March 2007

Changes

March 24, 2007 23:39

It happens every year at this time. We get a few warm, spring-like days, and then winter returns. We have damp, cold, windy weather with sleet or a dusting of snow, either of which turns to black ice.


Feb. 25


Feb.25


Feb. 27. It might have been mating season, but these two cardinals didn’t appear interested in each other.


March 2. Sign of winter.


March 2. Aha! I found two white crocuses…


March 2 … and a clump of purple crocuses.


March 13. I couldn’t stand waiting any more, so I bought some daffodils to bloom in my home. (Note the hand-loomed Bolivian sash holding the clump of flowers up.)


March 13. I found a purple hyacinth about to bloom…


March 13 … and a daffodil about to bloom.


March 20. One week later, the purple hyacinth was in full bloom…


March 20 …and so was the daffodil…


March 20 … and a pink hyacinth, too.


March 20 …and there’s more to come.

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Suzuki and Elvis

March 19, 2007 23:25

Many times I have heard students play Allegretto, #10 in Suzuki Book 1, the tune which introduces accent marks, and I dimly recall a German folksong that I heard many years ago which sounds similar. One day recently, after eavesdropping on one of my lessons, my boyfriend told me, “I know that tune. Elvis recorded it in the early 60s when he was in Germany.” To my query about the name of the song, he replied, “I don’t remember. It was something like Don’t be mean to me. I don’t have a wooden heart.” Curious and skeptical, I rushed to you tube and found it at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gPPl4UgVYtw. It’s a gem! A sweet, clean cut Elvis sings, first in English and then in German, to a sweet little doll in a puppet show.

Can't you see
I love you
Please don't break my heart in two
That's not hard to do
'Cause I don't have a wooden heart
And if you say goodbye
Then I know that I would cry
Maybe I would die
'Cause I don't have a wooden heart
There's no strings upon this love of mine
It was always you from the start
Treat me nice
Treat me good
Treat me like you really should
'Cause I'm not made of wood
And I don't have a wooden heart

Muss i denn, muss i denn
Zum Stadtele hinaus
Stadtele hinaus
Und du, mein schat, bleibst hier?

There's no strings upon this love of mine
It was always you from the start

Sei mir gut
Sei mir gut
Sei mir wie du wirklich sollst
Wie du wirklich sollst
'Cause I don't have a wooden heart

The song, called “Wooden Heart,” was written by Wise, Weisman, Twomey, and Kaempfert, and was based on a German folksong. The Elvis version appeared in the 1961 film G.I. Blues.

I feel that it’s my duty as a violin teacher to pass this information on to my students. I explained it to a 10 year old girl and asked her whether she knew who Elvis was. “Sure,” she said. “He’s a singer. His full name is Elvis Costello.” Ow!

I had remembered Elvis as a decadent singer of sexy songs, but Wooden Heart is so different that I had to reconsider. I looked up all the Elvis songs I could remember on youtube and read what later rock and jazz musicians had to say about Elvis. I watched Elvis perform Jailhouse Rock, You Ain’t Nothin’ But A Hound Dog, Blue Suede Shoes, Love Me Tender, and Wise Men Say. I was impressed. Elvis did a variety of styles of music and did them all well. Musicians who followed him had some very good things to say about him, including his innovations and his talent.

Anyone who thinks that Suzuki leads students only to classical music had better think again.


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A Practice Log with Goals

March 14, 2007 22:18

I’ve been thinking about practice logs for a long time. I wrote about the subject in my blog of 12/28/06 and got a lot of helpful comments. There was also a discussion on the subject, and that gave me a lot of food for thought, too. My problem was that most of the practice logs I’ve seen serve as records of how many times the student has practiced or how long the student has practiced. I wanted to address the quality of the practice. What should you focus on? What are your goals?

One of my students did some Internet research and devised a log which helps him. I took his log and modified it. I’ve been using it on my students for about two weeks and getting very good feedback.

Here is a sample practice log with goals. I mixed goals from several different students to make this sample practice log.

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The bottom part, with spaces to record the number of minutes practiced each day, is for kids, but one of my adult students likes to use it, too. The third column on the upper chart is for the student to fill in. Some kids like to put a check next to a piece every day they practiced it. I’m trying to get all my students to give me feedback on some of the pieces they’ve played. So far, only one has done it. She wanted help playing the attacks in Allegretto in Suzuki Book 1. I also encourage the students to write down anything they’ve practiced that I haven’t assigned. They enjoy that, and so do I. I find it helpful to know what a student can do or try to do by himself. When I write the goals, I limit myself to 1, 2, or, rarely, 3 per piece. The short list is designed to help the student focus. I usually write notes on the music, too, but sometimes I wonder whether the students pay any attention to them.

