"With this violin, you will change the world."
Jesus Florido took that statement to heart when he received his first violin at age 8, when he joined El Sistema as one of the first generations of students in Venezuela's now-35-year-old system of music education. Jose Antonio Abreu, founder of El Sistema, never did anything small. For those first students, he didn't just give the kids the violins, he called on then-President Luis Herrera Campins to present the children with their new instruments.
Now living in the United States, Jesus has taught Latin fiddling at Mark O'Connor camps, and he teaches and performs in many styles. Jesus also is one of the earlier members of Violinist.com, having joined in 2004. So I was happy to hear that he would be teaching some group lessons at a "Seminario," held at Pasadena's Longfellow Elementary School -- so I could meet him in person and see him teach!
The "Seminario" was held in early February for three El Sistema-inspired programs in Southern California: Santa Barbara ICAN Music Program, San Diego Youth Symphony Community Opus Project, and Pasadena VYMA Music Project, which sponsored the event. Teachers came together from all over the area to hear a speech by author and educator Eric Booth and to participate in conversations with the Abreu Fellows and Tricia Tunstall, author of Changing Lives: Gustavo Dudamel, El Sistema and the Transformative Power of Music. Also, more than 100 students ages 7-10 came from as far as 120 miles to take classes and then play a version of Beethoven's "Ode to Joy" together at the end of the day.
I attended Jesus's group class about the bow hand, with about 40 kids.
Ah, the bow hand! It's supposed to feel natural and work with ease, yet teachers tend to fall into over-analysis and confuse their students. Puzzled, students wind up clutching their bows in some weird, compromised hand shape that pleases neither student nor teacher.
Jesus knows how to cut through the confusion. He described how the hand balances the bow in a way that was direct, simple and obvious. Check it out:
I wasn't able to get his description of each finger all on the video, so I've listed those descriptions below. Basically, each finger has a "job." You need to hold the bow in a way that allows each finger to do its job, never in a way that works against those jobs.
In a nutshell: The thumb is the anchor and point of balance. The ring finger is the main counterbalance, and the middle finger re-enforces the ring finger. The main job of these three fingers together is to hold the bow. The pinky is the main balancing finger, especially when playing in the lower half. The index finger is the driver of the bow -- it steers it straight. The index finger is also the pressure controller -- but never hooked on the stick. The index and pinkie are in charge of balance and direction, not of holding.
If you can put together a bow hand that allows each finger to do its job, it will work well for you!
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