December 2011

May your days be merry and bright…

December 24, 2011 19:59

Look what one of my friends found on Youtube: Jascha Heifetz, one of the world's finest (Jewish) violinists, playing his own arrangement of Irving Berlin's song, 'White Christmas.'

What a graceful arrangement, and filled with the love of music, perhaps even for Christmas? It made me think about Christmas, culture, and 'What's it all about?'

One of my friends announced today on Facebook, "Orphan Xmas 2011 happens tomorrow night. Come on by if you're spending the holidays by yourself. It's better than sitting in front of the TV alone in your ratty underwear and crying into a 'family' sized bag of flaming hot Cheetos."

So your family doesn't fit the mold, or you are alone, or your religion gives you doubt, or the weather strips away your warmth, or things don't go as planned.

Listen to some beautiful music, make some beautiful music. Find some way in your life to wish for your fellow human, "May your days be merry and bright!"

9 replies

Results of the 2011 Etienne Vatelot Violin and Bow Making Competition, Paris

December 12, 2011 12:54

Anyone who cares about the art of the violin should also care about the state of the art of violinmaking (otherwise known as 'lutherie') and bowmaking.

Indeed, luthiers and archetiers (bowmakers) around the world continue to perfect the craft, turning out works of art we call violins and bows, every day. To this end, I'd like to bring you some news from a recent contest, held in France, in which American makers fared very well against the competition.

The following is a synopsis, from the 2011 Etienne Vatelot Violin and Bow Making Competition, held in Paris in November.

* * *

At the 2011 Etienne Vatelot Violin and Bow Making Competition held in Paris in November, American bowmakers came out on top in the traditionally French dominated field.  Minnesotan Matthew Wehling garnered first place for a cello bow and second place for a violin bow, while Morgan Andersen of Washington state won top honors for his violin bow.  The first prize for viola bow went to Gary Leahy of Ireland.

In the instrument making categories, German Markus Klimke doubled by winning first place for a viola and second place for violin.  Australian Peter Goodfellow (residing in Scotland) scored top cello prize, and France’s Philippe Mahu was a crowd favorite when he accepted his award for top scoring violin.

The Vatelot competition is particularly significant for bowmakers for two reasons.  First, it honors Etienne Vatelot, whose book Les Archets Français ("French Bows") remains an important resource nearly four decades after its publication.  Second, as it is held in Paris, the home of bowmaking, the competition draws the highest caliber of entrants.  This is only the fourth time the competition has been held.

Full results and photos from the concours can be seen at


Grand Prix de la Ville de Paris: Morgan Andersen - U.S.A.
Second prize: Matthew Wehling - U.S.A.

Grand Prix de la Ville de Paris: Gary Leahy - Ireland
Second prize: Eric Fournier - France

Grand Prix de la Ville de Paris: Matthew Wehling - U.S.A.
Second prize: Alexandre Aumont - France

Second prize: Boris Fritsch - France


Grand Prix de la Ville de Paris: Philippe Mahu - France
Second prize: Marcus Klimke -Germany

Grand Prix de la Ville de Paris: Marcus Klimke - Germany
Second prize: Antoine Cauche - France
Award GLAAF: Philippe Mahu - France

Grand Prix de la Ville de Paris: Peter Goodfellow - Australia
Second Prize: François Varcin - France
Award EILA: Joël Klepal - France

Grand Prix de la Ville de Paris: Richard Gonon - France
Second prize: Mathieu Millet - France

* * *

Here are some pictures of Matthew Wehling's prize-winning violin bow:



4 replies interview with Simon Fischer: Warming Up

December 8, 2011 10:03

Once again, the British violinist and pedagogue Simon Fischer is offering us violinists -- and violists -- a gem of a book to help our playing. This one, called Warming Up, basically offers a comprehensive warm up for both hands that takes about a half-hour.

Neither a scale book or etude book, this book contains exercises designed to help increase rapidity in fingers, widen their reach, improve left-finger accuracy, increase right-hand flexibility, straighten the bow, get a better sense of bowing soundpoints, improve coordination between the two hands, improve vibrato and improve double-stop intonation. Some exercises are for the right hand and others for the left; some involve playing and others do not. Unlike Fischer's other pedagogy books, Basics and Practice, which encourage leafing around and picking your exercise, this one leads the player through a routine -- one could simply read through the 23-page book, front-to-back, every day, and count on strengthening the hands and improving their abilities.

Simon Fischer and student

Simon was kind enough to take time from his busy schedule, teaching at the Yehudi Menuhin School and the Guildhall School of Music; writing his regular column for The Strad magazine and giving recitals, to answer some questions from editor Laurie Niles about "Warming Up."

Laurie: I've enjoyed playing all the way through your "Warming Up" book, and even only doing it once, I can see how it would help promote a springiness in the fingers. Tell me, why is it important to warm up, in general? What happens if you don't warm up?

Simon: I think most people find that they play better after at least a few minutes of re-sensitizing themselves to the instrument, and getting the muscles moving and the blood flowing and so on. A simple example is when you play something like Schradieck from cold, as opposed to five or ten minutes later, when your fingers then work much faster and with less effort.

But everything finally comes back to how refined and efficient your technique is, and how in shape you are in general. When everything is working well, and you are on form and ‘in the groove’ with your playing, you may easily not need to warm up at all. You can simply pick up the instrument for the first time in a day and immediately feel as good as when you played your last notes on it the day before. Or like Glenn Gould, you may need merely to soak your hands in hot water for five minutes to quickly get back to 100 percent.

But if your technique is still developing, or if you often need to get back into shape, what’s great is to be able to get your sound back, your intonation, your vibrato, your accurate shifting and so on, as quickly as possible. As the years have gone by, I have been able to refine the process of boosting all the different areas of playing, so that I have been able to get it all done in less and less time. And the "Warming Up" book is the natural end result of the stripping-down process, so that in just 30-40 minutes you can cover all the essential areas, feel all of your playing powered up, and then be in fantastic shape to get on with whatever else it is you want to play.

By the way, I know perfectly well that there are plenty who turn their nose up at ‘exercises,’ and even scoff at the thought of doing them; and they will often cite Pablo Casals and hold him up as an example of a pure musician rather than a mere cellist; and yet Casals himself stated that he worked on sound – on open strings – for hours each day! (I don’t like practicing open strings because they ring too easily, but that’s another matter.)

Laurie: Here you present many exercises, why not just warm up with my current piece? Or Bach? Or Kreutzer?

