February 2009

Day 27 - T Minus 2 days until Audition

February 27, 2009 22:23

Two more days until my audition.  This afternoon I had my final rehearsal with my pianist and recorded the event.  I forgot what it is like playing with a pianist rather than another stringed player.  First there is the difference in tuning systems, and at the extreme ends of the range of the viola, where Bloch takes you, this makes a difference when played with a piano and whether it sounds in tune or not.  Not to mention those fine differences in timing when there is either a large crossing of the strings or big shifts. Between the bow and keyboard it is difficult so see just where those timing changes take place.  My pianist and I spent almost the full hour today reviewing how much time it takes between shifts, string crossings, and tempo changes.  A fraction of a second makes a huge difference on how it all comes together.   Practicing with a slightly out-of-tune piano made it that much more difficult.

I also realized that I need more than 30 minutes to become warmed up sufficiently to loosen up sound good.  Maybe instead of showing up 30 minutes in advance I should plan for at leat 1-2 hours. 

Geeze, am I really ready for this?!?!?!?!   If you are interested, this is where I am as of this past Thursday: http://www.violinist.com/media/1138/  Mistakes and all- shared equallly between between my teacher and myself.... The most unusal duet you have ever heard.  Joel is playing the piano part on viola.  Quite challenging condsidering it is not in our native clef.

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Day 26 - The Most Unusual Duet

February 26, 2009 21:48

Tonight was my last lesson before the audition Sunday.  Joel was kind enough to indulge me in playing the entire Bloch Suite Hebraique as a duet (him playing the piano part on viola), non-stop for both practice and prosperity's sake.  It was so much fun.  We both goofed up a little - me making a few wrong notes and he forgetting how to play bass clef on viola (not something that is done btw... ever).  We played it through as a duet a second time, working a few parts, and then really zoomed in on some sections solo.

My teacher agreed that spending my last few lessons dusting off previous pieces would be a good use of our time remaining together, especially now that (in his terms) I have the "chops".  So, with 2 lessons remaining, that means 4 pieces.  I'm thinking of bringing in the Bruch Romanze I competed with a year ago, the Hummel Fantasy, Bach's Suite #6 Prelude (something I WILL learn how to play some day), and one other...  haven't decided yet.  Maybe try the Brahms again.

3 more days on Bloch, and I am most definitely ready to move onto something different.

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Day 25 - Pondering Final Lessons

February 26, 2009 01:43

After this Sunday's audition, I will only have two more lessons with Joel before moving to Houston.  Wow...  when put it into those terms, it makes me quite sad.  And to think that my first lesson with him two years ago had me shaking in my own boots, and now here I am getting soppy about leaving him as a teacher.  It almost makes me want to consider passing up this job offer just to stay in the area so I can continue lessons with him, but I know that I cannot do that - not when there is a job waiting for me in Houston.  Joel's e-mail back to me on this news and my thanks for his teaching skills was this:

"Wow, this comes as a surprise, but it sounds like a great idea.  It is important to work.  You need to give most of the credit to yourself, you are the one who dedicated so much effort.  You should really be proud of yourself.  I am sure that you will find some more time in the future to do even more.  Houston is a huge city, with many more opportunities to get to know people like you who want to play music together...."

Funny how even my teacher seems disappointed about me finding a new job where music will take a back-burner once again.  He was happy to know though that I'm still going through the audition and agreed that it would be a shame to dismiss this opportunity over something as trivial as a move out of state. 

So, tomorrow's lesson will still be focused on the audition pieces.  Then comes the question of what to focus on over the next two weeks before I move.  I proposed a "year in review" (actually two) - that is to play through as many of the pieces we have studied together as possible with a focus on the techniques he has taught me since beginning lessons with him.  It will be my last opportunity to apply what I've learned with him on familiar pieces and get a final assessment and advice on a regular basis. 

Good-bye is never forever...  I still keep in contact with and occasionally visit my prior teachers.  With Joel it is will be easier - he teaches at Interlochen (adult chamber music camp).  I'll still be seeing him once a year. 

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Day 23 - Mock Audition or Concert?

