April 2008

A Page a Week

April 30, 2008 22:02

Lesson night once again. We started on the D Minor scale to warm up (the fingerboard is NOT a keyboard and the bow is NOT a mouse!). Then some Kreutzer - #3 this time. For some reason I was having a hard time reading treble clef.

Then back to Clarke. I played through page 1 & 2 without getting stopped by my teacher. That hasn't happened before! Especially not after only started learning the piece 2 weeks ago. At the end, he reviewed some of page 2 with me. We worked on the double-stops, some tempo aspects at the end, some phrasing on page 1 and some rhythm issues in the beginning of page 2.

Then, out comes that magic pencil again. He's marking up page 3!!!!! This is now becoming a "page a week" piece!

Page 3 has much as the same melody in the previous two pages, except for the first few lines, and the last few measures. We slooooooowly go through first few lines. YIKES! There is a high E on the A string - the E that is about 1 cm from the end of the fingerboard. I haven't even tried to figure out what position that is yet. But, for the most part, the challenge on this page is just playing up in the stratosphere.

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Who Was She Anyway?

April 29, 2008 23:00

After some comments I recieved on the Rebecca Clarke Sonata recording, I realized that I really did not understand her as a person, composer nor violist. This understanding is I now realized is critical to be able to play any piece by any composer well.

After some research, this is what I discovered and interpreted:

Rebecca Clarke's Sonata was "re-discovered" in 1976, the same year my little sister was born, and two years before I picked up the viola for the first time. She passed away the year after I began learning how to play this behemoth of an instrument.

She had a difficult relationship (understatement of the year) with her father and was kicked out of the house (and moved herself out of the country) just years before she composed this piece. She composed this piece a year after WWI was over. Being bilingual with German must have been difficult during WWI. This was also the time when women finally won the right to vote, and large numbers of women finally entered the work-force for the first time. The beginnings of the "woman's rights movement". She suffered from Dysthymia, "a mood disorder characterized by chronic mildly depressed or irritable mood often accompanied by other symptoms such as eating and sleeping disturbances, fatigue, and poor self-esteem".

It seems that she struggled to be recognized as a serious musician and composer for her entire life. I found a quote from her in 1977 that reads "I take this opportunity to emphasize that I do indeed exist... and that my Viola Sonata is my own unaided work!" This speaks volumes to her challenges to be recognized as a legitimate composer, even in 1977 after her music was "re-discovered".

What I'm starting to understand is why this piece jumps from an agressive to an almost submissive tone and back again. I think that some of this may be from her own questions in her role as a woman in society, as a serious musician & composer, her dysthymia, the events happening in the world during the time this piece was composed, and her own troubled life before moving to the US.

The piece starts "Impetuoso", very much "in-your-face" like she has something to prove to the world. A "here I am, take notice of me!" statement, broken up by "even though you now know that I exist, I am still a mystery to you". On the second page there seems to be a theme of extreme unhappiness before she explodes once again in apparent frustrations. She repeats the same mix of emotions on page 3. Then on page 4, the tone changes radically. The piano and viola parts seem to switch roles to some extent. The viola plays a series of 32nd note arpeggios of sorts, still quite mysterious. The first movement ends with a lingering memory of the sadness of the piece.

It is like there is this radical emotional shift between pent-up anger, depression and wishful thinking that she doesn't truly believe will ever really come to realization.

I think I'm starting to "get it". What is even more scary is that I can relate to this maybe a little too well.

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April 28, 2008 21:54

It's official. I'm going to Interlochen this summer for the Adult Chamber Music Camp.

The e-mail I recieved talked about things to bring.... "A few other important items to pack would include a flashlight, notebook, pens and bug spray."

Bug spray?!?!?

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Clarke - First Recording

April 27, 2008 19:25


Here are the results of two weeks worth of practice on the Clarke Sonanta - first two pages only. Please forgive any incorrect notes. This is an incredibly difficult piece to play.

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The Day After...

April 24, 2008 21:19

I practiced the Clarke tonight. I worked on keeping the recurring rhythm of the main theme and varying my dynamics. Then moved on to PAGE 2 :) I ended up changing some of the fingerings my teacher gave me. Can't believe it - I erased 3rd position and put in 2nd position fingerings instea. It actually worked better for me.

I didn't do my scale homework (guilty look).

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Clarke - A Continuation

April 23, 2008 21:46

Lesson night started unusually again (or is this now becoming the "usual"?) - straight into some sight reading of another quartet piece. Then a question on what I wanted to try out next: "A warm-up!" I pleaded. Joel flips through my stack of music, pulls out my scale book that has some finger exercises at the end.

