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Violinist.com Interviews: Vol. 1

Our exclusive, one-on-one interviews with 27 of today's best-known violinists, including Hilary Hahn, Joshua Bell, Sarah Chang, David Garrett, Anne Akiko Meyers, Maxim Vengerov, and others.

Goals vs. Processes

By Yixi Zhang
Victoria, Br Columbia
Published: April 22, 2014 at 16:55

Are you goal-oriented or process-oriented? I used to be the former kind until I noticed the pattern of my emotional ups and downs; I was never entirely happy with my achievements and feeling greedy. Slowing I started to realize that if I don’t enjoy the process of my pursuit, I will never be happy.

Obviously, not all processes can lead to happiness. The process of smoking leads to bad lung and bad companionship. A process of undisciplined daily practice will quickly bring me boredom and deterioration of my playing.

What I am talking about is a productive process, which has build-in mechanism that not only will guarantee success but it will also be enjoyable in its own right. To me, such process must contain goals that can be carried out and even replaced by a sound system. For example:

I want to be able to play the Mozart violin concerto #4 by the end of this year.

1. Objectives: Play all the notes in tune and in tempo with good tone, musical and stylistically correct.
2. Strategy: details on what I will do to practice each day and how to get the help from my teaher to achieve these objectives more efficiently.
3. Performance measures: concrete numbers are preferred so my success will be quantifiable (e.g. week 1: page 1, play all the notes in tune, quarter note at 60bpm).

You may say, we are doing this all along so what's the big deal to write a blog? If you are doing this, congratulations! But I believe it is useful to have a rational account of something we are doing right and something is worth pointing out:

First, I think there is a danger in focusing too much on the goals. Goals can be short-sighted or unrealistic. They are always future-oriented so the success of which is neither entirely predictable nor within our control, also the satisfaction of achieving goals is often short-lived: “So I’ve done this, what’s next?”

On the other hand, the beauty of a good system as I outlined above is that, because of this disciplined approach, each step we take is reassuring and confidence-building. You know you are getting something big down the road so moments of obstacles and plateaus don't stop us but only enrich the journey.

Goals can be movable targets as we improve but a system is constant so long as it works. We often hear beginners saying they just want to be able to play some songs and they’ll be so happy if they could do just that. Once they have reached that point, many of them usually look for more.

With a sound system, we are safe even when goals start to slip; in fact, goals are not even necessary if each step of the system is working: by following a system, we can live a life in a monastic way, and wisdom, spiritual enlightenment and character building are just a few additional benefits to the violin practice.

This blog is inspired by Scot Adams' book "How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big: Kind of the Story of My Life", specifically, by the chapter called “Goals are for losers. Systems are for winners”, detail of which can be found in his blog . Check it out if you are curious but don’t want to read his entire book.

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The Week in Reviews, Op. 28: Anne Akiko Meyers, Hilary Hahn, Regina Carter in concert

By Robert Niles
Published: April 22, 2014 at 14:51

In an effort to promote the coverage of live music, each week Violinist.com brings you links to reviews of notable violin performances from around the world. We'd love to hear about any recent concerts and recitals you've attended, too. Or just tell us what you think about these reviews!

Anne Akiko Meyers. Photo courtesy the artist

Anne Akiko Meyers performed the Bates with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra

  • Chicago Tribune: "The music is cannily tailored to Meyers' musical personality, and it put to the test her ability to draw floods of sweet tone and shape the quasi-bluesy and jazzy riffs from her priceless fiddle. She passed the test splendidly."
  • Chicago Classical Review: "Meyers performed with a sweet tone, fitfully overdoing the vibrato, and made much out of the main lyrical theme that later morphs into full silver-screen luxuriance. She also brought daunting fire and intensity to the virtuosic closing section, which provided the requisite fireworks, garnering an instantaneous standing ovation by the audience."

Hilary Hahn performed in recital with pianist Cory Smythe in Albany, NY

  • Times Union: "Her sound is always solid, sometimes warm, though not particularly radiant. The descriptors that keep coming up are thoughtful and intelligent. Maybe those adjectives should apply more to interpretation than to sound, yet there's a smart integrity to each note she plays."

Augustin Hadelich performed Previn's "Tango, Song and Dance" with pianist Joyce Yang and guitarist Pablo Villegas

  • Washington Post: "Hadelich is a lovely, sunny soloist with a warmth and sparkle in his playing that translates to his stage persona. I can well understand his desire to explore different and perhaps more immediate ways of connecting with the audience. This performance wasn’t quite it, but it certainly offered some great music-making."

