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Game-Changer: Why I'm Supplementing the Suzuki Books With New Music - by Women!

By Claire Allen
Arlington, Virginia
Published: October 29, 2014 at 20:40

My teaching life changed tonight, and it's because of something my 7-year-old student, Hannah, said to me. "Why are all the composers I learn about men?"

In my studio, right now, my students are divided into four teams, and those teams are participating in a variety of activities to earn points. I am keeping score for them and the winners will be announced right before our winter recitals - which, conveniently, they will be even more prepared for. They get points for practicing. They get points for completing a certain number of scale bowings, or reaching milestones in their etude books. They get points for attending concerts, and for reading books on music.

Hannah has proven to be a fierce competitor. Her mom ordered several of Mike Venezia's Getting to Know the World's Greatest Composers series and she has gone through one of them every single week, bringing in hand-written notes.

Today, she brought me some wonderfully written notes on George Frideric Handel. At the top of the page, she had written: "Question from Hannah: Why are all the composers I learn about men?"

It stopped me in my tracks. I consider myself a thoroughly modern woman. I vote. I own property. I have my own bank account. I have my own business. I drive. I even drive if my boyfriend is in the car.

And yet, my repertoire as a performing violinist and as a teacher, is almost completely written by deceased white males. In keeping with my classical training and tradition, I'm passing this repertoire down to my students.

Don't get me wrong. I LOVE the music by the famous classical composers. I'm currently learning works by Wienawski, Brahms, and Beethoven. I earned both my college degrees playing their music. I love it. It's so much a part of me that it took my seven year old student to get me to really look at my repertoire.

When I explained to Hannah that a long time ago, women's rights were limited, she looked at me blankly. She was born in the 21st century. Such a world seems foreign to her, and I am glad of it.

In her lesson, I gave her a list of female composers and told her that if she researched them and took enough notes, I would count that as reading a book for our studio challenge. It seemed only fair, and I wasn't sure that I would be able to find children's biographies of female composers.

I came home from teaching and immediately went to Amazon, where I found a few children's books on Hildegard von Bingen, Nannerl Mozart, Clara Schumann, and Fanny Mendelssohn. I instantly sent them to Hannah's mother, and I will look forward to hearing her thoughts on them in the near future!

Then, I wondered if I could find music by female composers at a comparable level to Suzuki Book 1. I googled "violin music by women" and found a treasure: http://www.violinmusicbywomen.com. It's a graded anthology - with four volumes, from beginner to advanced level, all written by women. Some are historic and some are written by living composers.

I ordered all four volumes and am going to work on incorporating them into my teaching. Besides Hannah, who is one of my most outspoken students, I have several other modern young women in my studio who will want to play music written by women closer to them in history. For that matter, there are modern young men in my studio as well, who will learn that women compose music that it is worth their while to play. There will always be a place for the classics, and those wonderful men whose music has endured through the centuries. But from now on, in my studio, music by women will be studied and performed, too.

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The Week in Reviews, Op. 54: Chee-Yun, Anne Akiko Meyers, Pinchas Zukerman in Concert

By Robert Niles
Published: October 28, 2014 at 12:51

In an effort to promote the coverage of live violin performance, Violinist.com each week presents links to reviews of notable concerts and recitals around the world.

Photo courtesy the artist

Chee-Yun performed the Tchaikovsky with the Tucson Symphony Orchestra.

  • Arizona Daily Star: "Chee-Yun....was nothing short of breathtaking in her solo turn at Tchaikovsky's technically challenging Violin Concerto in D major. Her pristine 1669 Francesco Ruggieri violin, reportedly buried with its owner and re-emerging in 1991 with no scratches or wear and tear to hint at its antiquity, produced the lushest, most gorgeous sound. There were no wolfs, as she called them, little hiccups and distortions that can muddy the works especially on a piece that demands so much of the musician."

Anne Akiko Meyers performed Vivaldi's "Four Seasons" with the Des Moines Symphony.

  • Des Moines Register: "...the familiar melodies sounded bright and nimble, and Meyers' tone was as clean as Windexed glass."

Joshua Bell performed works by Schubert, Grieg and Prokofiev in recital with pianist Alessio Bax.

  • Violinist.com: "He may have the timeless look of a young man, he may entertain us at times, but he also has the conspicuous maturity of a concert artist that has been at his craft for 40+ years."

Pinchas Zukerman performed Bruch's Violin Concerto No.1 with the National Arts Centre Orchestra.

  • Herald Scotland: "Centrepiece of the programme, of course, was the legendary violinist's performance of Bruch's First Violin Concerto, as rich and warm as you would expect from one of the great violinists of the era, though there were a few moments, notably in the finale, where balance between Zukerman and his splendid orchestra was slightly askew, often an issue where the soloist is the director."
  • Edinburgh Guide: "The highlight of the evening without doubt was the Bruch Violin Concerto No 1 where Pinchas Zuckerman not only played the solo part but conducted too. The audience loved it."

Yuriy Bekker performed the Beethoven with the Charleston Symphony Orchestra.

  • The Post and Courier: "Nuance and sensitivity informed this performance, too. Bekker's showed off Beethoven's nicer, gentler side, providing a sweet yet full tone and a fluid, unrushed interpretation. The orchestra might have provided a little more dynamic contrast, but what it did offer was a full-bodied sound during the famously long exposition and a most gracious accompaniment to Bekker's lovely playing."

Agata Szymczewska performed Bruch's Violin Concerto No.1 with The Swan Orchestra.

