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Mendy Smith

Bach BEFORE 40

January 17, 2010 at 2:02 AM

You may have read about my Bach by 40 goal before on some of my older blogs here on this site.  Back in 2003 when I restarted viola, I began what was to be a seven year long endeavor:  to learn how to play all of the Bach Cello Suites before I turned 40.  They didn't have to be played perfectly, nor at a performance standard, just competently without struggling, pausing, stopping and starting over, or major mistakes.

It started as a typical Saturday, doing laundry and practicing throughout the day.  I started with the Suites from the beginning.  By the evening I had worked my way up to the 6th Suite.  There were two movements in this Suite that I had not tried before:  the Sarabande and Gigue.  After playing through the other movements in this Suite that I have played before, I decided to give the other two a go and see what happened.  To my utter surprise, I was able to play them without stumbling or any major mistakes. 

Bach BEFORE 40?  Yes, and 9 months ahead of schedule to boot!  I still can't quite believe that I actually accomplished this goal.   

Working on this goal over the past 7 years, I learned many things about playing viola: good intonation, clear string crossings, vibrato, double stops and chords,shifting well above 3rd position, scordatura tuning, phrasing, articulation, overcoming stage fright ...  the list goes on and on.  But the two things I learned the most was that if I put my mind to something, I can achieve just about any goal I place before me; and that playing music is more than just mastering the technical aspects of playing an instrument, it is about giving life and meaning to the notes printed on the page.

Now it is time to move on to my next goal:  Composers Z-A by 50.  It promises to be a fun adventure!  Does anyone know of any composers whose last name starts with the letter Q who wrote something for viola (or could be transcribed for viola)?


From Stephen Brivati
Posted on January 17, 2010 at 7:27 AM


try Quantz.



From Emily Grossman
Posted on January 17, 2010 at 11:22 AM

Can't help you with the Q, but the rest of your blog was rather inspiriing.  Thank you!

From simon lyn
Posted on January 17, 2010 at 6:21 PM

 Hey Mendy - thanks for the post. I'm intrigued by your approach - what would you say is most important, that the goal is compelling, or realistic? I'm asking because I suspect that many times we limit our achievements with glass ceilings over our expectations.

From Stephen Brivati
Posted on January 17, 2010 at 10:12 PM


go to IMSLP and check compers under Q. Also Werner Icking.



From Mendy Smith
Posted on January 18, 2010 at 12:16 AM

Simon - when I first started this years ago, the goal was within my reach, however difficult.  It just ended up to be something that once I started, I just could not NOT finish it. 

Buri - haven't had much luck yet with Q on Icking or IMSLP...  but I just recalled the Primrose Library at BYU, and discovered someone named Marcel Quinet.  He wrote a Sonata for Viola and Cello, and a trio with violin, viola and cello...  :)


From Chris Keating
Posted on January 18, 2010 at 1:35 PM

 That's a very nice idea. I might try to do the same for the violin.... 11 years to go :-)

From Stephen Brivati
Posted on January 18, 2010 at 11:18 PM


there is,  of course,  a very simple and profound answer to the `Q` conundrum:

Quartet part (Beethoven)



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