Laurie's Thanksgiving blog reminded me that I haven't given much though or energy into my Z-A by 50 goal in quite some time. I took a pause from introducing new repertoire to put my focus on technique and practice habits.
I have been feasting on a diet of scales, etudes and finger strengthening, and intonation studies. This work has been a good thing. My left hand frame is much better, I'm developing an arm vibrato (albeit very slowly), and tone production and clarity is much improved. And best of all, the violist who has been living quietly in my head all this time is finally making an appearance in my playing.
My teacher assigned me a new piece: "Chahagir" by Alan Hovhannes. As printed, it is a very simple piece that could easily be played in 1st position by any novice. I almost decided to put it aside as being to simple until I listened to this recording:
The harmonics and bariolage sections are Ms. Adler's own interpretations. The use of Sul C is something that my teacher hinted at. Suddenly, this "simple" piece became a piece to be explored beyond its seemingly simplicity. It is a thing of beauty, a depth beyond the notes printed on the page... if I can develop the skills of interpretation.
I wonder what I can make of it.
The assistant principal violist of the Oregon Symphony recently posted what he is musically thankful for this year. The things he lists are telling for times we are living in today and what is happening in the world of professional music.
As an amateur, my list looks more like this (but much the same in many regards)....
1 - I have a job.
2 - My job isn't what I trained my whole life for, but...
3 - that job puts a roof over my head and a viola in my hands.
4 - I have a great teacher/coach.
5 - I have supportive friends and family.
6 - I can use the printer at work to print out music from IMSLP.
7 - Houston is a not so great place to live, but has a wonderful and diverse arts scene.
8 - Many amateur groups in the area serve to bring the arts for free to those who otherwise cannot afford it.
9 - 3 friends who make great music with me once a week
10- V.com, ROCO Pro-Am, and Interlochen Adult Chamber Music Camp.
It is almost cliché: "If you can sing it you can play it". During my last lesson, that is exactly what my teacher asked me to do. To be honest, I was too embarrassed to try thinking that I have a voice like a frog. When I did try, I croaked my way along with my "la's" and "da's" to the tune of Bruch's Romanze, or something sort of resembling it. She insisted that I go home and try it on my own.
At home, it wasn't any better with the "la's" and "da's". It came out flat-lined and boring. So I decided to try to a different approach and come up with some lyrics to add interest. Lo and behold, I found myself walking around the house, holding my cat, and singing a love song to her and my other two to the tune of "Romanze":
"~~~You are my ki-tties, my kitty cats. You're black and white, with long soft hair. Oh how I LOVE my alley cat. I really love you...~~~" and so on. Not the best lyrics in the world, but they fit the rhythm and mood of the piece, and my cats seemed to like it and the attention they were getting.
After I came up with these silly lyrics, I began to realize how the opening of the piece should/could be phrased. It is much like the difference between speaking in mono-tone and speaking normally with well placed commas and periods.
I have a feeling that my cats are going to have a lovely, somewhat silly, kitty love song composed just for them by the end of the year.
Diabetes runs in my family. One of the things that happens with diabetes is called neuropathy where the nerves in your hands and/or legs dies. Of all of the health issues I face as I age, this is the one that scares me the most as a violist. There are things I can do to stave off the effects, but it is a heavy weight on my shoulders. That right arm tingling sensation that I've had for years? What if it is the first signs of diabetes and is irreversible?
The worse fear I have is not being able to play viola in my retirement years when I have the time to put all my energy into it. What I can do is to change my diet and focus on my posture and technique. Years of hunching over a keyboard has taken its toll on my body, but its not to late to correct my posture. Playing without tension... the sooner I deal with that the better I will be for the long run.
I had a wake-up call that demands attention if I wish to keep on playing until they have to pry the viola from my cold dead hands.
During lessons this week I was given an assignment to work through the entire piece (Max Bruch's 'Romanze') with open strings with the caveat to demand nothing less than perfection in my bowing. I didn't fully appreciate how much a challenge this would be until I tried it.
After two sessions at home taking the left hand out of the picture, I apparently don't know what string I'm supposed to be playing without my left hand getting involved, let alone adding any sort of color that can only come from the bow (dynamics, accents, 'color').
It took a tremendous amount of effort to try to play the piece with all of the correct bowing techniques and phrasings without left-hand involvement, even while singing it out loud. All of the deficiencies in my right hand are glaring: weird swellings and dithering of notes in all the wrong places, lack of dynamics, accents that aren't accented, etc. etc.
Once I thought I had one single measure mastered and added the left hand back into the equation. But alas, my bow arm went passive again with all the weird ditherings and lack of color until I removed the left hand once again.
It is much like the trick of rubbing your belly and patting your head in opposite directions...
More entries: October 2011
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