June 2011

Teri Einfeldt: Preparing Students for Successful Concerti Study

June 30, 2011 15:40

How do you get from student level to artist level?

This was the question at hand for a lecture by Teri Einfeldt earlier this month at the Starling-DeLay Symposium on Violin Studies at The Juilliard School. Teri is Chair of the Hartt School Community Division Suzuki Program, a Suzuki Association of the Americas (SAA) registered Teacher Trainer, Chair of the SAA, and adjunct professor at University of Hartford’s The Hartt School, where she also is assistant director of the Suzuki Institute.

How can you turn a student into a problem-solver, how can you build technique in a way that will allow them to attain the highest levels?


Violin teacher Teri Einfeldt. Photo by Nan Melville for The Juilliard School.

Teri, who has been teaching for 38 years and who currently has about 25 students ranging from beginners to advanced students, said that it's important to bring them along in do-able steps -- no insurmountable leaps. For example, going straight from the Vivaldi A minor concerto to the Mendelssohn concerto would be an insurmountable leap. "We want them to meet with success," she said. "It's very easy for them to play the standard concerti if we lead them step-by-step."

High-level teachers tend to be very appreciative of the technique and foundation put in place in a student's earlier years.

To be the kind of teacher who can help a student build a good foundation, it's important to have a philosophy of teaching, to build independence, to create a motivation (or a "burn in their belly") and find those steps for building technique.

Teri said that she did not learn technique during her early lessons, and when she arrived at college, her teacher told her, "There are only two things wrong with your playing: your right hand and your left hand."

"I was not going to let that happen to any of my students," Teri said. "'Good enough' is not allowed. Give your students that sense of excellence that you hold for them."

If they aren't understanding something, or if they are unable to do something, keep trying, she said. Come up with 10 new ways to get the message across. "I don't give up if they don't get it."

"Our big job is to teach our students how to practice," Teri said. That can start with very simple tasks for the youngest students: carry your own violin into the lesson. Take the violin out of the case yourself. Learn to tune the instrument.

"We want to fill our students' toolbox," she said. They should develop a sensitivity to articulation, tone, pitch, intonation, ringing tones, phrasing and dynamics.

They also need to know how to assess themselves, to build their ability to judge their own performance. For example, the teacher can play and have the student identify things such as: is it in tune? Is every note of a staccato scale actually staccato?

Practice does not make perfect, "practice makes permanent," Teri said. "Don't practice until you get it right, then practice until you can't get it wrong." How do you get to that stage, where you "get it right?" Here are a few ideas: Start with tricky sections. Identify the problem. Use the metronome. Remember that most mistakes happen between two notes. Play a section and stop right before the mistake, then sing the next note. Practice in rhythms. Record yourself. Repeat, a lot!

A teacher's studio should be a place where students feel safe airing musical ideas.

"Make your studio a very safe environment," Teri said. "If they take the initiative to come up with musical ideas, I appreciate it."

A teacher also plays a role in motivating students. Encourage them to participate in chamber music and orchestra, to get a nicer instrument, to enter a competition. A teacher's attitude about a piece can also be a source of motivation or discouragement. Some pieces are more "learning" pieces than legitimate repertoire, but there's no need to tell a student that a piece is "just a student concerto." Students should be allowed -- encouraged! -- to enjoy the pieces they are playing, even the ones that may not qualify as high-end literature.

"We have to be careful not to let negativity seep into our teaching," Teri said. "Our students are affected by everything we do."

Encourage your students to listen, and also to play for other teachers. "Share your students, let them to to masterclass, let them go to music camp," Teri said. "Through meeting other people, it brings them back to the music."

What about teens, with their full schedules and sometimes flagging attention? To motivate teens, Teri recommended taking them on a bus together somewhere, planning trips to hear concerts, inviting a guest artist to give a master class, going to symphony rehearsals, planning special performances, playing chamber music.

Teri showed us a way to do scales that requires students to think about different elements at the same time. We first played a G major scale, just one octave, half-notes. Then we played the scale again the same way, but with two quarter notes on all ringing notes (anything that's an E, A, D or G). Then, keeping the ringing notes, we played the scale with four eighth notes on any note affected by the key -- in G major, this would be F sharp. And of course, it's possible to do this exercise in different keys, and with several octaves. In this way, the student is becoming aware of ringing notes and of notes affected by key signature, applying the knowledge immediately to playing.

She also warned that when you introduce new techniques to a student, you must follow through on a regular basis, checking the progress of that technique. If you don't, you can't expect it to develop in the proper way on its own.

When it comes to laying that technical foundation, Teri showed us a number of pieces that bridge that area between the beginner and intermediate student to the student who can play concertos. Here are some of those pieces, and a few of the techniques that can be practiced through performing those pieces:

Boy Paganini (or "Fantasia") by Edward Mollenhauer(Also in Solos for Young Violinists, Vol. 2)

Link to a performance

Technical lessons: left-hand pizzicato; repeated down-bows; fingered harmonics; fifth position; bariolage, octaves.

* * *

Adoration by Felix Borowski

Link to a performance

Technical lessons: High-position playing; slow playing.

* * *

Perpetual Motion by Carl Bohm (Also newly added to Suzuki Book 4, Revised Edition)

Link to a performance (It's a shaky video, but this young man did learn the spiccato!)

Technical lessons: wrist motion; possibly sautille; fifth position; half position; chromatics; fast but relaxed.

* * *

Fifth Air Varie by Charles Dancla (Also in Solos for Young Violinists, Vol. 3 by Barbara Barber)

Link to a performance (music starts at 1:40)

Technical lessons: ricochet bowing; spiccato; three-note chords; arpeggiated bariolage; combined arc and pizzicato.

* * *

Souvenir de Sarasate by William Potstock (Also in Solos for Young Violinists, Vol. 3 by Barbara Barber

Link to a performance

Technical lessons: double stops; left hand pizzicato; schmaltzy playing.

* * *

Concerto No. 1 by Friedrich Seitz

Link to a performance

Technical lessons: a lot like other Seitz concertos, but played less often.

* * *

Czardas by Vittorio Monti (Also in Solos for Young Violinists, Vol. 5 by Barbara Barber)

Link to a performance (Some may students may ask, "Is this from a Lady Gaga song?")

Technical lessons: artificial harmonics; sautille.

* * *

Concerto No. 9 by Charles de Beriot (Also in Solos for Young Violinists, Vol. 4 by Barbara Barber)

Link to a performance

Technical lessons: Excellent transition piece right before concerto literature.

Archive link

Taking Aim at Intonation Problems

June 28, 2011 11:38

I was testing everyone's C# in group class before starting a tune, when I came across a student with a habit that many students develop:

I'll call it "land and wiggle."

This happens when you put down a lefthand finger for a note, but you accidentally put it in the wrong place. Then you slide up and down and all around until it settles in to the correct pitch. It was clear to me from the unsettled nature of her fingers, that this was an ingrained habit.

Ironically, this habit of searching and wiggling tends to develop when you have an excellent ear. You hear that the note is out of tune, and so you adjust your finger.

But here's the problem with this approach: you are setting yourself up for failure -- and for frenetic fingers. You may not be aware, but you are actually practicing landing in the wrong place every time, and then wiggling around to the right place.

Let's say your task is something different: you are throwing darts at a target, aiming for that nice yellow spot in the middle.



If your dart lands outside of the yellow circle, say in the blue ring, you are not going to adjust it by walking up and dragging it into the middle -- it's stuck. If you want to reach the point where you can throw the dart and land in the yellow spot every time, you must first figure out how hard to throw the dart and from what angle. Once you've got this down, you have to do it over and over, correctly, until you have physically perfected your aim and performance.

The same goes for a beginner, learning first-position fingering on the violin. A student must learn precision in finger placement, and it will only happen by placing fingers correctly, over and over. This would be one reason I advocate finger tapes for beginners. In theory, it makes some kind of sense to ask your students find their pitches by listening. But it's sad to see a student who, at such an early stage, has developed such a manic hand and such little sense of precise aim. Believe me, landing on the tapes also helps the ear, when the ear repeatedly hears the pitch played correctly! When the hand is set, then great, remove the tapes.

The searching and adjusting also happens to more advanced students and musicians in things like shifting, double-stop placement, artificial harmonics, etc. The same principle applies: Go to the correct form, and then figure out how to get there every time, without wiggling around and adjusting.

So in the practice room, if you repeatedly miss a note, try this: Stop. Ask yourself, was it too high, or too low? Then depending on your answer, aim higher or lower next time. It sounds simple enough, but sometimes we just want to go on, so we settle for a little wiggling and adjusting. Don't!

15 replies

Finally: Music for the Shostakovich Violin Concerto

June 27, 2011 10:20

A few weeks ago I was helping my daughter track down books for a research project, and after visiting every library in our little neck of Los Angeles, we concluded that all the books she needed were in the next suburb over, at the Brand Library in Glendale.

Secretly, I'd been wanting to go to the Brand Library for about 10 years. Though her research was not about music, the Brand has one of the biggest public music libraries around. Whenever someone can't find a piece of music, musician-types advise, "Have you checked the Brand?"

Well, I never had, and here was my chance. So we hopped on the highway.

It's a gorgeous place, nestled high on a hill in a mansion called "El Miradero," where Leslie C. Brand and his wife once lived. They willed their home to the city of Glendale, which made it into a library in 1956. It's surrounded by a beautiful park where kids were playing soccer on the Saturday when we drove up the palm-lined driveway. Between my daughter's love of libraries and my love of music, we were ready to move in.

