Printer-friendly version
Mendy Smith

New Season, New Focus

September 7, 2011 at 2:38 AM

 This year I'm changing a few things rather significantly.  

After mulling it over and thinking about it for quite some time, I'll be sitting out of this season's orchestra rehearsals & concerts.  Instead I'll be spending my time playing with other doing chamber music.  Since starting viola back up again several years ago I have found that playing in an orchestra is more of a hindrance than a help to my playing ability.  It is simply to easy to become lost in a sea of instruments and shrug off mistakes.  In a chamber setting, there is no place to hide.   You either pull your weight or stick out like a sore thumb.  

I'll also be focusing in more on my technique and style.  After finally becoming comfortable with the nether regions of the fingerboard and the most awful key signatures, it is time for me to start addressing some of the finer nuances of music making.  Things like intonation in the context of the piece, vibrato through bow changes, gaining control over what vibrato I have, left hand finger independence, and better bow control at the tip are on the agenda.  

But most importantly, I need to focus on learning how to play without tension.  This has been a struggle for quite a long time.  If I don't address it now, my viola-playing will most likely be cut short from injury.  As it stands today, there are passages that I simply cannot play because they cause pain in my bow arm.  

So, a new season and a new focus...   The trick will be knowing when to say "no" to an offer to play.

From elise stanley
Posted on September 7, 2011 at 2:40 PM

I know just what you mean - though I'm a little differnet since returning I tried out with, but then resolved not to join an orchestra.  I don't need to feel 'safe in crowd' - I want my playing to be good enough that it will stand on its own.  Perhaps when I reach that point I'll think about it again .... But for now there is nothing like the intimacy of chamber music playing - and you can hear every other instrument in the ensemble just as well as the audience can!


From Christina C.
Posted on September 7, 2011 at 4:41 PM

Jeez Mendy, there you go again. Your post describes exactly where I was at a little less than 2 years ago. I stopped doing orchestra  because I found that time-wise, it was just too much  along with lessons and chamber music... plus technique-wise I was also struggling with tension issues and less-than-ideal technique that I really tended to fall back into in orchestra. I'm actually about to jump into my old orchestra which starts up next week because they're doing 2 pieces that I couldn't miss, but after that I think I'm done with orchestra for the most part. There are a lot of orchestral pieces that I like,  but orchestral playing just isn't for me and chamber music is just way too fun.

From Tom Holzman
Posted on September 8, 2011 at 3:55 PM

Your plan sounds like a good one.  One question that occurs to me is: do you have a teacher?  The focus of your efforts sounds like the sort that could benefit from a good teacher's guidance.  Good luck!

From Mendy Smith
Posted on September 9, 2011 at 12:39 AM


I know, a bit eerie isn't it?  



I do have a teacher and she is with me all the way on this one.    In fact, I had my first lesson with her after the summer festival-madness yesterday and had my technique broken down into its component parts (or at least some of them) and put back together again.  We're both excited about this re-focusing effort.  I just hope I don't end up swallowing my words when I told her to "bring it on!".  ;)  

From Amy S.
Posted on September 10, 2011 at 1:26 AM

Hi Mendy,

Great post!  I find myself dealing with a lot of the same issues, especially r.e. tension and injuries, and am working towards the same goal in my playing.  I can't wait to hear how your work with your new teacher is progressing!

This entry has been archived and is no longer accepting comments.

Facebook Twitter YouTube Instagram Email is made possible by...

Shar Music
Shar Music: Check out our selection of Celtic music

Pirastro Strings
Pirastro Strings

JR Judd Violins
JR Judd Violins

Los Angeles Philharmonic
Los Angeles Philharmonic

Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases
Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases

Thomastik-Infeld's Dynamo Strings
Thomastik-Infeld's Dynamo Strings

National Symphony Orchestra
National Symphony Orchestra

Violins of Hope
Violins of Hope Summer Music Programs Directory
Find a Summer Music Program Shopping Guide Shopping Guide

ARIA International Summer Academy

Borromeo Music Festival

Metzler Violin Shop

Southwest Strings

Bobelock Cases

Johnson String Instrument/Carriage House Violins

Jargar Strings

Bay Fine Strings Violin Shop


Los Angeles Violin Shop


String Masters

Nazareth Gevorkian Violins

Laurie's Books

Discover the best of in these collections of editor Laurie Niles' exclusive interviews. Interviews Volume 1 Interviews Volume 1, with introduction by Hilary Hahn Interviews Volume 2 Interviews Volume 2, with introduction by Rachel Barton Pine