July 2007


July 30, 2007 15:50

I've been playing without a teacher for almost 9 months now. I'm reasonably pleased with what I've accomplished on my own, but it is time, or maybe past time, to take the next step.

There were a number of reasons I didn't start out with a teacher right away, the most obvious one being lack of time and money, but there were others too: feeling ashamed that I hadn't played in so long, thinking that if it was a total disaster it would be better to have the disaster in the privacy of my own home.

But mostly, it was that I didn't know what I wanted to get out of lessons, didn't have a plan, didn't have goals. I didn't want to waste my time or a teacher's time. I might still be channelling Mr. Coppola, orchestra teacher of 5th graders at Forest Elementary School in Williamsville, NY, who told me one week that since I hadn't practiced enough that week, he wasn't going to give me a lesson. He wasn't going to give me "something for nothing." I was really upset by that. I remember that I cried that afternoon as I was walking home from school. But then, I always practiced enough, every week, after that.

So last night I sat down and wrote out two long lists.

List #1: Issues to Discuss with a Prospective Teacher
1. Playing both violin and viola. I need a teacher who does both instruments.
--how to balance the two? When to practice each instrument? Both in the same day? Alternate days, weeks?
--fiddle: Irish? Cape Breton? On viola?
--The prospect of learning or playing by ear still makes me uneasy. If I'm going to attempt learning or playing by ear, I don't need "rah-rah-you-can-do-it" type of encouragement, or anyone telling me that it's "easy." Instead, I need someone who'll be sympathetic to the fact that I find it difficult and scary.
--buying a new violin

2. Playing viola in an orchestra
--Arlington Symphony (community orchestra--don't need to audition, website says they welcome new string players)
--Longwood Symphony Orchestra in 2008? (serious semi-pro orchestra). Originally wanted to try out this fall but now am not so sure. Getting cold feet about the audition. And, probably too serious of a commitment, even if by some miracle I did make it, given that my boss is going on sabbatical and my close coworker on maternity leave at the same time and I'm probably going to get buried by work for a few months starting in September.

Both rehearse 1X/week on Wednesday nights and have seasonal concerts.

--Orchestral excerpts on viola. Can I work on preparing some? What are some good ones? I have a list of excerpts required if I wanted to audition as a viola section player for a major orchestra in Cincinnati (posted on the web). Would that be a good start?
--What if the orchestra needs violins more than it needs violas?

3. Practicing
--How to use 1/2 to 1 hour per day most efficiently. Finding more practice time.
--Simon Fischer's Basics. I just bought it. Written for violin, adapt for viola?
--Urstudien? (on viola)
--Scales. Boring, boring, boring. I'd rather do Urstudien. Or Wohlfahrt. Or almost anything. Too many repetitions of a scale and I start not noticing--just not hearing--if it's out of tune.
--Preferred use of Musician's Practice Planner at lessons rather than the ubiquitous and semi-useless music manuscript book that teachers have always made me bring in the past.
--Goal setting

4. Specific areas of my playing that need improvement and/or attitude adjustment on my part:
--Vibrato on both instruments. Especially "continuous" vibrato.
--Left thumb slightly too short due to childhood accident. Tends to lag while shifting. Needs some attention.
--Ear training. Learning fiddle tunes or other by ear.
--Listening to and learning to like modern, less accessible, music: e.g. Clarke, Hindemith, Walton.
--Playing in higher positions (above 5th)

5. Violinist.com and blog.
--Recording equipment?
--posting my audio?
--would teacher mind if I posted about my lessons or about things that I was having trouble with?

6. Performance
--Good unaccompanied pieces, fake book, viola arrangements of violin pieces
--chamber music? Meeting people, can teacher introduce me?

List #2: Music I want to learn to play on viola:

1. Bach cello suites:
--Refine #1, memorize?
--Learn #2

2. Bruch Romanze, esp. for vibrato (as discussed by Mendy in her blog)

3. Anton Stamitz (not Karl) Concerto No. 4 in D

4. Rebecca Clarke Passacaglia on an Old English Tune and Lullaby

5. Benda Grave

6. Handel-Halvorsen Passacaglia (both parts?)

7. Vieuxtemps Capriccio for viola

8. Martinu Rhapsody (recommended by Yixi)

9. Fiddle and Busking tunes
--Shenandoah like Mairead Nesbitt (as discussed by Albert and Pauline)
--2 Maud Powell arrangements of other spirituals (as recommended in Rachel Barton Pine's blog and posted--gorgeous)
--Come back to Sorrento (as recommended by the older gentleman at the Farmer's Market; it's in the Classical Fake Book, which I bought thanks to Pauline)
--Dark of Winter (UU hymn, to arrange myself by next Xmas to play in church)


Teachers: if a prospective student brought you these lists for discussion, would you like that, or would you run screaming?

