Another title I could have used for this post is “squeaky wheel gets the grease.” More to come on that in a second.
I just passed the 6 month mark. Ouch. In some ways I feel good, like when I think I’ve come from zero to where I am now in six months is actually a little bit remarkable. In other, and let’s be honest here most, ways I feel extremely uneasy as I still haven’t learned the majority of the piece and of the stuff I know, there is precious little of it that I’m actually proud to play. So I need to kick it into high gear.
Easier said than done, especially since school eats an extremely large amount of my time. Ugh – 2 hours of driving round trip per day down to Orange County and back, five days a week. I feel like a giant carbon monster leaving huge black footprints on poor mother earth. I would take the train, but my personal convenience would take a hit. Is that hypocritical? Probably, but either way I can easily see why many adults don’t take up an instrument – you have to sacrifice something and it’s usually that thing called personal time. Of course, I don’t want to discourage anyone from taking up an instrument (you don’t have to start with Paganini) but let’s just be honest here: it’s hard. But I have a feeling I’ll sink into my schedule soon enough.
Why should I have called this the squeaky wheel title? Three days ago, I whined, yes I’ll admit it–it was a bit whiny, to Danielle about how she wasn’t paying me enough attention and that if she didn’t give me more lessons, I simply wasn’t going to do this thing. Period. Whiny? Perhaps, but I did have a point. I’m sort of flittering around right now and if Paganini’s going to be tamed, or tamed enough so that when I get thrown off I don’t break anything too important, I’m going to have to get much more focused. She actually agreed and promised to work with me quite a bit, not only on my technique but also to help me learn all of the new stuff. So there’s that.
We’ve been working on learning the new stuff in the fourth variation, but I wanted to take a quick detour last night into the third variation–the one with the octaves. So I played the third variation for her and she ended up helping me with phrasing, something I hadn’t really worked on too much. This was last night:
At the end there, right after I cut it out, I completely played the wrong note and stopped playing, prompting Danielle to yell at me not to stop, and then we had a little spat. I wanted to spare you there, so sorry for the sudden cutoff.
We also worked on the fourth variation last night, but I haven’t edited the video yet, so I’ll get that up soon. I don’t know why I’m on this editing kick instead of just shooting something specific, but a little bit of the lesson seems more interesting. And for me, it’s always interesting to go back and watch a lesson again, and it’s probably fairly helpful too.
This has been quite a week. We started our yearly RA training/year preparation on Wednesday to get ready for the incoming students who began rolling in yesterday. They’ll continue to trickle in for a week or so as summer camps and festivals finish up. Last year, Colburn training was no big deal. I only had one class to teach, and I had already taught it so I wasn’t too worried, but now I have three classes to teach and prepare for, violin to practice (and write about), and classes start tomorrow! It was a bit stressful fitting everything in, but I think I survived.
This afternoon I got around to editing that lesson with Danielle’s student Anna that I had a couple of weeks ago. The first thing I want you to notice is how long Anna’s fingers are. They remind me of a daddy long legs. I think they’re even longer than mine. It’s probably pretty obvious how much of an advantage having long fingers can be when playing violin and having them be thin enough not to hit the wrong string like I do. If you hear a third voice at the end of the lesson, it’s Elbert who wandered by because he wanted to play catch in preparation for the annual Luzerne Music Center vs Philadelphia Orchestra softball game (which Luzerne won 20-4 or something like that. Unfortunately I wasn’t there because I had to leave the morning of the game).
When I was in this lesson, it felt sort of like a King’s Speech moment when I did something as simple as walking and it changed my playing dramatically. I’m not sure how dramatic it seems in the video, but when I was playing at the time (I cut out a lot of my BAD playing by the way) it felt a little bit like magic. As you can see, Anna didn’t let me get away with much when I messed up, but she also picked and prodded, trying various techniques and we finally hit one that really worked.
Needless to say, I walk much more while practicing these days.
So this week I have Colburn RA training, which means I’ll be in training most of the day (truly most of the day – until late) and all the while I still have to practice, work out, prepare for classes which start Monday, and somehow post. I’m going to try to edit and post that lesson with Anna in the next day or so.
To be honest, since I’ve been back I can’t believe I’ve practiced at all, but I managed to every day. Yesterday was particularly brutal and only got in a measly 15 minutes late last night. I guess I should get used to a schedule like this. When classes start it’s not going to be pretty with me teaching every day. It’s one of the tough things about taking up the violin as a non-musician–it’s still just a hobby. How many of us have the time to work on our hobby every single day? Luckily, my wife appreciates my hobby and is very forgiving. Now if my hobby was bull riding, it might be a different story.
Well, Luzerne is over. For me, that is. I left a week early to prepare for my classes this fall and also for Colburn residential life training/year preparation. Did I mention my classes? I got hired at Cal State Fullerton to teach 3 classes: two precalculus and one statistics. I was very fortunate to get anything anywhere (state employment in California isn’t the best right now) but it means I have to prepare for some math!
