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."