Simon: Well, you can, but the point about the "Warming Up" book is that it touches on all the important areas all at once, in the shortest space of time. Any study is probably going to focus on a particular aspect. But the simple exercises in "Warming Up" sort of get into the innards of your contact with the instrument. Exact degrees of left finger pressure, flexibility exercises for the right fingers, and so on. This is a different order of things to actually playing anything properly.
I use all kinds of different materials, and would urge anyone else to do the same. For example, I love playing the first few pages of Schradieck (you can even make them sound like a good piece of music when you play them without stopping and with musical shaping), I love the Key Bowing Patterns in Basics, which cover every bowing pattern you can expect to meet, without needing to drown in the ocean of Sevcik. I love exercises by Dancla, little miniatures which one plays at different speeds with the metronome and try to play perfectly, and so on.

But as I mentioned earlier, there is a direct correlation between how good and ‘efficient’ your technique is, and how much you need to warm up. I use that word ‘efficient’ because Dorothy DeLay once said to me, ‘Don’t think in terms of ‘good’ or ‘bad’ in violin technique (I was forever asking questions along those lines); better to think more of ‘more efficient’ or ‘less efficient’ ways of doing things.’

What she meant was, for example, if you drop your left fingers partly with a movement of the entire hand, this is not ‘bad’ as such, but a less efficient way of getting the fingers down on the string than if you move only the fingers from the base joint, the rest of the hand keeping still.
The crucial point is that warming-up exercises, and technique-building exercises, are really one and the same thing. Every time you do an exercise to warm up you are actually working on your basic technique – making it ever more focussed, refined and efficient. For example, the first exercise in "Warming Up" consists of tapping exercises designed to force the fingers to move from the base joints.

Then, the more you do such things, the less you need to do them because your starting point is higher and higher all the time. Finally you reach the stage where you really don’t have to warm up – you have so much ‘money in the bank’ that you need to do the technical work-out in "Warming Up" only occasionally.

Laurie: How long does your warm up take?

Simon: Timings for the exercises are given throughout the book, most coming in at 30 seconds to a couple of minutes. Even I can open the book at the two pages of trill exercises and think, ‘Oh no, do I really have to do this?!’, but then when I see that each one takes only 30 seconds I immediately have a feeling of ‘Okay, well I can handle that!’. And then another 30 seconds: okay, I can do that! And so on.

The total, if you play straight through from beginning to end – so that you cover all the essential areas and feel ready to tackle anything at the end of it – is 36 minutes. When I was first playing it from cover to cover I couldn’t do it in less than 40 minutes. The last time I did it, about a month ago, I was pleased to find that I completed it in exactly 30 minutes (all timed with a stop-watch).
But you can take less time over it, if time is limited, by doing only a few bars of each exercise, and get through the whole lot in 10 minutes or less.

Laurie: What gave you the idea to do this book?

Simon: I had the idea for this book one day while I was warming up after a week in which I had not had much chance to play. It occurred to me that whenever I practiced like this – i.e. a full-blown work-out – I usually covered the same areas of technique, and used the same types of exercises or approaches, in basically the same sorts of ways.

I realized that over the years, I had settled into a routine for thorough warming up where I had filtered out, from all the things I knew I could do, everything except just these particular things that I actually did do. So the "Warming Up" book needed only to be written down, since in effect I had already been using it for years but without having printed it out.

But I never used to do the soundpoint practice as it is presented in "Warming Up," and in the first draft of the book I simply wrote out the five chief tone exercises in their basic format (which was what I played myself). But then I was curious to see if there was a way of combining them so that you could get the same result but in less time.

As it turns out, I love the tone sequence in "Warming Up" – you get to play all the tone exercises, on all soundpoints, and including martelé, spiccato and double stops, on all strings, in just six minutes from start to finish! I wish I had worked that one out years ago.

Laurie: Are any of the exercises from Dounis, or other oldies but goodies?

Simon: Flesch and Dounis, and others, have written out tapping exercises, although the ones in "Warming Up" are slightly different, since they are an amalgamation of different exercises. Lots of the exercises are completely my own, even if based on age-old principles and practices so that it is not possible to really call them your own invention. And many really are completely new.
When it comes to Dounis, I have always recommended the trilly shifting exercises that are in The Artists Technique. I have said to an uncountable number of students over the years that it is worth paying for the whole book just to have that one section, and maybe some of the other shifting exercises in it.

But I have always thought that great care must be taken doing the stretchy left-hand Dounis exercises, lest they become ‘the fast lane on the freeway to Tendonitis City’. They are very clever, and if you are careful and have expert guidance, and have the patience to master them, I am sure they are very effective. But in contrast, all the exercises in "Warming Up" are extremely user-friendly yet they still very much do the trick.

The ‘widening at the base joints’ exercises are the only ones that come close to being strenuous; but compared to Dounis they are nothing, and anyway they take only 30 seconds and you are done.

Laurie: For what level player is this book of warm-ups intended?

Simon: Anyone from sub-intermediate level up to concert soloist. At the less advanced levels, so long as you can basically sort of bow parallel to the bridge, you could do most if not all of the book. Perhaps the little intonation exercises go a bit high if you have not gone up there before, but you can always miss out the ones you don’t like the look of.

The vibrato exercises are strikingly effective. One professional chamber music player friend of mine who has been doing these exercises said recently that his vibrato had so changed that colleagues who knew his playing had commented on the change and improvement. So the exercises are great for the top end; but for players who want to develop their vibrato I can’t recommend anything better than this short, five-minute sequence.

Laurie: We've all heard about Schumann damaging his finger from over-exercise, in attempt to strengthen it. How do you prevent injury, when doing exercises?

Simon: I can only think of it as a matter of being aware and sensitive to your body, and being sensible. Never force. Never overdo. If one dose of medicine is good for you, it doesn’t mean that if you drink the whole bottle it’ll cure you. It might even finish you off forever.

Laurie: How much does this book cost and what is the proper link to buy it?

Simon: £14 from You can also buy it in other currencies, such as U.S. dollars, from my website.

Laurie: There was only one exercise I did not feel like I fully understood, and it was "Feeling the give of the hair and the wood." The concept makes sense, but I wasn't sure whether this was something I was to impose, or if I was to just feel the way the wood-hair balance is at those areas in the bow. Can you clarify that one thing for me?

Simon: This is a really great thing to apply, and it completely changes your use of the bow in the upper half.

The whole thing is that when you play near to the frog, the hair gives, and you can find a feeling of playing into the hair. But when you play near to the point, the hair remains rigid and the give is in the wood in the middle of the bow – so playing in the upper half, rather than gauging the feel of the hair of the bow in the string, instead you sink into the wood of the bow. It changes everything when you do that, and you can find these different sensations of give in the hair and the wood in everything you play.

This exercise is a good example of the difference between merely playing a study to warm up, and using the exercises in "Warming Up." Dorothy DeLay used to call the tone exercises ‘sensitization exercises’ – they sensitize you to the feeling of the bow in the string, and the fingers on the bow, and so on. In the same way, most of the exercises in "Warming Up" are sensitization exercises, and this one – ‘Feeling the give of the hair and the wood’ – is a prime example. It takes only seconds to do, and immediately restores your awareness of, and sensitivity to, this feature of tone production and bowing.

