February 2007

Chamber Music

February 23, 2007 00:07

Tonight was my first chamber music session (a "just for fun" event) with 2 other violinists. They are both amazing musicians! We played Dvorak's Terzetto (minus larghetto), Eine Kliene 1st movement (easy but fun), and a few movements of Beethoven's Op. 87. It took awhile before we realized that on one of the movements there were several measures with syncopation bewteen the viola & violin parts. Score comparison time! We pulled our act together an got it on the third try! Not bad for sight reading!

Two hours into the session and my left shoulder starts burning. I got tense while site reading, and now paying for it. I have more pieces for practice and lessons now. My music stand is in danger of tipping over! Gotta love it!

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Bruch Romanze Op. 85

February 21, 2007 00:19

Today's lesson was GREAT! This time, lessons were later than usual so I was able to go home after work, eat dinner, relax, and do a 30 minute "warm-up session" before hitting the road. I managed to play during lessons tonight almost like I think I do practicing at home. Have I hit on the magic formula for playing well during lessons?

As a reward, I got an enthusiastic "This is going to sound GREAT when you add the vibrato in!" Yes, I still haven't learned vibrato - it's one of those skills I never got around to developing. But - I'm learning it now. My teacher thinks I'm on the cusp of having a major break-through. I certainly hope so!!!! Now only if I can do the vibrato studies he gave me without my cat deciding that the hand motion I'm making means that it is time for a head-scratching session!

The Bach's Suites are taking their long deserved break and now Bruch is getting its attention. This is a whole new style for me, and loving every second of it. Elizabeth - thank you SO MUCH for suggesting this piece! It is absolutely beautiful and it is just as Jennifer said - very rewarding. I've made it from practice mark A to B, and now working on my way to C (ending in double stops - sort of a slide but not quite). This time I was prepared for the fingering changes. I took a small break while he re-marked the next session, then we played it together. Not so bad with the old switcheroo!

After lessons were over, his next student came in and we began chatting. He introduced me to his other student with a "This is Mendy. She has a regular 9-5 (but not so 9-5 hours) job as an engineer. She plays viola just for fun." I'm not entirely sure, but I've got this hunch that I'm my teacher's only student that does not have a career or a career path in music.

Back to sheet music study then bed (then work) :::sigh:::

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Day number 10237

February 17, 2007 01:03

This blog is inspired by the discussion thread on how long does it take until you are not so bad.

Day number 10235 - lesson day was REALLY BAD! I never had a chance to eat lunch with all of the Oracle ERP meetings and development sessions we had that day. CRP3 is 2 weeks away. By the time I rushed (stuck in traffic really) to downtown Portland for lessons I was shakey. Not a single note was in-tune, and I could not get relaxed or adjusted right. What a way to start a lesson, and it didn't end much better! At least I still got my Valentine's Day cupcake after the lesson was over (dinner). I had a very hard time with my incredibly short 4th finger. I couldn't relax enough to pivot on my third finger to so the stretch to the 4th. We started some vibrato exercises. Go figure - I do vibrato well enough on the cello but can't manage it for the life of me on the viola!

I put Bach aside for awhile and started working on Bruch Romanze for Viola. My father and I bought it on Saturday (my V-Day gift). I worked through it a bit on Sunday with the fingerings already noted on the sheet music. When we began this piece during lessons on Wednesday, my teacher re-did all the fingerings! It was a disaster after that. Any ear/hand relationship that I managed to scratch out during the 30 minutes I spent on this piece Sunday disappeard with the flash of a pencil. Back to fingerboard studies....

Day 10236 - I only practiced for 30 minutes and gave it up in disgust. The viola sounded raspy, I was unable to relax. So instead I watched Survivor and Grey's Anatomy then went to bed and almost slept through my alram clock the next morning.

Today was Day number 10237 - started off REALLY BAD, but ended REALLY good. I'm starting to get this feeling that if the room is under 72 degrees, my viola gets raspy - almost like an undertone that is a whisper or a hiss. Once the heater kicked in and the house warmed up, so did the sound - and so did my fingers. I could pivot on my 3rd finger and hit the note on the dot with my 4th no matter which position I played. The viola sung to itelf on the sympathetic strings. Notes that did not have a sympathetic string resonated. Even the dreaded 3rd - 5th on the C string had a richness to the tone. Haydn's 101st Symphony Finale was a breeze. I ended up marking my viola where the "perfect" shoulder rest position is. On my old viola - that sweet spot has worn through the varnish a bit.

I lament - why can I never play like this during lessons? I think I'm going to get a recording device so I can record these "better at home vs. lessons" sessions to see if I *really* do play better at home than in lessons - or orchestra practice for that matter. Is it a false perception or is it real? If it is real, how can I duplicate this elsewhere - do I need to warm up before lessons? Does it has something to do with the acoustics of my practice room or just comfort in my own space?

I recently joined a soon-to-be quartet. Right now it is a trio. I recieved the viola part in mail yesterday - Bartok's Terzetto. I played it through front to back once, then worked though the first movement for awhile. Not so bad. But then again, I played it in a moderate tempo, not the noted allegro. Our first attempt at this as a group will be this Thursday.

