Monday, June 30, 2014

I laugh at the noon vibrato

Today I was reading very quickly over something I'd written, and thought it said "I laugh at the noon vibrato."

Running: nada, day off. Tomorrow will be "speedwork" and there will be 50 miles this week. 50, countem.

After all that Bach this past week, I played it beautifully 2 minutes before lesson time, then succumbed to recital-itis during the actual lesson (bouncy shaky bow, playing it too safe regarding dynamics and vibrato). And after all the Sitt this week (and there was quite a lot of it), I suddenly could not play it at all. Holy smokes, what a mess. Now I have another movement of Bach and the entire rest of the Sitt movement to learn.

One cool thing: my teacher mentioned a former student of his who took it upon himself at age 27 to learn to play viola. He had never played an instrument and didn't read music. Before he started taking lessons with my teacher, he had somehow taught himself the first 2 movements of the first cello suite, and my teacher said that chunks of it were indistinguishable from professional performances. I happen to be reading Musicophilia right now, so this sounded to me like an Oliver Sacks story.

Turns out what it really said was "I laugh at the notion of vibrato."

Sunday, June 29, 2014

end of week, beginning of week

On vacation for the next week. Off running tomorrow, so I will do a few chores, but mostly practice. I am getting a little worried about camp; the website now lists some of the pieces we'll potentially be playing, and they ain't easy. I wonder what level the other people will be at, and whether we will be able to have fun if some people are low-level like me.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

here's hoping

Dr visit today resulted in prescription. May it be the answer to my prayers, except for the prayer about dizziness; this particular doctor cannot help me with dizziness. Meanwhile I feel like a Peter Sellers character; objects conspire against me so that I bump into them or knock them over. Brain fog. I put new strings on the viola and love them, but my attention span re practice is nil. Oooh, the pretty strings sound so pretty...what was I just doing? Did I learn anything? Suddenly my brain just quit and I knew it was over for the night. Tomorrow is another day.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

the day after the longest day

This week some things have been really good and just thinking about them make me happy:

  • work: short week this week, boss is on vacation, then a week off afterward. A whole week off. The only time I ever get weeks off is in between jobs. I plan to run a lot, play a lot, sleep a lot.
  • Running mileage continues to increase. I am still not fast at all but I have been sticking to my no-basis-in-anything plan whereby I: increase mileage ever so slightly for 3 or 4 weeks, then cut back a week; do some kind of speedwork (however slow) once a week; let my long run constitute about 25% of total weekly mileage; take a day off every 8 9 10...days. I'm now safely in the mid-40s per week, will get to 50s soon. I even found myself considering a local marathon or semi-local half next winter. Yahoo.
  • I have made the acquaintance of some people who will be at camp, including a very good violist. There is a plan to work on a viola quartet (for fun) and I think that the viola 4 part is doable maybe, so I'm going to try it.
  • Someone I had lost touch with for a while accepted my facebook friend request, after more than a year. I don't know why this makes me so happy, but it does. Despite the fact that we fell out of touch, I do like her. We are close in age. I think she is interesting. Facebook provides a way to let people get to know me without much risk on either side. I am happy she has taken that risk.

On the other hand:
  • I still don't feel good physically. a worrisome swollen lymph node has disappeared, and the medianoche charley horses have mostly subsided, but my feet/ankles swell, I have trouble staying on my feet for more than a few minutes, I feel sluggish and fat, my hair is falling out. Sometimes I feel short of breath. Sometimes I feel clumsy and unsteady on my feet. I worry that my body is failing me.
  • On a more mundane topic: I really don't feel ready for tomorrow's lesson. I know I say that a lot, but this time it's really true (and I know I say that a lot). For every little inch of improvement there's a meter of new (or old) problems. I let go of my fear of messing up so that I could allow myself to play faster, but now I sound like a train wreck. Intonation, tone, dynamics all fall by the wayside and all that's left is the ability to move the bow back and forth somewhat faster. And I have not been able to memorize the piece mr summer teacher asked me to memorize. In a way this is worse than usual, because mr summer teacher seems to expect me to accomplish something, or at least that's the impression I get from the "homework" he assigns. Although mr regular teacher is more openly critical, he never expected much (improvement, anyway) from me at all.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

learn how to crash

This morning I did a "400s" work out for the third week in a row, only this time I actually timed my quarters. They were pathetic, but I did all four of them, and the last one was fastest. The rest of the run was slow as molasses, but I was happy to have done a workout, even a wimpy one.

