June 2013

A Lesson to Last All Summer

June 26, 2013 19:34

Tonight I had my last lesson until fall. Bye Bye etudes, scales, and vibrato exercises. Instead the lesson was all about putting together everything I was taught in one movement of one piece in preparation for Interlochen (the adult version).

After a few false starts, I started to get my groove (typical for after-work lessons - it takes about 10 minutes to shift my way of thinking). My teacher did stop me a few times, but not too many. Mostly it was to get my ear back on track (did I mention how playing in a pit ruins intonation?) and correcting a mis-count. I stopped myself with a questions to ask. Would doing a particular phrase sul G would work or not? How to execute a ritard exactly? Or how exactly do you do that gliss without it sounding cheezy? All in all, I got two thumbs up on improvement, a request to record me playing it with a pianist this summer, and a reminder to "sustain, sustain, sustain" (and "color color color"). She also encouraged me to get pointers from the Interlochen viola faculty, especially on vibrato.

We very quickly ran through the last movement of the Sonata to give me something to work on over the summer. Afterwards I got a tour of her new studio that is being constructed from an old detached garage. We tested the acoustics of the space by clapping and singing. By the time we resume in September, the space will be done. I can't wait to give the acoustics a whirl.

The most interesting discovery was learning that she and my former teacher from Oregon have a week of overlap at the Grand Tetons Festival this summer. Oh my! I hope the stories traded will be good ones!

2 replies


Got Lemons?

June 24, 2013 19:38

The last few weeks have found me not double, but triple booked. Between my day job, a week long show and a home remodel there has been precious little time to practice. Like sleep, I snatched it where I could.

During the week of the show, I did scales during sound checks, worked on vibrato on the few numbers with whole notes, and practiced shifting when playing the 1st violin part (same one with whole notes). The music was easy enough that I was able to focus on tone production. I figured that if I could hear myself over the drums, guitars and brass section then I was doing a good job. I even was able to sneak in a little bit of sight reading and chamber music between numbers. After the show was over I carved out a few minutes to work on those same techniques and try to get my intonation back. Playing in a pit orchestra does horrible things to intonation!

Luckily my teacher is understanding and knew what my schedule was like. We built on what I was able to manage. Verdict? Vibrato was much better, shifting to the end of the fingerboard much improved, and tone production was noticeably better.

Got lemons?

3 replies


Restless in the Pit

June 15, 2013 22:58

Tonight wrapped up the last of 5 shows for Night Court 2013. This year there were long stretches of dialog in first act, making a perfect opportunity to escape the pit for other adventures.

After the second song in Act I, two of my fellow musicians and I snuck out of the pit. We had a plan:

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We dashed to the dance rehearsal room. Luckily it was empty since the Houston Ballet was in full swing for their show of Peter Pan. We commandeered two stands, a chair and the Steinway. The pianist placed his iPhone on the piano with the alarm set for 10 minutes next to his sheet music. We then proceeded to read through the first piece of Bruch's Pieces for Viola, Clarinet and Piano. It was difficult to keep the tempo Andante knowing we had a strict time limit to our illicit activity.

With a minute to spare, we dashed back to the pit, but found a few seconds for a quick group shot:

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It wasn't the best of performances, but it was the most fun and exhilarating one I've had in a very long time. We plan on doing this again next year if we can.

5 replies


It is You-Know-What Week!

June 5, 2013 20:33

Every year I play in the pit orchestra for a musical-comedy with the Houston Bar Association for charity. This year's theme is "Law of Ages". Think "Rock of Ages" mixed with the Oil & Gas industry. Thank goodness it is more about the brass and rock band than strings. With my house remodel going on, I barely have time to practice scales as it is!

Though the music is generally very easy this year for me, there are some unique situations that make this quite a challenge. First is playing a 1st violin part on viola.

On one piece the director wanted the string melody to come out more (which was in the 1st violin part). I played it an octave below at first, but was asked if I could do it at the same octave as the other violinist. I gave it a try and ended up at the very end of the fingerboard and nearly got a nosebleed for my troubles, but it was a keeper from the director's point of view. So 10th position it is then, for a measure or two at least.

On another piece, there were no string parts, so we were handed various brass and wind parts. After playing the first measure I realized that I was given the sheet music for a transposing instrument. I've never transposed on the fly before that day and had to consult with one of the trombonists to figure out what the "concert note" was. After some quick math, I figured if I played the piece in 2nd position and pretended that I was playing in 3rd position, I'd hit the right notes most of the time.

Playing viola is always an adventure. Some days more than others.

3 replies


A Month Without a You-Know-What

June 1, 2013 19:01

I'm a month into the ditching my You-Know-What, and I'm the most comfortable I've ever been playing viola. I was never certain I could actually do it, but I was driven to give it a go to see if it would alleviate the tension I've experienced for decades.

It took a few weeks for my bowing to straighten itself out and get my left thumb strong and flexible enough to do its job in helping support the instrument. I had to learn how to shift all over again, and spent many hours getting my intonation back to where it was before ditching the You-Know-What.

After a month of work, my playing is back to where it was before I ditched the rest but without the tension. I have a new freedom in my left hand which is finally getting my vibrato on the path it should be. I also broke through a shifting 'barrier' and can now shift very comfortably all the way to the end of the fingerboard and back down again without getting my left hand stuck on the upper bouts even on the Cing!

This is an exciting time for me musically. I'm hoping that other walls I've run into (musically speaking) will start to break down now that many of the technical & mechanical barriers have gone away. Only time will tell.

(Full disclosure: I haven't gone completely "commando". I am using a small red sponge on the left for slip resistance and an Artino pad with an added red sponge on top for a little cushion, a bit of support, and slip-resistance, but no rigid rest.)

9 replies


More entries: May 2013

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