When we finally arrived in the room with all the music, I was completely overwhelmed. I knew I wanted to look at sheet music, but I have a pretty full music library. What is it that I've always wanted, that I haven't been able to find, in all my years of looking?

Of course: the Shostakovich Violin Concerto (Op. 77). For years, it was literally impossible to get this music, and in more recent years, it's been simply difficult and crazy expensive. Finally, it is possible to procure the music through Sheet Music Plus for $53, which, as high as that price is, it's lower than the price tag I've seen on this music over the years.

So yes, it's possible now to get this music online, but I remain affected by the long search. The Violin Concerto, to begin with, was kept under wraps by Shostakovich himself, who wrote it in the late 1940s, at a time when the Soviet government was breathing down his neck. He finally published it after the death of Stalin in 1953, then David Oistrakh premiered it in 1955.

I'm old enough to remember the Cold War, when culture, communication and travel between Here and There seemed completely walled off. Holding this music in my hands, I could imagine some KGB agent looking over my shoulder, "Where deed you get thees?"

I don't know why this music has remained somewhat difficult to obtain; V.com members have reported not being able to fill an order for it, even when it was supposedly available, and it's always been available only at a high price.

So I've been playing through Shostakovich's violin concerto, thrilled with finally being able to make this music happen under my own chin. It is so haunting, so beautiful, so much a part of its time and place.

I might actually have to give the music back to the library at some point!

Here is a performance by violinist David Oistrakh in Berlin. 

Part 2: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QpvCbtMWr0s&feature=related

Part 3: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8OTq7uhzT8w&feature=related

Part 4: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7QDfwcFxz6A&feature=related

Part 5: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_2ee-GPDIek&feature=related

5 replies

Past Meets Present

June 26, 2011 14:13

My watch stopped last Tuesday, and it seemed like no coincidence. Time stood still for me that day.

My daughter was graduating from the eighth grade, leaving behind the school where she had spent her entire childhood.

When people ask how long my kids were at McKinley School, I very often joke, "Since the bitter beginning!"

My daughter's first day of kindergarten, nine years ago, also happened to be the day McKinley School opened in Pasadena. Rather, it re-opened as a K-8, the 1922 building having been shuttered for some 20+ years. It was a day when chaos reigned: there were no kindergarten classrooms ready, no playground equipment, no landscaping on the school grounds, much of the building was not yet renovated. There were no institutional traditions, no systems in place for discipline or organization.

"What have I done?" I thought, holding her little hand, and also my younger toddler's hand, as we walked into a musty old library in which five kindergarten classes were crammed in various corners. It was noisy and dark. The carpet was old. We found her young teacher, Ms. Friesen, in the far left corner. "You are Natalie?" she said with kindness and calm, as though nothing were out of the ordinary. "Very good, come join us in the circle." Ms. Friesen had decorated the wall in her little corner of the library with stars, each star with a student's name. I could see my daughter breathing more easily. I met a few of the other parents -- little did I know how much we would share in the coming years.

McKinley Mosaic

The following weekend the modular classrooms came for kindergarten, and by Monday, Ms. Friesen had transformed her classroom into a place of comfort and wonder, with posters and learning materials, even a pretty quilt on the wall. A few weeks later, I made curtains for the window -- they still hang there.

My daughter grew with the school. The playground equipment came -- how exciting that was, after three months with none! Rugs came for the classroom floor. One parent helped come up with a plan for landscaping. Students planted a tree during a rainstorm, wondering if it would really survive in the mud. It's tall and strong now, and it makes shade for the playground. We built a mosaic mural, with 600 kids, teachers and parents under the direction of an artist. Teachers applied for grants so all kids could go on field trips -- more than 50 percent of the kids in the school qualify for free lunch and can afford very little extra. We raised money and bought instruments for the school, and for a few years I taught a violin class for first graders. We renovated the library, put books in it, along with shelves and tables and chairs. Parents started a recycling program. When the state of California tried to fire some of our teachers, we marched in protest: students, parents and teachers together. One teacher even wrote a song that we all sang together.

We made a difference. Year after year, the kids grew, the school grew and the community grew. Kids learned to read, memorized their multiplication tables, visited museums, made science projects, learned about many cultures (often just from each other), put on musicals, wrote essays and played four-square and soccer.

That kindergarten teacher who welcomed my little girl on her first day of school flew back last Tuesday to be there for her last. Ms. Friesen shook the hands of all her students from that first kindergarten class as they walked across the stage, nearly full-grown, into a new phase of life -- high school.

And time stood still, just for a second.

1 reply

Health Care without Healing

June 25, 2011 11:28

"It would be best if you stopped gardening," said the hand specialist I was visiting because of some mild but chronic pain I'd been experienced ever since I was knocked off my feet while ice skating last February.

"I don't garden," I said. "I'm really more concerned about being able to exercise and protecting my hands so I can play the violin. I'm a violinist."

Last February while skating with my kids, a woman skated into me from the back, and I never saw her coming. My feet were knocked out from under me, and I went flying into the air. I landed on my tailbone, slamming my arms and hands into the ice. Fortunately I did not land on my head or spine. Still, it rang my bell, and I only noticed later that my hands hurt from the impact. That mostly went away, and I still could play the violin. But after months, I still couldn't lean on my hands without pain, meaning I couldn't do push-ups, certain yoga poses, etc. This wasn't going away. I didn't want it to spread and get worse, and I was also a little concerned I may have broken some tiny bone in there. Not something to ignore, if you use your hands for a living.

The young doctor had taken some X-rays, and the good news was that nothing appeared to be broken.

"You probably activated some arthritis in the base joint of your thumb," he said.

Arthritis? Sorry, that sounds scary to a violinist. I wanted to know more.

"You can take some ibuprofen if you want," he said. "We can wait until it gets worse and then do surgery, but you probably don't need surgery now."


"Actually, I just want to know how to help things heal," I said. "I don't want it to get worse, but I just need to know what I should do, and what I should not do."

"Well, you should probably avoid gardening," he said.

"I don't really do any gardening," I repeated, gritting my teeth. I didn't mention that I don't actually have a YARD. "I really just need to know how to help it heal."

"You can take some ibuprofen," he said. "But it's true, the more you use your joints, the worse arthritis will get. But if it gets worse, we can do surgery."

"In the mean time," he said. "I would avoid doing any gardening."

Update: Robert thought this sounded like the Xtranormal video with the music teacher and the parent, so he made this:

24 replies

Juilliard String Quartet Performs Beethoven and Discusses Music-Making

June 18, 2011 18:09

Music must live in the moment it is played.

This is an important operating principle for Juilliard String Quartet, who performed earlier this month at the Starling-DeLay Symposium on Violin Studies, playing Beethoven's String Quartet No. 13 in B-flat Major, Op. 130.

So here is a quartet that is 50 years old, playing a piece nearly 200 years old. Is it all old habit by now? Hardly. As members of the quartet said after their performance, nothing is routine for a group committed to change and innovation. To that end, the group had just welcomed a new member into its ranks, first violinist Joseph Lin, who replaced Joel Smirnoff, who had retired from the group.

Photo by Nan Melville for The Juilliard School.

The group played the Op. 130 quartet with the the finale the composer intended for it, the Grosse Fuge, Op. 133. Beethoven had composed a different finale for the Op. 130 at the request of his publisher, because the demanding, contemporary-sounding Grosse Fuge was so unpopular. No more -- it is now a favorite, appreciated for its forward-looking structure and dissonance.

The Juilliard quartet played with sensitivity, taste and consideration. There was restraint where needed, and energy elsewhere. At times they matched one another's colors perfectly, at other times -- mostly during that wild Fuge -- they could give the music a rough and noisy edge.

After the performance, they re-grouped on stage, without their instruments, to talk to us about what it's like to be part of a working quartet and about their philosophies of music-making together.

"We are now going to sing the whole Beethoven," joked violist Samuel Rhodes as they took the stage.

They first talked about re-learning this particular quartet together.

"Every time we perform a great piece, it starts all over again," cellist Joel Krosnick said. "We never get to the bottom of it. The discussions are ongoing, and we think it makes the music alive."

Rhodes said that when he first joined the quartet in 1969, he expected that he'd need to "fit in." But that's not exactly how it worked. A new member can be a vehicle for growth in a quartet, and the Juilliard Quartet embraces the idea of change.

"The new member has more objectivity, not having done it before," Rhodes said. It's important to listen to what that member has to offer, not to let habits get in the way of ideas.

"We still don't have a 'Way We Do It,'" Krosnick said of the group's approach to various pieces in the repertoire.

Instead of forcing the process, the group works in an organic way. "We found a way of letting something emerge, instead of making it emerge," said second violinist Ronald Copes.

Joseph Lin, who joined the quartet just this year, said, "I've been blown away with the generosity of my three partners in music-making, to start over again. If anybody didn't need to start over again, it's these three." The willingness to be open to approaching things from square one, to be open to his suggestions, has impressed Lin, "although sometimes I lose a half a night's sleep, thinking about how I'm going to present that new idea!"

"If we could play this in our sleep, we wouldn't be doing Beethoven any favors," said Krosnick. "It needs to be alive at that moment."

For example, Lin wanted to try a new bowing for the first subject of the Grosse Fugue.

"I wasn't going to let the first rehearsal go without trying it," Lin said. "I thought the craziness, the audacity with which Beethoven wrote this massive, epic fugue, could be reflected in a bowing that was also a little crazy."

