One of the hardest things to accept about playing the violin , for me at least, is that ultimately it’s about everything we do and everything we are. This is a view of playing which is some distance from the way a person initially taking up the instrument may view it. In the latter case it may simply be conceived a as rather complex skill performed by the coordinated hands and arms while trying to produce a nice sound. As the more complex conceptualization begins to take hold the way one views playing as a whole becomes altered. It is no longer satisfactory to see the whole art in terms of technical solutions limited to the most visible aspects of playing. This might seem rather fuzzy but I think I know what I am trying to say….
I find this especially profound in terms of injury or tension so perhaps a mention of that might help to clarify a little. Suppose a player sustains an obvious injury of some kind. It may well be possible to identify exactly what caused it and to prescribe specific remedies and exercises that have apparently solved the problem. What is not usually addressed is psychological/emotional or even spiritual causes that may have led one to that injury and that need to be addressed in order to prevent similar or apparently unrelated but deep rooted problems occurring. There is for example, one very successful treater of back problems in the US whose name I forget who works purely from a purely emotional perspective. What is messed up in your life that is causing your body to do this? Or, a colleague of mine who twisted her ankle and damaged both tendon and bone recently. The healer who examined her was not at all surprised that it should occur The damage was all along the gall bladder acupuncture points and the gall bladder is associated very deeply with decision making- my friend is contemplating leaving her husband and starting a new life.
It may be even more involved if there is no immediately obvious injury and a player is simply categorized as `having too much nerve` or `just a tense person,` or even `simply lacking in talent.` The latter may be true or it could be completely out of the ball park. A piano player I work with has an immense talent she uses about ten percent of as far as I can see. She runs around in a stressed way in her life and plays utterly beautifully but in a very frenetic and unstable way (somewhat like Agerich on speed). My cranio sacral expert colleague took one look at her face and told her she was forceps delivered with the twisted bone structure of her face causing huge pressure on her brain. She went to him for a consult where he released about 2 percent of the tension and the next time she played she sounded cool collected and brilliant. A whole new level. But old loops and resistances prevent her seeking further treatment and as I watch her now her face is become darker and more tense and her playing more and more excitable and difficult to work with.
Learning about cranio sacral massage has been a real eye opener to me about what we all carry around we are not aware of. My healer told me he was very impressed with one thing Japanese people do that westerners do not: when the former fall down they instinctively stay down for quite a long time (like an animal does) to allow the nervous system to adjust and the body to realign itself if possible. A westerner wants to get up fast and this behavior often causes an invisible injury to be far more serious than it need be. What kind of injury could this be? Well the essence of cranio sacral is that all our bones vibrate in sync. The slightest trauma and they may become de synchronized which cause energy blockages and inefficient use of that area leading to compensations in other areas and so on. The incredible thing is we all carry these around with us as a kind of hidden war on our own bodies. Having experienced quite a few healing modalities and grasped that whether one is talking about color, sound, heat or whatever , it is all the same thing, (energy approached from a particular perspective) I have also found a consistently troubled area of the body that remains unknown to many: the pelvis. Many women in particular go to healers of one kind or another for an unidentifiable but debilitating illness as a last resort and the healer finds the pelvic region is black, cold or lifeless. The cause may range form sexual abuse, traumatic birth giving or whatever, but it is a bloody sad thing. To a lesser extent men can have nasty blockages around the pelvic bowl too. As a violinist, if this area is blocked then the fundamental area for energy exchange is not working and the body is simply not functioning as it should so neither is one’s violin playing. There is a very complex little set of muscles in their operating the legs and the general architecture of the body.
A simple exercise I give my students to help with this problem might be of some interest. Before you play try lying on your back and placing your left ankle above your right knee (the leg is straight along the floor.) Does the left knee sink easily and gracefully towards the floor or does it point upwards at around 45 degrees and feel sore or tight around where the leg appears to merge into the pelvic region? If the latter at the very least you have very tight abductor muscles that are having a very adverse effect on your playing! When an area of the body becomes damaged or tight over time it becomes necessary to recommunicate with that area so as you do this exercise place your left to the left of your pubic mound so you are gently touching the top of your left leg and the inside top of your thigh. Just leave your hand there . Muscles and tendons need touch before they want to begin returning to a relaxed state. They are no different from the whole human organism. If you lie like this for five minutes it is quite possible your leg will begin to spasm and you will experience –astonishing- feelings of release and lengthening occurring in your leg. Repeat with the other and then try your regular practice. Different things may well be happening.
