After having lost my beloved Hacker, there has been an outpurring of "what can I do to help?". Many of the folks I work with as well as members of my orchestra are collecting unused kitty medical supplies, toys, and pet store gift certificates to send to the Kitty Hill Resort in Santa Cruz. Hacker and his companion Tommy were their very first customers and spent alot of time at the Resort while I traveled on business. The owner, Harriet, works closely with a local purebreed rescue group, and had also helped with kitties who mom's had to go into shelters, some of whom are in need of unused medical supplies.
While struggling with the decision of whether I should adopt another kitty or not, I was turned on to this program by my mother:
The program provides foster homes to cats for our military personnel serving overseas. My mother has worked with the USAF for years as a civilian, and worked on military bases over the decades. She has worked closely with people that had to find foster homes for their feline (and canine) companions on very short notice over the years, especially in the recent years.
So, in honor of Hacker, I signed up to be a foster parent for our military cats. Having had to foster my feline companions in my no so recent past to my father, I feel that this is a good way to honor Hacker as well as help our military personnel. I have an open viola case for a military kitty to nestle into.
Lesson night once again. This time I was exhausted. I mean so tired I could barely stand up. Started on E minor scale nice and slow. By the time we got up to 4 notes per beat my brain disengaged. It stalled out, ran out of gas. How do I play 2nd position again?
OK, skip that... vibrato studies. Brain disengaged again on the fingering exercise I was applying vibrato exercises to. Totally forgot my finger patters. OK, skip that. Just play 3rd and 4th finger alternating on all strings. THAT I could do... with a very nice vibrato - on all strings.
We moved onto the Sonata again. Brain still has not re-engaged. Took 3 tries to get through the first measure. No matter, just keep going. By the end of page 2, my brain suddenly engaged on the last few lines of 16th note runs, going faster and faster and faster on each beat, until the last measure I was playing so fast it was hard to believe.
At the end of the page I looked at my fingers on my left hand, completely stunned that they just did that totally on their own. How in Holy Toledo did that happen?!?!?! Did it a second time! Wow!
Onto page 3 & 4. Brain disengaged again. :::sigh::: How do I read treble clef again? Another musical moment lost to exhaustion.
So, we worked on dynamics instead. Loud, soft, loud, soft. And a cool little trick on keeping a harmonic going without your finger on the string. Now that was something my exhasted brain could handle and have fun with.
At least my teacher appreciates these moments. We had a good laugh at my body and brain's inability to do simple tasks one moment then do something phenominal the next. What is weird is that by tomorrow, those dynamics he taught me will have really sunk into my playing without any effort.
Time for a nap.
(2nd violinist and Orchestra Librarian - Jeannine Bamberg - taken during intermission)
The Hillsoboro Symphony Orchestra finished our season with a "Pirates!" concert. There were so many families that brought their children to the concert. Many of the children were all dressed up as little pirates. There were even a few adults that came dressed as pirates as well! We played to a full house. Not the norm for our May concert, especially not one on the Friday before a long holiday weekend.
('Ol Cumbucket & Capt'n Slappy with the Goodbody's)
It was so much fun to do a family-style concert. We managed a little bit of decorum. The audience and their families (and the orchestra) had alot of fun. It is good to lighten up from time to time. Good to know everyone is so serious about classical music. :-)
The intense pain has lessened. But it is still there. It has been good to stay very busy with such good friends and support from everyone.
Lesson night once again. This one really picked up my spirits, and had me smiling and laughing once again.
Warmed up with two minor scales. Then some Kreutzer bowing exercises - spicc. and legato alternating between runs of 4 notes. Each note either two bows or 4 bows per note. I got a little impish and played some of my orchestra music from memory using the bowing technique he just taught me. He questioned the dynamic - but I told him it is SUPPOSED to be p! :)
And then - the Sonata. We reviewed the fingerings for the 32 apreggios on page 4. He suggested some new fingerings. I showed him what I came up with (little half positions) - he called my fingerings "guitar-style" - but "impressive". Whatever works for these finger gymnastics at the moment. I have a homework assignment to try two alternate fingerings to see what works best for this section.
Then, back to page 1 for a play-through (with occasional stops). First stop was a measure after the fermata. I recieved a "WOW", "GREAT", and "I liked what you did on that measure after the fermata". Blew my mind away! A few corrections for staying ON the string, and fine tuning of expression. Moving on to the last half of page 1 without interruptions.
Page 2: a correction on where to start on the bow (middle not tip). Then some work with the tempo on the first few lines. We worked some on how to speed up (stringendo) in two measures, and changed some fingerings. I played through to the end of the page and got a "thata girl" on the last two lines! Then back to the beginning of that page to work on an expressive shift. (Buri - you and I talked about this one in that shifting discussion). Somehow, I still do not know how, I managed a good solid vibrato on the C string with my 4th finger.
Page 3: Just played the first few lines (the middle is the same as on page 1). Changed fingerings again to use harmonics on a high A instead of fingered (the following note is a high E harmonic).