Afterward, I was dismayed to realize I couldn't eat my breakfast. After a couple of bites of oatmeal, my stomach said "that's it, stop now" so the dog got some oatmeal in her bowl. This happened some this past fall and winter when I was really depressed, but I'm not depressed now. I am, however, a little worried about my physical health. My appetite comes and goes, my feet (and now hands) cramp, I have trouble staying on my feet for much more than an hour. And yet I can still run, weird.

Practice today was a grand experiment in a couple of ways. First off, I had a lot I wanted to get to, so time management was one experiment. Second was practicing fast stuff fast, and without stopping, and trying to correct things on the fly, and at speed. There was a lot of spectacular crash+burn and I was very self-conscious at first (even alone in the room where I practice) but after a little bit it just got funny, and then fun. And to my surprise, the tempo was a lot more manageable than I thought it would be, and after a few flameouts it felt more manageable still. When my regular teacher has said of some fast piece, "kids love to play that because it's fast" I could never understand it - why would anyone think that making mistakes would be fun? Now I know.

Monday, June 16, 2014

put away the adult ears

Tonight was my 3rd viola lesson with Mr Summer Teacher. I had worked hard on stuff all week, and had even played the bit of Bach *perfectly* (meaning "to my satisfaction") from memory not just once, but several times, like maybe 3 or 4 times (my husband can vouch for this because every time I did it I ran into whatever room he was in to tell him). But tonight I was an airhead. I would look at the music, acknowledge the notes, and then play something totally unrelated. I would worry about losing my ability to read, which would cause me to - you guessed it - lose my ability to read. And yet Mr Summer Teacher conducted the lesson as though I were a normal person who is able to play fast and in tune and with feeling and dynamics and accents and what have you. I kept thinking "what are you doing, I can't play that fast, I can't do what you're asking" but he kept asking and I kept trying. I won't say that I magically "got it" (I didn't) but there is something to be said for bashing through while putting your adult ears away and allowing yourself to make mistakes. If I continue to play everything very carefully and just hope that improvement will happen organically, I'll die waiting.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

I am 100% sure of this

It cannot be said that any of my teachers have students that play 100% perfectly 100% of the time. 

So why do I worry so much about playing poorly, out-of-tune, with icky tone or strange musical sense? This afternoon I was practicing a piece, trying to play parts of it from memory and all of it nicely. It wasn't working out so well, and I was forgetting stuff and missing notes and screwing up with the bow. I kept imagining the teacher sitting there thinking "yep, there's an out of tune note, oh there's a wobbly-bow there should have been a crescendo there, where was it..." And even worse, I imagined playing it for my regular teacher in response to the inevitable what-did-you-do-with-your-summer and having him sit there and enumerate all the mistakes in his head. But really, do they do that? And if they do that, is there some kind of tipping point after which they go "god, I can't stand to listen to this shit one more minute, it's so bad"? Maybe, but if only perfect people took music lessons there wouldn't be too many musicians around. So anyway, this is something I just want to get over. I'm sure it's an "adult student" affliction. 

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

it's late

It's late and I am very tired, but I have to say that I've really enjoyed this  tonight.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

you don't look as strong

I was talking to someone today who hadn't seen me in a month, and she said "you don't look as strong."

Even so, this morning I'd managed to do 4 kinda-400s at some pace that felt uncomfortable. I got through a superweird workday which started with a conversation I should have been involved in (but wasn't) occurring 10 feet away from me, but which I could not eavesdrop on because my quad-mate was sitting on my desk so he could talk loudly with the guy who sits across the cube wall from me. Later, someone asked the question that sorely needed to be asked, namely "this app that we are frantically fixing - what does it actually do, and how is it supposed to work?" This prompted an emergency meeting in which the first 15 minutes were spent deciding what the meeting would be about and what expectations should be set; then the BAs took over, and when one of them refused to stop his robotic recitation even when asked several times, the organizer hung up on him (he was remote) and the meeting ended. This job was a mistake, without a doubt.

Highlights of the day were small, but did exist: watching the Primrose competition, also a tip from last night's lesson that seemed to make a huge difference in my bow hand.

Monday, June 9, 2014

huis clos

(yes, I have used this title before. So have other people.)

My office is a madhouse, with 16 boys and 2 girls shrieking, arguing, giggling, yakking, expounding, being silly, and occasionally talking about code and databases. All at volume, in our productivity-enhancing "open plan." Today I wanted to kill a couple of them outright, and blowtorch the rest.

