Wednesday, December 25, 2013

notes for two violas

Back around Thanksgiving, I tried out a viola I liked. I mean really liked, but both my present and former teachers warned me against falling in love with the first nice instrument I tried, so I sent it back.

The shop handling that viola graciously offered to send it to me again so I could compare it with the Stopka. It arrived a couple of days ago, and I've been playing both the instruments, trying to be as objective as possible. It's hard not to love having such nice instruments to play on, though, and the fact that I have begun calling both violas by nicknames does not speak well to my objectivity. Anyway, some observations:

The non-Stopka is 1/8" smaller than the Stopka, but very easy to play. This could be because it's strung with Dominants, which I dislike, but which are pretty low-tension (should I buy this one, those strings are coming off immediately). Or it could just be that the size and shape suit me. The neck is small and easy to get around. To my great surprise, I am just fine with the low, side-mount chinrest it came with. I have a long neck and sloping shoulders, and usually need a super-high chinrest (like the Kreddle, or SAS), but not with this instrument, for some reason.

The non-Stopka has a nice tone, though somewhat thin compared with the Stopka. Again, this could be the strings. The A string (Larsen) starts to sound especially weak above 4th position. The dynamic capabilities are such that even I can get nice piano and forte out of it.

I recorded myself playing a 3-octave C major scale, slow and legato, on all 3 instruments (Stopka, non-Stopka, and my viola). The only recording device I have is my phone, which sucks, but I tried to minimize variables so all three recordings would suck in the same way. I was very surprised: even on that crappy recording, the Stopka got some of those tones I like so much. It sounded better than the non-Stopka and better than mine, but not tons better than mine (well, except for those wondrous tones. But my viola came closer than I thought it would). Which makes me wonder if it's worth the asking price, which is tons more than what mine cost. I also wonder if I will be able to coax nice dynamics out of it, like the non-Stopka.


Tuesday, December 24, 2013

I pulled the trigger

Interlochen opened up their online registration for adult chamber-music camp. I hemmed and hawed and wondered if I should wait on other camps to open their registrations, then finally went and registered. What the hell. I've wanted to go there since I first heard about it, and if I don't go then I'll always wonder about it. It is a slightly scary thing, but it's all the way next August, plenty of time to practice and grow brave.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

up and down

First, the down:

Running's really taken a dive lately. I finished the 7-7-7-7-7-7-7-7-7-7-7-7-7-7... phase last week. Nothing hurts, but I'm really, really slow and really, really bored. No motivation whatsoever. I took Tuesday off, ran 6 miles Wednesday and Thursday mornings, quit at 4 miles Friday. Saturday and today I didn't want to run at all, so I didn't. I am planning to run tomorrow, but damned if I actually want to. I hate being so slow, but I don't want to try to run faster either. I'm not sure how to get over this - I've been running for 12 years, and I've never not wanted to.

Now, some ups:

After messing with the chin rest yesterday, this Stopka viola is my friend. My dear, dear friend. He feels so comfortable that I don't even think about what he feels like anymore, only what he sounds like. And he sounds nice.

For months I've been doing this vibrato exercise (metronome @60, place finger, wobble 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 times per beat, do it with all 4 fingers) that's supposed to help me develop a vibrato and also control it. I have kind-of developed a vibrato, but I don't much like it and I certainly can't control it. Today I did the exercise like always, then for the hell of it played some consecutive notes on one string (like E-F, or E-F-G), trying to keep the vibrato going. Lo and behold, I could start the note vibrating right away! And keep it vibrating right up until I went to the next note (which would start vibrating right away!). And vary the speed of the vibrato just a tiny bit, for emphasis. This sounds like such a tiny thing, but for me it's huge.

And a middle: I decided I really want to go to chamber-music camp next summer. I'm interested in several camps but none of them were accepting applications yet. Until today - Interlochen has opened up their online registration. This is scary. They don't require an audition, but they do ask for a self-assessment (using ACMP's rating system). I am probably a C, on a good day; maybe by next August I'll be a C even on a bad day, who knows? But this is scary because now camp isn't just a wish anymore, but a real thing where I have to present myself and say "hey, look at me! I want to go to your camp!" And what if they tell me I'm not good enough, either beforehand or (worse) once I get there?

Saturday, December 21, 2013

minor miracle

Today at my lesson, I told my teacher about the week's struggle with the tryout viola. He mentioned that it seemed to sit up higher than my viola, so after I got home I changed something on the chin rest to make it sit a little lower (thank you, Kreddle!) and voila! a much happier viola, and a much happier violist.

Another thing he mentioned was the the bridge seems too high. This could be why the C string is so ugly and hard to play in higher positions.

And have I mentioned that I strongly dislike Evah Pirazzi strings?

