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Tommy Atkinson


November 19, 2010 at 9:17 PM

 Lately I've been working on (read: "struggling with") the concept of balance. 

First, I'm having a "wonderfully" busy November and December. November has consisted of a few concerts and is culminating next week with my hearing/oral exam for my MM recital, which I'll be performing on December 4. Shortly following that are two concerts (one for the UMD orchestra and one for my orchestra job) plus a couple of my students are playing in a recital. So the first bit of balance is practicing all of my music for my orchestra job, university orchestra, and recital. Fortunately, the rep for my university orchestra includes Mahler 4 which I'm very familiar with and the rep for my orchestra job is holiday/pops music which isn't too technically demanding. The caveat in this being I play assistant concertmaster in my orchestra, so I need to be absolutely solid in the music each week. I can't slack off! So, priority 1 is my recital music, followed by holiday/pops, followed by university orchestra music. To be honest, I have to alternate days on my orchestra music. I need to play my recital rep every single day, period. If I practiced everything every day, I'd easily need 6 hours of dedicated practice time. That's just not going to happen with my schedule - school, teaching (preparing for lessons, of course), orchestra, recital, and a part time job.

My recital program includes LeClair: Sonata in D Major, Beethoven: Sonata in a minor, Suk: 4 pieces, and Takemitsu: Hika. It's mostly a manageable program with a really tricky bit in each piece. The LeClair has a finger-twisting last movement, the Beethoven has a pretty disgusting lick in the first movement and a last page that is fast and difficult, the Suk has entirely too many notes in the Burleska, and the Takemitsu has a huge atonal cadenza in the middle of the piece. So balancing working on the difficult sections and keeping the easier parts at a high standard requires a special balance of practice time. I usually like to work on the hard stuff interspersed with the easier things to give myself a sort of concept of how it'll be in the recital. If I do all the hard stuff first my hands will be too fresh, so I need to space it all out. Fortunately, this means I spend a pretty equitable time on everything but it does require a lot of focus and time management.

Third is balance in terms of my body while I play. I have to make sure that I have slow, focused horizontal motion to keep balanced. I also like to practice (and perform!) on one foot to keep my spine from getting stiff. I also have to think of finger balance. The last movement of the LeClair is a prime example of this. There are a number of arpeggios that have to be played on one string because of a double stop drone (usually an open D), so the patterns go 1-3-x4/1-2-4/x1-2-4/1-2-4/etc. It's important to realize when fingers need to extend and when a shift needs to occur. The difficulty being the balance in the hand changes when a finger is extended versus when the fingers are all playing notes in the same position without having to reach. If you know the piece, I'm sure you'll know which part I'm talking about.

On the plus side, all this repertoire is forcing me to practice really smart. I'm finding myself way more exhausted, mentally speaking, at the end of my sessions and I think my playing is improving a lot. It'll sure be nice in the second half of December though - I'll have graduated and symphony will have a break until the new year. Maybe that'll be a good time to think about my first repertoire to study outside of school.

From Michael Divino
Posted on November 22, 2010 at 3:36 PM

 Wish I could go Tommy....the next week at school is finals week :(

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