November 2006

Sweet spot

November 29, 2006 03:58

I was planning to play Greensleeves on viola, but then listened to a You Tube recording yesterday of the orchestral arrangement, and I decided the range of the violin was better suited to the way I (and, in my humble opinion, the composer) think it should sound. Particularly the opening, with that ethereal descending passage that's on flute in the orchestra, sounds much better on violin.

So for the performance I'm playing it on violin instead (note to Anne--even if your comment was snarky, it was right!) That made practicing last night a very interesting experience. First of all, it made the fear go away. The piece is much more secure in my personal comfort zone on violin than on viola. I don't freak out about fourth through 6th positions on violin the way I still do on viola, where I'm just getting comfortable and fluid with third. And reading viola clef is still feeling a lot like speaking German. I can make myself understood in Germany, I can talk to my (German) husband's family and friends, but I learned the language as a young adult, I didn't grow up speaking it. Whereas treble clef is still English for me, still my mother tongue.

Someone wrote in the "viola personality" thread that after playing viola for a while, the violin would feel almost like a toy, that you would be amazed at what you could do on it. I felt that way. Vibrato hasn't been that good or come that easily in years. Intonation wasn't that accurate the first time through, but improved after about 10 minutes of playing.

I want to get to and stay in that sweet spot where I get back to the instinctual violin intonation but keep the looseness, relaxation, and sure-fingered-ness that the viola seems to have inspired. I'd been playing viola for 20-30 minutes a night for about a month with almost no violin to speak of. Now I guess I'll be alternating.

And trying to get my violin into better physical shape. I've posted elsewhere how poorly I feel my violin measures up to the sound of the viola I rented, especially on the G string. Even if my vibrato is okay, the sound is still kind of hollow. Someone on suggested a complete overhaul, and even though I bought new strings recently, it has been 10 years since the instrument was checked out by a luthier. Hopefully that will help!

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25 Practice Days until Christmas Eve . . .

November 28, 2006 04:25

Well, Fantasia on Greensleeves is not "just" a little fun Christmas piece. Last night I had a serious pity party of "what have I gotten myself into?" My goal is to be an ensemble player, not a solo performer! I've been spending too much time on! Aaargh.

But okay, it's a beautiful piece, and it's doable. Even by me. My church audience is generally a very friendly audience. Our decidedly amateur choir always gets many compliments. This will be fun, right? I even bought a new outfit.

So, what's the difference between Lento, lento moderato, and allegretto? Is it a meaningful difference in this piece? There are no metronome markings in my edition. What about cantabile vs. espressivo? I would naively be approaching both of those markings the same, too. It's not so long I couldn't commit to memory, but probably that's not the best use of my time . . . given that there are 25 practice days left between now and December 24th. It's not shopping days anymore, it's practice days!

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Christmas music

November 21, 2006 08:31

Inspired by the Christmas music thread, I'm now going to be playing "Fantasia on Greensleeves" at church on Christmas Eve.

I just ordered both violin and viola arrangements; not sure which I'm going to do. I think I could probably learn the violin arrangement more quickly, so I'm leaning towards that one, but I may play both for the pianist and see what she thinks. It was great to have so much information about the music before I even ordered it!

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Double stops

November 18, 2006 21:09

I started working on Conte Serieux by Ludwig Mendelssohn. It's from "Solos for Young Violists," volume 1, and it's supposed to be pretty easy and straightforward.

It is in some ways, but . . . it has a lot of double stops. They're all open strings. The editorial notes call them "beginning double stops." Okay, good, gotta start somewhere. But when I play them it sounds more like an intonation exercise than an artistic piece.

I didn't, of course, get that impression from listening to the CD at all. The CD is played by Barbara Barber, whom someone on the viola list was kind enough to tell me is a well-known Suzuki teacher and violinist as well as violist. I think her sound is lovely. It's very rich, it's smooth, it's lush. I have her on my iPod immediately following the artist known as Pinky playing Brahms, and I really like her better. Oops, probably shouldn't admit that.

