I'm a senior Violin Performance major at Virginia Commonwealth University, and almost exactly a year ago. I went home for spring break, where I would finally take a much-needed respite after a stressful recital.
Within days I received an email stating that we were not coming back. Due to the pandemic, I have completed my last three semesters of my undergraduate music experience almost entirely online. Everything I thought would happen (festivals, traveling, gigging) came to an abrupt halt. I didn’t get to see my teacher, my friends or even live music for that matter. Everything just… stopped.
Or, so I thought.
I’m sure that we can all make a list full of negatives and challenges that come with virtual learning. However, I’m here to counter that mindset and look at the other side of the coin. Many benefits have come out of virtual learning, and I've decided to focus on what I've learned...because of COVID:
As a longtime violin teacher, I have become somewhat obsessed with procuring decent fractional-sized instruments for my youngest students.
The quest for excellence in fractional violins comes from an absolute frustration with the cheap violins in circulation. Even very educated and musically knowledgeable parents can easily get tricked into buying fractional-sized violins that sound squeaky and function poorly.
This does not have to be the case, and it's important to emphasize that a student's success on the instrument depends considerably on the quality of his or her instrument. If the sound is off-putting, if the instrument can't be tuned, if the effort of playing bears no satisfying result...then why would a child want to keep trying? Conversely, a good instrument serves as a partner, rewarding a student's efforts with the appropriate feedback: a clear sound for good bowing, ringing tone for good intonation, and a pleasing response to vibrato and other techniques.
Good fractional-size violin/viola/cello outfits DO exist, and here are some of their most important characteristics:
When everything shut down a year ago, orchestras found their entire seasons canceled, soloists lost their engagements, and musicians lost their work. Predictably enough, written reviews of classical events evaporated almost entirely.
I know this well, because with little or no reviews, I paused the longstanding Week in Reviews column on Violinist.com, our the weekly roundup of reviews that we'd been doing for more than a decade. Even when musicians started performing more formal online concerts, reviews of those performances were scarce.
So I found it heartening when, on Monday, I read one of the first high-quality classical reviews that I've seen in the last year: a review by John von Rhein of violinists Paul Huang and Danbi Um's North Shore Chamber Music Festival recital Saturday with pianist Amy Yang. (Click here to read it. Also, you can still see the livestream of that concert here.)
You might wonder why I find this review so momentous. Does a written review of a concert even matter, in this day and age? Newspaper journalism has been on the decline for many years, and the classical reviewer -- heck, even just the arts reporter -- was a position that many newspapers eliminated with little hesitation. These days (or at least in the days before the pandemic), reviews in papers and magazines are most often done by stringers, paid by the article on an irregular basis. Many of the country's finest arts reporters have been relegated to stringer status, if they even chose to stay in the field. Others write for speciality websites. Keep reading...Comments (4)
Last summer, I was walking along a sidewalk when a woman walked out of her house. She had a mask, huge sunglasses, and a big floppy hat.
“Michael!” She shouted, “I’m so glad to see you!”
I had no idea who she was. With the mask, sunglasses, and hat, she could have been anyone. Clearly, she knew me, and I knew her, but I didn’t have a clue who she was. We walked together, and the conversation was delightful. However, it got to that point where it was too late, and too embarrassing, for me to ask who she was.
We strolled together for about three blocks, talking and laughing and having a great time, before she had to turn and walk to the grocery store.
I haven't seen her since that afternoon. Well, I don’t think I have. Since then, I’ve made it a point to learn who people are from just looking at their eyes, assuming they aren’t wearing sunglasses.
So, now that people are getting covid vaccination shots, and (I presume) masks will be going away within the next two or three months, I have another problem. I have no idea what some people look like without their face coverings. Indeed, I think I’m suffering from face recognition syndrome, or mask recognition syndrome.
If it isn’t one thing, it’s another. Keep reading...Comments (3)
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