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Notes from Indianapolis: Last semi-finals performances

By Laurie Niles
Published: September 16, 2014 at 00:13

How exciting, to be in Indianapolis for the International Violin Competition of Indianapolis (IVCI) and the American Violin Society Convention!

I arrived late Monday, and I was happy to find it rainy and about 55 degrees here -- truly! (Yesterday in my hometown of Pasadena it was 105 degrees!) On the airplane from Los Angeles I discovered Dr. Bill Sloan, whom you remember for his violin, the 1714 “Leonora Jackson” Stradivari, a fiddle recently celebrated its 300th birthday.


He was on his way to the Violin Society of America's Convention, also taking place this week in downtown Indianapolis, in conjunction with the competition. In fact, I saw quite a few people carrying violins at the airport, and checking in to my downtown hotel.

I arrived just in time to catch the last concert of the IVCI semi-finals. As I made my way to the concert on this rainy evening I was working against a wave of Indianapolis Colts football fans, headed for the Lucas Oil Stadium, just a few blocks away -- Monday Night Football! The concert took place in the beautiful Basile Theater at the Indiana History Center downtown.


For the semi-finals, each participant played a Beethoven sonata; Late-Romantic or Modern sonata; a tone poem/concert piece; and the commissioned work: "Fantasy for Solo Violin" by Ellen Taaffe Zwilich. For a limited time, all the semi-finalists' performances will be available for viewing on the IVCI website, if you'd like to see how they played for yourself.

I spoke briefly to composer Zwilich, who is also on the jury, during intermission. She said that it has been interesting, seeing how each of the 16 semi-finalists performed her piece, "Fantasy for Solo Violin," which is a virtuoso, blue-grassy piece with plenty of tricks. "I tried to give them room to be individual," she said.

The two performances I saw were by Dami Kim, 25, of South Korea, and Christine Lim, 19, of the U.S.; one made it in to the finals and one did not. Both played beautifully, and this was something that many people who had witnessed the entire competition said to me: whereas in some competition the frontrunners emerge as very obvious choices, this was not the case in this year's IVCI. In fact, it was very hard to predict who would advance to the finals, because everyone in the semi-finals had played so brilliantly.

Here again is a picture of the finalists, Dami Kim, Ji Young Lim, Yoo Jin Jang, Tessa Lark, Ji Yoon Lee and Jinjoo Cho.

IVCI Finalists
Photo by Denis Kelly

They advanced to the finals based on a combined score: 70 percent of their semi-final scores plus 30 percent of their scores in the preliminaries. Some people have questioned competitors whose teachers sit on the jury for this competition. I read over the rules and here is the rule on that: Judges with students in the competition are not permitted to vote on their own students; scores for those students are based only on the scores from the other jury members.

No matter who advanced, every participant has accomplished a great deal. The repertoire for the semi-finals took each participant a little more than an hour to perform. The Beethoven requires a thoughtful collaboration with a pianist; the other sonata requires making a good choice that will showcase the violin. For the commissioned piece, they each had to learn a never-before-played virtuoso piece from scratch. Top it off with a virtuoso piece that requires high-wire technique and agility, and this is quite a lot.

As I watched these violinists perform so well, at such a high level, I thought: for the audience, all of this is a dream. Literally: it's like a dream where you can run forever and never get tired, or stay underwater for long periods of time and never seem to need air. When someone performs music live for you, you get to experience all that energy, momentum, emotion, feeling -- without having to live it or create it. But let's not forget: someone is up there running the marathon, diving into the deep water without oxygen! As these remarkable young violinists put themselves up for this high level of scrutiny this week and last, let's not forget their accomplishment and its generosity.

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Finalists announced in the International Violin Competition of Indianapolis

By Laurie Niles
Published: September 15, 2014 at 20:19

Six finalists were announced Monday night in the International Competition of Indianapolis. Congratulations to:

Dami Kim, 25, South Korea
Ji Young Lim, 19, South Korea
Yoo Jin Jang, 23, South Korea
Tessa Lark, 25, United States
Ji Yoon Lee, 22, South Korea
Jinjoo Cho, 26, South Korea

Photo by Denis Kelly

The finalists are all women; five are from South Korea and one is from the United States. In the semi-final rounds, contestants were required to play a Beethoven Sonata; Late-Romantic or Modern Sonata; Tone Poem/Concert piece; and the commissioned work: "Fantasy for Solo Violin" by Ellen Taaffe Zwilich. Finals will begin on Wednesday.

