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V.com weekend vote: How many violin-related albums have you purchased in the last year?

By The Weekend Vote
Published: August 1, 2014 at 12:29

With Youtube, streaming services, satellite radio, file-sharing and the like, do you still buy violin recordings?

Lots of CDs

I hope so! It's one way to support excellent musical artists and their work, while also growing your library with inspiring music, whether you have a digital or physical library.

These days there are so many ways to buy albums, whether you are getting MP3s or physical CDs: Amazon, CD Baby, iTunes, etc. And if you get actual physical CDs, you can enjoy the pretty little booklets with program notes and photos!

For this week's poll, let us know how many recordings you've purchased in the last year, whether they be digital or physical. If you have bought digital recordings as individual tracks, you can count eight tracks as one "album." Also, be sure to tell us in the comments about recent recordings you have enjoyed, and about what kind of technology you are using for listening these days.

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Listening Intuitively

By Daniel Broniatowski
Watertown, Massachusetts
Published: August 1, 2014 at 08:47

listeningMy dear readers,

In my last article, Why We Need Classical Music, I outlined my belief that more than ever, the world needs classical music today because of this genre's unique ability to act as a conduit for peace.

Because this topic needed to be explained from a general perspective, I feel that I did not fully explain my premise in a specific, practical way. As a result, I would like to delve deeper into the topic. I then will apply my belief that music makes us better listeners to my premise that both cross-cultural and intra-cultural dialogue can be achieved through learning how to actively and intuitively listen.

The language of the classical music idiom before the twentieth century is based largely on the laws of physics. Without going into the details of why and how, it is apparent enough to most people that the music relies on harmonies and dissonances to give us a sense of emotion, based on how the notes relate to one another. As a result of the fact that we all are capable of feeling the same emotions, and the fact that the laws of physics are universal, classical music can relate to all people across all cultures.

For instance, when a choir sings in unison (all parts on the same notes), one gets a sense of unity and peace - perhaps one can verbalize this as "we're all in this together". This example can also be called "singing in octaves" since there are men in the choir who are singing lower.

Then, there are dissonant sounds, such as the tritone. Doesn't that collection of sounds make you want to run away? The tritone is considered to be the most dissonant sound - so much so, that the medieval theorists called it the interval of the devil! There is an inherent discordance in this sound which can be very powerful in musical expression.

Then, there is a collection of sounds called the "Perfect Fifth." This is a very stable and bright sonority that doesn't give the impression of really wanting to go anywhere musically. When one hears this, it's a bit like saying "I'm just going to hang out here, take off my coat, and stay awhile." There is no inherent aural tension in this sound. One can almost think of this music being played softly in a CD for musical meditation.

I have only begun to scratch the surface and there are many more sounds inherent in the classical music tradition. Still, you can understand now where I'm coming from. One does not need a degree in music to understand the emotional implications of these sounds. Furthermore, I believe that these sounds would be universally acknowledged across all cultures to be emotionally understood the same way.

So how can we apply this to the world at-large? Sure, listening to classical music is nice, but can it really bring world peace? Isn't this a lofty goal? Of course it is, and simply being "present" at a concert will not result in change. You see, in order to understand our fellow man or woman, one has to open one's mind and ears fully. As I mentioned in my last blog post, one has to have the inclination to understand the meaning of the music and listening to classical music regularly will ultimately help you to become a better listener.

Classical music provides the perfect tool to train one's mind to become a better listener, for when one learns to listen intuitively to classical music, one can apply the same type of listening to our day-to-day conversations.

You might notice that I slipped in a word above after "listen" - that word is "intuitively". I already talked about active listening but didn't yet mention intuitive listening. What is the difference between the two?

Active listening is a type of listening that involves a focus on what is being said, sounded, or played. Intuitive listening is a mechanism of listening that resonates within. Intuitive listening cannot be learned and it is not something that can be taught. Rather, it is the result of being fully aware, in the moment, and being receptive. In a sense, it is the result of something inside you touching a part of my soul or vice-versa.

Let me digress for a moment to make my point:

I remember that when I was a teenager, my mother would often accompany me at the piano while I was standing next to her with my violin in my arms. When she played certain notes, my violin would start to vibrate! This is called resonance. Human beings equally resonate and this is what connects us all. It is a type of energy that allows us to empathize with another. When I say something that connects with you, you feel that warmth because something inside you is awakened.