In the course of playing the fugue with his quartet-mates, Lin shifted in his perception, from seeing the fugue as wild and manic to recognizing a certain nobility, majesty and grandeur in it. So he changed his mind about that bowing as well. But by then, the other quartet members had embraced his idea.

"We can take advantage of four imaginations," Krosnick said. "I climbed into your shoes and did that bowing -- then you left those shoes!"

"He tried to leave those shoes," Copes corrected, "but we wouldn't let him."

"The ideas get mixed up, and what you come out with is better than what either idea was in the first place," Rhodes said.

Sometimes those ideas come up at the last minute -- say, at the rehearsal right before the concert. When a quartet member presents a new idea at such a time, "it's always preceded with 'We don't have to do that tonight,'" Krosnick said, "but then we do it that night!"

How does a quartet replace one of its members? Who makes that decision? The Juilliard quartet recently faced such a decision, replacing its first violinist. It's happened a number of times in the quartet's history, which dates back to its founding in 1946 with violinists Robert Mann and Robert Koff, violist Raphael Hillyer, and cellist Arthur Winograd.

"We pick a person who is not rigid and who can react well with the three remaining people," Rhodes said.

Though many quartets aim for a unified sound with a silken shine, the Juilliard String Quartet sound "is more like a tweed," Copes said. "We don't look for complete unanimity of sound." Instead, the Juilliard focuses on an interaction between individual sounds.

When people ask how they have changed their sound over the years, or since Lin has joined the group, "We're clueless," Copes said. "We don't know."

How then, have they been able to work together so long, without breaking up over musical disagreements or personality conflicts?

As the newest member of the quartet, Lin observed that the group has a deep commitment to music-making, and also a concern for each other personally, which also translates to a respect for personal space and knowing where personal boundaries are.

"We give each other a quartet's worth of relationship. We each have our own lives," Krosnick said. It wasn't always so; in the earlier days of the quartet "we didn't understand how to treat each other at all."

Members of the quartet warm up separately; they practice separately.

They also try to meet the audience halfway.

"We, as chamber musicians, have the privilege of sharing some of the most incredible works of the human imagination that exist," Copes said. That's not always the easiest experience for an audience.

"The teaching we do has a great deal to do with urging and leading and bringing people along a path which has been meaningful for us," Krosnick said. "When you play for students, or for an audience, you never know what it is you give off that is meaningful to someone listening."

1 reply

Ray Iwazumi on Ysa├┐e's Sonatas No. 2 and No. 5

June 16, 2011 11:59

The Belgian violinist and composer Eugène Ysaÿe was a bright star whose originality lives on through the works he left behind, not to mention the legacy he passed through his students such as Joseph Gingold, William Primrose, Nathan Milstein, Jascha Brodsky, and more.

Violinist and musicologist Ray Iwazumi has made the violinist the focus of much of his life's work, and we had the privilege of hearing Ray both lecture about and perform Sonatas No. 2 and No. 5 earlier this month at the Starling-DeLay Symposium on Violin Studies at The Juilliard School.

Ray Iwazumi
Ray Iwazumi. Photo by Nan Melville for The Juilliard School.

It all started in the Juilliard studio of the great violin teacher Dorothy DeLay. "When she had an inkling we didn't know about the composer, or other extra-musical details, she put us right to the task of finding out," Ray said. That often meant going to the library and searching through the Grove Encyclopedia or looking through liner notes.

But this wasn't enough for Ray, who went far beyond his initial research to make Eugène Ysaÿe a topic of intense focus. He has written articles about Ysaÿe and his works for The Strad, MLA Notes and the Japanese journal String.

Eugène Ysaÿe lived from 1858 to 1931, but he wasn't a child prodigy, Ray said. The peak of his career came around 1890-1910.

"He was an awesome performer," Iwazumi said. "Once he reached the top, he was really at the top."

For example, notices from the period describe Ysaÿe in ways such as, "Ysaÿe: Not only the greatest violinist living, but the greatest violinist that ever lived. Ysaÿe possesses the combined qualities of Vieuxtemps, Wieniawski, Sarasate and Joachim."

This wasn't really contested, either. Well-known violinists of the time such as George Enescu, Fritz Kreisler, Carl Flesch and Mischa Elman openly confirmed the superiority of Ysaÿe.

"All of them quietly admit that words don't do justice to Ysaÿe," not even those over-the-top descriptions. "Anyone from the early 20th century would equate Ysaÿe with a god, playing the violin."

Ysaÿe also was a composer, influenced by the artistic movements of his time and place: impressionism, symbolism and surrealism.

Impressionism may make us think of the paintings of Monet and the music of Debussy, though pure impressionist would put nothing subjective into the work.

Symbolism was a late 19th century movement, born in a time when secret societies flourished, with their cryptic codes. Images were cast into more dream-like, mystical settings, used to express subject ideas.

Surrealism started in the 1910's, fantasy without the preoccupation with symbols. You've seen Salvador Dalí's melting clocks? It's that kind of thing: things that don't belong together, existing in a way that can only be found in the imagination, not in reality.

In 1923, Ysaÿe wrote his six solo violin sonatas, each inspired by and dedicated to a different contemporary violinist: Joseph Szigeti; Jacques Thibaud; Georges Enesco; Fritz Kreisler; Mathieu Crickboom and Manuel Quiroga.

When it comes to Ysaÿe's Sonata No. 2, written for Jacques Thibaud, the first obvious symbol is J.S. Bach's E major Preludio from Partita No. 3, the first two measures which are taken as a direct quote to start the piece.

What is symbolic about Bach's E major Preludio? Well first, said Ray, it's Bach, whose towering achievements, in the form of his Solo Sonatas and Partitas, seemed to cast shadow over Ysaÿe -- or so Ysaÿe said. Who would dare try to write for solo violin, after Bach did so with such genius? Also, material from the E major Preludio was recycled by Bach, a devout German Protestant, for other music. "Bach used it for settings of bright celebrations in life," Ray said. "Bach must have been happy with the emotional effect, it has a bright, joyous character."

The next symbol is the Dies Irae from the Roman Catholic chant about the "Day of Wrath" or "Judgment Day." It has long been a symbol of death, used in requiems and by composers such as Berlioz (Symphony Fantastique).

"There's nothing cheery about that," Ray said.

In Ysaÿe's Sonata No. 2, the Dies Irae pops out of the top of a bariolage passage, starting in m. 20, though, Ray said, "I believe the Dies Irae already lurks in measure 4.  The first four notes of the "brutalement" passage come from the head motive of the Dies Irae, and that identical half step movement shared between the very opening of the Preludio and the opening of the Dies Irae is something Ysaye was probably very aware of."

Both the Preludio music and Dies Irae are woven throughout the first movement, Obsession, with the Dies Irae returning in various forms in all four movements.

"So we have the celebration of life in the Preludio, and the spectre of death in the Dies Irae," Ray said.

Ysaÿe dedicated the Sonata No. 2 to Jacques Thibaud, who was known for his sensuously beautiful tone. "There's nothing ugly or jagged about Jacques Thibaud's playing," Ray said, yet "this was some of the most grotesque music written at the time." Apparently when Ysaÿe went to Paris and first heard Thibaud play the piece, he stopped him because he wasn't performing the brutal parts of the piece in a brutal enough way.

The second movement, Malinconia, is one long, unbroken thread, with two voices that weaving in and our of each other, combining elements of melancholy, hopefulness, anxiety and resignation. It ends quietly, eerily, directly quoting the Dies Irae.

Though the Sonata No. 2 certainly has enough symbolism and story to seem programmatic, and though people (even Ysaÿe's son, Antoine) have even presented their own interpretations of what the program is, Ysaÿe himself said that the piece has no program. "I've never found any definitive evidence to support that, and Ysaÿe himself said it has no program," Ray said.

It's clear, from looking at the manuscript for the Sonatas, that Ysaÿe was not only an innovative composer but also an innovative violinist. The second page of the music contains a list of definitions (in French) for unique symbols created by Ysaÿe for the specific techniques he used to create the effects throughout the Sonatas. For example, he created symbols that mean, "a quarter tone above" or "put your finger on the perfect fifth."

Ysaÿe also marked the music with his own fingerings and bowing. "He tries all these different combinations for fingerings and bowings -- but that's for him," Ray said. You may not use them all, but Ysaÿe's markings serve as a guide -- and as a window into Ysaÿe's genius as a player. "It pays to try the fingerings, even if you think they are crazy. There is a certain concept of technique inherent in his fingerings and his bowings."

Ray played the entire Sonata No. 2 for us during his lecture, and it occurred to me, what a privilege it was to hear this piece live, played by someone who has researched this piece so deeply and taken it completely to heart as a musician. His "Obsession" was fast and beautifully outlined, the "Malinconia" truly wept, and by the last movement "Les Furies," it was clear to me that he was calling up some spirits with his icy ponticello and wicked brutal chords. I wish I could link to Ray playing this whole sonata, but I could only find Malinconia, linked above. Here are some other performances, just so you can hear each movement (first two movements are linked above): III. Dans des Ombres and IV. Les Furies

The other Ysaÿe sonata we studied was the two-movement Sonata No. 5, dedicated to Ysaÿe's student, Mathieu Crickboom.

"Practically every measure could be in an exercise book," and many are, in Crickboom's own Technique of the Violin. In fact, Ray gave us a handout that matched certain passages from Sonata No. 5 to corresponding exercises in Crickboom's book: the string crossing ex. 51; fourths, ex. 174; chords, ex. 186; ex. 202, ex. 206.

