Here it is in the newspaper:
And the story:
I was perusing the blogs I read regularly, and ran across this one from Charles Noble, Assistant Principal Violist in the Oregon Symphony:
Like Mr. Noble, I think it is wonderful to have a foundation in the state and an Orchestra committed to bring classical music to children who may otherwise never have the opportunity to be exposed to it. It is one of the things that I love most about the Portland Metro Area - the Arts. We have several professional groups as well as amature community groups that bring music to the community. If I recall correctly, at last count there are over 8 community orchestras in the Portland area.
But one statement disturbed me more than any other: ".... The Portland Public Schools have no string program, and very little in the way of full time arts instruction in music."
When I was in school in Pensylvania during the '70's and Tennessee in '80's, music was an integral part of the education system - both "band" and strings. This education system of years past was what turned me on to playing viola (why viola and not violin is a different story), something that I've kept with me over the decades. Though I never majored in music, learning viola helped me learn good study habits (a HUGE benefit in college) and has brought a balance between my professional and personal life. I love going to the OSO concerts, as well as playing in the local community orchestra.
Mr. Noble stated: "...if we have a poor music education system (or a non-existent one), then we will have a much more difficult time cultivating audiences...".
Is it no wonder that there is so much "Classical Music is Dead" discussions and orchestras that are struggling financially lately?
It also explains why there is such a huge recruiting effort in the area for strings in the community orchestras. Looking at the various community orchestra web-sites, brass and wind instruments need to audition or be put on a waiting list, however if you play a stringed instrument you are almost gauranteed a spot in the community orchestra. I was granted a spot in the Hillsoboro Symphony WEEKS before I ever moved into the state.
I hope that someday within my lifetime, I will see music programs in the public schools rich with diversity in instruments and musical styles. Are we condeming our children to a life of limited choices in expression and exploration?
I got Hilda back from the "viola hotel" (luthier) yesterday. I dropped her off for a new bridge and soundpost and let her stay there while I was in China. After spending so much time with the Old Man over the past two weeks, playing Hilda again was like how it was two years ago - aches and pains from a larger instrument. Luckily, it only took a day to get used to her again.
The flu has hit my teacher, so no lessons tonight. It also hit one of the violinists in my ensemble, so no practice this Thursday either. Both are going to be rescheduled later this week.
I made it back home from China and Hong Kong safe and sound. Looking forward to getting back to "normal": orchestra practice, ensemble practice, and lessons (oh, and work). It is good to be home.
This week, the little blue rubber band (Blue Gumby) that my teacher put on my bow will retire to the pocket in my case. It has served me well in re-teaching me how to hold the bow.
You can see where my pinky used to be where the varnish has worn off to the left of Blue Gumby. I have since learned to a) hold my bow correctly and b) keep my pink fingernail trimmed. :0
Next Tuesday, my trio group is playing in an art gallery grand opening. We are so excited. We will be playing some Beethoven and Dvorak Trios. We've been playing together for a year and preparing for an "Event" such as this for quite some time.
I read a recent blog from the assistant principal violist in the Oregon Symphony about his case inventory, and realized that I haven't done this myself in quite some time.
The Old Man's Case (with me now in Hong Kong):
2 bows (one with a blue rubber band on the frog)
Small screwdriver (small enough to re-attach chinrest if needed)
Yellow micro-fiber cloth
Cake of rosin of unknown origin, rubber band holding it together is frayed and nearly broken.
Wire & rubber mute (can't remember how to put it on!!!)
Old set of Dominant Strings (minus the C string)
Gold Star sticker
Various sheet music & music studies
(no bows, they are with me in my 15" viola case)
(no viola, it is at the shop getting a new bridge & soundpost)
Pictures of cats (1 for each cat, one pic is of cat in case)
2 pictures of me playing viola when I was 8 & 10.
Grandfather's Memorial program
Spare set of Dominant strings (new)
Yellow micro-fiber cloth
2 shower curtain hooks - brushed nickle finish
Ziplock baggie with peppermints & empty wrappers
Print-out of work (day-job)calendar through June
Random paper clips
Electronic pick-up for amp
2 business cards
Red tassel (technically not in my case, but outside it)
You'd think that I would have something better to do on a Friday night in Hong Kong!