February 23, 2009 22:58

I arranged for the conductor of my orchestra to have a little Mock audition of the Bloch after rehearsal tonight (sans piano).  So what does she do?  She announces it during rehearsal, asking anyone and everyone who could stay for a few minutes afterwards to listen to me perform.  The more the merrier.  After rehearsal, everyone stayed in their chairs waiting for me to play.  OMG!!!!!   My hands started sweating like crazy, so I excused myself for a moment to wash my hands, stretch, and collect my thoughts for a moment before begining.  By the time I came back and set-up, somewhere in the neighborhood of 20 or more people were still there waiting to hear me play.

I played from the piano score, though I didn't look at it but twice.  I started off calm enough, reveling in the music. I didn't start getting a bad case of the nerves until right before the nosebleed section, after a pause where the piano would play before I enter in.  I made the mistake and looked up and saw everyone.  OMG!  I missed the high Eb, shook like crazy, lost control of my bow for a moment, then found the D and made it back down with determination, some wrong notes, but without collapsing into a gelatonous pile on the floor at the end of the run.  Thank goodness for the phrase that comes after that - it even calmed my nerves and I stopped shaking as badly as I was.  I finished off the piece entirely from memory.  The ending is much less challenging technically, and sounded better right up and through the final diminishing note.

I'm still shaking though - even now.  Never before in my life had I played solo in front of so many people.  I'm thankful for having the support of my orchestra for taking a few minutes out of their evening to stay, listen, and support me.  At least now I know I can go though the audition without falling apart completely.  2-3 judges should be a piece of cake in comparison.   I now have a very clear understanding of my weak spots in this piece that I'll be focusing on over this final week.

I still can't believe I just did what I did and lived to tell the tale.

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Day 20 - You mean a real day job???

February 20, 2009 21:19

Today started off with a lunch with my former colleagues followed by lessons.  Lessons were a mock audition this time around (which I didn't realize until later), and will be again next week. I started of with a major and minor scale - tone production much improved!  But my bow grip still isn't quite how Joel wants it.  It will take some getting used to. 

Then I played the Bach Suite Prelude.  A few accidental accidents, a few comments to myself while playing, and a whole third of a measure dropped ---- oooops!!.  My teacher picked up on those missing 4 notes and pointed it out to me after I finished playing.  Yup!  I missed a repeat of the phrase but kept going like it was supposed to be that way :)  He then worked on my intonation in two measures (the accidental accidents), and some phrasing.

During a short break, I showed my teacher my little MP3 recorder I used for practice, and then tossed it back inside my case.

Then Bloch...  The triplets I had so much trouble with finally resolved themselves after having had practiced with my pianist earlier this week, resulting in me turning to my teacher with a big grin on my face after I completed that section.  After finishing that piece, he asked how it went with the pianist on all the tempo changes.  I pointed out the areas that we had most difficult time with, and we worked those sections over a few times, and got advice on keeping up the bow pressure ALL the time at the tip (still happening but better), and how to go into a harmonic and back off again. 

I then picked up the MP3 recorder from my case and turned it off.  Joel asked "Did you just record the entire lesson?!?!?!" - No, just since the Bloch (forgot to turn it on sooner). He didn't realize that lessons were being recorded (although he said is was perfectly OK to do so).    "I told you it was inconspicuos!!". That was when he truly realized how I pulled off those little covert recordings during quartet rehearsals.  Yup, I have the musical version of candid camera.

After getting back home, I did a quick e-mail check.  There was a single e-mail....  with a job offer in my uncle's company .  His company has a new project starting and can use someone with my skills to help make it happen.  I'll be reporting to the head of his IT department.  This means another move for me, from Portland to Houston.  I don't know how soon he is expecting me to migrate south, and the job could be temporary or perm... don't know yet.  I'm both thrilled and a little sad.  I'm thrilled to have a new day job in a different industry and close to family to boot!  At the same time I've come to love the Portland area, and have a great viola instructor I'll be very sad to leave.

PS - I'm still going through the audition.  It is an opportunity for me to play publicly that I don't want to pass up.

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Day 17 - Mock Audition #1

February 17, 2009 19:59

Today was the first of a few Mock Auditions I've lined up with some of my musical friends.  This first one was with my stand-partner at my community orchestra at her home, which I've never been to before.  She graduated from BYU in the early '60's and is a retired professional performer (Bass).  Today, she conducts at her church, sits in on various audition panels, and is very active in the community music scene. 