"Do you remember this?" he asks. I know I have a guilty look on my face since I haven't practiced those exercises in months. I answer "Yes, vaguely." "You should be much better at this now, let's see". I'm thinking, yeah - high hopes. My fourth finger seemed to had magically become longer, and my shifts much smoother and more confident. He increased the tempo bit by bit, until I was playing the entire measure in one bow at a fairly fast tempo. What do you know! I did get better! Then he flips back to the scale section and asks me what scaled I worked on over the week. Now, I'm looking VERY guilty. So, D minor it is. D Minor is inevitably my homework assignment for the next week.

Now that I was properly warmed up, we moved onto the Clarke Sonata (bucket list piece). I look at the page for a moment, recalling how to do the bowing in the beginning, then begin playing. The beginning of the first movement fits well with my state of mind. I get to the fermata around the middle of the first page. Stop. "OK, let's go over those rhythms". We play it through a few times together with the metronome, then by myself without it.

While I'm playing I hear him say "good.... GOOD!..." from time to time, even when I shifted up to 8th position! A big smile starts to form on my face. I make it through the fermata and onto the end of the first page. We work on a few sections on that first page and he points out the recurring theme of the rhythm in this movement.

Then, to my utter surprise, he turns the page over. "Do you want to start working on the second page?" YES! I'm a bit floored at this point. I have NEVER progressed to page two after just one week of starting to learn something new. Out comes the "magic pencil" to mark up fingerings. The beginning of page two is full of Sul X. "I think you can do the Sul G & D here now. Do you want to try it?" YES! I'm now so stunned, I don't know what to think. After a minute or two, the magic pencil is put back down and we play through page 2.

While I'm packing up, we talk schedules for a minute. He has a conflict one week. No, I don't have any trips to China planned for May.

As I drive home, I'm thinking to myself. I guess I'm not that bad afterall. I pull into my driveway with a smile still on my face.

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What is all the Buzz about?

April 18, 2008 21:07

I managed some good practice time after work today, and began practicing the Clarke Sonata. That is when I noticed a buzzing coming from my viola. It happened mostly on my C and G strings when I played fff. So, I started peeking into every nook and cranny on my viola trying to find the source of the buzz.

After sometime, I noticed that the ball ends of my strings were slightly off-kilter in the tailpiece (I recently started using a Whittner to make tuning faster and easier). So, I loosened each string one at a time, and got one of those small eye-glass / electronics screw drivers to gently nudge the ball end of the string back into alignment. The buzz went away. I was so happy.

I then continued to practice the sonata. A year ago I couldn't play this at all. I would look at it, see those high notes in treble clef, then put it back down again. There are few notes up in 8th position, and many in 5th. My recent explorations this high up the fingboard gave me inspiration to actually start to try to learn this piece. Tonight, I could do it! At least the first page.

I have assigned myself some Yost - from 3rd to 8th. I'm going flat on the down-shift by almost a semi-tone.

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Adventures in Viola Music

April 16, 2008 23:16

I took The Pirates of the Carribean to lessons tonight for a little professional help hoping for a trick to make those darned triplets just a little easier. Here is how it went (roughly):

Joel: (opens door, I enter, previous student prepares to leave)

Joel: (tells a viola joke that I actually NEVER heard before)

Mendy & Other Student: (groans at joke)

Mendy & Joel: (heads upstairs to begin lessons)

Joel: "So, did you bring your orchestra music? You never told me which piece it was that was giving you problems."

Mendy: (flipping through music, find Carribean, put it on stand) "Yup, here it is." (flip to page with triplets and point to passage)

Joel: (starts playing passage) "What tempo are you all playing this at?" (plays a demo tempo)

Mendy: "No, faster than that. About this fast" (taps out tempo...gets viola out of case, and start setting up. Hear Joel restart same measure several times at tempo)

Joel: "This is NOT viola friendly!!!"

Mendy: "You're telling me!!!"

Joel: (tries same measure a few different ways)

Mendy: (put shoulder rest on viola, tighten bow)

Joel: "This is one of those pieces that you want to run and hide from. Let's start at this measure." (points to the most difficult measure)

Mendy: "What? This is going to be my warm-up?!?!?!"

We jumped straight into my CO viola section's nightmare passage. After deeming that there was no way to make this section any easier (just many many hours of wood shedding time), he started looking through my stack of music I brought with me again. We played some of the Borodin and Schubert quartet movements.

Joel: (flips through the stack some more...) "Did you bring the Clarke?"

Mendy: (digs through stack, and finds the Sonata). "Yup! Here it is!"

About half way through playing the first page of this piece, I stop.

