"I think you're ready to play this with orchestra," I tell my students when they've reached a certain point with their current piece, be it "Lightly Row" or a movement from a Handel Sonata.
They know that at this juncture, I'm the orchestra. I reach for my duet books, and we take a ride together through their nearly-polished or recital-ready piece. Playing duet accompaniment provides opportunities that words can not: namely, communication through simultaneous music-making. Duet-accompanying also gives context to a student's efforts and allows me to support their music-making in a very literal way. It's a little different than accompanying at the piano, too, because I can model articulations, bowings and dynamics specific to the violin. (Also, I'm a much better violinist than I am pianist!)
Plus, I thoroughly enjoy it!
Lately, the duets I grab are arrangements by violinist Martha Yasuda, an Atlanta-based teacher and arranger who has recently completed a set of violin duet arrangements of all the pieces in Suzuki Books 1-8.
Many of Martha's duets, such as the Handel Sonatas, "La Folia" and more, were simply impossible for me to find in duet form, before finding Martha's arrangements. She's also arranged duets for popular non-Suzuki pieces such as Meditation from Thais, plus books of Christmas melodies, hymns, American songs, wedding music and a raft of cello-violin duets and transcriptions for viola.
Being a teacher, Martha has made these arrangements in a way that allows for musical communication between teacher and student: parallel bowings, similar articulations, etc. But the arrangements stick to the originals enough to help a student transition to piano accompaniment. For example, a student of mine recently performed "Meditation from 'Thais'" in recital, and for many weeks beforehand I played Martha's duet accompaniment with him. The first time he encountered the triplets that run under his duplets (in m. 33), he stopped in his tracks. Whoa! "Let's get used to it; you'll hear it in the piano accompaniment, too," I explained. We also worked out a place at the end (m. 44) where let's just say, a lot of rhythmic "fudging" occurs, and not just with students! By the time he played the piece with the piano, everything fit together and not a lot of rehearsal was required. In fact, I find that in general, when duets are a regular part of a student's lessons, the students simply don't have trouble at recital time, when they have to play with piano.
Since Martha's accompaniments are such a regular part of my life now, I wanted to talk with her about how all these duets came about. She also agreed to give everybody at V.com a little sample of her work, a free download of her duet part for La Folia, available through June 1 at her website.
Martha and I talked about becoming a teacher, and about how one idea led to another until now she's written nearly 50 books of arrangements!
Laurie: First, what made you decide to become a Suzuki teacher?
Martha: When my daughter was five and needed a teacher, I knew that Suzuki was probably the best choice for a young child. I had seen some not-so-good Suzuki teachers, so I was initially a little hesitant. However, the teacher we found in New Hampshire, Sue Anne Erb, had mentored with someone who had lived with Suzuki in the summertime; because of this training, Sue was quite knowledgable and very good with kids. As I took notes as a parent and watched my daughter's progress, I became sold on the method. We traded services -- I helped her with advanced technical stuff and she gave me teacher training. I later took some courses with Kimberly Meier-Sims, Ronda Cole and John Kendall. My teacher in high school, Rudy Hazucha, was also a Suzuki teacher trainer, although I was too old to really be a "true" Suzuki student, having started when I was 10.
I have now been teaching for over 30 years. My program has changed a lot over the years and I have a mixture of different students, some more on a set Suzuki track and others more on a traditional course of study. Bottom line, love is the key ingredient, no matter what book or method you are using.
I still use many of the same Suzuki teaching concepts today that I did as a younger teacher, but always look forward each summer to observing others teach at the Atlanta Institute. This helps me to continue growing and gaining new insights as a teacher.
Laurie: Which were the first arrangements for students that you made, and what compelled you to write them?
Martha: My first arrangements were done in 2002, and they were actually double-stop arrangements, books entitled Christmas Melodies, Double Stop Solos and Duets for Violin, Volume I and Volume II.
I had observed an Atlanta Symphony teacher, Ronda Respess, give a lesson to a student on Kreutzer Etude, #38. It has lots of double stops, and you need a bow that is a mile long because of the number of slurred notes. The student was quite good and Ronda did an exemplary job explaining the concepts, but the technical challenges of the bow and left hand were quite difficult for the student to totally nail everything.
After I observed the lesson, I asked Ronda what she thought about the idea of having students learn double stops using Christmas music. I demonstrated with a version of Jingle Bells, an arrangement I had made years before, that I would often play for friends and family at Christmastime. It's pretty challenging, certainly at the level of that Kreutzer Etude. Ronda thought that was a pretty neat idea and encouraged me to write more.
I was further encouraged after talking with a large Atlanta music store owner, Roxanne Rea, at Hutchins and Rea Music, who also thought string players might enjoy playing double-stop arrangements using Christmas carols.
