Posted tagged ‘violin’

When the soloist stuffs up!

November 16, 2013

ImageI was recently invited to play in a local orchestra as an extra for an upcoming concert. Living where I do usually means I don’t get to play with orchestras very often, so I was quite thrilled at the opportunity.

One of the pieces we were to play was Beethoven’s Egmont Overture which is quite a rousing piece and lots of fun to play. There were a couple of other Mozart pieces and the Haydn Violin Concerto in G major. I had played this as a student so knew it quite well.

I was able to attend at least two rehearsals but not the final one. However, this did not worry me in the least. The music was very playable and I was looking forward to the concert.

Everything was running according to plan until the final movement of the Haydn concerto. It was sometime after the cadenza and before the final tutti that the soloist suddenly appeared to be out of sync with the orchestra! While continuing to play I tried to work out where we should be. I think most the violin section was doing the same thing! It became apparent that the soloist was a bar behind the orchestra. I assume he just repeated a bar – not recommended when playing with 40-50 other musicians! I’m not sure what was going through the conductors mind. He just kept on beating time!

The violins were able to get it together reasonably quickly, but unfortunately the cellos persisted and were a whole bar ahead right up to the tutti! I can only imagine what it sounded like to the audience. My husband who is a singer and not familiar with the piece said it sounded odd, but he had no idea what had happened until I told him.

We can laugh about it now, but it was a rather nerve-wracking at the time!


Our experience with outdoor performance

March 8, 2011

A couple of weeks ago our trio, Trio Al Dente, performed at a local outdoor event, Classical Meets Jazz.  The event has enjoyed much success for about 10 years. Imagine a lovely warm summer day, sitting outdoors, listening to a variety of music whilst eating your picnic lunch.  Sounds very relaxing and enjoyable doesn’t it?

It had rained all day on the day before our performance.  We were unsure whether the event would even proceed or not  early that morning.  The forcast suggested the rain would mostly clear. The organiser made the decision: it would go ahead.

From a player’s point of view it was not at all pleasant.  The wind tore through the stage area, threatening not just to blow the music off the stands (it was pegged on) but to blow the stands themselves over! They were pretty sturdy ones too. Our pianist needed not just a page turner, but someone to hold the music down during the whole time she was playing. At one point our cellist’s music blew off the stand completely. He just kept going as if nothing had happened and picked it up when the piece finished! Meanwhile, I just pinned the music to the stand with the scroll of my violin. 🙂 The stage was covered from above, but completely open at the front and a couple of times rain fell on the performers.  How the grand piano survived I’m not sure. It was well under the shelter though so I think that was what helped protect it. My violin was not as fortunate though.  😦

From the audience point of view, it was a different story. They were well rugged up.  Many had not only brought blankets to sit on but also to wrap themselves in. They could buy coffee and barbequed sausages – they definitely were not suffering too much!  From comments we heard later, we discovered that the sound had been very good, the atmosphere of the event was wonderful and people enjoyed it.

So was an outdoor performance a good idea?  If we had trusted our own instincts we would have said “Not in that kind of weather”! However, the audience reponse and comments seem to prove that sometimes you just have to keep going even if it’s tough.

Will we do it again? Ah, you’ll just have to wait and see………..

It’s all about sound…

November 12, 2010

child_violin_jpg_w300h405When I began my tertiary music training I had very little idea that I would become a music teacher. All I ever wanted to do was play violin. I was not altogether enthusiastic about teaching. Obviously I was too young and naive to think about how I’d earn my bread and butter when I finally finished!

Since then of course I’ve had a complete mind change. Teaching is something I could do for hours and not get tired. It’s one of those things that seems to be the perfect job for me. I love it.

Just a few weeks ago I began doing some re-thinking about my teaching style. A good thing to do if you’ve been doing things the same way for while. I’ve incorporated a few things I’ve learnt from other teachers, and a little bit of Kodaly. But, on the whole, I tend to teach from the printed music. This is not necessarily something I planned to do; it’s just the way things turned out. It has been reasonably successful up until the last few years when I seemed to gain some children who struggle excessively with aural skills.

They are fine with rhythm, music reading/notation and producing a good tone. Some of them also play from memory. But the elusive part is intonation. With the violin, a small shift in position affects all the notes on that string. If the first finger is flat then usually the other three fingers are flat as well.

So what is it that has caused this decline in aural awareness?  My theory is that it has a lot to do with the home environment, the types and styles of music a child is exposed to and how old they are when they are exposed to them.

When you think of someone like Mozart you can easily imagine, with his father being a musician, that he was exposed to music from a very early age, probably from birth. Dr Shinichi Suzuki founded the world wide music education movement known as the Suzuki Method on this very concept. Suzuki observed how easily children learned to speak their native language and concluded that children could learn music this way if taught with love and dedication. This means starting very young. It’s not uncommon for children taught this method to begin at 3 years of age.

The distinction between the Suzuki style of teaching and traditional teaching is that the Suzuki Method relies very much on aural training coming first, way ahead of reading. And when you really think about it, isn’t that what music is all about? The dots and markings on the page are not music in the sense of something we hear. They are more like a historical record or permanent indication of the composer’s intentions.

Suzuki is big on involving the parents too. Parental involvement is very much central to the early learning period. This correlates very well to something I’ve noticed in my years of teaching. Again and again, with my own students, those who excel are those whose parents are genuinely interested in their progress and are intentional in their involvement. They encourage the child to go beyond what they think they are capable of, to try new things and not to be afraid of failure.

So, it looks like Suzuki is something to look into a little more depth. Developing a good tone and accurate intonation is crucial to good violin/string playing. After all, music is all about sound.

(Read more about the Suzuki Method here.)

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