Friday, December 20, 2013

you are not so smart

(The title of this post comes from a blog called I've never read, but I love its name)

I've been trying out this viola all week and for some reason it's taking a lot of time and effort to get used to it. I keep fiddling (ha) with the setup. The infinitely adjustable Kreddle actually makes it worse, not better, because it's infinitely adjustable and I keep fiddling with it. But I haven't found a comfortable setup yet, at least not as comfortable as I have with my own viola. This is a new experience for me. I've played other violas before, of course, but have never been so aware of physical differences and their effect on how I play (and, consequently, on the sound). I thought this was very strange until I remembered this had happened with some basses, where they took a lot of getting used to, or else I just wrote them off as unplayable. I suppose you can get used to anything if you work at it long enough. But I feel like practice this week has been a wash.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

more notes

On the Stopka, the distance from the nut to the "regular" first finger position seems greater than on my viola. This throws me off a little, and I find myself lapsing into some old bad habits, like pressing too hard with my fingers, pushing my left wrist out, holding the neck in the web between my first finger and thumb. Lots of things I worked hard to fix, now broken again. I guess I can get used to whatever instrument I have, but oh, I'd made such progress on these little things! I'd hate to see them go down the tubes.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013


My teacher has suggested I start taking notes on the violas I try out, because it's next to impossible to have all of them here at one time to compare and contrast. So here goes:

little, old viola: it's little, it's old. It's pretty. It makes a surprisingly big sound for a little guy. The D and A sound nice ("creamy," my teacher called it) but the G and especially the C have a bit of shoebox-stuffed-with-newspaper sound.

Stopka: built this year, never owned. Nice sound; last night when my teacher played it, a few notes here and there had such a perfect clear dark viola sound (like a vibrating column of cordovan-colored light appearing in pitch-black dark) that it was like a pleasant punch in the gut, if you can imagine a pleasant punch in the gut. It was nice to realize that this viola was capable of making such a sound. Whether or not I can make it make that sound is another story; it's not the easiest instrument to play. The slightly shorter string length (compared to my viola) is enough to throw my intonation off if I don't pay attention, and my hand frame has gone away, and this leads to left-hand tension as I try to get my bearings, and I get sore/tired more easily. The C string is just about impossible to get a sound from in higher positions (not a happy thing when Scale of the Week = E major sul C). I'm not sure if it's the strings or the instrument or just me. I have to play really near the bridge, very heavy, but not achingly slow.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

I hate shopping

I've been sort of thinking about buying a nicer viola, and a string shop sent me a couple to try, including one I liked a lot. I took the violas over to my teacher's after work today. He doesn't like the Stopka one as much I do, and now I don't like it as much either. In fact, I am back on the I-don't-deserve-a-good-viola train. He told me how his high school arranged a surprise fundraiser to buy him a viola to take to college, how he didn't have a good viola until grad school, how he didn't buy a really nice viola until he'd been playing in the orchestra for many years. And here I am, frazzled from work and unable to get through a scale I've played a million times. wondering who the fuck I think I am, thinking about a nice instrument. Bleh.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

480 kinda-related notes

We're having weird, changeable weather ahead of a cool front, and even though I have no scientific proof, I can feel an effect on my body: little aches start to ache big, and new tiny aches sprout like little flowers. Even though I haven't been practicing any more than usual, my left arm has become a temporary mess, from my shoulder all the way down to my fingers. This did get in the way of practicing today, and I got frustrated with my sound (I'll wager the viola itself has fallen prey to the weather too), not a good way to be on a day I really needed to practice. I kept going, though, and eventually things started to sound better. By the end of the night, my arm was on fire, but the etude that previously sounded like 480 kinda-related notes had begun to resemble music.

Friday, December 13, 2013

work harder not smarter

Sometimes I wonder if I could be using practice time more wisely.

At the end of every day, I am sore and tired, but I don't know if just putting in hours is enough.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

today's happy accident

Just saw a friend's facebook post in which he said he felt blessed. What does that mean, to feel blessed? We are all so lucky to be alive, in this world, in this place, on this planet where life has sprung up and some species have evolved to the point where they are aware of their environment, and seek to document it, and even change it.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

there is never enough time

I am literally too tired to play another note, but I can think of at least 8 things I didn't get to today.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

new strings!

When I played bass, I hated the sound of new strings, and only changed them once a year or so. But I just put a set of Warchal Brilliants on my viola, and I am in love :-) It's the first time I put new strings on it since I bought it, and god only knows how old the strings it came with were. This is the first time I've tried Warchal, too, and I really like them a lot, at least after 24 whole hours. I have had to force myself to stop playing twice already tonight.