"But this is so much more than a collection of exercises," Ray said.

The piece is abstract, in its use of the pentatonic scale and lack of tonal center, he said. The sequence D-E-B-F is used over and over. For example, in the first movement, "L'Aurore," (literally "the dawn") it is used to affect the feeling of daybreak.

Ray's performance was very inspiring. The first movement, L'Aurore, began with a stillness and great voicing, growing into an absolutely glorious sunrise, I was pretty worked up when I wrote in my notes, "I hear the rays poking out, and they are orange and pink and even red -- light!" His Danse Rustique certainly did not sound like a collection of exercises, so internalized it was, and again my notes: "damn hot left-hand pizzicato, and the end…piu piu piu presto, holy cow!"

I couldn't find a recording of Ray Iwazumi playing all of these, but I'm waiting for it!

EDITOR'S NOTE: Ray has told me that he does have a recording of the Six Sonatas, including the rarely played solo Etude Posthume, made in 2008, but it is produced in Japan and expensive to get in the U.S. 

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Julie Lyonn Lieberman on How Violinists Can Prevent Injury with Proper Stretches and Set-up

June 13, 2011 13:08

Ninety incorrect positions are better than one correct position.

This was one of many ideas that Julie Lyonn Lieberman shared in her lectures about the ergonomics of violin playing at the 2011 Starling-DeLay Symposium on Violin Studies at Juilliard. Julie comes at the subject from many angles: violinist, educator, author, radio producer, composer, recording artist, journalist, composer. (And she was the violinist in the Fiddle recording for Music Together, very cool indeed!) Her 1991 book on healthy playing, You Are Your Instrument, was revised in 2011 and is available both in hard copy and as an e-book.

Julie talked about the ergonomics of playing the violin, about how muscles work and about how to go about finding the right set-up in terms of chin rests and shoulder rests.


Julie Lieberman
Julie Lieberman. Photo by Nan Melville for The Juilliard School.

Part of our problem, as violinists, lies in the fact that we remain in one awkward position for a very long time, on a regular basis, Julie said.

"The sheer act of trying to maintain a posture brings tension in the body," Julie said. You may even stop breathing when you "assume the position."

"If you are constantly changing positions, no problem," Julie said. "I go for a set-up that keeps me moving as I play."

To prove the point, Julie had us all get in playing position, arms suspended in place, but without our instruments. "Okay, see you in two and a half hours!" she said. She had us hold the position for only about two minutes, but that seemed like an eternity.

"How is it that we can do all kinds of weird things for hours and hours and not notice until after the fact, but we can't hold it up for a few minutes when we're miming?" she asked.

Good question!

The reason is that when we were miming, we were in "receiving" mode, when it comes to the nerves, and we can notice how we feel. When actually playing, we are in "outgoing" mode, charging our nerves with the task of playing the fiddle. The trick is to schedule some "receiving" mode time, while we are playing, to make sure we aren't injuring ourselves. In other words, make a conscious effort to check your body, check your breathing, and check your muscle tension at intervals while playing.

When working with students, teachers should "find as many ways as possible to get them breathing when they are learning to hold the instrument," Lieberman said.

We started our first session with Julie by doing some stretches to focus on this kind of awareness and breathing. Julie said she tries to focus on doing exercises and stretches that are kinesthetically aware: nothing that is overly willful or forced. And the more you can accomplish through using the body well and preventing injury, the better. "Scar tissue is our enemy," she said, "we want to do anything we can to avoid surgery," she said.

In the first stretch, we laced our hands behind our heads, then gently opened our elbows to the side, while exhaling. When you exhale, that tells your muscles to release. To make sure you are actually exhaling, you can trill your tongue or lips.

Another exercise would be to push out, one hand at a time. This stretches the forearm muscles but without forcing them unnaturally. It also works the opposing muscles, and strengthening opposing muscles is a big key to creating balance and healing in the body.

Here's my attempt to show you what these stretches looked like:

She said that people used to joke that you can tell who is a violinist on the Upper West Side just by looking at them: they hold their left shoulders way higher than their right. One exercise she showed for relaxing the shoulders was to lift the shoulders against some resistance -- which would be another person gently pushing down. After that, when you relax your shoulders, the shoulders will seat back a little lower.

Violinists should also be aware of the tendency to lock the knees. Locked knees cause the lower back to hyper extend and make the hips point to the floor. Strong abdominal muscles also will help support the lower back, and Julie recommended pilates as excellent exercise for the abs.

"Every movement the body does involves the abdominal muscles," Julie said. "The more tone strength we have throughout the body that's balanced, the better."

If muscles are not used, they can atrophy, or lose their strength and mass. However, "be aware of the muscles we over-use," Lieberman said. "Our body will turn to the muscles that are strongest, to cheat." This can mean bad news for a musician who has over-developed certain muscles from playing, without developing the muscles that counter them.

Sometimes a physical therapist can actually make the situation worse, prescribing the "usual" exercises for a particular problem, not knowing all the repetitive motions we do as violinists. You don't necessarily want to strengthen muscles that are already strong, or already over-developed.

Julie explained that when we are born, we all have fused tendons between the pinkie and ring fingers, even though the other fingers all have individual tendons. This is one reason why the ring finger can be difficult to lift. But the solution is not to drill the finger into submission, "Don't fight against a genetic condition." She said she once encountered a wind player who had drilled his pinkie and ring fingers -- with exercises recommended by his teacher -- to the point where he could never use them again. This is not something we'd ever want for ourselves or our students. Instead, we need to be aware of how our hands function.

For example, another innate condition in the hand is the fact that the muscle in the thumb rings around the hand and attaches to the pinkie. Thus, "the more relaxed our thumb can be, the more movement we can have in our pinkie," Julie said. One way to tell if you are holding tension or squeezing unnecessarily is to stick your left thumb into the palm of your right hand, then put your fingers on the back of your hand. Try lifting and setting down the fingers, as if you are playing. Do you feel a squeeze? If so, you may be tensing too much with the thumb.



Here's another interesting idea to consider: the brain's visual cortex is huge, whereas the auditory cortex is a little blip on each side of the brain.

"When a person uses their eyes, the other senses shut down 75 percent or more," Julie said. This has implications for beginners. How much attention can they pay to their bodies, or the sounds they make, if they are learning to read music at the same time as they are learning to hold and play their instrument?

"Suzuki was really onto something, building the muscles and the auditory complex independent from the eyes," Julie said.

Playing the violin can be a pain in the neck -- violinists run a major risk of neck injury from playing. So how can one prevent it, or treat it?

Julie recommended a gentle approach.

One simple stretch involves standing straight and allowing the head to relax forward, then to either side. But don't put your hands behind your head and push your head down; "We're really not about forcing things," she said. And don't do something like hang your head over the side of the bed; that creates a taxing position for the neck. Instead, simply allow weight of the head to elongate your neck and imagine it expanding like a giraffe, as you stand and let it hang. Then tilt to one side, imagining the ear coming to the shoulder, but don't force anything, and don't allow the torso to lean one way or another. Just stand straight, nose forward, with hands at your side. You can also inhale the head straight up, then exhale to the side. Then you can go at angles, exhaling the head in the direction of the collarbone.

Again, let me show you what I mean:


(Note, I raised my chin a little too high when demonstrating here; make sure that you keep your head in a completely neutral position when you are facing forward)

One way to help stretch over-developed muscles, such as the ones in the neck, is to strengthen the opposing muscles through "active isolation."

The best neck exercise for violinists, Julie said, can be found on page 112 of her book, You Are Your Instrument. This exercise is a little bit like Cat and Cow in yoga, but it has an important difference: in Cat and Cow, the spine carries the head. In Julie's exercise, the neck is isolated.

It goes something like this:

Kneel with your hands under your shoulders, your spine straight and your neck straight:


Allow your head to hang down, which stretches your neck. But don't arch your back!


Go back up to neutral, spine and neck both straight:


Turn head to one side gently, then turn it to the other side.


Another big problem for violinists is our overall set-up, and whether it has us clenching left constantly, or tilting forward. Problems arise when one holds the same position for hours on end.

Your shoulder rest and chin rest set-up has a huge influence on how you play, and the set-up will vary from person to person as much as our physiques vary. It all depends on where your chin naturally falls on the instrument, where your neck attaches to your torso, the length of your torso, the length of your arms.

As a child, Julie's shoulder rest solution involved putting stacks of Dr. Scholl's foot pads on the back of the instruments. She also had one of those dreaded hard-as-a-rock corduroy contraptions, and both were a disaster for her, physically.

Teachers need to honor the individual and find the set-up that works for their body type, Julie said. It's all too easy to set students up for debilitating spine, neck, muscle and overall posture problems, and "if that is the legacy we pass to our students, that is problematic."

"It's really about how the instrument meets your body, then you pay attention to what chin rest will meet and greet your chin," Julie said. Julie has collected a box of chin rests and shoulder rests to help people test various solutions. It's a good idea to try a number of solutions, and if nothing works, another solution is to have a chin rest custom made. (For that Julie recommends Peter Purich of Montreal, (514) 695-0295.)

When it comes to shoulder rests with screws on both sides, the first thing she does is to switch the long screw to the the shoulder side, as that makes for a better tilt for getting to the G string.

She has had success with the Knilling Viva shoulder rest; "I find this one works well for a number of body types." The feet swivel on this rest and allow for slightly more adjustment than with the Wolf Forte Secundo, which is also a good choice. 

