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Laurie Niles

Violin Community News 2010, Op. 15

April 21, 2010 at 9:26 PM

The Menuhin Competition started last Friday in Oslo and runs through Sunday, April 25. So far, the jury has selected eight junior competitors to proceed to the Junior Finals on Friday, April 23 (starting 14.00 CET): Kerson Q Xun Leong, Guro Kleven Hagen, Alice Ivy-Pemberton, Callum Smart, Seung Hee Lee, Ji Eun Anna Lee, Taiga Tojo and Stephen Waarts. Much of the competition is being liveeamed on the Internet; here is the link:

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This month, is doing its annual Take a Friend to the Orchestra (TAFTO) promotion, and today WNYC Radio producer Brian Wise writes about taking a date to the New York Philharmonic to see violinist Josh Bell. He admits, “a relationship expert might deduct points here for providing a better-looking, wealthier, and more talented guy for my date to gaze upon, but that’s for another column.” He also offers advice for making the symphony more date-friendly. Here is his blog on the subject.  BTW it's a good idea: take a friend to the orchestra!

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Having taught violin for a long time, I've noticed that those who seem to have wonderful innate talent are not always those who wind up playing best over the long haul. Those who work and practice end up playing best, period, whether it looked like they had “talent” on the first day or not! This led me to the conclusion that, though “talent” may not be a function of our genes, something more like “motivation” or “proclivity” just may be. One student will wilt and sink to the floor when given a drill to improve  his or her violin playing. Another will be excited by the improvement and want to do the drill again and again. Guess who winds up playing better? Was one born with the disposition to do the work and enjoy it, and the other not? That is the kind of question posed by this recent New York Times story, which talks with various experts on “talent.”

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The London Symphony Orchestra has a few string positions open in its viola and violin sections.  If you are interested in applying, look here for more information and application forms. The deadline to apply is May 17.

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British violinist Charlie Siem will play a benefit concert for Music Unites Youth Choir at 8 p.m. April 29 at SpiN, 48 East 23rd Street  in New York. All proceeds will go to Music Unites, a 501(c)3 non-profit, is dedicated to bringing music education to underprivileged children in underfunded inner city school systems. Tickets are $40; rsvp by April 23 to

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On a purely personal note, I am giving a recital at 7 p.m. Friday at McKinley School in Pasadena, California, to raise money for my children's school. McKinley School is the largest public elementary school in Pasadena, and as with schools all across the United States, it is losing a tremendous amount of funding in the coming year. The Pasadena Unified School District will lose $23 million next year because of budget cuts at the state level, and wonderful teachers all over the place – people who do the very difficult work of educating all who come to their classroom – are receiving notice that they will have no jobs next year.  My recital is a little drop in the bucket, but I hope it helps. (Some very kind people have offered to donate, even though they can't attend. Here is that website, for those who have asked. Or, consider a donation to your local school's PTA.)

From Anne-Marie Proulx
Posted on April 22, 2010 at 1:01 AM

Hum this debate again about talent vs hard work?  I agree with much of it until a certain point...    You have to have the head, ear and the good hands (Toscha Siebel said something similar one day in an interview).   Much of ear and reflexes, flexibility etc is genetic...  I guess hard work can bring one very very far (perhaps even soloist level if start young???) but for top level and, more importantly, top sound and power that will haunt people forever, you must have to work hard and have talent! 

Maybe I'm royally wrong!  It's just my "student" opinion...


From Reynard Hilman
Posted on April 22, 2010 at 5:19 AM

Hi Anne-Marie, I have heard that having short neck, short & thick fingers as an advantage for playing violin. That's probably the impression we get from seeing Oistrakh, Perlman, Stern? But many other top notch violinists don't have this characteristic (Heifetz, Bell, Hahn, Menuhin, and many others). After seeing some of the Menuhin competition, I notice most of them don't have Oistrakh characteristic. I wonder if posture has anything to do with talent.

As for reflexes, flexibility and ear, they are trainable, I don't know how much of a role genetic plays. I guess we sometime use word talent vaguely. If a young child plays difficult piece well, we say they have talent, but we don't say, upon seeing someone with big hands and long fingers, that they have talent as pianist. That's why Suzuki says there is no such thing as talent, some kids just learn faster than others. 

So I guess you could say someone has to work hard and have talent, but then what is talent? some of what we refer as talent is probably the result of hard work :) 

From Anne-Marie Proulx
Posted on April 22, 2010 at 6:18 PM

Well, this hand/neck thing is interesting... Just a few dacades ago, some countries indeed used to select students for this as well as the other stuff.  (unethical for sure but why did they did it? Some were even eminent pedagogues/schools.) This was mostly before the SR. Again just my humble supposition, I think the arrival of the rest allowed more variety in terms of physionomy in violinists.  A good thing!  As with any change, did this changed something in the general sound, playing and style  (dangerous topic! Who knows???) 

Back to the topic, above all, I'm just saying that although I would like to believe the "everyone can do it  with much work" saying, but I can't since I am too much of an analyctic and less of an idealist ; ) Susuki would certainly want to "kill" me (lol) but I respect his valuable opinion! However I concur with Susuki that one can improve drammatically with hard work!

Have a nice day,



From Elana Lehrer
Posted on April 22, 2010 at 11:02 PM

 Every body type has its advantages and disadvantages....

Yes, regardless of talent, the ones who practice the most efficiently and are the most motivated play the best in the long haul....

It's an intriguing question.  I refer my students to violin videos and concerts as part of a way to motivate them.  For me, going to my first concert and hearing my first professional recording (on a good ole' LP) was what drove me and made me just KNOW, day one, that this was my destiny.  Some of my students just don't seem to have that motivation.  So is that genetically based?  Environmentally based?  Tough call I think.  So difficult to separate the two.  But I often wonder what it was that drove me, that some of my students seem to lack (while others just LIVE for music).  The only safe conclusion to draw is the kids at the top (and adults for that matter) share a strong work ethic, attention to detail, and have that inner drive because either they are passionate about music, or at least care enough about others' opinion of their playing to drive for perfection....

From Yixi Zhang
Posted on April 23, 2010 at 11:02 PM

The Canadian boy Kerson Q Xun Leong got the 1st junior prize. Watch for tomorrow's senior final!

From Reynard Hilman
Posted on April 24, 2010 at 5:11 AM

haha I don't think Suzuki wants to kill you, Anne-Marie, he just replaced the word talent with those who learn faster. That's a better pedagogical approach, instead of saying that someone has talent, you say they learn faster, and that begs the question why and how? maybe if we learn the way they do we can learn faster too. 

having said that, I have to say Kerson Leong is really talented, congratulations to all the winners! :)

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