It was the early 1980's. I was in my tween years and had been studying viola for a scant few years. My parents signed me up for private lessons at the Cadek Conservatory at UTC. I remember being taught how to tune my viola, change strings, playing Wolfhart etudes and strange modern music written by some guy named Alfred Uhl.
I remember playing second chair in the community orchestra at UTC - Flight of the Bumble Bee. My stand partner, several decades my senior, taught me how to play harmonics as a fun "trick", and challenged me with who could play the fastest trills.
I remember playing some strange piece for someone's senior composition recital at the university, and then somehow ending up at the Suwanee Summer Music Festival later that same summer. I remember that I learned to play Eine Kleine at that festival and performing it on one of the staff's 16" viola. I was twelve. The viola was huge. I still have that picture in my viola case.
I barely remember quitting viola in the mid to late '80's when I was a "proper" teen. However, I do remember quite vividly that itch for the C string that re-developed two decades later.
I've been able to keep in touch with every viola teacher I had since I started back up again nearly a decade ago, but getting in touch with my very first private viola teacher was elusive.
Until a week ago.
I posted my one and only email on a violists group page seeing if anyone knew of her or her whereabouts. To my delight, an e-mail from her appeared in my inbox a week or so later. It was a pure joy to hear what's she's been up to since my last lesson with her over 30 years ago, and a struggle to let her know what's been going on with me without writing a novel (I'll leave that kind of writing to Karen or Terez!).
This past weekend, that old faded copy of Uhl was pulled out, dusted off, and played through for the first time in 30 years. What it was supposed to sound like was a faint memory, but somehow I was able drudge up those age old lessons and make it through the piece without having to stop too often.
After all this time, I now realize how I first developed a preference for modern music.
This morning, I got up early, made a pot of french-pressed coffee, fed the cats and sat on my back patio enjoying the unusually warm autumn morning.
Later, I made a quick stop at the grocery store to pick up a few items I forgot to get yesterday, thanked the clerk for working that day, went home and practiced for an hour or so.
It didn't sound much better than a cat screeching, so I packed it up and headed over to my aunt & uncle's house along with the 'extended family'. They aren't related by blood or marriage, but by bonds formed by people helping people. We ate more than what is considered healthy, and summarily plopped down on various chairs to digest our meals.
Except for me, one little girl and my uncle. Instead, we found ourselves in front of my uncle's keyboard. My uncle found the rhythm button and set it to a Latin beat and cranked up the volume. I began to teach the little girl how to play a simple scale and played an accompaniment an octave and a third below her.
She looked at me, I looked at her and we both smiled. It didn't matter that neither of us were pianists or even spoke the same language fluently. We were making music. Simple, but music none the less.
How often do you think you play one way but actually play another. This question was posed by Charles Noble recently in his blog On Excellence.
In his post, he and another lamented on their student's inability to properly execute a dynamic range enough to even notice, eluding to the notion that what is in one's mind doesn't necessarily translate to actual results.
I responded as one of those guilty students. In my mind I sound a certain way, but once it is pointed out to me how I actually sound, I'm mortified. It's astounding how one's mind can play tricks on you, making you think you play better (or worse) than you really do.
My last lesson was a case in point, when my teacher flat out asked me if I remembered anything she told me. The answer was yes, and I even take copious notes and post them in my rehearsal space.
Alas, even with all this effort, my body fails me in its execution at times. Notes come out flat, shifts are sloppy, and dynamics are for the birds. However, in my mind's ear, it is beautiful music. Why do I have this self-deception? It may be my own way of convincing myself to not give up; to continue to strive for an excellence I may never achieve, but pursue regardless of my ability.
The point is to continuously strive to be better than you are today. Some day I may surprise myself.
Monday I played the most important gig of my life. I spent months arranging and re-arranging three pieces, writing each out by hand, months practicing each to be the best I could play them, painstakingly timed to match a 215 foot walk.
Then came the tail end of Frankenstorm. The wedding was moved indoors, thank goodness, and the acoustics inside the church were absolutely amazing. It took virtually zero effort to be heard in the back. But now the requirement for music was much shorter. I had one very short evening to pare down the music for a 40 second walk.
But this isn't about me. It is about my sister. She was an elegant and beautiful bride with her special wedding cowgirl boots hidden underneath her dress.
So, Bach's Cello Suite #6 Gigue it was for her recessional.
More entries: October 2012
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