This is weird. Maybe it's a viola problem, but I don't see why it would have to be.
I'm learning a piece, a Bouree by Johann Hasse, in _Solos for Young Violists_. When I practice it, the intonation always sounds "off." The piece is in A major, and there are a number of B's and C-sharps on the G string in 2nd and 3rd position. They sound great on the CD, but when I play them myself, these notes just don't sound pure, they sound bad, dull, off. So I've been checking the intonation any way I can: against open strings when possible, against a piano, playing it slowly in first position, and I don't think the notes are actually out of tune. They seem to be the correct pitch.
Instead, there seems to be a Cing resonance on the instrument. That is, the Cing is vibrating and giving overtones that sound strange with a B and a C-sharp.
The analogy on violin would be that you were trying to play in E major an F-sharp and a G-sharp on the D string and the G string was vibrating and giving resonance and overtones that sounded dissonant compared with those notes.
Some of the problem may come from my overreaching and lightly brushing the C string with the bow accidentally when I do a string crossing. This should, in theory, be fixable. But other times I don't think I'm doing this, it's just that that C string is vibrating on its own and putting a low-level C drone into the air that doesn't belong. Does this make any sense?
It's driving me kind of nuts and making me not want to practice the piece and maybe give up on it altogether. I had the thought of trying the same piece on a different instrument. This is the first thing I've found about this instrument (a rental) so far that I don't like.
Piano teacher problem has been solved in a good way. He has 3 other students in our town, two of them friends of my daughter's. So on Saturdays he's taking public transportation (the train) to the town, and the first family is picking him up. Then that person drives him to the next lesson, and so on until the last person drops him off back at the train station. All I had to do was drop him off at one of the friend's houses 2 minutes away.
My daughter is learning to write music, something she's expressed interest in for a while. Her teacher is actually a conducting student (he's also a good pianist, but conducting is what he wants to do for a living)and I think she likes that sort of thing: writing, listening, thinking about the structure of music. More than performing, currently anyway.
The Violinist Beginning to Fly
by Mirianne Boruch
They plan to get him down,
a loop of thread
pulled from his trousers and the only way says
the doctor of willfulness and logic, a coppery
icon rooted and lit above the leather bag
growing smaller as we walk away.
From this distance, the violinist is drifting
straight into the sun: just a man fiddling
his brains out, say--joy bundle of nerves, say--
man disbelieving the dark secret, say--rooflight in a bottle and he's drinking it.
Think about his heartbeat then, slow as anyone's
who, searching and searching, finds the perfect
place to live. These bits of Handel bracing the
air, or letting it go, not going to the dogs but
just stepping outside: here
a dazed summer night, the screen door
banging behind, lily of the valley in the
walkway, inevitable smell of rain. Ah--so many
not to care about.
A sweet and wonderful friend I met on another list said this poem reminded her of me. She's a writer. I'm a writer too, but only of prose and (mostly) non-fiction. I'm not sure I understand the poem. I'd like to, though.
I just came back from a skiing weekend to which I didn't take my instrument. But I thought a lot about music. Skiing is pretty contemplative, at least on the rides up the lift. And when the kids are in their lesson.
I used to be a good skier, and I have fond memories of skiing with my dad as a kid, but as with violin and viola, I took some time off skiing when I had children of my own. First I married a guy who didn't ski, then I was pregnant, then I had a baby, then I was pregnant again, then I had a baby . . . and before I knew it, 10 years had gone by.
So last year my husband agreed to try skiing, and he was really good. I was proud of him. And our daughter took lessons and made progress. So we tried it again this year, and also took our 3-yo son. He had a lesson too, and seemed to like it.
For me the analogy with violin and viola seems to be holding: an extended period of time off doesn't seem to have hurt that much. It's like coming back to an old friend that I never really left. And it's so gratifying to occasionally do something that comes easily, something that I can do without struggle, rather than always pushing and swimming upstream and fighting to do something difficult. There are so few things in life that are like that, that come easily, for me.
I feel like that's important for me as an adult violinist or violist, too. Yes, I will work toward something hard and challenging in the long run. I'm performing in church again in March, hopefully one of my audition pieces. I'll keep struggling. But I also just need to take the time to play things that are comfortable, that I really can play, that feel like skiing down the mountain and enjoying the view.
