April 2006

Teaching and learning violin

April 27, 2006 23:40

Some of us are teachers, and some are not. Some of us teach by the Suzuki method, and some of us don't. However, all violinists have something in common: We are all teachers of ourselves, and we all learn from ourselves. I have just finished rereading a great book that can help all of us: The Suzuki Violinist by William Starr. Starr was a disciple of Suzuki, and he is an accomplished teacher in his own right. His book has a wealth of insights, as well as some fun photos of three year old violin students.

Suzuki's teaching method is based on the principle that children learn music the same way they learn language - by listening over and over again and then repeating. Suzuki had students learn intonation by listening to their teacher and then playing along, matching their pitch to their teacher's. Today students buy CDs along with Suzuki music books, and they can practice with the CD at home just as they can play with the teacher at lessons. Rhythm can be taught and reinforced the same way.

Some aspects of the Suzuki-Starr method of teaching violin which I find very helpful with my students, who are beginners of all ages, include:

The more I use Suzuki's books, the more I understand and appreciate them. They are great for nitty gritty details and, perhaps even more important, for nurturing each student as a person and a musician.

P.S. Check my website.

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A pair from heaven

April 24, 2006 23:15

Last night I heard a concert by Itzhak Perlman and Pinchas Zukerman. From the moment they started to play, I felt like I was in heaven. I have a CD with most of the music they played, and I love it, but hearing them in person was so much better. I can’t say why. Their presence and their music were electrifying. Everyone in the audience was on the edge of their seats, except when they rose and applauded enthusiastically. My seat was in a tier on the right side of the stage, and Perlman’s violin was facing me. I hadn’t realized that his hands were so large. His left hand looked almost too large for the fingerboard. Both Perlman and Zukerman did the most difficult maneuvers with their bows with absolute precision and, seemingly, ease. Perlman conferred with Zukerman and the pianist, Rohan De Silva, onstage from time to time and made some jokes to the audience. The pieces on the program were Bach’s Sonata for Two Violins and Keyboard in C Major, BWV 1037; Mozart’s Duo for Violin and Viola in G Major, K. 423; Leclair’s Sonata in F Major for Two Violins, Op. 3, No. 4; and Moszkowski’s Suite in G minor for Two Violins and Piano, Op. 71. The duo’s sound was more sweet and rich than I ever imagined music could be. After the first piece (the Bach Sonata), Perlman told the audience that they were going to play some music not on the program -- some violin duets by Bartok. He announced the name of each duet and gave his comments: Teasing (“makes you wonder whether there will be any more”), Limping Dance (“my personal favorite”), Serbian Dance (“one of Bartok’s greatest hits”), and more. These pieces are short and not very demanding technically, and the two violinists played them with panache. Perlman ended each one with a dramatic flourish of his bow and a big grin to the audience. What a showman! After playing all the music on the program plus the Bartok duets, Perlman told the audience, “We are prepared to play at least twelve encores,” and the audience applauded wildly. Zukerman went to Perlman’s side, listened to Perlman whisper to him, laughed, returned to his place, and flipped through the sheet music on his stand. After telling Zukerman what they would play, Perlman let the audience in on the secret. “All violinists are playing Shostakovich these days,” he said, “and who are we to be different?” I groaned inwardly. At last year’s Queen Elizabeth Violin Competition, many of the finalists played the Shostakovich concerto, and I didn’t like it. This time, I was pleasantly surprised. The three musicians played a few (alas, not twelve) Waltzes by Shostakovich. The first one began with a great dramatic flourish on the piano and continued with lush, almost Romantic gusto. I was reminded of Strauss waltzes (Blue Volga?). Up until the very last second of the concert, I kept feeling that I was in heaven.

P.S. Check out my website.

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The rhythms of the universe

April 21, 2006 23:28

Can listening to Mozart’s music enhance mental functioning? Since this year is the 250th anniversary of Mozart’s birth, it is a good time to review the evidence.

