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Karen Allendoerfer

Franckly, my dear . . .

June 8, 2010 at 11:20 AM

 I was a little concerned about how giving up viola and concentrating on violin was going to play out.  I suspected, and was right, that there had been a certain amount of avoidance/procrastination involved in playing the viola.  There were things I enjoyed doing and playing on the viola because they were "easy."  Practicing was satisfying and the reward to sacrifice ratio was, in my calculus, pretty high.  My worries were that if I just concentrated on the violin, the sacrifice would go up, and the reward would go down.  

I had worked on the Franck sonata movement 4 off and on, but it was not anywhere near performance level when I stopped working on it several months ago and concentrated on the Stamitz viola concerto instead for my recital.  Now I'm back at it.  This movement is not that long, only 3 pages in sheet music and 6 minutes and some change on iTunes.  I am trying to memorize the first two pages.  This is really hard.  It's as if every day the piece is new again.  The melody is repetitive in ways that I don't notice when I'm not trying to memorize it, but which still trip me up.  Yet, paradoxically, there are also major style changes from section to section, such that I get in one groove or habit, and then there are a few measures rest and then I have to come in sounding totally different.  There's nowhere to rest, mentally, in this piece.  I'm nowhere near ready for the pianist, but I'm sure he'd make it sound better.

It takes me about 5 minutes to get "into" practicing.  There is this inertia that comes from knowing what I'm about to do is going to be difficult and frustrating.  I start out playing the A-major scale without inspiration or passion.  It is really going through the motions.  Emotionally detached.  I've started just watching the tuner and trying to make it as green as possible, as steadily as possible, to give my mind something to occupy itself until interest kicks in.  It is, as was mentioned in another blog, like brushing my teeth.  

But something does happen after about 5 minutes.  I've been up and down it several times, and the scale starts sounding like something.  My fingers are finally hitting where they should be more often than not.  Then I get into the Franck and look at my watch and, to my surprise, a half hour has gone by since I last looked at it.

Taking stock almost 4 years into my return to the violin, there are some things that have definitely changed.  Now, I can hear when my violin needs new strings, and I can hear the difference when I put the new ones on.  I never could before, I just changed them (or not) according to a schedule or something I read.  Now I even think I can hear when my bow needs re-hairing.  (I'll see, after I get it re-haired, if I was right).  I went to a chamber music concert on Sunday to hear a friend play, and after his group was finished there was a string quartet playing Mendelssohn Op. 44 in D.  They were high-level amateurs and quite good, but I also, for the first time, felt like I could hear subtle, occasional, intonation problems in the quartet.

My ear is getting better.  It is what I wanted, yet it is something of a mixed blessing.  I'm becoming more critical in general, both of myself and of others.  It's getting to be more painful to listen to myself play the Franck unless I am truly obsessive about intonation.  (And that has its own disadvantages--because there's a lot more to the piece than intonation).  It's getting to be more difficult to listen to beginners and amateurs and just sit back and enjoy rather than getting distracted by intonation mistakes.  I need to push through this.  I hope what it means to come out on the other side is that I'll be able to practice, and listen, more intentionally.  Able to do everything that I do in practice for a reason rather than just brushing my teeth.


From Tom Holzman
Posted on June 8, 2010 at 1:37 PM

An inspiring blog.  It is wonderful that your ear and playing are making so much progress.  Keep up the good work and perfect the Franck.  It will amply reward your investment. 


From Pauline Lerner
Posted on June 9, 2010 at 6:01 AM

I am very sensitive to intonation, and I don't let my students get away with much, even my very new beginners.  One good way to improve your intonation is to play slowly so that you can hear each note separately and correct your intonation as you play.  This may take up so much of your attention that you can't think about other aspects of playing, but I think it is worthwhile to do.  The rewards will be great.  It sounds like you're working hard on the Franck sonata, and I'm sure your hard work will pay off.  Let us know about your progress on this piece.  It is lovely, and I'm sure you will play it well.


From Karen Allendoerfer
Posted on June 9, 2010 at 10:54 AM

 Pauline, I do that, but I can only stand so much of that kind of practicing/playing without wanting to throw the instrument across the room.  It's a mixed blessing, for sure.  It's times like that when I think I should have been a pianist.

I get my rehaired bow back tonight.  I'm looking forward to it!  I used my daughter's bow to practice while mine was gone, and it needs to be rehaired too :(

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