April 2006

Spring cleaning = life planning.

April 15, 2006 14:18

Life famously never goes as planned, but I think I can be fairly certain that I'll now be doing the five-year BM/MM degree program at CIM. I had thought about it earlier in the year but had assumed that with transferring and having to take some theory over again (because at Northwestern we just wrote "V" but at CIM it's imperative that you write "G Major V"--root, chord, quality--and I needed a semester to get that straight) I wouldn't be able to fit the credits in. However, when I actually sat down and, referring to all the requirements, planned out a schedule, I think I can actually complete two degrees in the next two years without undue amounts of stress. It'll amount to an average of 17 credits/semester, and the recommended "normal" number is 16, so that's not bad at all, taking into account that I have a senior recital in the fall and the following year a recital both semesters. What helped is that I have 20 credits this semester as I am simultaneously taking two theory classes, Form & Analysis and Counterpoint, to sort of get back up to speed. I would like to take orch rep and German every semester that I can, but I always have a sort of safety net of being able to drop either of those if I have to. Although the application deadline for any degree program was way back in December, CIM continues to accept late applications. I also talked to both the Registrar and the Admissions Office and I will officially enter the program and be allowed to take grad school classes in Spring 2007, so as a bonus I've avoided the late application fee anyway.

All this means that my junior jury in May will double as my program audition, and I should probably, maybe start preparing for it. Even since recovering from the flu I haven't been practicing and keeping in shape very well, mostly because I had a big research paper and presentation on the Mozart "Dissonance" Quartet due in Chamber Lit. I'm not a huge fan of public speaking; I vaguely recall that I used to do some acting in sixth grade, but as I grew up I just became too self-conscious to enjoy it anymore. I'm certainly not shy, but in anything from class to quartet rehearsals, it's always helpful to be able to quickly articulate your thoughts. I've always preferred writing, in which you have a less limited amount of time to put ideas together, not to mention a backspace key. So in light of my quasi-awkwardness, the presentation went pretty well; I stuck closely to my ten-page paper as a guide, and counting the time it took for my quartet to come in and perform a couple movements, I actually had too much to say. I was also able to find some revisions that 19th-century critics actually made to Mozart's opening, correcting his "mistakes" in harmony and counterpoint and making it more pleasing to the ear. So we played a few bars of those revisions--one was quite subtle, merely softening the dissonances by delaying some notes, and the other was pretty dramatic, changing the harmony entirely and essentially ruining Mozart's opening VI --> V4/2 of V --> V6 chord progression (for there was, in fact, a logic to his chromaticism--surprise!).

The Chamber Lit story was a digression, so back to life-planning. I'll be quite happy to do the program as I think three years total at CIM would be just right, but I didn't want to take an extra year and call myself a sophomore, so completing a Master's as well in the extra time seems like a bit of work, but a great deal. I've been through the whole process of applying, then flying around auditioning at too many schools, a couple times now and I'd much rather not have to do it again next year. I won't officially know if I'm accepted until after my jury I believe, but I imagine the school doesn't often turn down its own students, and I know Mr. Preucil keeps anyone who wants to stay. The essay was also not difficult to write--I had to answer the question of why I wanted to stay here when CIM encourages students to go elsewhere and broaden their horizons for further study. Clearly, I haven't been here as long as most other undergrads, and would like to have enough time to really reap all the benefits the school, Case, and Cleveland have to offer. Miraculously (back to Chamber Lit for a second), by now I've even figured out how to use the library to look up sources and call numbers and feel comfortable being able to find stuff for research when I need it. This is helpful as I don't use the Case Kulas Music Library often, but when I do there is definitely a wealth of information waiting to be discovered. Other points of my essay were that I have a better idea now of the Cleveland Orchestra sound, but still would like to go to as many concerts as I can, usually because they do some great programming, and for the most part their advertising is effective, as far as I can tell. (The second part of that sentence was not included in the essay.) I also like the idea of having greater flexibility when I do get out of school. I can either start auditioning for orchestras right away (yet another type of exciting audition ordeal, I mean experience, to look forward to)--New World would be a great place to go in the interim--or I can apply and audition to do some kind of Artist Diploma or Certificate at another school. At this point, I really don't think a PhD is at all necessary for the type of work I'm looking for, so those "Artist"-labelled programs seem like a good way to continue my education if I feel it's necessary. I also still have thoughts of going to Germany and Austria for a longer period of time in the back of my mind, so we'll see if that opportunity arises down the road--for now I'm just thankful to be spending two months there (along with touring to Switzerland and the Netherlands)!