I had one small moment of the "shakes", but that quickly faded.  She judged the Bloch improved dramatically since hearing me practice it last week during break in rehearsal, and was pleased with the intonation improvements in the nose-bleed section.  The thing she suggested that I work on most are the tempo changes that happen frequently and often.  They need to be more gradual, stretching and contracting like a rubber band, starting and stopping at the same original tempo.  She sent me home with a few practice tips on how to do this. 

Next week, Mock Audition #2 is with the violin/viola instructor at the university where I'm auditioning for the scholarship (I don't think she's on the panel), and another with my pianist (who is also a music instructor).  I'm hoping that through these Mock Auditions I will learn to not be quite so fearful getting up on a stage and performing in front of folks that will be judging every aspect of my playing ability, as well as getting some last minute feed-back and advice.

Just 12 days to go.  It doesn't seem like nearly enough time...

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Day 14 - Reality Sets In

February 15, 2009 20:35

As audition time looms closer, I had to ask:  What in the world was I thinking of audition with the Bloch?  Could I somehow magically make up all those lost years on viola in a matter of a few months?   I am certainly trying to do just that with the time that I have available to me.  Am I nuts?  Probably.  What I didn't quite expect was the reply I got back from my teacher.  Normally I get a one-liner, but not this time, and all of what he said to me was entirely true. 

I'm behind on viola, and not by a little (at the age of 38 with a 20 year break in my playing, this does not come as a surprise).  I'm just now starting to truly realize what it takes to make beautiful music, and it takes years (plural) of constant practice - not mere weeks - to get where I want to be.  I need to realize my limitations going into this audition.  The time I've been putting in this effort might not be enough to win.   However he thought what I was doing was "cool", and said that the judges would be impressed with my dedication but probably would not realize what I had to go through to be able to play a piece like the Bloch (which is monumental in my eyes at least). 

This confirmed what I've been trying not to admit to myself over the past week - I have a slim chance of winning the scholarship audition.  I'm still going forward with the audition and keeping up my practice regime. Rather than continually trying to delude myself that  I can actually win this audition, my goal is now more realistic:  for the first time in my life, I'd like to stand on a stage and perform, focused on expressing the music and not my personal fears of making a mistake. 

If by some miracle I win the scholarship, all the better.  But no matter what happens in the audition, I will still win in a much more personal sense. In that regard, I have already won.  I've managed to stave off depression after being laid-off, and found a way to achieve personal accomplishments each and every day.  My music has become the benefactor of my suddenly free time I now have available to me.

With all this in mind, practice today changed in a way I can't quite explain - it became much more intense.  I started focusing on my tone production in a way that I've never had before, eyes glued to the bow for its sounding point and straightness, focusing on trying to maintain a continuous vibrato, clear tone, and really working on trying to reproduce that "dark chocolate" sound only a viola can make.  The piece is now memorized.  The notes are in tune for the most part.  I can now to put my efforts into those areas that make the music come alive. 

The question then becomes what happens next.   The way this economy is right now, it could be months if not longer until I get back in the ranks of the employed.  When I do manage to find a new job, my music will be regulated back to a part-time hobby and my progress will stagnate once again.  This is probably my one and only opportunity to make up for some of those lost years and catch-up musically while hunting for a new job. 

As my teacher said:  "Keep up the amazing work,  your enjoyment down the road will be all the greater, however and wherever you play your viola."

So very true....

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Day 11 - first lesson sans sheet music

February 12, 2009 20:14

Today was my first lesson with Joel playing the Bloch entirely from memory.  It was like a mini-performance without the pianist.  He did not stop me a single time from playing through the piece the entire way through.  There was once where I had to think hard and fast on how the next section started (almost jumped to the next one!!!!).  But, much to our delight, I picked out that high Eb from mid-air first try, and besides that momentary brain fade, I didn't stop once.  Although I must admit getting a bowing and fingering or two wrong, and was proud of myself for thinking quick on my feet on how to correct without pausing and still be musically pleasing. 

There were still a few incorrect notes, in tune but wrong  - I had forgotten an accidental or two.  My triplets need to be even slower in the beginning, my animato is happening about 6 notes too soon, and a few other notes that I need to hold just a little longer than I am right now. 

