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Two years of playing the violin again

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Published: December 30, 2014 at 4:35 AM [UTC]

Last year, I wrote a blog post called "One year of playing the violin again". This is the follow-up.

Of everything I wanted to do this year, chamber music topped that list, and I'm happy to have really started to build out a circle of people to play with. While my orchestra offers chamber music, I ended up getting drawn into the group performing the Mozart Serenata Notturna, which has an inner quartet of principals and a small string orchestra, rather than a small group. I enjoyed performing the principal first-violin part, and was really happy with Jonathan Carney (Baltimore Symphony concertmaster) coaching, though.

So I've had to seek out smaller-group stuff myself. I started reading Schubert quartets with a fellow V.com player and some folks we found through the ACMP. An evening of reading two-violin works with a visiting violinist and a local pianist, also met through ACMP, has turned into semi-regular reading with said pianist, and the hope of doing regular Mozart sonatas -- and that in turn has led to what will hopefully be a semi-regular piano trio with the cellist I met via the Schubert. That pianist drew me into a monthly music seminar that combines lecture, performance, and coaching around a theme, aimed at enthusiastic amateurs -- thus giving me a chance to play in front of small and friendly audiences. That seminar introdued me to another pianist, with whom I intend to do the Franck sonata. Then finally, a work connection via LinkedIn, plus V.com, introduced me to another cellist and pianist that I hope to do semi-regular piano trios with. I am still hoping that I might be able to find a group to do Romantic-era piano quartets and quintets with, but at the moment my plate is pretty full.

Much of the chamber-music literature is new to me, and I have never previously done any of the sonata literature (other than the obligatory Handel as a child). I'm enjoying listening to the repertoire via Spotify, and occasionally YouTube, and I'm pleased to find that much of it isn't especially difficult to play, a fairly optimal ratio of preparation time versus time playing together.

Unfortunately, in the middle of this year, I strained a muscle moving around some boxes (we moved into a new house), and this turned into full-fledged rotator-cuff tendinitis. This is my left shoulder, and I'm left-handed, and the pain is constant and frustrating. I stopped playing entirely for more than a month, trying to give a cortisone injection some time to work. It helped, and PT has helped (yet another V.com find, a physical therapist who plays the violin and specializes in musicians), but I'm still very limited in how long I can play for, and I haven't been to a regular orchestra rehearsal since the summer.

I've done exactly one orchestra rehearsal since then -- the Baltimore Symphony's Rusty Musicians night, which is a side-by-side evening of a playthrough of orchestral repertoire with the Baltimore Symphony players, this year under the baton of the assistant conductor. That was wonderful, and as a total surprise, I was up on the first stand (with Madeline Adkins, who was serving as concertmaster for the evening), which meant that I got to share the solos in the Nutcracker (delightful, if made somewhat scary by having to sight-read them since I wasn't expecting this). I hope that this summer I'll get to do the BSO Academy, which looks like it's going to be a great combination of orchestra, chamber music, and solo work.

As a result of the tendinitis, I've ended up chopping my practice time into much smaller chunks, spread out over the course of the day, but overall, I've practiced about half as much this year as I did last year (an average of about 20 minutes per day). Ironically, despite this, my left-hand technique continues to solidify. Strangely, spending just an hour playing old repertoire largely fixed a problem in badly-coordinated shifting (too much of a smear at the beginning or end of a shift), as my hands remembered what to do again. At the same time, I can feel that I still do not have the speed and precision that I ought to have in moving around the fingerboard.

I learned the second Prokofiev concerto (the G minor) this year, although thanks to the limited practice time, not as thoroughly as I would have liked. I hope to accomplish a lot more in this next year.

Now I'm really trying to increase how much I practice -- call it 40 minutes a day plus double that on weekends -- because I'm hoping to do the March performance audition for the Friday Morning Music Club, a DC performing arts organization that does recital series around the city and suburbs; its performers are a mix of expert amateurs and professionals who don't make a living primarily from performing. The requirements are fairly stiff -- three works of contrasting style and periods, one of them a full multi-movement work. My teacher and I have settled, tentatively, on the Mozart Rondo in C major (K373), the "Obsession" from Ysaye solo sonata no. 2, and the Franck sonata.

