Written by Claire Allen
Published: February 11, 2015 at 4:58 PM [UTC]
I expected that this would be a fun outlet - a way to play regularly with a chamber partner, to be really geeky, and a good challenge for me to play anything that isn't strictly classical. What I didn't expect was that learning one wizard rock song would change my entire process for learning music and lead to a feeling shockingly close to creative fulfillment.
As we are both fans of Harry Potter, and I am a fan of web series and YouTube director Yulin Kuang, we decided to do a cover of the song "Horcruxes," written by wizard rocker Kirstyn Hippe, from the short film I Ship It. Wizard rock, by the way, is a genre of music that was created by Harry Potter fans - rock music with lyrics drawn from themes from the Harry Potter book series. There was no sheet music available, so I set out learning the song in a way that I've never learned a piece before: I sang.
I listened to the song over, and over again, and then I started singing along until I had it memorized. Only then did I pick up my violin. I would sing a line of text and then try to match my voice with my violin. Once I thought I had the whole song, I blasted it on my speakers and played along, listening carefully to match the singer's (actress Mary Kate Wiles) rhythms, inflections, and character.
Wade and I had a ridiculously fun and geeky recording session, and when I listened back to the take we selected for our YouTube channel, I was shocked. I almost didn't recognize my sound. The intonation was better than when I played classical repertoire. The vibrato was more integrated with the sound. The phrasing was cohesive and made sense. And - I looked like I was engaged in my performance, because I was. I spent the next few days listening to the recording over and over again.
Violin has always been a struggle for me. I could write an entire blog series on my decades-long struggle to rehabilitate technique problems and release tension. I'm used to performance being a stressful situation. I'm used to accepting that I did the best I could under the circumstances and that I will always be in the process of learning. I'm not used to recording something, listening to it, and going "I love that sound. I cannot wait to share it with the world!"
Is this what being creatively fulfilled feels like, even a little?
When I went to my practice room the next day, I took out the Wieniawski concerto I'm playing and I looked at it. I played a little, and I asked myself, "Why does this not sound as integrated as my performance of Horcruxes?" And the answer came to me - singing. So, I sang a phrase of the concerto. Then I sang it with intervals. And then I played it on my violin. It instantly sounded better. The vibrato was more appropriate to the style, the tone was integrated with the phrasing, and the intonation was more centered. I talked to a friend about my experience and she said, "You're finally making the violin your voice."
I feel like I've turned a corner in my violin playing. What started out as a fun side project turned into a transformative musical experience that's left me happier with my playing than I've ever been, and empowered to do more.
* * *
Here is the original song, ""Horcruxes", performed by Zoe (Mary Kate Wiles in the short film "I Ship It"):
And here is our cover video, by the Argonath Duo:
You can see the original blog post on my website.
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