I've come up with somewhat ambitious plans for the next couple years, but I feel pretty confident that I can handle them as long as I stay on the ball most of the time. Greater consistency and discipline, especially with maintaining technical work, are some of the main things I have to learn, so a continuously full schedule will force me to learn those lessons anyway. Anyone who reads this blog may think that I already sound rather disciplined, but I would say I'm far more analytical than disciplined--they're definitely two different things. I'll know the exact spots and details, or on the flip side the exact big picture artistic ideas, that I need to work on, but convincing myself to stop procrastinating and go achieve those high-standard goals is something else. The school here generally has a very positive environment simply because the faculty that I've met all happen to be such kind and generous people--perhaps there's some conspiracy theory as to how they all convened at one music school--and this can be either an excuse to coast, or an opportunity to develop as much as possible with great support. Though it's easier to slip into the former role, I know for a fact that when I'm unprepared for a lesson, my teacher may be understanding and still want to work on amazing artistic things despite the notes, but I just can't feel comfortable unless I have all my stuff together before walking in.

At any rate, my aim now is just to make the Korngold and Bach as expressive as possible, to be happy with my jury audition, and to sound like someone the school might like to keep for another year.

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Monster April-without-the-showers update.

April 8, 2006 21:51

Much has been going on musically! Unfortunately this has left little time to update, but here's the entry to rectify that. This summer I will be attending the Schleswig-Holstein Orchestral Academy in Germany! I flew to New York to take the audition as they don't come to Cleveland, and knew that the festival had a great reputation and was very competitive. I was quite happy with my audition; they put a lot of emphasis on the Mozart concerto rather than the Romantic concerto, and the excerpts, three of the trickiest ones--Schumann 2 Scherzo, Strauss Don Juan, and Mozart Magic Flute 2nd violin part--went pretty well, but I missed a couple high notes in the Don Juan, so I didn't expect much. I was intially waitlisted and had sort of mentally written off any hope of being accepted, because how could a spot at such an amazing place actually open up, and even if one did, I wasn't aware of my place on the list at all. But sure enough, I received a second email with an invitation! The concert programs and conductors (and soloists, Frank Peter Zimmermann and Janine Jansen) look absolutely mouth-watering, as well as the touring schedule--we will visit several different German cities, though I hear the home base is also quite beautiful--and I am really looking forward to a hectic and busy but rewarding two months. I know two or three other American students going, so that helps. The last wonderful intense orchestra experience I had was a few years ago with the Civic Orchestra of Chicago, and I am just really happy to be able to relive that kind of unique experience of working on great repertoire with colleagues who are not only talented but also simply passionate about the art of orchestral playing. That positive attitude toward large ensemble playing is unfortunately not cultivated as actively as it could be in most American music schools. The hierarchy of string seating, I feel, is always too ingrained, unnecessarily inflating the egos of those in the front and defeating the enthusiasm of those in the back. Simple concepts like string equality, where the last stand feels as committed, responsible, and involved as the first, would make a world of difference in orchestral playing in conservatories and even professional orchestras. Not that principals don't have the responsibility of being good leaders, but the purpose of their leading should be solely to inspire the section to play cohesively, as if with one mind, heart, and bow. These crucial ideas are often completely absent from the education of so many music students--it's no wonder most loathe or are at least indifferent to orchestral playing when they have never experienced anything unifying and deeply gratifying about it. I firmly believe that in the right situation, one can be extremely expressive in an orchestral performance--yes, it takes a certain sublimation of the individual ego and will (unless one has solo passages), but the energy is channeled instead toward a cause that can be ten times more powerful because of the sheer force of dozens of people working together, hopefully under a conductor with a strong vision, towards the same goal. It takes some remembering to know that, for example, while a tremelo may sound weak, ineffectual, and silly under your own ear, the effect of the section out in the audience is a beautiful shimmering, translucent color. The magic of orchestral playing is lost on those members who insist on the comfort of hearing their own particular sound all the time, without ever letting go to the flow and blend of the larger ensemble and the wishes of the conductor.

And now for something completely different from that rather long personal rant on orchestral playing. Since returning from break I had been mostly occupied with the school concerto competition, which happened last weekend. I was happy to pass the prelims the Monday before, which are usually only held for violin and piano, as I had worked hard all week on the ten minutes of Korngold I had to prepare. I actually felt somewhat unsettled about my preliminary round performance, like it took the first movement to get fully comfortable, but I remember being happy with some particular nuances and moments and overall giving a solid performance. In the middle of the week we had an orchestra concert (of Petrouchka, probably my favorite Stravinsky ballet and one of my favorite orchestral pieces in general), and right after that I got sick with the flu. It was sort of funny because after I had passed the prelims, I had been thinking mostly about my mental game and how to go into the finals feeling settled from the very first note, but as it turned out I didn't really have the opportunity to apply my strategies as I was so physically out of it. My mom happened to be in town for the orchestra concert, so it was really nice to have her there to help take care of me for a bit, and I'm sure she also facilitated my recovery. At any rate, even being in bed for two days before the finals, I thought I could still pull off a decent performance. There I was mistaken. Regardless of how well I knew the piece, I still couldn't play fluently without having freshly practiced the passagework, and the combination of that stiffness and the whole sickness bit of dehydration onstage (I'd never played a solo onstage in Kulas before, so it seemed even more surreal; the audience and judges were bathed in darkness and I seemed to not even recognize the hall from my perspective) and whatnot made for a very unpleasant performance, at least for me. The whole ten minutes was a struggle to control and shape my vibrato and phrasing in the lyrical moments, usually a strength of mine but not that day, and to get my fingers to be flexible enough to fly when they had to. None of it really worked in the moment, and I was immediately disappointed after walking offstage. For some time I was convinced that I should have just forced myself to get out of bed and practice, as I do truly love this piece and my chances would have been so much more favorable otherwise. But after talking to a few more reasonable friends and having a few days to actually think about it, I realized that probably would have just burned me out faster. So for me this semester's competition was just one of those "that's life" experiences. I have one more shot with next semester, so we'll see if then I happen to hit the right combination of hard work and good luck that hasn't yet befallen me. I have certainly learned to watch and take better care of my health, especially when things start to get stressful, and food and sleep are the first things to go. I'd also like to note that the cellist in my quartet, Desi Abbey, was one of the winners with Bloch Schelomo, so we're really excited for her!