My teacher had originally suggested the more-virtuosic Ysaye Mazurkas instead, but they turn out to be of the same period as the Franck. I still want to play them, though, and I'm still hoping that I'll find time to learn them for a public masterclass in March. I'm also hoping to do the video preliminary round for a local amateur chamber-music competition, using one of the movements of the Franck, in March. Everything's piling up all at once, which is inconvenient.

To this, my teacher has added the Beethoven violin concerto, and one of the Paganini caprices (#19). In January, for the seminars, I am intending to play the slow movement of the Bach Double with a fellow V.com player and my usual pianist, and later in the month, the exposition of the Beethoven concerto together with a pianist I have just been introduced to. The Beethoven is a sort of hellish paradox -- superficially it's not especially technically difficult, but the actual difficulty is then ramped up immensely because it has to be perfect, as it's totally exposed. It requires a kind of architectural planning that's requiring me to be extremely thoughtful and meticulously precise, which is, I suspect, exactly what my teacher was hoping to force upon me.

Interestingly, I've found that the more that I have to work on, the more my practice time naturally increases -- having exhausted myself mentally on one thing, I may still find it possible to pick up another work with a feeling of freshness and be productive with it. The bottom line of all this: I am hoping to find more opportunities to perform, not so much because I have that much of a desire to play in front of people per se, but because I have had stage fright all of my life and hope to be able to conquer it through acclimatization. Also, I work better with goals and deadlines, and so by doing a bit of an overload on the deadlines, I am hoping to motivate myself to practice a lot more.

But my job is full of demands, and it often takes me out of town, where I can't practice at all. Furthermore, given how I'm forced to chunk up my practice time, I spend many hours in my basement practice-room, working and websurfing between short bouts of focused practice. It's both very efficient and highly inefficient, since it takes hours to get just a small amount of practicing done, and the time between can get lost in Facebook or cute cats on the Internet or the like, rather than being productively spent.

In 2015, I hope to start feeling like I'm fully in control of what comes out of the instrument. It's what I feel like I've really lost -- the loss of the link between thinking it and doing it. Greater reliability will make it easier to sight-read, which I hope will mean translating into greater comfort in being able to sight-read at chamber-music jams.


From 68.100.129.173
Posted on December 30, 2014 at 11:04 PM
What an inspiring journey! Thanks for sharing Lydia. Hope to hear from you over coming months as your chamber music experiences come to past.
From Charles Flesch
Posted on December 31, 2014 at 11:09 PM
Thank you for your post. I also just read your post from last year. Your experiences are very inspiring and impressive.

From 173.48.207.69
Posted on January 3, 2015 at 2:49 PM
Just wanted to say "hi" as someone on a similar journey in many ways. I've been playing (again) longer than you have, but I don't think I ever achieved as high a level as you did before quitting. Nonetheless, what you wrote about having had very little chamber experience and filling that in now, sounded very familiar! I've been really lucky to find chamber music partners in the community orchestra I play in.

And I've appreciated very much your advice in one of your former blogs--Efficient practicing for the time-crunched. I printed that one out and carry it around with me in my music bag. Thanks for sharing!

From Karen Allendoerfer
Posted on January 3, 2015 at 2:58 PM
Just wanted to say "hi" as someone on a similar journey in many ways. I've been playing (again) longer than you have, but I don't think I ever achieved as high a level as you did before quitting. Nonetheless, what you wrote about having had very little chamber experience and filling that in now, sounded very familiar! I've been really lucky to find chamber music partners in the community orchestra I play in.

And I've appreciated very much your advice in one of your former blogs--Efficient practicing for the time-crunched. I printed that one out and carry it around with me in my music bag. Thanks for sharing!

(Sorry for the duplicate post--forgot to log in)

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