Poor cellists can feel almost none of this give in their thick bows, and as for bass players – forget it. We violinists (and violists, though to an ever-so-slightly lesser extent) have the best bows in the business, when it comes to these sensitive differences between playing in one part of the bow or another.

3 replies interview with Katia Popov: on Hollywood, movie music and Wilhelmj's 1691 Pietro Guarneri

December 6, 2011 17:41

Living in Los Angeles, I find myself surrounded by artists and musicians who have carved out careers in music that seem the stuff of fairy tales. Certainly violinist Katia Popov fits that description.

Born in Sofia, Bulgaria, she has let nothing stop her career in music, and by now she is a top studio musician who has played in more than 600 motion picture scores and records. She is also concertmaster of the Glendale Pops Orchestra (which performs this Friday, HolidayPop! with David Benoit) as well as a longtime member of the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra, where she performs as concertmaster. She is founder and first violinist of the California String Quartet and plays in numerous orchestras in the Los Angeles area.

Last month we talked about the path that led her to Los Angeles, about what makes Hollywood special and about why she loves the music of the movies.

Laurie: Tell me how long you've been playing the violin; when did you start, and why did you want to play the violin in the first place?

Katia: I wanted to play the violin because my father is a musician. When my mother worked, he would take me to rehearsals and recordings and tell me to be really quiet. I was so scared that I would make a noise! I sat through all of those, as quiet as a mouse. I always looked at the violins in the front of the orchestra -- they looked so poised and sounded so beautiful, they made the most beautiful melodies. I just fell in love with the violin.

Katia Popov

Laurie: What did your father play?

Katia: My father played the oboe; he was the principal of the Radio Orchestra in Sofia, (Bulgaria), where I'm from. He made music a daily routine for me, whether we went to a concert, rehearsal, or I watched his recordings or his students -- there was always music in the house. I was surrounded by that. My mom is not a musician, but she had a beautiful voice and she always sang. So music was always around me, and I loved it. It was just meant to be.

I was three when I told my dad that I wanted a little violin, but he didn't think that I would be serious at such a young age. So I took some sticks and pretended they were a violin and a bow -- I did that all the time until they got me a real violin. I started at four and a half -- still pretty young. They took me to solfeggio lessons and violin lessons. Everything in the solfeggio that we had to do was so natural for me. My parents realized that this is really what I was going to do -- because it came very easily to me.

It was really fun in the beginning, until I had to switch schools. I started at this academy for gifted kids; then when I was in first grade, I had to go to a bigger school, the Sofia Music Academy. I had to switch teachers, and the teacher there was much more serious -- and it was a man! Before, I'd had a woman teacher who I loved, I was so used to her. I was so scared about having a man teacher, I would just shake. This professor was actually the dean of the music school, who was going to teach me. He taught all of the grown-up kids, but since I was already so advanced, he took me. I insisted that my parents were always in the room, until I got used to him. Of course, I was absolutely fine -- I befriended him and he was a lovely man, really, really nice. He actually became like a part of my family. He would invite my family and me to dinners and there were get-togethers at his house with his students and listening to a lot of music. One of the most important things that I learned from him was how to phrase like an opera singer. He would say, 'Don't just look at the music and how the melody goes, but think where you would breathe if you were an opera singer, and that's how the phrase should go.' That stuck with me forever: how you should phrase music in the most natural way.

Laurie: So what brought you to Los Angeles?

Katia: I was graduating from the Bulgarian State Conservatory of Music in Sofia, and there was an audition for concertmaster of the European Symphony Orchestra in Paris. It was a young orchestra, very vibrant, comprised of musicians from all over Europe. They were looking for a concertmaster, so they went to every capital in Europe to audition people for the orchestra, and to find a concertmaster. Naturally they came to Sofia, to the music academy. I wanted to audition, but I was nine months pregnant. I was just finishing the conservatory, and my professor said, there's no way that you will go and embarrass our violin school -- he forbade me to go! My husband said, 'Of course you're going! You're the best violinist in the academy, you should go! It doesn't matter.'

So I went for the audition, and the day of the audition, my professor was standing in front of the door, guarding the door! He didn't want to let me in!

Laurie: Because you were pregnant?!

Katia: He thought I would not be 100 percent because my fingers were a little swollen from the pregnancy. He just thought I wouldn't represent the Bulgarian School of Violin as he would like it.

I said, 'You're moving out of those doors, I'm going in!' And so of course, he did, and the rest is history. I won, and was invited to become the concertmaster of the European Symphony Orchestra. We toured all over Europe and recorded, and played in front of all the prime ministers of the European Union and in front of the King and queen of Spain and performed at the most beautiful and famous concert halls in Europe, like Gewandhouse, Musikverein, Stats Opera in Wiena - it was a lot of fun. I met some incredible musicians and made so many friends. Music is the easiest way to reach people's hearts and make friendships. It was a great time of my life and career.

At the same time, I continued my studies at the Paris Conservatory. I always have felt that there is so much more to learn. I was looking for knowledge and guidance, and as much as I could get. So I studied at the Paris Conservatory with Nell Goutkovsky, one of the most distinguished violinist and professors in France.

My dream though was to come to the United States. It all started with the movies and the great bands and great recordings I had of the Chicago, Cleveland, Philadelphia and New York Philharmonic and the great sound of the saxophone theme in the movie "Tootsie"...go figure.

At the time we were in Paris, we were political refugees, and we were applying for political asylum in the States. The timing was perfect. The foundation that helped us apply for asylum actually told us where we had to go first for a few months, so we had to go to Phoenix. From Phoenix I started networking, and I found out that there was an audition coming up in the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra whose Music Director at the time was Iona Brown -- it was a week away! So I called, and the manager of the orchestra said the deadline has passed, you can't come. I said, 'I have to come! You don't understand! I studied with Iona! I have to come, I have to play with her!' I saw Iona Brown when she toured in Bulgaria, when I was a student, and I just fell in love with her playing. She was an incredibly talented musician. The management finally agreed -- okay, come and play. So I drove overnight. I was already playing with the Phoenix Symphony, and I drove after the concert in Phoenix to LA to audition there. It was a very surreal feeling. It was held in downtown LA, and of course I was half-lost on the way there, because there are at least 15 downtowns on the 10 freeway from Phoenix until you get to downtown LA. In the desert, between Phoenix to LA, there was a dust storm, and it was the most surreal thing, you couldn't see anything going through it. It was quite a drive! Finally we arrived in downtown LA, and there were homeless everywhere -- in the '90s, it was really bad. They were making fires in these big barrels all around the theatre where I was supposed to audition.

