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Have more faith in prunes....

October 19, 2009 at 10:40 PM


the older I get the more dumb things I do it seems. Got a phone call last week from a family living
something like two hours drive from me who want their daughter (s) to take lessons with me. I was so awed by the thought of anyone driving that far to see me that I forgot to ask a crucial question:   `what pieces can the elder 9 year old play?` No problem I thought. Experience tends to suggest that  nine (and seven) probably means a quick go at the Reiding concerto (which I actually like a lot) kind of level. Hah!
 Anyway they turned up none the worse for the drive seeming awfully cheerful. `Who are her most recent teachers?`   Get the name of very famous Japanese pedagogue. Uh ohhhhh.
 `ER. What concertos has she played?` Mozart 3, 5, Bruch, Lalo etc.   Waves of self doubt roll over me. These poor people travel all this way and I probably have very little to offer except a cup of tea.
Lesson begins. First movement of Haydn c major concerto. Cool. At least I can demonstrate this one from memory. I take a peek at her copy. Have never seen so many annotations and sentences in Japanese. Heart and confidence sink even lower.  Do I really have anything to tell this young lady? Playing begins. In tune, rhythmical, somewhat stylish, all ff. Really rather enjoyable.
Knees locked back tight against the joint; right hand thumb bent the wrong way; right hand finger immobile; arm vibrato and only one speed;   very little use of sound points and bow speeds to create colors.
`Okay. Let’s take a look at the thumb. This is called finger staccato.....`
Basics are still out of fashion. I still have a job.

From Anne-Marie Proulx
Posted on October 19, 2009 at 11:10 PM

I'm not a teacher and can't take position on your situation but as someone who likes to sometimes go on youtube to hear violin from different performers of all ages and level, (and yes, am fascinated by the major changes between generations) I find that many many play a very high level but... too young, as if they had skip many things???  Sometimes the playing is good but the look odd or the other way around...  

My parents who know nothing about music but were testing a computer by opening many pages at the same time (including some classical music videos on youtube) finally stayed 2 hours to look at various piano and violin videos of young prodigies and came up to me with many conclusions that have been talking...   It talks by itself to even non-musicians. One thing that stroke me was this comment of my father:  I don't even want to look to x and y video... it's like opening a wine bottle when it's not ready yet!  

Well, I'm just speaking in general and not of your specific situation,  I couldn't!!!   But my teacher had similar experiences... And also, a slightly different one, a teacher (an ex soloist) who refused a student and pass it to "my teacher" because it would be "more appropriate"...  Curiously, she wanted this student very avidly after my teacher had done all the "dusting" : )


From Stephen Brivati
Posted on October 20, 2009 at 12:07 AM


sometimes I think the problem is some kind of hard wiring in my head ,  but when I look at some `famous` masterclasses of great teachers and soloists,  or think back to some of the lessons with famous soloists I have had,  I just don`t get it.   It seems like everyone is looking on and going wow at statements like `this part is like heaven` and I`m not sure what heaven is supposed  to be like and if I did put forward my idea I would be arrested,  or sponsored by Viagra.   To me it`s so much simpler and more rewarding to say`lets take a look at these dotted quarter,  8th note slurs in this melody.  There is no vibrato on the 8th notes so it sounds hot/cold.`    Imagery and inspiration has a place but at any level if the technique can be improved objectively that is where I personally have to start.  Sometimes I think  famous (?) teachers feel this is beneath them.  Often it is the fault of the student (parents) too.

Anyway,  my young friend is going to go through De Beriot 9 phrase by phrase asa though it were the Beethoven.  After that let`s se e if the door is really open to greatness rather than flapping on a loose hinge.



From Yixi Zhang
Posted on October 20, 2009 at 3:13 AM

My first thought was: smart parent! The fact that they found you before the kid getting too old and their willingness to drive such a long distance show they must have done some homework.  De Beriot after Bruch and Lalo will be a good test:)

From David Allen
Posted on October 20, 2009 at 6:25 AM

Hi Buri,

I'm struck by two things. Firstly, how when we set out to improve ourselves it so often means going  back to the fundamentals. Also, Its not always what you play, but how you play it; witness Rachel Barton Pine's variations on Happy Birthday!