Wondering what these performers sound like in performance? Check out their archived performances in the semi-finals.

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Laurie's Violin School: There Are No Teaching Secrets

By Laurie Niles
Published: September 15, 2014 at 12:34

The more we elevate the level of music teaching, the more we elevate the level of music education. The more we elevate the level of music education, the better appreciation our society has for music.

So how do we elevate the level of teaching? With the widespread sharing of all our teaching secrets. That's right, stealing ideas from other teachers!

In fact, this very idea is something I've stolen, from Shinichi Suzuki. (And from whom did he steal it? I'm not sure!) Not only did he invite teachers from all over the globe to watch him teach and "steal" his ideas, he also encouraged teachers to do the same: Have an open studio, where teachers, parents and other students are welcome to observe. Learning from other teachers is so critical that many teaching programs, including SAA's Suzuki pedagogy program, require aspiring teachers to observe established teachers for a certain number hours.

But of course it doesn't matter whether you are a Suzuki teacher, traditional teacher, or for that matter, a trombone teacher. The point is that when it comes to educating students, we need a lot of ideas, and sharing those ideas only helps us reach more students in more ways.

Now, when I say "steal," I don't mean to use people's copyrighted music or texts without payment or permission. I simply mean to seek, test and use new ideas on a regular basis. Push yourself beyond your comfortable habits. In turn, share your best ideas with other teaching colleagues.

Here are a few ways to renew your store of teaching ideas on a regular basis:

  • Observe excellent teachers teaching in their studio
  • Go to master classes
  • Talk with other teachers about specific ideas and concepts
  • Share your good ideas -- write a blog about a particular good idea
  • Continue to take classes and read books, even after you are a well-established teacher
  • Participate in online teaching forums
  • Watch teachers who teach subjects unrelated to music
  • Use ideas that will fit your personal teaching style; don't feel you have to imitate good teachers in any kind of way that feels foreign or uncomfortable to you.

When it comes to teaching children, there should be no "secrets" about how to do it. If you find something that works, use it. If you see someone else doing something that works, use it. And give credit where it's due; acknowledge the sources of your ideas and publicly praise your colleagues for their best ideas.

Also, remember your purpose as a teacher. You are not in a competition to be the "best" teacher in the world, or to prove yourself "better" than the teacher across town. You are not trying to find the secret best method that propels your students "ahead" of everyone else's. Those kinds of goals are isolating and can lead to ugly comparisons between teachers and between students. Those goals focus on your Big Teacherly Ego, rather than on your student's progress and learning.

You goal is to teach the student or students in front of you, to the best of your ability. Keep working on connecting your students with music and with their own abilities, and everything else will fall in place.

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Our Cousin - The Viola

By Daniel Broniatowski
Watertown, Massachusetts
Published: September 15, 2014 at 09:16


As you read this, you might be asking yourself, "What the heck is a viola?" - "Did they spell violin wrong?" Could it be a violin that is missing its strings? Or maybe it's what happens when you cross a violin with a tuba? OK - Enough with the viola jokes already!

A viola is an instrument shaped like a violin but slightly larger. Like the violin, the viola is held under the chin. Its sound is lower and is best suited for harmonizing. While the violinist might be the "star of the show", the violist is often the "support network". Of course there are certainly instances and pieces where the roles are reversed, when comparing these two instruments. Yet, by and large, the violist plays the role as the trusty side-kick, always providing a warm and fuzzy backing to the melody. Consequently, the kinds of people who go into viola often tend to also be very nice =).

Here are five reasons to take viola lessons:

1. You love the sound of bowed strings but find that violins tend to sound a bit squeaky in the high register.

2. You have big hands and a larger frame, and find the viola more natural than the violin.

3. You don't like to be in the spotlight but love to be a team-player.

4. You will always be in much greater demand, since violinists are a dime-a-dozen!

5. That C string just makes you feel warm and fuzzy inside! (That's the lowest string which is missing on a violin).

Watch Maestro Musicians Academy viola teacher Rebecca Hallowell talk about this interesting, and perhaps, unusual instrument - complete with a performance demonstration!

Daniel Broniatowski, D.M.A.
Maestro Musicians Academy, Greater Boston
Parent tested, Child approved

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