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September 2012

Five Years Later

September 30, 2012 12:34

Here, on the last, rainy, day of September, well into the thick of back-to-school madness, I was thinking about my goals for the year. I was also browsing as an excuse for not practicing, and I came upon an old blog from a little over 5 years ago: Goals.

It was a long and sprawling list, and people gave me some good feedback.

I'd like to update where I've gotten with these plans from 5 years ago, and think more about why I'm here and where I can go. I've copied the old list in italics, and will add comments without italics.

1. Playing both violin and viola. I need a teacher who does both instruments.

I found one. We had an interesting discussion about liking the inner voices in ensembles.

--how to balance the two? When to practice each instrument? Both in the same day? Alternate days, weeks?

This proved to be more challenging than I was able to handle. Switching back and forth was difficult and I had to do it more on a monthly, or seasonal, basis. Unfortunately, despite how viola-centered this 5-year-old list was, I haven't played the viola in over 2 years.

--fiddle: Irish? Cape Breton? On viola?

Haven't done very much with this.

--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.

Haven't done enough with this either.

--buying a new violin

Bought a new violin from Shar in 2009 (blogged about it). Still very happy with its brighter, bolder, and richer sound.

2. Playing viola in an orchestra
--Arlington Symphony (community orchestra--don't need to audition, website says they welcome new string players)

This orchestra is actually called the Arlington Philharmonic. I have been a member of this orchestra for almost 5 years, and concertmaster for 4 of those years.

--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.

Auditioned on viola in 2008 (blogged about that too) and didn't make it. Have not tried again. At this point I prefer the Arlington Philharmonic anyway: equally good repertoire (the two organizations share music), excellent conductor, friendly people, closer to my home, and get a chance to play a leadership role.

--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?

Don't need this anymore. Have plenty of orchestra music to work on.

--What if the orchestra needs violins more than it needs violas?

That is why I am playing first violin instead of viola, and why I have not played viola in 2 years.

3. Practicing
--How to use 1/2 to 1 hour per day most efficiently. Finding more practice time.

A perennial problem, not solved. However, I recently retired from my demanding job and am working only part-time right now. So there is hope.

--Simon Fischer's Basics. I just bought it. Written for violin, adapt for viola?

Violin vs. viola doesn't really matter. But I have turned out to have a hard time learning anything musical, auditory, or motor, from a book, no matter how well-written. I need demonstration and hands-on instruction. I guess I'm something of a kinesthetic learner when it comes to stringed instruments.

--Urstudien? (on viola)

Not enough.

--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.

This is still a problem for me. I've seen other people on catch fire with scales and start to love them, but to me they are still a chore and I don't consciously observe the benefits of doing them. I feel like I get more noticeable benefit out of practicing orchestra music, etudes, and solo pieces. I do not rule out that there is a benefit to my practicing scales that I am not aware of--maybe it is gradual and incremental--but I wish I were more aware of it day-to-day.

--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.

This has been fine with my teacher. I'm less interested in writing everything down than I was 5 years ago. I've recorded a few lessons and I think that listening to those recordings has been ear-opening. Maybe more useful at this point than writing so much down.

--Goal setting

This analysis is part of that process.

4. Specific areas of my playing that need improvement and/or attitude adjustment on my part:
--Vibrato on both instruments. Especially "continuous" vibrato.

I have done vibrato exercises and I do feel as if my vibrato has gotten looser and more under my control. However, I've slacked off on this recently and should go back to it.

--Left thumb slightly too short due to childhood accident. Tends to lag while shifting. Needs some attention.

This has improved. I do not feel my old left thumb injury is an impediment to my playing.

--Ear training. Learning fiddle tunes or other by ear.

I hear and am bothered by poor intonation much more than I was 5 years ago. I hope this has translated into having better intonation while playing.

My ability to learn pieces by ear has not improved at all.

--Listening to and learning to like modern, less accessible, music: e.g. Clarke, Hindemith, Walton.

I like and have played some Clarke. In general, though, I'm still pretty traditional/classical in my musical tastes. Still don't like Hindemith, and have not been gripped by a desire to learn the Walton viola concerto.

--Playing in higher positions (above 5th)

Have made some significant progress here. Can reliably recognize a high A when reading, am less intimidated by 8va passages (as in, actually play them in the higher octave now rather than cheating and dropping down), played the Tchiakovsky "Mozartiana" solo, which has lots of higher position work.

5. and blog.
--Recording equipment?

Nope, no fancy equipment. Still using digital camera and iPod touch. These work pretty well for intonation, at least.

--posting my audio?

Have done this, especially for the Rockin Fiddle Challenge. Find it useful, interesting. Still chicken sometimes.

--would teacher mind if I posted about my lessons or about things that I was having trouble with?

My teacher likes to hear about things I learn on

6. Performance



not for money, but every summer at the Farmers' Market

--Good unaccompanied pieces, fake book, viola arrangements of violin pieces

Bought fake book, have learned some unaccompanied Bach

--chamber music? Meeting people, can teacher introduce me?

Met people in Arlington Phil. Now have a string quartet.

I think I can be happy with my progress in many areas. I'm doing, and doing well, the one thing I most wanted: playing in an orchestra. I've made technical progress on improved vibrato, more precise intonation, and higher position work. I have a new violin. All these things add up to sounding better and being a better player.

But I also did a lot of what I had already done before. I knew I liked classical music. I knew I liked to play in an orchestra. I haven't branched out much into fiddle or folk, I haven't learned to play by ear. And I've given up viola altogether. So perhaps these are things I can do in the next 5 years!

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