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Karen Allendoerfer

Five Years Later

September 30, 2012 at 7:34 PM

Here, on the last, rainy, day of September, well into the thick of back-to-school madness, I was thinking about my goals for the year. I was also browsing as an excuse for not practicing, and I came upon an old blog from a little over 5 years ago: Goals.

It was a long and sprawling list, and people gave me some good feedback.

I'd like to update where I've gotten with these plans from 5 years ago, and think more about why I'm here and where I can go. I've copied the old list in italics, and will add comments without italics.

1. Playing both violin and viola. I need a teacher who does both instruments.

I found one. We had an interesting discussion about liking the inner voices in ensembles.

--how to balance the two? When to practice each instrument? Both in the same day? Alternate days, weeks?

This proved to be more challenging than I was able to handle. Switching back and forth was difficult and I had to do it more on a monthly, or seasonal, basis. Unfortunately, despite how viola-centered this 5-year-old list was, I haven't played the viola in over 2 years.

--fiddle: Irish? Cape Breton? On viola?

Haven't done very much with this.

--The prospect of learning or playing by ear still makes me uneasy. If I'm going to attempt learning or playing by ear, I don't need "rah-rah-you-can-do-it" type of encouragement, or anyone telling me that it's "easy." Instead, I need someone who'll be sympathetic to the fact that I find it difficult and scary.

Haven't done enough with this either.

--buying a new violin

Bought a new violin from Shar in 2009 (blogged about it). Still very happy with its brighter, bolder, and richer sound.

2. Playing viola in an orchestra
--Arlington Symphony (community orchestra--don't need to audition, website says they welcome new string players)

This orchestra is actually called the Arlington Philharmonic. I have been a member of this orchestra for almost 5 years, and concertmaster for 4 of those years.

--Longwood Symphony Orchestra in 2008? (serious semi-pro orchestra). Originally wanted to try out this fall but now am not so sure. Getting cold feet about the audition. And, probably too serious of a commitment, even if by some miracle I did make it, given that my boss is going on sabbatical and my close coworker on maternity leave at the same time and I'm probably going to get buried by work for a few months starting in September.

Auditioned on viola in 2008 (blogged about that too) and didn't make it. Have not tried again. At this point I prefer the Arlington Philharmonic anyway: equally good repertoire (the two organizations share music), excellent conductor, friendly people, closer to my home, and get a chance to play a leadership role.

--Orchestral excerpts on viola. Can I work on preparing some? What are some good ones? I have a list of excerpts required if I wanted to audition as a viola section player for a major orchestra in Cincinnati (posted on the web). Would that be a good start?

Don't need this anymore. Have plenty of orchestra music to work on.

--What if the orchestra needs violins more than it needs violas?

That is why I am playing first violin instead of viola, and why I have not played viola in 2 years.

3. Practicing
--How to use 1/2 to 1 hour per day most efficiently. Finding more practice time.

A perennial problem, not solved. However, I recently retired from my demanding job and am working only part-time right now. So there is hope.

--Simon Fischer's Basics. I just bought it. Written for violin, adapt for viola?

Violin vs. viola doesn't really matter. But I have turned out to have a hard time learning anything musical, auditory, or motor, from a book, no matter how well-written. I need demonstration and hands-on instruction. I guess I'm something of a kinesthetic learner when it comes to stringed instruments.

--Urstudien? (on viola)

Not enough.

--Scales. Boring, boring, boring. I'd rather do Urstudien. Or Wohlfahrt. Or almost anything. Too many repetitions of a scale and I start not noticing--just not hearing--if it's out of tune.

This is still a problem for me. I've seen other people on catch fire with scales and start to love them, but to me they are still a chore and I don't consciously observe the benefits of doing them. I feel like I get more noticeable benefit out of practicing orchestra music, etudes, and solo pieces. I do not rule out that there is a benefit to my practicing scales that I am not aware of--maybe it is gradual and incremental--but I wish I were more aware of it day-to-day.

--Preferred use of Musician's Practice Planner at lessons rather than the ubiquitous and semi-useless music manuscript book that teachers have always made me bring in the past.

This has been fine with my teacher. I'm less interested in writing everything down than I was 5 years ago. I've recorded a few lessons and I think that listening to those recordings has been ear-opening. Maybe more useful at this point than writing so much down.

--Goal setting

This analysis is part of that process.

4. Specific areas of my playing that need improvement and/or attitude adjustment on my part:
--Vibrato on both instruments. Especially "continuous" vibrato.

I have done vibrato exercises and I do feel as if my vibrato has gotten looser and more under my control. However, I've slacked off on this recently and should go back to it.

--Left thumb slightly too short due to childhood accident. Tends to lag while shifting. Needs some attention.

This has improved. I do not feel my old left thumb injury is an impediment to my playing.

--Ear training. Learning fiddle tunes or other by ear.

I hear and am bothered by poor intonation much more than I was 5 years ago. I hope this has translated into having better intonation while playing.

My ability to learn pieces by ear has not improved at all.

--Listening to and learning to like modern, less accessible, music: e.g. Clarke, Hindemith, Walton.

I like and have played some Clarke. In general, though, I'm still pretty traditional/classical in my musical tastes. Still don't like Hindemith, and have not been gripped by a desire to learn the Walton viola concerto.

--Playing in higher positions (above 5th)

Have made some significant progress here. Can reliably recognize a high A when reading, am less intimidated by 8va passages (as in, actually play them in the higher octave now rather than cheating and dropping down), played the Tchiakovsky "Mozartiana" solo, which has lots of higher position work.