The Bonmusica shoulder rest seems to work well if you have a wide shoulder and long torso.

If one is scrunching up the shoulders to reach the violin, then it's time to think about building up the chin rest side of things.

When it comes to the chin rest, Julie generally recommends a flatter, broader-plated chin rest that allows more options for the head position, so that one is free to move and not locked into one place. Also, "I don't believe in something sticking into your jaw," she said.

Something called the Impressionist Chinrest Comforter can help; it sticks to the chin rest and takes an impression of your jaw line to create a custom fit. This might be a good solution for some, though Julie cautioned, "once you have that impression, you can't move your neck around as much." Along the same lines is the GelRest, which comes in multiple colors. If the chinrest seems to be the right shape but just needs to be taller, you can simply put cork underneath it to boost it up.

Then there's the Strad Pad, made of washable latest foam, which is thin and wraps all the way around from the chin rest to the back of the fiddle. It can be comfortable, but make sure it's not pushing the violin away too much, Julie said.

Many violinists express concern that a shoulder rest will dampen the sound of their instrument or that it will keep them from feeling the vibrations.

"Pay attention to how your instrument talks to you what you try things out," Julie said. But keep in mind that a position that thwarts your efforts by causing pain and injury will also affect your music-making. "When you find the right formula for a certain individual, their tone increases exponentially because they are working more ergonomically."

Very young children can often get by with less of a shoulder rest, but make sure they are playing with ease and comfort. It's well worth reducing the vibration of their violins a little bit in order to get them on the right track, playing ergonomically. She said she once made a "practice vest" for a student to wear while playing. You can also use rug padding for a young student.

What about going "restless"?

"If it works for their body, fine," Julie said. But teachers should honor the individual and take their health into consideration. "In 21st-century education, we should tailor to the individual. We should never say to a student that it's okay if it's hurting you. If we are in pain, we know we have to change."

Julie has said that students have been punished by their teachers for seeking her help and therapy.

Julie recommended that a student use the following words, if a physical therapist's recommendations go against a teacher's ideas about positioning: "I saw a teaching rehabilitation specialist and this is what I have to do while I'm healing."

Ironically, when someone comes to her for therapy, she does not automatically assume that they want to heal.

"Some people are injured because it's the only way to protect themselves from pressure and expectations," Julie said. "You can see it in their faces: they don't want to heal. But this is unconscious." Then, one has to look elsewhere for the source of the problem. If there is a psychological block against healing, it won't happen. But a musician who is on the case every day, with nothing blocking them, should be able to find a way of playing that is healthy.

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2011 Starling-DeLay Symposium on Violin Studies at Juilliard: Master Class with Joseph Lin

June 8, 2011 14:28

If Bach is a mystery, violinist Joseph Lin is a brilliant sleuth.

Sometimes Bach seems like minefield, with so many chances for a mis-step, so many rules and so much analysis required. But when Lin talks about Bach, the analysis seems more like revelation and the choices like opportunities for expression.

Lin, the new first violinist for the Juilliard String Quartet, also was Assistant Professor at Cornell University, where he led a project to study the Sonatas and Partitas for solo violin and create new music inspired by Bach. He was a founding member of the Formosa Quartet, has won numerous awards and competitions and also has recorded solo works by Bach and Ysaye.

"There are so many ways to play Bach -- Bach gives us the greatest degree of freedom and choice of all the repertoire," Lin said in a masterclass he gave last Thursday at the Starling-DeLay Symposium on Violin Studies at Juilliard.

Brandon Garbot took the stage first, playing the third and fourth movements from Bach's Sonata No. 1 in G with buoyancy and inventiveness.


Joseph Lin demonstrates for Brandon Garbot. Photo by Nan Melville for The Juilliard School.

Lin said that he used to approach Bach in a very "Glenn-Gould" way, with meticulous preparation. "Bach was so carefully crafted, I wanted an equally well-prepared approach to performance," Lin said. "But I gradually moved away from that."

Instead, he now allows for more spontaneity. Practicing in a way that is contrary to the usual concepts allows us to see possibilities. Try playing fast music slow, or loud music soft, and a bigger picture can emerge. For example, playing the third-movement Siciliana faster allows its more noble quality to emerge, and it gives us a view of the bigger picture. Then one can bring those qualities back to the slower tempo, if one chooses.

"We all love playing Bach in the church, where we can really hear those harmonies ring," Lin said. It's important for the music of Bach to have that resonant quality.

Bach's original manuscript (which can be found in the back of the Galamian edition of the Sonatas and Partitas) does not call for hooked bowing in the Siciliana, though many editors add them. Why not try Bach's original bowing? He was a violinist, after all. A hooked bow forces a stop in the bow, so that two notes can be played with the bow going in the same direction, Lin said. Instead of stopping the bow, creating an articulation, just let it stop by releasing pressure, he said. If the notes are played with separated bows, "it gives more impetus to the 16th notes."

Furthermore, one can ask, "What is the intention of a 16th-note, instead of an 8th note?" Lin said. The 16ths, being faster, could be seen as an energizing, motivating element, he said. "To me, the 16ths could propel us."

Also, the open strings in Bach are part of that church-y resonance.

"You can enjoy the open strings in Bach more," Lin said. "And the baseline can be a little more resonant than the notes above. Try to massage your open strings so that they ring as long as possible."

Lin encouraged Brandon to look at the Presto in the G minor Sonata from more of a distance. "It could have been faster, a little more wild," Lin said. "It's basically just G minor, elaborated, just think of the resonance of G minor. " Lin said he prefers to stay in the lower positions (m. 12) which makes for more string crossings but produces more tone, more color changes.


Joseph Lin, left, and Marié Rossano. Photo by Nan Melville for The Juilliard School.

For a break from the Bach, Marié Rossano played the first movement from Prokofiev's Concerto No. 2 in G minor, very well-prepared, with lovely loose vibrato and accuracy in the highest registers.

"The way he goes from key to key is very peculiar," Lin observed of Prokofiev's compositional style. The piece is about chromatic modulation, Lin said, so don't let any notes fade into the background. "Find the sound that on one hand projects, but also draws us in," Lin said.

Back to Bach, Ji-Eun Anne Lee played the first movement "Grave" from Bach's Sonata No. 2 in A. (Ladies and gentlemen, please get out your scores for the Bach Sonatas and Partitas…)

Lin said that his favorite moment in Ji-Eun's Bach was at m. 17, a run that she played as a headlong rush up to a D. "You had the sweep of that," Lin said. "That kind of sweep is something we can use more often in this music."

He said that the drama is in the interesting chord progressions. For example, at the very beginning of the "Grave," the bassline descends: A-G-F-E-D. It's easy to miss this, though, because the "F" jumps up an octave.

Sometimes, Bach will write something that seems impossible, as in m. 14, a group of 32nd notes that starts with a "C" on the G string then crosses all the way up to the E-string for a Bb. Can you really negotiate a three-string jump in a 32nd-note's time?

"You're not going to be able to play all those notes in time, but that's the point," Lin said. Bach knew what he was doing. The first note gets baseline emphasis; then the rest of the notes are a melisma, a run that pours downward like a waterfall.

The second movement in this Sonata is a fugue, and Justine Lamb-Budge played it with excellent attention to voicing and good direction. It's a very long and repetitive piece and she nailed it by memory.

"Bach's fugues are some of the most difficult and intimidating works to learn, not to mention to perform," Lin said. (Let me add: particularly THIS one!)

He suggested experimenting with playing the fugue at a faster tempo, "see what that does to your sound and to your conception of the piece," Lin said. Again, he asked for a more open, resonant sound. "We really want to hear those polyphonic voices ringing with each other," he said.

Lin gave her (and us) some ideas for this fugue, and I'm going to give them to you, with measure numbers. I actually just wrote it all into my part -- it's great stuff for the Bach wonk in us all:

In m. 30 he suggested using Bach's bowing, which puts every other subject in reverse, bow-wise, but thereby gives it a question-answer feel. At the wickedly finger-twisting m. 40, he wanted more time on the bottom notes (in some cases these chords are broken downward, he did not suggest doing that). After taking time for the finger-twisting, he said that the "rubber band can release" in m. 45; it can move forward in this section that is really just figuration and not harmonically that significant. At m. 60, "just tumble into it," some double-stop barriolage. The progression at m. 103 should start soft then build -- all the way to m. 112.

Here's the really cool part: first look at the first nine notes to see the fugue subject. The fugue subject reverses itself at m. 125, but before it does so, it states itself in shortened form (just the first three notes), right-side-up, some dozen times in the preceding measures, m. 112-124. I went in an circled every three-note pattern, and these can be emphasized throughout this passage. (One version of the S and P's that I have, the Schott, already had lines over a number of these).

Later, we have a long descent, note-wise and dynamic-wise, from m. m. 232 to m. 239, where, at the very low point, the fugue subject once again gets inverted.

My brain was pretty full by the time Francisco Garcia-Fullana took the stage to play the first movement from Brahms' Sonata No. 2, which he did with fullness and attentiveness to the piano part. I could only think of what a privilege it was to be in New York, listening to these extremely talented young people playing gorgeous music, and to see the gracious way that Lin was offering them his thoughtful advice.