14 replies

Music at the Market

July 13, 2007 04:35

I've been talking about playing at the Belmont Farmers' Market for weeks, and it finally happened!

I was less nervous than I expected, maybe because I was busy and didn't have time to be nervous. I went straight from work to the market, met some family members there with my viola, played for about 50 minutes, and then gave my viola to my babysitter to take home, got in the car and went camping.

Conditions weren't auspicious at first, rain was predicted and it was cloudy on and off all day. But the sun came out in the mid-afternoon and I had great weather, to the point that I had to find a shady spot next to a tent to play in. The people running the market were very friendly and welcoming, the vendors didn't mind me standing next to them, and as the time went on they became enthusiastic about it.

It wasn't a big shopping crowd, due to the weather and the holiday, but there was a steady stream of customers. A few moms and kids stopped to listen, I made eye contact with a baby who smiled. One woman said "thank you" very quietly and walked away quickly. She seemed to have some personal relationship with the music and be lost in her thoughts. At the time I didn't realize what she had done, but she had walked all the way back to my case (that I hadn't put out in front because this was community service) and put some money in it. An older gentleman asked me if I could play "Coming Back to Sorrento." Unfortunately, I couldn't: I'd never heard of it. (I have now: www.youtube.com/watch?v=OVEGhtMxvUQ)

If I do this again, I would do a few things differently: 1. I would bring more clothespins to hold the music on the stand. I brought two, based on Anne's recommendation to bring some, but 2 weren't enough. At first my music kept blowing closed or off the stand. It took 1-2 pieces to get the pins and stand positioned so I could concentrate on the music and avoid the wind (mostly). It wasn't that windy--but even a little breeze goes a long way. 2. I wouldn't bring a 4-year-old. The babysitter took the kids to the toy store near the market, but not until after my son spent some time clinging to my leg while I was playing. 3. I would have more music prepared. I played most of my viola repertoire (with the exception of Wohlfahrt and the Telemann concerto) and it took less than half an hour. So I played several pieces twice, to get to 50 minutes. I don't think anybody minded, but I still would like to have more music at the ready.

I would also do many things the same: Unaccompanied Bach, at least in small doses, seemed fine and was well-received. Both vendors on either side of me remarked on the Bach as having been especially nice. Fiddle is also a good choice. I was playing a hornpipe particularly fast, because well, why not, and when I was done, the organizer yelled out "Go, Karen!" She was generally wonderful, very supportive, said I could definitely play again.

I earned a $10 certificate to spend at the market, as well as the $2 in my case that I hadn't expected.

Me and my viola:


Playing it (I look too serious, but I think I was still worried the music was about to blow off the stand):


I want to play again, it went by too fast. And I think I could definitely learn "Coming Back to Sorrento."

15 replies

So is this what closure feels like?

July 12, 2007 04:44

I have been waiting to get pictures of my gig at the Farmers' Market before blogging about it. My au pair took some while I was playing, and then her computer died before she downloaded them, and her camera card does not fit my reader, so they're sort of in limbo right now until her computer comes back from being fixed. Unlike Emily and Pauline and Bram and a few others who post such wonderful pictures here, I've never done that before and am not sure how it's going to work. But try I will, when and if I get them off the camera.

The performance went extremely well, was very satisfying, and then I immediately left on a camping trip, which I just returned from. I didn't take an instrument along--there just wasn't enough room in the car, or the schedule.

But when I got back, I took my viola out to practice and something had changed. I played the Bach Prelude amazingly well, almost effortlessly, without any struggle with the intonation in the last line.

I played the rest of the Bach suite #1 too, and I felt, well, *finished*. Like it was time to put this piece away for a while. I've been working on it for over 6 months, and while I'm not sick of it, and still love it in a general sense--it's not "dead" for me--I still got a strong sense of being ready to move on. I took out other pieces I'd played and felt the same way about them.

Way back when in October when I started this blog, I asked myself, rhetorically, "when am I finished?" I'd had a problem with closure as a violin student. I would learn stuff and move on passively when my teacher said to buy a new piece. Then my mom would drive me to the music store, which to my childish mind was very far away (because these were the dark ages before the internet and sheet music plus). All my childhood sheet music looks the same, all these books in their yellow Schirmer edition covers, the edition insisted on by my teacher: the Bach Double, Dont, the Handel Sonatas, Sevcik, the Sonatas and Partitas, the Four Seasons. I'd just move from one yellow book to the next one.