After a few weeks of writing out the tunes, I decided to try and think from the mind of a student: How would I like to learn to play double stops, if I were a student? My revelation was to offer these arrangements in two formats, side-by-side: one as double stops, and the other in a duet format, where the two notes of the double stop were broken apart, but identical to the notes in the duet. If students could play the duet first with their teacher, they could aim to duplicate that sound when they tried the double-stop version.
I was unprepared for the student response. Students were coming into their lessons begging to play double stops! Actually, I think they just liked the idea that they got to play some music that was fun and familiar to them. I never let on that what they were doing was actually difficult!
A few weeks later, as I pondered, I realized that music had, to my knowledge, never been written out this way, using duets and double stops. I knew then that I had been given a nugget to share with students and teachers alike, since double stops are so challenging to play and also to teach. William Starr and William Preucil were both on board with this novel concept concerning double stop learning, and they both wrote forewords for the violin books and transcribed viola books, respectively.
Laurie: What made you decide to make duet arrangements for all the Suzuki tunes? How do you use these in your studio?
Martha: I simply woke up one morning with a random thought, wondering if duets could be written for all the pieces in Suzuki books 1-8. I almost dismissed the idea, since it was rather massive to contemplate, but decided instead to actually try and write out a few duos and see where it went. I never dreamed that, five years later, my books would be licensed by the International Suzuki Association.
I view the duo books as stepping stones to playing with piano accompaniment, and that's how I use them myself. As a student is approaching readiness in a particular piece, I generally play the duo first with the student. Once we polish the duo, I then go over to the piano and play the accompaniment with them next. It is a very different experience to play a piece without piano vs. with piano. Generally, spots that were pretty secure frequently start falling apart because of the distraction of the added notes in the piano that have to somehow fit together with the violin.
Less than one percent of string players can play piano, and most have to hire a pianist for recitals. If the student is lucky, he or she might get two rehearsals before their recital. I was inspired to write duos primarily to help students for recital readiness and also just because it's plain fun to play your music with another part.
Laurie: Have you also made arrangements for the Mozart Concertos?
Martha: I have a rough draft of the first movement of the Mozart G Major Concerto. I had avoided these pieces because I have such respect and awe for Mozart -- I didn't want to ruin his music! Happily, I must say that I think the duo sounds quite lovely. So, I think, in due time, I will be doing at least the most popular ones, Nos. 3, 4 and 5.
Laurie: How are your duets different from the other ones that are out there? Are there actually that many, out there? Are some of yours the only duets for certain pieces? (Like for example the Handel Sonatas?)
Martha: Well, I think my duos are a little busier than most, and I try to have the two parts really moving in a similar fashion, with a similar number of notes. I think this helps students, to have the teacher moving in sync with them, generally thirds or sixths apart, and I also try to line up bowings as often as I can, too, so that students can see the teacher bowing just like them.
I think writers of duets for young students have been cautious, not wanting to give the second player too much to do, frequently just quarter notes and half notes, in an effort to somehow feature the student more. Although the intention is good, I think that, musically, that approach is not as interesting for the student and does not create as much of a harmonic framework that students will recognize when they eventually play with piano accompaniment.
I am actually coming out with a Second Edition for my duo books which will allow the piano parts to be played along with the duo parts. It has been a lot of additional work for me to completely merge the harmony parts, but I believe students and teachers will greatly enjoy the fruit of my labor in their group classes and recitals.
There are lots of duets out there for two violins. Many Suzuki teachers enjoy the three volumes of duets by Marianne Rygner, Fun For Two Violins. I did not know about her duos until I had maybe written about three-fourths of my books. At first I was in a panic, once I heard that she had written many of the same duos as me, thinking that we may have duplicated our writing. I was relieved, once I looked hers over, that our styles were quite different and that she chose only selected pieces from Suzuki books.
Growing up, I thoroughly enjoyed playing the Samuel Applebaum Beautiful Music for Two Violins. There are countless other duo books that I have also enjoyed by Mazas, Pleyel and the wonderful Telemann Canonic duos, to name a few. I absolutely loved playing duos with my high school teacher, Rudy Hazucha. His luscious tone and musicality inspired me greatly as a musician.
To my knowledge, I am unaware of any other duos available for the Handel Sonatas or the Meditation from "Thais." I also think that, quite possibly, my seven volumes of duos for violin and cello might be the largest collection of well-known classical pieces for these two instruments available today, covering all levels of difficulty, from the novice to the advanced.
I am also excited to let you know that I have just been awarded additional licensing from the International Suzuki Association for (1) La Folia for Two Violins, Violin/Viola or Violin/Cello. (2) six additional new books involving the viola and (3) duos for five pieces written by Dr. Suzuki in book 1 (Allegro, Perpetual Motion, Allegretto, Andantino and Etude). This brings my grand total to 19 books licensed by the International Suzuki Association!