At one time it seemed that violin pedagogy books had more or less run their course. Baillot, Spohr and Auer laid the ground work; Galamian taught us how to use our heads in a clear and concrete tome; Gerle laid out the hand patterns systematically and explained bowing in depth in a second volume, and then came Basics which systematically lays out just about all the significant violin exercises in history. It seemed that with the coming of Basics there would not be much else to say on this front. The teacher had a ready to hand resource for any problem and the average player has an instant means of improving their total understanding of their instrument or electing to spend for example, a month on `tone production,` working through the relevant exercises and then focusing on those that produce the best results. What has been emerging in the post Basics era seemed to me to be books that try and be trendy or creative, crossing genres or advocating the teaching of bowings through quartet parts or whatever. All good stuff but doesn’t cut it for me.
In this information packed era then, I wondered if we honestly really needed another book about violin playing. Fortunately Drew Lecher’s book answers the question in a very low key and useful way, filling a niche that perhaps needed to be filled. What I mean by this is that although I don’t feel overwhelmed personally I find that my students are not always comfortable being presented with an array of differing materials from a wide selection of books. Depending on their personality and needs beginner adults or teenager who want to get serious with me will get doses of Wohllfarht, sevcik opus 6, Schradieck, Kayser, Mazas, Kreutzer, Paginini Barucaba Variations, one string scales, Galamian/Flesch scales, endless bowing exercises from Basics as well as appropriate pieces. If I find a shifting exercise that I prefer in one book then that is given even if the book is never used ever again.
For me, what Drew has provided is a resource for the thinking teacher to construct a systematic syllabus bringing together most of the elements encompassed in all the above volumes so that an effective and manageable customized syllabus can be created for any student. How is this done?
First and foremost for me is the fact that whatever one is doing in the exercise sections two vital elements of modern violin pedagogy are repeatedly stressed. First, that the finger patterns highlighted by Gerle are integral to everything and second the Galamian ethos of rhythms and bowings is likewise applied. It is not so much that Drew has discovered anything new but that he has brought things together if the teacher is willing to make an effort not only in their own thinking but in feeding the book to the student systematically. It is this aspect that makes the book a little different and a little superior to its kin.
What was new for me is the idea of practicing three octave scales playing the note on the next string before the last one on the preceding string. Now that’s smart. I have been teaching this to all my students. Last night I took a calculated gamble with a 34 year old beginner who has practiced two hours a day for one year and mastered third position, a little shifting and gives and impressive performance of the Reiding B minor concerto. She has diligently practiced Bytovetsky two octave scales with various bowings and rhythms with marvelous intonation but I had a gut feeling I could push her to do something really spectacular so I took her through the 3 octave scale exercise for an hour, chunk by chunk until she was playing it really well. Suddenly she could do three octave scales from any position up to 7th. That blew her away!!! I’ll be going back and solidifying her technique with all the shifting exercises in 16th notes in all the different patterns, keys etc but it was one of those truly exciting moments when the whole notion of violin technique explodes for a novice player.
Is there anything not in there that I miss? Of course! If you want to cover everything then you write the Galamian or Basics book, except its already been done. Very little on the actual mechanics of vibrato for a teacher not sur ewhere to begin, admittedly far too big a subject for this kind of book (Basics is the non plus ultra here)-actually there is one marvellous exercise combining slow and fast vibratos with long notes and shifting. Would love to hear Drew`s ideas on the timing of shifts (hint, hint).
Perhaps not quite enough string crossing type exercises for the bow for my taste but that is also my quirkiness.
To sum up, I would say this is a thinking teacher and students book. It’s not huge because it provides all the necessary start points and the individual has to work at it and I suspect the deeper you dig the more the rewards will increase exponentially. I’m afraid it’s a rather paltry review as I have not had the time to begin mining the book in the way I so cheerfully advocate but I have no qualms in advising violinists to keep it on their music stands.
One of my little foibles (amongst the many) is to pick up a few DVDs every Saturday night after heavy orchestral rehearsals. This is an interesting exercise because at such a time I am usually too tired to figure out exactly what they are in Japanese which adds an exciting element of randomness. I recall with amusement picking up `Brokeback Mountain` on the assumption that it was a modern western, sitting down for the first ten minutes of sheep and scenery and being woken from my doze by a couple of guys having fun in a tent. That was surreal….(Beautiful movie by the way….)
This time I found a DVD somewhat ominously placed in the KUNG FU section which had a picture of Simon Rattle on the back. Curiosity piqued I put it on last night. Didn’t get off to a good start. German rap and shots of East German slums . Bleak and chilling. I was about to throw it away on the assumption that it was a boring European version of Shaft when the Berlin Phil appears on the screen. Changed my mind.
