This year Adam DeGraff takes Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'" and applies a fiddle flair to the piece for "The Rockin' Fiddle Challenge". He graciously sent it to me to transcribe to see what I would do with it.
The first step was to transcribe it for viola. This took longer than I expected. Writing music by hand is an art-form in and of itself. After working out the transposition, I had to figure out the spacing on the page for each measure, and whether the stems go up or down. I could have done this with software, but it wouldn't have been nearly as much fun.
After that was done, and correcting some incorrectly transcribed notes, it was time to start getting serious and a little not so serious about this piece. Lurking in the back of my head was this Monty Python idea of "...and now for something completely different", inspired by both Igudesmon and Joo and Adam DeGraff: take a piece originally composed in one style and apply a completely different style to the piece. About halfway into the first page, it came to me. Apply a "high classical" style to a few measures and then back to the original style. This is what I came up with:
A few days later, more videos started rolling in from others , including Grace Youn's video, with an amazing transition into Bach and back. This young musician took what I was going for and perfected it.
Did I start a trend? Maybe. Even if I did, I have some fierce competition and some work to do.
Things are starting to become "interesting". Privately I'm working on a very baroque piece, with my ensemble a Beethoven trio, trying to tackle "fiddle rock" for the Rockin' Fiddle Challenge, and beginning this week a Broadway/Vegas style musical.
Did I bite off more than I can chew? Maybe, maybe not. These "easy" pieces are a blessing in disguise.
No matter the style, there is a common theme: clear & crisp tone production, relaxed posture, economy of bow, good intonation, perfect rhythm and fingerboard mastery. I have the opportunity to evaluate every nuance of movement, change in strings or bow direction, beat-less intervals, internal rhythm, etc.
It is a good thing to re-focus on the basics.
I literally dusted off Telemann. The student's concerto. The 'easy' one. The one that I thought I couldn't learn anything more from.
Most of what I work on these days are littered with little pencil marks: fingering suggestions, bowing changes, music theory in the margins... but the Telemann was surprisingly pristine. Only a few bowing changes and not much else. The lack of markings hinted that this was indeed a very simple piece. This piece, however simple, was not only going to be dusted off, but polished to a fine sheen.
Over the course of the week I worked on the first two movements, dredging up memories of childhood viola lessons: which notes were held to full length, those that were shortened, when to play at the tip or frog, tempos, baroque trills, and so on. After a week, I exhausted my memory and was as ready as I could be for a lesson on a piece I hadn't touched in decades.
At my lesson, I played the first movement without a single interruption from my teacher, then mentally prepared myself for what was sure to come next. What came next was an in-depth analysis. How should I be using the bow to get the 'color' I wanted? Where exactly in the bow did I want to be for a particular note? How much bow did I want to use and at what dynamic? Should this note be held just a tad longer? What about that trill? And oh, here are some ornaments to consider, and think about a cadenza...
Nope, not easy.
Every year since moving down to Houston, I've played in the pit orchestra for the Houston Bar Association's "Night Court" musical comedy. It is a production written by lawyers, with lawyer actors, stage crew, etc... Only in the pit do you find a few non-lawyer types, mostly in the string section. This year it is Viva Laws Vegas .
This year, instead of being in the pit, we are going to be up on stage. We have been duly warned by the Director that we will have to succumb to something called "blocking" and choreography, and no, that does not mean sitting in a nice row and bowing in the same direction. Its a bit daunting thinking about doing all of these other things besides just playing the music well.
But, it will be fun as it always is.
More entries: March 2012
Mendy Smith is from League City, Texas. Biography
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