May 2011

The Composer's Response

May 26, 2011 21:31

 How often does one get a reply regarding your performance of a piece from the composer directly?   Apparently, we did right with this piece....


Dear Mendy,

Thank you for your very kind words.  In return I thank you and your colleagues sincerely for playing my music so beautifully.  You really captured and communicated the feeling and spirit of the music wonderfully.

How appropriate that you heard about "Reflection" from a violist at Interlochen, since we premiered it there, where Mr. Bundra taught for many years.
I really appreciate your writing to me about your experience with this piece.
Michael Kimber

On May 26, 2011, at 10:20 PM, mendy smith wrote:

Mr. Kimber,
I purchased "Reflection" from you about two years ago after hearing about this piece from a fellow violist at Interlochen's Adult Chamber Music camp.  My stand-partner and best friend fell in love with it and finally was able to recruit another violist to study and perform this piece.  
We studied it under the coaching of Suzanne LeFevre (violist) of the River Oak's Chamber Orchestra under their Pro-Am Adult Chamber Music program and performed it in an informal recital.  It got great reviews.  We loved it so much that we performed it again at my church a week later which brought out tears out of several eyes.  
Though simple, it was one of the most difficult pieces that my fellow violists (music teachers) and I (rank amateur) worked on for several months.  I want to personally thank you for composing this piece and contributing to the viola repertoire.  I learned much from studying it and am touched by the story behind it.  Our coach also fell in love with this piece.  Below is the link to our warm-up prior to the early service at our church.  We collectively apologize for wrong notes (it was 8am).
Mendy Smith

2 replies | Archive link

The Pit

May 26, 2011 19:23

 It is that time of year again:  the annual production of the Houston Bar Association's "Night Court" musical comedy where lawyers and judges get up on stage and start singing for charity.  This year the show is "Law Wars".  Yup, you guessed it!  Star Wars, Star Trek, Dr. Who and the like with a sprinkling of pieces from "Hair" and "Wicked". 

The music isn't overly difficult.  What will be a challenge is keeping up the energy and stamina over the four days and five shows in the pit.  The pit is dark and crowded with musicians, mic's, wires and equipment.  Our "green room" will be similarly crowded but well stocked with comfort in mind (food, drink and maybe even some bean bags to lounge on).  We'll be rubbing elbows with the Houston Grand Opera folks as well as those from the Ballet down below stage and trying to keep them away from our food stash.  

Though show week will be grueling, I'm looking forward to the camaraderie that only being in a pit orchestra can provide.  Some of these folks I only see once a year for the show and others only when a call goes out for a special concert.  But once a year, we all convene in the pit for a good cause and have fun at the same time.

2 replies | Archive link

Second Chances

May 22, 2011 09:40

After getting a small case of the "shakes" in last week's recital, my ensemble got a second chance to play "Reflection"  at the early service at church.

It was not a perfect performance.  Slow pieces like this are incredibly difficult.  Small intonation and shifting errors are exposed, maintaining a good tone over long slow bows is a challenge and synchronizing each change in note is essential.  Add to it the pressure of performing and tension compromises the control.  The difference can be amazing.  Here is our warm-up less than a half an hour before:


Mistakes and all however, I was glad to play this piece with my friends again and am happy with how it turned out (with no shakes!).  It has become a favorite of mine that I hope to play again someday.

2 replies | Archive link

The Fear Never Goes Away

May 16, 2011 19:15

Yesterday evening, I played a chamber music recital as part of the River Oaks Chamber Orchestra's Adult Amateur program. I thought I was totally ready.  I knew not only my part, but those of my fellow musicians backwards and forwards.  But on recital day, my confidence faltered with the opening of our first piece:  "Reflection" by Michael Kimber for 3 violas.

My group was second to last.  I listened to several excellent brass and woodwind groups that appeared confident in what they were doing.  Then a string trio played where one of the players got a serious case of the bow arm shakes.  My heart went out to him.  I was there myself not long ago - a nearly debilitating fear of performing publicly which I called my "bow arm vibrato".   Like me, he pushed through his fear and played all of the pieces of their set.  When they were done, I made sure that the applause was loud and long.  It takes guts to get up on stage for the first time.

After another group or two it was our turn.  The fears that I thought long gone decided to remind me that I wasn't much further along than that violinist.  For the first several measures of our opening piece, I tensed.  Fear filled my mind and all I wanted to do was to scamper off-stage and quiver in a corner.  It was a near train wreck on my part for the first several measures.  Then something kicked in and the tension started fading.  By the 2nd piece, it was gone completely and I was thoroughly enjoying myself, even to the point of hamming up a fermata or two. 

I'm beginning to realize that stage fright is not something that can be "conquered" completely.  At best it can be channeled into the music.  Or second best, suppressed enough to not manifest itself into bow arm vibrato or a death-grip on the neck of the instrument. 

Of all the "tricks" that I've been taught to conquer stage fright, performing frequently and often is the only "trick" that has made any impact.  Like the violinist before me, the encouragement and appreciation from peers is the best medicine to help me push through the fear of making a mistake (= failure). 

9 replies | Archive link

A Well Tempered Practice Diet - The 'Easy' Stuff

May 4, 2011 20:56

I realized something about my practice routine recently - I spend well over 80% of my time on the "difficult stuff" and while giving the "easy stuff" a passing run-though.  It is all well and good that I spend more time on difficult passages. However, skimping on the easier passages is like a crocodile lurking just beneath the waters.

The ensemble that I play with was working on an "easy piece" a few days ago in preparation of a recital . "Easy" meaning that there were no fancy left-hand fingering or tricky bowings, no odd rhythms. Just a piece filled with half and quarter notes, occasional runs of an open string for several measures, and a short jaunt up to 5th-7th position for three notes.  Nothing fast, nothing fancy. 

In other words, all the "easy stuff". 

What is incredibly difficult about this piece is getting the group intonation absolutely perfect, nailing the note transitions and bow changes down to the millisecond, matching vibrato styles perfectly, and balancing the dynamics between three violas, not an easy feat when the instruments range from 16 - 17" covering three different octaves.  The "easy stuff" takes an incredible amount of control to make it work.  One has to focus on continuing the vibrato through a note change without any dead spots.  The six measures of open string notes must have color and interest o match what the others are playing.  Though the viola is a stringed instrument, breathing plays a significant role in building and defining phrases.

Easy stuff.... but at the same time extremely difficult. 

4 replies | Archive link

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