Besides all these things to work on in the practice room, I really need to change my set up or experiment with something new. I have long used the Wolf Forte Primo shoulder rest as well as a rather cupped chin rest, and it has essentially gotten me into a position in which I cannot be very mobile or free. I hold the violin quite forward in order to reach the tip, but on the E string I'm a little crunched for room and need to be able to hold it further out on my shoulder. Zukerman essentially advocates any kind of sponge or towel as preferable to a shoulder rest because of the idea of pressure and counterpressure--that there should be a certain amount of tension (but not too much) in the chin holding up the violin to counter the bow pressure to produce sound, and that anything that literally rests the violin upon the body defeats that possibility. A sponge provides some support, especially for people with longer necks, but doesn't "do the work for you," and is flexible. Of course, this is just one theory, and everyone's body is quite different. I do feel, though, that I haven't at all experimented enough with finding the best setup, and so I'd like to try things out over the summer and hopefully have found something more comfortable by the fall.
I'm also excited and a little anxious about having some time to spend just working by myself once I get home. The program has gone by awfully fast and in this last coming week there are concerts nearly every day. My Mozart Flute Quartet performs on Tuesday in a midday concert in the National Arts Centre lobby. Usually after coming home from a summer camp I'm apt to slack off for a while, but I have a feeling that for the next year of my musical life I'll always have new things to be working on, or old things to be digging deeper into. I'm not quite sure where my playing is going to go, but I know I still have a lot of learning to do and I'm looking forward to it.
On a more personal note, another aspect of the program that has been just as important for me as working with the faculty is meeting such wonderful fellow musicians. We have a lot of opportunities to hang out and socialize here, and at no other program have I bonded so much with my peers. The level is quite high and I think that allows us to have unique and honest conversations about music--from the struggles we face to exactly which fingerings we like in such-and-such bar of the Franck sonata. And when all else fails, we bond over "Family Guy" and "Superman: The Animated Series." I'm not sure whether I'd like to return next year; I'm also very interested auditioning for some orchestra festivals like Kent/Blossom or the Pacific Music Festival. Overall I have great memories of Ottawa, though, and as my playing still has a long way to go, I have a feeling I may be back here again at some point in the future.
I had another great lesson with Grigory this morning. It had occurred to me since the session with music psychologist Marsha Winokour that, as we all have different ways of finding our center or focus, mine is in a way the polar opposite of the school of thought and playing here at this program. I focus emotionally in performance and practicing, and am virtually unconscious of my physical motions. Grigory, however, and my teacher Mr. Ribeiro as well, find fullfilment in focusing on the technical, physical mechanics of producing the sound. All emotional energy is conveyed through the hands, and the performer is more of a craftsman whose job it is to make the audience feel, rather than being emotionally overwhelemed or out of control himself. Grigory also changed his style pretty dramatically after coming to study with Kopec and then Zukerman, and he recounted how at one of his first lessons with Zukerman, he played a piece very emotionally with a lot of motions. Zukerman then played it back for him, and "the violin was weeping"--but Zukerman was telling him jokes the whole time. That story definitely conveys the power of what at least one violinist in the world is able to express through pure sound alone.
Our seminar on orchestral life with Steve Dann was really informative. He was totally straightforward about some of the uglier aspects of the business--the struggle of orchestras versus management, how rigorous the audition process has become (to the point where orchestras sometimes don't accept anyone), and how important it is to maintain one's integrity despite the ups and downs of orchestral politics. He also had numerous fond memories of being part of great performances, and there is no denying that the repertoire is amazing. I consider myself lucky to enjoy orchestral playing so much, unlike many of my peers, and I attribute my enthusiasm mostly to my time in the Civic Orchestra of Chicago. Too many college orchestras breed a kind of apathy towards orchestral playing and encourage people to simply go through the motions to get their credit to be able to graduate, whereas in Civic there was a palpable sense of devotion and commitment to working toward a common goal. As Mr. Dann said, some people are unhappy at the loss of their individual identity when they join a large string section. To me, this is a small factor as long as the orchestra has its own positive sense of identity and one can focus one's energy into contributing to that much larger ideal. The Cleveland Orchestra very much has its own identity and sound and I'm looking forward to attending concerts this coming season.
The session with Marsha Winokour, a musician and psychologist, was interesting. It was basically a very free group discussion about anything that was on our minds, and it turned out that we spent most of the time discussing stress, performance anxiety, nerves, competitions, and mostly finding a center or a way to keep coming back to hope and inspiration. Ms. Winokour was very kind and funny and helped aid the conversation along, though she never gave absolute "answers" and emphasized that everyone has their own way of dealing with stress.
