January 2009

First full day on my new 'job'

January 30, 2009 20:14

Today was my first full day on my new "job" - preparing for the scholarship audition.  It is one of two "jobs" I have at the moment, (the other one is finding a new job).

I started the day with my 3-octave minor scales, starting with my problem shift - from the 2nd finger to 4th down half a step.  For some reason I kept trying to shift down to a whole step, ending up in a completely different key that was driving me nuts.  After working that bit out, I started out on C minor.  I then proceeded to work my way up the fingerboard until I reached F-minor - the highest I've worked my way up to so far.  Most of today's focus was on really memorizing the finger pattern and which strings to shift on for the various minor scales so that I could repeat them again without looking at my "cheat sheet".

Then onto my etudes.  The first one is for crescendo and diminuendo - all about bow speed and distribution.  It was more difficult than I first anticipated - the notes themselves are easy enough, but the dynamic changes are challenging.  The second one is also about bow control and distribution.  But how to do mezzo piano with a full bow and martele???  And then my 3rd etude assignment, one meant to develop the bow (see a theme here???) at the tip.  This was actually the easiest for me of the three.

So with half of my day already spent on just scales & etudes, I took a lunch break and worked on my other job for awhile (job hunting).  Then back to practice.  I transcribed all my markings to the piano score, and then spent the next hour working the accelerando my teacher spent so much time with me on yesterday.  I noticed that this same theme occurs three other times in the piece.  I made that theme into a 4th etude by playing all of its variations.  The trick to pull this off is in the bow distribution - getting to the frog at the transition and then shorter and shorter bows working more towards the middle of the bow until the end.  If I hadn't spent somewhere in the range of 3 hours doing just those parts, I don't think I would have internalized the concept.

By now, it had started to become dark outside, so I played through the entire piece a few times, keeping focus on the tempo changes and my bow distribution.  Better, but those transitions still need a bit more work.  That will be for tomorrow. 

I now have my doubled-up lesson schedule from Joel, and he is giving me some "comp" tickets for the symphony this weekend.  What a guy!!!  I would not have expected that my first few days of being laid off would be spent in lessons, practicing, and going to the symphony!!!

There was a discussion here once before about the benefits of music in our lives.  Well, I'm living proof that music has great personal value to one's mental health in challenging times.  I'm actually having fun at the moment.  And incidently, my 1st finger on the G string vibrato has finally developed!  Woot!

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Preparing for a Scholarship Audition - Part 1

January 29, 2009 22:33

Lessons were quite a bit different tonight.  We started with a real nuts & bolts discussion on music education degree as a career.  Between that discussion and reading the article Laurie posted, those dwindling music teaching careers is making re-think this as career path and lean more towards environmental sciences.  That being said, music will still be a part of my education second time around, and I am still going to need that music scholarship.  Every dollar counts. 

So, Joel began lessons with not just the single requisite scale, but several, with shifting exercises as well as getting me back on the Etude path again.  Then we started working on the Bloch again.  Oh WOW!  The first two lines got a major work-out: from fine-tuning my intonation, learning how to increase my tempo note by note vs. by phrase, learning a new technique to improve the left hand on tricky finger patterns, and worked on bow distribution for each and every bowing change.  After moving on to work the next two lines in a similar fashion, he stopped and pulled out his piano reduction score, pulled out an extra stand and asked me to start from the beginning.

I had expected him to play the viola part with me, but no.  Instead, he played the piano reduction even more reduced on his viola!!!!  This confused me at first and stopped to ask him exactly what he was doing, then we started over again.  In some sections it helped me tremendously in over all rhythm and intonation, while in others I was completely thrown off by what he was playing vs. what I was playing.  This was very effective in teaching me how the two parts interacted, and to be prepared for them.  We played through the entire first movement in this manner.  Now I have a much better understanding on why he loves this piece so much. 

At the end of lessons we discussed my "scholarship audition musical boot camp".  I'll be taking lessons from him twice a week until the audition on the first of March.  He's put me on a daily diet of scale studies - all the 3-octave major and minor keys up to F-minor, etudes, and audition repertoire. I feel so incredibly lucky to have such a supportive and considerate teacher!  However, I think that he's going to start becoming more tough on me than ever before.  No more excuses about only practicing 1 hour a day and bunching it up on the weekends because of work obligations.  That excuse expired yesterday (and yes, my teacher had expected me to practice more than I did yesterday and today !!!)