Page 4: first few lines and last few lines (minus the 32nd note arpeggios). A little work on dynamics, and a small intonation issue on the last double-stop, and the D# that is really a E-flat. It was a mental thing.
Verdict from Joel? Rhythm is MUCH improved - dramatically so. He was happy to see me experimenting with dynamics already. The 4th finger vibrato on the C string impressed him - he was actually quite excited about that one note. I confessed that I had no idea how I did it, and that it just happened spontaneously.
I think that Hacker went to heaven, sat in Rebecca Clarke's viola case, listened to her play, and then told me her viola secrets in my dreams. That is my story, and I'm sticking with it.
This morning, at daybreak, my beloved friend and companion of 16 years died in my arms.
Hacker was adopted by my other cat Tommy when he was a kitten. They bonded immediately. I could not help but make him a part of my family.
Hacker got his name from having this uncanny ability to launch programs from my computer by walking across the keyboard. He loved eating tortilla chips, chicken, and grass, sunning himself outside, and "singing" to the birds. He was a lover, not a hunter.
When he got older, every time I would take my viola out of my case to practice, he would climb in the case and stay there for hours listening and "humming" along. During trio practice, he would often sit in the middle of us listening. In my recording of the Clarke Sonata posted on this site, you can hear him humming along.
He will be cremated and I will be getting his ashes back in the next week or so. There is this little compartment in my viola case under the base of the neck that I have never used. I will be placing some of his ashes in there, close to the place where he loved to nap while I practiced.
All day I've agonized on how to honor him. A regular memorial just didn't seem to do justice to such a long time companion. But when I began playing the Clarke Sonata today, my heart almost burst on the last page of the first movement. That is when I knew how to best memorialize Hacker.
Now on the front of my sheet music of the Sonata, above what Rebbecca Clarke wrote, I added:
I have no regrets.
Come softly, sweet death.
Rest in peace my friend. You will always be in my heart and in my music.
I am having another Bolero moment. My "day" job has us doing a data conversion at night over the weekend. It takes aver 60 hours to run.
So, what do I do as I watch and wait? Scales - all of them. Kreutzer Etudes, and recent pieces that I've memorized.
Once nice thing... the wall behind my computer is mirrored. I can focus on my bowing (with one eye on the computer).
Back to watching, waiting, and practicing.
Lesson night once again. Having had no lessons last week (orchestra was "on-tour"), I struggled with the vibrato exercises he gave me, and had fits with basis. So at the beginning of lessons I got the "I was thinking about you"... and out comes Fischer's Basics - for when I confuse the heck out of myself between lessons. :)
Started on some shifting excercises - pronounces much better than before, but still sometimes too fast. Then onto scales with bowing focus. Then the dreaded Kreutzer & vibrato mix. He soothed my nerves by confirming that the etude was assigned as a method for starting to develop a continuous vibrato, then asked me to show him what I accomplished thus far. OK, he called my C-string vibrato a "granny" vibrato, but was still happy that it finally happened, adn that I was vibrating, or at least trying to vibrate every note. We then went into a little continuous vibrato exercise with different fingers. We finished off with the etudes with a stacc. bowing assignment.
True to his plan (and some joking about the page-a-week plan), he got me started on the dreaded "Page 4" of the Clarke Sonata. It starts simply enough, but then gets into these crazy 32 note runs. One of which is a contortionist act with the left hand. I'll have to work on that - alot. Then we back-tracked to page 2 & 3 to work on a few techniques. I learned some new terms that I didn't know before (for tempo changes), and an admonishment to not make the beat 3/8 (bad habit).
The Orchestra's season is coming to an end in a few weeks. This means sporatic lessons over the summer. I hope that I've kept up a good enough of a lesson blog to go back to for some self-guidance over the summer.
My community orchestra is doing a Pirate concert in a few weeks. There has been much debate and discussion on how much we may or may not diverge from our dress-code.
Tonight we were delivered the final verdict. ONE Pirate related accessory will be permitted. Said accessory shall not interfere with our ability to play our instrument (that rules out eye patches, or hooks on the hand - except for maybe our triangle player). Hats are permitted if they do not interfere with the people behind you from seeing the conductor. We were instructed to bring in our Pirate accessory during "dress" rehearsal to make sure it will not interfere with our playing or those around us.
Now I'm faced with a dilema. What should I choose as my Pirate accessory? I have no hat, and no time to shop for one. I do have a few colorful scarves that could be used in some way. What to do? Arrrrrrrrgh!
I *thought* that I was going to give my bow arm focus a little break while I shifted my focus to my C-string vibrato. That is how practice started out today at least.
Instead, I found myself re-positioning my hand on the bow in a more comfortable position. I didn't think about it for quite some time. That is until I noticed how my tone was sounding better. At first, I thought it was the vibrato. When I looked at how I was holding the bow, I realized that I had "slipped" into the hand position that me teacher WANTED me to use all along.