He said it was OK to record lessons.  Thank goodness!!!  There is so much to remember between lessons - little nuances that I remember in general, but cannot quite recall 100% in between lessons. 

At the end of lessons, I got what I consider high-praise from Joel.  He said he was proud of me having accomplished having memorized this piece in its entirety (first movement), and all the other accomplishments I've made musically over the past few weeks. He said that in his opinion it will be ready in time for the audition in two weeks if I keep on at this pace.  :::blush::::

Did I ever mention how lucky I feel having him as a teacher?  The amount of support and time he's given me, especially over the past few weeks is well above and beyond the call of duty.  I think that if it wasn't for him driving me so hard preparing for the audition, I would have succumed to depression after losing my job quite some time ago.  Instead, I have to remember to allocate enough time in my day for job-hunting. 

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Day 9 - Chosen Bach

February 10, 2009 15:16

Lessons on Monday was all about choosing which Bach Suite to audition with.  After playing #3 Prelude and Sarabande, I played #5 Allemande and then stopped half-way through.  Nope, that's not going to be a good choice after all.  The chords are difficult enough when I was playing this movement every day, and I need to spend most of my time on the Bloch.  #3 Prelude was judged the best of the bunch by my teacher and needing the least amount of work to get up to par.  The remainder of lessons were spent touching up a few things on the Prelude and then a demand for any major and minor scale as if it were an audition.

My next lesson will be spent on the Bloch.  From this point forward, it will be done entirely from memory.  It is easier to focus on intonation up in the nosebleed section when my eyes aren't glued to the sheetmusic, not to mention being able to really focus in on my vibrato and all the other things that make music musical.

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Day 7 - Reality Bites

February 8, 2009 21:22

I practiced the three Bach movements over the weekend so that my teacher could judge which one is closest to being ready.  I forgot how difficult parts of the 3rd Prelude can be. 

Then I moved back to the Bloch - this time practicing it as much from memory as I could.  That attempt set me back to where I was a few days ago playing from the piano score.  Forgot a few of the accidentals.  Later in the evening I recorded my attempts playing from memory.  That was a disaster.  I actually got a bit of self-imposed stage fright trying to both play from memory and record myself simultaneously.  After about 5 takes, I finally was able to play through the entire piece from without stopping. But oh my ears!!!!!

At least I have an indicator of where I stand as of now, on "tape".  I need more work, and lots of it, and only 3 weeks to go...

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Day 5

February 6, 2009 20:23

My viola hickey is becoming more pronounced and the grooves on my fingertips are taking longer to disappear after practicing.

After job-hunting this morning, I spent the remainder of my day practicing.  First the four scales my teacher and I picked for the audition, focusing in on my intonation, tone production and quality of shifts.  I skipped my etudes and went straight towards the most difficult section of the Bloch, fixing a few wrong notes and working through the sudden tempo changes.  There is one section that I seem to always get my bowing backwards, ending on an up-bow vs. down-bow like I should.  So that section got repeated several times until my bow-arm formed a memory of its own. I then played the piece through once last time entirely from memory. 

I put Bloch aside to try to decide which of the Bach Suites I will submit .  After playing through ALL of the Suites that I have learned up until now (which took longer than I had expected), I picked #3 Prelude, #3 Sarabande and #5 Allemande as the top three most likely pieces. I spent the remainder of the evening re-familiarizing myself with these movements. 

By the end of the evening, I still hadn't decided which Bach to submit.  So, I'll practice all three over the weekend and perform them for my teacher on Monday to get his opinion. 

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Day 4

February 5, 2009 21:18

Now I know that I'm a full-time violist (with a second job seeking employment):  I have a viola hickey forming and I'm getting permanent grooves in my fingers from practicing so much throughout the day.

Lesson night once again.  My martele was judged significantly better, and he picked four 3-octave scales for me to focus on for the scholarship audition - C major & minor and D major & minor, with a focus on sound points and tone production.  Instead of playing in front of a mirror (which throws me off each and every time), he's having me watch the bow from my vantage point, with the added benefit of minimizing how fast this viola hickey forms. 