I now have the luxury of time to put in the required hours for practice in between job hunting & networking.  Much like my "laundry day" routine - practice in 45 minute cycles throughout the day, and then do something else.  At least I will be so busy preparing for the audition over the next month I won't have time to mope or tinker around the house when I get sick of applying for jobs online.  And, this will have the added benefit of preparing the discipline to study hard when I do re-enter school in a few months. 

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Concerto Journey - 2nd Chapter, Page 4

January 29, 2009 01:19

Today has been a whirl-wind of activity.  I started off the morning by going into the office and packed up my personal belongings so that I was prepared for my lay-off.  In honor of this event, I wore a sweat-shirt my sister got me for X-mas...  an alto clef  " ||3 !".  HR and my boss got the joke and meaning.  Violas rule and I'm going back to school!

After several phone calls I discovered that I would not be eligible for unemployment insurance if I attended courses at a college unless I qualified for a few specific re-training programs.  Those programs are meant for short-term re-training or finishing a degree if there are 48 or fewer credits remaining for specific job classes in my region and other factors.  However, this "rule" does not apply for online/web-based courses.  I discovered that Oregon State Univ. has quite an extensive on-line curriculum.  So, I will be able to get some of my core classes needed for a 2nd degree taken care of before my unemployment insurance runs out (different degree programs requires different core classes, and some that I had before may just not transfer after 20 years...).  If the benefits are extended, I may be able to meet that 48 credit rule....

I spent what remained of my day practicing, which was surprisingly about the same amount of time I had available to me before I was laid off. 

After a busy day of researching means and ways I can accomplish my goals within all the rules and regs, as well as applying for a dozen jobs, I headed off to quartet practice.  Needless to say, they were stunned that I was so "chipper" about being laid off.  I'm still a bit stunned myself.  This time around is quite different.  I prepared financially for this over two years ago and now have a life outside of work in music that is making a huge difference in my outlook on life.  There is something definitely to be said about making music an integral part of your life no matter your profession.

After rehearsal I received an e-mail from my viola instructor.  He is willing and able to carve out extra time in his schedule to help me prepare for my scholarship audition.  Yes, this will cost me a bit more $$$, but it is a matter of getting that scholarship I'm going to desperately need.  It is an investment in my own future.  So for the next month, my viola practice will be taking on an entirely new meaning and intensity.

This will be quire interesting to say the least.


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Joining the Ranks

January 27, 2009 21:54

After reading several discussion threads I realized that I've now entered the ranks of other music students preparing for a college audition.  What to play?   How to prepare? You mean that the audition is a month away?!?!?!

WOW!  I've been studying the Bloch for about a month.  It is the only piece that I've been studying recently that qualifies as a concerto piece, but I haven't played it with a pianist yet.  I have quite a bit of Bach under my belt so to speak as well, so it is a matter of choosing an appropriate movement.  (I've already put in a plea for help with my current teacher).

This evening I began filling out the scholarship application...

Current school?  Hehehe... none... I'm a working adult

Private study years - How to do this?  Ok, split it up...  4 years as a "child" (1970 what???) and 5 as an adult

Music I'm performing now in "school" orchestra - I crossed out school and wrote "amateur" above it.   There was barely enough space to write in all that I'm currently playing in orchestra.  Good thing I'm not in 2 orchestras like I was last season!

What ensembles I participated in and for how many years - this time there was NOT enough space, and listed them out on the back of the page.  It wasn't until I listed each orchestra/ensemble I've participated with, mostly in the past few years, did I realize exactly HOW much of my time is dedicated to music!!!

Solo / Ensemble Contests - Hey!!!  I can actually list a recent one here!!! 


This is becoming more exciting than I would have thought at first.  However that little bit about an audition has me shivering in my boots.  Well, I competed once before with only 2 months preparation, so what is one month with a piece I'm more comfortable with?  Oh yeah, I have to still learn the second movement, play it with a pianist at least once, and still have the Bach to perform....



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My application is in....

January 24, 2009 22:24

Well, I finally did it...  submitted my college application, requested transcripts to be sent from my previous university, and declared a major in music.

