October 2010

Listen to the Music

October 16, 2010 10:30

This blog is not about the Doobie Brothers.  It is about a combination of hobbies that my husband and I did.  But for it to make any sense at all, requires some background.

Almost exactly 4 years ago, a few months after our daughter started to play the violin, I decided to start playing mine again too.  I had quit for over 7 years, during the time our two children were babies and toddlers.  Playing again myself started out as an idea for me to be able help my daughter, but it soon grew into something else.  Now it includes not just one violin but several, and also an occasional string quartet, the farmers' market,  an orchestra, a blog, and oh yeah, a  viola.  I'm pretty sure my husband did not know what he was getting into.

Similarly, I did not know what I was getting into about 2 years later, when a coworker of my husband's took our family geocaching for the first time.  Geocaching is described in a number of different ways, including as a "high-tech treasure hunt," and "using multi-million dollar satellite technology to find tupperware in the woods."  Similar to letterboxing, which predated it by several years, geocachers go to a website (linked above, and here) to find coordinates for caches of "treasure."  Once the box is found, you sign the log book and maybe leave a trinket, or take a trinket.  You also log your visit online, as a find or a DNF (did not find).  

Our first geocaching experiences led us to new parks and recreation areas around town, neat places that we might not have gone to if we hadn't found out about them through geocaching.  The kids found, and exchanged little Happy Meal-ish toys.  We found, and placed a cache with my daughter's girl scout troop. (Both Boy and Girl Scouts are enthusiastic about the activity).  This was enough for me, but, sooner or later serious geocachers get into the "puzzle caches."  These can be extremely elaborate on- and off-line puzzles with many steps and stages to be solved in order to obtain the cache coordinates.  At that point the cache itself becomes almost an afterthought, the thrill is, apparently, in the search.

Weekends in our household would sometimes get a bit contentious, with the dueling hobbies:  I wanted to practice my instrument, he wanted to find another geocache.  I had a concert, he wanted to find another 10 geocaches.  So we decided that rather than arguing about it, we would make a music puzzle cache together, combining our interests, called Listen to the Music.

 The first stage of the puzzle involves a series of questions about a well-known classical composer, which lead in a very complicated and non-intuitive way, to this YouTube video:


The YouTube video then gives the last 5 numbers each of the N and W cache coordinates.

The puzzle in fact has several stages, none of them particularly easy.  And, we ended up submitting it to the geocaching site with the highest difficulty rating possible, 5/5.  The admin for our area of Massachusetts then wanted to know just exactly what was so hard about this cache. In my opinion, it's the quiz and the subsequent finding of the YouTube video based on the answers (the part of the puzzle my husband made).  In his opinion, the hardest part is getting the numbers from the video (the part of the puzzle that I made).  

The cache has only been found twice so far, and both finders had significant help, either from us or from a musically-knowledgeable friend, or both.

But I still think that pretty much anyone on this site would find obtaining the numbers from the video to be pretty easy.  Am I wrong?

6 replies

A Recording is Worth 1000 Words

October 3, 2010 16:03

 In my last blog, I posted about starting to learn the violin solo part to Tchaikovsky's "Mozartiana" Suite #4.  Just for grins (and inspiration, and so you know that this is in fact a lovely piece), here is a YouTube video, done by a professional (who I do not know, but if anyone knows who he is, feel free to post more about him).  In addition to the speed, dexterity, and lovely tone, you gotta love the ponytail:


I started working on it in earnest a few weeks ago, and at the time, once I was able to get through the whole thing without having a total meltdown, I video-ed myself too.  (No ponytail, but there is a vintage doll house in the background).


When I watched this recording at first, I expected the usual intonation and phrasing issues, which are certainly there.  But what I didn't expect were the bow distribution issues.  I use too much bow on unimportant notes, and too little bow for complicated runs.  I run out of bow when I shouldn't.  I tend to want to stay in the center and am uncomfortable at either end.  

Since this recording, I have also run through this solo with the orchestra 1.5 times (the second time we didn't make it through the whole thing because of rehearsal time limitations).  And I found, to my chagrin, that I have a serious case of the bow shakes.  I'm used to my left hand getting stiff and my vibrato and intonation suffering because of it when I'm nervous.  But all this other stuff, I thought I had under control.  Isn't bow distribution something my 11-yo daughter is supposed to be worrying about?  Aren't I beyond this?  Apparently not.

My hypothesis, which has informed my plan moving forward, is that the two problems are highly interconnected.  A big reason why I lose bow control at inopportune moments and start shaking, is that I'm in the wrong part of the bow in the first place.  Or rather, I'm not adequately aware of what part of the bow I'm in, and why.  

Now, finally, I am beginning to understand (if dimly) the point of an exercise Laurie recommended >2 years ago on this blog (Scales, Sheepishly).  In particular, she recommended the following:


Set the metronome on 60 and do:

Half notes on every note
Quarter notes, slurring two to a bow
Two to a beat, four to a bow
Three to a beat, six to a bow
Four to a beat, eight to a bow
Six to a beat, 12 to a bow
Eight to a beat, 24 to a bow (that's three beats, the one outlier for the right hand)


I admit, after that blog I probably did this exercise about twice before getting bored and moving on to something else.  But watching my recording inspired me to try it again, with the 3-octave D-major scale.  My teacher thinks the exercise is helping a lot.  (I want to give it a bit longer before I record again.)  And I no longer think that doing it is boring.


7 replies

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