The concept of the Mozart effect comes from some ground-breaking research performed by neurobiologists at the University of California at Irvine in the 1990s. They focused on the spatial IQ test, which they described as mentally unfolding a piece of paper that has been folded over several times and then cut. The object is to correctly select the final unfolded paper shape from five examples. These scientists found that students who listened to a recording of Mozart’s Sonata in D major for Two Pianos, K488, acquired this skill more readily than other students. The researchers concluded that listening to Mozart caused an increase in spatial IQ. Other scientists have repeated this experiment or performed related experiments on other groups of students and, in most cases, did not get the same results.

Other studies have suggested that newborn babies who listen to Mozart grow up to have measurably higher IQs than babies who don’t listen to Mozart. This effect is very hard to study because years of follow-up would be required, and, during that time, the infants and children could be subjected to many other kinds of environmental enrichment. Some people considered the scientific evidence for the Mozart effect strong enough to warrant action, and, in some areas in the US, newborns were sent home from the hospital with a free CD of Mozart’s music. Many Mozart CDs have been promoted and sold as tools to make babies smarter, making CDs a kind of medical device not regulated by the FDA.

Intelligence is very complex and difficult to assess objectively. The neuroscientist J. R. Hughes decided to investigate the effect of Mozart’s music on something that can be measured objectively: a pattern of brain waves called epileptiform waves because they are associated with epileptic seizures. In a small scale study, he had 29 epileptic patients listen to Mozart’s Piano Sonata in D Major (K.448). The results were dramatic. In 23 of the 29 patients, there was a significant decrease in epileptiform waves, even when the patients were in coma.

If Mozart’s music really produces these effects, why does it work? Would any music have a similar effect? Hughes used an objective, computerized, mathematical test to compare 81 musical selections of Mozart, 67 of J.C. Bach, 67 of J.S. Bach, 39 of Chopin, and 148 from 55 other composers. He found that Mozart repeated the melodic line much more frequently than the other composers did. Hughes has suggested that the symmetries and patterns in Mozart’s music may be fundamentally connected to the symmetries and patterns of brain waves. Mozart’s music may resonate with the brain.


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Spring update

April 19, 2006 00:43

I photographed the daffodil earlier this month and the lilac, about to burst into full bloom, on April 16. I wish I could share some more of spring with you. The lilacs have a strong, sweet fragrance. I cut some and put them in a vase on my desk so that I can see and smell them. I can hear peepers (tree frogs) outside my window at night.

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Happy spring

April 16, 2006 15:59

This is a good time of year for renewal of the earth and everyone's spirits. Happy Easter, Passover, and Spring to everyone.


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Those who have been spared

April 14, 2006 23:33

Three bloggers on this site have recently written about people who have suffered and people who have been spared. I have a similar story to tell, but I don’t know the ending yet.
Yesterday I went to a friend’s home to help her get some chores done before she goes into the hospital for a mastectomy next week. She was diagnosed with breast cancer about a year ago, and she has had several lumpectomies and chemotherapy, a very unpleasant experience. She already has a disability; she has been confined to a wheelchair since she was in high school. Her spirit is very strong, and I admire her. She finished college and graduate school; has a successful career; lives in a house by herself; does volunteer work at a soup kitchen; and participates actively in sports, including downhill skiing. During the past year she has had several things to contend with in addition to cancer. She moved both at work and at home, and she has had to hassle with health insurance. I think that she will probably do OK. She has a good doctor and a good support network of family and friends. Still, I feel depressed and worried about her. Please join me in sending prayers and healing energy her way.

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My life and times: an illustrated history

April 12, 2006 23:30

“Tell me about yourself,” someone says. “Oh, no,” I think. “What does this person really want to know? How can I sell myself?” A lot depends on the context – my resume, a personal ad, an ad about myself as a violin teacher, a brief note for my church newsletter, an entry in my alumni magazine, a page on my website. I need a different approach for different readers. I am quiet, modest, and frequently overlooked and underappreciated. Recently I started thinking about how to portray myself to a wide variety of readers, starting with some of the defining experiences of my life. I made a timeline with important events within myself and in the outside world. I had a lot of fun doing the research for this. I remembered some events that were important, but often I did not remember the details or I remembered them incorrectly. Then I decided to look for pictures of some of these events, and that was fun, too. I called my document “My Life and Times: An Illustrated History,” and you can see it here. (If that link doesn't work, go to http://mysite.verizon.net/paulinefiddle/mlat.html) I’ve had some positive feedback on it already. One person told me that he felt that he almost knew me by reading it. I recommend doing something like this for entertainment. It sure beats watching TV.