So I auditioned, and I got the job, and we came to LA. That's how we started.

Then, of course, I wanted to find the best professor in town and continue my studies -- I wanted to do my doctorate degree. So I found out that Alexander Treger (then Concertmaster of the L.A. Philharmonic) was teaching at UCLA and I thought that this would be a really good transition. Since he was also an assistant of Oistrakh (her other teachers also were Oistrakh protégés), it wouldn't be such a big jolt for me...

Laurie: You don't want someone who's going to tell you, you have to completely change everything you're doing.

Katia: Exactly. I just wanted some guidance and further refinement of my craft, so Mr. Treger's expertise and experience was perfect for that, and we of course became best friends. My studies with him were just phenomenal, I was so happy that I found him and he, I think, made me what I am today. He has such broad spectrum of knowledge of the violin and the performing practices of different composers, extraordinary vision about different sound projection and interpretation, vibrato and intonation, I was so happy to learn all that!! There were a lot of people who actually, talking about that, who helped me develop my playing and who influenced and shaped me as a violinist, aside from all the recordings and my favorite violinists, Oistrakh, Perlman, Spivakov, Anne-Sophie Mutter, Schering and Gidon Kramer. Two of them are actually right here in Los Angeles. Bruce Dukov is one of them, and the other one is Endre Granat. Both of them are phenomenal concertmasters and very different in their approach, coming from a very different background and a slightly different generation. I'm eternally grateful to them for what they have -- not knowingly -- taught me.

Laurie: What kinds of things have they taught you?

Katia: They taught me how to be the best concertmaster that you can be, all these little things that you could never ever learn from anywhere else, I learned just sitting next to them. It was like mini-master classes every day I would go to work. I feel so lucky that I was able to witness all of that firsthand. I felt very fortunate to be at the right place, at the right time and meet these two uber-talented people and become really good friends with them and witness their craft and their incredible musicianship.

Laurie: What's different about the craft of being a concertmaster than being a section player or soloist?

Katia: Everything is different, it's a different job, when you sit in the back and when you sit in the front. The pressure, the stress (all of a sudden it's hot in the room!), the excitement -- everything is different. You're responsible for everything: communicating with the conductor, communicating what he demands from the section and the orchestra; it's something that you learn from, and I have found that it's a very delicate job.

Laurie: The joke is that the person sitting in the front is the one with the arrows sticking out of their back!

Katia: When I sit concertmaster, I try to be courteous, firm and helpful. You have to lead in an appropriate way, a way that is understood by everybody. You have to help the section sound the best that they can sound. Actually, a concertmaster can change the sound of a section, I've seen different concertmasters do that. The sound that you project, the sound that you show by your body movement, the sound that comes out of your fiddle when you're showing how it's supposed to be played -- it changes everything. It translates to everybody: how they will project, what kind of sound they will create...That's really important to me.

Laurie: Tell me a little bit about the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra and some of your memorable experiences playing there.

Katia: I love the Hollywood Bowl; the moment I saw it, I felt, I have arrived. This is my kind of place to make music! There's just something in the air, when you can feel the audience, when you can feel the energy of the night. The place itself, for me, is so -- spiritual is not the word, but it has so much presence because of the many great artists who have performed there. When you walk on that stage, you feel it. I feel all of them being there, and that becomes a part of me and my performance. I think that this is what the audience also is feeling: that accumulation of great artists and performances, which makes the Hollywood Bowl something really phenomenal. It's a treasure in Los Angeles. I feel so lucky that we have something like that in our musical world.

Laurie: How did you wind up playing with the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra?

Katia: You know, it was a complete accident. I was still in school when the orchestra started, so I didn't know a lot of the people who started the orchestra, including Bruce (Dukov) or the manager of the orchestra at the time. One of my friends who was already playing in the orchestra was talking to me at dinner, and he said, 'I don't like playing outside, it's not for me.' He wanted to get out of (playing) one of the concerts, and the manager told him, 'You have to find me a substitute right away!' So my friend asked, 'Do you want to do it?' Yes, I want to do it, of course! So he called the manager and said, my friend Katia is going to come in and play. That was how it started!

So apparently I made a good impression, and I started working with them all the time. We went on tours to Japan, which was really incredible, and we went to Brazil. People everywhere greeted us as superstars -- because we were coming from Hollywood. They were waiting for the bus to arrive at the concert hall -- lining up streets so they could greet us. I've never seen anything like it! We were playing the Hollywood movie music, which they associated with the biggest stars in the world, and we were the closest thing that they could touch to this movies stars. They were literally kissing our hands. So we really had a great time, very special time. We made many friends and once again proved that music is the best ambassador to the world.

Laurie: Do you like movie music?

Katia: I love movie music, absolutely love it.

Laurie: What do you like about it?

Katia: First, I love to see how the movie comes alive onscreen when the music is performed -- it just completely changes everything. Making a movie is just an incredible creative process, with so many people involved -- and the final cherry on top is the music. It can change a scene in so many different ways -- it can make it really sad, or very cheery, or scary, or very dramatic. That's why I always admire directors who are right there for the recording process, right next to the composer, guiding them.

Laurie: What are those sessions like? I've done only one, and it wasn't anything major. Is the movie ever going on in the background?

Katia: Yes, it's always going on. But we can't look while we're recording!

Laurie: I was going to say, it must be like being in the pit orchestra or something, where you never once see the Nutcracker!

Katia: We used to have a composer, Shirley Walker, and heaven forbid, if she saw you watching the screen! You would be fired, right there on the spot! She was a firecracker -- very talented, very funny. She passed away since then. But yes, you're not supposed to look; you look after the recording is done.

Laurie: Do they screen it for you, after the recording is done?

Katia: While they are listening, you can look, and then yes, we're always invited to the screening,

Laurie: What are some of the ones that you remember best, or enjoyed most? Of the 600 + that you've done!

Katia: Oh my goodness! Of course Titanic (scored by James Horner) would be one of the most memorable, it's a great score.

A lot of the movies that have to do with water really made an impression on me -- I think I'm afraid of water, that's why! For example, The Perfect Storm. I was so scared of this big wave, when we were recording that! Afterwards I was watching the screen, and I turned white. It was just so scary, and moving -- the music made it even more scary!

My daughter will say, 'Mom, did you do this music? It was so scary!' She loves scary movies, so they go to these flicks that are really scary, and they'll say, 'This music, how did you do it? You must have been so scared when you were playing it!'

Of course I have many memorable moments recording in Hollywood - of course having John Williams conduct his scores and Spielberg always standing right there filming every note we record, it makes me feel so special, being able to be there. And recording with James Newton Howard, or Alan Silvestri, or David Newman and the funny-as-hell Randy Newman throwing his baton in the air (losing the producer's time) and saying -- $50 Or just being concertmaster for Paul McCartney for his latest record...or playing a great concert with the quartet...what more can I want? I love that you can be so versatile in this town.

