April 2008

Note 13 Contact Point

April 24, 2008 13:02

Sometimes a lesson (for me) vaporizes into thin air as soon as i step off the stoop and walk to my car. I have to write down key elements to work on. I carry my note book to each lesson and plop down and write myself notes even though I know it is eating into valuable demonstration time. Some lessons do stick in my brain because my "receptors' are open and sometimes I just know that my teacher is rockin'. (I'll explain about that later.)
This note is about a real vivid lesson on the "contact point." I was doing scales and each note was to last an entire bowoke. This was a lesson on improving my tone. I could improve my rhythm by working with the metronome but this time it was specific for tone. I was given a really interesting explanation about tone and the placement of the bow in relationship to the bridge and what happens when i stray from this specific "space.' I apologize that I don't know all the technical terms, but the demonstration that my instructor gave me that I replicated really drove the point home.
I am now using my practice time at home to consistently aim for the best tone possible and it is not negotiable to stray from the precise instructions about what piece of string real estate is the best place to be to get the correct tone and eliminate the screechiness.
Ok on the other point. I know that for the most part teachers, instructors, and professors really want their students to do well and have to come up with a lesson design for us weekly regardless of what level we have achieved artistically, or how coordinated we are or how receptive we are to any instruction at all.
I am a (was) a teacher myself and I think that some weeks, my teacher really rocks--I have noticed that after a really great concert or some sort of difficult performance I get a super-off the chart lesson: Enthusiasm, wisdom, diagnostic skills and precise instruction.
Is this just me? I think that all teachers need or should be required to hob-nob with really wonderful violinists and/or musicians/ artists to remind themselves how rockin' they really are. To be locked in a room with Miss or Mr. Screechy Strings for weeks at a time without reprieve is not exactly artistically healthy.
Make sure your teacher gets out of his cage and gets to perform.
I think that Recitals should be for the teachers. (We know how we sound. Ha!)
What do you-all think?

2 replies | Archive link

Note 12 Bench Marks

April 20, 2008 10:44

This is hard. This is crazy hard! I just finished up my Sunday morning practice.
I need need the help from those who have been at this longer than I have. Not the violinists who started very young and are by now perfecting an unbelievable, ridiculously difficult and beautiful passage for an upcoming sold out performance. Just those of you who can remember the process of getting to the next level.
I need to know when I can expect the notes to ring consistently beautiful. I need to know when "bow distribution" becomes automatic. When will the "schrunchy" sound give way to a nice even tone? At what point in time will I be able to nail each note of the scale on time with the metronome? When will I be able to play a nice smooth run of several (more than 3) notes on one bow stroke--Vibrato seems like something from Mars. I don't have a ticket for that ride yet.
I hope by now those of you who can play fairly well have gone off to read the next blog or at least have had a chuckle and have left your computer to go do something else more rewarding. (like practice.) Intermediate or Advanced students: When did you reach these plateaus? Anxiety? From 0-10?

10 replies | Archive link

Note 11 Reflecting on the Approaching Mother’s Day

April 15, 2008 09:06

I opened the paper to the Mother’s Day ads, right after Easter they spring up as sure as grass and robins in spring.
I usually pass over mother’s day as if it were just another day but for this violinist blog I am giving a little more thought to this second biggest retail day of the year. If you think I am heartless to skim over this holiday then I need to tell you that I have, in past years given and thought about my mother and mothers a lot. I worked in retail for a few years, I sold the cards, candy and clothing. Also I was the one to remember and I sent the cards, candy, clothing, jewelry, flowers and teapots to mother, mother-in-laws and friend’s mothers—with out hesitation.
My mother was my biggest advocate. Pictures on the wall, assignments on the refrigerator, letters to me in college and endless lectures about life. She rummaged around and did the homework that found my scholarships for college. My total college liability was $800 at the end of 4 years. How I paid that down is a Father’s Day story.
This blog is about music. My mother played the piano. Although Chopin was her favorite, she took requests. “Rinse the coffee cups!” hollered my dad and she skittered over Rimsky—Korsakov. She banged away at Rachmaninov and The Minute Waltz in much more than a minute. She played “Dancing Dolls; Dum- dittle, dittle -DEEE dum dum- DA-dum--DEE-dahhhh---DUM-little-little-deeee, DUM, little, little, dummmm. That melody is etched in my brain.
Dad would yell, “Hon—play that Barcarolle for me.” She would play that.
Then he would wail “I Don’t See Meeee in Your Eyes any more!!” She played that. It was Fasination---Nay—shun---I know-Ohhhhhh Owww!” Dad would sing from the basement.
She had a piano bench stuffed with sheet music like that from every movie and every pop star of her day. Bing, Perry Como, Debby Reynolds, Patty Page and Rosie Clooney. Around the World in 80 Days, Sally Foster’s “Merry Widow Waltz”: Men with slicked back hair and women whose faces were photographed at 45 degree angles. Also we had piles and piles of solemn thick music books, printed on war-era paper, too flimsy to stand on their own were stacked everywhere else. I couldn’t understand how anyone could comprehend or play anything so black with notes stacked up on top of each other! These were her “classic collection.” These she dug into like a dog looking for a bone and extracted the composition “du jour” with glee.
She played clinically and carefully with her mouth set in a straight line and her glasses perched on her nose, slightly askew. Sometimes she counted to herself, sometimes she screwed up her face into an awful scary expression only to move her sliding glasses back up towards the bridge of her nose.
We had a television set in our home. At one time it was a small black and white built into a wall about 5 feet from the floor and it was only on for Walter Cronkite or Perry Mason if at all. Books took up an entire wall floor to ceiling, however, The Balwdin Piano was the center of it all with a grand etched mirror placed above it to reflect the huge bay window across the room.
Piano music reached every room in the house, outside in the garden, from a perch in the best climbing tree and even in the eves of the attic where we could hide with a stack of books, a flash light and pile of cookies.
No one questioned the music. No one offered a critique. It played on for hours at a time after school, after dinner, Saturdays, Sundays-almost anytime. Didn’t all moms do this? It was much better to hear the piano than to endure her lectures on the importance of ????
I really cannot recall her lectures, I only remember what she did with her life. Her gardening, her work with chemical research, her “contesting” hobbies. knitting crocheting, reading, clipping coupons, her correspondence and wanting 12 children but stopping at 6.
She practiced the piano. An exercise that her entire family participated in because it flowed into our ears, straight to the brain and our heart where it nestled and waited until we remembered and did something about it ourselves: Her Mother’s Day gift to me.