From Stephen Brivati
Posted on October 20, 2009 at 6:36 AM


you are so right David.  My currnet project is to explore Yoshinkan Aikido until I drop dead.   This is relatively rigid relative to other systems and comes back time and ime again to a few fundamentals which are very systematically organized and ordered.   IT`s been quite a struggle for me and I think many in the dojo were expecting the plonker to quit but I have kept going and I can now look at series of movement and see how they all unfold like magic from these basic things.  I also note that the highest ranked bel\ts turn up early and work on these things more than the middle ranks;)



From Anne-Marie Proulx
Posted on October 20, 2009 at 1:12 PM

I find the same thing about master classes. (I attend a few since often everyone can go watch) and saw some on youtube. Even with pretty great masters... they are almost all more on the "romantic" side than the "practicle" . I admit the students they listen too are very very amazing but, even so, to tell (and I really heard these), more power there, play like if you were seducing someone, you are telling a story so convince me, think about the personality/era of the one who composed this..., you're shy, afraid etc is sometimes quite of a nonsense when they don't explain technically and boringly how they do it... (perhaps some great masters do their technical stuff by instinct and have an hard time to express the "mecanism' clearly or perhaps it's because they can sell more cd's if they always put themself in that "music all comes from the heart..." mood??? I don't know???)  But again I am not the one to tell if this is good or not but I do notice it!  Is it a coincidence if at the best school in town that produces the closest of what we can call prodigies and soloists, I have always found the explanation were much more artistic than down to earth??? (from the bribes of lessons I saw)   Maybe it is but maybe not from what you all tell!  

Interesting blog


From Corwin Slack
Posted on October 20, 2009 at 5:17 PM

 When I first returned to study I played the Bach A minor concerto. Teacher was okay with that but he had so many picky issues that week after week I reduced the level of the music until I was at Sevcik Opus 1 No. 1.  I couldn't fix 100 issues at a time. 

From Anna Meyer
Posted on October 20, 2009 at 6:47 PM

An interesting post. I suppose this girl just moved to fast along with pieces and that it didn´t correspond with technique. Thankfuly my teacher has it the other way round :) I am working on advanced technique but he´s really careful with the pieces.

From Danielle Gomez
Posted on October 20, 2009 at 6:58 PM

 "Basics are still out of fashion. I still have a job."


Haha!  I like this.  It's so true though!  I'm always hesitant to accept "transfer" students (as in, I did not start them) because of this very reason.  Quite often they come in, largely self-taught and don't understand why I want them to work on simple scales with a relaxed bow hand when they can already play all the way through the "Disney Best Hits" violin book.

Posted on October 20, 2009 at 11:20 PM

The only thing surprising is why would you even think of offering a cup of tea and not PJ?

teacup GIF Animation


From Anne-Marie Proulx
Posted on October 20, 2009 at 11:17 PM

Danielle, my violin teacher thinks like you and sometimes has to refuse such students who get "shocked" when she tells them the truth about x and y things that are bad.  Some had as much as 12 years of playing prior to this...  Not everyone is humble ennough or willing to start everything over.   The other problem she has is many pretty lazy teen students who come to her and are sure they'll become good professional violinists. They do not like her when she "breaks" their dream by telling them the truth so to speak...  It sometimes makes touchy situations.   



From Yixi Zhang
Posted on October 21, 2009 at 5:12 AM

Corwin, when I first returned to the violin my teacher made me play the 1st movement of Bach Partita No.2. 100+ issues showed up so loudly that I begged to learn how to practise scales! 

From Danielle Gomez
Posted on October 21, 2009 at 6:44 AM


It's true, it's not easy at all to start over.  It's because their "piece level" and "technique level" are out of sync.  Ideally, these two things should be advancing at the same time.  It requires a great deal of patience to stick to "easy" songs while forcing yourself to develop technique.

A similar predicament arises when a musician of many years decides to take up a completely different instrument.  I learned that one the hard way =D

From Anne-Marie Proulx
Posted on October 21, 2009 at 1:21 PM

Patience... I know what you mean!!!  

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