Settling into Houston has taken less time than I thought it would at first. I got my southern accent back in record time. My new music room was the first room in the house to become "livable" . The acoustics in there are actually better than what I had in Oregon. Tonight I was finally able to get some serious practice time in for the first time in weeks. My viola went flat by a full half-step with the change in temperature and humidity - but Hilda and I are both enjoying this change of weather.
My music schedule is already full. I have a confirmed lesson time on Sunday nights, and orchestra rehearsals on Monday and Tuesday evenings (two different community orchestras). Next week I audition for my chair in one of the two, and the other audition happens the following week. This is going to work out well - I will have Wednesday through Saturday for practice and maybe even a new quartet group.
Somehow I have to make time to finish unpacking the rest of the house....
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Last week the movers came to pack up all my belongings and I made the 5 day trek across country to begin my new career and re-start my musical life. After arriving, I have had very little time for practice and do not see being able to settle back into my viola routine for a few more weeks. I miss the all-day practice, but it is good to be back at work again. There are still many things left to do before I'm truly settled in, like having my household goods delivered, getting a Texas drivers license, scheduling lessons, etc... However, the process is now underway. By the end of this week, my music room will be set back up again and I will start feeling more at home. Not to mention getting my real bed and not an air mattress to sleep on.
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Tonight was my final lesson with Joel, at least until we meet up at Interlochen again the summers. I was greeted by both Joel his wife. His wife and I shared a hug and chatted a little bit. It was time to start, so Joel and I headed upstairs and exchanged gifts - he gave me one of the most fun lessons I've ever had gratis, and I gave him his card & gift certification.
After having had studied the Bloch so hard, I was picking up the last piece I auditioned with years ago as a bit of a break - Bruch's Romanze, but this time exploring the world of expressive shifts and the length of the fingerboard. Working on this piece again over the past week filled me with many new questions on how to incorporate this new found skill. So, lessons tonight were focused on the various and sundry ways this piece could be played, from which strings to use and how and when to gliss a bit on the shift.
Things stayed relatively serious until we got to the section with 16th notes. At that point we both became quite silly. Just how high CAN you play that passage on the G string? or the C? Well, it turns out, pretty darned high. Oh, and two passages can be played with NOTHING but harmonics - just in case I ever get bored...(my new teacher will raise an eyebrow on those alternate fingerings - 0 0 0 0 0 0 ). At that point we were almost rolling on the floor in laughter. He had me play that section again, to see what option I would choose, serious, profound, or silly. I tried silly (with the harmonics) but I floundered a bit trying to find all those harmonics quickly. We laughed even harder.
We got relatively serious again worked through a few other parts, focusing on my bowing and the more serious expressive shifts. Until the end of one passage ending with the C (normally on the A string) with a trill. Well, that ended up being a harmonic with a "trill" on the C string. For you violinists, to make that high C on the C string, there is NO fingerboard remaining at all. Much to my surprise I was able to maneuver my arm and hand around the upper bouts to get there, and it was comfortable!!!!
So on a "high note", my final lesson with Joel came to an end. We shared a hug and both he and his wife walked me out to my car with a "see you in August!!!".
After the audition earlier this month, my pianist asked me to play the Bloch with her at her church, to which I agreed. It's actually quite ironic playing this piece in particular (a Jewish call to prayer) for Lent. I'm not much of a religious person, but my pianist and I prayed before the performance - for me to not get the "shakes", forget any notes, play them in tune, share the joy of this piece, safe journey to Texas, etc... We both vowed to NOT cry!!!
Then it was time. There were about a hundred or so people in the chapel. My pianist and friend introduced me and the piece. The opening phrases started off as beautiful as ever . I got to the cadenza, closed my eyes, tilted my ear closer to the f-hole and visualized that I was in my own living room. Mostly I played with my eyes closed, trying to stay in that moment in time where it is about the music and ONLY the music. I finished off the piece with the low D, letting it diminish with the piano.
After the sound faded away completely, I opened my eyes, lifted my bow from the string, lowered my viola and looked up for the first time. There was a moment of silence then a round of applause. My pianist and friend had a huge smile on her face, and when I looked at the faces of the congregation, they were full of smiles. The pastor gave me a warm thank you.
As I "snuck" out of the church (I had a rehearsal to attend), several folks whispered to me: "That was lovely!", "Beautiful!", "Thank you so much for sharing that with us." I was able to project what this piece is all about, a call to prayer, without a single thought entering my mind any technical aspect of playing, without shaking or getting nervous even once. A miracle in my book.
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Things are starting to come together for me in my new life in Houston. I found a new viola instructor from the Houston Symphony, and have been invited into two local community orchestras. The biggest advantage of being a violist - we are always in demand in the community orchestras, and the "viola-society" is quite tight. A single word from one violist to another expands your musical network across the country within a day or two. Six degrees of seperation quickly becomes one.