Got home fairly wound up from the workday, too wound up to warm up properly for my viola lesson. It went ok, though, if you don't count the foot cramps that had me striking odd poses trying to avoid walking them off (didn't work). I can't stand motionless for more than an hour without this happening. This shouldn't happen to someone who runs every day. I am a little concerned. But anyway, the lesson went ok. I didn't play well, but I was less nervous than last week, and was able to laugh at my mistakes instead of being abashed.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

we can never remember what we need to remember

After a mess of a Saturday, Sunday was a kind friend. I slept as long as I needed to, ran 11 miles (11!) which were not too terribly slow, then spent the rest of the day practicing viola and being social on facebook. Oh, and I got a couple of chores done too.

The past couple of days, practicing has felt like banging my head against a wall, complete with headache. Today the fog lifted, the vise loosened, and everything felt much better. The strings rang (which means I was playing in tune) and I was transfixed. Anything, anything to make them ring again: where should the bow be? How fast? How heavy? I watched this video and noticed that all three violists had their instruments well in front, and pointing down, and they can play close to the fingerboard and with very little bow and get marvelous, different sounds that are every bit as viable as when they play closer to the bridge. So I moved my viola from 10 o'clock to 11:30, and no longer made an effort to keep it horizontal. It hasn't completely fixed my tone (and I have to get farther away from the stand because I keep hitting it with the scroll - may need even stronger glasses) but it is helping me to stay nearer the fingerboard and I am a little better equipped to think about dynamics and lines. And o thank heaven, I can read again! I was beginning to think that ability had gone away.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

hamster in a wheel

I remember occasions 2-1/2 years ago, 2 years ago, 18 months ago, etc arriving at the Conclusion that all my musical effort was for nought, that I was sorely lacking in so many basic areas that what I needed was to start over again from scratch. One time this prompted me to change teachers, but mostly it involved buying a book or two or three. So I have books. I have etudes and exercises and scale books. Old ones, newer ones, ones written for kids. All of them were supposed to Turn Things Around. Some really helped, but none of them ever managed to set free the really good violist that I was sure was lurking inside me. And it lurks still, so here I am again, hating every sound I make, doubting so much of what I've done the past 5.x years, and hoping that 2 more Sevciks added to my collection will do the trick.

Friday, June 6, 2014

almost the end of the week

Why not...

Running: cutback week, only 38-39 miles. This week I attempted speedwork for the first time in ages, also bumped up the number of running days between rest days. I still do not go remotely fast or far, but it is my hope to maintain close to 60mpw by summer's end.

Work: guess what? Reorg, that's what. I must carry it with me, like Typhoid Mary. My little band of developers got absorbed into a much larger group within the huge giant company we work for. Or should I say "huge giant company at whose pleasure I am a contract worker" because that's what it is. We have no loyalty toward each other, this company and I, and each of us is hardly aware of the other's existence. Everything I've been working on for the past month is about to get mothballed, or maybe not, I don't know.

And, of course, music: tonight's practice wasn't as bad as last night's. Or at least that's how it started out. After a couple of hours I was noticeably tired and my playing was noticeably bad, so I stopped.

There are some articles currently on about learning (everyone can, right? even grown-ups) and interaction between student and teacher (try to impress the teacher and you too will become a good violinist) that bring me back to my eternal question: what if someone really can't ever get very good at this despite tons of desire and hard work? Some people are truly tone-deaf. I am not, but I really hate the way I play sometimes and I wonder if I am simply not capable of any improvement. Not long ago I asked how I could get better at playing faster and the answer was not "do this, and try that, and think of it such and such a way" but "you are an adult, there are limits to what you will be able to do." Not the answer to the question I asked, and certainly not anything I wanted to hear. But what if I am so bad that there just isn't any possibility of improvement? What if, at the end of it all, that was really the answer to the question?


ugh, last night my hands didn't work, my brain was dysfunctional. It was one of those nights where my sightreading ability dwindled to nothing, and I felt every bit the fumbling adult oaf I can be. 

As a sort of side-project, I have been going back through all the Kayser etudes I did last year and this year, to see if I they come any easier; last night after multiple attempts at a very easy one (I know it so well I could sing it), I realized I'd become so tense that even my right hand hurt. Ugh! Why are there days like this? 

It bothers me so much when my reading ability falters, because then the "problem" becomes mental as well as physical. I know I'm an adult. I know I'm middle aged and my body, though in fairly good shape, will fail. It has undoubtedly started failing already. I cannot stand the thought of my mind failing.