I have another lesson tomorrow and just spent an hour on the first two pages of Beethoven. I am also still trying to learn the notes to Shostakovich on my own, for variety's sake. I am enjoying working through the very slow practicing, Zukerman method, although it still boggles the mind how many things need concentration all at the same time.
After the concert, we hung out--my room has become a popular place for a few people to check their email--and I spent a lot of time with my roommate Carolyn and with Adrian Anantawan, whom I met here last year. He has a ton of old school recordings that he loves listening to and loaned me some. We also listened to recordings of ourselves, and of course were as self-critical as ever--I very much would like to burn some of his stuff to my computer, but he doesn't think it's good enough and won't allow it. It was simply hilarious to see him cringe and cover his ears as we heard literally perfect octaves! Despite this, I think we both have fairly healthy senses of self most of the time. It is certainly a hard persepective to keep, but there's a lot to be said for awareness both of one's limitations and potential--it takes constant reflection to know both your beauty and your flaws.
*bow direction in and out
*pronate rather than supinate
*pull the string
*stay quiet and calm
*exhale to relase tension, especially on up bows
*catch and release
*all sound and vibrato is a type of release
*horizontal upper body movement (out on down bows and in on up bows, again)
*bow approaches from lower strings, not from above
*keep violin back on shoulder, especially on higher strings
We are also doing the Britten "Phantasy" Oboe Quartet, Op. 2, written when the composer was just 17. It's no Mendelssohn Octet or Mozart Violin Concerto, but it's a fun piece and Mr. Dann was pretty passionate about it and encouraging of our getting involved and really digging into the string and playing marcato when called for, and not letting any of the pizzicati get lost. As far as I can recall, this is my first time working in groups with wind players. They found solid people for the program and it's great to play with them, but it does take some adjusting balance-wise; it simply seems that the dynamic range of wind instruments is not as wide and therefore the strings have to be constantly sensitive to the wind sound.
As I remember from last year, he was extremely helpful in explaining things in detail, and he's a very kind and gifted teacher. He has a knack for saying things that make sense and click right away--for example, when my playing was getting too "notey" with too much portato, he reminded me that "the left hand talks, but the right hand sings." Both his and Zukerman's bow arms look very supple when they play, almost "like a snake" as Grigory put it. They have developed a sixth sense for which nuance or curl or adjustment of the finger/wrist/arm happens when, and somehow it all seemingly magically comes together to create a very natural, fluid bow arm that can produce a gorgeous sound at every moment.
Another helpful thing Grigory repeated that I recall from last year is that whenever I want to go up with the music emotionally, I should actually go down physically, feeling even more gravity and building the phrase by staying grounded with my feet, posture, bow arm, etc. That concept makes a lot of sense intellectually but is quite counterintuitive for me at this point. Even when I was trying my best not to move today and yesterday, I still have some unconscious tics that they would point out like raising the eyebrows and especially tensing the right shoulder. Also, shortly before I came here I watched the video of my recital, and even I was distracted by my own movements. My friends' opposing train of thought is that if the sound coming out is still beautiful and even, then you should be allowed to move however you like. However, I know that my sound could quite probably become more beautiful if I calmed things down and quieted myself. So what I have started today trying to consciously figure out is how to reconcile my style of playing and the artistic heights I want to achieve with playing technically as "correctly" as possible. Certainly I can't change my entire way of playing in three weeks, but perhaps I can reflect and make some improvements. For me this seems to put technique and music very much at odds with each other, which is frustrating to say the least. I have a feeling it is an issue I'll struggle with for years to come, so maybe I should take some solace in the fact that not everything is going to be solved today, at this camp, or perhaps ever completely. At least in a way my practicing now becomes easier--I can set all these philosophical worries aside, turn on the metronome and my objective side, and work on Beethoven's "etude."
Another part of the program is listening to recordings of a 10-part radio program called "The Concerto According to Pinchas." We listened to the first installment, on the concertos of Vivaldi, Bach, and Mozart, last night. It included some excerpts from some of his recordings and his general musings on the music; some bonus tracks are available on the website. He is particularly opinionated about the early/period performance movement and feels that vibrato is absolutely vital to sound--that the vibrato of a plucked open string is the vibrato that we should imitate and transfer to the left hand, all the time. Another common saying, which also answers the question of a recent post: the hardest thing to do on the violin? To play in tune with a beautiful sound.
The accomodations here are totally luxurious compared to most summer music programs. We live in the University of Ottawa dorms; each suite has 2 bedrooms, bathroom, and kitchenette with fridge and microwave. There's a free Ethernet connection, which is how I'm able to update. Air conditioning also is practically unheard of at Meadowmount, which I attended last summer, so it's certainly a welcome relief here.