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2011 Starling-DeLay Symposium on Violin Studies at Juilliard: Brian Lewis on Teaching Individuality in the Music of Fritz Kreisler

June 7, 2011 14:50

Those little pieces that the early 20th-century violinist Fritz Kreisler "found in a monastery" make wonderful music for teaching students about expressive possibilities, said Brian Lewis Thursday at the 2011 Starling-DeLay Symposium on Violin Studies in New York. Brian is Professor of Violin at the University of Texas, a soloist and also the Artistic Director for the symposium.


Brian Lewis
Photo by Nan Melville for The Juilliard School.

The truth of the matter is that Kreisler didn't find them in a monastery, library or anywhere else; he wrote them himself, as well as many other works he actually did claim as his own.

There is a long list of pieces Kreisler attributed others, some of the more popular ones including Praeludium and Allegro by "Gaetano Pugnani"; Sicilienne and Rigaudon by "François Francoeur"; and even Violin Concerto in C major by "Antonio Vivaldi"! The deception enraged a number of critics, though many musicians had known or suspected the hoax all along. His wife would joke to friends that her husband was "in the library, 'discovering new pieces.'"

We've all forgiven Fritz long ago. He gave us the gift of some 150 compositions and arrangements -- musical gems, full of expressive capability, and almost always pleasing to an audience. Despite the huge selection, violinists often gravitate to just a handful of these pieces.

"Sometimes we play the same six Kreisler pieces," Brian said, "it's nice to have a variety."

Brian recommended taking a look at the four-volume Fritz Kreisler Collection, which includes virtually everything the violinist wrote. Volume 3 and Volume 4 came out just recently, he said.

At the Symposium we reviewed four pieces by Kreisler: Polichinelle (Sérénade); Liebesleid (Love's Sorrow); March Miniature Viennoise; and Schön Rosmarin. These pieces are excellent building blocks for both technique and expression. You would not want to start a student with Praeludium and Allegro first, said Brian, it's a very difficult piece, and students who play it often are not ready.

"We are trying to develop and aesthetic sense in our students," Brian said. "These are all great precursors, before we get to the really difficult stuff."

A Kreisler piece -- or any piece -- should be approached from a number of different angles: melodically, rhythmically, harmonically and in terms of colors, patterns and harmonic rhythm (how fast the chords change).

"Shorter pieces and character pieces take a lot of work to sell," Brian said.

As for the bowings, they should be considered and they should serve the piece, but they aren't the central issue.

"My favorite thing about bowing is that we have only two choices: up-bow and down-bow," Brian said.

In the piece "Polichinelle," (which we're pretty sure has something to do with a "clown"), the compositional quirks are what open the door for teaching expression to students: the grace notes, the pizzicati, the harmonics, accents and slides.

"We want to find exceptions in the music because we want to bring those out," Brian said. "It's the grace notes in this piece where we have a lot of individual expression." This piece also allows the performer to play with time. For example, the beginning sequence can speed up as it cascades downward.

"It's very conversational, and I think that's why people like listening to Kreisler," Brian said. Many of Kreisler's works were recorded by the violinist himself and can be found in collections like Fritz Kreisler: The Complete RCA Recordings, or in smaller collections.

During the class we listened to several versions of each piece, and it was apparent that Kreisler himself seldom played his own pieces the same way twice. The manuscript was just a general map.

"Find out exactly the articulations Kreisler wanted, and this is our launching point for individuality: what is on the page," Brian said. "We all have the same road maps -- what makes individuals different from each other is what we find in the music."

"Polichinelle" is also a piece where we can teach the aesthetics of shifting and sliding, Brian said -- though one has to be judicious with sliding. Brian recalled a quote from Northwestern violin professor Roland Vamos: "shifting is like underwear -- we know it's there, but we don't want to know about it or see it."

Sliding should be special; not used with every repetition of a phrase. Emotionally, a slide down "sounds more mournful."

A student can be given choices where to slide, but a teacher should set this up the choices so that the student wins. "Always give your students choices where there's no wrong answer," Brian said. "Everything is in the details. The more things we plan our in the practice room, the better our performances will be."

With fingerings, discuss the pros and cons of several fingering options, and then let the student decide. "My goal is not to make cookie-cutter images of what I do on the violin," instead, a teacher should challenge students to make their own decisions, within certain parameters.

For Dorothy DeLay, those parameters were: good sound, secure technique and imagination. You wouldn't let a student make a choice that falls short on good technique, etc.

Next we talked about Kreisler's Liebesleid or "Love's Sorrow." Brian said to consider the Ländler dance rhythm (1, 2, 3, 123-123) in playing this piece, rather than thinking of the beginning as being syncopated, and that gives it a more dance-like lilt.

He had pianist Pamela Viktoria Pyle play us the piano part alone, to show that the first statement is pretty basic, then in the second statement, the piano has all kinds of detail and added harmony. In order to allow the pianist to play out here, the violinist should also play louder for the second statement.

"Kreisler pieces are a good way to get our kids reacting to and listening to the piano part," Brian said.

Brian mentioned that kids sometimes will listen to a Youtube recording once -- which is different than the way he would listen to a recording as a student -- hearing it some 48 times and really taking it in. "In these pieces, we start drawing connections to the past," Brian said. "This is a tradition handed down from master to master."

On the second day of pedagogy with Brian Lewis, we warmed up our music-making muscles with wrist rolls; then interlocking the fingers and gently rolling, rubbing the hands together, swinging the arms and bending the knees, "squeezing three lemons" between our shoulder blades and of course, pinkie stretches, with the help of Brian's Suzuki Rap.

We tuned, and we talked about pitch: Dorothy DeLay tuned to A-443. The Berlin Phil: A-444. In Houston: A-440. The piano today: A-441. Why does that "A" seem to get higher and higher?

"It was done for brilliance," Brian said. "But don't tune higher than that!"

Then we turned to Kreisler's Schön Rosmarin, a piece Brian's mother Alice Joy Lewis, was studying when Brian was very young, and both he and his mother were Japan, studying with Shinichi Suzuki.

What is the technical issue in this piece? Up-bow staccato. The Suzuki books prepare a student for up-bow staccato with tunes like Country Dance (in Book 5). Also, Suzuki tunes can be used to prepare for up-bow staccato: Twinkle (a down-bow and four up-bow 16th on each note), and Perpetual Motion (down bow on the first note and then every 16 notes, the rest up-bow staccato).

It's important to try this technique on something that is easy in the left hand, so the student can concentrate on the right. Dorothy DeLay had another solution: "Practice Kreutzer Etude No. 4 every day, for five minutes," Brian Lewis said, "for a YEAR! It was the only Kreutzer etude she made us all memorize."

That preparation work is important; "we are responsible for setting up success for our students," Brian said.

In doing up-bow staccato, try setting the bow fingers a little closer together than they normally would be. "Closer together means less control, and less control means we can go faster," Brian said.

He had us try up-bow staccato with just two fingers (the index and middle) and thumb on the bow, then with just the index and thumb, to get that feeling of balancing the hand toward the first finger. Then we put all fingers back on the bow, trying to retain the feeling we had when just playing with the index and thumb.

For up-bow staccato, it should be possible to feel some flex in the bow, otherwise, it is wound too tight, Brian said. Also, when going quickly, only use a tiny bit of bow; "The smaller the bow, the faster you go," he said.

The Marche Miniature Viennoise is just what it says: very short, just one page! It can be played with a lot of style, rhythmic nuance, slides, harmonics and more.

For a student, a Kreisler piece is a reasonable goal, and for a teacher, it's something we can learn in a month or less.

"My goal in choosing Kreisler was to find some pieces we an give our students, and our selves, for renewal," Brian said.

7 replies

More coming this week on Starling-DeLay! Pictures from NY

June 7, 2011 14:24

Dear Everybody,

I just wanted to let you know that there was so much violin bliss to take in at the 2011 Starling-DeLay Symposium on Violin Studies at Juilliard, that it's taking me a little more time to get all the articles out to you! I hope to put them all up this week, but you can look forward to articles about: Brian Lewis on teaching Fritz Kreisler; master class with Joseph Lin; Teri Einfeldt on preparing students for concerti work; Ray Iwazumi on Ysaye solo works; Julie Lyonn Lieberman on the ergonomics of violin-playing, and master class with David Updegraff.

Also, all the articles from Starling-DeLay can be reached from this page: http://www.violinist.com/starling-delay/

In the mean time, here are some cool pictures from New York and the Symposium at Juilliard:

Carnegie Hall
Dana Duncan Davis, me, Karen Collins by Carnegie Hall

Violin case

I really liked Karen's violin case; you can get them in a bunch of colors at GoStrings.Com. I want the yellow one. :)

Lincoln Center

This is a great place to hang out, the grassy roof on top of one of the Lincoln Center buildings, overlooking Juilliard.

Photo by Nan Melville for The Juilliard School.

Symposium Participants! (If you are in this picture, would you e-mail me? I'll put your name up!)

Photo by Nan Melville for The Juilliard School.

More Symposium Participants!

(Same as above, e-mail me if you see yourself!) 

Central Park

Ah, Central Park in spring!


On Broadway, outside Alice Tully Hall

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2011 Starling-DeLay Symposium on Violin Studies at Juilliard: Brian Lewis's 'Suzuki Rap'

June 5, 2011 20:55

So here it is, the Suzuki Rap:

 "It is a good method -- in the hands of a good teacher."

That is what the late Dorothy DeLay said about the Suzuki method, and she said it at a time when traditional violin teachers looked upon the ideas of Shinichi Suzuki with a high level of skepticism, some even completely dismissing it.

