February 2009


February 19, 2009 18:01

This has not been a bad winter, weather wise. We have not had very cold weather (yet). We have not had a lot of snow or worse, ice (yet). Unfortunately, we have not had a lot of sunshine, either. This is one of the grayest winters I can remember. Every time I look out the window, I see gray. I chose my condo, in part, so that I could look out the windows and see trees and grass, not a parking lot. I have windows in every room except the bathroom, so I see a lot of gray. My PC faces a window, and I thought of a way to modify the view there. I changed my desktop picture to a photo I took of a lilac just coming into bloom.


From Flowers
From Flowers


Then I put some of my flower photos up as screensavers. Here are a few of them:


From Flowers


From Flowers


From Flowers


From Flowers



If you're having a gray day, I hope my photos make it brighter.



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Happy Valentine's Day

February 13, 2009 21:35

I wish all my friends at v.com a happy Valentine's Day, especially Laurie and Robert Niles who founded the site and keep it up so well.

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Adult beginners, aging bodies

February 11, 2009 14:01

I suspect that many of my readers are people who have not come out of the closet yet: adult beginners. It's tough being an adult beginner. There is virtually no support network for you. Many people, including some violin teachers, say that only children should begin to learn to play the violin. You've probably heard people say that kids learn better and faster than adults, that adults don't have the time or motivation to stick with it, or other disparaging statements. Many of my students are adult beginners, and I can see their difficulties and triumphs first hand. I plan to explore some of their issues in this and subsequent blogs. I would be happy to get feedback from adult beginners and their teachers, including suggestions for other topics to discuss.

As we get older, our bodies age in normal ways. There are other changes, however, which are not "normal" or universal, changes which stem from from illnesses, behaviors, or injuries. Sometimes these changes have no noticeable effects on every day life, but they affect the posture and movements necessary for playing the violin. The challenge is for the student and the teacher to discover the sources of the problems and to find ways to overcome or work around them.

One of my adult beginners, a woman in her late fifties, seemed the very picture of robust health. She frequently did challenging hiking, backpacking, and physical conditioning so that she could do more. However, when she started learning how to use the bow, she ran into a glitch. She had had rotator cuff surgery on her right shoulder years ago, and moving the bow gave her shoulder pain. She did not want to give up. She loved folk music and wanted to play it. I told her that whenever she noticed shoulder pain beginning, she should stop playing and rest, stretch, or massage her shoulder until the pain went away. Only then should she resume playing. At first this regimen was very frustrating because she could only play for a few minutes at a time. Gradually, however, her periods of uninterrupted playing got longer, and the shoulder pain no longer cut short her playing time. Then there was the issue of playing on each string. Like many beginners, she found it easiest to play on the A and D strings, but like most adult beginners, she was impatient and wanted to play songs on all four strings. We agreed that she would limit herself to the A and D strings for a while, and I transposed some tunes that would enable her to do that. Eventually, she was able to play on the E and G strings, although the G string was a bit more difficult for her. Like most beginners, she found that it was easiest to play using short bowstrokes near the middle of the bow. However, lengthening her bowstrokes was more difficult for her than for most beginners. Since she had stopped using her injured shoulder and arm for certain movements, she had lost muscle tone. She needed more muscle strength to use more of her bow. Only sensible practice, increasing the length of her bow strokes incrementally, would work. This woman was amazingly persistent. I had given her sets of scales with bowing variations to practice. For two weeks, she played nothing but scales, gradually using more of her bow, until she could use the entire bow correctly. In this case, learning to play the violin was physical therapy, giving her increased range of motion. I was very impressed with her.

