John Chew

Late Starter Orchestra

Published: Mar. 12, 2007 at 11:34 AM
I attended a meeting of an amateur orchestra in New York City call "Late Starter Orchestra." What a wonderful nuturing group of string enthusiasts! Maybe some of you NYC members can join us? (below is from Craigs List)


NYLSO, the New York Late-Starters String Orchestra, is an amateur chamber orchestra for beginning or recently returning adult players of violin, viola, cello, and double bass. We are not a class, but rather a highly committed and enthusiastic group of individuals who want to enjoy the experience of playing serious music in an organized group. Our goal is to create a fun, supportive, noncompetitive environment for adults 18 to 80+ who wish to participate in collective music making.
Participants should have basic music reading skills and a willingness to commit to the group, but are not required to audition. Absolute beginners (i.e., even if you have been playing or studying for only 2-3 months) are welcome.

We Are Flexible:
We are a very flexible and friendly group. The only requirements to join are to be an adult amateur string player and to have a healthy sense of humor. We know that New Yorkers are busy people. It is fine to drop in for a single session, or to skip an entire 6-week block and then return for the next one. Ultimately, though, the joy is in the development that takes place when a committed group works (and laughs) together.

Our tutor/facilitator serves as coach, conductor, and orchestrator, scoring the music to accommodate everyone’s level of play. She has extensive experience in one-on-one teaching and in leading ensembles.

We will meet in Manhattan on 6 Sunday afternoons, from 3:00-5:00 PM, beginning March 11 and ending on April 15. Please be punctual, or arrive a few minutes early, to allow time to set up and tune.

What to Bring:
Your instrument, of course, and a pencil with an eraser for making notes on the sheet music. There may be a few extra music stands, and we can share, but please bring a stand if you have a portable one.

Concert: At the end of our 6 weeks of practicing and playing together, we aim to host an informal play-through concert to which we can invite very supportive family and friends and enjoy refreshments in celebration of our work together.

At the end of 6 weeks, we will begin another 6-week block with new music. We have found that the 6-week length with a concert at the end gives the ensemble a sufficient chance to get off the ground and give everyone the opportunity to experience the excitement of making music together while avoiding the problem of feeling locked into something too long or indefinite.

The Music:
Our focus is on classical music though once we have a committed core group, the interests of the participants can help to guide future musical choices.

The Cost: The fee for the 6-week session (9 hours altogether) will be $60 per person, payable on the first day. If you join after the first session, the payment can be pro-rated.
Drop-ins: If you wish to get a taste of the orchestra experience but are not ready to commit to the full 6 weeks, or if you have schedule conflicts and cannot make it for all of the weeks, there is a drop-in fee of $15 per session

Information We Need From You:
1. Confirmation of your interest and availability to meet on the 6 Sundays of the session. Please reply as soon as possible, so that we can reserve the right room size and start to organize the sheet music.

2. Details about your level of experience.
This will help the tutor guide her direction of the group and ensure that the sheet music is such that each of us can comfortably play our parts. Playing together in time will be challenge enough! Please respond honestly and do not be concerned about having little experience or poor sight-reading skills. This is going to be noncompetitive, supportive, and fun. We will all make mistakes, but we will all learn and improve together.

Please respond with the following information (you can copy and paste the table with your answers into the body of your return e-mail):?
Your instrument
How many years have you been playing?
Do you currently take lessons, or are you returning to music after a hiatus?
Have you played in an ensemble before?
For how long?
If you have played in an ensemble, what ensemble position are you used to playing? For example, first (lead/experienced), second (intermediate), third (advancing), fourth (least experienced)?
If you have not played in a group before, where do you think you might fit among these categories?
What position are you used to playing in on your instrument (e.g., first, third).
Are you used to shifting positions in a piece of music?
How good are your sight-reading skills and how many accidentals (sharps/flats) are you comfortable playing in a piece of music?
Do you require any special accommodation (e.g., large-print music)?

Comments (4) | Archive link


Published: Mar. 6, 2007 at 2:44 AM
Last modified: Mar. 6, 2007 at 3:11 AM

It has been a while since my last blog.

