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Laurie Niles

Violin Community News 2010, Op. 18

May 13, 2010 at 6:51 PM

We all know that studying classical music enhances a person's abilities and thinking in many ways: it trains coordination, involves patterning and counting, it builds on language skills like articulation and expression, etc. etc. But it looks like passively listening to the music of Mozart may not have the direct intelligence-enhancing effect that makers of “Baby Einstein” and other baby products inspired by the Mozart Effect have advertised. Let's hope that this doesn't keep people from introducing the music of Mozart, as well as other classical music, to their young children. When my first child was born, the State of Colorado actually gave me a tape of music by Mozart, and I also had a CD called Mozart for Mothers-to-Be. I probably would not have thought to listen to the music of Mozart during those days, had it not been for the Mozart Effect craze. If Mozart did not enhance the brain of either my daughter or me, I can attest to one effect that it did have on this mother and her baby girl during the first six difficult and colicky months of her life: it brought a measure of beauty and calm to our days and nights. The music of Mozart, specifically – not of Richard Strauss or Beethoven or Tchaikovsky or the Beatles or Coldplay – was the perfect antidote to the jagged pill that is early babyhood and motherhood. So for all of you moms, dads, kids, stressed-out students: I still recommend Mozart!

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Violinist Paul Todd (1929-2010) died earlier this week; he was a professor of violin at the University of Nebraska at Omaha for many years, retiring in 1996. Todd was concertmaster for the Honolulu and Austin symphonies, and associate concertmaster for the Omaha, Oklahoma City and Albuquerque symphonies, according to an obituary in the Omaha World-Herald.

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Here is the story of a fascinating civil lawsuit, brought by Plain Dealer music critic Donald Rosenberg against Musical Arts Association — the group that manages the Cleveland Orchestra. According to the story, Rosenberg – after writing critically about the orchestra's conductor, Franz Welser-Möst – was reassigned September 2008, to cover anything but the Cleveland Orchestra. It brings up all kinds of interesting questions: How far can a critic go, how far should a critic go? How far can an orchestra go to protest the criticism? What is a critic's role in the community? I would say it even begs this question: what is a newspaper's role in a community?

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Some news for educators: Carl Fischer Music has made it possible for music teachers and directors to page through its new string orchestra titles and hear full performances of these pieces through its website,, with free full performance audio MP3 tracks and complete non-printable PDF scores. The new option is only available for 2010 String Orchestra titles, but it does sound like it might make the job of selecting music easier for string teachers to do online.

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Who's playing, where:

Violinist Elena Urioste will play the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto with the Delaware Symphony this weekend:

Violinist Hilary Hahn will play the Mozart Serenade No. 10, Gran partita, with the Dallas Symphony this weekend:

Violinist Jennifer Frautschi will play the Beethoven Violin Concerto with the Pasadena Symphony this Saturday:

Native American violinist and composer Arvel Bird will perform his original compositions with Rochester (New York) Chamber Orchestra on Sunday:

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Reviews from this week:

Violinist Christian Tetzlaff, playing with his sister, cellist Tanja Tetzlaff and pianist Leif Ove Andsnes, at Wigmore Hall in London:

From Rosalind Porter
Posted on May 14, 2010 at 12:08 AM

Laurie - interesting comments about the so-called "Mozart Effect".   I'm wondering, when you (and other v.commers) were pregnant, presumably you were still regularly playing violin?   I've heard some fascinating comments from friends (playing various instruments) about the effect that the music they actually played and studied during pregnancy had on the little one inside them and how in some cases it seemed to carry on after the birth.  (Baby always going to sleep when hearing Puccini for example - which the mom had played in the opera-pit in last weeks before birth...)  I'm thinking that there's much more involvement when a mom is actually playing the music rather than just listening and perhaps that is what makes the difference?

Another mom-to-be told us how the baby didn't kick when the music was loud during orchestra rehearsals, but really did move around when it stopped or was very quiet/when she was not playing.  She wondered if it was because the baby got upset/annoyed when there wasn't any music going on to feel/hear?

From Cynthia Faisst
Posted on May 14, 2010 at 6:44 AM

Suzuki Sensei always asked us did you listen?   Did you open the door?   And then he would pantomime how hard it is to get through the door way if you don't think to open the door first.  Or what if it became stuck.   In order to get through the door to the other side where people are playing the music you needed to listen.   It seems very passive.   As experienced listeners, we don't think we are doing anything.   If we don't walk through the door way to the other side and play or make music we may feel we did all that work just to let the wind rush through the door.

I always imagined that there was an ensemble on the other side of the door inviting us to pick up an instrument and play with them the music we heard when we opened the door and first let the music in our ears.

There are many reasons that some people open the door  but never choose to go through it.   Maybe they don't feel welcomed or invited.  Maybe they have a disability.   Or maybe they don't have access to an instrument.    These are the things we should struggle with as teachers and musicians.

My boy friend has found that if you leave a basket of extra shakers in the middle of a drum circle eventually they all get picked up and played with by passers by who hear the music.   The beat is infectious  and many of us would rather participate if given the opportunity.  

If we play the music then the effort that we put into listening becomes more than just an opportunity for air to move through the open door way.    The more that we listen it seems the larger the door becomes and the easier it is to move from only listening to playing.  But when we play the instrument it sticks to our motor cortex.  The more we practice the more deeply the impression made on our brain cells physically changes the arrangement of our nervous system.

