Oh dear. The title of my previous violinist.com blog started with the word “last” too, and I’m not done yet. Stay tuned for “Last Performance at the Belmont Farmers’ Market.” I’m too tired to come up with more original titles.
Our move to California is approaching. July 25 is the day we fly out. Two days before, the movers pack up our stuff and put it in a truck. Less than three weeks. AAAAH!
Yesterday I had what realistically is probably my last viola lesson with my current teacher. Probably . . . realistically . . . clearly I don’t want this to have been my last lesson. Qualifying adverbs much? We left it open that as moving day approaches, if I want some time to do something hands-on that uses a different part of my brain than packing and decluttering (like, I dunno, PLAYING AN INSTRUMENT?), I should come over and have another lesson. She’ll be there.
It’s been almost 8 years that I’ve been taking violin and viola lessons, and throughout those 8 years, my teacher Dianne has been there for me. Reading the blog I wrote when I first started with her (“A Long Blog About a Long Lesson”) is interesting, but not particularly surprising. Much of what I've been thinking about, violin- and viola-wise, over the past 8 years is already there: the ongoing discussion of how to keep tension out, informed by her own experiences with it as a student; her ability to say a lot about a little bit of playing and have that be right on target; the importance of shaping musical lines; the never-ending quest to improve intonation and get it a little closer to perfect.
As I’ve made teaching a larger part of my own work life over the past few years, I’ve come to realize that one of the hallmarks of a great teacher is that he or she sees, and addresses, the best of a student, rather than the worst. When I balked at re-learning Mozart #3, and instead opted for the Rockin’ Fiddle Challenge, she was right there with me, watching Adam DeGraff’s videos. She let me play Violinists Don’t Stop Believin’ in a recital (where another adult student tapped me on the shoulder afterwards, and whispered, “that was awesome!”). When I needed advice on how to be a better section leader and orchestral player, she was there with that too. She taught me how to use an electronic tuner to improve my intonation rather than as a crutch. She has never stopped nudging me towards a better attitude about scales, but she doesn’t harp on it. She has read my blog (hi Dianne) and we’ve had interesting conversations about the violinists profiled in Laurie’s book.
But now I have arrived at my last lesson. What did we do at it? I brought my viola and the two pieces I want to play when I audition for the Nova Vista Symphony: a slow piece, “The Pride of Kildare” from 6 Etudies in English Folksong by Vaughan Williams; and a fast piece, the 3rd movement Rondo from the Anton Stamitz viola concerto in D (yeah, I know, that’s a concerto, and I said I didn’t do concertos. I’m making an exception for this one because I want to be the first person to put all 3 movements of it on YouTube).
The Vaughan Williams is, like many of his pieces, deceptively simple. It’s in book 4 of Solos for Young Violists and it doesn’t go above 3rd position. It has a lovely melody and not even much shifting. I played it in church last weekend as a Prelude (Last Time Playing in This Church—AAAAH!) and didn’t even get nervous.
But Dianne still had quite a bit to say about vibrato. Apparently some of the notes had it, and some of them didn’t, and when the vibrato dropped out, it interrupted the musical phrase. As usual, I hadn’t even noticed. I’d been concentrating on the notes, the intonation, and the dynamics. I’ve always found the notion of “continuous vibrato” to be a thorny and confusing thicket best steered clear of, so we didn’t go there. But the issues we did talk about were:
The third movement is similar in difficulty: it’s high and goes into treble clef quite a bit. As a violist who is also a violinist, this doesn’t bother me. The clef switching in the middle of a bar can get to be a bit much sometimes, but I’m used to it now.
One of the best things about my lessons with Dianne is the way she has been able to meet me where I’m at. It’s been a while since I was acutely and painfully aware of my limitations as a violin student. I mean, in the back of my mind I know I’m an adult with major gaps in my playing background, I’m busy, I have bad habits, I don’t practice every day, I talk too much in lessons, and I don’t like concertos or scales. And I have musical interests and passions that could be described as either wide-ranging and creative or scattered and dilettante-ish. But at my lessons, none of this matters, or at least it doesn’t matter enough to keep me from having a good lesson, learning something, improving as a violinist, and being able to make music.
Previous entries: June 2015
Karen Allendoerfer is from Belmont, Massachusetts. Biography
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