All I have to do now is drive for 5 days to make it out there.
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Today I spent my day exploring the fingerboard in a way I've never done before - playing the same passage on different strings and regions of the fingerboard. With one more lesson remaining with Joel, this new-found comfort opened up more questions than one lesson can possibly answer.
With that in mind, I experimented with every combination I can think of with the Bruch, picking a few, and formulating my questions. For instance, is it generally advisable to move lower on the fingerboard as the dynamics increase, or can you continue to shift higher and still build a crescendo? In a romantic piece such as the Bruch, should string crossings be minimized as much as possible to keep the color by playing on the same string? And what changes are made in vibrato when you do finally make it up into 7th position on the C string?!?!?!?!
I took a break from practice and checked my e-mail. Sitting in my inbox was a reply from Joel on this re-direction of our final lesson I requested the other day. I was taken off guard in his reply - he is as sad about my move out of state as I am. There is something to be said about sharing a passion for viola that non-violists can't truly appreciate. No matter the difference in experience and skill, the common factor of playing this maltreated instrument forms bonds amongst those of us who love the dark-side of music.
I went back to practice needing to recollect myself with a scale. So I tackled the C major trying to bring it up to the 12 notes per bow. Somehow I managed the feat not just once, but 3 times in a row. I *almost* made it to one bow up and one bow down.... almost. Then I went back to Bruch again, this time focusing on maintaining a continuous vibrato thoughout the piece. While it takes much concentration to do so, I can manage to make it happen. If I only had a few more weeks, this to could become second nature in short order.
But I only have a few more days, not weeks. May as well make the most of it while I've got it.
With only a litte over a week remaining in my life here in Portland, I took some time today to to buy my teacher a Thank You card and small gift. I stood before the aisle of cards at the store, looking for one that was an appropriate way of saying thanks for two years of musical inspiration, guidance, and personal support he has given me, especially over the past month. I passed over cards that were overly sentimental or 'gushy', and settled on one that reflected the ever present humor and laughter we shared during lessons. The card I chose reminded me of the accidental ornaments ("Mendy Ornaments") that made their way into Joel's sheet-music while he supported my goal to learn all the Suites before I hit 40, and teaching me to be a better violist. I took the card with me to the register and headed back home.
When I got home, I put the card on my music stand so that I wouldn't forget to bring it with me to my final lesson. With all the craziness to come this week preparing for the move across country, it is a real possibility. I pulled out my viola and began with my 3 octave C major scales, trying to build it up to 12 notes per bow, but the tone was dead and my fingers stumbled. I looked at the card, and began to cry. This is silly! I'm a grown woman and should be happy that I found a job, especially in this economy. This isn't the first time I've had to move out of state or country in my career.
After several failed attempts on the C major, I switch to the D-minor scale. Now my viola began to ring with its unique overtones. Even though I thought I was tired of playing it, I played the Bloch through from the heart, hearing the piano part in my mind. I played through the 6th Suite movement that Joel introduced me to just two days ago searching for the perfect intonation in the double stops, and the Bruch once again experimenting with the different flavors that the different strings can evoke.
Tears started to flow again. How ironic it is that the moment that I achieve something that I had previously thought impossible, it is time to move on and start over once again. I took a good look around my music room knowing that this will be one of the last days I will be practicing in this perfect environment - from the wood floors, vaulted ceilings, to inspiring decor. I learned vibrato, prepared for two competitions, and nourished my musical soul in this room. Soon it will be filled with moving boxes, and then an empty hull until someone else comes along to find their own inspiration in this space.
Then I remembered that this is really not truly a "good-bye", but a "see you later". I will see Joel at Interlochen in the summer. I still keep in touch with my previous teachers in California and even Malaysia. My music will continue no matter where my career takes me, and I am bound to run across the paths with those who have taught me and inspired me once again.
The world is a very small place afterall.
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I had one of two of my remaining lessons with Joel today. It started with a new double-stop exercise, and then onto the C major scale. But instead of stopping at 4 notes per bow, he pushed me to 6 notes, then 8, then to my breaking point. When I asked how many notes per bow, he said "Don't think about it and just do it". Well, I made it up the 3 octave scale OK after a few false starts, but then stumbled my way back down. I still don't know how many notes per bow that was.
He introduced me to another movement of the Bach - this time from the 6th Suite, the Gavotte. I would had expected this to have been much more challenging than it was. With a little bit of work the double-stops will become comfortable under the hand.
Then it was time for the review of the Bruch. I played through the beginning with some new fingerings a little higher up on the string. On the C, Joel starting laughing - STILL - after 2 years I held that C much too long!!! I started over with the correct duration of the note, then "faked" my way through a very fast run of notes that had become a bit rusty on me, and then got to a section where I was experimenting with different fingerings but never came to a solution. He helped me figure out the pattern, and then I finished off the piece.
