March 2006

Something I love and something I don't

March 30, 2006 13:13

I've been listening to Joshua Bell's recording of the Sibelius concerto, which I recently bought myself as a reward for reaching a particular weight-loss milestone. I haven't listened to this work in a while and I'd forgotten how much I love it, especially some of the beautifully dark moments in the first movement. Now I'm kicking myself, because Sarah Chang just played the Sibelius with the San Francisco Symphony a few weeks ago, and I could have gone to hear it but decided not to. Ah, well, I suppose there will be other opportunities. In the meantime, the Sibelius is the latest addition to my list of "concertos I hope to play before I die."

After last night's rehearsal with my community orchestra, I finally realized why I'm so dissatisfied with it despite liking the people and the music. I'm kind of a Type-A personality, and I like things to be efficient and well-run. I want us to act like a professional orchestra even if we don't play like one. Instead, we've got spotty rehearsal attendance, very little leadership among the principals, and a director who is a very sweet and talented man but is just too busy with three other jobs to devote the time that a newly-resurrected musical group needs. Last night's rehearsal was supposed to be a string sectional, but because the concertmaster hadn't figured out bowings, we spent the whole two hours discussing every slur in the New World Symphony. I kept pushing her to make her decisions and we'd follow them, but she was just like, "Well, we can do whatever you guys want."

When I look back on all the orchestras I've played in throughout my life, the ones in which I've been happiest are those where the players had dedication, regardless of ability. The MIT Symphony was like my current group; too many players wouldn't think twice about skipping rehearsal if they had a huge load of homework or an exam the next day. By contrast, when I played in the Berkeley Summer Symphony in graduate school, we had a tight and dedicated ensemble. The conductors were students, but they really knew what they were doing, not just in terms of waving the baton but in terms of leadership, section cohesiveness, and stage deportment. This is the kind of environment that inspires me to practice for the good of the group.

Musicians are artists, and as such, many of them want to focus on just the music and nothing else. But music, like everything else in life, exists in a context. The "messy" stuff about money, interpersonal relations, or just plain organizational skills can't be removed, as much as some of us would like it to be.

So, I think this will be my first and last season with this group. (Someone hold me to this, because "The Magic Flute" is on the program for next year, and that's my all-time favorite opera.) There's another community orchestra in the area that might suit me better, even though it's less convenient to my home (but reasonably convenient to work), so I might audition for that in the fall Or maybe I'll just focus on solo work for a while. In any case, I think I know now what I want and need, and this isn't it.

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Missing my violin

March 26, 2006 20:55

Well, I've been on "vacation" in sunny Florida for a week now, and I'm more than ready to get back on that plane to go home tomorrow. We had a good time visiting my in-laws and celebrating my younger daughter's first birthday (what? she was JUST BORN!) but driving all around the state---because the grandmothers don't want to travel---has taken its toll. No one's gotten a decent night's sleep, which doesn't bode well for my return to work on Tuesday where I'm sure much will have piled up in my absence.

And, of course, I'm desperately missing my violin. I brought some recordings and the sheet music of my piece to listen to, but I haven't had the time and peace to work on any of that. I'm a little scared of finding out how much I've lost when I pick it back up again. What's that saying from some famous musician about practicing? "If I skip one day, I can tell. If I skip two days, the audience can tell?" What happens if you skip a whole week? :( :( :(

I did have a nice little rehearsal with a fellow pianist at my church, a week ago, where we ran through the Mozart E minor sonata a few times. It was really nice to work with a "real" musician, and although I think he might have been slightly disappointed in my abilities, I don't think I misrepresented myself when we talked about it beforehand, so I'm satisfied. We'll probably just play it for some service a few months down the road. At least the E minor only has two movements, so I won't have to leave one out as I usually do since we only get a prelude and interlude.

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One of those great moments

March 15, 2006 14:22

Last night I was practicing hard for the first time in a while, when I had---if not an out-of-body experience, maybe an out-of-ear experience? I suddenly realized I was making beautiful music, and thought, "Hey, am I the one doing that? Whoa, cool!" For so much of my violin-playing history, I've so often hated what came out of my instrument that this is really an unusual feeling, to enjoy hearing myself when I play. I've been with my wonderful teacher less than a year, but I'm continually surprised by how much progress I make, and how quickly.