Mendy: "Oh, I got something for you" (present my teacher with a set of earplugs)

I threatened to do this once before when first learning to play past 5th position a few weeks ago. This time I felt that he could really use them.

The Clarke Sonata is one of those pieces that I had bought years ago after hearing a recording of it but never even attempted to play it on my own after taking one look at the notes on the page. The first movement has Sul C, G, and D and notes on the A that takes you close to where there is rosin on the strings. The second movement has many harmonics and fingered harmonics. For years the Clarke Sonata has been in my "Bucket Stack" of music. I'm so excited that I'm finally starting to work on pieces in this stack.

Then at the end of lessons, my sense of accomplishment at getting to this point of my life musically was dampened. The next student came upstairs. He's a VERY young man, going to Aspen this summer and will be playing on-air on the radio.

I still wonder why Joel keeps me on as a student. I have nowhere near the talent that his other students have and I have no desire to make music my profession like his other students. The only thing I have going for me is a true love and enthusiasm for playing viola. I can only guess at why he continues to subject his ears to my viola playing.

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April 15, 2008 21:39

There are a few things I'm looking forward to in the coming week:

- Getting confirmation from Interlochen for the Summer Adult Chamber Music Camp

- Sight reading a new piece in tomorrow's lesson (teacher's choice)

- Learning a new scale (never thought I'd look forward to THAT in a million years)

- Getting some helpful advise on some orchestra music (some killer triplets)

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Music Happens!

April 14, 2008 22:52

It is not often that I blog about Orchestra rehearsal. Many times it is the same old wood shedding we do from week to week. Tonight was a bit different. The theme to our concert this year is "Pirates!". You guessed it, piece after piece of pirate music.

One piece in particular has an Oboe cadenza. Tonight, our oboist was inspired. She had one of those rare musical moments when the music just flowed out of her. It shocked us all, our jaws dropping, including the conductor who almost did not queue the rest of us to start playing again. It was amazing!

We are all amatures, and after two weeks of rehearsal, we are still collectively trying to figure out our own parts. And here was someone who made the huge leap from figuring out the technicals to producing some truly inspired lyrical music at the spur of the moment.

She recieved a rather large applause from the orchestra.

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An American's Revelation

April 9, 2008 22:45

Another lesson night. Instead of starting on an "easy" scale, we jumped right into me demonstrating my mastery of the 3 octave F# scale. I use the term "mastery" very loosely - it means that I played it "relatively" in tune (again, "relatively" is loosely defined) and managed the shifts up to 8th position gracefully (somewhat).

One thing that I NEVER would have expected in playing a scale during lessons - stage fright, or at least one of my stage fright symptoms (though I didn't have the "butterflies"): the shaking bow syndrome. Once I started playing something that I felt a little more comfortable with technically, the shaking stopped. I need to think about this a little more.

The upside to this scale experience, is that my left hand position in 8th position over several days of intense focus and practice received a positive comment, though my intonation and approach (too fast of a shift) to the nether-region got a workout.

My teacher is now moving me forwards to new methods of torture: the minor scales, and more forte/piano bowing exercises at the tip. I received a music theory crash-course (after re-confirming again that I've NEVER taken a music theory class in my life) on the various minor scales: harmonic, melodic and natural. All of which he wrote down in my scale book. Afterwards we played an A Minor scale two of the three ways.

Then onto the fun! Sight reading!!!! I had brought with me all my newly acquired quartet music (viola parts only), plus two concertos and a sonata (Clarke's) that I haven't tried playing on my own yet. Joel rummaged through the stack of music and picked Dvorak's American Quartet.

I learned quite a few things tonight about my sight reading skills.
- after a few tries playing with someone experienced that I can pick up a new rhythm fairly quickly
- I think alot and often on the best fingerings (not a sight reading strong point)
- when I get lost (or start on the wrong measure) I can quickly find my place again
- I adjust my bowing to match the leader in my "section" without thinking about it.

Next week, who only knows what I'm going to be playing (outside of scales and bowing studies).

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Clarke and the "F" Note

April 8, 2008 20:26

No, I'm not cursing (quite yet). :)

It's actually quite amusing. Everytime I do this F# scale and downshift from 8th to 5th, I go down to F-natural, not F#. Its 100% repeatable, while my F-natural to A (with the 4th finger) still is not as repeatable as I would like.

I'm starting to experiment with my thumb posisition now. I can get a repeatable D from the G string almost everytime (my thumb is below the neck more). The same is NOT true from the C string. If only I could surgically lengthen my 4th finger by a few mm.... :::sigh::: Oh well, I have to work with what I have.

