July 2010

Good tidings

July 20, 2010 21:55

The week following my birthday was rough.  I was not feeling well all week.  Air quality was and continues to be terrible, and so has my asthma.  I felt tired and depressed.  One morning, while waiting for my first student, I fell asleep on the sofa.  When he knocked on the door, I got up to meet him, trying my best to look well rested and healthy.  I didn't fool him.  The first thing he said to me was, "I think I had better reschedule this lesson."  I agreed.  "Before I go," he said, "I want to give you your birthday present."  He handed me a book of sheet music, gave me a birthday hug, and left. 

He had chosen my gift carefully.  He knew that it was just what I wanted.  A few weeks earlier, he had shown me a pile of music books that his wife had bought for him.  The one that particularly interested me was The Celtic Fake Book, a large book of songs with lyrics from several different Celtic cultures.  I told him that I often learn fiddle tunes as tunes, not songs, and I only find out that there are lyrics when I play the tune and people sing along.  I told him that I was especially interested in this songbook, and he bought me my own copy as a birthday gift.  Wow!

The combination of a new book of sheet music and an unexpected gift from a friend turned my whole day around.  Somehow, I got the energy to look at the songs and to play a lot of them on my violin.  The songs were from several Celtic cultures, and many of them were from the Hebrides.  I knew that the islands of the Outer Hebrides are a very harsh environment for human habitation.  One of them, St. Kilda, is considered the last outpost of civilization in that region.  Many songs from St. Kilda are bright and happy.  In spite of the harsh environment there, the people had warmth and joy within themselves, and they expressed these feelings in song.  Those songs are an affirmation and a celebration of life.  That book was just the right thing for me when I was feeling down and out.

Fiddle and cello are a traditional duo for Scottish music.  In this clip, the group String Cheese, consisting of a fiddle and an electric cello with guitar backup, plays St. Kilda's Wedding.  This will put a bounce in your step.

The songs in my gift book are easier than this, and they all have lyrics.  However, I have played and taught St. Kilda's Wedding in the past.  I'll get it out and play it solo again while I wait for a cellist who plays Scottish music.  Meanwhile, I have a wealth of Celtic tunes in my new gift book to explore.

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The best and the worst in a violin teacher's day

July 12, 2010 23:07

Recently I had one student who was a violin teacher's nightmare and another who was a violin teacher's dream, both in one day.  What a contrast!

First, the bad news.  The student is a boy in middle school who sometimes shows up for his lesson and sometimes doesn't.  He never calls in advance to let me know.  He arrives any time from 45 minutes before to 45 minutes after his scheduled lesson time.  He rarely practices.  I can count on that.  In fact, he gave me a string of excuses for not being able to practice more during the summer.  At the end of each lesson, I write out his homework, go over it with him, and remind him to put checks in the boxes for each day he practices.  Every week, he loses or forgets his written homework page.  He only practices two songs, and one of them is Twinkle.  For a while, I can tolerate this because I don't need to do any work on lesson preparations.  However, after a few months, it gets stale.  Usually, if I have a student anywhere near this bad, the parents intervene, but his parents are not communicative with me.

I've saved the best news for last.  This student is a girl in middle school who loves to play the violin.  She practices, and she makes progress.  She has fun, and so do I.  She will spend most of this summer with her grandmother, who plays a musical instrument, as do most of her aunts, uncles, and cousins.  Her grandmother has arranged in advance for her to take violin lessons from a musician she knows and works with.  On this student's last lesson before leaving for the summer, I told her that I'm glad that she will take music lessons during the summer.  "Oh, I would never stop taking violin lessons," she told me.  "I love playing the violin."  I grinned a big grin.  "I'll miss you during the summer, I told her."  "It won't be too long.  It's just until August, and I'll call you as soon as I get back," she assured me.  She is a violin teacher's dream.

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Happy Fourth of July

July 3, 2010 23:32

The Fourth of July is a major patriotic holiday in the U.S., and part of the celebration is hearing patriotic music associated with the holiday.  No Fourth of July celebration would be complete without a marching band playing John Philip Sousa's The Stars and Stripes Forever.  I like the version shown below, with Leonard Bernstein conducting the New York Philharmonic, even better.  Bernstein was a wonderful conductor, composer, jazz pianist, and educator.  I love to listen and to watch him conduct.  He made music viscerally.  He would mark the rhythm by hunching his shoulders up and down or bobbing his whole body up and down on the podium, and he would use evocative facial expressions to show other people the music as he felt it deep within himself.  Note the piccolo part, a prominent feature of the marching band version.

There is another version of The Stars and Stripes Forever which is famous because it is so different from the marching band version.  Pianist Vladimir Horowitz, who is famous for playing such things as Scarlatti's sonatas for unaccompanied keyboard, does a fine job of transcribing and playing The Stars and Stripes Forever as a piano solo.

Here is a very unusual version of The Stars and Stripes Forever, arranged for twin fiddles by Bruce Dukov, who plays both parts in this recording. I think that this version of the old favorite is really fun.



Happy Fourth of July, everyone.



5 replies | Archive link

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