We all came back from the factory to the hotel, 5 of us crammed into a taxi (not including the driver). We spilled out of the taxi and into the lobby and briefly discussed the plan for the evening. 30 minute break then meet back to in the lobby to head out for dinner.
I'm thinking "Yeah! 30 minutes practice time", one guy went to the gym, another guy got a hair cut, and the other two just chilled out. We all get in the lift and head to our respective 30 minutes of private time. Out comes the old man (15" viola, minus chin rest this time around). I set-up my practice space in the little free space I have in the hotel room, about a 3' x 3' clear area between the desk and TV.
Oh boy did he get out of tune during the trip out here! So tuning.... OK, then Kreutzer - flat - oh yeah, 15", 1" shorter that usual.... then sharp, third time around closer to in-tune. I bumped into the TV a few times, and stepped backwards and almost tripped over the bed. I was starting on my 4th round with the bowings assignment I was assigned and got about 1/4 of the way through when my hotel phone rang, it was one of the guys "Were are you! Where all waiting on you!!". :::sigh::::
We all cram ourselves into a taxi once again and head to Kimberly Street to the restaurant . On the way there I saw a cellist walking down the street. A minute later another one, then 2 together, then another 3. There must have been a cello party somewhere in the area. We finally make it to "Spice", a nice place with Indian, Malay and Thai cuisine. Had alot of spicy food... mmmmm....
Dinner discussions were quite normal. My "partner in crime" (Adam) asked me about my practice time, and one of the young guys started making meowing cat noises. Adam gave him the "look" and said "you may make fun of it, but you've never heard her play, she's actually quite good". My face broke into a grin from ear to ear. He got to listen to me practice from 9pm to 5am during the last implementation we did last year.
Then a small debate on who had to pay (HR policy is the most senior person) - did that mean age or position? The consensus was that in either case, I had to pay. Then the hunt for a taxi back to the hotel. I'm supprised that in a city-state such as Hong Kong it was so hard to find a taxi!
Tonight, I was able to practice for 2 hours. My intonation hit the mark this time. It takes a few days for me to adjust from a 16" to a 15" viola. I'm really enjoying playing without a chin rest. It hasn't hindered my vibrato, in fact it got better (but that may be due to the smaller instrument). My 15" sounds less choked without the chin-rest. Could be that I just need a different one, but I don't know where to go shopping for viola parts here in Hong Kong, and I only have a few more days here before heading into China, so I'm chin-rest-less for now.
Tonight my quartet group put away the Mozart quartets for the time being and brought out the Mendelssohn quartets. We played through Op 13. Boy is this a HUGE change from what we've been playing over the past year. Tricky piece!
As usual, we had some nasty page turns we weren't prepared for. Good thing we developed the "HELP ME NOW" look. Once someone gives that "look" someone will shout out the next practice mark/measure number. I had to use "thte look" when I had a measure of rest, a page turn, and expected another measure or two or rests on the next page, but no.... it was several measures of the same note until the next practice mark! (F someone!!!!) This happened to the cellist as well... ARGH!
What was supprising to me was having a solo fermata - which everyone blasted through and continued on while I was sitting there holding the fermata thinking this was supposed to happen ... for a little while. A few measures later I stoped us - was one of those rare viola moments - a solo? YUP! I thought that solo moment was going to be the only one, but NO! There where also several places where the viola started a fugue section solo (more than once). Each time it happened, I stopped and looked around. Did I mis-count terribly? NOPE! The violinists and cellist would then tell me how many measures of rests they had before they came in. I think Mendelssohn had a quirky sense of humor and was playing jokes with me!
We were having so much fun we ended up playing the whole piece from beginning to end for almost 3 hours - without even realizing it. I love quartet nights!
"Blue Gumby" is the name I gave the blue rubber band my teacher put on my bow a week ago. At first we hated each other, then we called a truce. As of tonight we are best friends!
The hard work over the weekend paid off (woohooo!). My bow hold is confirmed "much better" than before. I'm going to keep Blue Gumby close to me for the next month though to be certain. My teacher mentioned how this "rubber band technique" only worked on 1 out of 3 students and that maybe by having his students give a name to the rubber band, it would increase the success rate. LOL!
