Let's see how many of these I keep:
1. Learn vibrato on the C string; & with my 1st finger on the G & D strings
2. Practice my technical studies at least 2 times per week.
3. Have dinner BEFORE rehearsals & lessons.
4. Learn 6 more movements from the Suites.
5. Eat all the vegetables that I grow in the garden.
6. Exercise more than my right arm and left fingers.
7. Do something on my vacation days other than practice.
8. Learn Hummel's Fantasy for Viola & Orchestra
9. Figure out what shouldrest/chinrest combo to use once and for all.
10. And finally..... Spend more time in the great outdoors in the summer rather than the practice room.
Today I practiced Bruch with my pianist for the first time. She is an AMAZING pianist and accompanist! She always kept an eye on what I was doing to match my tempo and style. We only had 2 problems: 1 - my fingers tripped over themselves on a few very fast runs up the fingerboard, 2 - we were never *quite* in tune with each other. Not surprising since the tuning systems between the viola and piano are different, and become more significant the further away from A440 you get. I'm still struggling on how to overcome that challenge...
I found that I slipped back into my "shy-mode" of playing rather than projecting the melody confidently, and I spent more time listening to her on the piano than I did to my own playing. We have 3 more practice sessions scheduled before the competition. I hope that this will be enough to get me used to playing with a pianist, and in front of people that I don't know well. The good news is that my bow arm did NOT shake one bit and I didn't *feel* nervous and scared playing in front of someone new.
Two more days of vacation before heading back to the office. That amounts to about 10 more hours of uninterrupted, focused practice time. Just two more measures......
Well, I didn't get perfect intonation, but today I got one of those tailpieces with the fine tuners installed today. I wasn't entirely certain how I would like it at first. After taking my viola home with the new tailpiece, I proceeded to tune my viola to within a cent of it's life! My double-stops (esp. 5ths) sound sooooo much better now. Prefectly tuned beatless 5ths do wonders for the overall sound.
The luthier told me that I could do with a better bridge, the fingerboard was 2mm lower from the strings than what it should be, and the sound post needed to be replaced with a slightly longer one and repositioned. My viola will be going in for a "tune-up" in February :)
Santa also got me a pair of finger-less gloves (great for cold practice rooms!), and an I-Cat. I had never heard of I-Cats before. Apparently there are also I-Dogs. The I-Cat's face lights up in pattern, tilts its head and wiggles its ears to the music. If you don't "feed" it music, after awhile it starts to meow at you and gets quite demanding. My real cats aren't to happy with this new addition to the family.
Here is a little sampler of the Bruch Romanze.
I have been nice this year (if you take out those times during orchestra practice where my stand partner and I swayed to the music of the flutes a little to enthusiastically while we were counting several bars of rests, or when we organized a "viola only" potluck snack during intermission)...
For Christmas I would like:
1 - Absolutely perfect 100% of the time intonation
2 - Vibrato on the Cing
3 - A better bow-hold
4 - Effortless shifts to the end of the fingerboard
5 - The ability to memorize a piece after reading it through ONCE
6 - Arm vibrato
7 - The original Tertis Model viola
8 - To win the concerto competition
I hope this is not too much to ask :)
YIPEEE!!! I was starting to get a little stressed out over this, but yesterday I received a firm commitment for a pianist for the upcoming competition. That is one less thing to worry about over the next few weeks.
When I changed my approach to this piece expressively yesterday, my memories and emotions became quite raw and exposed which helped in the fist two pages (where I was the most comfortable technically), but were a disaster on the 3rd page (32nd note runs - not so comfortable technically). After just one day, the rawness of these memories have dulled, but the overall effect on the piece better than it was last night, although the vibrato suffered somewhat. It is like exposing just the smallest fraction your innerself through the music.
It is like the children's story: too much and it can make you fall apart, too little and it sounds mechanical. Just right and you have music to cry for. A balancing act.
Karen's latest discussion thread on internalizing dynamics got me really thinking about how I'm approaching Bruch's Romanze. Not from a technical sense (shifting exercises mostly), but from an expressive sense. I've been struggling with some of the finer aspects of applying other techniques to make this piece "to cry for".