The comments already closed for my previous blog entry about this series, and I wanted to address a couple of points.
Man Wong asked:
I was wondering if it makes sense for me to get those couple Solos for Young Violinists/Violists books you mentioned. At what level of playing would I need to be before I can make use of those books?
One thing that's very useful about these books is that inside the back cover is a useful list of little descriptions of the technical challenges for each piece. You can look inside at amazon.com using this link (I had to search for the word "position" to find the exact page): SFYV
About the Bouree that I'm working on by Johann Adolph Hasse, for example, it says "bright baroque bouree with contrasting minuet, uses 1st, 2nd, and 3rd positions" and that it corresponds to the Suzuki viola book 4 level.
Someone from the viola list mentioned to me that Barbara Barber compiled these collections in part to supplement the Suzuki repertoire, which she found heavily weighted towards the baroque style (but they have baroque too).
It sounds from your description that if you take lessons these books would probably be appropriate for you to start in 1-2 years, depending on how fast you progress.
I haven't written about my 7-yo daughter's music study in a while. Probably because there hasn't been much to report. But I'm getting frustrated with her piano teacher, and, a little bit with her. I need to vent and think rationally before it spills over into my interactions with them.
Her piano teacher is a local conducting student; he's Eastern European but his English is excellent. He was recommended by a friend; one of my daughter's classmates takes lessons from him and loves him. He also comes to our home, which is convenient, and although I'm no pianist, he seems like a very good musician to me. Certainly more than good enough for our purposes, and he has a very gentle manner. He's nice, even charming, young and handsome, and I think my daughter usually responds well to him. Lessons were going pretty well, I thought. She is learning to play the Bach Minuet in G with two hands.
However, he's got some serious "young men and cars" issues. Before Christmas he was applying to PhD programs and said that he stayed up all night writing his applications for Juilliard, fell asleep at the wheel of his car while driving to the post office to mail them, flipped the car and totaled it. He was fortunately uninjured (while not even wearing his seatbelt). I don't know the fate of the Juilliard applications.
Then, he forgot about my daughter's lesson right after the holidays (we'd both been away and missed a couple of weeks and were out of the groove), just forgot about it, and when he came for the make-up lesson he asked her "you're not mad at me, are you?" and she said "no," but I think she was. She, in her turn, "couldn't concentrate." She proceeded to have a tearful tantrum worthy of last year's Suzuki violin experience. Her teacher was understanding about it and said he could come back again during the week and we'd try again. He didn't even charge us for his time.
But then, he reported that he's going to lose his drivers' license altogether for 2 months for "too many infractions in too short a period." Apparently in addition to the accident he's had a few too many speeding tickets. So, for lessons, he won't be able to come at all and we'll have to go to his apartment; he lives a good 30 minutes away and one of the reasons we liked this arrangement was the convenience of lessons in our own home.
It's only for 2 months. And actually my daughter will probably concentrate better in a different environment. But I'm having misgivings about this whole business now. Maybe this is a good opportunity to start again with a new teacher. What do others think?
Practice time has become a sacred space. Lately it's the only time and place where I can hear myself think.
The Hasse Bouree from "Solos for Young Violists, Book I" is harder than it looks, harder than it sounds when Barbara Barber tosses it off. Easy to go sharp, sharp, sharp without even noticing until it's too late. Hard to keep it light and joyful at the same time.
But the Courante from the Bach Cello Suite No. 1 is like an old friend. I've never played it before, that I know of. Yet, Jennifer is so right about it feeling like slipping into some well-loved, well-fitting garment. It practically sight-read itself, and sight-reading on the viola is still overall a pretty dicey proposition for me. I'd been looking for an audition piece (for the LSO next September) to announce itself. Maybe this is it.
People are talking in the discussion about how much they hate to practice and I probably would too, if I had time to do more than 30-40 minutes a day. But the 30-40 minutes seem to go by before they even get started and then it's time to do something else on the to-do list. I feel like I'm getting clobbered by deadlines at work and home, and it's only the 4th of January.
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