Sunday, December 1, 2013


5th day running 5 miles. Felt fine, though I am slow. 2 hours later, after practicing viola (standing) a while, if I thought about it real hard, my hamstring felt tight. 2 hours and 20 minutes later I had forgotten all about it.

Practicing went up and down, but ended on an up. Some things sounded better and some things remained stubbornly awful. One drawback to a long interval in between lessons is that I feel obliged to practice my lesson stuff, but it's now for 3 weeks instead of a week. I get bored. I can't detect any (consistent) improvement and then I get more bored. I either try something new or wander off-track entirely. Today, I did both. Eventually I dragged myself through the program for Tuesday's concert, then sat down to waste time online. Some people from the adult starters facebook group had posted recordings of themselves, and one recording had such a beautiful continuity and vibrato that I had to get up and start playing again - I wanted to sound like that, and to sound like that, I need to practice. So I ended up playing the entire Telemann viola concerto plus the first movement of the triosonata we are working on, with more vibrato than I thought I had in me. I'm talking (almost) continuous, exaggerated, big stout vibrato. Because I still can't play the fast movements very fast, I put vibrato everywhere in those too. My teacher would have been proud (actually, he would have laughed). Of course, I had the practice mute on because it was late, but I discovered that the practice mute is an excellent source of courage. 

These last four days of no work/all practice have take a physical toll. My shoulder, my hands, even my jaw hurts. Tomorrow I go back to work and back to fewer practice hours per day. I needed this weekend to end on an up, and I'm glad it did.

Why I love Simon Fischer

When I was four or five, I started playing music. When I was six, I discovered how cool languages are. When I was nineteen or so, I was lucky enough to discover, before it was too late, how wonderful math and physics are. Since then, I've always walked an unsteady line between two ways of thinking; I was much weirder than my engineering-school professors and classmates and (later) bosses and colleagues, and to my music friends and teachers and colleagues, I'm probably a little too black-and-white.

I first heard about Simon Fischer via articles and discussions on, and I was intrigued enough to buy his DVD on tone production, as well as his book The Violin Lesson, which I am currently obsessed with. I know that in string pedagogy there is a concept of breaking things down into their smallest possible components, but this guy takes it to a high art. He's able to explain the causes of common and not-so-common problems in very concrete terms, and he's just as concrete about suggestions on how to fix those problems.  He does all this with the utmost calm and confidence, and optimism too - it's as though he really wants you to succeed. He'll say things like "It's all quite simple, really - by [doing whatever he's currently talking about] you will see significant results very quickly" and he's right (about it being simple, and about how easily the problem can be fixed). But there's not even a whiff of hucksterism. He's not trying to sell you anything (you've already bought the book anyway); he's just giving you insight into learning, and the tools to fix problems. After that, you're on your own.

But what's huge - and what really resonates with people like me - is his idea that there is no magic that transforms mechanics into music: the art is the physics, and the physics is the art. There is no separating the two. I draw the bow across the strings, and Esther Apituley draws the bow across the strings; does it sound the same? If not, it's because we are not drawing the bow across the strings in the same way. But if so, it's because we are drawing the bow across the strings in precisely the same way, and to some extent that "way" can be described so that I can try to duplicate it. Maybe it can be said that the "art" is knowing how to execute the appropriate "physics," again and again, on demand. But Simon Fischer's teaching makes the mechanics more understandable and more accessible to more people, and as they (we, I) acquire a better understanding, they (we, I) can then go on and apply that understanding to music, and possibly make some art.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

The Liberace of viola

Today's happy accident came at the end of practicing - a book fell open to Kayser 2, that slow melodic one that teaches crescendo/decrescendo. My former teacher always wanted me to exaggerate the dynamics (and eventually play it with different bowings), but I could barely make it through the short piece, let alone make it interesting. Tonight it was easy, and half the fun was milking the dynamics for all it was worth. I felt like the Liberace of viola with all that rising and falling and wobbly-vibrato-ing. And then I played it with the opposite bowing, just for the hell of it. It wasn't recital-ready, but it was pretty clear what I was trying to do, and it worked about 95% of the time. Sometimes the universe smiles. I wish I'd made a recording of it.

Friday, November 29, 2013

I should mention

The string-orchestra concert that I worried so over has come and gone, and for the first time ever, I was happy with the way we sounded (onstage, anyway), and felt good about my performance. As we reached the end of the Ives, I could not stop smiling - we'd played my favorite piece in the world and not made a mess of it, and I could just sit there in the middle of us and listen, and enjoy it. My husband said he'd never seen me smile playing viola before.