Tonight, I sat down with the music and asked myself, what story does this piece tell. Well, it is about LOVE of course (hence the title), but what about it? The piece isn't sappy all the way through, there are moments that make me feel angry, wistful, and those that make my heart skip a beat. It is about the phases of a romance or love that we have all gone through at least once in our lives. That is when I realized that I need to really internalize this piece so that through it I can express my story of love. After relating my story of love, then trying the piece again with the story in my mind, I played it again. Everything started falling in place (with a few technical difficulties).
So here is my Romanze Story:
(Part 1) Three years ago while overseas I met someone and fell deeply in love. Though our cultures and lifestyles were dramatically different, we shared a common love of music, and we made music together - all types from classical, rock, hip-hop, and so on. This was when I explored playing some of the Bach Suites on my viola with an amp, wah-wah (VanHalen effect), a drummer and bass guitar (anyone remember Hooked on Bach?). We explored the back country and I had the most amazing, idyllic and blissful time of my life.
(Part 2) Then, my company told me that my contract was to be cut short and I was being sent back to the US. I was devastated! I knew then (though I tried to deny it), that we would be separated in a permanent way. We started the process of getting him a visa while preparing my return to the US in a mere 2 weeks. We made the most of the time left that we had together knowing we would most likely not see each other for at least 1-2 years.
(Part 3) I had a few arguments with my family about our ideas for remaining toghether. Some of those arguments made me so angry. Why couldn't everyone understand why we were so determined to do what was needed to stay together!
The day of my return to the US was the most heart-wrenching, saying goodbye. We wanted to stay together, but circumstances outside of our control made us separate. I cried for most of the fight back (2 hrs to KL, 5 hrs to HK, 13 hours to the US). Once back in the US, we spoke of the phone regularly while the visa request was processed. Finally the day came, the visa was denied.
(Part 4) I held on to a hope that there was another way for us to get back together again, but those options had a slim chance of succeeding. Two years later, we decided that we needed to accept the situation and move on. Our families were wiser than we were at the time about what we were to face trying to be back together again. The financial and emotional toll it would take on us were just too high.
I have many fond and cherished memories of those years in Malaysia that I will hold on to and try to express through my music.
The piece ends on a high A at ppp dim...
(If you play viola and have this sheet music, each "Part" refers to a "Page" of the piece.)
It finally hit me hard today. My teacher is on holiday for the next three weeks. It is 4 weeks until the competition. That means, I'm practicing solo for the next three weeks to try to "fix" as much as I can without a coach. To top things off, the pianist that I was to have backed out (holiday madness) and I'm looking for another. This realization helped enforce the art of practicing that my teacher and others on this site have written about.
After the "Ultimate Warm-up" (it still works like a charm BTW), I focused my time on some technical and stylistic challenges in Bruch. I practiced a few problematic shifts using the Yost excercises until each beginning note and ending note rang like a bell (that was about 20 repetitions per shift). I practiced the 3-part chords and 32nd note runs by starting with the first note (3-note chord), then adding one note and repeating until it was perfect at least 3 times in a row before adding just one more note. Then I repeated the same exercise adding dynamics and articulation.
I didn't play the entire piece all the way through like I normally would, but instead worked a few sections with immense concentration for about an hour (after the warm-up). When I put my viola in it's bed for the night, I felt satisfied with the hour's productive practice.
What a dramatic change in this practice session than the frustrating one a week ago! With such little time left to make a giant leap musically, practicing smarter not longer is the path I need to be taking. It only took me 29 years to figure this out! :)
Practicing is an art in and of itself.
I'm excited, the week after next (Christmas) I'm taking a whole week vacation from all the "hubub" at work. And boy do I need it!
On to the lessons: My teacher worked with me some on the slow bowing technique - varying the counts per bow. This really helps in straightening out the bow BTW. Then onto the scale of the month. These two shortened warm-ups really did not get me out of "work-mode" and into "performance mode" quite as fast as we both would have liked, but about half way through lessons, I finally got in "the zone".