I'm stunned that I'm really going through with this, being "almost" 40 and in a completely different field and stage of my career at the moment.  However, the overwhelming support and enthusiasm I have recieved from my current teacher, previous teacher, family, friends and colleagues helped me make that final decision to click the "submit" button on the application page.  With any luck in 6 years time, I will have achieved this other goal.

Yes...  6 years.  As of today, I still have a full time job in the tech industry.  None of my electives were in music before, so while I have my undergrad "essentials" complete, I still have all the courses required for this new degree to take.  If I take just one course per semester while working, it will take about 6 years to complete, 3 years if I can manage to take 2 courses per semester. 

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Lesson Blog & School

January 22, 2009 22:25

First, the lesson Blog.  Today's lesson started with something very interesting and unique, seeing a viola d'Amore and actually attempting to play it!  I've never seen one before, let alone play one.  This instrument has7 (yes, 7) strings that are played, plus a set of "sympathetic strings" underneath the ones you play, and the body of the instrument is very thick.  It was fun listening to Joel attempt to play one of the Bach Suites on it.  It sounded alot like me learning to play a new piece:  "Darn, Darn!!!  Oh Geeze!!!  What is that note again?  Where is that note?...."  It was a most unusual instrument with a very interesting sound.

After the fun was over, we got to work, back on the Bloch again.  I was able to play it through uninterrupted by my teacher, except for one section.  But instead of a correction, that interruption was to give me a compliment!!!  It was a section that I had a difficult time with before and spent much  time practicing it.  Then, onto the nose-bleed section...  He didn't stop me until I completed the piece this time, but we went back and worked that nose-bleed section several times.  It is to be played much faster than how I have been practicing it, however with a little work in tonight's lesson, I was keeping up with him (with a few wrong notes...).  What is it about F#'s anyway?

In other news, I've been in conctact with one of the local private universities about going for a Mus Ed degree.  The response and support I've recieved from both the Music Director and Admissions office has been amazing!  I don't ever recall getting this amount of personal attention when I was in college in the late '80's & early '90's.  I've nearly completed my online application, and will be sending off for my college transcripts this weekend.  We are going to try to make a world record in processing this in 2 weeks.  This will be very interesting...

Stay tuned...

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Big Viola Sound - with 3 violas

January 20, 2009 20:37

My CO is playing Psalm and Fugue by Alan Hovaness in our next concert.  It is being conducted by a guest conductor who is very active teaching in the public schools as well as other endeavors.  The viola section was fore-warned that he was looking for "The Big Viola" sound in rehearsal.  This piece is one of the few that I've played with an orchestra or ensemble where

Our regular rehearsal location was changed due to the holiday on Monday, and out of 5 violists, 3 of us made it.  We were challenged to be heard over 8 cellos and 16 violins as it was.  At the very end of the piece, the sections divide (2 for viola, I think 3 for each 1st & 2nd violins, and 2-3 for cellos).  There is a very interesting 2nd viola part in that section.  I was the only one playing that part last night, and when we are "fully staffed" there are only 2 of us.  Never before had I been so challenged to be heard over so many other stringed players, while keeping the tone clear and crisp.  So, I employed every trick my teacher has taught me on producing The Big Viola Sound, and viola!!!  I was heard!!!! 

Luckily for us, the violins got more of a work-out at rehearsal than our meager viola section.  I still don't know if that is because we played so well, or the guest conductor took pity on us since we were so few in this rehearsal.  I'd like to think that we played well.

In other news, I was the first to arrive for rehearsal.  The alternate rehearsal site is only a mile from my home, so I was EARLY.  So I went ahead and set up the chairs, and began warming up.  As a warm-up, I tried my hand at playing the Bloch from memory (left the sheet music at home).  Surprisingly, I was able to make it more than half way through before my memory failed me.  I haven't tried to memorize this piece, it just seems to be happening of its own accord. 

Which makes me wonder...  how did I develop memorization skills?  I used to not be able to do this a few years ago... 

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Lesson Blog Number .... I lost count

January 15, 2009 23:42

Another lesson, another blog...