Laurie: I had a conversation with Bruce Dukov a few years ago, and he talked about how not all the movies are being scored in LA. How would you say that scene is going these days?

Katia: Well of course, work is going everywhere, with the globalization of the world. But Hollywood will always be Hollywood. You can always tell when a score was recorded here because it just sounds so much better.

Laurie: What do you think makes it better when it's recorded in Hollywood?

Katia: People like the actors came to Hollywood be to part of this very special process of making movies, and the musicians are are attracted to the same process. If you just take the violins in our recording orchestra, they are all concertmasters. They're all incredible, talented musicians. Where can you find an orchestra like that, in the world? You cannot! Because every orchestra is made of two concertmasters and then as you go back, they're just regular musicians. Here we have a section of principals, soloists and concertmasters.

Laurie: What kind of skills do you need when you're doing a recording session?

Katia: Well first of all, you have to be able to read any kind of music that is put in front of you, in a split second. Because you just look at it -- you don't rehearse it -- and record. Whether it's whole notes, or whether there are sixteen 32nd-notes going up and down with sixteen eighth rests written in the middle, you have to be able to play it, the first time. If you can't, you don't have a chance. This business will spit you out if you're not the best. It's natural selection, and that's why what we have here is unique to the entire world. Composers come from all over the world and they say, 'You guys are phenomenal, how is that possible that you can read this so well - from the first read?' Nobody can do that, they're just stunned. The good thing is now we have amazing contracts that allow young composers on a very low budget to do a phenomenal score.

Laurie: Who offers such contracts?

Katia: The Recording Musicians Association, the RMA. We all are members of the AFM (American Federation of Musicians).

Laurie: Tell me a little bit about your violin.

Katia: The violin was given to me by a foundation, when I was a concertmaster in Paris. It's a very special fiddle; it was owned by a famous German violinist, August Wilhelmj. Before he passed away in the early 1900s, in London, he took it to Hill, who made a certificate for the violin. The original certificate describes what the violin looks like: the color, the purfling and those things. But it also describes the sound of the violin, which is very unusual in a certificate for a violin. It says that the sound is unmistakable, that you cannot duplicate that sound. It's very deep, velvety, sonorous, huge and projecting. It's very beautifully written, how they describe the sound. He played on this fiddle, and he didn't play on the Strad that he had, because he liked this one better. It's a Pietro Guarneri of Mantua from 1691.

He took it on his tours everywhere: all over Europe -- and the Sultan of Turkey invited him to Istanbul to play in front of his harem. He was the only non-castrated man ever invited in the harem! He took this fiddle there, on the Orient Express. So this fiddle passed through Bulgaria back then, to go to Istanbul. Maybe there are many other stories about the violin that I don't know, but this was one of the stories that I found out about. It's pretty amazing. This fiddle was one of my teachers'. When I got it and I made the first sound with it, I had tears in my eyes - I heard the sound of Willhelmj. It was still there. It was so difficult for me to learn to play on this instrument. It was like a wild horse. But now we are best friends and it trusts me like I trust it. I think we are a good team.

3 replies's 2011 guide to holiday gifts

December 4, 2011 18:19

With 2011 coming to a close and the holiday season upon us, I'd like to offer you our 2011 holiday giving guide, with some of the year's best recordings, DVDs and books from violinists. If you have a recommendation for this list please feel free to describe it in the comment section, and give us a link. (And it's okay if it's your own recording or item!)

Why should you consider giving - or asking for - a music-related gift? For one, it will help keep you inspired about your violin-related endeavors, to hear a beautiful recording, to receive tickets to an inspiring concert, to have new sheet music, to receive useful equipment, etc. Your friends and relatives might look to you as being the "expert" on classical music, and the gift of something like a recommended recording from you just might help another person start on the path toward appreciating classical music.

Also, you are supporting musicians and keeping music stores afloat when you buy recordings and other music-related items. Even if you don't see anything that excites you on this list, I hope it helps you think about the idea of asking for a music-related gift or giving a music-related gift: attending a concert, buying a CD from a local musician, asking for a musical gadget, instrument, sheet music you've always wanted, donating to an arts organization, etc. (To that end, a portion of each purchase made after following any links below which go to will support


Antheil: Sonatas for Violin and Piano, with John Novacek and Mark FewerAntheil: Sonatas for Violin and Piano, with John Novacek and Mark Fewer
Here are some extraordinary works you've probably never heard, violin-piano sonatas written by the early 20th-century concert pianist and composer George Antheil, performed with great spark by violinist Mark Fewer and pianist John Novacek. The works -- jazzy, modern, colorful and yet tonal -- were written for the violinist Olga Rudge, tailored, as Antheil said, for her "Irish adrenal personality."

It Came Upon The Midnight Clear, with the Manor House String QuartetIt Came Upon The Midnight Clear, with the Manor House String Quartet
You may remember that the U.K.-based Manor House String Quartet came out with a Christmas CD last year called I Saw Three Ships; this is Part II -- the next best thing to having a live string quartet at your holiday party!

Bruch: Violin Concerto - Romanze, with Vadim GluzmanBruch: Violin Concerto - Romanze, with Vadim Gluzman
Violinist Vadim Gluzman has paired the famous Violin Concerto No. 1, premiered when the composer was 30, with Bruch's String Quintet in A minor, written when the composer was 80 and published after his death. He also includes the Romance in F major, played with the Bergen Philharmonic, Andrew Litton conducting, as is the concerto. The quintet, written for two violins, two violas and cello, has that romantic and melodious quality that people love in Bruch's violin concerto -- and Gluzman, along with violinist Sandis Steinbergs, violists Maxim Rysanov and Ilze Klava and cellist Reinis Birznieks, gives it an impeccable reading. Gluzman performs on the 1690 ex-Auer Stradivarius, on loan from the Stradivari Society. Incidentally, the CD comes with thorough liner notes about Bruch, his life and works, written by Horst A. Scholz.

Mystery Sonatas, with Julia WedmanMystery Sonatas, with Julia Wedman
Are you ready to dive deeper into Baroque music? Here is something to inform your Bach, the "Mystery Sonatas," by Heinrich Biber, an early Baroque composer. The sonatas, written to explore the mysteries of the rosary, are played by Canadian violinist Julia Wedman, a member of the Baroque period orchestra Tafelmusik, among many other groups. She plays a Hendrick Jacobs violin made in Amsterdam in 1694. The music sparkles, and the liner notes are both visually appealing and extremely informative, with comprehensive historic description as well as Julia's musical impressions of each of the 16 sonatas. What fun, for a lover of Baroque music!