It’s an awesome documentary about how Rattle collaborated with a dance project designed to bring hope and life back for the poor and disenfranchised living in Germany. An extraordinary progression from listless, powerless, acnified drop outs to young people with vision and a common purpose: to dance `The Rite of Spring.` with the Berlin Phil under Rattle. The kids find themselves through the tough love approach of a couple of real hard core Brit dancers. One of the things they emphasized time and time again was the importance of silence. The kids had to stop using cynicism, verbal brutality and pointless laughter to cover up their sense of being nothing. Freed from this their bodies were given power through the teaching of simple but profound movements and this power then transferred to their souls , for want of a better expression. It was hard to watch but deeply moving.
Interspersed between these dance sessions were fascinating comments by Rattle about the role of music and society and shots of the Berlin Phil in rehearsal. They are just plain scary. Then one is constantly reminded of the background by shots of the slums , seeing ten year old kids literally with a lollipop in one hand and a cigarette in another.
I lost about half the content of this work because I can’t speak German and I was touched very deeply. Those of you who can follow it will get the full Monty.
It’s called `Rhythm it is` and it would be a very good idea for everyone to just stop practicing for a couple of hours and go and watch the damn thing.
We live in an age when so much has been quantified and standardized that the world of the violin seems to have a built in paradox: more and more players can attain a higher and higher technical level yet thinking for oneself and going deeper is, at least to me, becoming rarer. Everything is handed to everyone on a plate but exploring the grain of the wood of the table underneath the plate is missing…
Thus, if we compare today’s technical manuals (Galamian, or Basics or Drew`s new tome which I am not going to mention) with one of yesteryear such as Auer’s little book it seems like the latter is less and less relevant in today’s violin world. Yet it contains so many simple truths that the player should ponder and arrive at their own conclusions over time that it still belongs at the front of every player’s book shelf. One of the bits of important advice Auer gives is `always finish a practice session, no matter how technical with a melodious work. Never forget the violin is a singing instrument.`
The reason I am thinking of this is that it seems to me today’s students have strict regimes and they do their applied Galamianisms and finish with a great sense of satisfaction because stimulating the intellect is –very- satisfying but stimulating the heart is as important and if this is neglected then practicing becomes a penance ever the long run. It is this kind of sparse (albeit deep) diet that leads to the recent cry on a thread about scales `What is the point of this? What am I supposed to be trying to achieve?` The point becomes clear when the emotion and intellect are in balance. Explanation then becomes superfluous.
I often think of this because I am –very- over prone to doing way too much technical practice as though it were a goal in itself and it can leave me on a practicing roller coaster. Basically I have an enormous need to play even though I have long since retired from the professional world. So I make myself get up at four thirty every morning and impose on myself the discipline of working on bowing, scales blah blah because this is how my intellectual side believes the world of practicing must be. But it is a flawed view and when I stop and think about it very often my unconscious is nagging away with the `again?` complaint and I am not feeling great. I have more than enough self discipline to continue, but its not fun.
This morning I got through a truncated routine with not a great deal of pleasure but, because of an upcoming trio concert I had no choice but to spend the final half hour on the first movement of the Beethoven c minor piano trio even though I have performed it a zillion time. I approached it with a sense of slavery, worked in a desultory fashion for a few minutes and then I arrived at the most simple and charming little fragment. Seven notes in third position which are tossed between the instruments like a sexy little exchange of affection. I didn’t like what I was hearing so I stopped and began fiddling around, as it were. Couldn’t get it to sound right. Sang it again and again. `A bit closer. Experiment, no vibrato, vibrato and no phrasing in the bowing, how much hair, sing it again and again. Now it’s beginning to sound like a fragment of music. How long did that take? Geeze, 35 minutes!!!! Time to go to work. Gosh I feel on cloud nine. What a beautiful day!`
This I think is the best way to leave a practice session and if one can train oneself to work this way much more effective and rapid results can be achieved. If one perpetually carries around a slight feeling of staleness or `I have to learn this for my teacher,` then there really is no fun in what one is doing and fun –is- a recognized component of genuinely successful work according to modern psychological know how, not to mention prunes.