Warm-up scales...  last week Joel introduced me to the F-minor scale.  On viola this starts in 3rd position on the C string, then up to 6th on the D, and finally up to 9th on the A string.  Last week, I was struggling with intonation starting in 6th position, especially on the descending scale at one note per bow.  This week, we made it up to 6 notes per bow before my intonation and shifts seriously suffered.  Fixing that will be for next week.  That last shift really needs preparation!

Onto Bloch...  This week, my teacher allowed me to play it through without interruption from beginning to end.  About mid-way through the first page I stopped to switched bows.  I had switched to my older bow (a little shorter and weighted differently) for the past few weeks and re-discovered how this balance change effected my playing - part of.  My newer bow just isn't as stable.  This is part of my bow-hunt plan, evaluate the bows I have now and notice the differences before any serious shopping.

So, after swapping out bows (the shorter one, and I think he has a *thing* about shorter bows), I continued through the Bloch with a more stable right arm.  We corrected a few wrong notes (flat vs. sharp), and spent a considerable time on the two lines that are played in 5th+ position on the A string for intonation and shifts.  The next focus was on a section where a chord is followed by two 32nd notes for rhythm.  And finally on the ending sections where the whole piece diminishes in tempo - counting the half notes to make sure that they were played at their full duration and not skimped on. 

Much to my surprise, I was corrected to NOT use ANY vibrato on the notes leading up to the harmonic notes.  The surprise was due to the fact that it used to be a struggle to vibrate at all not long ago, and now vibrato had become automatic enough that I had to be reminded when it is NOT to be used.  That was actually harder to do than I would have expected. 

During the lesson, we had two discussions.  First was the fact that I was NOT his oldest amateur student that he ever had.  There have been at least two others, both of whom took up a music major in their 40's-50's and landed careers in the music field (I see a glimmer of hope for me!!!).  The second discussion was that my next step would be to memorize the Bloch.  I *thought* I would show off what I had memorized so far, then he burst my bubble...  BOWINGS need to be memorized as well.  I countered that after a month I was at least half way there with the notes!  :)

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Quartet Night with New Violinsts (plural)

January 14, 2009 23:35

Our newly re-formed quartet met tonight for the first time.  After having lost both of our violinists within a month, it was a blessing to have found two very talented violinists in short order. Both of which are 1st chair in their respective sections in different amateur orchestras.

We started the evening with Mozart's K421, a piece that the cellist and I played several times before.  Then without taking our customary break, we jumped right into Schubert's Death & the Maiden.  NOT an easy piece to play, let alone sight read - and only after playing together as a group for an hour.  WOW!  Granted, there were a few calls for a "do-over", but by the last two movements we were really starting to pull together and playing well as a group. 

So for now we will be meeting every other week, and sight read several pieces to find new ones that we are all interested in and want to focus on. 

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Back to School?

January 14, 2009 00:01

After much research, I think I hit on a second degree major that suits my personality well as being able to keep track with global trends:  Environmental Sciences & Management... (not education, like I was looking into previously)...

Luckily, most of the foundation courses I already have already taken at when I got my current degree years ago: biology, chemistry, biology & calculus (thank goodness only requires Calc I & II - did that already!).  I'll have to take Stats though...  There are no special admission requirements for this program other than being admitted into the university.  It seems that this is a growing need, and the department is expanding considerably.  With my experience in manufacturing, this would be a complimentary degree to what I have already and will make me more "marketable".

It is now down to the nitty-gritty...  Getting my transcripts from my previous university, applying to the university, auditioning for the music minor (yes, here lies the music topic), finding time in my schedule to go through with this with my day job, etc...  I think that this degree would qualify for company education reimbursement - it is related to my industry, but not necessarily the career I have today.  I don't think my company would pay for the music minor however ;)

I'm starting to think I've lost it even considering this after having graduated university 15 years ago.  Who knows how long this will take on a part-time basis?!?!?!  But hey, chin down, arm up, finger to string and GO!

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Career Change?

January 11, 2009 23:03

Given the current economic conditions, I've dusted off some old thoughts about a career change.  Obama has promised jobs in improving the country's infrastructure.  That translates in my mind a need in training a work-force in vocational education.  Right up my alley.

For me this means going back to school to get my teaching credentials.  While I was researching the local university's education program, I ran across the music program.  My teacher is an adviser at the university.  A minor in music requires an audition, so I asked him if I had a fighting chance in passing the audition.  I got a "probably - that would be a cool idea" in response.  It is not a definite 'yes', but it is also no a definite 'no'. 