So, when it comes to human-to-human interaction, intuitive listening will only work if you are receptive and primed. Yet, you cannot be actively looking to be moved by music (or speech). It must come naturally. By the way, did you ever notice that there is music behind every spoken word? Ever notice that you can intuitively understand many people based on how they say their words? The most obvious examples are when we are depressed or ecstatic.

Of course, not every conversation about the weather requires the same level of awareness cited above. Yet, we can all relate to the fact that conflict amongst individuals (and hopefully resolution) is or has been present in all of our lives. Beginning at the personal level, each one of us has that unique capability to understand our fellow man and woman and it is through listening intuitively that we and therefore, on a much larger scale, our own culture can heal its own rifts.Yet, this must begin on an individual level.

The only disclaimer for this article is that when conflict results, one can not and must not assume that the person we are intuitively listening to is listening intuitively to us. Yet, through our own actions that result from this intuitive listening, we will certainly make the world a better place.

In conclusion, here is a great example of a piece that uses dissonance and harmony to achieve a wide palette of emotion.

This is the first movement of the Mozart "Dissonance" Quartet:

Daniel Broniatowski, D.M.A.
Music to Warm the Heart
Maestro Musicians, LLC

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The Real Deal: Paul Bartel of Cincinnati's Baroque Violin Shop

By Laurie Niles
Published: July 31, 2014 at 11:22

Paul Bartel, owner of Cincinnati's Baroque Violin Shop, doesn't actually have an office. In fact, he barely needs a desk.

That's because nearly all the time, "I'm at the bench, or out in the schools, recruiting students," Paul said when he spoke to me last week at his shop, Strad in hand.

Paul Bartel

Paul, along with his three sons, runs an impressively large stringed instrument operation, with some 10,000 stringed instrument rentals, a considerable online and in-person shop and a wholesale company. They operate from a historic two-story brick building in northern Cincinnati, complemented by several large warehouses across the street. Bartel also is the founder and board president of the Wyoming (Ohio) Fine Arts Center, a nearly 20-year-old center that offers programs music, visual arts and dance for students of all ages in the Cincinnati area.

Baroque Violin Shop

I did say "Strad" -- Bartel owns the real deal. The instrument serves as his own model for excellence in construction and sound, and he shares it with generosity, allowing students and customers to play it in order to get that sound in their ears and using the instrument in demonstrations at schools.

As is often the case with the long-lived, the fiddle has a lively story. A circa 1680 Stradivari, complete with papers from Robert Bein and Charles Beare, for years the instrument was known as it is listed in Herbert Goodkind's Violin Iconography of Antonio Stradivari, as the 1698 "Eckstein" Strad, named after a London jeweler who owned it. "For a very long time -- about 150 years -- that's the way it passed through all the violin dealers," Bartel said. But before Bartel purchased it in 2007, Robert Bein evaluated the instrument and concluded that the label had been falsified to set it closer to a "Golden Period" Strad. Based on its early-model mold, the instrument was actually made by Stradivari around 1680. Based on papers from Hill, it earliest traceable owner was a 19th-century Parisian judge named Silvestre. Subsequent owners included cellist Martin Lovett of the Amadeus Quartet, who purchased the instrument in 1966 for his wife, violinist and teacher Suzanne Rozsa. (This is Bartel's second Strad; up until 2005 he owned the 1703 "Lady Harmsworth" Strad, which is now part of the Stradivari Society's collection.)

There's the history -- but how does Bartel's "Eckstein-Silvestre-Rozsa" Strad sound? I was thrilled to have the chance to find out, by playing it when I visited.

Eckstine Strad

He keeps the violin in beautiful condition, and the sound is smooth, like its honey color. I found I had to ride the sound, not drive it; to back off and play without force. It has a sweet sound that carries easily; it doesn't sound loud against the ear. The instrument is physically light and fit my hand easily.

I'm certainly not the only person familiar with this instrument; it's well-known locally, among visitors to the shop and among the thousands of kids across the Midwest who have seen Bartel's recruiting shows in schools, where he both plays the instrument and allows kids to play it.
A graduate of Miami (Ohio) University, Bartel started his career in the public schools, as a high school orchestra director, before his "hobby" of violin-making took over some 42 years ago. But that urge to teach has apparently never subsided; during the first two months of every school year, Paul goes to two to four schools every day, playing for 300-400 fourth through sixth graders at a time, to recruit students on behalf of school music teachers in the area. He also plays for kindergarteners, to recruit for Suzuki teachers.

