From notes to music
As I work on the two Reiding student concertos (Concerto in B Minor and a portion of the Concertino), my teacher tells me that I need to get past the notes and develop expression and feeling. I do get that, it's just hard to do that when all of my playing since March 10th has been isolated in my back room, or for my teacher over a Zoom connection, and I live alone. I've had one in-person lesson since March and am thankful to have had that one. Sadly this isn't the time to play around, or for, others. This will pass.
I've no problem with motivation, just trying to think through how to move from "lesson practice", from focusing on notes to the music that those notes inform. Curious to hear thoughts on this, of course everyone is different.
The Rieding! (pronounced like "reading" in English, so the "i" comes first in a Germanic word, and Rieding was definitely German).
I don't use those concertos as a teacher so I'm not sure exactly what the difficulty level is but I love the Dancla Air Varies (op.89) as a way to teach expression, brilliance in playing, and singing through phrases be they lyrical or technical.
You know, Catherine, a lot of expression gets framed as this ineffable quality that emerges like a mist out of the recesses of the gem-like soul each player possesses, but really, a good place to start in trying to phrase meaningfully for someone figuring this out, is to make sure that you are playing the written dynamics and that you are really doing the indicated crescendos and diminuendos. And all of that is greatly helped by planning your bow distribution, so that when you have a crescendo, you start piano (start with less bow), and increase your bow usage across the phrase. A diminuendo needs to start loud enough that you have somewhere to diminuendo to, which means you are using more bow at the beginning and less later.
My teacher had the reverse problem with me as a child. I have always been pretty musical and immediately "got" my pieces, but was too sloppy/lazy in actually working on technique required to nail the notes cleanly. He always complained that I played "like a gypsy" :-) The last 15 years or so I have been working on technique to correct that (still on the amateur level of course). Catherine, what you may want to work on is just doing run-through of your piece, neglecting all technical difficulties, keep on playing (like a gypsy :-), keep the wave going, and try to express what you feel. You can alternate such run-throughs with technical work on getting passages clean.
Rieding B minor is a great Concerto for that, but with online lessons it will be hard.
I think your teacher is asking too much. Expression and feeling aren't things you can turn on and off or apply like paint. First the music has to excite some emotion, which can't be taken for granted when all you can hear is yourself.
Following on from Paul,
Simple: listen to youtube. Listen to several good players and see what moves you. Don't even think of the notes when you play, think of what you are trying to say - eventually it becomes automatic.
This is all great advice, thank you! I think I fall in the "bashful" category that Christian describes. From what my teacher says I know my dynamics need attention. I CAN hear my dynamics, but apparently others can't so it's time to address that. I will think about the comments from all of you as I continue to work on these two pieces.
Wonderful discussion. As a (now retired) amateur, I just have one non-technical suggestion. Think of your playing as vocal, as singing, rather than as "playing." This may give you that aesthetic edge you seem to be looking for.
My daughter's previous cello teacher gave her students simple "expression" exercises. If you have a line that rises and falls in pitch, then make it rise and fall in volume to follow the pitch. Then, do exactly the opposite. Then, add a second rule -- make each phrase taper at the end no matter whether it's rising or falling. But also try the opposite -- make each phrase blast off like a ski-jumper at the end regardless of the pitch sense. If you have music that is organized into two- or three- or four-note slurs, then play each one as a crescendo. Then try playing each one as a decrescendo. Then alternate them. It's a game -- the teacher might ask for any combination next week, and you've got to be ready!
@Paul - Maybe "emotion" is putting it too strongly, but I believe there's a great difference between real expression and the kind that comes with observance of technical detail. Drdla's salon pieces are full of "expression" marks, but even to observe them all wouldn't necessarily result in an "expressive" performance! The simple feeling of enjoying a particular phrase, on the other hand, will automatically result in a degree of expression. I don't have any recollection of consciously trying to play with feeling or expression until one of my exam pieces was Brahms's Sonatensatz. Then I couldn't help myself.
It's been challenging to find a really good recording on YouTube for the Rieding Concerto in B Minor - as it's a student concerto there are, of course, lots of student recordings.
Itzhak Perlman plays Rieding Violin Concerto in B minor op.35 (Concerto from childhood):
I also found this one Concerto in B minor, I like it even better than Perlman's
Yes it is lovely, but one thing I find frustrating about trying to find a version as well played as this is they use vibrato, which most people aren’t doing yet when they learn this piece, so it’s never a fair comparison with how you are going to sound.
"they use vibrato, which most people aren’t doing yet when they learn this piece"
I'm using vibrato for certain parts of this, as well as 3rd position - my vibrato isn't "pretty" yet but I'm using it at my teacher's direction. I think the link I posted of the Concerto is probably the best one I will find, and it's lovely. Eventually I hope my vibrato will be as effortless as hers is - but she's been playing much longer than I have.
The comments helped, thank you! Obviously I didn't suddenly overcome this in one week, but my teacher was very pleased with my progress.
Telling a student to play with more expression doesn't help, especially if they do not yet have the technical tools, vibrato, bow control, etc. Part of the problem is our notation system; as good as it is, it is dots widely separated by empty space. Sometimes telling a student to just "connect the dots" results in an immediate improvement. Or; imagine what a singer would do with this passage if you attached nonsense syllables to the notes, consonants on attacks, vowels on the sustain. When I did vocal lessons I would sometimes write a straight line from one note to the next, connecting the dots.
You are so right Joel.
I could not agree more: "Play with more feeling" is a completely useless instruction--except to people who don't need it any more because they were taught properly. I would add this: Violin teachers are not the only source of help in this area. Many a conductor of an amateur orchestra is quite good at getting people to make progress. Or you can try and form a group (duo, trio, quartet) and work with a chamber music coach (for some reason chamber music teachers are called coaches). They specialize in making people play musically.
I will look up that video, it sounds wonderful.
I will post one if I can get a decent video later today. I'm learning vibrato so it's hard for me to tell if it's from tension, the arthritic fingers, or both (probably).
fantastic video, moved me to tears as well, the girl clearly seems to have had no trouble securing a fine job a few years later https://nyphil.org/about-us/artists/marie-rossano
Thanks Buri, that's helpful and will look up the references. I CAN vibrate with all 4 fingers, and my thumb is relaxed. My teacher tells me my hand is making a different movement with each finger - which raises his eyebrow over Zoom :)
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