Onto the Bloch.  He had me jump immediately to the most difficult section - the one that builds up to 9th position, then comes back down again.  The first part builds up tension to a high C in 7th position.  On that note, a miracle occured.  I vibrated for the first time on every note up to and including that C!  This was the first time that this has ever happened.  Couldn't manage it though on the Eb in 9th position, almost but not quite.  Ge gave me a few stylistic tips for that section and had me try them.  Well, that will need a bit more work.  Then we worked on one measure that I was having counting issues with the "piano accompianment".  After making 3 pencil mark slashes and running it through a few time that problem worked itself out quickly enough.

My teacher is genuinely excited about the progress I've made over the past week and how much effort I'm putting into my practice.  I'm excited as well.  But he asked once again WHY is a violist blogging on a violin site?? Couldn't I find a viola site somewhere?  Well, there just aren't any, so here I am :)

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"New Job" - Day 3

February 5, 2009 01:36

I'm becoming more comfortable with the new routine in my life -   "Day job" hunting in the morning up until lunch, followed by practice, rehearsals and lessons in the afternoon and evening.  There are only so many hours in a day one can spend applying for jobs without becoming depressed knowing that there are millions like you competing for those same jobs day after day.

So, after lunch I set about trying to master the martele bowing technique.  It wasn't clicking at first, but finally I had one of those "AHA" moments and it started to happen of its own accord.  I became so excited about this discovery that I spent most of my afternoon on the etudes my teacher assigned me, figuring out how to manage my sounding points most effectively and focusing on my right arm movements.  I went back to the Bloch looking for where this bowing technique was called for and focused on those sections, as well as one nose-bleed section for intonation.

I also joined one of the local university orchestras.  Tonight was the first rehearsal.  I completely forgot what it was like to attend university...  syllabus review, rules & regs, note-taking on things other than bowing marks and fingerings, etc...  Being one of the few "blue hair group" members was an eye opener.  When did college students suddenly become so young?  The students were very open and friendly to this new gray-haired violist in their midst and quickly drew me into the "viola club".  There are only four of us - that may be part of the reason why they were so quick to make me a part of the "club" even with the age difference.  After 30 years, it seems that violists are still an endangered species of sorts and we tend to bond quicker than other sections of the orchestra. 

We are playing Beethoven's 5th (along with other pieces).  Having played this just a few months ago, the techinques required to play this are still fresh in my mind.  It was a joy to pass on a bit of that knowledge to my new stand-partner - bow re-takes and fingerings.  He took it to heart and applied it like I knew what I was talking about.  Lucky for me the principal violist was also taught the same techniques so there wasn't us in the back doing something different than those in the front. 

Lessons are tomorrow.  I hope that I practiced enough to get a "thumbs up".

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'New Job' - Day 2

February 2, 2009 23:18

After diligently studying my scales, etudes, and Bloch all weekend, I "thought" I was prepared for what Joel had in store for me in my accelerated lesson plan for the next month.  WRONG!

Without the benefit of my scale book, and only the scale "cheat sheet" (it only includes the fingerings and shifts for all the scales - sort of), Joel started drilling me on my scales.  First, one of my choice:  D minor.  He told me that the judges will be looking for more than just intonation on scales, they will also be watching my technique, tone production, etc...  Then he started asking for various scales both major and minor.  Somehow I remembered how to play an E-flat major, then the minor.  Thank goodness I learned the trick of finger patterns.  I at least knew how to play any scale requested of me - it may not be perfect right now, but I won't be looking the judges in the eye with a blank stare.  He then worked me over/taught me martele bowing on the 2nd etude I'm studying. 

Then onto my audition piece, from the piano score this time.  One wonderful thing happened while studying from the score - I finished memorizing the piece, and now I'm looking at the piano part while I practice rather than my own.  This time I didn't make it past the first line without being stopped.  Apparently I "pulse" the beats a bit with my bow.  Yikes!  Then a major workout on one BEAT with a 16th note triplet followed by a regular 16th, again focus on the bow (last note is not accented even though it is marked that way).   

