October 2007

Over the shoulder viola holder

October 24, 2007 23:39

I just got my new Bonmusica shoulder rest and got it adjusted to fit me well, and I'm happy with it. As I age, I'm finding it more difficult to keep my 16" viola up to where it should be for extended playing times. I've nick-named this shoulder rest my "over the shoulder viola holder" :::sheepish grin::::

Since getting the new shoulder rest this weekened, it has been given trial runs by most of the viola section in my orchestra and my teacher. It is less tiring to play for hours on end with it's nifty little hook over the shoulder, and my down-shifts on the lower strings are smoother now. Only problem now is that my viola is at a different angle, so I'm having some difficulties keeping my bow parallel to the bridge. Open string bowing and mirror time! I think I need a chin rest that is a bit lower than I have now to complete the viola-ergonmics re-engineering.

Another good lesson tonight. Scale warm-ups were the most interesting that I've ever had. Joel played a counter melody to the C major scale while I played the scale. I have gotten used to doing this technical exercise alone and listening for the resonant vibrations of the viola, or playing the same notes with my teacher and making fine adjustments to match him. Playing a scale with someone else playing a different note (I think it was a 3rd?), brought a new level to evaluating my intonation. I immediately saw (or should I say heard) a practical application in this with playing in a group setting - like in a trio/quartet/orchestra.

We spent a good deal of time on those same problematic chords as before, rhythm, and a bit of time researching how to play one single note in the entire movement - D-natural vs. D-sharp vs. D-flat? The Peter's edition is marked as a D-natural. After referencing many different editions as well as the phrase, D-flat was the verdict.

I have one more music related "toy" showing up soon - a new tuner. This one (Strobo-Flip) is not your normal electronic tuner. It has settings for different tuning systems, not just the run of the mill equal temperment that you get with standard electronic tuners. Joel and I were both hoping that I would have recieved it in time for tonight's lesson, but alas it did now show up on my door-step today. We will have to wait until next week to play around with the new toy. Yes, I'm a geek and proud of it. I'm still planning on getting an oscilloscope and maybe a sound analyzer by Christmas. They are fun tools to have around to tune your music room and analyze your intonation.

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Autumn Cleaning & Chord Practice

October 21, 2007 21:45

The rains have started in Oregon. This means many more hours of practice time on to look forward to on the weekends. In preparation, I did my "autumn cleaning" this weekend.

This primarily consists of gathering all my sheet music from all it's sundry locations (the music stand, viola case, desk drawers, file cabinet, table tops and book case) and filing it neatly on the bookcase in my music room. I was astonished that I have nearly 2 feet of music collected now over the past few years! It is now neatly arranged from Back to Vivaldi. I discovered that I have 4 versions of the Bach Suites, and only one is for the cello! The secretary's desk (musical "work-bench")got a thorough cleaning. Spare strings, peg drops, polishing cloths, chin wrest wrench, spare parts, metronomes, tuners, recording devices, mutes and so forth re-organized. The old viola and cello got cleaned and re-runed. The old viola now has a permanent scordatura tuning.

I spent quite a bit of time on the 5th Allemanda this weekend working mostly on 2 chords - B-flat/D/G in third position, and middle C (harmonic on C)/E/A-flat in 4th position. A bit tricky on their own, very difficult in context of what is played leading up to them. I played these few measures over and over again for hours to learn the transisiton to and the fingerings of these chords. There were a few adjustments to the fingerings of the piece in a measure or two, but no further adjustments to bowings. Over the next few days I'll start working on the dynamics.

All in all, a productive weekend.

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Arpeggios, Allemanda and Public Performances

October 18, 2007 00:16

I got my music theory lesson for the week when working on the arpeggios during my "warm-up" - Major and Minors, 6ths, 4ths, 7ths and dimished 7ths. After all that manual analysis, I threatened to develop a software program to automatically identify the chord - so much easier than sitting there counting! My teacher responded by saying that if I learned this stuff I could recognize it by simply looking at the music. He's right. If I can do impedance calculations in my head this should be easy once I learn the fundamentals. Why oh Why didn't I learn this when I was younger?!?!

I completed my "graduation performance" of the 5th Suite Prelude tonight. I had a few false starts in the beginning (stage fright?), and had to work very hard at not rushing the second half of the movement. There were a few wrong notes, and I mean WRONG - like playing a G instead of an F :::sheepish grin::: The "Mendy Ornament" brought on a round of chuckles between my teacher and I to the point where I had to back-track a few measures and restart that bit again with a straight face. I recieved a "passing" grade and a few compliments to boot!

I'm 100% convinced that I actually DO play better at home with only my cats as an audience than I do in front of anyone else and that this is not just a false sense of pride. After playing an Elegie for my grandfather's funeral and nearly freezing and having to force myself to continue through the end of the piece, to tonight's "graduation performance", I think I can pinpoint this phenomena down to stage fright in a solo performance (with or wihtout accompianment. I do NOT have this problem playing in a group setting of 3 or more people - ensemble and orchestra... Funny thing, public speaking, even in front of the executive staff or hundreds of company employees does not elicit the same reaction. Something to think about....

So, now onto Allemanda. I spent several hours over the weekend analyzing this piece to determine bowings and fingerings and a general style of playing it. The bowings that I came up with only required minimal changes by my teacher tonight - yipee!!!!! This was the first time I've attempted to do this on my own without any help. The "magic pencil" was only used twice! It was very satisfying to receive confirmation that I have learned how to practically apply what he is teaching me. By George! I think she's got it! We spent quite a bit of time on 2 chords that I was having much difficulty figuring out how to execute. We referenced other editions of the Suites until coming up with a few options to try. This really is Bach 201!

