This week we've enjoyed some stories from the viola world, with our interview with Primrose International Viola Competition winner Ayane Kozasa and also with Pauline Lerner's update on her own adventures with the viola.
At Violinist.com we are making it easier for people to talk specifically about issues related to the viola by starting a Discussion category called "Viola," so that any future discussion topics about viola can be categorized and easily found. (Go at it, violists!)
This brings me to our weekend vote: Do you play the viola? To be very honest, I don't, though my husband was a violist in high school. One of my students also just recently won a position in a youth orchestra on viola, so I just may be learning a lot more about the instrument this year as I help her!
The viola holds an allure with its dark, low sound, and also the way the music works in an ensemble, enhancing all other parts of the music. There are also a number of tasty viola solos, for the viola alone (the Walton, Stamitz) and also in orchestral repertoire (the one that come to mind is in Shostakovich Symphony 5, but there are many more). I like going to V.com member Scott Slapin's website just to hear his lovely compositions.
Do you play the viola? Do you wish you played the viola? What are your favorite pieces for viola? Do you actually specialize in the viola?
Christian Howe's blog this week about recording yourself play made me wonder, how many of us actually do so?
Christian said that recording yourself play is the number one way to become a better player, a pretty emphatic statement! But he makes a very valid point.
As a teacher, I've heard many students say, "I could play it SO well at home, and now at my lesson, it just isn't going as well! I don't know what it is!"
I actually do know what it is: You think sounds a lot better than it really sounds, in the privacy of your practice room.
"No, that's not it!"
Yes, it is. There's reason why people like Itzhak Perlman say that 15 minutes on stage in a performing situation is like 10 hours in the practice room: your senses are at a heightened state of awareness. In other words, you actually hear yourself when you play in front of people, or when you play for your teacher.
Recording yourself play has a similar effect because you are heightening your sense of listening by taking away all those other distractions caused by playing, such as moving your arms, reading music, remembering the music, performing the dynamics, etc. etc. When you are listening to your recorded self you are doing only that: listening.
So how often do you record yourself play, and listen to it?
If you live on Planet Earth, you may have heard something about the release of the final movie in the Harry Potter series on Friday.
What you may not know, especially if you have not been particularly enamored of the Harry Potter craze, is how much this world of magic created by J.K. Rowling parallels our world of music, and once again, I was struck by the similarities.
One of the most noticeable examples is how the wands used by the witches and wizards are their personal instruments, a lot like violins are our instruments, to which we can become very personally attached. A few years ago I wrote a long blog about the connection I noticed between the way luthiers speak of violins and the way J.K. Rowling's fictional wandmakers describe wands.
The characters in the Harry Potter books have special connection to their wands (which are made of certain types of wood). "The wand chooses the wizard," says wandmaker Ollivander, a number of times throughout the book and at least once in this latest movie. That connection is felt by subsequent owners of a wand. It sounds a lot like the way we think of violins and stringed instruments.
I have felt connections to my own violin that are unlike the feelings I have for other objects in my life. One of my early violins was owned by my grandmother, one of the only possessions her German immigrant parents left her when she was orphaned at the age of three. Who played it before me? What did they play? The voice of that violin connects me to them.
I feel a deep connection to the violin I now play, which is 200 years old. The first time I played it, sparks flew from it and also the room turned upside-down. Okay, not really, but certainly I fell hard for that fiddle and still feel a strong attachment which is nothing like my feeling for my latest computer, or even for the flute I tried to play for a while. Each of my violins has had its own voice, and it would seem, a life of its own.
But some more than others. For a number of years I played a violin for which I had little attachment. It made a huge difference when I discovered a violin with which I connected on a more personal level.
How do you feel about your fiddle? Do you have a connection with it, or are you still looking for "the one"?
I was picking up my bow from my luthier friend's shop, when he told me what seemed like very startling news.
"Yo-Yo has passed away," he said sadly.
"WHAT?" I said, in full-alarm mode. How could such a thing be? How I have possibly missed such major news?
"He was 12 years old," said my friend, "such a great dog to us."
"Oh!" I said, trying not to sound too relieved. I mean, I do understand how sad it is to lose a pet. But thank goodness for the continued existence of a certain cellist we all know and love!
This brings me around to our question of the week, which was inspired by the alpaca breeder who e-mailed me this week, wanting to name this year's newborn alpacas after violinists: Have you ever named a pet after a famous musician? What kind of pet, and after whom? My answer is "no," but I haven't really had too many pets in my life!
P.S. Here is the latest from Tom Balka, owner of Lavender Fields Alpacas:
"We have used sculptors, opera singers, dancers, actors, painters, authors, poets, fiber artists and chefs. To give you a few examples, we've named some of our alpacas for Kiri Te Kanawa, Cezanne, Matisse, Renior, Degas, Julia (Child), Cat Cora, Emeril (Lagasse), (Anthony) Quinn, (Burt) Lancaster, Alexandre (Dumas), Shakespeare, (Shel) Silverstein, Ogden (Nash), Courteney (Cox), Penelope (Cruz), Pearl (Buck), Baryshnikov, Joffrey and Ginger (Rogers). It's fun and every year we get to look into the backgrounds of some wonderful artists."
Here is a picture of "Emily Bronte" and her cria (baby alpaca), the one Tom is asking us to help name:
V.com weekend vote: Is it ever a good idea to conclude a major competition, without awarding a gold medal?July 1, 2011 10:13
This week in Moscow, the Tchaikovsky Competition came to a conclusion, without awarding a gold medal in the violin division.
Is it a good idea to conclude a major competition in this way?
One argument in favor of not awarding a gold medal is to keep the standards of the competition high, to send out the message that everyone is going to have to attain a higher level if they expect to carry home the gold. But if the standards were not high enough, exactly whose fault is that? Is it just an overall degradation of talent in the violin world? I highly doubt that, with so many more talented people, started so young. Is it the fault of the competition itself, for not attracting the talent it hoped to attract?
And really, is that even true? It seems to me that the level was extremely high. In that case, was it because the judges simply couldn't agree? Were there politics involved? Of course, there are always politics involved. But a jury must be capable of meeting minds enough to make decisions. If they can't issue the awards as they were intended, then perhaps some blame lies with the jury, or the composition thereof.
If you don't award a gold medal, how does that affect your competition in years to come? Will people be even more determined to meet high expectations? Or do talented musicians simply gravitate to other competitions, where they know a prize will actually be rewarded for their extreme efforts on behalf of musical excellence, and for putting themselves in one of the most stressful situations imaginable?
More entries: June 2011
The Weekend Vote is from Pasadena, California. Biography
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