Some updates. I am in the process of finding a new teacher. I found a group class that meets bi-weekly, and have narrowed my search for a private teacher. I have a potential teacher who looks really good. She was trained in Japan, and has extensive chamber music experience. I think it will be a good match. I may also be joining a amateur orchestra. I was hesitant but someone in my new group class assures me that my level is adequate. She tells me that the orchestra really needs string players.

For those of you that live in the Maryland area - I had the pleasure of visiting a college in your area. I visited St. John's college in Annapolis last weekend. What an amazing school. For those of you not familiar - St. John's is a four year liberal arts college that studies the "Great Books." The curriculum is fixed - everyone reads the same books. While the school isn't for everyone it is the right school for the right kind of student.

One last thing.. I will be visiting Africa with my colleagues at the end of the month. Suffice to say - I will not bring my violin with me!

Comments (2) | Archive link

Joshua Bell

Published: Dec. 6, 2006 at 12:12 PM
I saw Joshua Bell last night at Carnegie Hall. He performed Brahms Violin Concerto. His playing of the first movement was so masterful. What an amazing cadenza! I was looking at the faces of the first violinists. They were enraptured. No standard cadenza for Joshua Bell!

The only disappointment was that he did not play an encore. : (

Were any other members at the performance?

Comments (7) | Archive link

Visiting Patelson Music House

Published: Nov. 25, 2006 at 3:33 AM
Last modified: Nov. 25, 2006 at 3:34 AM

My teacher asked me to go to Patelson Music House to pick up a copy of the Hrimaly Scale Studies and Whistler's "Introducing the Positions" book.

What an amazing store. This store is located behind Carnegie Hall, and is chocked filled with music. Inside I overhead a conversation between two (I'm guessing violinists) people discussing the merits of Heifetiz's interpretation of a certain piece.

I said to my girlfriend who came with me that I hope this store never closes down.

Comments (1) | Archive link

'Heifetz As I knew Him' by Ayke Agus

Published: Nov. 25, 2006 at 3:21 AM
Last modified: Nov. 25, 2006 at 3:23 AM

A funny thing happened at Thanksgiving last night. I was invited to have turkey with my upstairs neighbors. They are married and are both professional musicians. One's a professional violinist, and the other is a French horn player. Anyhow, I was scanning the books on their bookshelf and saw a copy of "Heifetz As I knew him" by Ayke Agus. I told them that I read the book over the summer (based on the recommendation of a member). And they then told me that they know her. My neighbors have actually started their own chamber orchestra and Ayke Agus is a member! Small world!

This was almost as cool as my meeting a member of the Guarneri String quartet at my church!

Comments (4) | Archive link

A Short Vacation and Third and Fourth Finger Concerns

Published: Aug. 16, 2006 at 1:49 PM
Last modified: Aug. 16, 2006 at 1:59 PM

Last weekend I went up to Toronto and Buffalo with my girlfriend. At that time I really needed to get away from the city. I had gone to college in Buffalo and was curious about the campus as I hadn't stepped foot there in 12 years! Toronto was beautiful! Driving there on the QEW (Queen Elizabeth Way) which is the highway connecting Buffalo to Toronto is a short 2 hours. Driving past Lake Ontario I noticed far off in the distance perched on the edge of the lake was the city Toronto. It seemed like such an unlikely place to place a city. The University of Toronto is a beautiful place as well. And I always think of Toronto as a place where Glenn Gould lived and played.

I correspond with a member who lives in Buffalo. In an email to him I mentioned that I stayed at the Hyatt Regency downtown. He wrote back and told me that he was there attending a NYS Music Educator's conference at the same hotel. Wow! Major coincidence! Yes, we V.commers are everywhere!

My teacher is really getting on my case about half-steps. Specifically the distance between my third and fourth finger. I am not sure but did anyone struggle in the beginning with placing the fourth finger (pinky) down followed by the third finger (tucked) to get an accurate half-step intonation? My fingers are so stubborn, and I'm wondering if I am physically disadvantaged in playing half-steps using my third and fourth finger. I'll just have to practice harder.

I have been listening to Chausson's Poeme, Op. 25. Is anyone working on this? It is amazingly beautiful.