One thing that helped immensely was that my cellist friend and I got together a lot outside of formal rehearsals, and worked on stuff, some picky, some not - counting (especially in the Ives), holding notes for precise lengths of time, getting our intonation just right with each other, changing the feel just a little bit this way or that, trying to match vibrato, etc. It was a lot of stuff that we knew would get drowned out by the rest of the orchestra, but my friend was sitting principal for the first time, and she took it very seriously (even though I was principal of my section too, I knew it was only because Mr Serious University Music Student didn't show up until partway through the semester, and he ignored me anyhow, so I did not feel the same responsibility to my "section" that my friend did). We worked on the music as though we were the only ones playing, and the net result was we knew those pieces backward and forward, and were able to pick it right back up after some mishap (which did happen) and keep putting whatever heart and soul we had into it.


I have not taken full advantage of this day home alone with nothing to do but practice. It's been almost 2 weeks since my last lesson, and it's 10 days before the next, but when I work on stuff that's "due" I keep thinking "it's pointless, it's no use, my teacher will think I'm terrible, I'm not getting any better." I get bored when I see no progress. 

The scale (c# minor, 1-octave, on both G and A strings) is too high for me to get a consistent tone, and the shifts for the arpeggios (all on one string) are just too big for me to make sense of or come up with a reliable pattern for. I just close my eyes and pray, and meanwhile the tone goes to hell.

The etude (no 37 in the Wohlfahrt II book) is playable at a fairly slow tempo, and I am mostly in tune despite the leaps from first to third position and back, but the feel is lacking. It should gallop; it should rise and fall; it should excite to the extent that a beginner's etude can excite anyone. It does not do this. I try to make up for it by playing ultralegato and adding gratuitous dynamics, but I don't think that will earn me any points.

The 4th movement of the Telemann viola concerto...I've spoken of it before. It stinks. It is thin. It is whiny. It is impossible to play in tune. It needs to be fast and sound strong, and it doesn't. It's boring. I want to stop banging my head against the wall on that one.

I've spent the day playing in short bursts of 20 or 30 minutes, trying to eke some sort of accomplishment out of what I'm doing, even if it's just a bar or two. So far, it has not happened, so I waste time by sight-reading stuff I'll never look at again. It's not a total waste, and I notice that sight-reading is easier than it was a month ago, but it's not what I need to practice.

My former teacher always harped on patience. Patience, patience, patience, your arms and hands have not caught up with your ears and your head. Right, but I'm fifty years old, and I sense some amount of  age-discrimination already. Five years from now I might play better, but it will be that much harder to do anything with it because I am so old. Still, what other choice do I have?

Thursday, November 28, 2013

thanks giving

Ah, Thanksgiving! I have four days off from work, and no social obligations whatsoever. I plan to spend each of those four days practicing viola, as much as I want. I've been practicing a lot lately. I keep hoping it will get me somewhere, but I'm not sure I'm practicing the right stuff , or in the right way.

My former teacher used to encourage me to record myself (so I could listen back at a later date and hopefully hear an improvement), but my musical self-esteem is at an all-time low, and I am way too chicken for that. I want something for nothing - real live people telling me it sounds better than 6 months ago, or a year ago :-)

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

I have fallen behind

Got too busy to post for a while...

I skipped Richmond, took a few days completely off (any kind of exercise), then started walking, then a bit of jogging. I devised a Herman Cain recovery plan (meaningless slogans containing repeated numbers), and I completed 4-4-4-4 with no trouble and am about to embark on 5-5-5-5-5. We'll see.

When last I posted, I was pretty depressed, and I dealt with it not by actually dealing with it but by playing lots and lots and lots of viola. Thanks to the wonderful Kreddle and super Bon Musica I was able to drown my sorrows, so to speak, without any physical ill-effects. I spent a lot of time working on  the pieces for string orchestra, and (I think) it paid off in our concert Sunday. But after a couple of weeks of this, today I'm actually sore and tired, and stuff sounds bad. I absolutely hate the 4th movement of the Telemann viola concerto - it sounds so thin and whiny and out of tune. And sloooowwwwwww. It sounds even worse slow.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

well, crap

Another bad lesson, and there goes my mood along with it. I practiced so much this past week, and was so sure it would "show" in my playing, but it was just old tense Joe Positive, making mistakes and getting tense about it, and making more mistakes and getting more and more tense. And my teacher would call attention to my tenseness and say things like "if you'd just be less tense, you'd sound better." Well, duh. How many times can I say "it sounded so much better at home, an hour ago" without sounding like a whiner? Zero. I sure feel ridiculous. I'm going to be fifty years old this week. Maybe it's time to stop this foolishness.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Kreddle rocks

I don't know where the week went. Work play work play work rehearse and a little bit of running, and now it's Saturday, which happens to be the day of the marathon I didn't run, and I care so little about it that I haven't even bothered to look for results. What has the world come to?