(Aside: Mother died of leukemia and complications of other cancers when I was 22. I have now outlived her by 5 years, no cancer ever.)

1 reply | Archive link

Note 10 Student Advice-An Unlikely Setting

April 8, 2008 06:31

Last night I volunteered to work the 5 to 6 shift serving up ribs at the annual "Rib Feed" at the German American Club to benefit diabetes. With my white apron, enameled name tag and official chapter pin I took up my post at the end of the line. I had to fish out racks of button bone ribs from a murky sea of sauce to balance on styrofoam divided plates. The people who attend these things make me feel young. This crowd with their oxygen tanks and walkers remembers white gloves and church picnics. There were some young adults with babies, teenagers wearing football jerseys and the occasional rotund couple who grab 8 or so corn fritters piled up over their pork and beans to make room for 3 racks of ribs. We were exchanging empty pans of fritters faster than the ribs even though I was informed that this year they had purchased a new "fritter machine."
After almost two hours of serving up the sticky fare I was relieved by another aproned woman with a fresh pair of tongs. I piled up a plate full of cole-slaw and tried to find an isolated seat. Anne-Marie who brought along her husband and two school aged sons, yoo-hooed at me from a corner where several girls from my club had settled to eat their plate of ribs, fritters and cold-slaw.
The two boys were fidgety. They had eaten their ribs they were armed with their ipod nanos. The oldest son, a young man about 10 or 11, was eager to tell me about his newest triumph. He had gone to his cousins wedding and had danced with a girl. He had a round little face,thick glossy brown hair, huge brown eyes, a little button nose and skin so pretty and flawless it reminded me of why mothers think twice before they threaten to give their kids to gypsies.
He also was excited about the fact that he had actually gotten the girl's phone number. He shared this information with all the ladies at the table because he had no idea what he was supposed to do with it now but he knew that a girl's phone number was a treasure indeed!
That was not all he wanted to talk about. Since we were all tired from standing and plating-up the glossy pork we let him chatter on without comment. He had remembered that I had been studying violin and I had listened to one of his impromptu concerts in the middle of his toy and cookie crumb cluttered living room while his mom was busy yanking curlers out of her hair in preparation for a wine-tasting fund raiser event. (I wish I could recall his name, John? James? Andy? darn.)
He was good, quick and nimble. He played with accuracy and correct posture. I think he rushed through his piece a little too quickly. His mom, Anne-Marie told me that he had a couple of public performances under his belt and he had memorized all the Suzuki pieces that he was assigned.
We chatted about the difficulties of Suzuki and what to expect from the different pieces, the fingering challenges and my difficulties with slurs with 4,3,2 rather than 1,2,3 fingers. I had just entered book three and from what I gathered he was well beyond book 4. He invited, no TOLD me to listen to his nano. I could hardly decline because one half of his ear pieces was already thrust in my ear by then. He had all his favorite Suzuki pieces stored there! He could sing all the pieces and could recall the difficult passages.
I talked about how difficult it was to memorize. He told me to break it down into short phrases (as my teacher had done also) I told him that I used a different highlight marker to separate phrases that were the same. (ex: pink for the main theme-green for the next one, pink again when the main theme appears again.) Teachers and college students are proud of their skill with colored highlighters. I have been both for many years.
He told me to forget all that. He said to remember the themes not by color but how they made you feel.
"Remember the themes by how they made YOU feel; happy, or sad." His system for memorization was based on his personal feelings.
Do we give kids credit for feeling music through their heart? Do we usher them off to music lessons because we think that it is somehow 'good for them?" For that matter do we stuff them into the car and cart them off to a rib feed full of old people (older than 30!) ..and expect that they will be fed and hope that they don't fuss too much before we have to pack them back into the car? Little brother who had just started violin was crawling on the floor between the chairs making car noises. His nano was filled with classical music as well! He wanted to turn up the volume to "high" and see if I would appreciate the loud cymbal crash--I allowed it ---4 inches from my ear.
I would have liked to hear more from the older boy about his mental preparation as he attacked his assigned pieces. Since his mom is the president of our volunteer organization I am sure that she will be busy with her presidential obligations and I will get to hold down the table with her two kids. I won't mind.

4 replies | Archive link

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