When I was a kid I read just about everything ever written by Samuel Applebaum and one particular phrase from the `The Way They Play,` series stuck in my mind. He was describing what makes a virtuoso just that little bit different from an ordinary payer and he noted that one characteristic was that they would go from one end of the bow to the other with utter fearlessness. I remember the time I first saw a video of Heifetz and not being able to believe the sheer speed of his bow stroke. I don’t think anyone has ever so consistently used such an amazing bow speed. Of course Heifetz was doing things his own way and it frankly was not that compatible with many other players physiques (only the principles were) but it looks and sounds wonderful to me. The other occasions when one sees this thing of beauty that have stuck in my mind are Oistrakh playing the last movement of the Franck on `The Art of Violin,` and Menuhin in many of the clips of him now available on youtube. (As an aside, if you Google youtube Menuhin you can see clips of him playing Bach sonatas with Glen Gould which represent to me the highest level of violin playing as timeless art)
When I first started seriously practicing son file I had to take Flesch`s warning about the danger of it causing `a certain sluggishness in the bow arm if overdone,` very seriously as I knew I was prone to this. So I practice son file for twenty minutes a day (and now Drew`s crunching exercise you can find in the bow curve thread) but, as has been my practice since Basics came out, immediately follow such work with rapid whole bows. This exercise from the Sound Points section of this classic tome advocated the following speeds if my memory serves me correctly: 80 SP5, 76 SP4, 65 SP3, 56 sp2 half notes, 40 sp1 whole notes. However I have to confess to being a WB junkie and I do the SP5 wbs progressively faster and faster, finishing off at mm 130. I suspect I may be a little bit nuts because I find the sound of a violin vibrating so freely on a single note so beautiful I often lose track of time and look up to find I have been doing them for 20 minutes or so.
Obviously I need more prunes.
When I was at the Royal College of Music there was a very talented lady there who played a couple of big concertos , won a few prizes and so on. Thus it came as no surprise to me that when she left she immediately got a leading position in a British Orchestra of some note. Not one of the top London ones, but no slouch and on an inspired day with the right conductor capable of truly great music making.
Twenty odd (in my case very odd) years on I see the orchestra mentioned in the Gossip column of v.commie. Without going into much detail I see that the orchestra has been through really hard times and is still under funded and coping with horrible facilities but because of a bright new conductor is on a substantial roll and deservedly so. When I checked out the homepage of the orchestra I found that my friend was still there after all these years.
What is the significance of that?
Well, as someone who experienced the Brit music scene, and that city in question I have no trouble imagining the horrible facilities, venues, low pay etc. that this orchestra struggled/struggles with day in, day out. It must in many ways be so different from the venerated position she occupied at college, much respected by her peers and her teacher. But my talented friend is still there doing the business. I know she is still doing an uncompromisingly good job because that is her nature. And that is what great musicians do. Year in year out, they do their damndest for the music often without the recognition they deserve simple because they love music. They are the backbone of our art.
PS Thanks for helping me with the Mozart concerto all those years ago.
I have to confess I have a mild fetish for seeking out relatively unknown works and giving them an airing. There are basically two reasons I am thinking of why such a neglect should occur:
1) Here in Japan one plays Humoresque, the Spring Sonata and Zigeunerweisen. Anything else is avant garde , risqué, de trop or apapian..
2) They are doggy doo doo.
Exploring this stuff requires a certain unfortunate exposure to canine discharge but every now and again an absolute gem turns up. One of my favorites is the violin sonata by Coleridge Taylor. When was the last time you heard that in a recital?
But I am really giving it a heartfelt endorsement not just because it is a very good work but also because I have found it to be an enormously valuable teaching piece. For a student who is around the Dvorak Sonatina/Accolay concerto level this work has some great stuff in it that provides a wonderful foretaste of `big` virtuoso playing. It’s full of interesting applications of very simple techniques. For example:
1) Extensive use of drones so the student is learning double stopping in a very musical context.
2) Many sustained passages that require a simple but well thought out division of bow. An excellent etude for bow division.
3) A reasonable number of small scale passages that require some speed but no awkward patterns or position changes.
4) A lot of singing melodies on the e string to develop tone without pressing. Again, no awkward intervals or accidentals.
5) A straightforward and very brief excursion high up the g string that recurs a few time to introduce this area of the violin sound to the student.
6) Very simple four part chords (like g major and minor) but combined in melodies. A greta introduction to this tehcnique.
7) A very entertaining and simple combination of left hand pizz and richochet in the last movement to introduce these effects to the student absolutely painlessly. Really fun. Not`I Palpiti…`
8) There is a beautiful recurring melody in 6ths in the last moveemnt which makes a perfect introduction to this kind of passage for the novice double stopper.
All in all, a thoroughly violinistic piece of utter charm which is comparable to Dvorak`s works and might just grab the interest of a jaded teenager who need something impressive with not too much heavy duty challenge. I’m going to play it at a few recitals over the next year to see how it comes across to people. If you want to take a look go to *
Another recommendation for you know who….
I grew up on Szeryngs recordings of the Bach accompanied sonatas which I have often felt are superior to his wonderful unaccompanied. A few years back I bought Podger and Pinnock and don’t recall liking them too much at the time. I’m not really into the authentic sound movement, but I put the disc on again last night and it just blew me away. This pair have incredible empathy, combining huge energy with moments of great stillness. I honestly felt I was in the middle of some kind of profound prayer as I listened in a pitch black room for an hour or so last night.
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