June 2007

Happy Summer Solstice

June 21, 2007 13:31

Today we have 14 hr and 55 minutes of daylight where I live, near Washington, DC.

… and how are you celebrating the Summer Solstice?

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Busking for Kids

June 19, 2007 19:21


I’d like to try busking some time. It sounds like fun, and I could make a little money, too. I feel uncomfortable doing it by myself, though, at least for the first time. Today one of my students, age 9, came in and told me that he and his older brother had been busking earlier this afternoon. (He didn’t know the word “busking,” but that’s what it was.) They walked from home in the heat (about 95 degrees) for about 15 minutes to get to the local town square, where they unpacked their instruments and started playing. When their father came by unexpectedly, the boys asked him for lunch, and he obliged. The kids played for an hour and a half and made $10.79. I think that’s quite good for a metropolitan area where commuters don’t even stop to listen to Joshua Bell busking.

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Mission Impossible

June 14, 2007 20:53


Many of my students play in concerts given by their school orchestras at the end of the school year, and some of them are offered the opportunity to play a short solo, duet, or trio piece of their own choice. One of my first year students wanted to play a duet with a friend who plays cello, so I found a few easy pieces scored for violin and cello for them. They chose Swallowtail Jig, which my student plays very well, especially for a beginner. (I’m proud.) The cello part is harmony and easy to play. Their performance went very well.

The issue was more complex for another of my students, who is finishing his second year of classroom lessons, first year of private lessons. He comes from a very musical family. His father, brother, and sister, all play trumpet. I congratulated him on having the courage of his convictions. His extended family is full of brass instrument players, young and old. Twenty of them marched and played in a local Memorial Day performance. There were 19 brass players and one fiddler. Hurray for the fiddler! My student, his brother, and a friend who plays trombone decided to play a short piece together as part of the school orchestra concert. How could I find an easy piece scored for violin, trumpet, and trombone? I couldn’t. The school orchestra leader gave them a short segment of the theme from Mission Impossible to play. I shuddered when I saw it. It’s written in four flats in 5/4 time. It is aptly named. The orchestra teacher coached my student one-on-one during a few of his recess sessions, which he happily gave up for the coaching. His teacher annotated the piece thoroughly with l2, h3, etc. I coached him on it, too, and he practiced it diligently and enthusiastically. He learned it well in a short time, and I was proud. The three kids had rehearsals at home with my student’s father conducting. At his last lesson with me before the concert, my student said that the hardest part was coming in at exactly the right time. There were 2-bar rests and short segments of solo or duo playing. I wanted to help him with that, and his mother, who was present at the lesson, said that she had heard it so many times that she could sing the trumpet part. We tried that, but it didn’t work quite right. My student said that he thought that his brother played the same notes he did but two measures earlier. I tried to play the trumpet part on my violin as he described it, but, again, it didn’t work quite right. Then we called the brother at home, set the phone on “speaker,” and had the two boys play the tune together. (Isn’t technology great?) They got it right. The boys’ father wanted to conduct the trio at the concert, but the school orchestra teacher said no, she would conduct. However, at the concert, the father was able to stand behind the teacher, where she couldn’t see him but the three players could, and he conducted, too. The mother videotaped the whole performance and showed it to me. The players started off a little shaky but recouped quickly and gave a very good performance. Mission Impossible was made possible. Bravo!

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I love my Infeld Reds!

June 9, 2007 23:25


I fell in love with Infeld Reds when I heard them recently on the violin of one of my students. I especially loved the E string. I’ve never heard an open E sound like that – so warm, sweet, and full. It looks pretty, too, because it is gold plated. I did some research and found that the Infeld Red series is generally described as warm, rich, full, and dark. I like warm, rich, and full, but not dark. Perhaps it’s a matter of nomenclature. “Dark” reminds me of melancholic Tchaikovsky. I suppose it is intended to be the opposite of “bright.”

I’m supposed to be on a no frills budget, but what can I do when I’ve fallen in love? I’ve used Pirastro Tonicas for years, but I had them replaced with Infeld Reds. The difference was incredible. At first, I just played on the E string over and over, and it thrilled me – so sweet, warm, rich, and full. Not even a faint suggestion of the cursed falsetto. Next I noticed how different the G string sounded. The G on that violin had always sounded a little fuzzy, but the Infeld Red has a well defined, but not thin, sound. It has a warmth that I didn’t know my violin was capable of. (I realize that some of these changes may have been related to the adjustment of the soundpost which my luthier does when he replaces strings.) Finally, I noticed the new beauty of the A and D strings. They are warm, sweet, rich, and full, too.

I played on my new strings with a group of singers. At first, I played somewhat more loudly than usual in order to be heard, as I always have with singers. Then I tired playing more softly, and as far as I could tell, the sound carried just as well. I checked this out a few days later by playing for one of my more advanced students, standing near him and then farther away. He confirmed the carrying power of the strings.

I noticed a real increase in the sustain of these strings relative to the Pirastro Tonicas. With the PTs, my violin always had good sustain. Often when I played in orchestra and we all stopped at exactly the same time, I could hear the last note I had played lingering in the air longer than anyone else’s. With the IRs, the sustain is even better. I tried playing colle, and I was able to get a good sound (smooth, not squeaky) with a tiny bit of bow contact with the string. My vibrato has gotten much better and much easier with the new strings. I suppose that is related to their elasticity.

Only one of my students noticed the change in the sound of my violin with the Infeld Reds. He is an incredibly sensitive and perceptive nine year old. He told me, “Your violin sounds different today. It sounds like the sound is coming from deep inside the violin.”

I’ve got to stop transposing things up an octave so I can play them on the E string. I’ve got to remember that my violin sounds extra good on all four strings.

I love my Infeld Reds!

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