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Mendy Smith

The 3 B's

October 3, 2008 at 4:01 AM

Bach, Beethoven and Brahms. All great composers. All wrote interesting compositions for us violists. All should not be played back to back in one lesson without warming up, nor "resetting" the musical mind between composers.

Lessons tonight started with a review of what Cello Suites were remaining in my "Bach by 40" goal, and breaking the cardinal rule of lessons I vowed to never make again - beginning a lessons without a warmup. I think my teacher and I were both a little over excited and ambitious to get this goal back on track again.

We decided to start with the 3rd Suite Prelude - and immediately jumped into the trickiest part of the movement. That went surprisingly well for the first go around, except the bowing. Up here? Down there? What??? Then immediately followed by the Sarabande with a few tricky chords that had my fingers almost tripping over each other.

The Bach itself went quite well considering. It was what happened afterwards... Brahms... after 3 false starts on the first page, we decided to try the second instead. After 2 false starts on the second, we decided that maybe going from Bach to Brahms wasn't such a good idea after-all. My mind was just not able to jump between the stylistic differences between the two composers.

So, maybe Beethoven? Yes, I had the 5th Symphony with me! No, don't laugh, I really do! I had grabbed everything off my stand rushing out the door this morning: lesson music, orchestra music, and quartet music. It was my "homework" assignment to have the opening of the 2nd movement nailed down so that my teacher could play any one of the variations at the same time and NOT throw me off rhythmically.

Well, that didn't go so well either. I was in-tune but my rhythm was off. So we sub-divided the beats. My ability to count to 4 vanished. Oh dear. I could definitely count to 4 last night during quartets, even with a very modern piece. What happened?

By this time, my lesson time was up. But Joel asked if I could stick around for a few minutes and play "audience" to his next student who was going to be playing a concert soon. I agreed. So, in comes his next student, lamenting over the fact that he had just tried to "fix" a broken knob in his parent's car with superglue and glued the knob frozen tight. HEY - finally something that I could contribute to positively for the evening!!! "Acetone!!!", I piped up. They looked at me with a puzzled expression. "Acetone", I repeated. "It dissolves superglue. Use fingernail polish remover, it has acetone in it.", I clarified. Ahhhhhhh.

After giving a brief "lesson" in using acetone to dissolve superglue to un-fix the fix (and feeling a little bit better about myself), the next student tuned and jumped right in the Prelude of the 2nd Suite.

WOW!!!! And WOW again!!!! After he was done, I applauded. By his expression, I believe that he forgot that I was even there. I turned to my teacher and said: "That is my next set of goals. To be able to play like that before I turn 50!" His other student gave me a very puzzled look. But rather than taking up any more of his lesson time, I excused myself.

After getting back home, I did the warm-up routine that was skipped, and tried the Brahms one more time. I couldn't face ending the evening on a literal wrong note. Lo and behold, I could play the Brahms as well as I normally could during prior lessons and practice times. Then I tried the Prelude and stumbled all the way through.

Lesson learned twice over.
1 - Never begin without a warm-up.
2 - Don't try to play Brahms and Bach back to back.

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