bartok piece.

Even "LOUD" at the end of the Andante melanconico in Intro and Rondo Capricc.

Certainly there were requests that had more to do with the player than the instrument ("Stand straight! Relax left hand!") but I also saw much begging for a sound that simply was not possible or that took such heroic effort. I worked and worked and worked to make those things happen, and still the results were marginal. I barely have to do anything to make more tone, or a darker sound, on my current violin.

Without having ever played a fine violin, I did not even understand the completely different plane of playing available to me.

I understand now why some conservatories and universities make fine instruments available to students. I used to think that if one played well on a bad violin, one would be way ahead of the game when stepping up to a better one. That if one was "spoiled," playing on a Strad in college, one would never figure out how to make due with something lesser. It's not true. If one plays on a fine instrument, one knows what to seek in any instrument, and one also knows its importance.

All those years of fighting a bad instrument cause frustration; they block out what could be; they prevent the exploration of one's fullest potential as a musician.

I am grateful to at last have an instrument that allows me this; even if I'm destined to be a very late bloomer! But I would implore parents, schools and young musicians themselves: get the best instrument you can. Get the one that will awaken you to your fullest potential!

26 replies | Archive link

Super Bowl winner: good music

February 5, 2007 00:42

So Super Bowl Sunday went well in the Niles house... the Colts won, a major vindication for my husband, who has suffered 20-some long years as a win-less Colts fan.

Though I was totally impressed with the football, I was much more impressed by something else: the halftime show.

They hired a musician!

Yes, I'm talking about Prince. He sang with his real voice, not souped-up studio effects. He played his guitar. He even invited Florida A&M University’s Marching 100 band to play with him, and they played, too; you could hear them.

Why is this such a big deal?

Because I'm tired of canned music. Canned, fake, studio-driven, dead-on-arrival music. I'm tired of the elevation of lip-syncing posers to the stratospheres of stardom here in the United States, where popular music has been hijacked by Clear Channel Communications and the prevailing attitude is that live music is just too risky to try.

Whatever you think of his style, Prince did it live, for millions of viewers right there and on T.V. He did it in a driving rainstorm, with all kinds of crazy pyrotechnics and more than 100 musicians to coordinate, and he rocked. He sang in tune, he let off his characteristic Prince whoop in tune, he wailed on his guitar, and he did not play it safe.

The fact that it all happened in the moment made all the difference; it was the best halftime show in memory.

Let's hear it for authentic music!

18 replies | Archive link

The universal language: Internet

February 3, 2007 00:46

I'm hoping that in about a week we get a package for "Frau Laurie Niles."

Robert was helping me find a particular edition of the Paganini Capricci – the Curci Edition edited by Franco Gulli – and we wound up in a foreign country on the Internet.

We could not find any American source for this edition online, so we wound up at Haus der Musik in Germany. They did not have an English version of their page, so we relied on a free and friendly translator.

Though neither of us knows any German, we do speak Internet. We were able to identify little buttons like "add to shopping cart." But we started to stumble when it was time for us to identify what country we live in. Our translator didn't serve up anything that matched the countries on the drop-down menu. We kept combing through the menu for "Amerika," or something kind of recognizable. Then, we realized that it was "Vereinigte Staaten von Amerika."


We filled out the rest of the form, we hit something that seemed to be "submit," and now we're hoping it worked. I'll be so happy to have a nice edition of the 24 Capricci. If it ever shows up.

Shows up here, that is.

On one hand, I feel like a dolt for not being better educated in languages. It reminds me of a big grievance I have with my country's education system: its neglect of languages other than English.

But on the other hand, I found my music. I found a way to understand and to purchase it from a store halfway across the globe. How the Internet can bring us together!

At least, I hope.

12 replies | Archive link

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