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Mendy Smith

A Restless Experiment

June 2, 2011 at 1:50 AM

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. 

Hmmmmm....

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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