My violin teacher of 10 years ago told me that the sound out in the room and the sound under your ear aren't the same. And I'm back to that again. I need to know what the relationship is on viola (or, to be more precise, I guess, on *this* viola) between the sound under my ear and the sound "out there." Under my ear I hear the open string of the double stop way too loudly, or at least way too insistently, but I don't know how to correct that. Or if it's even really a problem for a listener a few feet away.

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I found it!

November 16, 2006 06:06

I found Stamitz. The one I was looking for: it was indeed Concerto No. 4 in D by Anton, not Karl.

Shar had it, and I decided it was worth the $18. However, it's not an audition piece for me, that's for sure. It's got parts that would be high even on the violin. I really like how the music switches to treble clef in viola for the high parts, though. I always hated passages in violin music that were written 5 and 6 lines above the staff, because I just couldn't read them. I always had to count notes. I need a teacher for this one.

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Music Therapy

November 15, 2006 08:14

Getting back into playing again has brought me back up against the question of "what do I really want out of this?" I'm enjoying myself when it's just me and the instrument and in a way, maybe, that's all that matters.

But then there's the issue of other musicians. I told a friend who is a professional musician and teacher the other night about my plans to try out for the LSO next year, and she said "well, somebody has to be last stand, why not you?" I think she was trying to be funny, even encouraging, and I think last stand is probably a likely outcome and I won't mind that at all if it happens (it'll be better than not making it)--but still, what a thing to say! Oy.

Although I've met many exceptions on and elsewhere (and if you're reading this, you're probably one of those exceptions), I haven't, as a general rule, found classical musicians to be the most pleasant and supportive bunch of people to hang around with. Maybe it's the long hours spent alone in the practice room, the competitive nature of the business . . . there are many of the usual suspects to be rounded up as the cause . . . but the outcome, for me, is the same. The more music I play, the more involved I get, the more time I end up having to spend with musicians. And then it doesn't take long before I'm reminded of one of the big reasons I decided not to make music my life all those years ago: musicians are often not very nice, and that not-niceness hits just where it hurts the most.

In music, as in most endeavors, I've been told that a "thick skin" is not only helpful, but essential for "success." While I'm sure this is good advice and helpful for some people to hear, it has never done much for me because I've never been able to develop that thick skin with respect to music. I feel like there are opposing forces working at cross purposes: one one hand you have to be "naked," to expose your true feelings, to let down your defenses to be able to have anything to say, musically. But then on the other hand you have to do this somehow while still maintaining this "thick skin" and conforming to what the world expects of you, achievement-wise.

For most of my life, music has been more like therapy to me than like skin thickener. I think it's likely that when I was a teen, music kept me from experimenting with drinking or substance abuse. It was a way to work out my emotions in at least a somewhat constructive fashion, even (or maybe especially) when I wasn't practicing efficiently in order to achieve some higher degree of technical prowess.

And now I'm feeling like this function of music, which is almost essential to me and how I approach it, is not very well-understood or even much recognized among classical musicians. And I'm sort of wondering why not. Is this attitude really that rare among people generally? Do most people who would prefer to use music more for therapeutic than achievement purposes just get driven out of the field by the competition and the thick skin requirement by the time they're my age? Or do they just go somewhere else where I haven't yet thought to look?

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Not ready for prime time

November 12, 2006 21:39

So I didn't call the piano teacher for my daughter. But, surprise, he called me back. And then he came over. My daughter was enchanted. I think she likes piano better than violin right now. He talks a little above her head at times, but she seems to like the challenge, and he's going to do a lot of the music reading and rhythm exercises that have been discussed elsewhere, and he talked to her about writing her own music, which she thought was great. I was feeling like it was a bit too much to do all on my own, but these recreational piano lessons seem just right. And the teacher has a gentle, friendly manner, which she really warmed up to. Even though she said otherwise at first, I thought a male teacher would be fine as long as he was nice, and I think I was right.

Then I recorded myself playing Telemann using my digital camera. It wasn't as bad as I feared. I don't look stiff or too amateurish, and my bow is mostly straight. My intonation isn't too bad and my tempo is good. My dynamics were at least audible.

