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Kimberly  Simpkins

Mid-Term Progress Report

February 24, 2013 at 3:09 AM

Well, I’m about midway through my first semester in graduate school. Going back to school as a 40-something-year old, after a 20 year gap from undergraduate studies, has been quite an adventure. I’ve been assessing where I’m at now vs. where I was when I started in January, and where I still have to go between now and the end of the term.

The University Symphony Orchestra is set to perform Beethoven’s 9th Symphony on February 24th. I’ve done this work several times in my professional career, but never as a student. This is also my first time on the 1st violin part. The experience of doing Beethoven 9 as a student is vastly different from having played it as a professional musician. Because it is being used as a training tool for us students, and because orchestra meets 3 times a week for a total of 6 hours, we’ve spent what feels to me like a LOT of time on this piece since January 9th when we first started it, vs. the few rehearsals that professional symphonies have before a performance. We’ve played passages way under tempo (like the fugue in the last movement) several times, and rehearsed many passages again and again and again. I’m not complaining, though, because after all, I’m learning too. I’ll admit, I’ve not really minded the extra work. It’s just different. Soon the performance will be under our belts and we’ll move on to other things.

My solo pieces are coming along. On the Khachaturian, I can make it all the way up to the cadenza, under tempo but gaining speed and dexterity. The other day my professor wrote in some fingerings and bowings in the cadenza (the Oistrakh) as my eyes glazed over looking at all those chords and scales. Right now the cadenza looks very intimidating to me…all I see is a tangled mass of notes that I have no idea what to do with yet! I was not comforted by my instructor’s assurances that it is “very playable” and not as bad as it looks, as the notes just flew from his fingers while he played it to make sure the fingerings were correct. Ha! I have a ways to go on this concerto, but if I can get through the cadenza, I’m home free, and just might have the entire first movement learned by the end of the term.

The Bartok Romanian Dances aren’t where I want them to be, but I’ll be honest, I haven’t spent as much time on that one as I need to, because in addition to trying to knock out the 1st movement of Khachaturian, I have one other little thorn in my flesh that I’m trying to hack my way through:

Brahms Quartet No. 1 in C minor, first movement.

That little gem is a beast in disguise! I was not familiar with this work before it was assigned to our quartet, but I confess, I really do like it. But let’s just dispense with political correct words like “challenging”, and call it what it is…It’s just plain hard! My part is hard, and putting it together with the others is hard. It’s “I’m WAY out of my comfort zone” hard. We’re stumbling our way through it right now, but I am confident that we’ll have tamed this beast by April, when we’ll have to play it in front of people. I’m playing with some great young people (yes, I can say that, since they are all at least ½ my age, lol!) and our faculty coach is incredible. So as much as this piece is working me over, I admit, I’m enjoying the “challenge” of it. *grin*

I’m also taking conducting, Music Bibliography, and an orchestra repertoire class where we study excerpts. In all, I’m taking 12 hours this semester, and my overall assessment is that I have no regrets. I can feel myself growing and changing, and while there have been a few growing pains along the way, I take it as a sign of progress. A wise person once told me “progress before perfection”. I think that as long as one is making progress, there is no such thing as failure!

Well, except maybe where the diagnostic exams come in. In other news, I found out that, based on the results of those assessments they give to incoming graduate students, I will have to take the review course for musicology (and most likely theory) next semester. I’m not even surprised…I knew there was no way I would recall so much information from my history and theory classes TWENTY years ago! But that’s not until fall. Right now, I’ll be happy to make it through this spring!!! One semester at a time!

Stay tuned…


From jean dubuisson
Posted on February 24, 2013 at 8:37 PM
Just want to say that I am following your blog with much interest! Thanks for sharing your experiences.
From Kimberly Simpkins
Posted on February 25, 2013 at 4:31 PM
Hi, Jean,

Thanks for stopping by and letting me know you're reading along! :)

From Amelia Fischer
Posted on February 26, 2013 at 6:56 PM
I am absolultely loving this blog and following it closely. I admire what you are doing, and, as a "late 50's"-age-person, I would love to do what you are doing, but don't see that possible in my life, so I'm spending much time in my studio practicing very hard, but wish I could have the input of the professors and the classes and the stimulation of the other students around me. Keep up the good work, and keep informing us of your progress!!
From Kimberly Simpkins
Posted on February 27, 2013 at 1:28 AM
Hi, Amelia! So glad you stopped by, and thanks for reading and following! You are to be commended for continuing to grow and hone your skills, even if it is "just" in your private studio! By the way, I really did not set out to go to graduate school. I was mostly interested in taking lessons, but the teacher I was interested in also "happened" to be the violin professor at the university. My initial meeting with him to kind of explore my possibilities turned into way more than I expected...this opportunity to go to school. It really was a Godsend. It goes to show that you never know what will come your way if you just ask and put yourself out there! Also reminding yourself that "it's never too late". I wish you all the best in your endeavors!

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