Bartel brings an electric violin and the Strad to his recruitment shows. "They're mesmerized," he said of the students, "they just sit and listen." He starts with the electric violin, making funny sounds and telling stories, and he ends up on the Strad. He plays familiar music from movies, like Hedwig's Theme from Harry Potter. In fact, for that song, he tells the kids that there's one note that sounds so out-of-place, the first time he heard it in the movie theatre, the note made him lean over. He leaned so far, in fact, that he spilled his popcorn on the person next to him. Then he plays the tune again, demonstrating that note by leaning sideways and having the kids do the same. "They learn to lean on that dissonant note," he said.

By the end of his shows, the kids are moving to the music -- "I tell them, this is what music makes you do."

Paul sees school string programs striving, particularly in places such as Texas and Michigan, where he said that "the music programs are on steroids!"

"The level of teaching has gone up, and it all starts with good teachers," Paul said. It also requires a commitment from school administrators, not only for the money, but for time during the school day for music. He can say from experience: "If they make the kids come in before school for beginning strings, the program is dead."

He also teaches three classes on instrument maintenance and repair at the annual Ohio State University String Teacher Workshop run by Robert Gillespie, author of the ubiquitous method book used in schools across the country, Essential Elements for Strings. In one of his classes, Bartel teaches teachers how to set up sound posts. "It might cost $15 - $30 to set a sound post in a shop, but it takes me 10 seconds," he said. During the class, "at first, it's like hearing popcorn," with all those sound posts popping out, "but after 45 minutes, everyone is proficient in setting sound posts." The classes also include instruction in rehairs, bridges, cleaning and touching up stringed instruments -- crucial fixes that can nonetheless prove financially impossible for a school district.

His shop does such fixes for schools at a deep discount, but sometimes the work is like "meatball surgery," he said: cracks, fallen sound posts, broken bridges, you name it. Teaching teachers the skills to do some of the basic repairs is very helpful, as most shops don't have the time for that.

When it comes to the instruments that his shop sells and rents, they are predominantly Chinese, with the finishing touches and maintenance done at the shop.

Lee Griffith
Lee Griffith touches up an instrument at the Baroque Violin Shop

"Right now, China dominates the world for this, and they're doing a great job -- if you get the good stuff," he said. A lifelong student of good construction vs. bad, Paul said that he sets high standards for the specs required of the products they have made in China, and he's been developing lines for retailers who sell them under their own name: instruments, cases, strings, carbon fiber bows and more.

The game has simply changed. Twenty years ago, dealers rejected all Chinese-made instruments as being of inferior quality. But as Chinese know-how increased, some of "those cheap Chinese violins got really good," particularly the handmade ones, he said. One has to set and enforce standards for quality, workmanship and materials used, and that makes all the difference.

"A cheap violin made by a machine is still a cheap violin made by a machine."

* * *

BELOW: Paul Bartel, in a 2010 video from Cincinnati.com, shows his passion for the violin by bringing music to children. Producer: Stacy Doose.

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Helping Students and Parents Enjoy the Competitive Journey: Part IV, Competition Etiquette

By Amy Beth Horman
Washington, Washington
Published: July 31, 2014 at 06:08

This is my fourth installment in this blog series designed to help me get ready for another year of competitions in my private studio. I hope others can relate and that it gives them new insights and ideas for their own studios and challenges.

Click here to read Part I, The Application Process, Part II, Managing Expectations, and Part III, Preparing for Final Rounds.

This blog details the need for good competition etiquette before, during, and after the event.

You’ve found yourself chosen for an advanced round of a competition. You have done your practice, prepared your program, and are brimming with a myriad of emotions, some that completely contradict one another. Sound familiar? It does to me! They say people in extreme circumstances shouldn’t be judged on their behavior; but for a competition, it’s almost a given, right?

Not only will my students be judged for their playing, but they will also be remembered for their behavior before, during, and after the competition. And believe me, it sticks.

I try to do most of the communicating with the competition administrators on behalf of the parents and students before the event itself. I email with specific eligibility questions, ask for additional venue details, and just generally getting everything in line. These competition organizers are deluged with emails from parents and even with the best attitudes, parents can seem as if they are asking for special exceptions or allowances. Having the student do it is even worse in my opinion. It is great to teach the kids to be independent and take care of their own responsibilities (I am the mother of three kids myself!), but in this case they are nervous and generally not seasoned at writing a professional email. In addition to this, an email from the student can come off as a manipulative gesture – you wouldn’t refuse the request of a talented young artist would you? I have formed relationships with the competition administrators at least regionally by now and they know my intentions are only to enable the students to play at the best of their ability. They also respond to me far quicker and sometimes more bluntly because they know that I appreciate a quick and clear response. No need for niceties – just give it to me straight! Many times when a parent has emailed and gotten no response for weeks I can get the same questions by email answered in under an hour. They recognize my email, know my background and can feel free to send a quick response. This serves everyone. And in some cases, it allows us to get back to practice!

