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The Weekend Vote weekend vote: Have you ever played your fiddle by candlelight, or in the dark?

December 2, 2011 at 6:53 PM

With the sun sinking lower and lower in the sky as we move toward the winter solstice in the northern hemisphere, I'm thinking dark thoughts.

No don't worry, I'm not going to start watching vampire movies (even if my female teenage students recommend them!) I'm thinking literally about the dark, because since the Big Wind Storm a few nights ago here in Pasadena, we've had no electricity! What an enlightening experience, so to speak. I wasn't really noticing this before our lights went out, but the sun has been setting around 4:45 p.m. Rather early! Without artificial light, it's best to do any cooking before all natural light goes away. The candles were lit in various rooms around 5:15 p.m. last night. By about 6:30 p.m. we thought it was midnight -- all that darkness! No street lights, no noise, no neighbors with lights, not much juice in the computers or cell phones, so those were off. It's not only dark, it's quiet, literally and mentally.

I took out my fiddle and played requests for my kids, by candlelight. It was pretty fun! It made me think of how the "old days" must have been, and also how things are in places that don't keep the lights on 24-7. We don't need them so much, I think. I had the best night's sleep, ever, last night, with that "circadian" rhythm kicking in, and I awakened not too long after the sun came up, with no big desire to go back to sleep.

I'm trying to imagine how things worked back in Mozart's time, playing music by the light of rather dim lamps. Memorization and playing by ear would seem like good strategies. Also, it's a little easier to hear things when the visual cues aren't blaring for your attention.

Have you ever played in the dark, or by very dim light?

From Jim Hastings
Posted on December 2, 2011 at 8:47 PM
Yes, I've played in the dark, which puts me in the majority -- 68% at this writing.

Actually, I've had a penchant for this since I was a kid. So I was well prepared for these playing conditions last April when a tornado took out the feeds from Browns Ferry Power Plant and plunged several hundred thousand of us Alabamians into a 4-day blackout. I had a great time.

For about the last hour of each evening session, the only light was from the night sky, barely enough to let me pinpoint the bow contact point. All the ear-training and bow-control and bow-division drills paid off -- big time.

From Mendy Smith
Posted on December 2, 2011 at 10:22 PM
Many times when I lived in CA... rolling black-outs, storms knocking out power in the Santa Cruz Mtns, and only once down here in H-town.

It is a great time to work on memorized (or partially memorized) pieces, scales, etudes, tone production, etc...

From John Schneider
Posted on December 3, 2011 at 12:38 AM
Yes, in fact it was uncanny how I posted my "in the dark" comments just a few hours before yours showed up on this web site! If you want to read my comments and what others wrote in response to them just click on "Discussion" at the top of this page then search for my title "Playing in the near dark". As I say in my submission, playing in the near dark gives the player the ability to hear themselves "as others hear them". This is because throughout human history darkness has caused the brain to sharpen the other senses more than in lit conditions. This is because humans perceive that they are in greater danger in the dark than they are in daylight when all their senses can operate to detect dangers from predators etc.. So, it isn't just cute to play in the dark or near dark. As is brought out in the discussions in my blog your brain lets you actually hear better than you would in a lit situation. It concentrates more on the aural input it receives when sight is no longer useful. John Schneider
From Smiley Hsu
Posted on December 3, 2011 at 4:29 AM
Yes Laurie, there is something relaxing and healthy about not having electricity. We are all so sleep deprived and addicted to our electronic gizmos -- Computers, Tivo's, Plasma TV's, Playstations and the like. It is almost a blessing in disguise when the power goes out. Music by candlelight is a wonderful thing. Maybe the Amish are onto something :-)
From Ruth Brons
Posted on December 3, 2011 at 11:56 AM
I am always quick with my beginning students to take advantage of the opportunity to play "moonlight Twinkle" in the dark -- it really opens their ears AND imagination!
My all time favorite memory of playing in the dark was many years ago at Charles Castleman's Quartet Program, playing by memory the Barber Adagio in a completely dark practice room.
From Anne Horvath
Posted on December 3, 2011 at 1:07 PM
I had the same experience last spring when the power was out for a few days.

7:00 pm felt like the middle of the night. The quiet was noticeable. A few (carefully supervised) candles were enough for most tasks. (Not reading though. My eyes are too old for that.)

It isn't hard to replicate that calm, relaxed atmosphere. Just turn the electronics off...

From Ellie Withnall
Posted on December 3, 2011 at 3:00 PM
I had to be truthful and vote "no" but my new goal is to play by candlelight tonight.Lovely idea.
From Francesca Rizzardi
Posted on December 3, 2011 at 5:16 PM
Some times I play in the dark just so I can concentrate on my tone and bowing. It cuts out a lot of distractions. Last year in Berkeley there was a Junior Bach Festival that my teacher was at. Just as a student started playing one of Bach's violin partitas (may have been the Chaconne--I forget), the power went out. He played it until the end and then the festival was stopped. My teacher said everyone went outside and hung around, talking about what a magical event it had been.
From Francesca Rizzardi
Posted on December 4, 2011 at 8:04 PM
After responding to this, I was reading the Dec. newsletter for the SF Scottish Fiddlers. The newsletter contained an invitation to a "lights out" party. The hosts explained that a few years ago during an SFSF party, they lost power at 8:15PM during a storm. Everyone decided to keep jamming any way, and they had so much fun that every year since they've turned off the lights at 8:15PM to jam by candle light.

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