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Spring fever

April 11, 2006 00:26

i thank You God for most this amazing
day:for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky;and for everything
wich is natural which is infinite which is yes

(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun's birthday;this is the birth
day of life and love and wings:and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)

ee cummings


Check out my website.

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For Hilary Hahn Fans

April 7, 2006 02:15

I’m a big fan of Hilary Hahn. I love the way she plays the violin, of course, but there are more great things about her. I love her reviews and descriptions of music and recordings. I love listening to her commentary on the DVD Art of Violin. She sees and hears so much in the violinists’ performances which I might overlook without her. She really enjoys and respects the contributions of a wide variety of violinists. You can see the awe and wonder in her face and hear them in her voice as she talks. Her website is a joy every time I visit it. She is very talented as a writer, photographer, and educator. She was a prodigy, and she has maintained strong ties with children. Her website includes “fan art,” pictures that kids have made for her. She likes to go into schools and talk to the children about music. Years ago, she sent postcards to kids in schools about her experiences as she traveled around the world to give concerts and make recordings. Now she posts her journal on her website. She describes herself as a “nomadic musician – a modern troubadour.” Her writing is very engaging. She has so many interesting insights about life in all the places she goes. She comes across a very down-to-earth person with a good sense of humor and a great zest for life.
I was excited as soon as I read the latest news about her in an e-newsletter from Deutschegrammophon, the company that produces and sells her recordings. In a new CD scheduled for release in September, 2006, she plays the Paganini Concerto #1 and the Spohr Concerto #8. She says, “The Spohr is not performed very often anymore, but up until the middle of the 20th century, it was a very popular concert piece. Anyone who was a touring violinist would have presented it in both concerto evenings with orchestra and recital programmes with piano. I’m not sure why it fell out of fashion. It’s a fun piece to play and really should be heard more often. The lyrical, operatic quality of the slower sections and the humorous, vivacious virtuoso passages mix to create a concerto with a distinct personality.” There is still more good news. Her first DVD will be released this coming fall. It is described as “a road-movie-style portrait depicting the American violinist's world on and off the stage.” This is a logical extension of her e-journal. We Hilary Hahn fans have some great things to look forward to.

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April 4, 2006 02:07

Tonight I’m going to the Kennedy Center to hear Yo Yo Ma play three of the Bach Suites for Unaccompanied Cello. Wow! I have recordings of all the Bach Unaccompanied Cello Suites by Yo Yo Ma and Casals, but there is nothing quite as exciting as a live performance.

Today I received a brochure from the Washington Performing Arts Society (WPAS) about their concerts for the 2006/2007 season. Here’s what caught my eye.

Joshua Bell is the coverboy for the classical music series on the WPAS website. Do you see that, Sydney?

I took a look at violinist CDs and DVDs on Amazon.com. A fellow v.commie, Scott68, has written lots of very good, very helpful reviews. He writes from the perspective of a violinist. Thanks, Scott68.

I’ll write about Yo Yo Ma’s concert. I’m so excited!

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April 3, 2006 02:18

If of thy mortal goods thou art bereft
And just two loaves of bread to thee are left
Sell one, however dear, and with the dole
Buy hyacinths and songs to feed thy soul


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Ode to a student

April 1, 2006 03:41

My mood is very sensitive to my students’ progress. Once in a while, I wonder whether a student will ever “get it.” I work hard to figure out why he or she keeps making the same mistakes and try to come up with new explanations or approaches. Most of the time, I feel good while I’m teaching because the students are making progress. Sometimes a student has an “aha” moment, when they suddenly catch on. After that, they learn better and faster. Sometimes, they are so excited about it that they send me an email to let me know. They feel thrilled, and so do I. This week, I had a new and wonderful feeling. One of my students, who has been playing for about a year and a half, is very talented. She reached the “aha” point a few months ago, and she has taken off like a rocket. At her most recent lesson, she warmed up by playing a piece she has already learned, the Brahms Waltz in Suzuki Book 2. She played it so beautifully that she lifted me up and away. I could not be a teacher and listen for mistakes. I just closed my eyes, sat back, and loved the music.

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