But it wasn't great either. I seem to be able to play in only one place between the bridge and the fingerboard. If I get much less than a centimeter close to the bridge with my bow it sounds scratchy yet superficial. If I apply more pressure, it sounds less superficial but still scratchy. And if I get too close to the fingerboard I don't project and it just feels awkward. These things were true on the violin too I guess, but here on the viola they seem exaggerated and as if I have no margin for error, or really for changing my sound at all. It's like, the sweet spot or nothing. Is that normal?

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Make New Friends

November 10, 2006 21:26

I've been teaching my daughter to play "Make New Friends," the girl scout song (Make New Friends, but keep the old. One is silver and the other gold). At first I was just trying to teach her to sing it in a round, with the hopes that we could get the whole Brownie troop to sing it that way. She's got the problem, though, that when someone else comes in she gets distracted by them and starts singing along with their part instead of sticking to hers.

But not on violin. We played it as a duet/round, and this week it was really nice. I have a recording of her playing it last week that's almost painful . . . Progress really does seem to go in leaps rather than gradual increments.

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Too much

November 8, 2006 05:03

I never got around to calling the piano teacher back for my daughter. I got the recommendation at the beginning of the school year, sent the email, got something back, said I wanted her to start lessons when soccer was over. Well, soccer is over. She's bugging me about piano.

I feel in a quandry: I don't have time to supervise her practicing both violin and piano. I got a bunch of good recommendations for teaching her to read music from the Teaching Music Reading thread. I thought I might get a music book or two for her for Christmas, but she wants "Amazing Allysen" instead, this doll that costs $99.99 and talks to you. Getting "Adventures in Music Reading" when you want a talking doll is probably not going to make you feel well-disposed towards the music reading. She already thinks mommy is too much of a music geek. Probably what she needs is to practice violin more and watch TV less ;-)

Already my life feels good but too full. Last night I was watching the election results on TV and I just couldn't get off the couch and practice, I was so tired. I have slides to make for my boss' genetics lecture tomorrow and I need to do that instead. It's not really like school where all subjects were more or less equal and playing violin was going to help show how well-rounded I was. Now, work pays the bills, music doesn't, so I feel I have to choose work. And it's not as if I don't like what I'm doing for work, I do. I just wish there were more hours in the day.

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Speaking in scales and arpeggios

November 6, 2006 05:32

I still haven't found the elusive Stamitz, but someone on the viola list sent me a concerto by Ignatz Gspan. He says he discovered it while doing research in Austria and reconstituted it for viola and orchestra. I can buy the whole thing for $12, which is pretty reasonable . . . but so I've never tried to evaluate a piece by sight-reading excerpts like this.

There are no recordings available that I know of. From sight-reading it, it seems to me to be a bit like the Telemann or other concertos from that period, where much of the tension and conflict in the music must derive from the dialog between the solo instrument and the orchestra. And without the orchestra/piano, there are just a lot of arpeggios and scales and I'm not getting a good sense of what the piece is really about . . . I think I'll email my contact back again and ask him if he has a recording. He said a competition winner played it for a special concert a few years ago.

The experience of reading this piece has brought up several issues for me again: the "practicing but for love of god when?" thread. The poster said that with a job and kids and all, she was not finding/making time to practice. I've been practicing 15-20 minutes a day, that's it. I don't count practicing with my daughter or giving her lessons. It's not enough. Mostly I'm having trouble finding a quiet place where I don't bother anyone else while I do exercises like Wohlfahrt or play Telemann for the 20th time while I try to memorize it. It would be nice, too, if other people didn't bother me, but I'm surprisingly good and blotting out distractions and concentrating amid chaos, at least when I'm doing etudes and scales.

The other thread that's been on my mind a lot is still "who is speaking, the composer or the player." Especially with pieces that seem to be largely about tonal scales and arpeggios, what am I "saying" with these pieces? My internal experience of playing them is a kind of cerebral, intellectual enjoyment of having everything fit together in a pleasing way, like solving a puzzle or a math problem. There is an emotional component to it, but it feels very personal and individual. Like doing a crossword puzzle, or maybe how I would imagine sudoku would feel if I had ever done sudoku . . .

I didn't think about any of this when I was younger, I just played for my own enjoyment and for myself and played for others and performed when I "had" to. But here I am trying to push my personal comfort zone and take on some long-standing issues I've had around performance, especially solo performance. Any thoughts?

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