I was trying to impress my daughter, 19, with my new electric violin, which admittedly, I have no idea what I'm going to do with, other than try to mitigate a kind of mid-life classical musician crisis.
"Isn't it cool?" I said, plugging in the new five-string Yamaha Electric Violin and showing Natalie, as she lounged on the nearby couch, checking her phone. Though she doesn't play the violin, she has had the strange life circumstance of growing up amid hundreds of hours of ambient violin-lesson noise. She also has wide and eclectic tastes in music, from rap to classic rock, alt music and folk to "Claire de Lune."
"I just have to figure out what to play on it," I admitted. She looked up.
"Hmmm. How about....'Come On Eileen'?" she said, fiddling with her phone. The 80's pop song came pouring out of her phone.
"Of course, challenge accepted."
So I started playing along. Actually there's a lot of violin in that tune, and nice little licks. Once I'd figured them out, I tried to change them up a little.
"How do you do that?" she said. "Okay here's another one."
Bohemian Rhapsody? Sure, why not? I picked out the melody here, the harmony there, took a stab the guitar solo...Pretty fun, actually!
"Okay give me another one," I said.
"Stairway to Heaven."
How does she even know that song, isn't it from the '70s? But actually it's kind of lovely on the violin, you can poke it up an octave in places, add a few little things here and there...I was actually having quite a lot of fun.
"Mom, how can you do that?"
Play by ear? Come on, I'm a Suzuki teacher! It was nice that she was impressed, but it was pretty clear to me that this is an extremely underdeveloped aspect of my playing: the ability to play by ear and improvise. Too much stumbling. And why can't I just immediately play what I hear in my head? Is there a way that I can strengthen that connection? And certainly I was playing it awfully safe.
Well, my daughter would be going back to college, so no one would be giving me another musical improv quiz session any time soon.
That's when I remembered Christian Howes, who contributes the occasional blog to Violinist.com. His stated mission in life is to "help classical string players improvise and develop creativity in different musical styles." I've attended a number of his workshops and found them intriguing. I remembered, he has a summer camp called Creative Strings Workshop -- in fact, there is a division of it for adults.
Later, I found myself talking to my stand partner at a symphony gig about my new electric violin.
"What are you going to do with it?" she said.
"I think I'm going to go to a summer improv camp," I said, not missing a beat, "for fun."
To be honest, I didn't know I had such a plan.
"For fun?" she said, arching an eyebrow. "Imagine that."
Symphony musicians occasionally get a little jaded, I must say. It really might be time to stretch out a bit.
So with some trepidation, I've signed up to go to Christian Howes' Creative Strings Workshop, in early July, in Columbus, Ohio. And after signing up "for fun," I've realized I've actually signed up for a lot of work! It will certainly involve some brain-stretching, practicing, and getting way out of my comfort zone.
How exciting! And of course, you'll be getting some blogs about it in July. Wish me luck!
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