Starling-DeLay Symposium Artistic Director Brian Lewis, whose mother is Suzuki teacher Alice Joy Lewis, was among the first crop of American Suzuki students to make it to high-level music schools such as The Juilliard School in the 1980s.

"We had a little secret Suzuki society here at Juilliard," he said. While waiting for a lesson with Ms. DeLay -- a wait that could last half a day and stretch far into the night -- Brian and his friend from back home in Kansas, Adrienne Sengpiehl, would roam the halls and elevators of the closed-for-the-night Juilliard building, playing every Suzuki song they knew.

Brian and Adrienne went back a long way, having both studied with Suzuki pioneer Eleanor Allen as children. They also drove a car together from Topeka to Stephen's Point, Wisconsin, one summer, as teenagers. On that long drive, they composed this rap, which Brian now uses to make pinkie warm-up exercises interesting for Suzuki students. He also used it last Thursday on our large group of violin teachers from across the globe, at the Starling-DeLay Symposium on Violin Studies at Juilliard.

A lot of people wanted to know the words, so Brian was kind enough to perform for the camera. If you'd like the words, I've made a printable PDF, just click here and print!

Archive link

2011 Starling-DeLay Symposium on Violin Studies at Juilliard: Master Class with Glenn Dicterow

June 5, 2011 19:57

Did you know that the Russian word for "violin" means "scratch"?

That was just one of the many ideas that came out of a masterclass last Wednesday by New York Philharmonic concertmaster Glenn Dicterow, a graduate of The Juilliard School and former concertmaster of the LA Philharmonic. He advised students about bow articulations, artistic decisions and "being the soloist" at a master class last Wednesday at the Starling-DeLay Symposium on Violin Studies at Juilliard.

Blake Pouliot, 17, of Toronto, took the stage first, with the second-movement Scherzo from Dmitri Shostakovich's Violin Concerto. He played with strength, full bow control and a great posture. It was a polished performance -- he knew this piece well. He also seemed to enjoy the wild and raucous ride of the Scherzo movement, ending with a wide smile on his face.

New York Philharmonic concertmaster Glenn Dicterow, left, and Blake Pouliot of Toronto. On the left is pianist Pamela Viktoria Pyle. Photo by Nan Melville for The Juilliard School.

After praising the performance, Dicterow first made recommendations about how to approach the numerous bow attacks in this music. He felt that Blake "placing" the bow a bit.

"'Placing' is not a good word for this piece -- what will really help for this piece is the attack," Dicterow said. ""Attack and get away. You need a Maserati attack: you need to grab the road with the tires."

Dicterow said he once heard Igor Oistrakh, son of the great David Oistrakh, for whom the concerto was written, play this piece, and he attacked the string from a great height above the violin.

"It might scratch, but…take a chance!" Dicterow said. "Use the palm weight rather than just the wrist weight."

Blake played it again with more altitude in his attacks, which did make for stronger attacks. Afterward Dicterow took a moment to commend the pianist, Pamela Viktoria Pyle, for nailing the considerably tricky piano part.

Dicterow also sought to give Blake a more solid plan for hitting the many harmonics that require a fast zip up the fingerboard.

"I think today is the day you go to Vegas because you hit so many of those flying harmonics without spending much time there," Dicterow said. "Spend more time there," about 50 percent getting there and 50 percent staying on the harmonic note.

Dicterow observed that this piece was written as a sneering political commentary. "It's meant to be annoying, and you're doing a good job!" Dicterow told Blake. Of course, he could always make it a little more annoying.

Dicterow wanted a little more swoop at (grab your score) rehearsal letter 45, also known by me as the place where the party starts. He also wanted it to be "more peasant like, more gypsy, more jewish…get everybody in there! You can play around with rhythm -- it's amazing what you can get away with."

The movement continues in this vein, and Dicterow wanted less lyricism and more brutality. "This is a place where you have to beat it up," after all, the Russian word for violin, "skripka," literally means, "scratch."

Next was Marié Rossano, first-place laureate of the 2010 Stradivarius International Violin Competition and other awards, who studies with Simon James and Brian Lewis and who will begin studies with Ida Kavafian and the Curtis Institute this fall. She was also a participant in the 2009 Symposium.

Marié, wearing a short purple gown tied in front, played the first movement of Bela Bartok's first Violin Concerto, Op. Posthumous. I must confess: it's among my favorites in the violin literature, though by playing it she is helping bring it out of its special place as one of those really cool secret pieces that no one knows about! For this I'm actually glad, because the two-movement concerto, written by Bartok as a student then buried for a lifetime, is a very worthy piece, with its haunting first movement (young Bartok, in love with violinist Stefi Geyer) and its angry last movement (you dumped me before even giving this thing a shot!)

But I digress.

Marié played the arresting, tonally meandering beginning with breathy bows, sometimes nearly sans vibrato. It's not a piece that plays itself, and Marié shaped it with well-calibrated dynamics and restraint, building a long line to a beautiful culmination, after which the piano, playing the part of an orchestra violin section, ascends even higher. After this extremely high chaos in the orchestra blows its energy, the movement breathes easier and the violin ascends and fades into the stratosphere (a high D).

Dicterow praised Marié's interpretation for its "serenity and purity of sound." In a piece woven from such a pure and unbroken thread of sound, one danger is that the sound will dip unintentionally during some of the longer notes. Dicterow advised her to be aware of this happening a few times. "Play this like you don't have a bow, but you're playing this with complete circular breathing."

In the quiet beginning, he said, "keep it under wraps for longer; keep it going without interruption, without too many plateaus. Patience," he said. "Don't be shy about taking as many bows as you want to take."

The orchestra (piano) part is very similar to the violin part, almost canonical, and here Marié was showing some deference to the melody, when it moved to the piano. However, because the part is so similar, there is a danger: "They are supporting you, but don't let them overtake you," Dicterow said. As the person standing in front of the orchestra with the fiddle, "you're paid for being the soloist."

Also, the connected notes of this movement benefit from a continuous vibrato. "You'll get more liquid legato if you don't stop the vibrato for the change of note," Dicterow said. It's important to be aware of the different tone color of each string, as well. Toward the end of the piece, one of the themes returns, and, played in position, just one note winds up being on the "A" string.

"The mute goes on the minute you go on the 'A' string," Dicterow said. To keep it all the same shade, keep the whole thing on the "E," even if it makes for a few awkward shifts.

Brandon Garbot was next, playing the first movement of the Sibelius Violin Concerto. Since participating as a student artist at Juilliard symposium in 2007, Brandon has won numerous competitions, including the 2011 concerto competition for Cleveland Orchestra Youth Orchestra, where he is concertmaster. Originally from Portland, Ore., he now studies at the Young Artist Program at the Cleveland Institute with William Preucil.

After a beautiful performance, Dicterow offered quite a compliment on Brandon's interpretation: "It's very original, it's not like anybody else," Dicterow said. "It is very convincing, most of the time -- Ninety-nine percent of the time."

Dicterow then helped him sort out what of his original ideas were working well, what seemed a little disjointed, and what needed further exploration. Dicterow asked for more bow in the beginning, to avoid getting a "compressed" sound.

In one passage he said, "That was very dramatic, what you did, then you come in like a little puppy!" It needed to be strong, after the drama.

Brandon had a nice gesture in a fast passage, and Dicterow liked it. He asked, "Where did you get that?"

"I thought of it myself," Brandon answered, and the audience applauded.

"Your playing is so imaginative," Dicterow said, "you're not copying 400 YouTube performances. All you're doing is so original."

In another area (score: "poco a poco affrettando il tempo") "You're phrasing with the right dynamics, you're the only one I've heard who does that right," he said.

In the end Dicterow encouraged him to keep up the intelligent music-making and keep working on physically bringing it into performance in a cohesive way.

"You're a big thinker," Dicterow said, "but sometimes you need to let your gut take over."

Marie-Christine Klettner of Salzburg played Schubert's Fantasy in C. Marie-Christine studies with Igor Ozim at the Mozarteum University Salzburg and will play at the Verbier Festival in Switzerland this year. She produced a milky tone from her 1849 Vuillaume, occasionally looking at the audience as she played.

"This is a monster piece, for both instruments," Dicterow said, when she was finished. "It's a piano concerto, and it's also a violin concerto."

Marie-Christine was starting the piece with one very long bow, and Dicterow suggested simply taking a lot of bows.

"Start up-bow, and somehow, without my knowing it, change it to down-bow," Dicterow said. "You just need the physical presence of a lot of molecules moving across the string to keep the sound from getting compressed. If you need bow, you take it, through the whole first part. You need to get that sound out, and Schubert is exposed. It's not like you can hide, anywhere."

Marie-Christine Klettner and Glenn Dicterow. Photo by Nan Melville for The Juilliard School.

Dicterow wanted Marie-Christine to play a little louder in a place where she was backing off.

"She has the melody," explained Marie-Christine, referring to the melody being in the piano, played by Pamela Viktoria Pyle.

"You have the violin in your hand, and she has the 500-pound gorilla," Dicterow said, then to Pamela, "of course, she makes it sound like the heart of an angel…" But you still have to be the soloist.

He also reminded her of the Viennese nature of Schubert's Fantasy, that "it needs to be charming -- overly charming. Bouncing all the time." Notes on the G string shouldn't sound like the Brahms Concerto, they should be less heavy, more "bouncy, like a trampoline."

