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Karen Allendoerfer

Out of Shape

February 14, 2012 at 5:00 PM

I haven't blogged for a while, and it shows. Surprisingly, it doesn't just show in terms of the gap in my blog list to the right--2012 is still blank until I post this--but it shows in my playing too. I started this blog about 5 and a half years ago, in late 2006. I had just started playing the violin (and viola) again after the second of two long breaks from the instrument, and I thought this time I might need something a little outside the box, something other than a practice chart and stickers. Or, something other than guilt-inducing quotes from famous practicers who have achieved levels of proficiency that I can never hope to (you know the ones about how you notice after one day and the audience notices after two), to keep me going.

It turns out I was right, at least in thinking about the correlation. It's really true if I look at my blogs and my practice records: the more blogging, the more practicing. And, alas, the less blogging, the less practicing.

But, as every scientist is taught, correlation is not causation. There could be a trivial explanation: if I get busy at work or home, as I have, or if I get involved in some new project, as I have, I just have less time to spend on the old projects. There are only so many hours in the day. Both declines can be traced to some other root cause. Yadda yadda yadda. But, here's the thing, even if that's true, I still might be able to use the correlation to my advantage. If I make a conscious decision to blog, it might still show up in increased practicing. And vice-versa.

I think my teacher would approve. At my last lesson I brought her orchestra music. The theme for my upcoming concert with the Arlington Philharmonic is "Musical Fables and Folktales." It sounds sweet and easy, but this is about the most carpel-tunnel-inducing program I've seen in a long time. It's got stuff for both hands: for the left hand there is Rimsky-Korsakov's "Snow Maiden" suite, which has 16-notes galore in a sometimes bewildering and mind-numbingly repetitive array. For the right hand there is Tchiakovsky's "Sleeping Beauty," with its measured non-tremolo. And for both, there is Grieg's Peer Gynt Suite, with "In the Hall of the Mountain King," which manages to lead us through the caverns of B-minor, up the crags and peaks of extended 7th position, finally ending in a mad stringendo from which there is no escape. The Mountain King, whom I envision as one of those creatures who captured and tortured Bilbo Baggins and his friends, is probably preparing to eat any violinist who plays in the rest.

So, how to approach a program like this? Not with a few long practice sessions on the weekend. This is like training for a marathon: a little bit each day, build up your endurance, build up your ear endurance too. Play it slowly, an octave down, to listen. Find the one note on which everything hangs: when it's sharp, so are the subsequent 4 measures. A frustrating problem, but fixable if I just put my 2 closer to my 1 up there in the stratosphere. Get up early, play those 16th notes through a couple of times before breakfast.

Good Morning!

From Tom Holzman
Posted on February 14, 2012 at 7:05 PM
So glad you are back! Your orch's next program sounds daunting but fun. Mine has done the Tchaik and the Peer Gynt, but, mercifully, I have repressed the memory of the tremolo (or, as I refer to it, Parkinson's music only playable by those with an early Parkinson's tremor) or the wonderous challenges of the Peer Gynt. Slow and steady will get you there. Good luck.
From Karen Allendoerfer
Posted on February 15, 2012 at 1:34 AM
Tom, I love the bit about the tremor. Indeed, that might help, but I think I'll pass for now ;-)

My teacher has played the 2nd violin part many times with the ballet, and she says you just have to emphasize the notes when the part changes. If you go all out from the start of that section you have nothing left for the climax of the piece.

From Lisa Van Sickle
Posted on February 15, 2012 at 11:58 PM
Karen, I love how yours, Dottie's, and Emily's blogs, all written within 24 hours or so, deal with the periods when practicing just doesn't happen. All three of you are so clear about why, about not making it last any longer than it has to, and all show such a lack of guilt and hand wringing over it. Brava!
From Terez Mertes
Posted on February 16, 2012 at 6:00 PM
The best thing about blogging (and those periods of not-blogging) is that it's so forgiving. One post, and you're back on track! : )

Good to see you blogging, and I, too, see a correlation between blogging and practicing. One seems to fuel the other, for me.

From Karen Allendoerfer
Posted on February 16, 2012 at 6:52 PM
Lisa and Terez, I just want to say "hi." I have a lesson this afternoon. I've also had longer than normal between lessons, and that can be demotivating as well. But I'm looking forward to seeing my teacher again :)

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