Bringing Max (the piano) home a year or so ago was all about having a piano in the house for others to play in ensembles. But it seemed a shame to continue like that for so long without ever learning how to play it. So tonight I had my first ever piano lesson. Once I got past the fact that the book I'm starting out on is filled with cartoons and children's songs, I got down to the business of learning how and where to put my fingers, re-learning how to read bass clef, and getting used to new left-hand finger positions that seem totally backwards. By the end of the hour, muscles I never knew I had were sore.
My new friend down here in Houston is my teacher, and still is my friend after tonight's lessons. It was alot of fun, even if he almost smashed my fingers with the keyboard lid by accident (or so he says). I was playing "Row Row Row Your Boat" in two part harmony by the end of our lesson - in a manner of speaking. A huge accomplishment in my book. One interesting thing I noticed was that my right hand is just as stiff as it is with the bow on viola. Maybe this new adventure will help me learn to relax the hand and help in my viola playing. The one good thing I can say is that I don't come with any "piano baggage" that has to be un-taught. That is if you exclude some of my counting quirks and playing notes & rhythms that are in my head vs. what is printed. Maybe going back to the bare basics will help me overcome those quirks as well.
I thought that my summer viol-a-thon was over, but no. There is still more to come. Next is playing in a pit orchestra for the play "Oliver", performing Handel Sonata for 2 violas at the Church with a harpsichord, then what I've been looking forward to since I moved down south - Interlochen!!!! The theme this year is the "Magic of Wit", though I'm still scratching my head over how Brahms can be remotely witty (several Brahms pieces are on the repetoire list this year). I'm looking forward to meeting up with Joel again and exchanging stories of our adventures.
So far, Houston has been treating me quite well. I found a good viola teacher, a new best friend (violist, stand partner, and piano teacher), and have become more musically active than ever before. There is not a day that goes by without music being a part of my daily life in some form or another. Though my hours of sleep have dimished significantly, I'm happier than ever being so involved in the local music scene. Maybe the opening fall season will be a little less hectic - or not.
I have been formally accused of being a "viola-diva".
This weekend brings my viol-a-thon near to its end. I have a dress rehearsal Friday then the concert on Sunday. This will be the shortest preparation leading upto a concert I've ever had before - only 2 rehearsals before the concert. I'm now starting to understand what Joel and other performance professionals do for a living. This summer is turning out to be grueling musically speaking, but I'm loving every second of it.
After this weekend comes rehearsals to play the Handel Sonata for two violas at the church. I've prepped for this on my own time and during lessons, but now comes the time to rehearse with the pianist / harpsicordist. After that concert is prepping myself for Interlochen's Adult Chamber Music Camp. I am looking forward to attending it this year more so than last year - Joel and I will meet up for the first time since I moved to Texas. I miss him both as both a teacher and a friend. I fear that my musicianship has slid a bit since my last lesson with him.... day job demands. Either way, it will still be fun to catch-up with each other and have my counting and bowing skills come under expert scrutiny.
In a few short weeks, it will be time for orchestra season to start again. Luckily , we will be performing pieces that I've played before at least once - the Moldau and Britten's Young Person's Guide to the Symphony. Each of which comes with technical challenges on their own, but fun to play.
Somehow amongst this all, I must still keep up on my "Bach by 40" goal. There is only a little more than one year remaining...
This summer is shaping up to be a musically busy one. After completing the viol-a-thon for the HBA "Night Court" rehearsals and shows, the viola-sprint is about ready to start. First up is a subbing gig with the Houston North Symphony (another local community orchestra). I have 2 rehearsals and then the concert in two weeks. We are playing a Beethoven and Mendelssohn piano concerto and Britten's "Young Person's Guide to the Symphony". After that is a performance (time TBD) of Handel's Sonata for 2 violas at the church. And finally, Interlochen's Adult Chamber Music Camp in August. That will end just in time to begin rehearsals at Houston Civic once again. And I've also decided to take on piano lessons over starting next week. I figured since I have one, I should learn how to play it.
At least July is shaping up to only be consumed with my day job. Maybe then I will have a bit of time to focus on technique. I need to win the lottery....
About a month ago I got recruited into playing in the pit orchestra for the Houston Bar Association's yearly musical comedy "Night Court". Every year it is different, but based on making fun of themselves and spoofs on current events. Proceeds go to charity. This year's theme was "Legal Fairy Tales". Scenes included Hurricane Ike, the presidential election, housing/financial crisis, and just a general poking fun at the legal industry.
The show was performed at the Wortham Theater in downtown Houston over the course of 5 days. This is the same theater that the Houston Ballet performs out of. The pit was tiny and cramped. The few strings that were in the pit had a very difficult time hearing ourselves over the brass and the sound monitors placed amongst us all. The cellist had this niftly device her husband concocted that functions the same way as a stethoscope. It is made of some thin tubing with a pipette on the end that you insert through the f-hole into the body, and the other end of the tube is a hollow type ear-plug with a hole in it where the tube ends. It was amazing how well it worked!!!
The music was quite different than anything I've played before on viola... like "Funky Town", "Brick House", and some Simon and Garfunkle. We played a toned down version of Flight of the Valkyries, and the 1812 Overture - on kazoo! As a joke during one rehearsal we also played the Wagner on kazoo. We had a difficult time completing that piece since everyone was having fits of laughter.
It was the most exhausting but fun experience I've had in a long time. I'll definitely be doing this again next year. Now it is time to get ready for two other performances in the next month - the Handel Sonata for 2 violas at church, and a sub-gig in 2 weeks. And to think, I've only been in Houston for 2 months!!!!
Mendy Smith is from League City, Texas. Biography
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