July 2004

July 18, 2004 10:48

I have a woman from Moscow, Raisa, staying with me for a month. She is a scientist attending a training course at NIH. She seems to be a very nice person, although she speaks only a few words of English and I speak only a few words of Russian. Music, however, is an international language.

The other night I had some friends over for a jam. Raisa heard us and got really excited. She sat in the living room with us and listened. She was very enthusiastic, applauding and saying "very good" nand "very pretty" in Russian.

I told one of my students about this when he came for a lesson, and he said, "When she hears me, she'll probably go away." He was right. (Later, she explained, with the help of a Russian American who served as translator, that she really had to go out anyway.)

A few evenings later, she came and listened while I was practicing. I played some Russian folk songs for her and she sang along. Then I played some classical music, themes from well known orchestral and chamber music arranged for solo violin. She recognized all the pieces except for Pachelbel's Canon; I suppose it hasn't been overworked in Russia as it has been here. When I played something by Brahms, she said a lot in Russian. All I could understand was her opinion that Russian music is better than German music. She was so happy when I played Tchaikovsky. When I played something from Swan Lake, she spoke excitedly in Russian. All I caught was "ballet" and "Moscow," and she obviously loved it.

That was so much fun. I wish I could have someone (a significant other) like that in my home all the time.

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July 8, 2004 11:46

Sunday night, I went to an unusual Fourth of July party. (It's also my birthday.) Every year, at the end of June and beginning of July, the Smithsonian puts on a Folklife Festivalon at the National Mall in Washington DC. The performers stay in a hotel nearby and, at night, they go to a Hospitality Suite (read "party") staffed by volunteers from the Folklore Society of Greater Washington, including me and some of my friends. It's great fun, a real work party. Sunday night I distributed beer to the participants. It was a great job because the people always smiled at me when they got their beer. Also, I used the ice water from the containers holding the beer to cool my face and hands.

The performers from the Festival took turns playing music and everyone danced. I especially enjoyed the mariachi band made up of Hispanic Americans, even though I thought I wouldn't like the music. They were just great! There were two trumpets, four fiddles, an unusual kind of harp, and several different sizes and shapes of guitar. One guitar was huge, both long and deep. Even a regular guitar looks big to me, a fiddler. There was no competition between the trumpets and the fiddles; they simply didn't play at the same time. Of course, I was especially interested in the fiddlers, particularly the youngest, age 12. I spoke to him, and he told me that he has been playing the violin for only four years. His teacher, who also plays in the band with him, is his father. That kid, like the other fiddlers in the band, is a real virtuoso. He moved his left hand all up and down the fingerboard, playing lots of notes right near the bridge. He played quickly, loudly, with verve and precision. I looked at his right hand to see his technique, but I couldn't because he was moving it too fast. Make no mistake, this was technically very difficult and very precise playing. It was also good, stirring music. When the four fiddlers played in the band, they were a wonder to behold. They did everything in unison -- raising their fiddles and bowing arms and then moving their bows in long, confident strokes. They had obviously been playing together for quite a while, and they sounded incredibly good. At times, they took breaks from fiddling and sang, robustly and in unison. The audience responded well, dancing energetically. These fiddlers are star musicians in their own right, just like classical violinists. I'm so glad I was there!

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