I’ve given myself one year to master the violin.

As an adult beginner, I should be playing Twinkle Twinkle; instead, I'm playing Paganini's 24th caprice.

Cat out of the bag

OK, so I haven’t posted in a while.  This is, of course, the best time not to post anything since I have every excuse in the book with Thanksgiving, travel, and whatnot.  So I have all the excuses I need, except that they’re innocent as to why I’ve been a little hermitic lately, I’m sorry to say.  To be honest, I haven’t posted anything because I didn’t really know what to post.

Right about now you’re saying “why don’t you post some of the Paganini?”  Oh.  Yeah.  Er, about that.  Oh, Pags, why do you have to be so darn difficult?  I’ll just come out with it:  Paganini is too hard!  Yeah, yeah, all of the nay say-ers out there turned out to be, well, right.  (Where is RF when you need him?)  And also, wait, what?  No, don’t worry, I’m not quitting my little journey.  I’m letting the cat out of the bag.  If I was quitting, I would have titled this post “throwing in the towel.”

What cat is this, you ask?  About a week and a half ago it became obvious that I wasn’t going to debut Paganini come February, so Danielle and I went into bailout mode.  We had options.  An obvious thing I could have done is cut the thirds and chords and anything else remotely on that level of difficulty like the grace notes of variation 2 and that one variation that goes so high the treble clef can’t even handle it so they had to draw in that little dotted line:

After the trimmage, I would have a nice little incomplete ditty to show off my violin prowess.  I could have done that, and to be honest, something of that nature was what most of you were probably expecting.  The thing is, I want to play the whole thing!  Perhaps I could have learned the whole thing and then just screeched through it horribly, but hey, I played the whole thing!  Victory, right?  So let’s go with option 3:  I can play the whole thing, but let me have one more year.  No big deal, right?  Heh heh.  Everyone?  No biggie?  Yeah, I know, this experiment was supposed to be for one year, but how many experiments end differently than they began?  Lots of them!  Just ask the guy who invented the post it note.

So I’m giving myself one more year to learn the Paganini caprice 24.  Oh c’mon!  Don’t be that way!  It’s still pretty good for someone who’s played for two years to play a piece like that.  I’ll just be honest here.  I’m hitting a wall that’s just making violin not fun anymore.  Some of this Paganini stuff is so hard that I want to break my bow over my violin and then break my violin over the little shattered pieces of bow.  But that’s not the only reason for this decision.  If it was still possible then we still might give it a shot, as miserable as that might make me, but we’re reading the writing on the wall.  Given just a couple more months, there’s no way I’m going to have the whole piece memorized and if I forced it, some of the stuff wouldn’t simply be unpolished, but downright ugly.  I’m thinking of your ears here, not my embarrassment.  (I’m also thinking of my embarrassment)

But wait!  There’s an upside to all this.  I’m not getting out of performing, giving myself one more year to think of another excuse next November, giving myself one more year, etc, etc.  I’m still planning on playing come February, the only question is, what?  Hey, the title of this blog is “Vaughn vs Violin” not “Vaughn vs Paganini” or “Ryan vs Nicolo” or whatever.  And in the end, my goal is to still play the Paganini, I just need another year.  If you asked for another year, I’d give it to you…

So what should I play in the meantime?  Although twinkle twinkle would have some comic value with my tag line, we wanted something still challenging, but that I could realistically learn in the next couple of months.  The Kreutzer etude was an option, but we wanted something with a little more pizzazz.  We went, then, with, drumroll please…

The Bach Double Concerto!  The first movement of it anyway.  It’s funny; playing this piece has all of the reverse advantages and disadvantages as the Paganini.  Where Pags was ridiculously difficult with virtuoso trickery at every corner, Bach Double is much slower and more lyrical.  The up side to Paganini was that it’s so fast I didn’t have to really worry much about vibrato, which I have to do much more in the Bach Double, but hey, it turns out I’m pretty good at vibrato, so let’s just give it a go.  Other new challenges are things like playing with someone else and piano, so we’ll see how that turns out, but now I get to play something with Danielle!  So that’s a huge upside.  And still, let’s keep it in perspective here.  I still haven’t played violin for a whole year, and the Bach Double is by no means your typical beginner piece.

So there you have it.  We’re going in a slightly new direction, but just remember that even though I couldn’t play the Paganini (at least not yet) doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t have tried.  I’ve learned the first few lines of the Bach so far and let me tell you, going from Paganini caprice 24 to Bach Double is like a large breath of fresh air.

Although Danielle tells me that because this piece is easier, other things like intonation had better be that much more perfect.  We’ll see.

The Hot Canary

So I didn’t end up getting a whole heck of a lot of practicing done this past weekend.  Danielle and I stayed in a hotel in Visalia as she soloed with the Tulare County Symphony on Saturday night.  Whenever we travel, her practicing takes precedence (obviously) and it’s a little too easy to slack off.  I probably could have practiced a little more, but with Danielle concentrating on her solo and not policing me more, well, you get the picture.

I’m getting back on track, but the chords are really hard.  My fat fingers keep hitting the other strings causing really bad sounds.  I’m working on it.

Danielle, though, played fantastically.  She played the Mendelssohn concerto and afterwards gave an encore of a piece she’s been working on for a while now – The Hot Canary.  This piece was written by Paul Nero and arranged for violin by Florian Zebach.  Have you ever heard of Florian Zebach?  He was an extraordinary virtuoso and had a violin variety show in the 50s and was more famous than Captain Kangaroo.  He made many recordings and was on TV.  It’s funny how some people are lost in the annals of history while others are remembered well and fondly.

The original arrangement was meant for violin and piano.  Danielle had it arranged for violin and orchestra and this was the first time she played it at a concert.  I think you’ll agree that the piece lives up to its name:

It’s quite remarkable how much like a canary a violin can sound.


Enough said.  Yeah they’re tough.  Yeah they make your hand hurt.  And in variation 8, you get to play it as part of a chord!  Woo hoo!

OK, so I haven’t done this in a while, so I’ll show you the music:

See how there are three notes in one for all of those?  That’s a chord and it means more than one string has to be played at once.  Playing two strings is no problem, but it’s really hard to play three strings at the exact same time on a violin, so we don’t.  We play the low two notes on two strings and then immediately after play the upper two notes.  The middle note ends up getting played twice.

The problem with playing this variation becomes immediately obvious:  the first measure has thirds!  Remember, if I said anything was going to get me in this project it would be the thirds.  So before tackling the piece as a chord, I play just the first two measures, thirds only:

Coming back down IS hard.  Coming up is also hard, don’t get me wrong.  Double stops in general are very difficult because my chubby little fingers are all over the fingerboard and if one touches the wrong string then the violin has a cow and screeches horrifically.  Getting a good sound with just the open string is hard enough, and now I have to worry about now grazing the string with another finger?  It’s just one more hazard to avoid when playing these things.  Also, while octaves make my hand hurt, thirds REALLY make my hand hurt.   The more I play though, the better they feel.  Of course, that’s until I play the entire chord.

Luckily, the chord part you have to add is just the open e string.  For the first measure anyway.  Here’s me not quite getting through the first measure, but I get a pretty decent sound for the two notes I do play:

This variation is going to be a beast, although it is pretty satisfying when even a few notes are played well.