Eugène Ysaÿe: Six Sonatas for Violin Solo, Op, 27, with Judith IngolfssonEugène Ysaÿe: Six Sonatas for Violin Solo, Op, 27, with Judith Ingolfsson
The six solo sonatas by Eugene Ysaye offer violinists some of the most challenging and harmonically interesting music for violin without accompaniment. Whether you intend to play them anytime soon or not, these are an important part of any violin-lover's listening library. This year brings an excellent recording made by Judith Ingolfsson, a Professor of Violin at the University of Performing Arts in Stuttgart Germany, who plays a 1750 Lorenzo Guadagnini violin.

Echoes of Time, by Lisa BatiashviliEchoes of Time, by Lisa Batiashvili
Few violin concertos are more haunting than Dmitri Shostakovich's Violin Concerto No. 1, a piece written during Soviet times that reflects the darkness of those days. Violinist Lisa Batiashvili, born in the country of Georgia when it was still under Soviet rule, performs the piece, along with works of other Russian and Soviet composers, including "V & V" by Georgian composer Giya Kancheli, "Spiegel im Spiegel" by Arvo Part and "Vocalise" by Sergei Rachmaninov. On the lighter side is a fun arrangement of Shostakovich's "Lyrical Waltz" by Lisa's father, Tamas Batiashvili.

Calmer, Easier, Happier Music Practice, parenting expert Noel Janis-NortonCalmer, Easier, Happier Music Practice, parenting expert Noel Janis-Norton
Are you finding that overseeing your child's music practice is ruining your relationship and making you both want to chuck the fiddle out the window? Don't do it! Parenting expert Noel Janis-Norton has some advice specifically for helping you and your child get the most from music lessons and practicing -- and for strengthening your relationship at the same time.

Capricho Latino, with Rachel Barton PineCapricho Latino, with Rachel Barton Pine
What a lot of treasures Rachel Barton Pine has uncovered in this album of solo violin works, "Capricho Latino." Rachel and I spoke last year about her lifelong quest to discover works -- both new and old -- for unaccompanied violin, and specifically about many of the works on this album, a number of which were written for Rachel. One of my favorite pieces on this album is her rendition of Francisco Tárrega's "Recuerdos de la Alhambra," arranged by Ruggiero Ricci. (As a matter of fact I even downloaded the music!) Though a Latin thread runs through it all, the album covers a broad range of styles, from the very contemporary-sounding "Rapsodia Panameña" by Roque Cordero, written this century, to Rachel's own arrangement of the well-known traditional "Asturias (Leyenda)" by Isaac Albéniz (1860-1909); as well as Ysaye's Sonata No. 6 and "Ferdinand the Bull," narrated by Hector Elizondo. Certainly, if you need a little inspiration, and perhaps another piece for your recital, listen to this album!

Ives: Four Sonatas, with Hilary HahnIves: Four Sonatas, with Hilary Hahn
Charles Ives wrote four violin sonatas, and Hilary Hahn and pianist Valentina Lisitsa make a strong argument that we ought to be playing, programming and studying these pieces more often. For me the sonatas fall pleasingly in between being Romantic and being hard-core 20th c. It makes sense, given the time they were written and Charles Ives' life (1874-1954). Ives was the son of a band leader with some mad ideas about harmony, he was a church organist from the age 14, and he made his living as an insurance agent -- he was less part of the musical in-crowd during the early 20th c. His music goes its own way, occasionally turning into a church hymn, or going on a rhythmically asymmetrical romp. A cross-eyed, bitonal march might slide into an almost cheesy, Rachmaninov-like harmony. Yet it all tends to favor the violin's most melodious qualities. It's full of interesting discoveries, and I find it grows on me. Here is our interview we did with Hilary Hahn about these sonatas. Also, if you are a big fan of Hilary Hahn, you can get a 2012 Hilary Hahn Calendar!

Seeing Is Believing, Nico MuhlySeeing Is Believing, Nico Muhly
When violinist Thomas Gould bought himself a six-string electric violin, he asked his friend, young composer Nico Muhly, if he'd like to write a concerto for it. Inspired by this "crazy idea," Muhly did just that, resulting in this recording it with the Aurora Orchestra, Nicholas Collon conducting. "It's really the old world and the new world, interacting in a very exciting way," English composer John Rutter said of Muhly's musical voice, in a video about the recording.

Hindson: Violin Concerto; Corigliano: Suite from the Red Violin [Hybrid SACD], with Lara St. John
This CD did not come out this year, but after hearing its U.S. west coast premiere, I'd recommend it. I found Hindson's concerto both familiar and challenging; in a musical language that I understand, yet full of new thoughts and ideas. Certainly it sounds modern, but sometimes it's modern like a movie score, and other times it's modern like an edgy new symphony. The recording also includes the popular Red Violin suite by Corigliano and an arrangement of pianist Franz Liszt's "Totentanz" that Lara wrote with Martin Kennedy -- an idea hatched during a late-night "nerd-fest," in Lara's words. Liszt wrote showpieces for the violin, and they certainly produced a showpiece for the violin (and a lot of fun) in this arrangement.

The Royal Wedding, The Official AlbumThe Royal Wedding, The Official Album
One of the year's crowning events was also a wonderful celebration of classical music, beautifully performed. If I had to give a gift to my Grandma, this might be the ticket!

Live: Strauss Barber & Mahler, featuring Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg and the New Century Chamber OrchestraLive: Strauss Barber & Mahler, featuring Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg and the New Century Chamber Orchestra
The New Century Chamber Orchestra is Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg's new band, and she definitely adds zip to the mix. This recording includes live performances of three intense and profound pieces for string orchestra: Samuel Barber's "Adagio for Strings," Richard Strauss's "Metamorphosen," and Gustav Mahler's "Adagietto" from Symphony No. 5.

Tchaikovsky & Bruch: Violin Concertos, with Nicola BenedettiTchaikovsky & Bruch: Violin Concertos, with Nicola Benedetti
The Tchaikovsky and the Bruch Concerto have been recorded before -- this we know. But both concertos continue to be recorded, because they continue to resonate for both audiences and young artists alike. Thus, the young Scottish violinist Nicola Benedetti gives us a lovely recording of them both. She also spoke eloquently about the concertos and about her evolving life as an artist in an interview we did earlier this year.

Beau Soir, with Janine JansenBeau Soir, with Janine Jansen
Everyone welcomed Janine Jansen back to the stage this year, after her short break to treat chronic exhaustion from a demanding performing career. This is her recording of French and French-inspired music, called Beau Soir ("Beautiful evening"), a project she had in the works before her period of rest. Named for the Debussy piece by the same name, the album includes all music for violin and piano, in collaboration with pianist Itamar Golan and with new pieces written by Swiss composer Richard Dubugnon. Here is a video preview of the album.