  • Exeter Express and Echo: "Agata doesn't just play well, either, she plays dramatically, proving with fancy bow flourishes and emphatic swaying that showmanship isn't purely the domain of more modern music either. She is rightly applauded back to the stage three times, finishing with a charming solo violin piece as an encore."

Jeffrey Multer performed the Barber with the Florida Orchestra.

  • Tampa Bay Times: "Multer's work on Barber's Violin Concerto was transcendent, perhaps because of its significance to him. He learned it during a difficult time in his own life, he said during the pre-concert conversation. He called the piece a 'breakthrough.'"

Please support live music in your community by attending a concert or recital whenever you can!

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Review: Joshua Bell in recital with pianist Alessio Bax at Disney Hall

By Laurie Niles
Published: October 27, 2014 at 22:54

When one thinks of a "recital hall," generally a 2,200-seat venue does not come to mind.

Yet within the first quiet moments of Schubert's Violin Sonata in A major, D. 574, Joshua Bell and pianist Alessio Bax somehow cast such a strong feeling of intimacy over their recital, it seemed to take place in a living room rather than the capacious Disney Hall on Sunday evening.

Of course, architect Frank Gehry meant Disney Hall to be a "living room for the city of Los Angeles" -- but Joshua Bell knew how to play it that way. The choice of repertoire -- the Schubert, Grieg's Violin Sonata No. 1 in F major, Op. 8 and Prokofiev's Violin Sonata No. 1 in F minor, Op. 80 -- showcased music with fine detail, moments of stillness mixed with the movement, and a nice range of effects for piano and violin. The hall did its job, but so did the performers, arresting the attention of their large audience with their finely focused music-making.

The Schubert flowed like water, with both performers sensitive to one another and well-balanced in their interplay. Did Schubert, writing these pieces as a fairly young man, ever think that anyone would play this music with so much care? They captured the energy of the second movement, the changing moods of the third movement, everything so finely put together.

I couldn't decide if I'd ever heard the Grieg Sonata -- if so, it's certainly not a piece I've heard frequently. The melodious first movement was in turns sunny and stormy, and full of decisive "endings" that don't really end the movement. The actual ending just trails into the sky. The second movement has some folksy passages, skittering spiccato, and the little pizzicato that ended that movement made audience members chuckle audibly. The third movement leaps high, dives low, and Joshua and Alessio were decisive in every gesture, sure-footed traversing this changeable landscape.

After intermission came the Prokofiev, a serious and challenging piece, and here is where I noticed that I was listening to Joshua Bell for the wisdom in his playing. He may have the timeless look of a young man, he may entertain us at times, but he also has the conspicuous maturity of a concert artist that has been at his craft for 40+ years.

The first movement of the Prokofiev feels like a journey over a dark landscape: quiet plodding, with the piano in its lower end. Joshua's vibrato could range from nothing to molto, sometimes in the course of just a note, and his double-stops had reassuring stability. Toward the end of the movement was a shivery effect, fingers running lightning-fast up and down the fingerboard, muted, and illuminated only by long quiet bows. Prokofiev told Oistrakh that he meant this to sound like "the wind in a graveyard," according to the program notes, and indeed it did. "Ooooh," came a spontaneous murmur from an audience member behind me.

By contrast, the second movement was loud, busy and intense. The muted third movement seemed almost French; it had every kind of watery, sparkly, shimmery, wash-of-color effect I could think of in both piano and violin, and Josh's melodious high playing was simply gorgeous. The fourth movement was frenetic, full of energy, then changing, back to shivering in the graveyard in the end. What a journey.

Joshua announced several encores from the stage: Rachmaninov's "Vocalise," which sang easily and was spellbinding in his hands. Then came Sarasate's virtuoso piece, "Introduction and Tarantella," which showed his astonishing precision and well-calculated dynamics.

What a treat.

* * *

After the recital, both Joshua Bell and Alessio Bax came to the lobby to sign CDs for audience members, who formed a nice long line to greet them. Here I am with Joshua after the recital:

Laurie and Joshua

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Wonderful Fiddling/Improv Methods to use with students

By Laura Dalbey
Billings, Montana
Published: October 27, 2014 at 20:24

After reading a recent discussion about a currently debated fiddle/improv method, I thought I'd add a couple of options to the list, since there really are many different excellent methods to use with students these days :) :). My students have been loving Martin Norgaard's "Jazz Fiddle Wizard" series. I think it is probably most appropriate for middle school aged students at the Suzuki book 4/5 level. The books really take them through some ways of thinking about improvising and then give them ample opportunities to use their new skills. A couple of my Suzuki-raised students are incredible improvisers - especially good at hearing the chord changes and creating rhythmic variety in their improvs.
Another series I have fallen in love with is "The American Fiddle Method" by Brian Wicklund. Full of classic standards, these books follow a very Suzuki Friendly sequence, include the background and words that come with each tune, chord changes, a CD with a professional level bluegrass band playing the tunes, and plenty of ways to teach students the extras (like chopping, etc). My students LOVE these books. And so do I :)

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Suzuki Violin School

"Where did the Suzuki CD go?"

Good news! All the Suzuki Violin School CDs are available now as digital downloads on Amazon.com. But why take the time to search for them all? We've collected links to each album for Suzuki Violin Books 1 - 8.

Get them now! Vol. 1 | Vol. 2 | Vol. 3
Vol. 4 | Vol. 5 | Vol. 6 | Vol. 7 | Vol. 8