It started to amuse me the other day when I realized that while I can fully understand Einstein's Theory of Relativity and how speed can affect the passage of time - "Time Dilation" http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Time_Dilation
, I STILL have a difficult time counting at a constant speed MUCH slower than the speed of light.

Oh well. I'm off to ponder some more scientific theory.

PS. My teacher said I could start working on the Clarke Sonata!!!!! Yipeee!

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Last Day of Intermission

April 6, 2008 19:52

Today is my last day of my "mini-vacation".

I finally managed a somewhat graceful shift from 5th position up to 8th, reach the top notes with my fourth finger, and back down again. The trick was to really get my left thumb under the neck (and ultimately almost to the edge of the fingerboard on the right hand side) and bring my arm around quite a bit towards my right. I measured about 1 cm of space remaining at the end of the fingerboard by the time I made it to the top of the F# scale.

I think I need to take up yoga.

Jose called me this afternoon. She is going to be the "Featured Artist" in June at the gallery, and asked me if my quartet would like to play at the gallery again. I hope the guys (violinsts & cellist) say yes. One of the artists applied for a grant to help pay for musicians to play at the gallery. The pay wouldn't be much - probably enough to cover for gas for everyone. It is the thought that counts. I'm just thrilled they want us back. We are all amatures with full-time day jobs who do this for our own entertainment and enjoyment. The lady that runs the bookstore in the gallery is still refering to us as a "symphony". Hehe.

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Intermission - Part 2

April 4, 2008 23:12

It will take some time to get used to it, but the re-positioning of my viola more towards the front of me has worked wonders for my bowing as well as my reach with my 4th finger. My left shoulder isn't as sore as it was yesterday. I'm wondering if I should try a center mounted chin rest.

I started working the F# Major scale (3 octaves) today. This scale starts in 3rd position on the C string, then up to 5th position on the D string, then up to 8th on the A string. By the time you make it to the top of the scale, there is only about 1/2 of an inch left on the fingerboard.

That last shift up to 8th position is extremely difficult for me at the moment, especially when I get to the 4th finger. It seems just too short to reach the string. Combine that with this contortion act to get my hand around the upper bouts. OUCH! I should have started this when I was younger and more flexible. After trying that last upwards shift a few times (with frequent breaks in between), I finally managed to play the upper part of the scale. Didn't make it down from 8th to 5th position gracefully. I'll work on that tomorrow.

To celebrate my second day of vacation, I went to the Community Music Center in Portland to listen to some truly amazing chamber music. The first piece was the Mendelssohn Trio in C Minor played by 3 extremely talented teenagers. The violinist and cellist both play in the Portland Youth Symphony (concertmaster & principal). It was both uplifting and humbling to listen to three very young musicians put on a professional performance.

After intermission, some of the OSO musicians and one High School violinist, Becky Anderson (who will be performing in "From the Top" in May) played Mendelssohn's Octet. This was a lively and highly entertaining piece to both listen to and watch. It was like being the proverbial "fly on the wall" listening into a private conversation between 8 people, complete with animated gestures to emphasize a particularly juicy piece of gossip.

Afterwards, I spoke with my teacher for a brief moment. He asked again if I had ever heard this piece. The answer was still no, but now I have. :) I almost had to chuckle when he said that "this is a fun piece for a reading". Hehe. The day I can site read something like that will be the day I'm ready to retire. Hopefully I can retire young.

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April 2, 2008 21:18

With the prospect of that 4 letter word behind me for a few days (work), I got serious with some of the technical issues I've been having (viola-wise) tonight. Its a wonderful thing to put all my brainpower on something other than software & engineering solutions.

My memory of several weeks of lessons finally came back to me (my "oraclitis" is in remission for the moment):

#1 - try holding the viola more towards the front (rather than out to the left)
(this brings my left arm closer to my body... hmmmm)
(it also makes me hold my left elbow more towards the right, I'm a little sore right now)

#2 - a flatter left hand (not collapsed) makes 4th finger playing easier

#3 - to play at the tip, need to extend forearm out - WAAAY out

After three hours of putting 1-3 together, I got a consistent and IN TUNE A from my 4th finger! Wooohoooo! I was also playing waaaaaay at the tip with more control and the bow much straighter. The most interesting side affect of this experiement is what happened to my vibrato. My wrist vibrato dimished and I started doing an arm vibrato instead - even some 1st finger vibrato.

Tomorrow the experiement continues to determine:

Can the results of the experiment above be duplicated repeated over several days?
What happens when I try to shift from 3rd to 6th position?
Can I figure out what position I'm playing at the highest point of the F# major scale?
Can I produce a vibrato with my 1st finger?
Can I produce a vibrato on the C string?

Stay tuned for results. :-)

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