Echoes of Paris, by Augustin HadelichEchoes of Paris, by Augustin Hadelich
Violinist Augustin Hadelich collaborates with pianist Robert Kulek in this recording, which contains Francis Poulenc's Sonata for Violin and Piano, Op. 119; Igor Stravinsky's lesser-played "Pulcinella" suite called "Suite After Themes, Fragments And Pieces By Giambattista Pergolesi"; Claude Debussy's Sonata for Violin and Piano in G minor and Sergei Prokofiev's Sonata No. 2 For Violin And Piano In D Major, Op. 94b (originally for flute). For Hadelich, this are all works that recall Paris, "you can hear how they influence each other. You can hear a little bit of Debussy in Stravinsky and Poulenc," Hadelich said in an interview earlier this year. "They were all in Paris at some point, going to each other's concerts. They would all show up to premieres of other composers' newest works? They didn't necessarily they all like each other; they were very critical of each other sometimes. Nevertheless, you can hear a general influence."

Schubert's Echo, with the American String QuartetSchubert's Echo, with the American String Quartet
If you like "Death and the Maiden," you may want to check out the epic Quartet in G, D. 887, written late in the career of Franz Schubert. It's just as intense, and then more. The liner notes point to a progression in the three words featured in this album, with both modern works showing "echoes" of Schubert. "With our juxtaposition of repertory?we invite your to hear these works anew, in the context of each other." The Berg Quartet, Op. 3, was written a little earlier in the career of that composer; it's atonal but somehow doesn't feel unfettered harmonically. The Webern is a thoroughly modern, atonal work -- a fun ride and engaging listen, but not something you'll put on in the background at your dinner party! This is a great recording for those seeking to open their ears and find the links between modern and Romantic music.

Two Souls, with Mikhail SimonyanTwo Souls, with Mikhail Simonyan
Violinist Mikhail Simonyan has two sides to his personality -- the Russian/Armenian of his birth (he is from Novosibirsk) and the American, where he has lived for more than a decade. His new recording is meant to show both, with violin concertos by Armenian composer Aram Khachaturian and American composer Samuel Barber, along with conductor Kristjan J=E4rvi and the London Symphony Orchestra. For the recording, he commissioned a new cadenza for the Khachaturian, written by Russian-born Armenian composer Artur Avanesov, meant to capture more the folkloric elements of the music.

An Appalachian Christmas, with Mark O'Connor and friendsAn Appalachian Christmas, with Mark O'Connor and friends
We've all heard of Copland's "Appalachian Spring"; well, violinist Mark O'Connor's "An Appalachian Christmas" is an entirely different concept! I expected a lot of bluegrass arrangements of Christmas tunes-gone-fiddle from this fiddler extraordinaire, but Mark has actually teamed up with many different musicians and offers a multi-genre mix of both holiday and non-holiday tunes, including both instrumental and vocal numbers. A few duets with Renee Fleming lean toward a classical sound (including spare, violin-vocal arrangement of "Amazing Grace" that is one of the most effective moments in the album ). The album also includes a rather electric-sounding "Sleigh Ride"; a duet with James Taylor called "Ol' Blue"; a peaceful "Slumber My Darling" with Alison Krauss, Edgar Meyer and Yo-Yo Ma; and a slow-moving duet with mandolinist Chris Thile called "One Winter's Night." My favorite moments are when Mark fiddles out, such as in the introduction to Winter Wonderland with vocalist Jane Monheit. The album concludes with Mark's signature composition, "Appalachia Waltz."

Violin Sonatas by Bartok, Grieg and R. Strauss, with Vilde FrangViolin Sonatas by Bartok, Grieg and R. Strauss, with Vilde Frang
Violinist Vilde Frang shows range and flair in this recording of sonatas by Bartok, Grieg and R. Strauss; here is a little snippet of her playing on this disc. Born in 1986 in Norway, Vilde has studied at the Barratt Due Music Institute in Oslo; with Kolja Blacher at Musikhochschule Hamburg; and Ana Chumachenco at the Kronberg Academy. She plays a Jean-Baptiste Vuillaume violin lent by the Anne-Sophie Mutter Freundeskreis Stiftung.

Brahms, Shostakovich and Schoenfield works; Monument Piano TrioBrahms, Shostakovich and Schoenfield works; Monument Piano Trio
How is it that three people can sound like an entire orchestra? Certainly this musically sensitive trio exploits the broad range of the combination violin-cello-piano, with works ranging from Romantic to Modern. Longtime member Igor Yuzefovich brings us this recording of piano trios with his group, the Monument Piano Trio, which also includes cellist Dariusz Skoraczewski and pianist Michael Sheppard. Yuzefovich was recently appointed concertmaster of the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra.

Bartok Violin Concerto No. 2 and Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto; with Valeriy SokolovBartok Violin Concerto No. 2 and Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto; with Valeriy Sokolov
Age age 16, Ukrainian violinist Valeriy Sokolov was the subject of a 2006 documentary called "Natural Born Fiddler," by French director Bruno Monsaingeon. Now at age 24 he has released a new recording of the Bartok and Tchaikovsky Concertos, previewed in this video.


Jascha Heifetz: God's Fiddler (DVD) by Peter RosenJascha Heifetz: God's Fiddler, by Peter Rosen
The 20th century violinist Jascha Heifetz remains an ideal for violinists, who revere his playing in an almost religious way. But what was he like as a man? This is what Peter Rosen aimed to explore with his 87-minute documentary, which draws on 300 hours of film and 2,000 photos. I attended the premiere of the film and found it both fascinating and moving -- especially when violinist Ida Haendel says emphatically, "His playing was so passionate; I'm just astounded that people don't realize it. They thought that he was cold -- and it was fire! Absolute fire!"


Warming Up by Simon FischerWarming Up by Simon Fischer (book/sheet music)
Simon Fischer, author of the well-known pedagogy books Basics and Practice, has a new book out this holiday season: "Warming Up," with separate books especially for violin and viola. Simon has devised a 36-minute routine to follow to get the spring and flexibility into your fingers and keep them there, without injuring yourself. Some exercises are for the right hand and others for the left; some involve playing and others do not. Neither a scale book nor an etude book, this book contains exercises designed to help increase rapidity in fingers, widen their reach, improve left-finger accuracy, increase right-hand flexibility, straighten the bow, get a better sense of bowing soundpoints, improve coordination between the two hands, improve vibrato and improve double-stop intonation. Yes, all in one book! Unlike Fischer's other books, which encourage leafing around and picking your exercise, this one leads the player through a comprehensive warmup -- one could simply read through the 23-page book, front-to-back, every day, and count on strengthening the hands and improving their abilities.

