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Laurie Niles

Programming Pag++

January 9, 2007 at 8:06 AM

Paganini reminds me of a Christmas light display I saw during my holiday break in Celebration, Florida.

My father-in-law loaded the kids, my husband and me into the van then pulled in front of three houses in his neighborhood. He fiddled with the radio dial and explained, "They've got special music going on their own radio frequency, and they've synchronized the lights with the music."

Indeed, the lights along the sidewalk, porch rails, fences and roofs were dancing in perfect time with the music on the radio. Sometimes the lights blinked in unison, sometimes they rolled from one end to the next, sometimes they twinkled or alternated or even changed intensity. And, seemingly, the same lights could blink white, but then in the next minute all red, or all blue, or all green or yellow, or in any combination.

"One guy programmed all those lights," my father-in-law said with reverence. "The first year he did just his own house; now he does the neighbors next to him, too.

"He spends all year doing it. It takes him hours to program just a minute of the show."

I know the feeling.

I've been preparing Paganini Caprice 4; yes, as I near my 30th year of playing the violin, I'm finally getting around the the Capricci. It's doable, but every three-second trick takes hours to perfect. And it's all tricks.

I was trying to learn the entire Caprice to play for my favorite coach, but after trying very hard, I realized that I'd have to reduce my goals to bring anything remotely near to mastery in two weeks (particularly two weeks during the holidays!). The goal of mastering a smaller part actually was much more satisfying than schlepping through the entire thing. I went for it. Set my metronome, did my repetitions. Ten thousand times, says Shinichi Suzuki. Almost there....

"You aren't doing anything wrong technically," he said, after listening to it on Saturday. "You just need to play a LOT of this kind of hard stuff, until it gets easy."

Actually, that was his original wisdom: "If something seems difficult, do something even more difficult. Then the first one won't seem nearly as hard!"

It's true. The chords in a Bach fugue aren't nearly as hard after Pag. 4. Teaching one six-year-old is nothing after teaching 52 of them. Running a mile is nothing after running three, or six.

One day I'll have all my lights blinking in time to the music. Till then, it's a few seconds at a time... just perfect... a few more....

From Ray Randall
Posted on January 9, 2007 at 4:53 PM
Very well thought out and said. Good job.
From Thomas Gardner
Posted on January 9, 2007 at 8:01 PM
Great analogy Laurie, I sometimes feel that my string of lights has one too many burned out bulbs. Especially when it comes to Paganini. Oh well...
From Natalie Norton
Posted on January 10, 2007 at 4:40 AM
Great comparison!

You can do it--keep on practicing! (maybe you can put it on the site for us to hear when you've got it? Just an idea...heh!)

From Pauline Lerner
Posted on January 10, 2007 at 9:11 AM
You have a very good way of setting goals.
From Jim W. Miller
Posted on January 10, 2007 at 10:01 AM
I was thinking along those lines when I switched from music to engineering in my early 20s, only literally. I saw programming, especially hardware programming, as a more satisfiying and easier way of doing what I was doing with music. You do it, and it's done. You can mull it over in an easy chair offline without all the dynamics. Plus it solves real world problems. And if you can remember back in the day it was no less sexy.
From Elizabeth Smith
Posted on January 10, 2007 at 3:48 PM
Nice essay. I just re-read it and figured out the pun in the title.

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