Another adult student who came to me had a very serious case of myofacial pain. I know about this ailment because I have a fairly bad case of it, too. In myofacial pain, the muscles around the face, head, neck, shoulders, and upper back become extremely tense and, for some people, horribly painful. During this student's very first lesson, when I showed her how to hold the violin, I saw that the muscles on both of her arms were very stiff. I had her put her violin down and asked her about her muscle tension. She said that it was nothing to worry about because she was always like that. One time, when her neck muscles were unusually tight, they actually pushed a small bone out of place. Her latest difficulties were related to using the mouse with her computer. She gripped the mouse so tightly that all the muscles from her hand to her shoulder became so stiff that they were immobilized. She got some relief from her chiropractor, the health care provider who took care of her myofacial pain syndrome. She was going to have her computer set up differently. She now had her computer, keyboard, and mouse on her desk with her mouse to the right of the keyboard. She was going to get a desk with a shelf which rolled out from underneath, and she would put her keyboard and mouse there. She seemed confident that this would solve the problem. I saw an ethical concern here for me, the teacher. Should I accept as a student someone whose health, I believed, would get worse from playing the violin? I quickly decided that this decision should be made by a health care practitioner, not by me. I told my potential student that I had concerns about her playing the violin for health reasons, and I asked for her cooperation in two ways. First, she would have to put her violin down and stretch or relax her muscles as soon as she felt increased muscle tension in her hand or arm. I taught her my standard repetoire of stretches which I teach to all beginners. Second, I wanted her to consult with her chiropractor and get his OK before starting violin lessons. I suggested that she bring photos of a violinist in action to show to her chiropractor. She seemed to agree and said that she would contact me shortly to set up a time to begin lessons. After about six weeks, she sent me a brief email saying that she did not want to take violin lessons from me. I don't know why. Perhaps she really decided not to take violin lessons after all. Perhaps she found another violin teacher who didn't express the concerns I did.

For an extremely good discussion by an adult beginner of the effects of multiple sclerosis and drug treatment on playing the violin, I refer you to Laurie Trlak's blog of January 23, 2009. She and her commentors explored the topic in a very full and interesting way.

All of these stories emphasize the importance of having an instructor who looks and listens for possible health issues and the necessity of good communication between teacher and student.

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CD and Computer Blues

February 4, 2009 13:09

[This blog was inspired by Laurie Niles's blog of January 19, 2009, "iPod Blues."]

There are blues for every electronic method of playing recorded music. I listen to music primarily on my home computer, so I know a lot about the CD and computer blues.



I have vinyl recordings, cassettes, and many CDs. I know that the vinyl recordings can be converted to CDs, but the process is very time consuming, technical, and expensive (if you hire someone). I made a deal with one of my musician friends who is also a techie. He is a collector, so he only wanted some very specific recordings that I had, i.e., Brahms Symphony #4 with a certain orchestra and conductor. I gave him the records; he made CDs of them; and he gave me a CD for each record. He doesn't do this any more, so I'm afraid that I just have to write off the rest of my vinyls.


I have a lot of cassettes, and some have material that has never been released commercially. I used to tape music from the radio, and some of it was from live, unrecorded concerts. I looked into converting tapes to CDs, and it looked surprisingly simple after I spent hours on the Internet searching for the relevant information and for people to explain it to me. You buy a cable to connect the output of your cassette player to your computer, download some free software, and move a copy of the data (music) to your computer. However, I never got around to doing it. It was going to be a joint project with a man I was dating, but after we broke up, I lost my motivation.


I've found that the best way to store and organize my CDs is to put them in books made for that purpose. Of course, you have to decide on your own system of organization. I have separate volumes for Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, Vocal/Choral Music, Famous Soloists, Classical Music by Composers A-L, Classical Music by Composers M-Z, etc.


Transferring many of my CDs to my computer seemed easy. All I had to do was copy them. Unfortunately, it was not that simple. After I had a small fraction of my CDs copied to my hard drive, I had used up 99% of my c drive's space, and my computer worked very, very slowly. I bought an external drive with many Gbytes and transferred my music to it.


