May 2011

Hot Fudge Sundae

May 23, 2011 01:38

Today was my eighth annual Steele String Studio Recital.  This was the first year that I awoke from a full night's sleep completely well and without migraine or any other excuse. 

Yet, I couldn't shake the stress out.  I practically destroyed my laptop at the coffee shop because it was so slow and the battery died before I could even read my mail.  I sat quietly and took ten deep breaths, but the rage only grew.  So, I went home to practice my accompaniments once more before loading up my stuff for the trip to the church.  My hands were shaking.  I fumbled over the notes in ways I've never imagined before.  How could I have stayed up practicing these pieces every night for weeks only to perform them as though I'd never seen them before?

Perhaps it was because I really wanted not to let my students down.  Maybe it was pride because I knew some potential clients were going to attend, and I wanted to at least appear like I was perfect.  Maybe it was the four hours I spent assembling the program, the half hour of copying and folding, the 200 snickerdoodles, chocolate chip cookies, rice krispy treats, and peanut butter bars I stayed up past midnight making.  And then I'd gone over the order, making sure I had all the music paperclipped and ready to go.  The Corelli was last, and I still didn't know if we'd make it through.

Do all violin teachers accompany their own students?  Maybe I'd do better to hire an accompanist and caterer next time.  I didn't budget for it this time, but George works wonders.  He was there to transport food and set up the reception while the recital was underway.  Plus, his fresh salsa is insane.

I admit, I had too much on my plate, but I really wanted this to be a classy recital, and it needed to be something special to stand out in the community: I wanted to show people how it's done.  But then I forgot one of the method books and had to play from memory. (Luckily, it was real simple.)  --and I forgot to give Katharine a count-off to start her piece.  --and my violin went sharp for Jaycie's piece.  As I watched my students forgetting their repeats and suffering from memory lapses, I wondered if perhaps I was rubbing off on them. 

On the other hand, maybe this is the way recitals always go.  I had some show-stopping performances when I was a kid, but I also remember plenty of stage-fright moments, where my fingers became possessed and ran off to some other dimension.  Those things are normal and they happen to everyone.  I remember that one time my brother couldn't remember the second ending of his piano piece and kept taking the first ending over and over, like a plane in a holding pattern.  Conceding in despair, he slammed his arms on the keys and ran off the stage crying.  That was a recital to remember...  Luckily, no one did that today. 

My old piano teacher always used to say before any performance or competition, "Hot fudge sundae no matter what!"  She always made my parents promise to treat us whether we did good or bad.  It was her way of saying, "Bravo, you performed, you made it!"  She was wise in understanding that we are far too hard on ourselves when it comes to musical performances.

The Corelli was up.  I forgot to cue the beginning the way I'd last rehearsed it, but somehow we all started together anyway.  And what do you know, we all ended together, too, with a bright Piccardy third!

"Your recital seemed to be an entire notch higher than last year's!" remarked one of the fathers afterward.  Well, of course, they are all a year further down the road.  That's the fun about progress.  Recital jitters are just a normal part of the game, especially if performances aren't included in the diet regimen year round.  But we have progress!  Undeniable progress.  Yeah, I'm proud of 'em.

It wasn't until I sat down with my mint Oreo blizzard at Dairy Queen that it really clicked: hot fudge sundae no matter what.  We are better for it.  We made it.  Shake off the guilt and remorse and enjoy your progress!

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From the Members of and Dimitri Musafia

May 20, 2011 23:51

Ben noted, "It smells Italian."

I used my best fillet knife, so as to be extra careful.

Even the shredded paper was Italian.

Inside the box was an envelope with a certificate of authenticity and a description.

Lo and behold a bear-proof case!

Just what I always wanted!

Several months ago, on a whim, violin maker David Burgess spearheaded a campaign to raise funds to buy me a Musafia case.  It kinda came out of the blue at me, and caused me great embarrassment and disbelief.  Over a rather short period, contributions rolled in from all over the world, some from friends I know, some from people I don't know, and some from people who have chosen to remain anonymous.  Why?  I'd like to think it's because I'm super-awesome-special and deserve a super-awesome-special case. 

The truth is, I stumbled across this website seven years ago just like anyone else, because I had a question about martele, in the secret hopes that it wasn't too late to pursue my dreams on the violin.  Just like most other members here, I stayed up late at night reading insights from people in far off places, and this became my window into the world I fantasized about as a child.  Were it not for this window, I can honestly say I would not be the teacher and violinist I am today.  Because of the uniqueness of my location and lifestyle, nearly every musical dream that's come true for me in the past seven years would not have been possible had it not been fueled by the friendships I've formed through this website. 

And if this weren't enough, now you've gone and bought me a case!  And not just any case--a bear-proof case!  Mr. Musafia himself chose to contribute not only a third of the cost, but his own personal touch.  He wrote, 

A few words about its design. You'll recall the bear issue I'm sure.  As it was not possible to secure the services of a bear for the testing of the case, I have incorporated one into the case itself in order to better protect the violin. A sort of guard-bear...