Foundation Studies for the Violin, Volume 1, by Franz Wohlfarht (Book w/DVD), edited by Rachel Barton PineFoundation Studies for the Violin, Volume 1, by Franz Wohlfarht (Book w/DVD), edited by Rachel Barton Pine
When Rachel Barton Pine was approached to record the Wohlfahrt Etudes, as she told us last fall, she couldn't just record them -- surely she needed to completely re-edit them! In truth, it was about time, and Rachel was the perfect person to do it. The Wohlfahrt etudes were last edited about a century ago, and Rachel has brought them into the 21st century with new fingerings and bowings, and for the first time, some suggested dynamics so that students can do musical justice to these clever little studies. The book comes with a DVD of her playing the etudes.

You Are Your Instrument, by Julie Lyonn LiebermanYou Are Your Instrument, by Julie Lyonn Lieberman
So many people came forward with their stories about injury after I wrote about Julie Lyonn Lieberman's lecture on preventing injury, which she gave at the 2011 Starling-DeLay Symposium on Violin Studies at Juilliard. Here is an entire book that she wrote on the subject of preparing mentally and physically for healthy performance.

Listen to Me! by Clare Ward (Book and CD)Listen to Me! by Clare Ward (Book and CD)
This is a collection of beginning pieces (on about the "Pre-Twinkle" level) with piano parts designed to make the music sound like true repertoire that a beginner can be proud to perform at a recital. It's a great choice for young beginners, but appropriate for any beginner.

Stories from a Theme Park InsiderStories from a Theme Park Insider, (E-Book) by Robert Niles
You may be aware that all the technical work on is handled by Robert Niles, who also happens to be my husband. You may not know, however, that Robert once was a Pirate of the Caribbean -- at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida. He actually worked there at a number of attractions for years, and from that experience he caught the theme park bug. At the same time as we started, he also started a website called "Stories from a Theme Park Insider" is his first book, and it's a compilation of his best stories from when he was working at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom. He really captures the funny, the unexpected, and the poignant nature of one of the world's more unusual jobs. The price is right, at $2.99!

Looking for even more ideas? Take a look back at our 2010 Gift Guide!

6 replies

Mark O'Connor 'Appalachian Christmas' CD giveaway, one more left!

December 2, 2011 11:28

Hear those sleigh bells ringing? Well if you haven't yet, you probably will soon. Here is one new album by a violinist, in the hopes that you'll find some good music this holiday season.

We've all heard of Copland's "Appalachian Spring"; well, violinist Mark O'Connor's "An Appalachian Christmas" is an entirely different concept! I expected a lot of bluegrass arrangements of Christmas tunes-gone-fiddle from this fiddler extraordinaire, but Mark has actually teamed up with many different musicians and offers a multi-genre mix of both holiday and non-holiday tunes, including both instrumental and vocal numbers. A few duets with RenŽe Fleming lean toward a classical sound (including spare, violin-vocal arrangement of "Amazing Grace" that is one of the most effective moments in the album ). The album also includes a rather electric-sounding "Sleigh Ride"; a duet with James Taylor called "Ol' Blue"; a peaceful "Slumber My Darling" with Alison Krauss, Edgar Meyer and Yo-Yo Ma; and a slow-moving duet with mandolinist Chris Thile called "One Winter's Night." My favorite moments are when Mark fiddles out, such as in the introduction to "Winter Wonderland" with vocalist Jane Monheit. The album concludes with Mark's signature composition, Appalachia Waltz.

Our first winner was Danielle Martin of Seneca, South Carolina, and our second winner was Stephanie Munoz of Chuluota, Florida. There's one more chance to win, and we'll keep this up through Sunday. To enter, please go to our contest page.

Archive link

Wind Day

December 1, 2011 20:05

A wild wind blew into Southern California Wednesday night, and I spent the evening cowering in the kids' bedroom, wondering if the roof was in the process of blowing off or if the latest loud band was one of the giant trees from the neighbors' yard, collapsing onto my bedroom across the hall.

The power had been out since 8:30 p.m. Wednesday. Looking out the second-story window, I could see clear sky, stars, huge trees madly flailing in the wind, and in the distance, what looked like blue flashes of lightning from time to time. The bursts of lights apparently came from the fatal snap of power lines, still hopelessly out of commission.

In the morning we went down to our garage -- which opens with an electric door, so we would not be getting out! We sat inside of the car, listening to AM radio and charging the cell phone. The land line was out.

My kids have never known a snow day in sunny California, so imagine their excitement when the news announced a state of emergency in Pasadena, and no school. A "wind day"!

Californians, I thought, rolling my eyes a bit. It was a tough night, but canceling school over some wind? Heck, when I lived in Denver…

We decided to survey the damage, slipping boots and coats over our pajamas. We live in a condominium complex with eight units.

Our walkway

Upon opening our front door, we saw the two of our neighbors' porch fences had ripped apart and tipped over, blocking the walkway in one direction. We walked in the other direction, toward the street, and found ourselves staring at a large, decapitated palm tree, the trunk still standing straight as a rod, but the large bushy top sprawled on top of one car and next to another unfortunate car that was parked along the street. One car was so buried I couldn't tell much about it; the other now had a smushed nose and broken window.

Top of palm tree that landed on car

Looking back toward our building, we realized two of our neighbors' half-dozen trees that stand next to our property line -- the trees I'd been hiding from the night before -- had smashed into our neighbors' units. We had lucked out -- the ones right by us were still standing.

The wind had temporarily subsided, so we decided to check on our neighbors up the street. The street looked like a hurricane had hit -- nearly every tree was either stripped of leaves (some completely green and not ready to fall), snapped in half at the trunk or blown over completely. Trees and branches blocked every road we saw. Random parts of apartments and houses sat in all the wrong places. A decorative piece of siding from an apartment a full block away sat in the middle of the sidewalk.

House around the block

Arriving at our friends' place, we found them cleaning up from a solid balcony banister that fell from the second story and a large piece of their roof that they found on their driveway.

Happily, the grocery store up the road had power, food and supplies. I walked there with the kids and got some ice, matches and food. The weather service had predicted another "wind event" tonight, but later in the day they downgraded it to a "wind advisory," a much more normal situation!

The kids have kidnapped their friend and played board games ("bored" games?) during the afternoon-- going for world domination with "Risk." Kind of nice -- no T.V., no video games, no Internet.

Guess what else you can do, with no power? You guessed it. As the sun set today, I played my violin. Very quickly, the light grew dim, and I the candlelight didn't illuminate my music enough to read it. I kept playing, old things I knew, new things I'm learning. My kids eventually came downstairs and start requesting pop songs, so I played pop songs from the radio, old songs from Disney musicals and more. I could see the candles flickering in other windows. Without power, I didn't have a lot of competition, when it came to making noise. The winds should be calmer tonight, and maybe we'll have power tomorrow. I kind of liked the world that gets dark and calms down at 5 p.m. though!

17 replies

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