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5th Predule Graduation

October 10, 2007 22:05

Bach's 5th Prelude has recieved it's seal of approval from my teacher and will get one final polish put on it next week. The accidental "Mendy's Ornament" is now a permanent part of this piece for both me & my teacher. It really DOES sound nice and fits in with the style of the piece. I've played this over and over so many times, that I've practically memorized the whole movement (and not just the notes). For me, this is an amazing feat considering that it is 4 pages long!

The week after next, we move on to the second movement - Allemanda. It has much of the same feel to is as the Prelude but with much more ornamentation. I wonder if there are any accidential ornaments waiting to appear in this movement :)

I'm really enjoying learning the Suites with the Peter's edition. Working with a "blank slate" (no dynamics, fingerings and very few bowings written in), there are no hard-fast rules other our own intrepretation on how to play the Suites to hold me back on expressing myself musically. Under my teacher's guidance, I've learned how to apply the dynamics and different techniques to achieve the tone we want without having to stop and try to apply someone else's interpretation (or change it)other that what we write in. I can see the patterns in the different phrases to the point where I now truly understand what a "musical phrase" actually is and how to have fun with it.

I'm learning some music theory as well at the same time - you should see the margins of my sheet music! Definitions of different intervals, ornaments, bowing styles, and so on fill the pages of my music where there isn't music already printed. I never took a music theory course in my life and couldn't tell you what the difference was from one scale to the next until recently. I must say, this manner of learning theory is much more fun and easy than trying to learn it from a dry and boring textbook and hours of lectures. For you fellow adult beginners, I highly recommend this method of study.

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Birthday Suprise!

October 5, 2007 00:22

My quartet pulled a fast one on me tonight. We were preparing to play Motzart's "Dissonant" quartet. It started innocently enough, determining tempo, reviewing who started the first few beats of the measure (the cello starts first). We were poised to play Motzart. I'm up in third position ready to start on the 3rd beat of the measure with an A-flat. But instead of the cello opening with four quarter notes on the open C, it was a sustained half note! What was going on? Are we starting on a different movement?!?!?! As my eyes start scanning the sheet music in front of me trying to figure out where I went wrong, when I notice the what is being played. This is definately NOT Motzart!!! What is this? It is "Happy Birthday"!!!

LOL! EVIL musicians!!!!!

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Bringing the skill up a notch

October 3, 2007 22:42

My birthday is coming up this Friday. Like it always does this time of year, I think back on what I have accomplished and what I would like to accomplish in the future, both professionaly and musically. This year I've focused more on what I would like to do musically. Not so much of how many musical activities that I'm involved in during the week, but of skill and style. I just got a promotion at work, so not too much to think about there besides meeting an agressive project schedule (which already keeps me up late at night often enough!).

Four years ago, I set myself a goal of learing to play each and everyone of the Bach Suites by the time I reached 40. When I did this, I couldn't play any position but 1st. I started with Suite 1 Prelude and learned 3rd position for the first time - ever! Today, I'm about half way through my goal and fairly comfortable playing up to 5th position (3rd is now as easy as 1st these days). I've got 3 more years to go. A year ago, I set another goal to finally learn vibrato. Today, I can manage a decent (but not spectacular vibrato) except with my 1st finger in 1st position and nothing on the Cing.

This week, I set myself another musical goal - to learn to play stylistically, really learn music theory (not of the physics, geeky type) once and for all. Boy do I have a great teacher! I sent him an almost embarassingly lengthy e-mail trying to explain what I wanted to accomplish. Tonight he jumped right onboard with that train of thought and we delved into bowing techniques, articulation, dynamics, style, etc. It was so exciting and fun! As he said, I am now getting "advanced Bach training", or as I termed it - Bach 201.

It is interesting and educational starting with a version of the Suites that has ZERO markings for dynamics or anything else for that matter, and then filling in the blanks measure by measure. I've had a bad habit of ignoring all the dynamics and bowing marks and only focusing on the printed notes. Having now worked with a "blank slate" and filling in all the other tidbits that makes music musical has put a whole new light on how I play viola. It is all coming toghether for me so much easier now making by my own markings while I play it, or rather Joel makes the marks with his magic pencil while I play the piece - literally. Even when his hand obscured the measures I was playing while he marked up the music, I still played those hidden measures from memory. When the heck did I learn to do that!?!?!?!?!

Funny thing happened in the study of Bach's 5th Prelude tonight. Time and time again I play the F and A doublestop as a G and A, but only on the second time this is played in the piece. The first time I did it, Joel got tickled pink thinking it was a great improv and wondered why Bach didn't think of it himself. Since that first error, I have made the same mistake several times on and off-lessons. Tonight, I did it yet again. This time, he just wrote in the mistake as an ornament, showed me how to do it musically, and threatened to play "Mendy's Ornament" the next time he performed this piece in a concert! OMG!!!! I think he was actually serious about doing this!. We spent several minutes practicing that mistake to make it more musical.

So here I am, almost 30 hours away from my 8th annual 29th birthday, playing viola for 30 years, thinking about what I want to do for the next 30 years of my life musically, listening to a birthday card that plays the Star Wars theme close to the 30th anniversary of the release of the Star Wars LP (the first "serious" music I played when I first started viola). Too weird!!!

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