Even though I didn't go to Richmond, on Friday I still took the vacation day I'd requested. I spent pretty much the entire day playing viola. If I could, I'd play all day every day. You might ask: "hey, Joe Positive - how can you play viola pretty much all day without getting really tired, or even injured?" Well, I'll tell you. Not long ago, I bought a chinrest called a Kreddle, and it has changed my life. Well, not really changed my life...well, yes, actually. Anyway, it has turned my viola into the most comfortable thing, just perfect. When I played bass, I would sometimes just walk around the house with the bass hanging on me, and play whenever I felt like it. The kreddle gets me about as close as you can get to that with a viola. I can't say enough good things about it.

Monday, November 11, 2013

all that bunk about muscle memory

There was something I had been struggling with in the telemann 4th mvt (heh - what have I not been struggling with in that movement?). It wasn't much, just a way of getting to 2nd position during a run, for heaven's sake, but I'd spent a lot of time not-getting it and finally decided to change it. So yesterday I struggled a while with the new way, but I never did get to feeling non-shaky about it. Today I went to work on it, and it just fell out of my hand. Again and again. I started to wonder if I could not do it right :-) It got to the point where I was working on speed and phrasing, and not even thinking about the new thing because it was just not a problem. And I was able to play faster and with better phrasing too, and it was fun. Playing fast = fun? Never before, but tonight, yes.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

I must say this

Just so this blog doesn't turn into a total downer...

Today I remembered something that happened just before the lesson went to hell yesterday: I'd played part of an etude that I'd been working on, and my teacher said it was the nicest he'd ever heard that etude played in his house. I'm smiling as I write this, because it reminds me of how I sometimes tell my dog she's the prettiest/nicest/smartest/etc dog in the whole house (we only have one dog), but my teacher seemed sincere when he said it. So, there's that.

And there's also this: it occurred to me that getting all pissy about my stand partner blasting his way through the Ives is just, well, pissy of me. This past spring I had the privilege of sitting with a group of professionals to read through some chamber music - and I was not paying them to do it; they were being nice - and for all I know, I was running roughshod over someone's favorite piece, but nobody said so or even acted so. So who the hell am I to get out-of-sorts about Mr Serious University Music Student and what he might "do" to the Ives? If Charles Ives were alive, I'm sure he'd cringe at what I "do" to it.

Since I don't believe in a god, I will offer my apologies to the universe instead.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

head case

Really the worst viola lesson in a long, long time. I didn't have as much time this week to practice what I was supposed to for the lesson, but I thought that maybe I'd improved enough over the past year that my new skills (ha!) could carry me somehow. No way, didn't happen. I didn't play well; my brain deserted me, probably because I forgot to eat; I was unable to read music or even follow spoken sentences; I got more and more frustrated at not being able to do stuff, and finally just quit trying and shut down. I don't think I've ever been closer to breaking down and losing my composure during a lesson, ever. I'm sure my teacher was thinking god, what have I done, agreeing to teach this head case.

To make matters just a bit worse: at the end of the lesson, my teacher (who is also conductor of the string orchestra) mentioned that my absent-for-the-last-2-rehearsals-including-dress stand partner would probably return for the last 2 rehearsals and the performance. The teacher said he realized that StandPartner running rampant over everything would likely throw me off, and truth be told I would probably be better off alone, but I was just going to have to make the best of it. Poor StandPartner, he went on to say, poor Standpartner who's feeling a little lost in university, so returns to our little group as a sort of validation, so he can feel he's so much more talented than the rest of us. He can waltz in as 2nd viola in a 2-viola section, read the parts cold, and save the day. Well, seeing as he doesn't practice outside of rehearsal, doesn't even mark his own music,and makes no effort to play as a section (maybe more a function of my playing than his, but whatever), the day he saves will be a different day that the one the rest of the viola section is saving. The Purcell he can have. The Mozart I have worked hard on, but would be willing to sacrifice. But the Ives, my beloved Ives, the piece I love most in the whole world - I hate to see it trashed, and it will be. Charles Ives, I am so sorry. I love your music and we are going to trash it, and I'm so sorry.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

impostor syndrome

I don't know what it is, but something about orchestra rehearsal really puts me in the dumps for a day or two. It doesn't matter if I'm singled-out or ignored, make mistakes or play passably well, sit with a section or alone (like last night) - I feel awkward, incompetent, stupid, a fake, out-of-place, have no right to be there, blah blah blah. I go away feeling like crap, vow to stop playing in whatever group until I've had enough lessons to be competent, vow to stop lessons until I'm competent enough to take lessons. And then a day goes by and the ship rights itself. But a waste of a day, nonetheless.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

why looking on the bright side could be bad

I'm not sure I agree with everything in the article, but the title really resonates with me :-)