5. and blog.
--Recording equipment?

Nope, no fancy equipment. Still using digital camera and iPod touch. These work pretty well for intonation, at least.

--posting my audio?

Have done this, especially for the Rockin Fiddle Challenge. Find it useful, interesting. Still chicken sometimes.

--would teacher mind if I posted about my lessons or about things that I was having trouble with?

My teacher likes to hear about things I learn on

6. Performance



not for money, but every summer at the Farmers' Market

--Good unaccompanied pieces, fake book, viola arrangements of violin pieces

Bought fake book, have learned some unaccompanied Bach

--chamber music? Meeting people, can teacher introduce me?

Met people in Arlington Phil. Now have a string quartet.

I think I can be happy with my progress in many areas. I'm doing, and doing well, the one thing I most wanted: playing in an orchestra. I've made technical progress on improved vibrato, more precise intonation, and higher position work. I have a new violin. All these things add up to sounding better and being a better player.

But I also did a lot of what I had already done before. I knew I liked classical music. I knew I liked to play in an orchestra. I haven't branched out much into fiddle or folk, I haven't learned to play by ear. And I've given up viola altogether. So perhaps these are things I can do in the next 5 years!

From Francesca Rizzardi
Posted on October 1, 2012 at 4:57 AM
Good going, Karen! I set long term goals, myself,
but tend to put them aside when my teacher reveals HER goals for me. At least she's showing me the big picture.

I belong to a Scottish fiddle club and know I would be better in it if I learned to play by ear. There is a fiddler (Laura Risk) who made two CD's for learning Scottish fiddle music by ear, if you ever decide to take the plunge. I borrowed one and listened to it a couple times, but I think I would go about it by learning the melodies first (that is, be able to at least hum them from memory) and I didn't even get that far.
(I don't know if it's cheating or not.)

From elise stanley
Posted on October 1, 2012 at 9:16 AM
Congrats Karen - terrfic for another adult amateur to read what can and is achieved over a 5 yr period. I think my progress is simular except I'm probably 4 yrs behind, more fond of solo playing (also in quartet) and of course I don't play viola. The main point is that regardless of age one really can make significant progress with determination - and I know how much of that is necessary with the emotional and time demands of our common career field.

From Karen Allendoerfer
Posted on October 1, 2012 at 1:07 PM
Elise, what was especially interesting about my viola sojourn was that it was really the viola that got me more interested in solo playing. I still, and probably always will, prefer 1st violin orchestral parts. But when I was first starting up again, I was playing relatively simple, straightforward solo tunes and they all sounded better to my ear on the viola. In particular I found the viola transcriptions of the Bach cello suites to be more accessible to my returning student abilities than the Bach S&P for unaccompanied violin. I worked through most of the first suite, some of the second, and then smatterings of others, and I just never got tired of it. Then orchestra started to pick up and I got more into violin again and here I am.

I found that my newfound comfort with solo playing did at least partially transfer to violin. Recently I played a movement from one of the suites in church from memory, a 5th up, on my violin, closing my eyes and pretending it was a viola. And it helped to find some violin solo pieces to play that weren't concertos.

From Paul Deck
Posted on October 1, 2012 at 2:37 PM
Karen, congratulations not only on accomplishing so much but on *remembering* what you accomplished!!

Every time I think about joining the local orchestra I have to think -- that's one less evening per week that I can practice the violin. Not sure I'm ready to make the trade yet. Also rehearsals start at 7 PM, kind of cuts into family time. Maybe when the kids are a little older.

From Francesca Rizzardi
Posted on October 1, 2012 at 3:59 PM
Elise, I agree. I'm way behind both of you and possibly older (pretty sure I'm older than Karen, at least) and even though in general I sometimes get anxious about what I'll be able to accomplish before age becomes a barrier, on a week-to-week basis nothing seems worth hurrying.
From Karen Allendoerfer
Posted on October 1, 2012 at 4:38 PM
Paul, I remember you writing that in another thread, that going to orchestra rehearsal would cut into individual practice time. To me, getting a night off from practicing on my own is not a bug, it's a feature ;-)

I know what you mean about the family time, though. :(

From Karen Allendoerfer
Posted on October 1, 2012 at 4:42 PM
Fran, Did I ever tell you about the previous concertmaster of my orchestra? When I worry about age becoming a barrier, I think of her. She was in the orchestra for 77 years, beginning in 1934, the year after its founding. She retired from the first violin section last fall at age 94. I can't fill her shoes, but I want to be like her when I grow up.
From Francesca Rizzardi
Posted on October 1, 2012 at 7:29 PM
You have a chance, Karen. But really--still a first violin when she retired is remarkable, let alone having the energy to practice and get to orchestra practices at that age!
From Paul Deck
Posted on October 2, 2012 at 3:05 AM
Karen, actually on further thought I guess I was a bit disingenuous because I play the piano with two different jazz groups and that means I am playing four or five gigs a month, mostly later in the evening which cuts right into my violin practice time. So I guess it's really not about cutting into practice time, it's really just about having too much to do (which is a good thing in my book -- better busy than bored) and therefore some choices to make. I played with a community orchestra when I was a high schooler and I found it fun but not really that stimulating, even though technically the parts did require a fair amount of work. Probably it would be different now. I do sit in with my daughter's orchestra, because otherwise I would just be sitting there waiting for her. Now THAT is fun, playing in a orchestra with a bunch of middle-schoolers.
From Terez Mertes
Posted on October 2, 2012 at 6:06 PM
Fun to read, Karen. : ) Thanks for posting it!

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