Violin, however, doesn’t stop. Remember when I was at Danielle’s camp and I wanted to get lessons from a bunch of the people there? Well, that didn’t end up happening for whatever reason (mostly my cowardice), but Luzerne was a bit different. I got three lessons in all, besides the ones from Danielle, from various people at the camp. You’ve already seen the one from Elbert, the one I’m talking about today is from a cellist named Stephanie Gunst, and the last is from Anna Vosbigian, one of Danielle’s students. I’ll post the one with Anna later; this one’s about Stephanie.
During the first week of camp I was having trouble tuning my violin. Having trouble isn’t exactly right, as I can never tune my violin properly (unless I have some piece of software that tells me what note I’m playing). I’ve gotten much better at hearing an octave when played as a double stop, but fifths are still hard for me to hear. And Luzerne is notorious for tuning problems since the weather varies so quickly from hot to cold, and it’s perpetually muggy. So I put my violin down, went to the office, found Steph and asked her to help me. She came over and helped me tune my instrument. Probably about a week and a half later I was practicing in my room and heard a knock at the door. It was Steph–she walked by and heard me practice. We scheduled a lesson for later that afternoon.
Now, as a precursor to this video, our lesson was a little over an hour, and we worked on lots of stuff, but the best thing we did was on shifting. That’s what I concentrated on in the video. Also, this was the first lesson I got from someone not a violinist, but as you can see, some things carry over:
At the beginning, when she says “one of the shifts in there” she’s talking about another piece she mentioned, but I cut out her talking about it. It might be a little confusing, since there’s no shift like that in this Caprice.
Also, I don’t know why, but the camera cut out before it was supposed to. At the end of the video, I of course played her cello as she gave me a mini cello lesson, but when I checked the file, it wasn’t there. Maybe I maxed out my SD card. Darn.
So I’m finally getting around to putting up something about my lesson with Elbert. I videoed the entire lesson (about 45 minutes) and edited it down to a little under 5 minutes of highlights.
Video editing is a pain in the butt.
Or maybe that’s just an excuse as to why I’m posting this a week after the lesson. Either way, here it is! First though, let me say a quick couple of words before you watch. Elbert is a buddy of mine, so at times it might sound like he’s being a smartass or giving me a hard time, and I just want to make it clear that he’s (probably) not like that with all of his students.
See what I’m talking about? I could have edited out him giving me a hard time (maybe he would have preferred it!) but I left them in for two reasons. First, they’re kind of funny. Second, and more importantly, they lead to a point I would like to make about doing a little project like this: you have to have thick skin. When learning something new, especially something inherently frustrating like an instrument, it’s essential to take it seriously, yet at the same time with a grain of salt. I think that it’s pretty important not to wrap up my personal self worth with how I’m playing the violin at the time; if I did, I’d be in the fetal position crying in the corner my entire life.
Remember me talking about Liz Pitcairn giving that master class at Center Stage Strings (Danielle’s camp)? Well, Liz is the artistic director of Luzerne Music Center and is friends with Sarah Chang (yes, THE Sarah Chang). Liz asked Sarah to give a benefit concert here at the camp and Sarah was happy to do it.
The concert was last night, and as you can probably imagine, this week has been busy. Sarah flew in on Monday and had her first rehearsal that afternoon. She played Mendelssohn with the student orchestra, so it was a great experience for our campers to accompany a major soloist like Sarah Chang. There was a second rehearsal on Tuesday and a third on Wednesday morning. After the Wednesday rehearsal, she gave a great question and answer with the students and then set up shop for the students to have her sign CDs, pictures, their cases, metronomes, one camper even had her sign a chessboard! I had never met her before, although I did see her perform in Aspen in 2008, so I didn’t know what to expect. It turns out she’s an incredibly sweet person along with being a hell of a violinist.
The concert itself was awesome; the kids played great, stayed with her, and of course Sarah herself played amazingly.
After the concert there was a dinner with the patrons and many of the faculty members played chamber music. While Danielle was playing, Sarah noticed something and talked to Danielle afterward. After they were done talking, something was missing from Danielle’s violin. It turns out that Sarah loved Danielle’s mute and Danielle ended up giving it to her!
Of course, this was no ordinary mute. A friend of Danielle’s, Lauren Chipman, began making mutes, pegs, probably other string instrument paraphernalia with Swarovski crystals on them. It’s called Baroque Bling and you can check them out here: www.baroquebling.com.
So anyway, when Sarah showed up on Monday, of course I thought about the blog. In my mind, I saw myself telling her all about it, her being extremely excited and then asking her for a lesson. Well, as you can probably imagine, I chickened out, and that didn’t happen, but I did mention the blog and got a picture with her: