Happy holidays, everyone!
What is practicing? If I play music just because I like it, does that count? Must I suffer to earn credit? What about goals? I’m not a professional musician and I’m not taking lessons, so I don’t have exams, auditions, or lessons to prepare for. I do prepare for orchestra rehearsals and gigs, and I work on tunes for jamming. What about the days when I spend several hours playing with other people, either rehearsing with written music or jamming without it? I don’t think of this kind of playing as practice, but I do learn by playing with others. In fact, the only way to get good and stay good at jamming and improvising is to do these things frequently.
I’m finding that the greatest benefit of keeping a log is that I set goals for myself and monitor my progress. I’m doing for myself what I do for my students. I write down the exercises, etudes, and pieces that I work on each day, and I write notes like “needs more work” or “try … next.” This gives me focus. The written log also helps me keep a balance. I see what I’ve been doing a lot of and jolt myself into doing a greater variety of things.
Should I put a smiley face sticker in my log book when I’m pleased with something I’ve done?
The holiday season is a time of strong emotions – love and hope, disappointment and anger. Do you ever feel battered and weak?
The Touch Of The Master's Hand
'Twas battered and scarred and the auctioneer
”What am I bidden, good folks,” he cried
From the room far back a gray haired man
The music ceased and the auctioneer
The people cheered and some of them cried,
And many a man with life out of tune
A mess of pottage a glass of wine;
But the Master comes and the foolish crowd
Happy holidays to all my friends at v.com!
It’s always fun to rehearse and then play with the chorus and soloists. This music is really incomplete without them. Initially, our conductor sang many of the soloists’ parts during rehearsals, and he was very, very good. I almost felt that he could replace them, but, of course, I was wrong. We were very fortunate to have such excellent soloists, especially the soprano, who comes to us from the Met. She is inspiring both musically and personally. After years of training and auditioning, she finally made it into the Met in 2000. After 9/11, the Met was hard hit by cutbacks, and she had to take an office job in addition to her singing job. Then she had serious problems with her health and had to leave the Met. Last year, when I first heard her sing “I know that my redeemer liveth,” I could hear the faith in her voice. I asked her about it, and she confirmed that she really did believe it. At rehearsal this year, she moved me to tears with a very short and seemingly simple solo. We exchanged contact information so that we can stay in touch. I was happy to see the tenor soloist at rehearsal, too. Last year he was nearly incapacitated by severe pain from a back injury, and, during the concert intermission, I saw him leaning against the wall, wracked with pain. He slipped away quickly as soon as the concert ended, before I could talk to him. This year, as soon as I saw him, he rushed to talk to him and ask him about his health. He told me about his struggle with his back pain, including a serious exercise regimen, and his ability to function well again. Recovery of body and spirit are miraculous.
I always send out “concert alerts” by email to my students and some of my friends, not expecting much, and knowing that I’ll feel happy if anyone shows up. This year three of my students and their families, as well as one of my friends, came, and I could not have been more happy if I had had real groupies.
The concert went very well. We got a great response from the audience in the form of heavy applause after each number and substantial singing along. The female soloists sat onstage just to my right during the concert, and they sang along with the chorus, so I had an extra, semiprivate performance to enjoy. There were, of course, minor glitches. The principal second violinist noticed someone playing badly out of tune during one of the recitatives and realized, to his chagrin, that he was the one. His D string had slipped loose by about three half tones. He managed to avoid playing his D string until the end of the selection, when he retuned quickly and quietly. At another time, I turned two pages instead of one. I saw the tenor moving to the front of the orchestra for his solo, and I thought, “That’s strange. Last year this was a soprano solo.” Duh. I found the correct page quickly.
We always have a reception following the concert, and it’s my favorite holiday party. All the performers, as well as their friends and family who attend, share in the celebration. This year we almost didn’t have a reception because the reception room was double booked. I thought of the Grinch Who Stole Christmas and wondered whether we would have to spread blankets out on the lawn and eat fried chicken from a fast food place while dressed in our formal concert attire. Fortunately, we got a room in an adjacent building and we had our party. My friend in the audience is in a wheelchair, and I hoped that she would be able to park her car and get into the concert hall without mishap. She did. Getting to the reception was another challenge for her, but our conductor came up with a key to the freight elevator and escorted her personally.
Another year. Another Messiah. Another series of miracles. I wish you all happy holidays and your own personal miracles in the new year.
Violinist Frank Almond tells the life story of the 1715 Lipinski Strad in his new recording, "A Violin's Life."
Pauline Lerner is from Rockville, Maryland. Biography
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