So just about any piece that a player might want from Suzuki books 1-8 can be found somewhere in my books. The only pieces you won't find are the Eccles and Veracini Sonatas, and Largo Espressivo, all in Book 8; the Bohm Perpetual Motion in Book 4; and the Martini Gavotte in Book 3. I actually have some nice duos for all of them, but my books were just too long to be able to include them. I will probably give them away as promotional gifts at some point.
Laurie: Some of my students have also played your violin-cello duets. What made you start writing those?
Martha: It is pretty amusing how I first started writing for the violin and cello. After a reading session of some of my duos, my viola friend, Tracy Shealy, asked me a question: "Do you have any duos for violin and cello?" I remember staring at her blankly, as I sadly had to answer that I did not.
As I Googled cello and violin duos, I found people that wanted them. Although there are some fine duets out there, the quantity is nowhere near what is available for two violins. I wondered why -- whether it was simply too difficult to write for the low and high notes or whether arrangers simply had not bothered to take the time to do it.
In order to get an answer to my question, I decided to try and write a few and see how it went. Since I play piano, I logically thought that the register issue shouldn't really matter. After I wrote a few, I was ready to test them out with a real, live cellist. It was extremely fortuitous that I happened to have a beginning piano student that was a high schooler and a fine cellist. (What are the odds?) Henry Stubbs read duos with me after his piano lesson for an entire summer! I was simply blown away by how beautiful the two instruments sounded together. Again, I realized I had been given a gift that I should share with others.
Laurie: I noticed you have some cello-violin duets that are written particularly for beginners, and they allow both instruments to play the melody, unlike those duos that have the cello just plunking out the bass part!
Martha: Flip-Flop Melodies, Volumes I and Volume II, includes songs that are popular in beginning method books, including Suzuki books 1 and 2, as well as some tunes like "Hot Cross Buns," and "This Old Man," etc. The melody is showcased by the cello in verse one and in verse two, the instruments "flip-flop," with the violin then taking over the melody. Flip-Flop Melodies was born from my desire to feature both violin and cello getting a chance to play the melody.
Over the years at camps, I would occasionally see young siblings playing their violin and cello pieces together, and when I asked where the parents got the music, the answer frequently was that a teacher had written something out for the two to play together. It was usually hand-written. I remember thinking that this was absolutely tragic that these two siblings had to have handwritten music to play together! (Although, I always had a desire to meet these teachers and pat them on the back for taking the time and effort to write something out!)
Once I actually started writing arrangements for the cello and violin, I was just mesmerized with how beautiful the two instruments sounded together. Since I was venturing into uncharted territory for me and trying to write music for an uncommon combination, it was especially gratifying to have the support and co-arranging collaboration with Christopher Rex, principal cellist of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. He thought Flip-Flop Melodies was very cute, educationally sound and something that students definitely would enjoy.
As an aside, Flip-Flop Melodies is only one of seven volumes of duos I have written for the violin and cello. Christopher Rex has been kind to write a Foreword for each of the seven volumes.
It was fun to try to come up with a title that described the book, and I thought that a kid might come up with something like Flip-Flop Melodies. I decided this name would be appropriate, since I was targeting kids.
Laurie: Have you done other composing as well?
Martha: I have written one original piece of music and it is called Cell Phone Symphony for Four Violins. It is a 5-minute piece of music at an intermediate level with three movements: (1) Wonderful Wireless Waves (2) Electronic Friends 'Til the End and (3) "Texting, Anyone?" I sell the piece on my website and kids really like it a lot. It has a cool picture on the cover of an electronic looking, geeky cellphone guy, wearing a headset! It is classical with some modern sounding chords.
Laurie: What is the particular history of the publication of these duets?
Martha: Actually, we have always been self-published, although I had a three-year distribution contract around 2005 with Alfred Publishing Company for Christmas Melodies Duets and Double Stop Solos for Violin, Volume I.
My husband, Ken, and I are a team and I can honestly say that I would never have ventured out to start a music publishing company unless he had pushed me and given me specific directions concerning what all to do. We really pride ourselves in using heavier paper, choosing beautiful covers and using larger note sizes. I enter all notes into the computer, using the Finale music software.
Since I have played in orchestras for many years, I try to provide parts that will not only sound nice, but will be easy to read, with a binding that stays open on the page easily. In selecting a more expensive paper weight and a brighter white color, the notes are much easier to read.
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Martha Yasuda's arrangements are available at her website, yasudamusic.com/. She also will be displaying her books later this month at this year's Suzuki Association of the Americas Conference, which also includes a number of other exhibitors, May 22-26 in Minneapolis. She'll be at Booth No. 19 and "I will have two very fine high school students swapping off to demonstrate duos with me throughout both days. I certainly welcome anyone that wants to bring their instrument along and test out the arrangements with me themselves."
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