Almost 80% of tonight's lesson was on Kreutzer and scales plus some music theory. What a Major & diminished 7th was finally clicked. I LOVE those "ahaa" moments. Then he had me practice my bowings in front of a mirror. The moment I looked in the mirror though, my bowing went wild on me. When I looked directly at the contact point everything went straight again. Darned mirrors! "OK, take that home or to the hotel room in front of the mirror - if they have mirrors in the hotel rooms in China -to figure out."
The last few minutes of lessons were spent on the first page of Hummel: the turns, dynamics, and a few rhythm issues. Someday (hopefully soon), I will remember to sub-divide beats in my head as second nature without needing to be reminded to do so. Maybe I should try using a "Post-It" note on my sheet music... hmmmmmm... At least my trills are good and don't need any help (fastest on the planet according to my teacher). I still don't remember when or how I learned trills. I can't wait to make it to the end of the piece where there are three full measures of nothing but trills.
He mentioned that he had remind himself that I was not like his other students (music majors & soon to be music majors) that have more practice time than I do with a full time job. He asked me to tell him if he put too much pressure on me. I gave him "The Look" - this is NOTHING like the pressure I have at my day job. I took this as a compliment - having him forget that I'm not one of those young (in my eyes) aspiring professionals he normally teaches means alot to me.
At the end of lessons while I was packing up, my teacher tried to find a recording of him playing the Hummel with Orchestra to loan me. Unfortunately, it was not found so easily. I will have to wait until later to listen to it. RATS!!!!!
So my homework assignment: scales (3 of them now) AND Kreutzer WITH vibrato, focus on bowing (hold and sound point - in front of a mirror), left hand patterns & frame, and sub-dividing beats. Arpeggios if I can work them into my "free" time, and an admonishment to actually HAVE some free time.
After all the hard work on "fixing" my bow hold over the last week, I'm looking forward to lessons tomorrow with a mix of anticipation and dread. My hand is in a better position now, the tension is gone, but once I speed up the bow stroke the point of contact varies, sometimes by a little, sometimes by alot; and I'm still getting a pain in my right arm when I bow fast. Not from viola practice but WAAAY too many hours at the computer at work (death grip on the mouse syndrome, a result of working on CAD systems).
I'll be heading off to China soon on business. One of my colleagues asked me if I was going to be bringing my viola with me again. When I told him yes, he was actually HAPPY about it... A year ago I brought my viola on a business trip, we were up until the weee hours of the morning waiting for a data conversion script to run over a 19 hour period of time. I practiced while we waited. It was a great diversion! It's also a great time to get alot of practice in when stuck in a hotel in Southern China over a weekend. I just hope that I'm not relegated to practicing in the hotel hallway again while the cleaning staff remakes my room!
On the other hand, that might just help me a little more on my public peformance fears. Maybe I can convince the pianist in the lounge to come in early on Sunday before the lounge opens to practice with me :)
Well, maybe this little blue rubber band is not quite my friend yet, but we are no longer fighting each other. After a evening Friday trying out this new bow hold, my first finger was sore from pressing down, which then caused tension up to my shoulder and over to my left hand destroying my vibrato and shifting.
I set out this weekend to call a truce and make peace with the blue rubber band. I took my viola out of it's music room and into my bedroom where I have a large mirror and proceded to bow - ever so slowly. At first with open strings, then Kreutzer, then scales, all the while noticing my hand formation, contact point, and how straight (or crooked) my bowing was, and any tension. After about an hour it started to become easier.
So back downstairs, to Kreutzer... again... and again... and again... watching my bow hand, contact point, etc... After about 2 hours of Kreutzer, I HAD to move on to something else or lose my sanity. What pieces do I have that would make a good bowing etude? I know!!!! Bach's Suite #4 Prelude (at a MUCH slower tempo). Out comes my musical security blanket - the Suites. Oooooh, forgot about those string crossings! Those would be good to practice my new bow hold with.
At the end of the day, my hand is relaxed, my bow hold almost "picture perfect", and ooooh, the sound! So nice!
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