June 2011

Summer Break

June 23, 2011 18:06

 It is that time of year again when summer festivals go into full swing.  My new teacher is heading off for her festivals, ironically enough, including one that my former teacher from Oregon goes to every year (who I will be seeing myself this summer at Interlochen).  The viola world is a small one.

Since it will be a few months until we really start working together, we spent the time on a piece I had worked up for an audition a few years ago (remember THAT one?) to get it polished up for another audition.  The audition this time however is simply for seating arrangements in my community orchestra later this summer.

When she played the piece along with me, I was pleasantly surprised that my intonation had improved quite a bit since the last time I studied this piece.  There were only a few notes where I needed to exaggerate the half & whole steps (not including that Db).  We worked a bit to get the beginning rhythm back to where it should be and then spent a considerable time on bow control. 

Besides keeping my shoulder down, I apparently also have a bad habit of lifting my bow from the string frequently and often.  Once she pointed that out, that bad habit became annoying to ME.  She also got me to thinking about bow strategy - where do I want to be in the bow at certain points in the phrase?  Where should I start and how much speed to use to end to get the sound I want.  

She strongly recommended for me to slow down on the repertoire and take the time to build up a chosen piece to a high degree of skill like I did with Bloch.  So with that admonishment, I'll be sticking with "R" (Reger) for quite some time come fall.  

Until then, Bloch will be getting my attention again and my need for variety will be satiated with chamber music at Interlochen.  

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In an orchestra pit far, far away...

June 19, 2011 00:40

Tonight concluded this years Night Court musical comedy production.  It was a long grueling week but well worth the effort.  

I learned a new skill - playing the melody on kazoo while simultaneously playing the viola part (on viola of course).   Surprisingly, it made playing the viola part much easier.  Something to think about further....  

Live theater is always a unique and fun experience.  You never know what will happen and have to improvise on the fly when things don't go as planned such as missed queues, wrong lines, and having to props flying into the pit  (no cellists were harmed in the making of that scene).

We had a funny moment at the opening of Act 2.  We were to play "Cry Me a River" as the curtain rose, but it never did.  We ended up playing the intro 3 times before going into "doodling mode" while our conductor was on the phone with the stage manager to find out what was going on.  Needless to say, there was confusion on the sound ques.  They went back to some intermission music and we did the reprise of the piece. It ended up being the "show joke" for the rest of the week.  

I'm looking forward to next year "Laws Vegas".  This time though, we will be up on stage and not in the pit.  Should prove to be interesting to say the least.

4 replies

Changing Teachers

June 9, 2011 19:50

I'm not the type of person who changes teachers often.  The only times that I've changed teachers in the past has been due to a move out of City, State or Country.   For the first time, I have changed teachers while living in the same city.

It was a difficult but mutual decision with the teacher I had since my last move due to economics and schedules.  I had a dire need to reclaim my weekends and consolidate my road trips around the Houston metro area and my teacher needed to focus his time on family and his work with the Symphony.  He offered to help me find a new teacher and kept the door open for us to work together when our schedules allowed.

Luckily for me a new teacher was an e-mail away.  I had signed up for a local amateur chamber music program and was coached by a violist.  She was looking to start up a private studio at the same time I was in need of new teacher.  We had our first lesson last night.

It was a very unusual lesson for me.  Rather than walking in with a piece that I was working on, I walked in with a problem to solve - bow arm pain.  Next week I head into the pit with an enormous amount of fast separate bowing passages and realized that I needed some serious help before I did damage to myself.  The moment I walked into her studio and put instrument to chin and started playing, she saw the potential source of the problem - right shoulder raised up to my ears.  The bulk of our lesson time was then spent on stretching and relaxation exercises and keeping my shoulder lowered without dropping my elbow while playing

Though I'm sad to be losing the teacher I've had for the past two years, I'm looking forward to working with my new teacher.  

2 replies

A Restless Experiment

June 1, 2011 18:50

I have been struggling with my setup and bow-arm pain for years.  Every time I think I have it nailed, the same old problem creeps back in:  a stabbing pain starting up above my shoulder and traveling down to my fingertips.  It feels like an electric shock reminiscent of CTS that I had years ago. The problem happens quite predictably during very fast separate bowing passages.  Every time this happens I do the same thing:  take off my shoulder rest, hold the viola with the scroll pointed to the floor, cross my arms, and find my "sweet spot", then fill in the gaps.

After going through this routine once again this evening, I thought "What would happen if I don't fill in the gaps?".  It so happened that it forced my head to not drop down on the chin rest:  doing so with a viola does all sorts of crazy weird tilting things without a shoulder rest for support.  At the same time my down-shifts got jerky and my vibrato disappeared completely.  But I noticed something, without the lift on the left side of the instrument from the SR even at its lowest, my head was positioned more straight up and down, not cocked to one side or the other. 


I have a big show in the pit happening in about two weeks.  I'm not ready to make the drastic decision to ditch my rest right before the show.  But the time after the show....  nada.  Not until Interlochen in the middle of August.  A perfect time to experiment. 

I think I'm prepared to lose my shifting and vibrato skills as they stand today.  I only started learning how to shift above 3rd and develop a rudimentary vibrato a few years ago, so its not like I'll be losing much in the grander scheme of things. If it resolves the pain issue, then I'm more than ready to take several steps backwards to make even more forwards. I anticipate having to go back to pieces that I haven't worked on in many years (decades) to get a handle on being restless, most likely starting with Twinkle and the Wolfhart studies.  Bach and Telemann may be good to revisit since they were written before the SR era.

Time will tell if this is a success or failure.  

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