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Mendy Smith

Bringing the skill up a notch

October 4, 2007 at 5:42 AM

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!!!

From Karen Allendoerfer
Posted on October 4, 2007 at 11:04 AM
Congratulations on so many things! Your birthday, your promotion, and especially on the good work you and your teacher are doing together.
From Pauline Lerner
Posted on October 7, 2007 at 6:16 AM
Happy birthday! I admire you for sticking with your long term goals for playing.

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