Once in the zone, bowing remained the main concentration: the plane of the bow (see Buri's blog), lane-jumping (fingerboard to bridge in one bow stroke change), open string bowing, weight, (Buri's blog again... there is a pattern here...), etc. The pattern continued with where to place the "pulse" in certain phrases. It truly amazes me how the right hand can be the source of so many problems musically when you are right-handed! And I've been focusing on my "weaker hand" for all these years! :::sigh:::
For a Christmas gift, my teacher gave me a compliment. It was a comparison on how I played this piece nearly a year ago vs. today. He is right, I HAVE come along way. Earlier this week listened to a recording of this piece I made a year ago and then one I made just recently to be able to give my pianist. The improvement was huge! A year ago, this piece was riddled through with rhythm issues. There was no really rhythm to speak of (OMG! painful to listen to), intonation issues all over the place, and no sense of style to speak of at all.
Most noticeably for me, the achievement is finally learning and applying the "finer art" of making music rather than just the mechanics behind it all - phrasing, articulation, dynamics, and so on. All this together in a package creates a sense of anticipation, climax, longing, excitement, fulfillment, disappointment, and pure bliss.
I have 4 weeks to make a huge leap musically if I am to win this competion. Got no clue if I can pull this off, but the attempt is making me a better musician.
After a miserable jump into practicing right after work the other day (and Buri's textual slap on the back of the head for even trying), I came up with a different way of approaching practice time immediately after work. So, I tried this tonight, and it seems to work. I'll try this routine a few more times to see if it still holds true (or if I just had a lucky night tonight).
1- How Slow Can I Bow?
Bow all open strings as slowly as humanly possible
Bow double stops at the same excrutiatingly slow speed in perfect 5ths, 3rds & octaves
(This is almost like listening to Gregorian Chants...)
2 - How Smoothe is My Slide?
Yost exercises in a syrupy (or melted chocolate) kind of way
At this point, I should be thoroughly relaxed and NOT thinking about work at all. At least I was tonight...
3 - A Simple Second
I have problems still in second position. This exercise is to play a simple piece all in second position. Since it is the holidays, "The First Noel" works nicely.
4 - ~I have rhythm, who could ask for anything more?~
OK, cheezy, but to counter a few counting problems - simple 2 octave scales in different and varied rhythms. Tonight I chose the rhythm of "Hey Look Me Over - Consider Yourself at Home" (a piece my orchestra is playing in our next concert). By the way, it takes an IMMENSE amount of concentration to play a scale in a different key than the tune that you picked the rhythm from.
By the time I got done with this tonight, I was able to really start practicing Bruch intensly. Work was 200% behind me and I was in a musical frame of mind, warmed up and limbered up. It made me more aware that a focused repetative practice on trouble spots (Yost shifting, playing the notes in the troublesome position in a different sequence) is a more effective use of my time in correcting those errors rather than just trying to play the piece from beginning to end each and every time.
I know, I know... my teacher has told me this many many times. It just took a little slapping around and a fresh approach (and a deadline) to change my habit.
.... simply does not work! Tonight I drove home from work (a whopping 15 minutes!) and started work on the Bruch (after a few warm-up scales of course!). Major YUK! I had it in my head all day that I wanted to record it once all the way through again since I've made alot of progress recently. Then sit back and listen to it for the rest of the evening to figure out the spots that I'm not happy with so I can work on those more tomorrow.
Instead what happened was this...
I warmed up with a few scales and arpeggios, played Bruch through once, turned on the recorder, then one F-natural went sharp in the first line. Restart the recording.... get through the 1st page OK, then stumble at the end of the second page - a shift from 1st, to 3rd, then down a half step with string crossings all over the place. Restart the recording.... make it to page 3, totally hosed the first line of page 3. Restart the recording.... get to the final page, and that darned C-flat raises it's ugly head again!
On second thought, practicing after work with a recorder really highlighted the problem sections... I guess I know what I need to work on this weekend afterall! I still want to get at least one good recording in over the weekend to review.
