It was the very first concerto I ever learned to play. I vaguely remember playing it for an audition (though I did not realize it at the time) for the Sewanee Summer Music Festival back in, ummmm... the last century.
When my teacher suggested it as my next piece to study, my first thought was "really? A child's concerto?" My second thought was "maybe this time around I can really do it justice".
After nodding my agreement, she pulled out her old faded, well used copy and began playing. I hummed along for a few measures and before I knew it, I was playing along with her, barely glancing at the page. How is it possible that after (garble garble) years I still have that piece memorized? This should be easy, right?
Then a third thought occurred to me... simple does not mean easy...
After reaching out to Adam DeGraff, the sheet music for the fiddle challenge arrived - for violin. One small catch, I play viola (primarily). In exchange for the violin version, I promised to send him a one of a kind, hand-scribed, signed alto clef version.
Before simply dropping the whole thing by a 5th, I gave it a go as written. Things went quite well until around measure 28 when it required fingered octaves up in 7th position and beyond. Nope, dropping it a 5th so I can get the open strings was going to be necessary. So, I tried fingering it as if I were playing violin. This was easier than I expected for the most part, until I got up in the higher register and lost my fingerboard-bearings.
I have a stack of fresh manuscript paper and a sharp pencil waiting for me to get to work transcribing some '80's music. I'm a bit old-fashioned in this regard, transcribing by hand, but it is something I enjoy doing. After that, I can start tackling the finer techniques of bowing such as the "grab" and the "chop".
It was back sometime in 2007-ish during quartet practice when my bow went flying across the room due to a shooting pain that started from my shoulder and traveled down to my fingertips like an electric shock. Since then, I've been struggling to play without pain, and it got worse over time. There were pieces that I simply could no longer play because it hurt to do so.
A year ago I decided enough was enough and took break from most of my musical commitments to put all my effort to address this problem. Over the last week, I've been able to play Paganini's Moto Perpetuo at around mm 155 without pain. (Before anyone gets all impressed with my virtuosity, that would be each 16th note played triplet at mm 155). When I did it, I nearly squealed like a girl in pure glee. For the first time in 5 years, it did not hurt to play very fast bows without debilitating pain.
It took completely re-working my posture and 'hold' of my instrument and bow, hyper-awareness of each and every bit of tension, and going "commando" (no SR) for some of my practice time every day to get to this point. Without starting a SR debate, it was the no SR practice time that was the touch-stone in pain-free playing. I still play with a SR, but the little bit of time I spend each day without one forces me to put all of my focus on developing the ideal balance of instrument, body and bow... without tension.
There is still much work to be done before I can consider this problem resolved. First and foremost is repeating this trick while playing sitting down.
More entries: February 2012
Enter to win Leonidas Kavakos' recording of the Brahms Violin Concerto.
Mendy Smith is from League City, Texas. Biography
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