Orchestra Playing: Flying as One with the Flock border=0 align=

Orchestra Playing: Flying as One with the Flock

November 27, 2020, 5:37 PM · An interesting phenomenon happened to my technique when I first started playing in an orchestra. The cohesion and cushion from my section, supplemented by the conductor and all the musical elements that were bound together, made my playing flow more easily. It was as if a large hole in my technique had been filled. Of course, it was partially an illusion; without the orchestra, my technical issues became evident again. But something had changed after playing in an orchestra. I realized that flow, anticipation, and group rhythm can help with hesitant and faulty technique.

Riding the musical phrasing of the orchestra also had a great impact on my playing. Phrasing gives purpose to my technique, which in turn makes playing the violin easier. Now, if I could just harness that quality without the orchestra present.

A recent experience inspired me to think about that phenomenon, and about what makes a good ensemble. Watching the synchronized flight of a flock of starlings every morning this week in Los Angeles showed me the importance of retaining one’s individuality while being part of a group. The configurations appear glorious in the air - even though each bird is doing its own thing. The wings may be slightly out of sync, but the flight pattern appears intact.

That larger picture is what unifies the musician and the bird. Keep reading...

Black Violin, Augustin Hadelich, Richard O'Neill nominated for 2021 Grammys

November 25, 2020, 10:24 AM · Congratulations to violinist Augustin Hadelich, violist Richard O'Neill, the group Black Violin, as well as all the nominees announced Tuesday for the Recording Academy's 63nd Grammy Awards, which will take place January 31.

The Florida-based classical/hip-hop group Black Violin, featuring violinist Kevin Sylvester and violist Wilner Baptiste (who go by Kev Marcus and Wil B), was nominated in the category of "Best Contemporary Instrumental Album" for its recording "Take the Stairs." Keep reading...

Missing Live Music: the Isolation in Virtual Music-Making

November 24, 2020, 9:43 PM · I miss live music.

I do value the virtual and recorded music that I can still access -- through my various devices and a few good speakers. And of course, I have continued to "make music" in the ways that I can -- playing my violin alone, collaborating virtually, and teaching virtually.

Thanks to the live-music-starvation diet handed to me by the pandemic, though, I'm reaching a new appreciation for the profound difference between the live and virtual performance experience. Playing together over Zoom is not the same as the back-and-forth of playing a duet, in person, with one of my students. Virtual collaboration not the same as playing quartets in the living room. It's not the same as my lone violin voice becoming one with many in that giant organism that is the symphony orchestra.

And watching live-streamed performances is not the same as being part of a full audience, in one grand room, witnessing a musical performance together. And Zoom church - what I would give, just to sing in church again!

"Psychologically, there is a huge difference between an empty, silent room, and a room silent, with attentive, listening people," Anne-Sophie Mutter told me during a 2010 interview. "It's a totally different atmosphere, and in that atmosphere wonderful things can happen."

Absent that atmosphere, music-making can feel like an oddly lonely endeavor. Keep reading...

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Self-care for Studio Teachers: Some Tips

November 24, 2020, 7:15 AM · The year 2020 is stretching all of us to the limit. Political turmoil combined with online teaching have made me feel as if taking part in a very strange and macabre experiment. Today, I am just addressing the harsh reality of Zoom land, and not politics (I’ve had it with that part of 2020, I’m fasting). As a studio teacher, I can can’t say that the online experience has been all bad. My students have become more self-directed, are learning to embrace recording, and are exploring new modalities of learning. But it is undisputable: I, like so many other teachers, am at the end of my tether. When the pandemic started, I was obsessed with the question of how can I best serve my students. In the last couple of months, however, I have shifted my attention to “how can I practice radical self-care?” Surprisingly, the difference between curling up in the fetal position (yes, it’s happened more than once) and embracing the day is surprisingly thin… as in razor thin. Meanwhile I am aware that when I am good head space, my students benefit, and everyone in my household does, too. So, I keep experimenting with the self-care concept. Here is what I have learned so far: Keep reading...

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