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February 27, 2013

I can no longer deny it

So there's this chamber music workshop coming up this weekend. It's going to be great, it's going to be fun, it's so rare I get a chance to participate in any kind of chamber music thing, blah, blah, blah.

Except I am not dead-solid on every single part. And even today I am changing fingerings. Oh, boy. It's a little late for that.

God, I am so nervous.

Everyone will laugh at me. They will all think "What is she doing here? She can't play. Who does she think she's fooling? She's ruining it for everyone."

2 questions spring to mind:

1) why can't I just relax and enjoy this for what it is?

2) why can't I play well enough that I don't worry that everyone will laugh at me and think I can't play?

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February 26, 2013

there is nothing else on earth

Tonight was UT rehearsal, and since I'm going to miss the one big performance where we play everything, I've been sitting in the back of the viola section, making a third row even if there was no need for one (I also haven't really bothered to learn anything but the one piece we're playing in the one little performance, so it's just as well). Tonight was the last rehearsal before the one big performance, so it was really crowded and I basically sat in the front row of woodwinds, with a harp on my left. Pretty odd setup, but I found myself thinking about the real orchestra performance I went to the other night, and how that viola section did whatever they could to get a nice group sound. That actually made it fun, even though I was pretty much sight-reading everything except the one piece I've learned.

In the HCC orchestra, which rehearses tomorrow night, we have 3-countem-3 violists, and on any given night we'll only have two, and for various reasons we really don't play as a section at all. But I wonder if we could try. If I could try, anyway.

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February 25, 2013

not so fast, leadfoot

oh, viola, why do you treat me this way? I spent the entire 10-mile run this morning thinking about you, all the work I am going to do and all the things I am going to learn. And I came in and picked you up and you said, "not so fast, leadfoot," and you sounded horrible and scratchy and would not give me a good tone no matter what I did with the bow. And my hands were stiff and slow, and everything was out of tune and out of time. And for the hell of it, I played through one of the pieces for the workshop (5 days away, yikes!) and committed, despite myself, every single sin my teacher pointed out to me yesterday. It was as though he was right in the room, going "no, no, no. Don't do that, no." Ach, this is one of those what-was-I-thinking days.

oh viola, my intentions are good. All I want is to make some nice sounds. Why do you treat me this way?

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February 24, 2013

penultimate week of February, in review

Running: cut way, way down. After two 80-mile weeks, I had a lousy speed workout and my body just plain said "no" to Tuesday's scheduled 13-miler. After a day off, I felt some better but still not great. After a few more light days, I raced for the first time since early December, and ran my slowest 15k in years. I'm slow and tired, and lately have some tendinitis in one foot. I have an 86-mile week ahead of me and today I just wonder why. Maybe it's time to stop.

Music: The chamber music workshop is a week away, and I think I might be ok enough on my pieces to acquit myself. I think not-feeling intimidated is really the key, but I don't know how that will go. In general, I feel like I practiced well this week, and learned some good things, but they melted away at today's lesson, and I was just scraping and sawing. There is a difference between playing the notes and making a nice sound; I am acutely aware that my sound is not nice, and I have very little control over it at this point. And sometimes I'm not aware enough, and my teacher points it out to me, yikes. Sometimes I want to ask him how he can stand to listen to all the noise we students make.

There are so many things I want to work on but I can't let myself try to do them all at once, because that's impossible.

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February 22, 2013


When I finished practicing tonight, my husband said, "How do you think your playing is lately?" I thought about this for a few seconds and asked, "Is this a leading question?" And he said, "Well, I don't always listen that closely [through the closed door], but some of that tonight was sounding OK."

I'll take it.

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February 20, 2013

sometimes I speak back

When I played pop music, I would usually only cover songs that meant something to me, and I would play and/or sing them to my audience as though I meant what the writers were saying (which I usually did).

In string orchestra we're doing two movements of Britten's Simple Symphony, and one of them ("Sentimental Saraband") I like a lot, but has the unusual effect of making me want to talk not to the audience but to the composer. "Oh Benjamin Britten," I want to say, "What's wrong? How can I help?"

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Tuesdays and Wednesdays

Tuesdays and Wednesdays are bad for viola practice lately. Tuesdays are usually busy at work, and Tuesday nights I have UT orchestra rehearsal, so there's little time to practice. Wednesdays can be hit or miss at work, and there's a different rehearsal that night, so it's almost like Tuesday. Guess I'll just have to deal.

Semi-lousy rehearsal tonight. Sometimes I get frustrated because the conductor spends a lot of time with the other sections - helping them to hear what their parts are supposed to sound like both as a section and within the context of the piece - but hardly any with us. I mean, it's like 10 minutes with the cellos, 15 with the 2nd violins, maybe 5 with the firsts (because they're so good that's all they need), and then "OK, everyone! From rehearsal number 3! No, 3! Really, 3! The first bar of 3!" and we run through a passage maybe twice and that's it. Meanwhile, we violists are left wondering whether we did right, or if anyone noticed.

Oh well. Guess I'll just have to deal.

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February 18, 2013

what I did today

Miserable, miserable "speed" workout that wasn't really speedy at all. Saw the same 2 garbage trucks scores of times. When I finished my cooldown they were parked side by side in front of my house, the drivers outside their trucks yakking. I ran up to them and lied that I needed to leave for work, and would they mind unblocking my driveway?

It was 40F and less than 30%RH this morning, almost unheard-of in Florida. My viola did not like this, and acted like a pig, So I tuned, retuned, tuned, unbent my bridge (I hope), tuned, messed with the bridge some more. After a while my viola stopped acting like a true pig but never really sounded like a viola.

Spent a lot of time at work working on things that turned out to be unnecessary, or will almost certainly have to be redone. And this prevented me from working on other things I needed to do.

