Tuesday, June 30, 2015

sometimes I almost feel just like a human being.




Yet another article floating around on facebook about adult starters, with many teachers coming forward to talk about the lovely adult students they keep like cute pets in their studios...It's never to late to learn; it's never too late to start learning. What many teachers think (and what few will tell you) is that you'll never be good. Any good. Very good. 

Which is it, and what is good?

Will an adult starter ever be a virtuoso? No. I mean, very likely no. But there is a whole continuum between "virtuoso" and Joe Positive sawing out "Happy Birthday" a month after taking up the viola. I think of the teachers I have had: a soloist (yes, for you violin people; there are viola soloists); section violists; an associate prinicpal violist; a principal violist. Not one of them is a virtuoso (yes, we have virtuosi in viola). Is any one of these better simply by virtue of his title? Yeah? Which one is better? Do the section people bemoan the fact that they don't sit first stand? Do the principal people envy the soloist? Do any of them feel they failed? Do any of them secretly feel they should have quit, because they'll "never" get to that next level?

I don't want to be a virtuoso, or even a soloist. I don't aspire to play in a professional orchestra, or even a very good amateur orchestra. I would be thrilled to pieces to absorb anything from my teacher, but in reality I would like to get to the level of a good middle-school or maybe high-school violist. Is that good? Probably not. But it's a long way from not-ever-any-good.

I used to play bass guitar in some indie bands. The novelty (at the time) of female bass players notwithstanding, I was pretty good at it, and I was not the only person who thought so. I was lucky to have really good material to work with, and some very good musicians to play with, but the truth was I worked really, really hard at it. I once read an anecdote about George Harrison, how he labored over his solos note for note. That was me, sitting up late at night with this song, lifting the phonograph arm and putting it back down over and over, trying to figure out what this guy (the excellent, underrated Bruce Thomas) was doing. I remember thinking that if I ever learned this song, there would be nothing left for me to learn, and I would retire from bass-playing. Eventually I learned the song well enough to perform it live, at tempo, and then it wasn't the Holy Grail anymore, and there were other, more challenging songs to learn. I was maybe 23 years old. I started playing bass at 20. I was not a Suzuki Electric Bass kid. I was not a virtuoso. I was an adult starter.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

some (more) thoughts about learning vibrato

This has been a decent week, but I will write about that another time; it's late and I did want to write this down before bedtime (which was an hour ago):

I've been using Doree Huneven's video (thanks, Lee!) to help me in my mission to destroy and then recreate my vibrato. She breaks things into small pieces and advocates spending weeks, or even a month, on each small piece. Wave hello (she waves hello, not goodbye): a week. The "string-polishing" exercise everyone learns: a month. Holy hell. As an adult with a Busy Life and Goals To Meet as well as a pre-existing, fairly weak and inconsistent vibrato, I think: "a week? a month? Why must it take that long? I see what she's doing, and I can do it (for the most part). So why can't I go on to the next little piece as soon as I get in my head what I'm supposed to do?" But I think the answer is that it's not about getting it into my head. It's about doing it for a week, or a month. I can wave hello (or goodbye) to myself, but I notice that my hellos aren't as fluid, and don't have the range of motion that Ms Huneven's have. I want my hellos to look like that. I want to know what those hellos feel like. That's why it takes so long.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

work stress.

I sure know how to pick 'em.

I was hired to do SQL performance tuning, to fix long-running queries so they weren't so long-running, to teach people how to write queries properly so that this wouldn't keep happening. This is something I'm good at and something I like. This is also Code, not Hardware or Network or Server. It's Code. I am a developer, not a DBA.

When I started my job, a few people started asking me to do DBA stuff; the company had lost its DBA months before and was lumbering on without one, and some people assumed (incorrectly) that I was the new DBA. Even after I corrected that notion, some people still referred to me as the DBA, in the hopes that if they repeated it enough times I would eventually agree to assume a position I have no interest or expertise in (and which pays a hell of a lot more than I am paid). I do not work for the guy the previous DBAs worked for, and that guy is very protective of his fiefdom. I took advantage of this general organizational/political confusion, dug in my heels and said "I am a developer, sorry, I am not a DBA, go ask Fiefdom Guy to fulfill your DBA needs." I am a damn good developer, but I am not a DBA.

After a few months, the CIO decided to hire a DBA. The recruiter sent two pretty mediocre and uncharismatic candidates, and one was hired. He reported to work two Mondays ago. He's a contractor (we all are; there are very few real employees). They gave him a cube, a laptop, very limited internet access so he can't even get to microsoft.com, and no access to any SQL boxes at all. He does not work for the person that DBAs used to work for, and that person is still guarding his fiefdomFiefdom guy (we'll call him Dick) won't give the DBA access to anything, basically wants nothing to do with him. This new hire drives 90 minutes each way to come sit and twiddle his thumbs. He asks for work to do and access to do it, and is ignored. He has gone to the CIO about it and has gotten a runaround. Dick's people have flat-out told him they don't care what the CIO says, and have refused to help in any way.

What the hell is going on? The guy happens to be pretty abrasive, sure, but no more so than when he interviewed. Why would a company go to the expense of hiring someone and then leave him to wither on the vine?

So the DBA is getting very frustrated and is going to walk out tomorrow if no one will give him any work, or explain why he's not getting any work. And that sucks. But what makes it suck more is that the work the DBA should be doing will fall to me. And I'm not qualified to do it, nor do I have any desire to do it, and that's not what I was hired to do. And this makes my stomach hurt. I am so fucking sick of taking jobs where they just lie to you, say anything to get you in the door. How do I manage to pick such companies over and over? There must be something wrong with me.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

overthinking is what we do best.

Q: If wrist vibrato is a single, simple motion, a rocking of the hand on the wrist, then why is it harder to vibrate on some fingers and easier on others? After all, the finger's not doing anything.

A: the finger may not be doing anything, but something is being done to it - the rocking of the hand causes the finger to wobble about its spot on the string. If the finger isn't flexible, it will sound jerky as the hand rocks it.

Am I right?

In other news:

A cutback week for running, 42 miles. Next week I'm going back to 7-days-a-week running, for the first time in at least a year, almost a year, over a year, who knows, can't remember, but it's been a long time. It will help me increase mileage without having to get up even earlier on weekdays.

On Wednesday I go for a 6-month mammogram and chat with the surgeon's NP. I am only a little apprehensive, actually not at all. Hopefully everything will look fine and I won't have to go back for a year.

Speaking of vibrato: this week I've started bringing my mind along while doing the teacher's vibrato exercise, instead of daydreaming or looking at the computer. The exercise is the one where you glue (not literally) your wrist to the bout, set the metronome at 60, and wobble one, two, three, etc times per beat. At that tempo, anything above 6 or 7 wobbles/beat just sounds like regular vibrato, so the slower wobbles are meant to teach control and pulse and variation of amplitude and such. Today, for the first time ever (I am talking 2 1/2 years), I was able to get to 6 clearly articulated wobbles per beat with first finger. Whoohoo, small victories...

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

the unasked question

Tonight I had a viola lesson with the teacher I'm studying with this summer (at least). In the midst of explaining something, he just tossed in something like "You are playing more musically; I can tell you have music in you; sometimes your phrasing is really neat." Yeah, something like that, an answer to a question no one had asked, but which was really nice to hear.