I am less than two weeks out from the marathon I was training for. I say "was training for" because whatever half-hearted training I was doing fizzled out for good when my hamstring got hurt a few weeks ago. Resting the hamstring right after the initial injury seemed to help a lot, and I considered going up to Richmond anyway, not to race, but to do a long run, in good weather, with company. Why not, since I already paid for it and can't get a refund on anything? I decided to follow the remainder of my training plan very loosely: fewer miles, much less intensity, even a day off if I needed it - in short, whatever might allow me to run 26.2 miles at some comfortable pace without my leg ripping in two. This has not been a complete success. Some days have been great, and some - like today - have not. This morning I felt the hamstring from the very first step, and by 4 miles it was downright painful. I stopped home to stretch, jogged a couple more miles, but ended up cutting my 17-miler down to 6. It's still sore, and is going to take a lot of ice today, I can tell. Not looking good. If I can, I'll try another medium-long run Thursday or Saturday, but that's cutting it really close. If I had a magic 8-Ball, it would say "signs point to no."

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

one time at rehearsal

Tonight, after we tried and failed for the 35th time to play some syncopated passage in my beloved Ives, the conductor had me put the bow down and just pizz. And it worked, and as an added bonus it was even perfectly in tune and I could do any dynamic (within reason; after all, it was pizz). By golly. It's the bow that trips me up. I should never have quit playing bass guitar.

Other than that, it was a pretty crap rehearsal. It should have been good. They all should be good. Regarding this study of viola, I often feel as though I do the same thing over and over and nothing changes. That's not how things should be. All lines should rise, and point to the right.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Joe says

I wonder if people from my parents' era would mourn the death of (a...a what? A nobody. A non-family member. A celebrity. A famous person. An entertainer. A musician. a what?) Lou Reed like I and many of my 40s/50s friends are doing today. One of my parents never even got far into his 50s, but even in their mid/late 30s, as I remember them best, I can't see them being affected at all. Even if music had been a large part of their younger lives, by their 30s they had outgrown all that, and would never feel "influenced" by any mere entertainer whose work they had enjoyed in college (they got married right out of college and headed straight to Familyville, so there was none of the post-collegiate "finding themselves" that we enjoyed). To be "influenced" by a musician, to listen to his music for years, to feel more than a fleeting sting at his death - that just wasn't done; you saved your sorrow for family, or statesmen, or friends or maybe a favorite teacher.

If my father were still alive, I wonder if he would find it strange that I could be sad about the death of someone not related to me.


Although my pulled hamstring healed enough to let me start running again, this past week I had another setback, from which I am now cautiously recovering (again). During my run this morning I thought about how I was lucky to be running at all, which led to other "I am lucky"-type musings:

I saw The Nose yesterday (in a movie theater, live-streamed from the Met) - hands-down the coolest thing I've ever seen in my life. I have seen the Chrysler Building. I have always been able to find work. I discovered Charles Ives :-) I have had the good fortune to make the acquaintance of some really great people. I know that the human race is capable of beautiful things.

Well, the coherence of this has just escaped me :-) Maybe I'll come back to this later.

Saturday, October 26, 2013


It may be the hobgoblin of little minds, but it's something I aspire to, something I chase after but am unable to catch. This week I have seen my running improve and then deteriorate, my viola playing go completely to hell, and my mood swing wildly from the love and awe of all things Charles Ives to the frustration of being an adult who understands the words "subtlety" and "delicacy" but knows she will never be able to achieve those things.

I want consistency, I want a consistent trajectory, I want the line to be straight and always rising.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

how not to be an IT recruiter

Even though I am not on the job market, I get a lot of unsolicited attention from recruiters, or people calling themselves recruiters. They always seem to have come across my resume in their database, yet ask me to send my resume if interested in the exciting opportunity they're about to describe. Today I received one that started out


My name is Shashi and I'm an Sr IT Recruiter at an IT consulting firm. I came across your resume and I'm currently sourcing people for the below opportunity. If this opportunity does not align with your ideal position, please give me a call t
o discuss other Exciting opportunities that we may have for you, at your earliest convenience.

Work Summary
Senior Database Analyst to support Application Development and Production using best practices and standards to enable our company to deliver quality technology solutions that are aligned with the business needs.

Primary responsibilities:
·Troubleshoot and remediate production/code failures

Love. It. Love it. The "Work Summary" is so vague as to be meaningless; it sounds like something a cheerleading squad might say. Then, the Number One Primary Responsibility is to troubleshoot and remediate failures. Failures! What failures could possibly exist in a company that delivers technology solutions that are aligned with the business needs?

Sorry, Shashi. This one's going in the trash. Best of luck and kindest regards,

Joe Positive

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

deus ex

Today I was having one of my occasional bad viola days - nothing sounded right, I couldn't play fast or slow, my brain refused to read music. So much despair! I slogged through all the scales and drills and studies and other tasks I'd laid out for myself, but no use. It was all so bad I started thinking about skipping rehearsal tomorrow night - the thought of two hours of public embarrassment, making stupid mistakes, and having to deal with my stand partner (more about that some other time) was too much to bear.

And then right at the end, pretty much by accident, something I've been working like a madwoman on (and not getting anywhere with) started sounding ok. Yay. Thank you, godz.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Happy Birthday, Mr Ives

Dear Charles Ives,

I am so happy you were born, that you lived, that you composed such cool music. Thank you so much.

Your happily obsessed pal,

Joe Positive

Friday, October 18, 2013

songs like beautiful humans

I have been playing and listening to music my entire life, but my relationship with music is complicated.

I actually hate current pop music, and I don't listen to music I liked (or played) 10, 20, 30 years ago, or even care what happened to whoever made that music or what they're doing now.

On the other hand, there are some pieces of music I'm obsessed with, that I fell in love with as though they were people. I can carry them around in my head for days at a time. The thought of them makes the hair on my arms stand on end, makes my blood run cold, makes me laugh or cry, or stop breathing.

Charles Ives: String Quartet No 1
Vladimir Martynov: Der Apscheid
Flamin' Groovies: Shake Some Action
Luigi Boccherini: String Quartet in D Minor, G.172
Joseph Haydn: String Quartet Op 33 No 2
Robyn Hitchcock: Autumn is Your Last Chance
Antonin Dvorak: String Quintet No 2, Op 77
George Gershwin: Lullaby
Johannes Brahms: Sextet No 2 in G Major
Nailbiters: Sky is Down
Tall Dwarfs: Think Small
Mozart Viola Quintet in G minor No 4, K. 516

Sunday, October 13, 2013

some good things today

  • ran 3 miles, just barely felt the hamstring at 2.9 miles
  • done with that B minor 3-octave scale, thank god, now maybe my arm/wrist/shoulder will uncurl finally
  • the next scale is D major, which is has an infinitely more civilized fingering for a 3-octave scale. This is how 3-octave scales should always be.
  • Once or twice today during the lesson, my teacher said it sounded good. Or so I thought he said. Actually I was so dumbfounded that I may have misunderstood. And when we were working on the 3rd movement of the Telemann, he said it was time to focus on the musical aspect and stop thinking about the technical stuff. Which could mean that the technical stuff in that piece is a) good enough to stop worrying about, or b) hopeless. For now I'll go with the more optimistic choice.

Friday, October 11, 2013

end of god-awful

It's been a really stressful work week - probably made worse because I haven't been able to run - but it's over. And this morning I jogged for a minute 3 times! And I have a massage tomorrow. And my viola suddenly decided to sound good, and while I was practicing tonight I let myself get lost in the way it sounded.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

heaven sends us habit in place of happiness

Sounds like the eternal plaint of the middle-aged, yes? Well, it's also a line from Eugene Onegin (the opera, not the poem, though I guess it may be in the poem too), which I saw tonight in one of those live-streaming-to-movie-theaters from the met. Wow. I'd never seen any opera before and never really wanted to, either. But I really enjoyed this.

Otherwise, it was a pretty crap day. At work I was so busy with the data-maintenance (see last post) that I couldn't do any of the other things I needed to do. Someone told me to do something and I did it, but it turned out that maybe it was an unwise thing to do and they shouldn't have told me to do it, but who knew? Not I. I may not have a job 24 hours from now.

And I still can't run. My hamstring was feeling much better, but 4 hours immobile in a movie-theater seat set it back a little.

And I only practiced for about 15 minutes today.

Tomorrow is another day.

Monday, October 7, 2013

made-a data

In general, I like my job. A lot. But we have this thing called data maintenance, which is code for "our apps don't quite work right and we won't fix them, so little elves have to go round behind and fix things like typos and oopsies and just plain invalid data." This is my week to be a little elf, which means I spend all day doing this and have little time for anything else. My co-workers and I consider the data-maintenance rotation to be a kind of purgatory, but I guess it could be worse - at least it takes place during normal working hours and not in the middle of the night.

Of course I did not run today, or even walk except where and when I had to, but my hamstring feels better than it did yesterday and I think maybe it isn't torn after all, or maybe not badly torn. I wonder if it will be ok to walk on within the next few days.