Clearly, the animal references are stylized and somewhat abstract. You'll notice thus the recurring zig-zag theme, which metaphorically represent the bear's sharp claws and teeth! The lid in especially is a growling mouth, and you can see the red tongue too. It says, keep away from Emily's violin! It was made with a mosaic of 23 individual pieces cut to measure, lined with silk velvet, and glued into place.  The overall effect is also a result of maintaining a constant direction of the "grain" of the velvet, which otherwise would appear as a hodgepodge of different tonalities.

The zig-zag theme and a splash of red are present in the bottom of the case as well for aesthetic balance. Here the zig-zag is achieved by using an Ajous wood profile that was planed to a wedge section and then applied to create a louver (or clinker) effect and finally lined.

So there you have it, another dream come true.  What can I say?  I've been treated like royalty.  Thank you!  Thank you!  I love it.  I still can't believe it.

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Opening Packages

May 19, 2011 11:15

Spring was late to arrive again this year, but I've had no problem keeping busy while I wait, preparing my largest studio ever for our upcoming end-of-the-year recital.  Of course, I always have my share of neat little discoveries along the way...

In an attempt to surprise myself with something completely different this semester, I ordered a Corelli two-violin sonata from an internet website without having heard it or looked at the music.  But, I figured if you'd heard one Corelli, you'd heard them all, and I was pretty sure the difficulty level would be something Juliet could handle for her first ensemble experience.  I was doubly excited when the music arrived with a bonus cello part, so I contacted Mary, an adult cello student, and asked if she'd like to join us.  With some difficulty, we worked out a rehearsal schedule around Easter, Mother's Day, soccer tournaments, my birthday, and two job schedules.  Needless to say, we didn't get much rehearsal time.  On Sunday afternoons,  the cellist, two violin students, and I crowded around my piano in the studio, with me trying to follow each of their parts in the score as they each wandered along on independent paths.  Sometimes we made it to the finish line together.  Most times, though, something would unravel while I was focused on reading the piano part, and then I'd have to try and figure out what happened.  As we tackled each movement, I could see that I'd bitten off more than I could chew, especially since I've never led an ensemble before.  We have one more rehearsal this evening, and then, well, we'll just see about that recital...   If nothing else, I think everyone is having fun with it--and the upstairs neighbor says it's quite pleasant.  Yes, opening up a Corelli sonata has turned out to be a surprising experience, with his fugue-ish counterpoint and crazy-archaic chord progressions. 


As I watch alder buds finally unfolding on my daily walks with Ben, I'm reminded of the way I've gotten to watch my students open up over the years.  I'm not sure when the transformation happened, but when I play duets with my high school students, I begin to feel like I'm no longer relating teacher-student, but as colleagues.  Even though I've given them all similar instruction, each one has turned out so completely different, and I love to see what their individuality contributes to their musical expression.  I'm so glad that they are getting to that hard-earned, well-deserved point that they can more fully express their thoughts on the violin.  When we play, I have so much fun I wonder if it's cheating.  This is a job, and I should be working, shouldn't I?  Oh right, this is what playing the violin is all about!

Time flies.  Another birthday came and went, and I received heartfelt cards and gifts in the mail from loved ones afar.  My little nephews in Oklahoma contributed some of their own artwork, which I now display on my refrigerator with pride.  Their blue crayon and red marker lines remind me of their faces, and I miss them.

You never know how people and places will touch you even across great spans of space and time.  Why, just yesterday, I arrived home to find this curious package from Italy waiting for me.  I could hardly wait to see what was inside...


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May 14, 2011 01:06

With such long sunny days, how could anyone play anything outside the key of E major?  I concluded a day of hiking with a freshly sprouted interest in Bach's Partita No. 3.  Happy harmonies, like birds, call late into the wee-hour twilight.

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May 9, 2011 01:12

Really, not a whole lot went on since I last wrote, which may explain why I couldn't come up with anything.  The Mahler concert in April was a giant success; his symphony won my heart over with its epic nature.  The sold-out audience erupted in a standing ovation that lasted for maybe five encores, and I felt so privileged and honored to be a part of such a huge event.  --Yet, I arrived home feeling just as dead as before, settling into my teaching routine, neglecting my own practice time indifferently. 

Now that my students are growing into concertos, I'm spending more time learning accompaniments on the piano than anything else.  It's been nice, though, returning to the piano.  I love how easy it is to get the notes in tune, and the polyphonic textures are enjoyable to my ears.  They feel less lonely to me somehow, as I sit late at night in the darkness of my studio, the treble clef clef notes running along with the bass clef notes, there beneath the little music lamp.

Admittedly, my main personal focus has shifted toward summer already; I've been picking it up at the gym for upcoming mountain races with a steady diet of intervals, hills, lactate threshold workouts, long slow distances...  The weather's been improving gradually, along with the increase of daylight.  This week, the sun sets at 10:00 pm.  Next week, 10:30.  Green grass now tints the edges of the gravel road next to my house.  And the ice went out on the lake today. 

On a sunshine day, Ben and I took our first venture back to the mountains and headed up Skyline, just up to snow-line and back.  Every year when I finally get to see her, I feel like I'm awaking from a deep slumber: I was dead, and now I'm alive.  I touch the rocks and soil, inhaling the scent of rising sap.  I can almost watch the fiddleheads grow while I make my way up the mountain and back down again.  This first hike has always been my salvation from winter's grip.  Without it, well, I don't know about spring.

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