In my blog, I wondered if I'd be finished when I had, for example, memorized a piece. Or performed it. Or what, exactly? I've now performed nearly my entire viola repertoire, gleaned from multi-colored covered books, in public, and it takes less than a half an hour. I've memorized some, but not all of these pieces. And this is the first time I've felt anything like "done." It's a good feeling, but also unsettling.

Then I saw Mairead Nesbitt on You Tube from the links on Albert Justice's blog. She was very interesting; I didn't care that much for the way she moved on stage, but I really liked how she sounded. I've always thought I liked Celtic fiddle, and this reinforces that impression. I'm wondering if the aspects of her performance that I'm not getting or liking right now would grow on me and make more sense with time and familiarity. I started itching for the violin again.

So last night, that's what I did--took up a new challenge, the violin. I played the Four Seasons, a Handel Sonata, Preludio from Partita in E, Irish fiddle tunes (from a real book bought in Ireland as opposed to the "Fiddling for viola" student book). I was offered another Farmers' Market date in August and thought hmm, maybe I could play violin at that one.

I dunno. I had built up a lot of confidence on the viola that just went away on the violin. Instead of grounded and rich, I sounded kind of cardboardy and thin and superficial. After an hour or so, I didn't want to listen to myself anymore. I was just not channeling the spirit of Mairead Nesbitt. I could start complaining about my instrument again, how my new lovely viola plays the pants off my old student violin, but I'm not sure that's fair. And it's boring: I can't afford a new violin right now and that's that.

Maybe I really and truly am a violist at heart, and just discovered this as an adult. Better late than never. But I don't want to give up the violin either. I really enjoyed the Handel and the Preludio, even back then . . . and I started analyzing the Preludio based on the comments in Ruth Kuefler's blog and intellectually I'm ready to go deeper. I had planned to get a viola teacher and take viola lessons only, but maybe I need both.

Jennifer is right, music always leads somewhere. Some days this feels like a blessing, some days like a curse.

6 replies

Venus, Saturn, and Belmont

July 1, 2007 08:02

I had several big projects due at work in the past couple of weeks, the last due date being Friday June 29. I come home, finally stumbling into summer a week after everybody else, without any particular plans for the weekend.

One of the many emails I have from lists I subscribe to but don't have time to read tells me that Venus and Saturn are "colliding" Saturday night. I remember the telescope that my daughter and I bought at a yard sale last summer for $2. Somewhere in the basement. I take it out and try to set it up in preparation for the collision, but the only collision I'm seeing is the telescope with the top of the tripod. There must be a piece missing. What do you expect from a $2 telescope?

Saturday morning, I took it to a local hardware store and the helpful teenage clerk found a 29-cent screw that enabled me to attach the scope to the tripod. Any charge for his time? No, just one of the privileges of shopping there.

So, at last, Saturday night, I was out there at sunset with the telescope kneeling beside my house (mosquitoes buzzing), looking for Saturn's rings. My neighbor, trying to barbecue dinner on his deck, saw me and asked me what I was doing. No, not trying to get a better look at his grilling technique: looking at the convergence of Venus and Saturn in the western sky.

Venus was bright, like a UFO, and Saturn a small barely-visible companion in the western sky, especially until the sun went down sufficiently. Cheap telescopes wobble a lot. Just turning the focus knob or switching to a higher power objective lens sends the object rocking and rolling beyond recognition, even out of the field of view altogether. My husband comes out, "can you put the children to bed?" "Don't they want to see Venus first?" "No, they're too tired. They're in their pajamas." "How about you, do you want to see Venus and Saturn?"

Saturn is a little tiny orangy fly-speck in the scope, located about 7 o' clock from Venus, which is a bright silvery crescent at the top of the field of view. I think I see the rings on Saturn. It's small, but what else can it be? Why is it underneath, though? Oh, the telescope inverts the image, okay, that's why.

"Yeah, that's Saturn all right, I can definitely see the rings," says my husband, looking through.

My neighbor comes down from his deck, he looks through the scope. "Maybe," he says. He sounds less convinced, but he definitely sees Venus. "Wow, thanks for showing me that. That's quite a telescope for $2." Then he mentions, "I saw your name in the paper playing at the Farmer's Market. What instrument do you play again?"


"Oh, that's right. My son wants to play there too."

I often hear his son playing saxophone in the afternoons, usually just before or after dinner. We exchange email information about the market, and viola/saxophone duet jokes.

Summer's finally here.

Venus and Saturn side by side, shown in Concord MA at spaceweather.com.

9 replies

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