I'm starting to dread this now... bithdays. I used to look forward to my birthday - cake, presents, parties, socializing, etc. Now I'm starting to almost dread them. Gray hair, stiffer fingers, and retirement planning. Each additonal year makes me realize how much there is to do in life that I haven't done yet.
I received a card in the mail the other day from my mother, sister, grandfather and all their critters combined. On the front is a picture of a cat dress in a highway patrol hat and sunglasses. Inside it reads "Do you know how fast you were going over that hill?" :::GROAN::: In it was a healthy check. Now I'm perking up.
Hmmmmm, new strings, new sheet music, hand warmers, and maybe a concert?
Not long ago I got a call from my father asking me what online shop I wanted a gift certificate from for my birthday. He also reminded me that I was *just* 2 years away from my 40th birthday. (something along the lines of "I can't believe my daughter is turning 40!") YIKES!!!! Wasn't it just yesterday that I turned 30? And that picture in my case from the Sewanee Music Festival couldn't have been that long ago! It was only 1981!!! Thanks for reminding me dad!!! :(
That conversation DID remind me of my musical goals at that magical time: Bach by 40 (all the cello suites learned to some degree of proficiency), shifting to the nether regions, intonation, and vibrato.
I have about a dozen of the Bach Suite movements remaining to learn, I'm a little behind schedule there. My vibrato made huge leaps and bounds, it is now down to getting that first finger to vibrate in first position to reach my original goal. I can now shift to the very end of the fingerboard on the higher strings (I won't talk about being able to get the note in tune consistently yet up there) - but at least I can make it up that far! My intonation and tone gets better bit by bit every day. I've realized I'll never achieve "100% perfect" intonation as a normal human.
Surprisingly, I've started on a few of my "bucket list" pieces: Rebecca Clarke Sonata and Brahms Op. 120 for instance. Pieces that I didn't think I'd be able to even attempt for another 10 years. I just attempted the most unique bowing technique I've ever seen in my life!
Am I having a mid-life crisis? No not quite yet. But I am having the time of my life right now!
Bowing Technique #1
Bowing Technique #2 (about halfway through)
My teacher demonstrated technique #2 to me and the student following after me in lessons tonight (minus the bow slap on the back of the instrument).
This was following some of the most unusal ways to contrive a duet I've seen: from Mozarts's "Table Music for Two", Kruetzer No. 10 played like a round or cannon, to Bach's 5th Symphony 2nd mvnt playing two themes at once.
I never know just what I might learn at a lesson!
In recent practice sessions, I've started to notice something with my bowing. At times it seems to slip, or lose traction just a little bit. I noticed this on one particular measure of the Brahms Sonata. It is a simple one - second position on the G string and all in one bow.
All sorts of possibilities come to mind - from rosin, "pressure" distribution over the length of the bow, straightness of the bow, to soundpoints. The rosin factor was eliminated as a source. My bow seems straight when viewing in a mirror or looking down the fingerboard (although it is sometimes difficult to see). That leaves me with pondering sound points and pressure distribution.
I'll be taking this question to lessons this week. Maybe it has always been an issue and I'm just now noticing it.
I was never much of a Brahms fan. Recently however, I've been exploring his works. I've had the opportunity to try out many of his Quartets, Quintets, Sextets, Op. 120 for viola and piano, and a symphony or two. So far I'm more partial to the Quintets and Sextets.
There is something about his compositions that are pleasant to the ear, but quite awkward to play. I haven't quite put my finger on it yet. Maybe because he wasn't a violist on the side. ;-)
In my CO, we are playing a symphony composed by one of our own. It is still under development and every week we get some new parts. Overall, it is a very nice work well suited for our orchestra.
The only complaint I have so far is one movement that is a bit dull for us violists. The most excitement we have is some interesting accents. To liven things up, I played around with the fingerings. After a few measures I realized that we could play the ENTIRE movement with nothing but the first finger. To make things more interesting, I tried playing it all on the G string. Well, that worked well until I was up to 8th position and measures that MUST be played on the C string. During break, I wrote in those fingerings and gave the movement a subtitle - "The First Finger Tango". My stand partner about fell out of her chair!
I think I may have figured out that little hardware issue. The modifications I made to my favorite shoulder rest are working out quite well. It took two sponges - a thicker one on the far right for "lift", and a smaller softer one in the middle to smoothe out the contour. I'll give it another week or two - then it is time for the shop equipment...
The set-up I changed to worked fine - that was until I SAT down to play in my community orchestra and quartet group. The wolf rest that I had liked so much started causing me issues - the feet popped off from time to time and it tilted in directions I didn't want it to tilt. My teacher said that when he had problems like that, it was more of a "user" issue than a "hardware" issue. But, let's face it. Where my playing is at right now, I need a little more chin pressure to shift into stratosphere positions, and a bit more than that to do vibrato. Having my shoulder rest hinder where I am at skill-wise right now was hurting more than helping. (And yes, my teacher and I had a long discussion on this topic already). The attempts I made to "fix" those issues turned into an ergonomics nightmare and threw my intonation down the drain and eliminated any vibrato that I had developed.
My teacher and I reworked out the proper viola placement and basic adjustments to set me back on the right path. Thank goodness he is so patient with me!!!! I'm now experimenting with my other rests with assorted cosmetic sponges and chamois, and sponges on their own. The basic setup I need is to have the left side as non-existent as I can make it, and the right side a bit higher than what most rests adjust to - and WIHTOUT much of a contour. There simply aren't any like that on the market. The WOLF worked great for this except for the feet popping off and the "tilt" problem.