Speaking of quartet, we have finished the Mozart Dissonance and are starting the Schumann first quartet in A minor, which we chose as our Romantic piece after a lot of reading and rejection of the really popular Romantic works by various people for various reasons. It's a very pretty work and we've had a coaching on the first movement, which we perform this week for an outreach concert and a showcase concert at school. I've learned a new phrase here from both Mr. Salaff and Mr. Rose--"spinning the sound," which I think is a very interesting and rich metaphorical image. It's one of those images that on the surface doesn't seem to make a lot of sense, like the hair of the bow having "teeth," but it intuitively just makes sense anyway, and as you play and consciously think of it you can literally feel yourself making the sound spin and vibrate in the air as if it's alive.

Finally, the Cleveland Orchestra gave concerts of Bach's Saint Matthew Passion this weekend, and I just wanted to mention them because it was one of the best performances I've seen them give, although my favorite was perhaps still Mitsuko Uchida's Mozart Concertos conducting from the piano. It was particularly delightful to see the viola da gamba featured so prominently. Franz Welser-Moest gave a lecture on the work that was posted online; I listened to some of it before going and you can clearly hear his admiration and fascination, as well as knowledge, of the piece. There are many interesting numerical facts owing to Bach's obsessions with numbers--the first ten notes of the piece, ten for the Commandments, outline a perfect fourth, the symbol of Jesus Christ. In the choral interjection after Jesus says that one of the disciples will betray him, there are eleven iterations of "Is it I?"--meaning that Judas, the betrayer, doesn't say it. And so on. I also have to mention Mr. Preucil's solo, because it was just gorgeous, and I admire how effortlessly he can shift between asserting his unique artistic ideas and personality in a beautiful solo line and blending seamlessly right back into the orchestra to lead the section under Moest's direction, yet never losing his own style there either. He also just does his job every week with an incredible amount of relaxation and humility. I've been quite grateful for his support lately, as before the finals he noticed that I was looking apprehensive and took the time to sit down and give me a sort of pep talk with the main advice of not thinking so much! To just enjoy and perform. Then when I got sick and explained how my audition had gone, he was completely empathetic and related a similar story where he was sick and had to play a Cleveland Quartet concert. I felt almost silly because there's quite a difference in the stakes between those two situations, but as I said, he seems to simply take everything in stride, with no student's problem too great or small for him to offer something to help make it easier.

For the rest of the semester, musically I just have my jury left in May--a concerto movement, probably the first mvt of Korngold, and two movements of Bach C Major. We also have scales and arpeggios and I hear there's a specific system, so I need to find out what that is exactly. Tomorrow I register for classes for the fall--according to my German prof, all of us in 201 can probably pass out of 202 and start 300-level classes, so if I take the Case test and pass this semester, I'll get to register for either Advanced Composition and Reading or Intro to German Lit, both of which sound great. I'll probably be taking Intro to Financial Accounting to fulfill my last general education credit and because my parents keep saying I should take something practical, which is true. Then there's Symphonic Lit, as well as orch rep again and the usual lessons, orchestra, chamber music. I also plan to give my senior recital in the fall sometime before things get too hectic in the spring as always. I would like to include the Bach as I have never performed an entire solo Bach in public!

Well, that is a pretty exhaustive update. If I can offer any sort of summary, it's that I've had several ups and downs this year with moving to a new school, but I can safely say that I am immensely grateful to have transferred. I don't necessarily regret the time I spent at Northwestern, as of course I gained valuable experience there, made some invaluable friends, and my playing was pushed in many important ways. Besides, everyone should experience the classic college dorm environment with the communal bathroom at some point in their lives. But here, I've found that when I just take the intiative and really put in work, I'm allowed to open up to whole new worlds of creative possibility, and the only thing I can possibly then lack is trust in my creation. I have fun quartet rehearsals and inspiring, uplifting coachings, really interesting orch rep classes, and solid profs all around. I also love my cat, and driving around in a car, teehee, and hate that gas is expensive. So all in all I'm glad to know I took the right step in my life and my career in coming to CIM. I think there are a lot of amazing things going on at this school and in University Circle, even with the currently ugly and noisy construction, and am happy to call Cleveland home for at least another year.

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