January 2014

Ledger Lines

January 26, 2014 18:07

Ledger Lines. Its not a thing we violist have to navigate often. But when we do, rest assured we're up in the nosebleed section of the fingerboard. Case in point, the 1st viola part of York Bowen's Fantasy Quartet (for 4 violas):

That high G? That is 11th position on viola. When I make it up to that note, my fingertips are nearly hitting rosin. Luckily, I get to climb my my way up to that note bit by bit, then come back down to 1st position on the next note and then back up to 3rd position, which by that point is as easy as 1st position.

This piece is an exercise in shifting. So much so that my teacher gave me this Mazas Etude to study in parallel with the Bowen:

There are ledger lines to navigate here, but they are all in alto clef (unusual by itself). What makes this etude tricky is the string that the notes are to be played on. This particular etude only gets up to 9th position on any given string, but it is the lower strings in the high positions that are trickiest. On viola, the upper bouts are much larger than a violin, so planning those shifts ahead of time is very important. Without advanced planning of the shift, you literally run into the upper bouts of the instrument and get stuck in 5th position with nowhere else to go.

What is amazing to me is that I can actually play these pieces at all. It was not that long ago when shifting past 3rd position was a struggle. Now the struggle is not so much on how to get up that high on the fingerboard, but more a matter of how to get back down again gracefully.

2 replies

2013 Review / 2014 Preview

January 5, 2014 18:35

It's that time of year again.

2013 Review:

I finally dropped out of the community orchestra and kept to playing chamber music and taking private lessons. It was a difficult decision, but one that in the end the right one for me. Between a house remodel followed almost immediately by a very sick kitty and a crazy year at my day job, it was all I could do to keep up practice, lessons and occasional chamber music dates.

My goal of making it up to the nosebleed section of the fingerboard and back down again without doing damage to myself came about in an unexpected way when I chucked "That Which May Not Be Named". The real test came when I read the 1st viola part of York Bowen's Fantasy Quartet at Interlochen over the summer. There is a measure that makes it up to a high E and all the way back down to C# on the next note. Not only did I make it up there, I overshot it by a few notes and got rosin on my fingertips. That was a first! I'll just say that ditching the SR has been the best thing I've done all year.

Phrasing - this skill still eludes me. I think I'm on the cusp of making a breakthrough, but alas I still sound like a midi file. The problem seems to be in my bow arm, something to focus on this coming year. My "playing out" problem actually turned out to be more of a set-up problem. Once I got a new soundpost put in, that little issue seems to have gone away.

2014 Preview:

This coming year is more of the same: focus on chamber music, phrasing and arm vibrato. Primarily, I plan on focusing on the MUSIC and making it musical. There are few pieces in particular that have me intrigued that I want to spend some time with this year:

First is the York Bowen quartet I mentioned earlier. The ladies I played it with this past summer and I plan to work it up for a masters class this coming summer at Interlochen. I have much work to do to get it ready for a master's class - mostly in the realm of planning my shifts and getting to understand their intervals. That, and a bit of artificial harmonics at this point in the game. It should be interesting.

Second is Hindemith's duet for cello and viola. It is a piece that I studied to get some coaching on at Interlochen last summer with a friend. There are a few tricky measures and I still don't have my head wrapped around how the two parts really fit with each other. The cellist and I are planning on recording our own parts and sending them to each other so we can figure it out (we live on opposite sides of the country N/S-wise). It will be a fun one to puzzle through.

The last piece is a quartet that a friend from the orchestra composed. He approached me with it on New Years Day during the annual "Brandy Bash" (a Houston tradition of playing all the Brandenburg concertos in a single afternoon). He wants to have a house party later this spring to "premier" the piece. I gave it a quick glance between concertos. Oh Boy! Not something to sight read for a premier, even an informal one!

Three pieces of music. I think I can handle this.

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