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.

Happy birthday, v vs v

I suppose this post should have come yesterday, but here it is today anyway.  February 26th, 2012 – one year in and, er, no Paganini.  I guess we all knew Paganini wasn’t in the cards just yet.  That will hopefully come February 26th 2013, assuming I’m ready and the world doesn’t end in December.

Unfortunately, though, no Bach yet either.  Not to say it’s not coming, as there is progress there, but alas, not yet.  The question, of course, is when and as Danielle and I were talking about my year anniversary, she mentioned my world premiere should be at her summer camp, Center Stage Strings.  The bad (and good, depending on who you are) news here is that this is in June, several months late. This is turning into a government project, months (maybe years?) past due and over budget, as I never expected to pay another teacher when this whole thing started.  The good (and bad, depending on who you are) is that Center Stage Strings will provide a much bigger audience for this whole shebang.  Anyway, this was just an idea – nothing is set in stone.

In the meantime, I’m going to have to do a whole lot of performance first, and the most logical place will be Danielle’s studio class.  Look for me to play with Danielle and/or Evin in class soon as I get closer to getting everything all ready to go.

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A couple of notes

Note 1: I feel like a real violin student!  I’ve had four lessons with my *new* teacher and they both have been great!  We scheduled a time, I practiced beforehand, we had the lesson, and I worked on the stuff we just did afterwards. She came in, gave the lesson, and left. Professional. We’re on the schedule of two 30-40 minute lessons a week, which I really like. With my teaching schedule this semester, Thursdays and Saturdays work fairly well and they seem to work for her also.

Now I’m not saying I play particularly well during the lessons because, well, I don’t.  It’s surprising how nervous I get when someone else comes in.  I’m no Heifetz, but by myself I can get into a nice groove – nice sound, tempo, etc.  When someone else comes in and the pressure’s on, it doesn’t even feel like I’m doing the same thing.  The violin feels strange and foreign as my left hand gets weak and my right hand leads the bow over all the wrong strings, causing the violin to whine and squeak.  Of course, the violin whines and squeaks a little when I’m alone, but with someone else, it’s magnified.  It shows how valuable having someone else to play with really is.  It also shows how valuable listening to recordings can be to get used to the sound of two violins – not just one.  Also playing with a metronome is helpful to have something else making noise while playing, causing chaos.  Basically, anything to throw me off during practice is a good thing since performing is such a stressful situation.  I teach math in college and tell my students all the time to make their studying as stressful as possible, setting up exam conditions as much as they can, and that way during the exam, hopefully some of the inherent stress will be relieved.  It took me a little while to take my own advice.

So, let me introduce my new teacher.  Several weeks ago, one of Mr. Lipsett’s students, Evin Blomberg, asked Danielle her advice on how to get students since she was interested in teaching.  Getting a violin studio isn’t easy, after all.  This gave Danielle the idea of working with me and five lessons later, here we are.  Evin caused quite a commotion around Colburn when she showed up a few years ago.  I work as an RA and we got word that Mr. Lipsett had just accepted a 15 year old who had already graduated high school into the conservatory!  At the time it was unheard of for a student that young to live in the dorms with college kids, but we were assured that Evin was mature for her age and would get along fine.  That was two and a half years ago, and she’s still doing great.  As you can imagine, she’s a little bit of a genius, which can be extra scary, but I’m used to being around virtuosos so that’s a plus.

Here’s a video we took two days ago from our fourth lesson.  We played it together quite a few times, but I couldn’t focus and get through it.  We took a break, learned some of the new stuff, and then at the very end, right before she had to go, we gave it one more try running through as much as we could:

I like this video almost more for the parts where I mess up (which I do a few times) than the parts I don’t.  I’m getting better at pushing through the mess ups and just keep playing when I’m performing.  Not great, you understand, but better.