On a less positive note, I'm not looking forward to orchestra rehearsal tonight. I was so excited about returning after having sat out for the last concert, but my enthusiasm is rapidly waning. I can't figure out why; the music is great and I like the people in the group as well as the director. Perhaps it's just exhaustion, or the feeling that the experience isn't making me a better violinist in the same way my solo studies are. I don't really feel inspired to work on the music, and I don't have a lot of confidence that if I did, it would make a difference in the overall quality of the group. Maybe this just isn't what I need at this time in my life. I'll finish out the season because I've committed to doing so, but maybe I won't return in the fall.

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Back on track

March 14, 2006 13:28

I haven't been a very good girl about practicing lately, which is why the blogging has been a little scant as well. Skipped practicing Friday, practiced for only about 10 minutes Saturday, skipped practicing Sunday. I was sorely tempted to skip last night as well, since I was exhausted after a full day of work and an especially busy evening at the clinic where I volunteer. And I won't have a lesson for two and a half weeks, so it's not like I'll have to "perform" soon. But I said to myself, "If I don't get back on track NOW, it's just going to get harder." And I got out the instrument, and started playing, and it was good. :)

Interestingly, it's the same principle I apply to my diet---I've just rejoined Weight Watchers, since these last 20 pregnancy pounds are NOT coming off and my daughter's almost a year old. When you fall off the wagon and scarf down that banana split, it's easy just to say, "Well, I've blown it now." But we don't do that...we say "what's done is done", pick ourselves up, and go back to doing what we need to do.

And though my violin habits have fallen by the wayside in the last few days, I'm pleased to report that I finally passed a milestone in my weight loss, so I just ordered my "treat": Joshua Bell's Sibelius/Goldmark CD, which I've been wanting for a while. And, proving that those "free shipping for orders over $25" offers really do work, I also added Hilary Hahn's most recent recording of Mozart sonatas. I justified it because I'm going to be messing around with the K. 304 in E minor this weekend with a fellow pianist from my church, and it can't hurt to get a professional interpretation of the work. :)

I hope to have a long and productive practice session this evening, though I've got some threatening neck and shoulder pain right now. Could be too much computer work with a non-ergonomic setup...maybe that's a sign that I should quit typing for now.

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For posterity...or blackmail

March 7, 2006 17:47

My parents were visiting last weekend, and my father, always eager to try out his new toys, took an 8-minute video of my daughter Kiera's violin practice session, which I supervised. It's pretty hilarious. We have all these tricks to keep the lesson fun and to keep her interested, but she is and acts like, well, a 3-year-old. Excerpts:

"Kiera, HEY! Don't eat your violin!"

"Let's name the parts of the violin."
"C'mon, you can show Kyla [her 1-year-old sister] where they are. Scroll..."
(Grabs Kyla's hand and places it on the scroll.)
"Kiera, you don't need her to touch the parts, just show her where they are. Bridge..."
(Pulls Kyla's arm so her hand touches the bridge, and yanks a little too hard)
Kyla: "Waaahh!"

"Ok, let's try some long bows." (She starts bowing crazily, all over the fingerboard, so I grab the stick and start guiding it.)
"If you bow straight, I won't help you."
(Starts bowing straight)

Despite what appears to be a chaotic practice session with a spunky, free-spirited (I prefer this term to "undisciplined" :) ) toddler, she's made amazing progress. Her bow hold and posture are far better than mine ever were when I was twice her age, and she's definitely got her father's musical ear. But most important is her enthusiasm; she still clearly loves the violin even when she doesn't want to practice, and that is what I aim to preserve.

I can't help but wonder if the great child prodigies also put their parents through this kind of thing. Or were they all perfect students who practiced diligently and did everything they were told? In any case, no matter what kind of violinist Kiera turns out to be, I think this video will become one of the great family treasures.

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