After torturing me enough on what I need to work on for the next few days, he began playing the piano part on viola with me again.  Through this experience once again I found out where my counting was just a bit off.  3 on 4 rhythms aren't easy.  It takes a tremendous amount of focus to keep the beat in your head and not be thrown off by what someone else is playing.  Add to that an accelerando and things become that much more difficult.  My teacher and I were both elated when I picked the uber high Eb from thin air.  But then I started slowing down instead of speeding up on the descent , the biggest problem being the shift from 5th on F# to 3rd position on D.  The rest of the piece went off without a hitch.  He had me play that descent from Eb again with accelerando no matter what happened.  I need to work on that part more over the next few days.

Lessons have suddenly changed from a part time passion to a grueling full-time practice regime.  Joel is expecting more from me now than ever before.  Every flaw in my playing that he was addressing with me in a more relaxed manner is now getting a renewed intense focus - to the point where I actually begged him to stop and promiced to work on it over the next few days.  All of this still comes with a tremendous amount of support and encouragement.  We both know what is at stake.  A - scholarship and B - my mental health while searching for a new "day job" and prepping to go back to school.  So far "B" is being accomplished. 

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OSO Concert - Jun Iwasaki Concerto Debut

February 1, 2009 02:17

Last night I got an e-mail from my viola instructor.  The concertmaster, Jun Iwasaki,  was going to be performing his debut concerto this weekend... the Korngold Violin Concerto.  Did I want some free "comp" tickets and bring along some friends?  Ohhhhh YESSSS!!!!!  He called me back and told me to meet him at the entrance to the Arlene Schnizt and he'd have them in hand.  And oh by the way, did I want to play with the PSU (University) Symphony?  If so, he would have the conductor call me.  (er...  YES!!!)

So, I found a friend that was available and we trucked our way to the concert hall.  It was COLD waiting outside for Joel.  At first I didn't see him, but he found me, and we got our tickets.  My friend and I got a few raised eyebrows from a few others getting tickets from a member of the orchestra.  It is one of the perks taking lessons from Joel.  It was his way of lifting my spirits after getting laid off.  Thanks Joel!  It worked!

The conductor, Carlos Kalmar is an excellent orator, and spends the time speaking to the audience about the music that is to be performed, it's history and antecedotes about either the piece, composer or world events when it was written or debuted.  We discovered that this piece was written during the most severe economic crisis of all - the Great Depression, and that Korngold's granddaughter was in the audience.  It was orginally commissioned for someone else, a friend of his (I forgot who that was), but was first debut by Heifitz.  The pre-concert also included a  presentation of a teaching award to one of the area's music instructors, including a cash donation to the school for the music program.  The recipient was overwhelmed with joy for having received this award.  With the award funds, the school will be replacing some percussion instruments and purchasing new music. 

Jun's performance was absolutely amazing. Even with the Schnitz's not so favorable acoustics, and my friend and I sitting in the least acoustically favorable spot, every note had its own unique flavor that came through even to where we were sitting.  There were moments when we both gasped "WOW!" outloud, much to the consternation of our fellow audience members.  By the time the concerto was over, the audience could not wait to jump to their feet in in a most amazing standing ovation I've ever seen or heard.  He deserved every moment of it!  His performance was powerful and moving. 

After Jun's Concerto, the orchestra played Strauss's Dance of the Seven Veils.  I've never heard this before.  My friend and I, both violist, got very excited that it included one of those rare viola solo's that happen in orchestra works on occasion.  Since the soloist was also my teacher, we were even more excited than what would normally be expected.  Joel is an animated character, both on stage and off during private lessons.  Every time I watch him perform, I am inspired.  He loves what he does and it shows. 

I will  be going back to my own practice tomorrow with this performance fresh on my mind.  I'll be berating myself on every wrong note -  working those parts slowly then up to tempo, focusing on my tone production, bow distribution, tempo changes and vibrato.  I have one month to prepare for a scholarship if I have hopes of going back to school.  Tess commented that I'm living a lifestyle that most would envy.  Do not envy me.  How I perform musically over the next month can be the make-it or break-it decision of going back to school to "re-tool" myself for a new career.  I am an adult amateur and it will take alot of hard work to earn one of those scholarships I so desperately need at the moment.  This is not a luxury.  It is a matter of being able to fund the retraining I need without accumulating more debt than I can afford in order to switch gears after unemployment runs out and if I still don't have a job. 

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