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January 2009

Celebrate Mozart's birthday with his violin music

January 27, 2009 13:31

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was born on January 27, 1756. What better way to celebrate his birthday than by listening to some of his violin music played by virtuosos?


Heifetz (the Supreme) plays Mozart's Violin Concerto 5, second movement.


Perlman plays Mozart's Violin Concerto 5, part.


Janine Jensen plays the end of Mozart's Violin Concerto 5.


David Oistrakh conducts and plays Mozart's Violin Concerto 3, first movement.


For a hair raising conclusion, Heifetz plays the Rondo from Mozart's Serenade 7 (Haffner).


Indulge yourself and listen to all these clips. After all, Mozart's birthday comes but once a year.

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In the Shadow of Mr. Lincoln

January 27, 2009 07:55

My father was a great fan of Abraham Lincoln. He liked the man's rise from humble origins (a log cabin) to the Presidency. He liked Lincoln's homespun yarns and wit and quoted samples of them frequently. He was tall and thin, like Lincoln, and sometimes dressed up as Honest Abe for parades on patriotic occasions. Of course, the thing he admired most about President Lincoln was his freeing the slaves. This seemed especially appropriate during the Civil Rights Era. My family lived in Baltimore, about 40 miles from Washington DC, and we made frequent pilgrimages to the Lincoln Memorial in Washington while I was growing up. I was always impressed with the Lincoln Memorial. Standing at the foot of the large statue and looking up at the great seated figure always gave me a feeling of deep reverence.


In school, I was taught something different: that Lincoln did not free the slaves, and the Emancipation Proclamation did not free the slaves. What freed the slaves was the military victory of the Union in the Civil War. I don't know enough to evaluate this view of history, but I do know that Lincoln is respected and admired by many people for freeing the slaves. That's good enough for me.


I have read about or seen photos of several historic events at the Lincoln Memorial. The first one centered on the great American opera singer Marion Anderson. In 1939, she was denied permission to sing to an integrated audience at Constitution Hall, owned by the DAR (Daughters of the American Revolution) simply because she was African American. In the resulting controversy, thousands of DAR members resigned, and First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt arranged for her to sing at the Lincoln Memorial. Her concert, attended by more than 75,000 people, black and white, was a great success.



Another defining event for our nation -- and for me, personally -- was the Civil Rights rally on the Mall in August, 1963, where Martin Luther King gave his famous "I have a dream" speech. My father took me there. I remember King's speech vividly. He was a powerful orator, and his effect on the crowd was almost palpable. I couldn't see him as well there as I could later in news films and photographs. I have a strong mental image of him in front of the Lincoln Memorial, and also one of Peter, Paul, and Mary singing there. I have heard and read his speech many times since then, and it always moves me deeply. Here is a partial extract of it.



Earlier this month, another historic event occurred in front of the Lincoln Memorial. Barack Obama, the first African American to be elected President, attended a preinaugural concert at the Lincoln Memorial. There he gave a very moving speech, in which he referred to President Lincoln as "the man who in so many ways made this day possible." On Inauguration Day, January 22, 2008, Obama was sworn in as President with one hand on Lincoln's Bible.


President-Elect and Mrs. Obama in front of the statue of Lincoln




I watched all of this and more on simulcasts on the Internet. Later I visited youtube again and again, watching the preinaugural concert, the Inauguration, and Obama's speeches over and over. I felt excited, happy, and proud to be an American. I only wish that my father had lived long enough to see so much of the Promise fulfilled.

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Musings on Adult Beginners

January 19, 2009 21:24

About half of my students are adult beginners or re-beginners, and I love teaching them. Like any group, they present their own delights and disappointments. Overall, I find the experience of teaching them both challenging and enriching for me, and I'd never want to give it up.

The February, 2009 issue of Strings has an article by Deryn Cullen about her experiences teaching cello to adult beginners. She says that the students who are most likely to quit early are her adult beginners.

I think I agree, but I'm not sure because I've never taken count. Besides, I'm biased at the moment because three of my new adult beginners have quit within the last week.

Ms. Cullen says that many of her adult beginners already have their schedules filled with working and/or parenting, and they can not find enough time to practice.

 I've had quite a few students like this, and I'll give two examples. One student had a full time job with a lot of required overtime and a one year old child who needed medical attention with surprising frequency. His wife was quite supportive and gladly shared time and responsibility with him. He and I tried different lesson times, but there was simply no way that he could do it all. He quit his lessons reluctantly, determined to try again when his son got older. Another student was a stay-at-home mom with three kids aged six and under, all of whom wanted all her attention all the time. She would let the six year old watch her practice and would even explain what she was doing. However, she could not find or make enough time to practice. She decided to drop out, wait until her kids were a little older, and then return to me for lessons for herself and her oldest kid. She asked me how to start or keep up her children's interest in music, and I said that the most important thing was to make sure that the kids heard plenty of music at home while growing up.

Ms. Cullen says that a major reason that her adult beginners are early quitters is that they can not manage to practice consistently.

My experience has been different, largely because I live near Washington DC, the seat of empire. Some of my adult beginners must travel frequently for their work. Some are able to take their violins with them when they travel (BAM cases can be great) and practice in their hotel rooms. These students rarely miss a lesson and rarely drop out. Other students need to be out of the country for one or two weeks every month, and they can not take their violins with them. Some of them learn to play, albeit slowly, while others drop out.

After a few preliminary discussions on the phone or by email, I give the student a trial lesson to see whether we can work together well. Ms. Collins, on the other hand, after the initial emails and phone calls, has an in-person consultation with the adult wannabee cello student to determine whether she will accept him or her as a student. She asks some questions that she feels will indicate, to some extent, the likelihood that the beginner will stick with it.





Viewing my adult beginners as a group, I know what are the worst and best experiences I have with them.


The worst: Adults want to learn everything at once. I'm always telling them, "Slow down. Before you can learn how to do [something comparatively hard], you have to learn how to do [something comparatively easy].



The best: Adults sometimes behave more like kids than kids do. One of my adult beginners jumped up and down in her chair and called out, "Awesome! Awesome!" the first time she played an open string with her bow. Another one got so excited that she jumped up from her chair and danced around the room playing one open string arco. It's not unusual for an adult beginner to call his/her mother long distance and play "Twinkle" over the phone. I like making people happy, and I get so much happy feedback from my adult beginners.


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Gift Giving

January 8, 2009 04:02

A few weeks ago, I asked one of my students, a ten year old from an observant Jewish family, what she wanted for Hanukah. She said, "I'm not sure. I can't think of anything I really need. Maybe I'll just give money to charity." Flabbergasted, I asked her for details. Her grandparents, who are active donors to good causes, give each of their grandchildren a total dollar value and choices on how to spend it. The kids decide how much to donate to charity, which charity(ies) to donate to, and what they want for themselves with the remaining money. This week, I asked her what she had decided to do about her Hanukah gift. She told me what she had gotten for herself: two inexpensive but very practical items. I estimated their total cost at no more than $25. She donated the bulk of her discretionary gift money to charity.

I often see stresed out parents buying their kids hundreds of dollars of electronic toys. The whole advertising industry pushes them this way.

I think the lessons learned about gift giving and responsibility towards ourselves and others are at least as important as the gifts themselves.

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More entries: December 2008

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