November 2010

Finding a Musical Home

November 24, 2010 20:02

For nearly a decade, I studied Bach.  I "get" him, I understand his style, as far as any amateur can ever really have.  If we to meet today, I could have a relatively intelligent conversation with him about his intents and decisions on what he composed.

With my new "by 50" goal of learning works written for viola for every composer in the alphabet, I'm getting a taste of the wide variety of musical styles available.  Just between 'Z' and 'Y' , I've been exposed to the range of Classical to Modern and everything in-between.  

What I'm beginning to discover is a preference for two extremely different styles:  Romantic and Modern (VERY modern).  Romantic pieces appeal to my emotional side of my brain and provides me a way to expose my feelings within a proscribed set of boundaries, while the modern works appeal to my analytical side to test the capabilities of not only my own abilities, but what my instrument can actually do.  Baroque music still holds its own unique appeal with its progressions which results in the hair on the back of my neck standing up on edge when done right.  

For the time being, I've put aside the Modern, Classical, and Baroque styles and am indulging myself in the Romantic.  For some strange reason, the more emotion a piece stirs up in me, the easier it is to memorize.   With memorization comes freedom, and thus more musicality.

I babble...

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It's a Small World

November 23, 2010 22:17

The more I perform, the easier it is to lose myself to the music... This past Sunday I performed Mozart's Oboe Quartet in a pre-concert piece for the Houston Civic Symphony.

The pre-concert quartet went well.  I flubbered a section that had a few measures of 16th notes in the Rhondo movement when my bow arm decided to have one of its "moments" (shearing pain from the back down to the fingers).  I resorted to playing the bigger beats until the feeling came back in my arm.  I wasn't the only one who "flubbered" a measure or two throughout the opiece, which made me feel better about my own "flubbering". Mistakes included, the audience enjoyed the piece.  Several of a section violist's students nick-named me "The Beast", which apparently is a good thing. 

Surprisingly, I met another v-com violinist, Susan Jeter, just prior to the quartet performance.  She walked up while we were warming up and asked if I was the same Mendy who's blogs she's read on this site. It turns out that we both live in the same area of the greater Houston area.  We didn't get a chance to talk much, but made that all important first connection. 

The world becomes smaller every day...

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Chamber Music Premeir

November 17, 2010 20:56

 This coming Sunday I'll be performing the Mozart's Oboe Quartet. 

Though this is not my first public performance, it is one that is significant for me.  This time around it will be for a much larger audience than I've ever played in front of before as a pre-concert recital for the Houston Civic Symphony's concert this Sunday.  Adding to the "adventure" is the limited number of rehearsal we will have - 3 in total.

The piece is not a huge technical challenge, however putting it all together in 2-4 hours with people that have never played together as a chamber group before is where the challenge resides.  In that limited time we have to figure out tempos, bowing styles, articulation, dynamics, and not to mention learning how to read each other's queues.  

Luckily, it is Mozart - standard chamber music repertoire in the grander scheme of things.  It is on a familiar musical ground where as a player, I'm not discombobulated with where the music is going.  In that I, find my comfort. I know what to expect.  

So while I'm nervous, I'm also strangely excited.  

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Learning to Trust

November 12, 2010 19:53

It started with a "trick" I learned at Interlochen this summer.  

I was having a difficult time blending (musically speaking) with my stand-partner on the Brandenburg Concerto #6.  So I signed us up for coaching at the chamber camp and learned the trick of playing back-to-back which forced me to finally really listen to and trust my friend.  With all visual queues removed, all I had to rely on was my sense of hearing - the intake of breath, the volume and quality of tone, the articulation, and so on.  I was surprised to discover that I could determine rather accurately if he was playing up or down bow and where in the bow he was playing by just listening.  

Recently, I've begun to remove some other visual queues while practicing that hinder my listening.  First and foremost is my tuner.  I have a Peterson tuner that mounts on my stand, and have been using it not only to tune to, but to also check my intonation while learning to navigate high up on the fingerboard.  

Though it served me well to learn how to play at the highest nose-bleed sections relatively in tune, I started to rely on its visual queues to tell me if I was in tune rather than my own ears.  This is a problem when I perform at church or with others.  So recently I've used it to tune and then close the lid on it and trust my own ears to tell me if I'm in tune either with my own instrument or with the group that I'm playing with.

The result has been a richer tone.  What I had thought was a deficiency in my instrument before turned out to be an issue with trusting my own ears.  This shouldn't surprise me, but it does.  

It makes me wonder what other visual indicators are hindering my playing...

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Weighing the Stand

November 5, 2010 20:02

When I first moved to Houston, I was pleasantly surprised on all the musical opportunities that were available to an amateur violist.  I had a new teacher lined up and was accepted into a community orchestra with a recorded "audition" which for this orchestra is normally done live. 

Within a few months, I made friends with the local amateur's and semi-pros and soon was invited to play with the Houston Bar Association's annual "Night Court" charitable theater production out at the Wortham Center.  Following that was several performances at a local church (which I ended up joining and committed to playing at fairly regularly).  Most recently I volunteered myself and signed up for an organized amateur ensemble with coaching with one of our regional orchestras.

With all that I'm involved with these days, I have encountered an interesting issue.  There is so much music on my stand that I'm working on on any given day that the desk of the stand sinks.  The weight of the music is literally causing the desk of the stand to lower by about an inch over the course of a day.  I'm tempted to pull up another stand so it doesn't sink, but must honestly ask...  have I over-committed myself?  I think I have.  

Orchestral music is on the bottom of the pile, followed by chamber music, with solo viola repertoire taking front stage.  My etudes migrated back to the bookcase for storage. My musical priorities are being set by how exposed I am to what I'll be performing.  

Playing music with others has turned into such an integral part of my life that I have a difficult time saying "no".   However, I know that when my stand sinks an inch a day, it is time to lighten the load. 

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