(This year's universal nativity scene brought to you by my brother Michael)
Anyone familiar with Yost shifting exercises will immediately envision long, stark rows of cookie-cutter notes, moving up and down in orderly patterns. Don't be fooled by their black and white description on paper, though. In practicing them, you might be surprised by what you discover.
The goal of the Yost exercise is to travel on the fingerboard from point A to point B and back again using various combinations of four fingers. Before my teacher and I parted for the summer, he handed me a copy of Yost and advised me never to practice more in one session than what I could give my full concentration. I swore to obey and drove home thinking about what full concentration felt like. How do I know if I'm concentrating fully? What am I supposed to notice? When do I know I'm done?
Back in the studio, I set my metronome on on 60, gave each note one beat, and left one beat between each repetition to get ready for the next shift. Each shift was repeated ten times.
I tried my best to concentrate, but my mind kept running off somewhere. I told my fingers to get ready to go to the perfect spot, and sometimes they did, and sometimes they didn't. But my mind, it kept running off, no matter how hard I tried to concentrate. At the end of twenty minutes, I had covered two strings' worth of first-to-second-position shifting. Then I put the violin away and went fishing.
Every evening, my mind wandered off as I moved my hand back and forth rhythmically on the fingerboard, so that I couldn't tell where concentration began or ended. But then one day, I decided that instead of trying to concentrate, I would follow my mind when it wandered away, just to see where it was going. This process was a little difficult, since the subconscious is very wary of the conscious, and tends to become scarce at the slightest sign of being followed. But I managed to catch it, and the following description is a rather rough sketch of what I found.
This note, it's not just a B natural, it's a little creature. It glows, which is how you know when you've found it. ...And this particular note creature is orange, and lives over here on a little soft perch, and that one is green and lives over there, on a different perch. They are connected by a path that travels across space, something like an electric current. The note creatures sound different depending on which finger creates them, but when they do speak, they glow with their own specific, unique color. This is how they communicate, through the glowing. One speaks to the other, and the other speaks in return. They each have different relationships with each other, which is why each shift must be practiced individually.
And so my mind and I wandered through the Yost shifting exercises, becoming familiar with the places for the little glowing creatures, taking turns visiting each one and letting them all speak politely to each other. If I let my mind travel to this imaginary world, I never missed the notes, because good friends always know the way to each other's home.
That was last summer. Now I'm with my parents in Oklahoma for the holidays, far away from my studio and decent practice time, and busy catching up with the real world and all the real people in my life. It's not until late at night after all the others have gone to bed and I'm still running on eight cups of coffee and three hours' jetlag, that quiet and solitude begin to allow my mind to wander away again.
With it being Christmas and all, strings of lights glow and flash merrily in the darkness that surrounds me. I'm just about to nod off. In just a flash, I see orange and hear B natural. Well, hello there, B natural, and I see you've brought your friends, too!
The thought lasted less than an instant, and then I became fully conscious with a shock. Have I finally gone crazy? Where are these visions coming from, and what do they mean?
Maybe it's madness, or maybe it's sugarplums. Either way, I can't wait for Yost tomorrow.
If I were to begin these lines with my pencil, it would last for about two and a half seconds, and then turn thick and jagged. And then the eraser would smear them into a wrinkled hole, just before I rip the crumpled remains with a red rage.
The violin stories will stay in my head. Meanwhile, enjoy the scenery.
Hey does anyone want any snow? 'Cause I'm making some, and I'm feeling generous. You can email me with your address (no, I'm afraid I can't send it by cloud), and you might even get it in time for Christmas.
But don't expect enough to snowboard or anything.
On nice days we go snowshoeing sometimes.
The longer we stay out, the more we begin to blend in with the surroundings, all covered in frost and tinged in blue.
The sun doesn’t make it out to see us much; not once in seven hours' travel do we stand in its light. But while hiking in the shadow of one mountain, another, luminous like the moon, provides an ambient glow.
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