Back in 1979-81 I took lessons from a woman named Barbara at UTC. It was a year after my parents bought me my first viola - a 75 year old-ish at the time, 15" German made E.Martin. It is now about 100 years old. Recently my parents and I were trying to remember Barbara's last name and wondering what had become of her. Was she still teaching? What has she been up to? She would be about my parent's age. So, I e-mailed to university's music department to see if I could find anything out.

I recieved a reply today. Her last name is Crider. I also was given the e-mail address of one of her former students who is now the university's current viola teacher who could possibly know of her where-abouts. When I spoke to my mother tonight about this, she got very excited and confirmed that Crider was indeed her last name. She thought that Barbara would be suprised and happy to know that I still play viola 28 years later, and up until last year, on the same viola that I had when I was taking lessons with her. Mom spent the next 30 minutes reminiscing on those early viola years. She remembered more than I had forgotten!

I wonder what will day number 10238 bring?

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Bached Out

February 8, 2007 00:01

Lessons with Joel are still going well. I got the "You have been playing Bach's 6th Cello Suite for 3 years now. You need to make a decision. We can work on this one piece for the rest of your life like most people do, or you can choose to learn something new with me" discussion. I was finaly able to do the drones well enough tonight with the appropriate dynamics, bowing, intonation, etc with a few do-overs. Guess I was judged as being "Bached Out"! :)

It was suggested to move on to Bach Jr's (Johann Christian Bach) Concerto in C Minor. I'm also thinking some Vaughn Williams - Fantasy on Greensleeves is a nice easy one to work on for intonation and vibrato as well as treble clef reading. I have alot of other sheet music as well that we could try. I can appreciate what teachers have to do in picking out pieces for their students. What to choose!!! Is it at the right level - challenging enough but still within the capabilities of the student.... ARGH! I thought to download some viola recordings off the internet to get an idea of what might be fun, challenging, bringing a new style onto my pallete. I have no idea where to start with the results I got from that search! Guess I'll start with the pieces that I have now and work from there.

For you violist out there: what are your favorite pieces at RCM grade 8-10ish (Suzuki Viola 6+++) for viola?

My callused "dots" are starting to turn into "grooves" now. The shifting is so much easier now with the re-adjusted shoulder rest. I got a "You really did work on this alot! So much better!" compliment. Then the inevitable "here are a few more Yost shifting studies" assignment. I now can fully appreciate how technical studies translate to performance pieces. It *really* does help. I guess I'm sold on technical studies now to my delight and dismay. Now if I can just figure out how to determine what technical studies to assign to myself before my teacher does....

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Stand Partner at HSO

February 6, 2007 00:49

My stand partner in the Hillsboro Symphony Orchestra, Jose Smolensky, was recently highlighted in a small local newspaper last Friday. The local newspaper reporter came to one of our rehearsals before our last concert and really mixed up the pictures with the stories. Jose, in the original story has a picture of our principal violist with Jose's name in the caption with a story about "Here is Jose with HIS VIOLIN". She was livid to say the least. We now refer to Jose and our principal is the "evil twins". The newspaper made ammends this last week by featuring a front page article in addition to about a 2/3rds page with her story in art, music and her life.

When I first met her she came up to me and looked UP to me (yes, she is shorter than I am, something which I never thought possible being 5'2" myself) and introduced herself "Hi! I am a woman named Jose!" Jose graduated from Jilliard many many years ago. She has told me a bit about her professional musical life in the NW with various symphonies and orchestras over the decades. I did a little searching on the web and found a her alumni bio from Julliard and her own website (she also does wood scultures). The fact that she is 3rd chair says alot for our little community orchestra. Just think of the talent in our 1st and 2nd chairs! It makes me a bit proud to have made it to 4th chair after such a long sabbatical in my viola playing.

She is a wonderful, spunky little woman with alot of talent and good advice not only on music but on life as well. I hope you enjoy these.



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Shoulder Rests

February 1, 2007 21:41

One of the biggest problems in my technique that has been plaguing me for weeks now that I'm doing more shifting excercises is with the down shift on the lower strings. It's jumpy, jerky and sometimes just plain hurts. My intonation also took a turn for the worse in the last year.
All this time I thought it was just getting used to going from a 15" viola to a 16", and that it would just take some time and getting used to a larger instrument. I don't remember having these problems on my 15"

Tonight, I decided that I wasn't going to waste any more time just waiting to "get used to it" and put on my engineering hat to determine to "root cause" of these technical failures. So, I pulled out the old man (15" viola) and did the same technical excercises. No problems on the down shift. I run upstairs with both violas in hand and hold up the old man to study my position, then switch to my new 16" viola and study that.

Slowly, the AHA moment came! With the old man (with it's own personal shoulder rest), the body laid more along the contours of my chest, sloping downwards towards the floor with the length parallel to the floor. The 16" was perched up on my shoulder almost like a table top. I pull off both shoulder rests and compared the adjustments, then re-adjusted the shoulder rest for the 16".

Back downstairs I go with the newly adjusted shoulder rest and repeat the technical shifting exercises. The jerky, death grip, painful down shifts almost completely disappeared. And now I could hear the sympathetic vibrations on the strings (the RING!).

Sometimes it is the TOOL, not the user :)

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