Granted, I don't think I will end up teaching music as a career, but having a minor in music along with with an education degree could open up some new possibilities - at least personally.  I've always had it in the back of my mind teaching youngsters and new adult students the joy (and agony) of learning .....  VIOLA!!!

OK, reality check - a minor in music would simply be an extension to what I love.  If I could become involved in the construction or re-furb of a music hall I'd be overwhelmed in joy.  Maybe I should consider acoustical physics.....

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Bloch Blog (aka Lesson Blog)

January 9, 2009 21:44

Tonight I had the first lessons with my teacher in nearly 3 weeks.  The last lesson I had was before the holidays and he walked through the Bloch Suite Hebraique with me once so I could practice on my own over the holidays. 

We started with the requisite scale - this time a key for the new year:  F-Minor.  Oh boy... that's a tricky key, and a bit high on the third and final octave.  Without further warm-ups, I jumped right into the Bloch.  About a week's worth of studying this piece got me this feedback from my teacher:

And the final verdict that I got was that I had come along way since our last lesson and we can now enter the "final polishing stage", then it will be absolutely beautiful. WOW!  I mean WOW!  I have never gone from a walk-through to "final polishing" within two lessons and a week of study before! 

I'm not fooling myself that going into "final polishing" means 1-2 more lessons and that's it.  "Final Polishing" with Joel is alot of work.  What it really means is that he doesn't have to work with me so much on learning the notes, getting them in tune and basic rhythms.  Instead we focus on all the other musical aspects such as phrasing, dynamic changes, tempo changes, tonal colors, and "stage presence" (the final note). 

It took two years of hard work with him to get to the point where learning a new piece is more about polish and not so much learning the notes. I have a fun and exciting road ahead of me!

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Another Vibrato Breakthrough

January 8, 2009 22:01

Ahhh, one of my 2009 goals is starting to shape up - thanks to some of the recent discussions on vibrato.  While I had accomplished a moment of vibrato a month ago with my first finger on the Ging, it promptly disappeared and didn't come back again.  My 1st finger Cing vibrato still had no hope of happening it seemed.

Last night I tried out the hand position that Emily shared with us via photos on how to accomplish vibrato without a SR (I even tried sans rest to get this going, but I'm back with the rest now).  This was the magical moment - moving my thumb more under the neck and raising the viola just a little higher.  My first finger on the lower strings were finally freed from tension - though still having a slight contact with the neck - and I was able to get the correct hand/finger movements going, albeit slowly.  I must confess that I sat in front of my computer for at least an hour, holding my viola, and looking at those pictures, making those preliminary vibrato movements and going through the exercises that my teacher taught me to do.

Tonight, I tried it again.  Again, I started with that same hand position and my exercises.  After an hour or so (with a few breaks), a miracle happened.  I could do a first finger vibrato on the Ging, not just once, but repeatedly time and time again.  I then inched my finger over so I was doing a double-stop with the C and G string, and it was still vibrating nicely.  However, once completely on the Cing it became very tentative - BUT I could finally make those SLOW vibrato movements on the C string .  My hand was no longer locked into an unmoving position.

I'm so excited!  This is how the rest of my vibrato started happening over a year ago.  I feel a major break-through happening with some focused effort and studying.

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New Year - New Connections

January 7, 2009 23:33

My quartet had some devastating news last week.  Not only were we losing our 1st violinists (which we knew about ahead of time - new baby on the way), but we also lost our 2nd violinist due to work obligations.  This hit the cellist and I with a hard blow.  How were we going to keep our weekly quartet nights with just a viola and cello ?!?!

We already had one new violinist lined up (through the local community orchestras network) after we learned of our 1st violinist's happy news several weeks ago.  But now - where to find another violinist in short order?!?!?!  Oh yeah!!!  This is a violin site!  Sometimes I forget that little bit, I mean, violas rule the world - right????

It turns out that one member here recently sent me a message asking about the HSO concerto competition.  That lead to a small recruiting effort on my part.  And Viola!  We have ourselves the other violinist within a day!  Weather and schedules permitting, we will be reconvening next week with two new members. 