Then I encountered another problem. My computer is set up (not by me) so that music copied ("ripped") from a CD must be transferred to a folder on the c drive called "My Music" and from there, it is copied to or made available to Windows Media Player (WMP). I transferred all my music from my c drive to my external drive and deleted it from my c drive. For some, but not all of the recordings, the music disappeared from WMP. Ow! I got some of the lost music from Amazon.com by downloading and paying for it. I then discovered, by some haphazard investigation, that I could go to a recording on my external drive, choose "Play with WMP," and afterwards the music could be accessed directly on WMP.


I tried a couple of software packages for playing music on my computer. One of them (I don't remember which one) had the annoying habit of arranging all my "songs" (tracks) alphabetically. The result was something like this:


Violin Concerto, first movement, Bach
Violin Concerto, first movement, Beethoven
Violin Concerto, first movement, Bruch
Violin Concerto, first movement, Mendelssohn


The software packages on my computer differ in the way they compress and format the music. The situation here is analogous to the one Laurie described on mp3 players. After my explorations, I decided to stick with Windows Media Player (WMP). Now I have a lot of my CDs in my computer in WMP format and a few in Real Player format. I'd like to "translate" the ones in Real Player to WMP, but I don't know how. There must be something anologous to converting data to clean ASCII code, but I don't know what it is or how to use it. Now I'm digging up my CDs that I've already put on my computer in Real Player and recopying them in WMP format.


Then I had a nomenclature problem. When I copied a CD called "J.S. Bach, Neville Marinner with the Academy of Saint Martin in the Fields, Orchestral Suites," I didn't know where it would show up in my WMP library. It could be named and filed under "J.S. Bach," "Marinner," "Orchestral Suites," or something else beyond my imagination. I had to rename all my recordings, using nomenclature that made sense to me, and alphabetize them. Now I have everything by J.S. Bach labeled "Bach" so they're all together in alphabetical order. My computer software was not designed by anyone familiar with classical music. For the recording I just discussed, the performer might be listed as J.S. Bach or Neville Marinner. Then there's the matter of names of tracks. Sometimes I have to search for them on the Internet or type them in by hand using my CD tracklist. Sometimes the track names are given on my computer as "allegro con brio" or "andante cantabile." That leaves a lot of room for guesswork. Some of the track names appear to be assigned by music-impaired software engineers. For example, some tracks contain the entire album name and the entire track name, for example "Sibelius Symphoniy 2, Karelia Suite, Finlandia: Sibelius Symphony 2 for Orchestra in D major, Op. 43, Allegretto." That's for just one track. Of course, I had to rename it. One must be part software engineer, part knowledgeable classical music lover, and part librarian to use a PC for storing and listening to music on your home computer.


I'm NOT going to buy an mp3 player.

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The Symphony vs the Super Bowl

February 1, 2009 16:34

A few days ago I got an email from the Washington Performing Arts Society (WPAS) telling me that because I am an ePatron (I subscribe online), they would give me a free ticket to the concert today at the Kennedy Center. All I had to do was reply by email or phone and let them know that I wanted the free ticket. I did so pronto. This is a highly unusual situation. Occasionally WPAS offers me a ticket to a concert for $35 or so at the last minute. I wondered why they offered me a free ticket. Were the performers so bad or so unknown that almost no one had bought tickets to hear them? I looked up the concert on the Internet. The performance, scheduled to celebrate the Chinese New Year, was by the Qingdao Symphony Orchestra. The program, an eclectic mix of Chinese and American music, featured

Symphonic Dances from West Side Story (Leonard Bernstein)
Pipa Concerto (Xiaogang Ye) (The pipa is a Chinese classical instrument resembling the lute.)
Piano Concerto (Chen Yi)
Symphonic Picture: Porgy and Bess (Gershwin, arr. Bennett)

That sounded like an interesting concert to me, so I was disappointed when I got an email from WPAS telling me that all tickets had been sold or given away.

After reading the news, I realized why so few tickets had been sold: The Super Bowl is today. I even remembered reading about a possible crisis of national importance: a shortage of potato chips.

Watching football for free on TV at home has triumphed over paying for a ticket to hear a concert live at the Kennedy Center.

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More entries: January 2009

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