So there I sat – again – hearing the heavy Russian accented voice directed at me: “Deborah listen! The rhythm goes like this” and the voice proceeds to clearly sing the aforementioned passage. Perfectly, of course!
Normally, I don’t mind correction. After all, I’m a musician working to improve myself so any assistance from one of my mentors is always welcome. But I’ll admit that I was having less than charitable thoughts towards my mentor when he chose to “mentor” me, on a solo passage, in front of the entire symphony as I graced the concertmasters chair.
After all, there were only 5 teeny, tiny, little solos in An American in Paris. What could possibly be so hard about that? I’ve played things much harder than that, and that last one didn’t look so hard. But for the second week in a row now, Gershwin had nailed my butt to the wall – publicly. So I slinked home and reluctantly added this 8 measure migraine to my practice agenda for the weekend. By the end of Saturday, having not yet accomplished my goal, I was ready to quit symphony rather than go back and humiliate myself again. Sunday morning dawned and I tackled my mountain of music enthusiastically – everything but the Gershwin. That music lay half open on the floor where I had thrown it the night before and the cat was now snoozing on the cool paper. But even covered by my cat, Gershwin laughed up at me – clearly enjoying the fact that he had defeated yet another hapless violinist.
I couldn’t take his mockery any longer, so I headed off to Starbucks to drown myself in the biggest Americano I could find. Not long after I sat down, determined to relax, I heard the sound of clapping – rhythmic clapping. Looking around I saw a little girl sitting with her family, reading something and clapping. Intrigued, I kept watching and eventually she picked up the book and I saw it – Suzuki, Book 1. Her family stayed for a little while longer and the entire time she practiced: clapping and singing her way through the various tunes.
Inevitably, my mind wandered back to the Gershwin and I sat there trying to mentally “clap” my way through that passage and I couldn’t do it. I was forced to concede that I’d been working on all the wrong things: bowing, fingering, etc. But somehow I had lost sight of the rhythm, the foundation of all musicdom.
Suddenly I couldn’t wait to get home. I raced in the front door, scared the cat out of his wits, and grabbed a handful of manuscript paper and headed back to the basics. I scribbled out just the rhythm on the A string, made sure my windows were closed, and proceeded to act out the craziest antics as I clapped, sang, and played the rhythm as written. Eventually I felt brave enough to add in the slurs, but just on the A string, and was pleasantly surprised when it wasn’t as hard as I expected. Finally, I took a deep breath and played the passage as written, and I nailed it. For the rest of my practice that day, I couldn’t resist stopping every few minutes to play it again – just to see if I could still do it.
The truth of whether I have truly nailed it will be found out at this Thursday’s rehearsal in front of fifty other people. But I’m sure that this week I’ll be able to stare Gershwin in the face and know that if I did it once I can do it again.
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