Lest anyone feel I am overstating things, I feel I must point out that in the last ten years parents communicating with competitions or administrators has actually cost our studio quite a bit. I have one competition and one administrator now who have made a request that I be the only one to communicate with them! Parents are prone to ask questions on their own and are generally very involved at this level. It’s only natural. They drive to lessons, schedule rehearsals, help take care of the instruments, and arrange their entire family’s life around events. They have invested a lot and genuinely want only the best for their kids in a hyper competitive field. In the smaller festivals or opportunities their kids had as younger players, they did all the communication on their own so it doesn’t occur to them to do differently. But their actions, while well intentioned, are then connected to the studio and everyone in it. It is surprising how long an unfavorable impression can last. In one case, I am still repairing relationships years later for all of the students here. Even I was surprised by both the aftereffects of this one communication gone wrong and the “staying power” it seemed to have on those in charge.

Fortunately, our current parents seem happy for this slight degree of separation. It eliminates confusion for everyone and maintains a good overall studio relationship with the competition for years to come. More than a few times last year we received great performance opportunities through the competitions after our kids were awarded prizes. These opportunities were not through the competitions themselves but the administrators that ran them. I like to think that our streamlining communications with them was helpful in this. In the end, the squeaky wheel does NOT get the grease. In my work as a soloist, I saw a similar reaction from conductors. Low maintenance and clear communication paired with a great performance gave me a much higher success rate at getting asked back a few seasons later.

During the competition itself there tend to be etiquette questions surrounding warm up rooms, time on stage, stage deportment, and talking to other competitors.

I suggest that students try and “lay low”, finding a private place to warm up if possible, avoiding socializing until after the event. Time on stage is essential and my experience has taught me that people will overstay their time. If you are not vocal about it, you will lose your time to try out the hall. I advise students to know their assigned time for this and stick up for it without overthinking or apologizing. Knowing a hall’s acoustics is crucial. If you have no time to try out the hall and are lucky enough to be on the second half, I advise sitting in on part of the first half to witness the challenges and benefits of the hall so you can use this to your advantage.

During the competition itself, the students need to be totally comfortable with stage deportment. How to stand, acknowledge a pianist, and greet or thank the judges is all part of being a seasoned performer. Even the walk from backstage to the center stage is being observed. These things matter! Students who are more new to this set of actions are seen as “green” and even if they play brilliantly, would they be able to do it again? Looking inexperienced on stage suggests you are and given that most competitions are offering a performance opportunity, this won’t bode well to the judges. Practice proper stage deportment at home, in rehearsals, and in all performance opportunities so it looks like second nature.

I advise against socializing with other competitors during the event itself. I think this is too risky because of how easily one can get drawn into heated discussions about other competition results, teaching methods, or how this person played here or there. The music deserves our full focus on the day of a performance or competition and everything else can wait. It might feel like forever to a young person competing but competitions only run a few hours!

After the competition is done and the results are in, I urge all competitors to approach juries whenever possible to ask for comments and thank them for their efforts. It is not easy to be a judge and they sometimes deliberate quite a bit before making a decision with numbers right on top of one another. Just because you won second place doesn’t mean you couldn’t have taken first on a different day. In my past as a judge, the prizes I awarded didn’t always line up with who I thought had the most potential. Certainly no judge should ever be challenged on his or her decision. And no matter how dissatisfied students or parents are, the results should never be questioned with competition heads.

After the awards are given and people are finally relaxed, I think students should congratulate each other and feel free to socialize and relate to one another. Even if they don’t agree with the results, they know that everyone there has worked countless hours and deserves their chance to shine. It’s time to relax and they will likely continue to see one another in final rounds for more events. It is so validating for kids like this to know others just like them. Even across studios I feel they have so much friendship and support to offer one another.

Stay tuned for the last installment of this blog series: Carrying the Experience Forward.

* The photo above features student Lily Honigberg performing the first movement of the Barber Violin Concerto in the Army Orchestra Young Artist Finals.


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