Laurie - I must thank you for having this site to connect us all together!

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Concerto Journey - 2nd Chapter, Page 3

January 6, 2009 21:30

I had several days between the New Year and Monday all to myself (no family, no "day job") and got some serious practice time in on the Bloch.  I managed to memorize the first several lines completely, and being able to play the rest of the piece without my eyes glued to the sheet music. 

One shift in particular gave me troubles - from 1st to 4th position in a run of notes (8 to a single beat, with the first being a rest).  So, I spent several hours practicing the shift itself, and the notes before & after.  There is also a cadenza-like passage that is almost entirely in 5th position or higher where I was having intonation issues.  I started by playing that passage extremely slowly, note by note, until I could hear & play them correctly, then began the process of working up the tempo.  I'm no-where close to having this passage at full tempo, but the notes are now more in-tune than what I began this process with.

Then I began working on some of the dynamics.  This area I definitely need to work on more.  Playing piano is difficult for me to do while still keeping a clear tone, as well as taking full advantage of all the dynamic ranges in this piece.  I'm now pondering whether or not I should get a decibel meter to gage my dynamic changes more precisely until I can train my ear to pick them up.  Besides, as an engineer, electronic gadgets can be fun! (but don't tell Joel, I still HATE that electronic bleeping metronome of his!!!)

After working through these points, I made my first practice recording.  Let me tell you - this is a wonderful method for self-evaluation!  First thing I noted was lack of dynamic ranges (is it my recording device or me???  Lessons this week will tell the truth).  Then I noted that my rhythm was off.  There is a double-dotted 8th note followed by a 32nd note that is a repeating rhythm through the piece.  I was playing them as a dotted 8th & 16th!  Ooooops!  After listening to that first recording, I worked that rhythm, then recorded again...  much better!  There are also several sections that call for accelerando, and my accelerando was more like going from 20 - 30 mph in 60 seconds rather than from 10- 60 mph in 60 seconds.  After some work, I got it to 20-40 mph....  Humph!!!!

I made my 3rd and final weekend recording Sunday and sent it to some musical & non-musical friends for critical commentary.  Three comments were common to all:  MORE dynamic changes, MORE vibrato, and questing if several slides in the shift where intonation corrections or "style".  (I was going for style, but guess I over-did it!!!)  The lady I play with in the orchestra also had a suggestion on the use of rhythm as a statement to emphasize what Bloch is expressing.  I'm still trying to wrap my head around that comment and what it really means.  I think she may be eluding to those tempo changes and that troublesome rhythm I was working on. 

Overall, I got a thumbs up.  Not so bad after only really working on this piece seriously for a few days!  With this initial run-through and review under my belt, I have a much better idea on what I need to practice and get "professional help" on over the next several months. 

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Concerto Journey - 2nd Chapter, Page 2

January 1, 2009 20:00

Finally!  After the sight-reading with my teacher before the holidays, I was able to get some serious practice on the Bloch today.  The first order of business was to play it through several times at tempo as well as I am able and note down the trouble spots.  This process took the entire day.

Right now, those trouble spots seem both overwhelming but still manageable simultaneously.  Surprisingly, the one thing that came out at the top of the list were the dynamic changes, not the shifts up to 7th+ position.  Out of all the notes, the ones above the A and octave higher on the A string need the most work for intonation & vibrato.  Bowings haven't given me difficulties, nor the rhythms, which in and of itself is a surprise. 

I'm employing a trick taught to me by my stand partner to learn the fast runs of notes.  That is to take it one note at a time, adding one note on each repeat of the phrase,  working up to the entire run of notes.  I'm starting off slowly, to get each note in tune, and practice the shifts.  Then working it up to tempo notch by notch with the metronome.  This has the added benefit of memorizing these sections somewhat quickly. 

In the short term, my first goal is to memorize the basics of this piece by spring.  That is to have all the notes, rhythms, dynamic changes and tempos of the first movement memorized (not necessarily mastered).  This way I will be free to focus my time and energy on the execution, and not be so focused on the notes on the page.  What I learned in my "graduation" performance of the Bach Suite #3 Sarabande was that when a piece can be played without ever pulling out the sheet-music, your focus is on the music itself, not making the notes as printed on the page.  It is quite liberating. 

Now back to studying the score....

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