Archive link

Summer Vacation

Published: Jul. 26, 2006 at 12:45 AM
Last modified: Jul. 26, 2006 at 3:14 AM

I woke up early and went to a diner in my neighborhood to have breakfast. I brought with me "Violin Playing as I teach it" by Leopold Auer, and read a chapter about left hand technique as well as the first chapter "How I studied the violin" over coffee. I was so inspired that I rushed home and grabbed my violin and headed to a practice room at a college near where I live. I stayed there for three hours playing through scales, and Suzuki pieces. It felt really good to have that intensive time. After getting home and resting I practiced for another 30 minutes.

I'm thinking that if I keep up this regiment that I will be done with Suzuki Book 2 by end of the summer and will also have worked on a multitude of technique issues.

The other thing I'd like to do is to join the 92nd street Y and swim 3-4 times a week.

Comments (2) | Archive link

Books and CDs

Published: Jul. 9, 2006 at 3:01 PM
Last modified: Jul. 26, 2006 at 3:10 AM

I finished the book “Heifetz as I remembered him” and enjoyed that very much. I did feel a little sad at the end. A great violinist dies all alone. Family and friends are important. I can live on music but friends and family are also important.

I am reading now “Indivisible by Four” by Arnold Steinhardt. This is a book about the Guarneri String Quartet. It is a wonderful read, and Mr. Steinhardt describes eloquently his journey first as a violin student at Curtis, then fledging soloist, and finally a string quartet player. I did not know before reading the book that there used to be a stigma attached to playing in a quartet professionally. People used to think that quartet musicians were failed soloists. I certainly do not see it that way and think that Guarneri, Emerson, Shanghai, and all the other wonderful quartets add tremendously to musical life.

A funny story about the Guarneri Quartet and how I started playing the violin. In a small way I owe a small debt to the second violinist of the Guarneri String Quartet. About two and a half years ago, I was sitting in church service, and at the end of service I turned to the couple to the left of me and introduced myself as is customary. It turned out that the gentleman sitting to my left was the second violinist for Guarneri Quartet – John Dalley! Actually, to be honest, I did not know much about Guarneri. I knew the name because Arnold Steinhardt made a small appearance in a film call “Music of the Heart” about a violin teacher in East Harlem in New York City. However, at that time, I was thinking about taking up the violin. Mr. Dalley was so encouraging and told me to do it, and that with hard work I would make progress very quickly. That cinched it and I bought myself a violin that fall.

Yesterday I stopped off at Tower Records downtown on 4th street and Broadway and bought a bunch of CDs. I bought the complete Mozart violin concertos performed by Arthur Grumiaux. I also bought the two CD set of the Guarneri quartet performing the early cycle of the Beethoven string quartets and also their recording of the Dvorak and Schumann recording with pianist Arthur Rubinstein. I also bought an Isaac Stern recording of the music of Fritz Kreisler because his piece “Praeludium and Allegro” has been on my mind lately.

Comments (2) | Archive link

Last Day of School

Published: Jun. 28, 2006 at 11:56 AM
Last modified: Aug. 2, 2006 at 8:40 PM

Last day of school for NYC public school teachers. I get the summer off as well. I am teaching one graduate course to new teachers coming into the system. It has been a great deal of fun. When I am done with the summer course I look forward to uninterrupted time to practice!

I am reading a great book (recommended by Evil Linda) - "Heifetz - As I Knew Him" by Ayke Agus (I bought a bunch of violin-related books recently from Amazon). It is a great read and chronicles Ms. Agus's relationship with Heifetz first as his masterclass student and then as his accompanist on the piano. I am only two chapters into it and enjoy the book very much so far. I bought it cheaply used on

Comments (3) | Archive link

No Shoulder Rest?

Published: Jun. 25, 2006 at 1:10 PM
Last modified: Aug. 2, 2006 at 8:41 PM

I am reading “Violin Playing: As I teach it” by Leopold Auer, the great violin teacher. I thought it would be a long book, and overly technical, but the books reads easily, and offers many tips on how to hold the violin, producing tone, bowing, etc. He is probably most controversial for writing that the uses of a shoulder cushion or shoulder rest should be avoided at all cost because it diminishes tone. I tried playing without a shoulder rest, and it definitely would take getting use to, however, my violin does resonate more. However, I look to Hahn, and Vengerov and they all use shoulder rests. My only concern is whether not using a shoulder rest could hurt muscles in the neck and shoulder in the long run.

Comments (5) | Archive link