Hmph! How did that happen? Oh well, I'm not going to look a gift horse in the mouth.
Back to practice... now if I can only vibrate my first finger on the G and C strings....
Tonight was the first quartet practice I've had in a long time. My group has been on "spring break" for over a month due to scheduling conflicts of one sort or another. We also switched cellist - our previous cellist had too many schedule conflicts, so he recommended a friend of a friend.
Tonight was quartet practice with our new cellist at his house. We started with the Motzart dissonant quartet. His teenaged daughter lounged on the couch listening to us play while she studied. After we completed the quartet, she asked her father if she could play with us. Turns out she plays both viola and violin. Our second violinst also plays viola.
After some discussion, she goes to her room and brings out her viola and violin. Our regular second violinist and the cellist's daughter drew straws on who would play second viola. Our regular second violinist won, and got to play the 2nd viola part (violas rule!). Out comes the Motzart Quintet. The violinist and I were unsure of her playing ability. However that question was soon ansered after the first measures. She is good! Very good!
This young lady played with a passion. She looked to her father for tempo and rhythm guidance. It was a bit strange having the cellist take the lead on the tempo and queues, but it seemed to work. It was apparent that father and daughter have been playing music together for years and that the daughter looks to the father as most others would towards the 1st violinist.
So now I have to question: are we a quartet or a quintet now?
I show up for orchetra practice 30 minutes early. I have conference calls with Asia right before rehearsals which end just before rehearsals start. I hold these calls from the parking lot. Doing the work/music switch is challenging enough most weeks.
Tonight, I showed up 30 minutes early as usual. Since the weather was nice, I sat on one of the benches outside to conduct the call. While holding the call, I see my fellow musicians heading into the rehearsal room. A few of them mimed to me asking if I was on a conference call for work. The call went over by 30 minutes, well into rehearsal time.
By the time the call ended, the 2nd piece was complete and the orchestra was starting on the 3rd piece. I sneak in, the 2nd chair 2nd violinist, bless her heart, gives me an A so I can tune quickly. We practiced the 3rd piece took a 10 minute break. I recieved a scolding from my section for making them play the hardest pieces "all by themselves", followed by some symphathy. The conductor said that she assumed things were "not normal" when she noticed me pacing outside while on the call.
This Thursday I have another conference call just before quartet practice. I hope this scenario is not a repeat performance.
After a very intense, sometimes frustrating, weekend of practice, I finally did it! I'm vibrating on my C string. And it isn't just a wiggle or warble here and there when I try very hard, but a real honest vibrato!
My C string (and G, & 1st finger D and A string) vibrato is now how my D and A string vibrato started several months ago. I can only vibrate on half notes or longer right now. With a few more months of work, it should be where the rest of my vibrato is today.
I have waited a very long time for this to finally happen, and it wasn't an easy process. Once my C string vibrato becomes more natural, I'll go back and fix my bowing. I don't want to lose what I just gained.
I am so happy that I have a teacher who is so patient with me and so willing to go down any random musical path that I wish to take - even when that path takes me well beyond my current abilities.
It says alot for a teacher who will do this while still maintaining the discipline of what I really need to be learning at the time. The look on his face last week while I moved on to page 3 spoke volumes of his patience. I thought he was going to start crying, but not from my ability, but more likely due to the pain that I was putting his ears through at the moment. Even though I gave him a pair of ear-plugs, he still refuses to use them!
Ever watch "The Dog Whisperer"? He always advises a calm assertive nature to get your pooch to behave and follow directions.
I've been messing around so much with my viola position, bow arm position, finger positions, etc. so much lately I was losing my ability to have a relaxed stance so necessary to do vibrato, or anything else well. I was in need of a "Viola Whisperer" before I frustrated myself even more over the weekend. I remembered seeing something in the Primrose book (by Dalton), about the easiest way to figure out how to hold the viola. So, I pulled it out, found the section, read it, looked and the pictures, and started over.
I was instantly much more relaxed - no scrunched up shoulder or clamping down with my chin. Then I picked up my bow (with Blue Gumby) and tried the Kreutzer again with vibrato. What do you know! My first finger vibrated on the A string. And lo and behold, it did it again on the D string! Even got some wiggles on the C - but only with my 2nd & 3rd finger.
OK, so the bow got all crooked. I'll have to work on that - but without messing around with viola positions again. Mohammed goes to the mountain, the mountain does not go to Mohammed.
I thought that torture was banned in the civilized world? Apparently no one considered that by combining Kreutzer #3 and vibrato, an entirely new form of torture has been developed and administered in my teacher's studio and my music room. And just to make this agony more excruciating, let's not forget shifting up to that high E on the A string.
I'm also getting an opportunity to learn things I never before imagined - musical terms (Restez.), notations (fingered harmonics), new bowing techniques (up-bow staccato while playing ppp double stops on the G and C strings), scales (3-octave D-Minor), fingerboard stratoshpere exploration (8th + position), etc...
Mendy Smith is from League City, Texas. Biography
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