I can now fully appreciate why Joel's nickname is "Sul C". He restarted the piece with me and suggested different fingerings, but not in a way I was used to. I simply followed along, doing what he was doing. Instead of a string crossing to make the note in a lower position as I usually did in this piece, I followed his shifts up the fingerboard to the note and back down again. I don't know what positions I was playing, but I followed him up and down the fingerboard. Some of those shifts had me right near the very edge of the fingerboard. When I asked once what finger to use, he told me not to worry about it and just make it up there with whatever finger worked. Most of the original fingerings were erased over the course of this review and replaced with "Sul C", "Sul G" and "Sul D" instead.
After we were done reviewing the Bruch, I was struck by something quite profound. Somewhere along the way I had become completely comfortable with the ENTIRE length of the fingerboard on all strings. I didn't have to think overly much on intonation. I was vibrating naturally in positions that a few months ago I was having monumental stuggles with having it happen at all. For the first time Joel actually suggested a different "flavor" of vibrato and I did what he asked without a second thought. Somehow over the course of the past two months, I DID make up for come of those lost years.
And finally, we ran through the Hummel Fantasy non-stop together. This piece ends with a very long and fast passage that a year ago I could never quite manage. He kept pushing faster and faster but I kept up with him (with a few wrong notes). It almost was like a little "speed competition".
When we ended lessons and I got into my car, the clock showed that lessons were nearly an hour and a half long!!!!
Although I'm still on "Cloud 9" after the audition, my musical life here in Portland is winding down. The two orchestras that I'm in now know that I'll be relocating out of state. I have two more lessons with my teacher and one final concert with my community orchestra. With all the planning I need to do for this move, the many-o-hours of practice each day I was enjoying has dwindled to 2-3 per day, and soon will be back to 1hr a day at best. Joel thought I was a bit insane to try to catch up lost decades over the past month. But not knowing how much time I had on this opportunity, I took advantage of every second of it. I surprised both myself and Joel on what I could accomplish on viola when I set my mind and energy to the challenge in such a short time. It sure made my unemployment bearable and productive (as much as it could be).
So, with two weeks remaining before the "Big Move", I've been focusing on the concert pieces and dusting off the pieces I first began studying with Joel over two years ago for a final review: Bruch and Bach's 6th Suite Prelude. Two weeks isn't nearly enough to get these pieces back to being comfortable under the hand, but the difference in how they sound are still quite amazing. With the Bruch in particular I've found that I can now easily manage the expressive shifts that were simplified for me when I first learned the piece, and I'm now in a position where I can put most of my focus on the dynamic changes, bow distribution, sound-points, and other stylistic aspects of the piece.
I found a new teacher and was accepted into a community orchestra in Houston after exchanging a few e-mails. So with luck, there will only be a small hiccup in my musical life during this time of transition. I'm really going to miss Portland, its vibrant music scene, the friends I've made out here, and my teacher. I won't miss the weather though :) Hopefully, Houston will be just as inspiring to me musically as Portland has been over the past few years.
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I arrived at the University well in advance of the audition to warm-up and try to calm my nerves. My pianist arrived shortly after I did so we had some time for a final rehearsal in one of the practice rooms before I was called to the stage.
I was asked to face towards the judges and announce my first piece - Bloch's Suite Hebraique. I had no shakes on the opening melody, my vibrato was going nicely, and I was happy with the tone. I make it through the first page, and then the second without getting nervous. On the third page my nerve started to go on me and I began shaking, leading up to that high Eb. I didn't get the intonation right, then made my way back down and blew a note or two back down, corrected, and went on. At the pause, I took a deep breath and my calm came back to me again. Before finishing the piece they asked me to stop. They jury all had smiles on their faces. One of the jury member said I have a very nice tone. (YIPPEE!). Another jury member called to my pianist "Your Hired! Accompanying Bloch is NOT easy!" much to both of our surprise.
Then they asked me to play the Bach Suite #3 - Prelude. This I was able to do totally relaxed, no missed notes, no shakes. Again, they stopped me before it was complete (but past the most difficult section). I looked up again, and they were still all smiles.
One of the faculty escorted me off the stage to get the next person and spoke to me a little bit. She said that she planned on giving me the highest scores. She said the Bloch was played beautifully even with a few wrong notes and a small case of the shakes. The Bach - ooooh Bach.... I had the essence of Bach, it was very nicely done.
So, there we have it. She said that the actual granting of the scholarship is based on the FAFSA in addition to my musical ability. Given how things have changed for me job-wise recently, I won't be granted the scholarship. However, I got highest scores from at least one faculty member, which is well above any expectations I had going into this.
I still can't believe I pulled it off. This was a very nice way to end my time here in Portland.
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More entries: February 2009
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