So, I took my Viva rest and added various thickness sponges to lift the right side a bit more and remove the contour which were causing pressure point problems. So far it seems to work well both standing and sitting. The draw back right now is the added weight. If I put that disadvantage to the side for the moment and this ends up working out for me, I'm going to try something - manufacturing my own shoulder rest. I certainly have enough "shop" equipment in my garage, wood working and metal machining skills to make a prototype. If the prototype stands the test of time, I can engage more skilled friends & professionals to make an aesthetically pleasing version.
Yesterday I did some "shopping therapy" and came home with a new chinrest. I tried about 4-5 different styles before settling on a nice low-profile chinrest. After coming home with said rest, I cycled through all my shoulder rests until I found a good match (yes, I have a shoulder rest collection). The Wolf shoulder rest was the definitive winner.
Now, instead of being locked into one and only one position, I can now move about. I can tilt my viola for to the right to really get into the C string, or bring it up and to the left for the higher strings. What freedom! Tension seems to have completely disappeared.
Why didn't I do this sooner?
OK - It is odd for a software person talking about hardware, but maybe that is why it took so long to possibly figure this out. I've given up on my chinrest, and I finally realized why it does NOT work for me.
For the past two years I struggled with my new, larger, 16" viola. All this time I fiddled around (pun intended) with my shoulder rest(s) and viola position. It just dawned on me to try different chin rests instead. My current chinrest is a Strad style. It has this rather large bump in the front and is highly contoured to "lock" my head in one position, and one alone. My chin is not that deep, and it takes a bit of effort to position it over this chinrest to be semi-comfortable.
My teacher noticed earlier this year that I had this routine of trying to position my chin over and around this rest, and we tried different ways of holding the viola. It worked for awhile. But now that I'm focusing on the curvature of my fingers, I noticed that the most comforatble place to hold my viola while keeping fingers curved and still be able to draw a straight bow was NOT the position where my chinrest locked me into.
I experimented without a chinrest at all tonight to try to determine what style of chinrest (or lack thereof) would work best for me. As near as I can tell at this point, a rest that is low and relatively flat would work well. I tend to move my head anywhere from the left and then towards the tailpiece depending on the position that I'm playing in (more near the tailpiece in higher positions). The strad style was hindering my natural left side movements. This may have been contributing to my right arm pains.
So, tomorrow is chinrest shopping day. If there are two that are close, I'll come home with both.
Wish me luck!
Lesson night once again. This year it is an hour earlier, and I hit some pretty heavy traffic on the way to my teacher's studio. I made it *just* in time. (Note to self, leave earlier next week).
We started of with the technical exercises; scales, etudes, finger exercises. Being that it was a warm evening, my hands got a little sweaty (as well as the rest of me). That did not help much with intonation, and neither did the typical issue I have playing immediately after work. But - we are both used to that warm-up time lag now. The focus of my technical work this week was keeping the fingers of my left hand curved. That means NOT keeping my arm stationary, but moving around as I change strings. Now if my pinky can ever get to a curved position... :::sigh:::: large viola, small hands.
We worked on the Brahms Sonata, the piece that I'll be focusing on for several months. There are a couple of measures that seem simple enough at a first glance - that is until you try to get your left hand to play them. Add on top of that the expressive shifting my teacher wants me to start doing more of, and well, the piece starts turning into a series of scale exercises, moving from one to another measure after measure, phrase after phrase, with a few accident(al)s thrown in for good measure (pun intended).
The choice of technical work by my teacher was timely - as always.
Lessons started up again on Sunday, so now it time for lesson blogs once again. Regular lessons will be on Thursdays. Yesterday was the begin of "lesson season".
Being a new lesson season, I decided to bring "options" on Sunday. I brought the Clarke Sonata that I was working on before and during the summer, the Bruch, Hummel - all pieces I've worked on with Joel before. I also brought some new pieces with me - Bach/Cassadeus Concerto, Schumman Sonata, Schubert Sonata, and the Brahms Sonata (op. 120). The hour began with Joel flipping through what I brought. He stopped on the Brahms: "Oh! The Brahms!!!! You'll LOVE this!!! It's a beautiful piece. Want to try it?" Of course I say yes. I failed to mention that this is another of my "bucket list" pieces.
Since my version is a urtext, he digs out his copy with all the fingerings and bowings that he's happy with, and we begin, very slowly note by note. After the first two excruciating measures he stops. "I want you to listen to a recording so that you know that this really IS a beautiful piece". OUCH!!! OK... It really is a beautiful piece. We begin again, but not as beautifully :)
It is a typical run through for us. He writes in bowings and fingerings on my copy for several lines, we play through together, he marks my copy for several more lines, etc etc.. About mid-way through I start seeing some very interesting fingerings. He must have noticed the incredulous expression on my face and told me that I'm "good now on my shifts" so can now have more expressive fingerings. YIKES! He's got me shifting all over the place now. Well, I trust his judgement and give it a go.
Before I knew it, the hour was up, and we had just worked through the entire first movement of No.2. Once home, I listened to the recording again following along with my sheet music playing "air viola". I played it on my own once, and played along with the recording once. OK - that is a little to fast for me right now...
After a day and a half on this piece, I realized that I could play this beautifully with practice. There are a few measures with some challenging expressive shifts that need extra practice time. However, this piece is now within my skills. I can't wait to see how it sounds after a month or two!
Enter to win Leonidas Kavakos' recording of the Brahms Violin Concerto.
Mendy Smith is from League City, Texas. Biography
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