The city is very beautiful and quite clean. I made a quick trip to the Rideau Centre, the local mall, last night with my roommate, another old friend from last year, and the oboist in my quartet whom I just met. We stopped at the pharmacy and then went to the Market to have dinner at a restaurant and watch the street performers, who are fond of doing tricks which involve setting things on fire. I really enjoy being back in Canada.
Some downtime now, during which I should really practice. I feel a bit out of shape since my recital. I need to learn my chamber music and do some good scale work. My guess from my experience last year is that Mr. Zukerman and Ms. Kopec will hear at most a page of my Beethoven Concerto before stopping me and teaching me some open strings again, so I'll just work well on that. My first lesson is Sunday at 11 am.
Also, for those of you who are interested, the brand name of the shoulder pad Mr. Zukerman recommends (just a simple styrofoam pad) is, ironically enough, "We Bad." It should be for sale in the Shar catalog, accompanied by a picture of disgruntled-looking violin students.
I also must note--I spontaneously got Maestro Yampolsky The Onion's Dispatches from the Tenth Circle as a going-away gift. It is totally his sense of humor, and I was even somewhat surprised he had not heard of The Onion before. He seemed delighted, however, so I hope he sits down with it and enjoys reading through it at some point. Also on Monday I'm going to Trader Joe's with Andrew to pick out a nice wine for my teacher. I've already gotten a card with a quote from Theodore Geisel (aka Dr. Seuss): "You can get help from teachers, but you are going to have to learn a lot by yourself, sitting alone in a room." To me, the tone of the quote sounds somewhat lonely, but ultimately liberating. It is something my teacher has told me in more words, and I am grateful that he and I both agree that while he has taught me a great deal and I am forever indebted to him for those high values and standards of discpline and integrity, in the end I must learn to teach and trust myself.
Tomorrow, in addition to the fun of a sight-reading party the size of two octets (with my mad music major skills I believe that's a whole 16 people) downtown at the Fine Arts Building, I hope to actually practice solo stuff! I also have one last final, a music history exam, to write ideally before Tuesday, and a couple more friends' recitals to watch. Then back to Canada!
Our last music history class of the year and my last academic class at Northwestern ever featured four doctoral student composers and was actually quite interesting. They were very articulate and visibly enthusiastic about not only their own compositional ideas and thoughts but also their deep respect for the past. Listening to excerpts of their music after listening to them talk, especially about the exact circumstances that inspired them to write the piece, such as the death of a famly member or friend, really made much more sense and made us receptive to hearing the music with an open mind. Supposedly in one study that brought 9- to 16-year-olds into contact with modern music (atonal and aleatoric, etc.), the kids not only liked the music more as their familiarity grew over time, but they even liked it the first time around because they were fascinated by the sounds. So in a way children are far more open-minded than the rest of us classically trained musicians, steeped in the tonal systems of Mozart and Beethoven. In general, the thing that we all really seemed to agree upon was that for any new music to really get off the ground, communication is key--between the composers and the performers, first of all, so that the musicians understand what the heck they are supposed to convey by all those squiggles on the page; and between the composers/performers and the audience, by bringing them in with program notes and explanations and anything at all that can give a better grasp of what this music is after.
The NAC YAP webpage has been updated: read about how I'm spending the next three weeks.
I started reading Shostakovich and working on the first movement. In a way it is a relief, after the Beethoven! I'm excited about the piece after watching a friend in my studio work on it the whole year, and feel I have a lot to bring to it. I emailed Mr. Preucil about rep for the upcoming year and he suggests Debussy and Beethoven "Kreutzer" Sonatas for a recital, as well as some kind of showpiece since I'm a little lacking in that area--a Ysaye sonata or some Sarasate or something like that.
I'm pretty tired tonight as I attended two friends' recitals back to back; it is recital season, after all. My pianist friend played an absolutely gorgeous Chopin Second Concerto, along with a very demanding rest of the program (Beethoven Sonata Op. 110, pieces by Liszt and Messian, a Bach Prelude and Fugue). I do believe in general that people play like their personalities, and her sweetness and utter sincerity, as well as an amazing musical depth and maturity, really shone through.
It's a bit hard to believe I'm leaving for Canada in just a week, and saying goodbye to my friends here so soon. There's a sight-reading party being planned for this weekend, so that should be a lot of fun. I have one music history final take-home essay exam to do, but other than that I should be able to get into Shostakovich.
Now that my recital's over, I plan to wear sweatpants for the rest of the year. Also, I just took out the little buns in my hair; that feels good!
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