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Ruth Kuefler

A Living Sound

June 2, 2008 at 4:21 AM

I love how going to an excellent concert makes me feel both inspired and daunted. Inspired in that I am blessed to witness such amazing music and daunted in that I have so much yet to learn. Yesterday I saw a concert that I'd been looking forward to for quite some time — Augustin Hadelich performing the Dvorak Concerto with the Kansas City Symphony. I'd been intrigued by Hadelich's playing ever since I read the Strings article on the Indianapolis Competition, which he won in 2006. I watched several videos of his playing online, and was impressed by the energy and beauty of his playing. Needless to say, I was looking forward to the concert.

But I am getting ahead of myself. The first delight of the evening was hearing the KC Symphony for the first time. Now that I think of it, I've seen very few really good professional orchestras live. It's so incredible what a good orchestra can do. From the opening bars of Mendelssohn's Final's Cave Overture, the orchestra's sound grabbed me because it was so alive. It's so hard to describe . . . it was just this incredible synchronicity of sound, like the orchestra was a living, breathing entity rather than a collection of individual musicians.

And then, the Dvorak. Hadelich's playing was superb, both musically and technically. He has a warm, passionate sound, beautiful vibrato, and excellent bow control. I'm realizing more and more how incredibly important a good bow arm is. It can really make or break a fiddle player. It's also something that I personally need to work on. I think I've fallen prey to that common violinistic fault of focusing on my left hand (particularly regarding intonation) to the detriment of my bow arm, and now it's catching up to me. Also, I feel as though I simply know more about left hand technique. If I have problems with my left hand, for the most part I know how to fix them. Whereas with my bow arm, there are times when I'm completely stumped. Or have so many options that it takes me forever to try them all and decide on a solution.

Lately I've been thinking a lot about the concept of personal sound. Sometime I get so caught up on the details of a particular piece or technical issue or musical idea that I don't truly listen for the sound I'm producing. I've been trying to pinpoint exactly what goes into making a truly beautiful sound on the violin. Obviously, how one uses the bow — speed, weight, angle, sounding point, distribution. There are so many combinations and possibilities! And then vibrato, with all its variations of speed, width, and consistency. And of course, good intonation is always key to a clear, ringing tone. But I think the most important tool of all is a good set of ears. You can never change or fix something if you can't hear it first.

I only wish I had more clues to help me through the maze of possibilities. I really want to develop a sound that is alive, beautiful and personal. How I can do this remains something of a mystery to me.

From Charles C
Posted on June 2, 2008 at 5:04 AM
Ruth, there is a straightforward fix to any right arm problem, which is open string exercises :D.
I'm only half-joking, too.
From Bonny Buckley
Posted on June 2, 2008 at 12:30 PM
I don't know him personally, but I was just reading about Perlman at his summer school in the Hamptons, trying to teach his students to fully listen. He said something like if they could only reach even say 93% of fully listening that they would be making incredible strides. That because of the physicality involved in playing sometimes what might sound bad to the student's ear might sound just great if the observed from 'outside' careful listening. The great artists are our greatest listeners.
From Jonathan Frohnen
Posted on June 2, 2008 at 1:38 PM
Make sure to check out his new Haydn album on the Naxos label.
From Bill Busen
Posted on June 2, 2008 at 2:21 PM
Given the confluence of your:

- Current ability (Mozart!)
- Mentoring vacuum
- Desire for a personal sound

I would say you are ready for Janos Starker's advice (as closely as I remember):

"If you are practicing four hours a day, one hour should be solely experimentation."

(Although if you read Strings, you probably remember reading it.)

From Lesley duCille
Posted on June 2, 2008 at 11:27 PM
I can indentify with you. I have been in a delemma about creating my own sound. I am finally at the level where it has come to be priority, especially when playing in front of others!
I also completly agree with you with the left hand being a main focus. That is a great down fall for us violinist. unfortunatly some violin teaches dont focus on it as they should.
thanks for sharing and good luck!
From Drew Lecher
Posted on June 5, 2008 at 6:44 AM

"But I think the most important tool of all is a good set of ears."

Add to this, indeed in front of it is, your imagination. If you can't imagine the sound and character you want, you can't achieve it. If you can imagine the sound and character you want, you must achieve it.

Experiment until you do. Note how the truly great artists vary their bow, vibrato, shifts, etc.

You are definitely on the journey—enjoy the achievements and persist through the deserts.


From Terez Mertes
Posted on June 5, 2008 at 4:59 PM
Love what you wrote about Augustin and the concert!
From Megan Chapelas
Posted on June 6, 2008 at 8:13 PM
Ruth, you may want to consider trying to have a lesson with Ian Swensen in San Francisco at some point, especially as you're looking at other possibilities for schools. He brought me further along the road to finding my sound than anybody else could have - opened tonal worlds to me.

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