May 2011

A hopeful sign, perhaps even a breakthrough.

May 6, 2011 20:52

Not an ordinary day, one of those days that reminds one how very extraordinary London can be.

I am a flute-player, only recently having begun studying the violin. Today I attended a memorial concert celebrating the life of Richard Adeney, who died recently in his 80's after a distinguished orchestral, solo and chamber career. The venue was Regent's Hall in Oxford Street, home of the Salvation Army, and we learnt that he was a tireless volunteer counsellor for the Samaritans, a group that provided support for the desperate and suicidal. We heard some personal history from John Amis who knew him well, and from many musical colleauges who performed pieces in his honour.

An unexpected delight was a recently recovered reel to reel performance from the 1950s of Adeney playing the Carnival of Venice variations of Briccialdi. There were audible gasps as the assembled flute-players listened to playing of effortless virtuosity and a tone of such exquisite delicacy, flexibility and beauty.

And we learnt of this great artist's other interests, indeed another career as a photographer. That  kind of complementary interest - in the visual or the literary, some other way of telling stories, or perhaps connecting with people - resonates strongly with me. My own passion is for figurative sculpture, which is inspired by musical pieces and life itself. For those interested, here is a link to some shameless self-promotion.

I'm a strong believer that beauty (despite all our cultural and media/celebrity baggage) is a pure good. It obsesses me. I suppose because in it's presence one feels a transcendence, a wholeness. This was the effect of that Adeney recording. The beauty in nature is so commonplace that we may neglect the miracles all around us. So many leaves and Spring flowers caught my attention this lovely sunny London afternoon.

Beautiful violin tone, how will I ever achieve this?

My violin practice had fallen behind  by a day, and despite being so inspired after my lesson on Tuesday, life and work got in the way until very late tonight, Friday. Directly after my lesson I had worked so enthusiastically on all my major scales in 1st position, and quite a few string-crossing exercizes too. But mainly I focus on a straight bow and 'perfect' intonation. Well I am a beginner, so these scales are slow, slow, slow, and my intonation is ...grim. But since I can't bear notes out of tune I'm happy to work at this obsessively. And I've begun to notice how the instrument rewards good intonation with a more resonant sound, at least on some notes. Also nice is the way the enharmonic sharp/flat versions of the remote scales are reflected in 2 different fingering patterns - a low and a high position, well half-position, hmm I need to look this up. This is quite a revelation to a wind player such as myself. Again the history weaves notation around the instruments' possibilities and limitations.

Anyway, after all those hours of scales I began to feel I was hitting more notes in tune than not.

But then I missed a day and despite all my labour, my intonation had completely gone to hell. I had to think and adjust notes endlessly: a bit disheartening. But tonight I was determined to recover some ground and did a single page of Sevcik, every obsessively ordered note. An hour later I seemed to be a little better in tune. So on to play through all of Suzuki Book 1.

But something else had been nagging at me. I love hearing Czardas (that amazing recording on YouTube with Viktor Borge improvisng the accompaniment is one of my favourites), and so I had a look at the score, noticing 'sautille' bowing. OK another of the countless new techniques strewn before me. I didn't expect to be able to do it, but I like to get some idea of how to approach these things. I'm sure even if it is too early, I will gain an appreciation of it's use in the recordings I hear. I want to understand it all, I want to be sensitive to every nuance.  Long story short, I also found a YouTube teaching video that explained it pretty well, and was impressed that the demonstration involved the flexibility of wrist and flexion of fingers which I had vaguely understood previously to be important for smoothly changing the bowing direction. 

It is a very appealing movement: it reminds me of a ballerina's plie.

I tried to emulate the sautille stroke, but whether or not I achieved it something rather more wonderful happened. My bow became more flowing and my sound seemed far more resonant than I could remember. Am I perhaps now on the path to a decent violin tone? Is this part of the secret? Do my rhetorical questions annoy you?

Hearfelt apologies.

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