Regina Carter performed for the Symphony Center's jazz series in Chicago

  • Chicago Tribune: "Carter, however, remained the centerpiece of all of this, her violin giving voice to songs reflecting the convergence of cultures that built American music from the start. You could hear African-American chant, traditional Scottish and Irish melody and much more in this repertory, Carter slip-sliding around pitches and improvising on dance rhythms much as our forebears once did."

The Takács Quartet performed works by Bartok

  • Violinist.com: "The combination of these players and this repertoire made for what was probably my favorite quartet performance to date."

On the pop beat, Lettice Rowbotham is causing quite a stir on Simon Cowell's Britain's Got Talent show

  • UTV News: "Described by judge David Walliams as 'the poshest contestant we've ever had on the show,' Lettice wowed the panel by performing a medley of current tunes on her violin."
  • Hello! Daily News: "After her audition Simon Cowell said: 'Lettice, not only are you brilliant, you have a fantastic personality as well, you are one of the people I am going to remember coming away from this.'"
  • Metro: "The 24-year-old impressed the BGT judges on Saturday night’s show but it would seem she and Cowell may have crossed paths before now."

And on the book beat, Mayra Calvani reviewed Laurie Niles' The Violinist.com Interviews: Volume 1

  • BlogCritics.org: "In one word, this book is: fascinating. If you love listening to violin music, or are a violinist yourself, you’ll relish the inside information into the lives of these incredibly talented soloists and their ups and downs as they travel the world and make personal sacrifices in order to play live concerts, sometimes as many as a hundred or more a year."

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The Most Difficult of the 100 Days

By Kate Little
Salt Lake City, Utah
Published: April 21, 2014 at 23:43

Some days finding time, space, and energy to practice was easy. Some days it was not.

At a weekend gathering of the Women, Food and Agriculture Network at the Des Moines Airport Holiday Inn, the accommodating staff allowed me to use a conference room (at no extra charge!) from 6 to 8 am. Iowans are a nice people.

Getting up at 4 am to drive 935 miles from Salt Lake City for Thanksgiving in Fremont County, Iowa, did not leave much time at the end of the day. But I did manage 45 minutes between unpacking the car and going to bed.

Watching 3 to 4 films a day at the Sundance Film Festival left me reeling at the end of the week, and while practice still happened daily, it was reduced to only 30 minutes.

The day we had to fell a dead tree, and cut and stack it for firewood left my arms numb from the vibration of the chain saw, and back sore from hauling wood. This form of sawing wood did not count as practice, so out came the violin at the end of the day.

Trickiest was the February day I was flying BOS > MSP > BZN. Originally scheduled to arrive home after lunch, leaving the rest of the afternoon for practice, a snowstorm in New England shut down flights east of the Mississippi. Agh! I got stuck in Minneapolis, rebooked on a flight to arrive at 12:30 AM the next day!!!!! But practice-every-day means practice-every-day, so I swallowed my pride, found the most-alone corner of the MSP airport that I could, took out the mute (which I’ve learned to travel with), and chose a few fiddle tunes to work on, which I figured would be least offensive to innocent bystanders. It turns out I attracted a (very) small audience. People get desperate for entertainment when airport stranded.

Practice-every-day developed my self-discipline, and I made noticeable strides in technique. My family saw my commitment, and became much more accommodating. (“Would it be helpful if I cooked dinner tonight, Mother?”) Best of all, I learned that practice-every-day is not the onerous enterprise that I once thought it to be. I no longer ask myself if I feel like practicing today. I take it as a given that I will, and ask myself when & where & how. And then it’s done.

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100 Days

By Krista Moyer
Midlothian, Virginia
Published: April 21, 2014 at 19:56

A number of the members of the Adult Starters group on Facebook decided to attempt the 100 consecutive days of practice challenge. Many of us finished today, myself included. Practicing for 100 consecutive days wasn't the hard part for me. The most difficult part was duration. I had determined that, for myself, I could only count practice if it was at least 45 minutes, and listening didn't count.

In all honesty, 100 days of practice netted me very few benefits because I was already consistently practicing each day. I think that it would have been a more beneficial exercise if it had been 100 days of focus on an aspect of playing. How much better at vibrato, or double stops, or dynamics would I be if I spent 100 days doing at least 15-20 minutes of just that? Or even 30 days, really?

The best part of the challenge was the camaraderie. We used a shared spreadsheet on Google docs. Even if we didn't mention it, everyone could see who was still playing along. Some folks measured the time they spent in practice and were surprised. A few stepped up their game. There was a bit of attrition. Overall, it was a lovely exercise.

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