I think I found a pianist to accompany me in the competition! One of my software engineer's wife is an excellent pianist (she teaches piano, and has accompanied other stringed palyers before). She has agreed (pending a peek at the piano part) to accompany me in the competition! The down-side is they are going on a Christmas holiday for two weeks, and we will only be able to get in MAYBE 2 practice sessions in together. Bruch Op. 85 is in the newly released Suzuki Viola Book #8 - there MUST be the piano CD out there somewhere! I'm not having any luck finding it yet, volume 8 may just be too new. (I am NOT using the Suzuki edition for the competition, the page turns are HORRID!)
Lessons tonight were INTENSE! Drew's article on shifting pretty much describes a good portion of my lesson tonight - when to slide and not to slide, subtle rhythms in the shift, etc... Thanks Drew! I'm going to be printing this out! I have ALOT of shifting exercises to do this next week!
My projection made huge improvements, even in my teacher's small studio room. Was there a small amplifier that someone snuck into my viola while I wasn't looking ?!?! (I acutally DID look!)
We also spent a considerable amount of time on bowing, working on things like
- Where should I be in my bow stroke at the end of this phrase before beginning the next?
- How to avoid excess bow movement(the down-down on a forte, etc.)
- When to make smooth velvety transitions vs. authorative distinct and transitions.
I don't think I have EVER studied any piece of music as intensly as I am doing right now. OK, maybe once 27 years ago when I auditioned for the Sewanee Music Camp - back then it was the Telemann Concerto if I remember correctly. This time, the stakes are different. If this audition goes well, I play solo in front of hundreds of people in a concert for the first time (ok, maybe second) in my life.
It is a bit scary. I WANT to do this and succeed. At the same time, the thought of standing on stage with a spotlight on me in front of hundreds of people listening to every note I make, hanging on the edge of their chairs when I crescendo to a climatic note, almost makes me want to go into "flight" mode. What if I make a mistake? Well, the only thing I can do is prepare the best that I can.
If I win, then I work even harder than now on preparing for the concert. If I do not win, I work even harder to win next time.
What WAS I thinking when I committed myself to doing this?!?!?!
Over the past week, I have moved into a very focused study of Bruch's Romanze to prepare for the concerto competition in the middle of January. After my teacher and I blew the dust off this piece last week, I've been focusing on the last few troublesome spots.
I was having problems with getting the double stops (triplets into eighth notes) sounding the way that I like - smoothe and flowing, almost like melted butter. I discovered (after many hours) that I was putting a slight pause after the triplet before going into the eighth notes, thus breaking up the phrase where I shouldn't.
Then, on to tackling a rest held to long in m39. It is a down-down bowing at forte, so there is alot of distance to travel to get back at the frog again. I shortened the preceeding note by a hair to let it ring while I got back to the frog again.
M81-84 has given me fits for months - who the heck came up with accidentals like C-flat with fingerings that are just as strange?!?! I worked these slowly note by note with my tuner (before anyone lectures, it is a strobo-flip and has settings for perfect beatless 5ths!!!)several times until I felt comfortable playing G-flats with my 3rd finger and C-flats with my second finger. The last measure in this trouble-spot was eventually solved by FINALLY recongizing the intervals (I think it is called an augmented 5th?!?!?) At anyrate, I know the relationship now....
Final problem: There is this one section (m58-63) that have these runs of 8 notes per beat, 7 notes per beat, 9 notes per beat back and forth. Firstly, just getting this many notes per beat leaves me skipping a few notes at tempo. Going DOWN the scale is simple (just lift the fingers), going UP the scale is an entirely different problem (placing fingers)! Secondly, even after slowing the tempo down from 69 down to 40 in this section, I'm having problems with making these small differences actually different. I'm tending to play ALL of it at 8 notes per beat. I've tried finding (or making up) a few mnuemonics to help, but haven't been able to come up with any phrases or words! ARGH!!!!
Guess what is going to be the focus of lessons this week?
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