But here is what I find even more interesting.  Once we start practicing, if we also continue to listen, those same brain cells have a rehearsal in the motor cortex on the music that we were practicing that can be better or more useful now that we are playing.   The more layers of both listening and practicing we do the more effectively we practice and listen.   After this kind of work we can keep that piece retrievable in our brain just by listening to it repeatedly everyday. 

If we take a break from physically practicing but keep listening to the piece we can get it back more easily than if we also stopped listening.   If we stop listening to the piece we have shut the door and will have more difficulty finding those passages again with our fingers. 

Some of my students have told me that if they practice in a mistake they can unpractice the mistake by taking a short break from practicing physically and only practice by listening to the piece several days.   When they return to playing the piece a few days later , which they have been rehearsing inside there heads correctly with out the interference of the mistake that is in their fingers, the problem disappears.    If they kept struggling with their fingers they simply managed to practice the mistake into their motor memory more permanently.

Successful practicing of a new piece is about 60-80% listening and analysis and 40-20% careful practice in small sections.     An experienced musician does not realize how much listening and familiarity he has with a piece of music before learning to play it for the first time.  He has many more correct copies  of the music in his auditory cortex from casual listening and is able to practice more intentional copies to his motor cortex.

As teachers I don't think we realize what an appetite we have developed for listening which opens us to all kinds of musical doors for us and makes many pieces accessible to us.   I could easily listen to a wide variety of music almost 24/7 if you let me.    I find people who sight read for a living seem to be insatiable listeners who are curious about almost every kind of music. The more we open those doors the less effort it requires of us.

 But our students have smaller stomaches and their doors are smaller and fewer in comparison.   Listening requires much more work on their part.  The doors are more exhausting to  pull open.   Once they get the door open to at least one kind of music they are happy to leave that particular door open and let lots of breeze flow through the opening with out catching the music with the physical effort of practicing.     

 A new piece of music to listen to may seem like a new leafy green vegetable on their plate.   It just doesn't taste like anything to them  the first time.   That is why we encourage parents to play all of Suzuki Volume I once a day the first week of listening.   It may seem like shallow listening at first.   But the child may not have the ability to tolerate listening deeply to many repetitions of the same piece until he has started sampling it once every day for the first week.

The sampling of new pieces or a CD from a new book does not stick to our brains very well.   But its the hard work of tasting the music that we have to do until we can tolerate listening repeatedly and deeply so that we can memorize the details of a piece of music that one needs for practicing and creating permanent copies in the brain.   It such hard work for the child that it is about learning how to open the first door rather than memorizing a piece of music.   Its no wonder that they fall asleep just listening.


From Pauline Lerner
Posted on May 14, 2010 at 12:20 PM

For a good review on the scientific evidence for the Mozart effect, written especially for violinists, see this article.

From Anne Horvath
Posted on May 14, 2010 at 12:42 PM

I am always happy to see "Op. 18."  (Smiley face here)


From Laurie Niles
Posted on May 14, 2010 at 4:44 PM

Cynthia, what wonderful insights! I find them to be very true, too. Any time a student is having trouble piecing music together, it is usually due to a listening deficit. It's such an easy and pleasurable way to learn; I continually wonder why I sometimes meet with resistance! (They don't resist the suggestion, they just sometimes don't DO it!)

Rosalind, yes, I listened and played much music while pregnant with both of my kids (even did an audition!) I was practicing the Tchaikovsky concerto and whenever I got to the really, really high part, my daughter would kick like heck until I stopped. (I didn't have my nice fiddle back then -- I think it was pretty squeaky up there!) Also, I played a church gig once, in which there was a lot of amplified musical religious excitement, and again, my daughter kicked like heck until it was over. In both cases, I believe the message was, "Some quiet, please!" So she didn't really react unless it was especially high-pitched and/or loud.

My boy seemed to like the music, he squirmed comfortably when I played. He got to be in the orchestra (in-utero) for a long string of kids' concerts in which we played Scheherezade.

Both of them hear music constantly in their home and naturally, both are brilliant! ;)

From David Wilson
Posted on May 15, 2010 at 5:06 PM

So tired of hearing about the benefits of "Mozart", when it is, in my opinion, that what we're talking about is music from the so called classical period of the 18th century. It is my estimate that 98% of today's public couldn't recognize a "Mozart" from a "Haydn" or from a "Salieri" for that matter. There was an aesthetic belief of that period for composers to seek balance, harmony, proportion, etc in their music. That aesthetic today today have led some to believe in a "Mozart" effect. Let's at least give credit to the many other composers of that period whose music contain those very same attributes.

From James Patterson
Posted on May 17, 2010 at 5:11 AM

Correction to your list of who's playing where:

Hilary Hahn played Jennifer Higdon's Pulitzer prize winning violin concerto with the Dallas Symphony.  The Mozart Gran Partita ( a 45 min piece for winds: 2 ea of oboes, clarinets, bassoons, and basset horns, plus contrabassoon and 4 horns) was the OTHER piece on the program. 

I was there Saturday night and can report that Ms Hahn got a very large ovation as did the composer, who came onstage. 

"New" music is not often my cup of tea, but this piece is DEFINITELY worth further hearing.  Since it got the Pulitzer and also because it was a commission from 4 orchestras, each of whic will get a performance, that will practically  guarantee a large audience for the concerto.

This concert was conducted by the Dallas Symphony's music director Jaap van Zweden, who has done wonders here!


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