For Justine Lamb-Budge's Beethoven Sonata No. 5 "Spring", Op. 24, Dicterow talked about Beethoven's mercurial nature. (Justine is a student at Curtis Institute, studying with Ida Kavafian and Joseph Silverstein). The composer was kicked out of some 30 apartments for his loud outbursts, floor thumping and unacceptable personal hygiene habits, after all. His music, even something as sunny as the "Spring" Sonata, has some of his volatile nature.

For example, the element of surprise, "that sudden change," he said. "Don't prepare them for the surprise, let it be a surprise."

Also, the music needs to have a base level of energy, he said, "wired with coffee rather than falling asleep."

5 replies

2011 Starling-DeLay Symposium on Violin Studies at Juilliard: Master Class with Itzhak Perlman

June 3, 2011 22:00

NEW YORK - Have you ever tried to do something musically on the violin, and it just doesn't come out? Maybe you haven't analyzed what technique creates the musical language you aim to speak through your violin.

This idea was at the heart of a masterclass given by superstar violinist Itzhak Perlman at the Starling-DeLay Symposium on Violin Studies on Tuesday.

Techniques are just tools that allow us to do what we want in music, Perlman said.

"Every time you do something technical, you hear it," Perlman said. It's important to know what you're doing musically, and technique is the tool you use to make it come out. "Every minute thing you do will make you sound different, which is good news."

With this in mind, Perlman had his private students play their current pieces for the audience at the symposium, then he gave them a tasting menu of ways to play the pieces: intense, relaxed, melodic, or "show-off." He whispered which he wanted them to try, then we, the audience, had to guess what they were doing.

One student, Doori Na, who played a very intense Sibelius, was then asked to played it "relaxed." Afterwards, Perlman thought the vibrato was still a little too fast to sound "relaxed."

"When vibrato is very fast, the sound breaks more often, when vibrato is slowed, it's less interrupted, less often," Perlman said. Less breaks creates a more relaxed feeling. He had him try it with a slower vibrato, then with no vibrato.

"When you play without vibrato, it really forces you to play in tune," Perlman said, "with vibrato, you have more…variety.

Michelle Ross, playing the first movement of the Elgar Concerto, was asked to try being a "show off." She played in a very demonstrative way, with much more liberty, hamming it up and tossing off runs quickly. The audience roared with applause. 

Photo by Nan Melville for The Juilliard School.

"I interpreted 'show off' as doing things not for musical reasons, but just to get a rise out of people," Michelle said.

"Well you got a rise out of them!" Perlman deadpanned.

Another student, Sean Lee, was asked to play his Strauss Sonata "melodic." After he finished, Perlman asked him what he did to make it sound that way."I tried to keep the line smoother, and to make a longer line," Sean said.

Perlman asked if it was easier to play the piece, having something like "melodic" in mind.

"It's easier, when I know what I'm going for," Sean answered.

"Does that mean you normally don't know what you're going for?" he said, joking. The idea is to know what you're going for, and cultivate the technique to get there.

After the master class, Perlman answered questions from Symposium Artistic Director Brian Lewis. First, Brian mentioned that we'd just seen a video about Dorothy DeLay, "We saw you in a different outfit," referring to a scene in the video that showed Perlman's appearance some 20+ years ago at Ms. DeLay's birthday party, looking much like DeLay herself. Perlman raised an eyebrow toward the audience.

Perlman is arguably Ms. DeLay's most famous student, but he said that at first, he wasn't too fond of her tendency to throw questions back at her students and let them make so many of their own decisions.

But he's found her ideas useful in his own teaching. For example, what if a student plays very well, and you are not sure what to say, as a teacher?

"If you have an iota of doubt, just ask, 'What do you think?'" he said. "From Ms. DeLay, I got the attitude of involving the student in the process."

Brian asked him, what is the most important thing about being a teacher?

"Be mean," Perlman said. "Make sure they are scared of you."

Okay, not really. "Be nurturing, supportive," he said, "know when to say something, and when not to say something."

He said that the worst thing to tell a student about a technical passage that went well is that they played it well.

"If it's good, I'd rather not comment, just let it be there," Perlman said.

He said that Dorothy DeLay influenced the way he listens to his own playing.

"The minute you listen well, you can control more," Perlman said. For example, when your record yourself, and you hear yourself play, you usually make some surprise realizations. "It's never, 'Yeah, I know, that's the way I sounded.'"

Brian asked Perlman which violinist he admired, when he was young.

"I listened to everyone," Perlman said: Fritz Kreisler, Misha Elman, Nathan Milstein, Jascha Heifetz… "I got something from everybody."

For example, during a period when he listened to David Oistrakh, "I would do portamentos all the time." Then he started listening to Isaac Stern, and "I stopped vibrating." Listening to Kreisler, his playing took on a lilting, inward feel, "like you're sitting in a little room with a fire." Milstein inspired him to be clean, in tune, articulate.

"The danger is not to get too obsessed with just one person," Perlman said. If one violinist's playing gets into your system too much, "then you have to get an exorcist!"

4 replies

2011 Starling-DeLay Symposium on Violin Studies at Juilliard: Sarah Chang and others remember Dorothy DeLay

June 1, 2011 21:40

NEW YORK - Some of the Dorothy DeLay's most celebrated students showed up today at Juilliard to talk about their late teacher, including a surprise appearance by Sarah Chang.

The Starling-DeLay Symposium on Violin Studies was actually started by Ms. DeLay in 2001, and Wednesday morning was dedicated to remembering her legacy, starting with the presentation of a CBS Sunday Morning interview with Dorothy DeLay that originally aired on April 17, 1991.

I have heard so many people speak of Dorothy DeLay, but I never met her. So I enjoyed hearing her words -- straight from her.

"Words are so powerful," she said early in the interview. "It's important to speak carefully to students. I think there are much better ways to motivate students than fear, and success is one of the big ones."

The film showed 20-year-old footage of many DeLay students, including the very young Sarah Chang, college-aged Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg and Brian Lewis. It documented the fact that on Ms. DeLay's birthday, "there can't have been many celebrity violin recitals that night," as they were otherwise engaged, throwing her a party and playing for her. Itzhak Perlman even impersonated his teacher for the occasion -- it was on film!

After the video came a panel discussion about Ms. DeLay with our surprise guest, Sarah Chang, violinist Ray Iwazumi and collaborative pianist Pamela Viktoria Pyle.

Photo by Nan Melville for The Juilliard School.

Sarah spoke of how Ms. DeLay struck a "beautiful balance" when teaching her, between nurturing the child that she was and respecting the musician she was becoming.

"She was the gentlest, most generous, loving person," Sarah said. "You just relaxed in her presence. But she was tough, she did expect excellence."

Sarah recalled how Delay once took her music and pointed to one note in it, saying, "this note was beautifully in tune," leaving her with a happy feeling. But later, by herself, she realized: "That meant every other note sucked!"

The video showed Sarah, at about age 11, making a recording of the Tchaikovsky Concerto, with Ms. DeLay present for the recording. Sarah wanted to experiment with how narrow the vibrato should be in a certain passage, and Ms. DeLay said, "Why don't you experiment with that?" Looking back now, Sarah knows that a recording session was not exactly the time to be experimenting! But Ms. DeLay gave Sarah ownership of her interpretation.

Having Ms. DeLay sometimes travel with her and go to her rehearsals and performances was a comfort to the young Sarah. "It calmed my nerves, knowing she was there to support me," she said. After the concert, Ms. DeLay would say, "Great concert!" Then she would call the next morning, "Could you come over for about an hour?" and give her about 12 things to change for the next concert. After Sarah grew older, the advice started coming sooner and sooner after the performances, until DeLay was talking with her about what to change in the dressing room right after the concert.

Walking into Ms. DeLay's studio, "you were the most important person in the world, and time just stood still. She did not teach by the clock," said Symposium Artistic Director Brian Lewis, who was Ms. DeLay's assistant. The line of students waiting for lessons often stretched down the hall, and sometimes a student with a 11 a.m. lesson scheduled would not get that lesson until 4 p.m.

Brian described a lesson he had on Paganini Caprice No. 5: the lesson began at midnight.

"'Honey, you got 95 percent of the notes,'" Brian recalls her saying. "I thought she was complimenting me, because I didn't see how it was possible to get 100 percent of them!"

But Ms. DeLay did, and she was going for 100 percent. She had him start with the last single note of the Caprice, then the last two notes, then the last three notes…adding each note until every last note of the Caprice was there. It took until 2:30 a.m.

"Then we went for a pint of ice cream, each, at Ben and Jerry's, until 3 a.m.," Brian said.

Ms. DeLay had no problem sending a student to another teacher if the student needed it. "I remember her taking me to Isaac Stern," Sarah said. Ms. DeLay warned her: "He can be tough, but he means well." When the student before Sarah came out of her lesson crying, "I was thinking, 'Ms. DeLay, let's go! I don't want to be here!'" But Ms. DeLay knew she needed what Stern could offer, and she made sure Sarah went.

Pamela played for Ms. DeLay as a pianist, accompanying many violinists. Once, a student was unable to do something, and Pamela just assumed that the student was deficient in that area. But Ms. DeLay would never make any such assumption She said, "They can't do it because someone told them they can't." Words should empower, not disempower.

Ray said that he and Ms. DeLay "didn't agree on sound production, and at one point, I said that I just want some freedom. She said, 'Honey, you can do it, but if it's not good, I'm going to tell you it's not good.'"

"For the next three or four years, I had a lot of 'Honey, that's not good,'" Ray said. When finally, while playing Beethoven for her, she said, "Honey, that's good," it was a life-changing experience.

6 replies

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