Saturday, January 25, 2014

it can't all be roses

It's funny how a couple of bad practice days can put me into a funk. It's as though I'm listening to myself with brand-new, highly-critical and ultraperceptive ears and bot, do I sound terrible. It's raining demotivation. I have a lesson tomorrow for which I'm unprepared; the little gains I made lately have all faded into fuzz; I wonder about quitting orchestras/lessons/camp...STOP. This is stupid and I need to remember that this will settle out eventually.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

short note about high notes

This week's scale is B major, 1-octave, two different ways. The one on the A string is fine, but the D-string one, ai-yi-yi, even the air molecules run for cover when I get to 9th position. I spent almost an hour on it last night, with not much progress. I wondered if a nice sound was even possible. I resigned myself to a long frustrating scratchy-sounding week.

This morning I set aside some time just to work on that damn scale - rather, just to get up to 9th position and do whatever it took to get a nice sound. Even if I spent 3 minutes on each note making horrible noise, the goal was to figure out how to get a nice sound. Because it is possible. And, to my surprise, it was.

I can hardly wait to get home and try it again.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

in praise of non-praise

An unspectacular lesson, when I particularly wanted (and felt I deserved, believe it or not) a pat on the back. Instead I got a very detailed critique of the many things I was doing wrong, or at least not all the way right - all valid and true, but still...Oh well, if there were nothing to work on, what would be the point?

Part of the reason I wanted pats on the back is that I (yes, even I) can see improvements in areas I have long struggled with. Recently I noticed that I can think of a sound, with some tone and some volume, and many times make a sound that gets close to what I want. I am a lot better at sight-reading. Reading rhythm is no longer a big mystery; I used to have to hear someone else play something that looked tricky on paper before I could truly get it. My reaction time is quicker. My shifts are cleaner. I use vibrato a lot more. I play in tune, in different positions, a lot more often that I used to. But...

...but these things all came after a lot of work, and they can disappear in a flash. Today my teacher said I wasn't getting a good tone for the volume I was trying for. Another time he pointed out that I consistently played this one note (in first position!) out of tune. I thought "but no, my tone is better, my intonation is better" but then I realized I hadn't actually worked on these specific things in a couple of weeks. Guess I need to add drills for these things back into the rotation.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

lo, and tomorrow was better

Work was much saner today, and I managed to stay on top of things. I didn't have to work late or miss rehearsal.

Pre-rehearsal practice was execrable. I really needed to work on that G# minor scale, but I couldn't concentrate well enough to play through the screechiness, so I still need to work on that scale, in a mighty big way. My cellist friend arrived in time for us to run through some of one piece we received last week, but we made a hash of it.

At rehearsal, I was the only violist. But I was loud, at least at first, and this was a little disconcerting. But I just thought well, fuck it, I'll do what I need to to get an OK tone, and if it's loud it's loud, and it probably won't even really be loud. The first thing we did after the warmup was work on a Boccherini quintet that we're playing as a string orchestra. I know nothing about classical music, but it seems to me that Boccherini had a real way with quartets and quintets; interesting ideas get shared by everyone, even the lowly viola. So of course when it came time for this lowly viola to play something interesting, I thought whoa, how loud, and then decided well fuck it, I'll just play and be loud, because I'm probably not that loud. Later the conductor handed us a new piece full of deceptively simple quarter-notes and half-notes, but it sounded weird, with one particularly dissonant viola note (B natural when the chord is an A major) that sounded for all the world like an attempt to make it look like the viola section had made a big mistake. And it was loud, and I thought, well fuck it, that's what the composer wrote and I'm just going to be loud. Actually, I was pretty happy with my sight-reading, especially considering how tired I was.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

photos of baby elephants are most welcome

Today I let my workday get the better of me, and practice was short and decidedly un-sweet. This week I'm on data-maintenance rotation, and my day was filled with urgent requests to change production data using scripts that were poorly written, or just plain wrong. One group sent a request to "please make the changes [to some system I know nothing about] per the attached spreadsheet," but the spreadsheet contained no mention of tables, columns, or even database names. In fact, it looked like a bunch of color-coded sentences that told a story of some sort, maybe about some people living on another planet somewhere. Anyway, I stayed late and left work still unsatisfied with my progress, so I worked a little more once I got home, then started right in on the Scale of the Week, which is G# minor. This one goes pretty high and screechy, so you can imagine what it sounded like this evening. Higher. Screechier. After a little while with no progress, I moved on to the etude and made even less progress. Finally, patience wearing thin, I worked on the recital piece and actually did get somewhere with that, so I figured it was time to quit. May tomorrow be better.

Friday, January 10, 2014

a terrible dream

I dreamed I went to my viola teacher's house for a lesson. It was not my in-real-life viola teacher, but a fictitious dream person sort of like someone who works at my company, a Russian guy, but older than that guy. I was a little early for my lesson, so I decided to use the time folding some clean laundry I had with me for some reason. I got all the clothes spread out and was starting to fold them when all of a sudden it was time for the lesson. I went to get my viola out of the case, and all the strings were gone, the bridge was on its side, and (worst of all) the soundpost had fallen. Where would I find a luthier on a Sunday? My teacher felt this was my fault and berated me for this and other things, saying "you do not work very hard." I was mortified by his remark, and started protesting: "how can you say that? how do you think I managed to survive 50 years without working hard?" He made some snarky comment about knowing the right people to sleep with, which stopped me cold (no one has ever said anything like that to me before; I just don't live the kind of way that would get me comments like that). Later in the dream, he and I and his assistant were walking through the city at night. He was ranting but I kept hoping that eventually he'd take me to a luthier. We walked past a series of open pits, construction sites of some kind. He would splash gasoline into the pit and then light it. In the dream, this was something I knew he'd spent some time in prison for. At one pit, he splashed the gasoline in and lit it, but instead of it catching fire, it spit the gasoline back onto us. I knew something terrible was going to happen. Then the alarm went off and it was time to wake up.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

your pal, joe positive

Decent running week; fun time playing with my cellist friend yesterday; ok non-stressful viola lesson today. I bought (or am going to buy, anyway) this viola that I love. I signed up for music camp. I finished all my work at work. I am feeling better physically than I have in a while. Thank you, Universe.

Saturday, January 4, 2014


This afternoon my cellist friend came over and we worked on this Mozart duet we started fooling with a few weeks ago. And when I say worked, I mean worked - we played ultra-slow, we added what we felt were missing dynamics, we took a lot of care with notes that made odd harmonies, we made a point of playing with what felt like tons of vibrato (which ended up sounding, simply, like a nice not-too-much amount of vibrato). It was great. I mean, the piece still has a ways to go, but it was so much fun. When we get together, I feel less like a "beginner" and more like a musician. My friend hasn't been playing cello her whole life, but she has played (and taught) piano most of her life. She knows so much more about music than I do, and she knows what good music should sound like when it's played well. I am so happy she has the patience to put up with me.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

I pulled the other trigger

I decided to buy this Stopka viola. Christ. I only hope I can live up to it. It's so beautiful, not to mention costly. Christ.