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Karen Allendoerfer

Music Sunday, and Why it's good to record yourself, even if you don't have good equipment

November 11, 2008 at 12:27 PM

Two weeks ago our church had a "Music Sunday" in honor of our retiring music director.  The choir sang and I played the 2nd movement of Bach Double, finally, with a friend. 

I retired from the choir myself almost two years ago, after having been in it for something like 7 years.  It was one of the few unfortunate casualties of picking up the violin and viola again and joining an orchestra.  I couldn't justify another weekly rehearsal night. 

And this Bach Double performance has been kind of star-crossed too.  My friend and I had been talking about doing it for almost 2 years.  Being both violinists-turned-violists, at first we were going to try having her play the 2nd violin part on viola.  She plays viola professionally and it is her main instrument.  (I do more switching, and violin has been my main instrument this fall).  And we even warmed that idea up last spring by playing some fun, easy Mozart and Stamitz violin-viola duets for one service.

But when it came down to it, the Bach Double is written for 2 violins, and we both returned to our violin roots.  Our pianist, a member of the church and husband of the interim music director, is also a Professor of Music and he had some interesting comments at rehearsal.  It turned out that both of us violinists had first learned the piece as young students back in the 1970's, when a different style was in vogue.  We had learned a Romantic, lush style with a slow tempo and heavier beats.  I'd been counting 8th notes.  Our pianist suggested something different:  to make sure to feel the beat in quarter notes, to pick up the tempo, to have a lighter style.  Overall, I think we succeeded, but it was a surprisingly big adjustment.

The performance was very emotional.  I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised by that, but I was.  Two of the choral alumni who had moved away came back to sing for the retiring director, one driving in from Connecticut.  At the last minute, a couple of my old friends from choir said "oh, you know these pieces, why don't you just come up and sing with us?"  There were two that I'd sung before:  John Ritter's "Look at the World," and "Douglas Mountain" (Arnold Sundgaard, Alec Wilder).  During the singing of "Douglas Mountain," I was overcome and started to cry.  I couldn't finish singing.  The Bach Double was 5 minutes later.

My husband recorded it with our little digital camera:

The recording quality is poor and he didn't have a tripod, but watching this was nonetheless very instructive for me.  Here's what I felt good about:

1. I didn't make any major gaffes. I came in correctly in all my entrances. There had been a misprint in my part that I'd never noticed before, and I remembered to correct it and play an E-flat when it counted. I didn't completely blow any shifts or miss any notes or major dynamic markings that I know of. I got from beginning to end without screwing up or crying again.

2. We played well together as an ensemble.

3. We got into the spirit of the Baroque style.

Here's what I didn't feel so good about:

1. Intonation. While it's glaringly obvious on the recording, it wasn't noticeable to me while I was playing. 

2.  Rocking back and forth.  The 2nd violinist manages to stand still while she is playing, but I don't.

I originally put this on YouTube to show my teacher, and of course the intonation is the first thing she noticed.  We discussed why I didn't notice it while I was playing.  It gets better as the piece goes on and when the same entrance/phrase comes back again it's more in tune.  We thought the most likely explanation was that I was emotionally rattled from the singing (and crying) that I'd just done.  There's been a discussion thread about violinists crying on stage.  Now I know what it's like for me:  I may want to make the audience cry, but it doesn't help the performance if I'm crying myself.


From Terez Mertes
Posted via on November 15, 2008 at 3:36 AM

 Enjoyed reading this and watching the link, Karen. And I can appreciate this:

>I retired from the choir myself almost two years ago, after having been in it for something like 7 years.  It was one of the few unfortunate casualties of picking up the violin and viola again and joining an orchestra.  I couldn't justify another weekly rehearsal night.

It's not that I'm even performing on the violin, but my zeal for embarking on another choir concert season (I only sing in the choir seasonally, I might add) has been muted over the past few years, and you just nailed why. Nightly practice on the violin kinda kills the need to make music with my voice. : /

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