I’m going to be playing two Scandinavian songs at a small Student Soiree tonight, and I’m going to nail it. I mean I’ve got this down. No sweat. I feel like Little Richard the night he inducted Otis Redding into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. A wop bop a boo bop and a whop bam boom! Check out Little Richard in this video. He’s confident, loose, and going for it all the way. It’s Rock and Roll with the brakes off the wheels.
Seriously, look at that guy. He’s having a great time, and following his lead, I’m going to go up in front of my colleagues and play those songs like I wrote them.
So, am I overconfident? Am I full of hubris? Am I a case of standing on a tightrope with a hurricane coming down the street? Perhaps, but I do think it will go well.
The question to ask is why do I feel so good about this? The answer is simple – I practiced these two tunes every single day for several weeks. I didn’t have much choice. My teacher was in Australia for a few weeks, and I was in Portland, Oregon. We were planning on doing a couple of FaceTime lessons. Or if that didn’t work out, I was going to send a video and she would critique the video. That way we’d keep things rolling until she got back.
Well, unforeseen circumstances came into play. The first problem was she was alone, in a house, deep in the Australian bush. I mean DEEP in the bush, the outback, out in some enchanted forest, way, way, way, out there. They had some huge thunderstorms, the power went out, and she didn’t have a car. To top it off they didn’t have Internet connections in the middle of wherever-she-was.
I don't know how she did it, but somehow, my teacher managed to get a message to us that communications would be difficult a best. So the FaceTime lessons, and the videos were not going to happen. That was that.
As it stood, the situation was this. My teacher was in the Australian summer, swimming in lakes, enjoying fresh fruit, never wearing a winter coat or boots. If I were her, I'd be doing exactly the same thing. It sounds amazing.
For my part, I was in the middle of a wet Portland winter. All I had were two Scandinavian tunes, rain outside, some scales, some double-stop exercises, more rain outside, some studies, all the other tunes I’d already learned and a lot of drizzle. In a curious way, I felt untethered. I didn’t have a weekly lesson. My inner calendar was askew. I had to shift my thinking in the context of a much longer time period.
So, with no lessons for weeks, I had two options. First, I could put the violin away, and take a break, but that wasn't really an option. I knew I’d just slide backwards into awful intonation, and become very discouraged. Therefore had no real choice but to plug away at it all and see what happens, and that’s what I did.
Every day, for five weeks, I’d put those two tunes on the music stand and work with them. The songs are, “Slañgpolska from Kalmar” a Swedish folk song, and “A Hundred Years” from Finland. The challenge for me was the rhythms within the songs. For some reason, Scandinavian music loves to mess around with some pretty interesting rhythms, and these songs are no exception. Being a basic 4/4 and ¾ kind of guy, this was a real challenge.
To help me get the rhythms down I tried using a regular metronome, but I could barely hear it with the violin right next to my ear. So, instead, I used a metronome I’d found in YouTube and running it through large speakers I blasted it into the room as I practiced. I just kept at it over and over and over again.
I’d get up in the morning, have coffee, read the newspaper (depressing) and practice those tunes. It was like the movie, Groundhog Day. With no specific lesson I just got lost in the repetition. I stopped looking at the calendar. I just accepted the routine. I just got accustomed to taking my time and making each bar as correct and focused as I could.
And then, one day, my teacher walked out of the Australian bush, boarded an airplane, and flew back to Portland. After a necessary period of waiting for the jet lag to fade away, I had a lesson. It went well. Except for two or three spots, I had those tunes and their tricky rhythms down.
So I’ll be playing those tunes tonight to my fellow adult students. (Well, I say “fellow adult students”, but I’m almost 70 and they’re all somewhere around the 20’s and 30’s, with one high school senior who can play all of us under the table. However, I digress.) For the first time I feel very confident as I go into one of these soirees.
I've done these Student Soirees in the past, but with a bit of trepidation. I'd know the songs, but I alway felt I needed a bit of luck to get through them. It was touch and go from the start to the end.
This time it's different, and the reason is the most obvious one. I practiced a lot, and that’s what it takes. There is no magic bullet, no reality in the hope that things will just come together at the last moment, no trust in getting a lucky break while performing. It’s just practice as well as possible, and then do it again and again and again.
Too bad you won’t be there. We’re going to rip that joint with some rockin' Scandinavian folk songs!
I’ll let you know how it all went down.
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