My viola sounded like utter crap today, and I played it like crap. Squeak, squawk, groan, whine. I'm working on one of the hardest and ugliest 3-octave scales there is, B minor. Oh, it goes up so high! And the notes are so close together - if I get any sound at all, it's often not the right one. After working on it for a while I realized that my entire upper body was tense and clenched, so I put the scale aside and went on to other things. All of which sounded equally bad :-) I don't know what's up, but it's like I lost everything I gained over the summer. My intonation is bad; my fingers aren't even close to light; my right hand is a claw, my thumb is inflexible, my vibrato is inconsistent, and my sightreading has gone completely to hell.

On the bright side: my husband mentioned that sometime recently he mistook my playing for a recording. That was such a nice thing to say.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

more on the non-running thing

This has not been a fun training. I started out in early July - horrible time for marathon training in Florida - coming back from the umpteenth injury, very slow, with no races under my belt. Also, no fulltime or sometime crew of fellow runners to help drag me along when motivation flagged.

Still, I trained and trained, and though it wasn't as fun as it had been in recent years, I kept waiting for the day it would be fun again. The weather finally began to turn and I began to enjoy running again, just a bit, but enough. I resigned myself to not running any kind of good time in Richmond, but just to go and see how much I could push myself, knowing that I'll likely never PR again.

I don't know how to end this blog post.

it can all change in an instant

This morning, about 3.5 miles into an 8-mile run, Friday's pulled hamstring became a torn hamstring. I had to stop running immediately. It hurt to walk home. It hurts to stand. It hurts to sit here with ice on it.

I am so disgusted, not just because I've been training for a marathon but also because I just this week registered for the damn thing, and paid for all the travel. Non-refundable, natch.

I have had it. All the work, the early mornings, the not enough sleep, the non social life, the fatigue, the sweat, the soreness, the constant open wounds from chafing - all for nothing, all to get injured time and time again. I'm done.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Everything is better when it's done

20 miles this morning. I'm still much slower than I was a year ago, but much faster than I was a month ago. This one had its moments; there's not much to do during long runs, and if you are prone to perseveration, god help you! My own company drives me crazy after three hours. Hell, after two hours. Anyway, it's done and now I can have a bite to eat and a nap, and then start the day over again.

Friday, October 4, 2013

ten-four good buddy

yeah, ten-four...the week has just flown by, and there's so much I haven't done. Didn't run all the miles, didn't run the workouts. Didn't practice enough, or maybe practiced the wrong things. I signed up for Richmond, made (and paid for) the travel arrangements, then pulled a hamstring on today's easy run. Had that impressive memory lapse at rehearsal the other night; I'm sure I remember it bigger and better than everyone else, but still...   The lesson stuff for this week, well, ugh. It starts out sounding terrible and babyish, and it takes a while for me to get going, and then I spend too much time on , say, one arpeggio and suddenly it's time to stop and go to bed so I can get up at 4-something the next morning to run. I make up a lot of nasty comments about my playing, perhaps to inoculate myself against all the stuff that my teacher (mostly) doesn't say, but very well could.

And my boss's boss's boss's boss has taken to calling me Susan, which is not my name.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

this was the one

Every semester there's one rehearsal that's really stinkin' bad. Last night's was the One. It had been a pretty ordinary day leading up to it, but the minute I got to the rehearsal room I was so tired I just wanted to go to sleep.

We started with a piece we hadn't played before, but definitely not difficult, and in a friendly key. To my amazement and dismay, I My brain just wouldn't process it. I'd get maybe one note per bar and the have to lay out for the rest. Now, two years ago I was a terrible sightreader and had many, many entire rehearsals like this, but that was then and now is now, and this was unexpected and unwelcome. And a little embarrassing, too - I felt like I was losing my mind in public. Having a stroke. Early-onset dementia. Flowers For Algernon where the guy suddenly loses all the intelligence he'd gained. HAL getting dismantled in 2001: A Space Odyssey. Happily, I didn't panic, but I realized that with a 2-viola section there was no hope of just slipping away unnoticed.

Once we moved on to familiar pieces I began to find my bearings again, but I never did get all the way to normal. I let my stand partner (who is less familiar with the music, but very loud and confident) lead everything even though I was sitting in the so-called principal's chair; as a result, we sounded pretty whack as I constantly adjusted to his intonation and his tendency to hold every end-note longer than everyone else, con molto vibrato. Wow, what a night. Just need to forget about it and move on, and hope everyone else didn't notice.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

not that it matters too much, but

The MySQL db at has been down for a few days and I can't post any of my music or running minutiae. I can't get hold of the people running the site (if anyone does run it anymore), so for the moment, the minutiae will reside here.

So, for starters: I finally registered for the race I've been training for the past 2 months. I also put the music-theory lessons (a sort of extracurricular "treat" I've been granting myself) on hold for a bit. I've got a lot going on at the moment, and I'm not doing much of  it very well.