For the Love of Kreutzer 2 - Report from Nathan Cole's Violympics, Weeks 1-2

June 15, 2020, 12:58 PM · The Violympics, Nathan Cole’s brilliant creation for violinists around the world wondering what to do with their summers, started on June 1. This online program unites violinists and violists for 12 weeks, participating in different technical and musical challenges, and receiving coaching and encouragement from Nathan and each other along the way!

As we get started, I feel I should make a full confession: my private teaching studio’s spring semester ended this past Friday, so I was unable to participate as fully as I would have liked. And by "not participate as fully as I would have liked," I mean that I practiced maybe 2 or 3 days this week. (If my students are reading this, I am going to suggest that you do as I say, and not as I do. So, go practice.)

This semester was, in a word, insane, and it was a mad dash to the finish line. Despite all that, I did find within myself the desire and conviction to find more time and attention for my own violin playing. And I think I've found a great structure for that, a wonderful coach, and a supportive community through the Violympics.

Each Violympic event is structured in two weeks. During the first week, Nathan’s practice assignments focus on building the technical skills and practice strategies needed to learn the challenge piece, which is introduced in the second week.

I nearly laughed out loud when I opened the Week 1 assignments and saw that one of the very first things on the list was Kreutzer No. 2. I have had a love/hate relationship with this etude over the years, and finally have learned to love and embrace it for the brilliant technical creation it is - and accept the fact that it is part of my violin technique for good.

Kreutzer 2 makes me remember my very first lesson for my master’s degree at the Peabody Conservatory, back in 2011. I had taken a year off between degrees, hoping that an extra year of study and practice would help me get into my dream school (it did), and had practiced diligently that summer in anticipation of starting my degree. I’d prepared the standard program of a concerto and solo Bach…only to have my teacher not even ask what I’d brought him.

Here I am in 2011, still with a shoulder rest, in front of a mirror (as I spent most of my practice time), and feeling very awkward as I tried to make all the adjustments to my technique that my teacher was asking for.

Claire in mirror

Instead, I got a lesson on how to hold my violin and bow, and was assigned Kreutzer 2. The syllabus for lessons also clearly stated that I was to practice 3-4 hours a day. When I asked for clarification, my teacher confirmed that yes, I was correct. My only assignment was fixing my posture and Kreutzer 2. For 3+hours per day. You can imagine my joy when, after a month - yes, a month! - of Kreutzer 2, I was allowed to play Kreutzer 3, and 4. And then, scales!

This time around, Kreutzer 2 felt like an old friend. I was making adjustments to my technique rather than completely rebuilding it, and its familiarity made starting the new adventure of the Violympics a little less daunting. Mentally, I feel like I'm in a better practice mindset when I've played Kreutzer 2 in my day.

Kreutzer heart

For Week 2, we were assigned an etude from the Mazas book of “Études Speciales,” Opus 36 - No. 15, “The Mordent.” Unlike the Kreutzer, this etude was brand new to me, and I was delighted to become acquainted with it this week.

Nathan’s practice directions were clear, effective, and left room for exploration. Two of my favorite exercises included analyzing groups of notes to determine where to drop two fingers instead of one, to help prepare notes in advance, and changing the sequence of notes from broken thirds to a simple scalar pattern to clarify intonation and hand frame.

Even though I wasn’t able to keep up with the assignments in real time due to spending many, many hours trying to do some of those video grid compilations for my students, the few minutes I was able to snatch for my own practice last week felt productive. And, when I’d taught my last lesson of the Spring 2020 semester on Friday evening, I felt like I had a clear path forward to help me learn the etude in time for a recording on Sunday morning.

I don’t think it’s my most inspired playing ever, but one advantage of having absolutely no expectations for oneself is that I wasn’t nervous at all as I made the video. I imagine that will change as we move through the summer.

If you're curious, here is my "performance":

Want to explore some of these works for yourself? You can find the Kreutzer and Mazas etude books at any music seller, or on IMSLP.com.

You can also watch some of Nathan's free videos on YouTube. I highly recommend his "Pinky Power," "MVP," and "Note Grouping" videos, all of which were part of our first week assignments.

Replies

June 16, 2020 at 12:06 AM · I enjoyed your playing Claire! Mazas might be a little tough to make an inspiring performance out of ;-)

June 16, 2020 at 12:18 AM · Claire, many of us are living with you vicariously. Thank you for documenting your journey. And great job on Mazas! You played it beautifully! I hope your students are inspired by the challenge you have taken on.

June 16, 2020 at 06:27 PM · You know, Nathan plays the "Jack Benny" Stradivarius - is this a coincidence? :)

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