So far, all my students, including adults and kids, have given me positive feedback on this practice log with goals. As always, I welcome comments from my readers at v.com.

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Bonnie Rideout's Caledonia in Concert

March 6, 2007 02:34

Bonnie Rideout, one of the world’s greatest traditional Scottish fiddlers, is a musician I have heard several times, and I’ve been fortunate to take a course from her. She has put together a group of Scottish folk musicians called Caledonia, and I had the great thrill of hearing them perform live last week. Some of the members of Caledonia are world class soloists in their own right: John Doyle (guitar and cittern*), William Jackson (Scottish harp and whistles), and Jerry O’Sullivan (Uilleann pipes**, small pipes***, whistles, and flute). Other members of the group are Mairi MacInnes, a Gaelic singer from the Outer Hebrides who didn’t learn to speak English until she started school; Matthew Bell, percussionist; Christine Hanson, cellist; Roy Munro, folk singer; and Sara Lyons and Ellen Wilkes-Irmishch, Highland dancers.

One of the first tunes on the program was a slow air by Neil Gow, an eighteenth century Scottish fiddler and composer, which Bonnie played with the cellist. They started with the cellist playing melody and Bonnie playing harmony a few octaves higher, an unusual arrangement which is difficult to play well, but they did it beautifully. In another difficult maneuver which they handled very gracefully, Bonnie switched to melody and the cellist played harmony in lower registers, a more common practice. The variety of expression put a new spin on a beautiful air, making it striking and beautiful.

Most of the high energy tunes featured the Highland dancers, but I felt that the dancing was the weakest part of the program.

Bonnie announced that she would play The Reel O’Tullough, a tune fiddlers especially like to play. She’s right. I love to play it with its set of variations by James Scott Skinner, an outstanding nineteenth century Scottish fiddler and composer. In fact, I bought Skinner’s book of sheet music, The Scottish Violinist, mainly for the variations on this reel. They include all kinds of fun and crazy things, such as jumping back and forth quickly between the G and E strings, turning runs of eighth notes first into sixteenth notes and then into triplets, double stops, changes in accidentals, and occasional pizz interjected quickly in arco passages. I love to play this piece, and I do it reasonably well, but Bonnie blew me away. She did everything so much cleaner and quicker than I did, and she added variations that weren’t in the book. It was exciting to hear her. Caledonia kept playing one very rhythmical, high energy tune which I know, love, and play, but I couldn’t remember the name. The program mentioned a set of Shetland reels, so I looked them up when I got home and found that the tune that almost picked up the audience and carried them away was Sleep Soond Ida Moarnin’ (Sleep Soundly in the Morning). Another high energy tune that really animated the dancers – and some of the audience, too – was Crossing the Minch, a tune I love to play. It’s got some wild triplets.

The concert wouldn’t be complete without a Robert Burns song, and the group performed one of my favorites, “A Man’s A Man for A’ That”. The singer/guitarist started, and he was soon joined by a whistler and cittern player in the most upbeat performance of that song I’ve ever heard. By the end of the song, all the musicians were singing or playing along, and the mood was positively exuberant.

Bonnie pulled a real tour de force by explaining and playing a piobaireachd (pronounced something like pibro), a traditional form of Scottish music which describes a battle in symbolic sounds, visions, and emotions. She played Marsail Lochinalie – A Fiddle Piobaireachd by James Oswald (1710-1769). There is very little melody to this piece, but it held me spellbound. As Bonnie explained before playing it, you can hear a light wind blowing; soldiers gathering and marching, ever louder as the battalions grow in size; the initial shot; the cacophony of the battle; and, finally, the eternal sadness for those killed. The music was unlike anything I had heard before. I found it very vivid and moving. Bonnie will not be touring in the 2007-8 season because she will devote her time to working on piobaireachds and slow airs.

I came home from the concert in a Scottish glow, and I’ve been playing some of those fiddle tunes for days. I also bought Bonnie’s CD Scottish Inheritance, which I love. I’ve been listening and trying to play along with parts of it. Bonnie’s music just won’t let go of me.


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Some notes on terminology:
*The cittern is like a mandolin, but larger and tuned one octave lower.
**Uilleann pipes are a traditional Irish instrument. They are much smaller than the better known Scottish Highland pipes or great pipes. They are inflated by pressing a small set of bellows with the right arm, rather than by blowing with the mouth. They sound sweeter and quieter than most other bagpipes.
***The small pipes are traditional Scottish pipes which are similar to the Uillean pipes.

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