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Mendy Smith

5th Allemanda Graduation

November 21, 2007 at 5:04 AM

Tomorrow night I do my "graduation" performance of Bach's 5th Cello Suite Allemanda before moving on to Courante. Although there was alot of agony trying to practice in Hong Kong, having played this piece on my smaller viola really helped with my intonation, chords, and bowing. After coming back home, my 16" is ringing more than it ever has before. I really must remember to switch intruments more often!

I have added one more item to my "must do before I'm 40" goal list. That is to learn a concerto at performance standard. I found out that my community orchestra has a concerto competition. The winner plays the concerto at one of the concerts. I want to WIN that competition! (yes, I'm competative!) There are 2 major road-blocks for this goal: 1) what concerto for viola can I actually play (technically) and would enjoy playing 2) can I get over my stage fright enough to have the nerve to even consider this seriously?

For problem #1 - Viola concertos are far and few between compared to the vast number of concertos available for violin or cello. I would like to play one written originally for viola and not one that is transposed. I could possibly do Sitt, Hoffmeister or Stamitz. The Walton concerto is way out of my league for a public performance. Maybe I could do Hummel's Fantasie? What to choose? Tomorrow I'll discuss this with Joel and see what we can come up with.

Problem #2 - how do I overcome my stage fright? I was almost frozen solid and had to force myself mentally & physically through a solo performance at my grandfather's funeral a few months ago. Granted, that performance was under conditions that I would never see in a regular performance, but what if my reaction is the same under normal circumstances? I have zero stage fright in a group setting (quartet and orchestra) or a small group of family and friends. But put me under the spot light alone with a large audience and my bow arm shakes like a leaf! How the heck to I overcome that?

Half the battle must be knowing the repetoire to the point that I no longer really need the sheet music to play the piece. Then comes learning how to "tune out" the audience. This is the part I have problems with while playing viola. I can do public speaking well enough, even with a large audience or the even in front of company executives (a recent experience). The only thing I can think of that causes me to freeze and shake is the "knowing your stuff" bit. I expect that there will be a little bit of the "freezing and shaking" tomorrow night just in front of my teacher since I'll be put on the spot-light.

Hmmmmm.... something to think about.

From Jim W. Miller
Posted on November 21, 2007 at 5:48 AM
"But put me under the spot light alone with a large audience and my bow arm shakes like a leaf! How the heck to I overcome that? "
You'll read lots of ways to trick yourself into this or that. I think there's a central problem and a secondary one. The central one is not knowing your material/being skilled to the point that nothing terrible could happen, and that includes your experience with your self-saving instincts. Which leads into the secondary thing, which is that most likely you're going to be unsure how to gauge those things without a certain amount of experience. A famous classical pianist said it's easy to give dozens of concerts per year, but impossible to give just one. A friend of mine was talking about forgetting how to play because there weren't enough opportunities to play. To him, what he could do in the solace of his studio, shower, whatever really doesn't qualify. As far as he's concerned, what he could do alone was irrelevant; the only thing that mattered was how he was in front of an audience. If he couldn't do anything in front of an audience, then he couldn't do anything. Myself, I was like you, never frightened in small groups, even duos, but solo was a different story. No place to sink back for a second and come back that I knew of. I finally got past that from having to talk before groups. That transition was a very fast one really, just two or three experiences and went from self-doubt to very gregarious and always having the right words. You know, really I was never frightened solo until a succession of really poor music teachers who instilled self-doubt. I suspect nothing beats coming up from a young age hearing nothing but good words; an exponential kind of situation. Probably not necessary, probably other ways to do it, but that would certainly be useful.
From Tom Holzman
Posted on November 21, 2007 at 4:09 PM
How about the Teleman concerto?
From E. Smith
Posted on November 21, 2007 at 4:51 PM
Maybe the Bruch Romanze? It's a beautiful piece. There aren't any Romantic viola concertos (that I know of), but the Romanze is concerto-like, about ten minutes long, in one movement.
From Mendy Smith
Posted on November 22, 2007 at 5:36 AM
I've been studying the Bruch Romanze for awhile now, and like it alot. There are a few tricky sections that I would need to REALLY work on and HARD. My teacher also suggested the Bruch as well.

Jim, you are right, the central issue is most likely not knowing the material well enough. The last public concert I played (the funeral) I played a piece that I had only played for about 2 weeks, not enough time to really work it through. My grandfather had wanted me to play it, so I did. I was on shakey ground to begin with. Then add that I only got to practice with the pianist 30 minutes before the funeral. No wonder I shook like a leaf!

You are also right, there is no place to hide when you play solo, or even solo with accompianment.

From Jim W. Miller
Posted on November 22, 2007 at 7:56 AM
It might be right. If you wonder if preparedness/skill is the issue, ask yourself if you'd be nervous playing something trivial, say a one octave first positon G scale without a 4th finger.

If it was my mission to overcome nerves in stringed instrument performance, I think this is what I'd do. You know my theory behind it already :) I'd contact the minister of music at some nice but not fancy church, not a church I attended, and ask to play something with him, an invocational or whatever they call it. Something simple, like the top line of a chorale prelude, with him on organ. Before I approached anyone, I'd prepare the piece, using everything I could do, and especially a recorder, to make sure that it was good, not just at a level I was satisfied with, but good. Then I'd contact him in person, not by phone, maybe by attending a service and following him out the door to talk when it was over. This would be an easy and very fun scheme to pull off. Since there's no applause in church...when it's over very casually hang around outside, and people will come up to you and tell you they enjoyed it. Then it grows from there. The thing to remember is that what you do is as valuable as anything anybody else can do. Everyone is just at some point on some path, no better, no worse. So that's the plan I'd engineer for you :)

From Bernardo B
Posted on November 22, 2007 at 9:36 PM
Hi Mendy! Why don't you try a movement of Harold in Italy? I know it doesn't really qualify as a concerto but I believe it's a beautiful romantic viola solo piece. Plus it doesn't sound too technical - at leat from the standpoint of a listener...I would get a viola just to play this piece if I had more time ;-)
From Karen Allendoerfer
Posted on November 25, 2007 at 1:17 PM

When I was a teenager in Germany I played 1st violin in the orchestra accompanying a violist concerto winner on Anton Stamitz' concerto in D. Later, when I learned a tiny bit about viola music, I thought that must have been the famous Stamitz viola concerto that everyone plays, but it's not--that one is by his brother Karl Stamitz. My opinion (which is not shared by members of the viola list I subscribe to, but oh well) is that the A. Stamitz concerto is much nicer. It reminds me a bit of Haydn, with the same kind of joy and lightness about it. It was the first viola concerto I'd ever heard, and I think I can trace the beginnings of my interest in playing the viola back to my experience with this piece.

The piece stayed with me--at least the 1st violin tutti part did--for >20 years and when I started playing viola again last year, I looked for it and bought the sheet music from Shar. The solo part is a bit high and it's too difficult for me to play on the viola right now, but it probably wouldn't be for you. I could scan in a few pages and send them to you if you were interested in looking at it.


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