The second thing I want to point out from the video is how hard we’re both working.  Does it seem like, compared to Evin, I’m working a bit too hard?  It reminds me of a story when I went to the Air Force Academy, when I was a glider instructor pilot.  If you’re not familiar with a glider, it’s essentially a small plane with really long wings and no engine, so it just sort of glides along.  It has similar flight characteristics to a small airplane like a Cessna, and in the pattern (the pattern is the “setup” for a landing) the characteristics are almost identical, as you throttle down to let the Cessna come down on its own.  Going up, though, we tied the glider to a tow plane with a 200 foot long rope, let it tow us up, and then released from it when we were high enough.  One of the most difficult things for students to get was staying behind the tow plane; as you can probably imagine, getting out of position too high, low, to the side, etc could be dangerous for everyone.  I remember a point I used to make with a student who was miserably out of position – I would take the plane, get it back into position, then thrust my hands toward the front of the plane (the instructor sits behind the student, so the student couldn’t really see the instructor when they were in the air) and say “You see my hands?  We’re still in position.  Stop messing it up!”  That’s one of the things she pointed out in this early going – I move my elbow probably a little too much to change strings, which can cause playing on the wrong string.  Moving around while playing can be great, but I think I’m a little out of control.

Note 2:  Danielle’s benefit concert last weekend was superb!  Lynn Harrell was the guest artist and Alan Chapman from KUSC was the MC.  Her students played and they also played the Center Stage Strings 15-minute documentary.  All of the music was incredible, but the last piece – Danielle and Lynn played Handel-Halvorsen – was something extra special.  They are both such amazing musicians, and really looked like they were having a lot of fun.  We have video of that, so hopefully I’ll be able to put it up soon.

During the reception afterwards, Danielle came up to me and asked if I had talked to the guy who came for me.  I said, “whaaaat?”  Apparently someone read about the benefit concert on the blog and ended up coming.  I’m not sure if he came to see me (which is the way Danielle put it) or if he just came because I had advertised it, but either way I didn’t get to talk to him.  I felt bad about that, as I would have liked to say hello.  If you’re out there, thanks for coming!  Leave a comment and tell me how you liked the benefit!


A new teacher

Not totally new, as I haven’t fired Danielle or anything, but there are a couple of problems with having Danielle as a sole instructor:

1.  Danielle is BUSY.  And this is her normal life.  When something big comes up, like soloing with New West Symphony for a triple play of Friday, Saturday, and Sunday up in Oxnard, Thousand Oaks, and Santa Monica, it’s insane.  As of right now, I can’t even remember the last time we’ve had a lesson.  This of course doesn’t mean that I don’t practice.  I also can’t remember the last day I didn’t practice, but without her guidance, I feel a little bit like I’m floating.  It’s remarkable how a little direction tightens things up and makes me sound so much better.

As for Danielle, things aren’t letting up anytime soon.  She has a benefit concert for her summer camp coming up this Sunday Feb 5th and her recital is coming up later in the month on the 26th.  After February, things should slow down a little, but that’s life in the fast lane.

2.  Reason number two has to do with the problem I always keep mentioning throughout this blog and is characterized by what several different people said this past weekend.  Danielle soloed Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, and I proudly attended them all.  During each concert, people fall madly in love with Danielle and afterwards, want nothing more than to shower her with love and affection.  Unfortunately, a thousand other people who just attended the concert will also have that same idea, so sometimes it’s impossible to give each adoring fan his or her proper attention.  So standing 15 feet away from Danielle is this tall, slightly awkward red head who, when concertgoers find out is the husband of the immortal vision they just witnessed on stage moments before, they also tend to flock to.  It was funny; I was almost holding court with my own fans as they asked about Danielle, what I did, if I was a musician, etc.  When asked the musician question, I would talk about the blog and they would ask who my teacher was.

“Why, Danielle teaches me, of course.”

“And you’re still married???”

There is a whole lot of truth to that.  We haven’t managed to kill each other yet during a lesson, but it remains impossible for me not to push back to some degree and sabotage my own learning.  I have gotten better at swallowing my pride, but by no means am I perfect during learning time.

3.  Gosh, those first 2 reasons took so long, do I even need a third?  Let’s see, perhaps it’s nice to have another perspective?  That could work.  The truth is, there are probably a hundred good reasons I should have another teacher (but still keep Danielle as my primary teacher).

So who is this masked violin pedagogue?  I leave it shrouded in mystery for now, but will say that it is one of Mr. Lipsett’s students.

To be continued…