Came up with some decent sounding fifths, even double-stopped.

Scales, arpeggios, and octaves (double stops), and learned some good things about keeping my fingers down and using the down fingers to figure out where other fingers need to go. I don't know if it will make sense tomorrow, but it made sense today. Even on the arpeggios.

Played the Mozart along with the recording and didn't suck terribly. Began to listen to the other people (on the recording) and think about how to fit with them instead of just OMG WHAT ARE THE NOTES. While working on a difficult part of one movement, I realized I wanted to play it a slightly different way (not fingering but feel), which just made everything harder.

Did not make any headway with the one orchestra piece I worked on.

Didn't work on any of the other orchestra pieces I had planned to work on.

Decided to take tomorrow off running because I feel like utter crap.

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February 17, 2013

song lyrics

My husband has started teasing me about the "lyrics" to the "songs" I play - lyrics like

Read it. Read. It.
No, no, no.
Damn it.
Once more.
You can do this.
Think about it. Think about this. Just think.
Stop thinking.
Ok, that's ok.
That's enough.

He asked me yesterday if I "sang" at my lessons. As a matter of fact, I did let a "fuck" slip out yesterday, but my teacher didn't seem to mind (I did apologize, though).

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no title for this

Running: 80.1 miles. 1 speed workout, 2 med-long runs (13, 15), 1 long run (20), the rest 7-or 8-mile slogs. Actually, with the exception of the speedwork on Monday, they were all slogs. I am not used to the mileage yet and I am really, really slow.

Music: my left arm/shoulder/hand/wrist is much better, though if I don't rest every 40 minutes or so, I get a reminder. My "nice" vibrato, however, seems to have gone away, and the old on/off Ethel Merman vibrato has replaced it, so there's one more thing that needs fixing. I didn't screw up too badly at yesterday's lesson, so I get to move on to a new Flesch A minor exercise and a new Kayser etude, and after the chamber music thing (2 weeks from now, yikes!) we're going to try the gigue from the first cello suite.

...the chamber music thing, yikes! I've been assigned two fairly short movements of a Mozart quintet. Neither is very difficult but both have their moments. One has these kind of shrieking double-stops that insert non-intuitive chords into the progression (pardon my very bad description, but I have very little music theory and don't know what this is called), and while it's one thing to shriek a different chord, it's another, very bad thing to shriek out of tune. The other has more totally naked exposed viola I (with a gliss to 4th position, which is still alien to me) than I am comfortable with. Such beautiful pieces, and so many chances to mess up in front of strangers! I've been practicing my part, playing through a little with my teacher, and playing along with a recording I found on Spotify. Still, I'm really nervous about it. I have convinced myself that the entire quintet (except me) are all as good as the quintet on the recording, and I will be the only crap player in the bunch. Oy.

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February 15, 2013

I feel as though I've been slackin'

I've let this week be deliberately light while I let my left side straighten itself out, or not. I've practiced no more than a couple hours a day. I skipped one orchestra rehearsal (the one where I only need to learn one piece). I had a massage yesterday. And I've discovered that an ice-cream container (filled with ice cream, of course) is perfect for icing the palm of the left hand :-)

I've been trying to figure out if any one thing has been causing the soreness. I know it's pointless; as I used to tell my clients when they would ask me what was causing their pain, "everything you've ever done in your entire life, up until this moment." There's really nothing I can do except cut way down and then add back slowly, and see what that teaches me.

Still, the deliberate lightness of the week has left me feeling guilty and unprepared. I have a lesson tomorrow, and I'd hoped to display great mastery of a 1-octave A minor scale and all its arpeggios and broken thirds and stuff. I guess I'll have to dazzle my teacher with my lovely tone instead :-)

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February 12, 2013

and something old

For the first time in ages, I had a long and very detailed dream about my friend who killed himself nigh on seven years ago. I dreamed that his suicide was really nothing more than an extended manic episode (apparently one you can come back from), and he'd engaged a team of high-powered Tampa attorneys to sue me for negligence, since I had not prevented his (non-)suicide so I was therefore responsible for it. In my dream, the case had dragged on and on, to the point where it was practically decided and final briefs were filed, and he and I were friends once again. The law, however, dictated otherwise. I was likely to be found guilty, but because we were on good terms, my friend had instructed his lawyers not to ask for the customary jail sentence but rather some number of months of probation. The lawyers explained this to me, noting that they "hoped" it would work out that way; apparently, this was in the hands of the judge. My friend also offered to show me the contents of his computer. In my dream I knew that the computer would contain photos of what he'd come back to after his "time away," i.e., the carnage of his house, his (our) dead dog, etc. I demurred, not wanting to look at these photos but not wanting to piss him off either. Meanwhile, to my horror, he was going off on a new manic tear, going on and on about his guitar teacher (huh?) assigning him a new scale (huh?). I wanted to ask "what the hell are you doing taking guitar lessons, you know everything about guitar" but again, I didn't want to piss him off.

This dream took all night. I woke from it several times, overheated, then shivering, scratching at invisible imaginary bug bites. I think it was triggered by someone posting on facebook that they'd been listening to my old band's album. This morning was terrible, and I faced the 15-miler with a clear sense of doom, but somehow the godz came through for me and I didn't spend too much time ruminating over this.

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a new one

It started as a little tightness in my left arm, especially when doing that multinote vibrato exercise I was so proud of last week. Then the second joint of my thumb got a little sore. And now my scapula (well, actually the muscles over top of it) and my upper trapezius are sullen and painful and tight. I can't believe I actually allowed myself to get injured - after all the years of running and looking out for injury, and of being a massage therapist and knowing full well the causes of injury. And I ignored all of that and steamed ahead, stupid me :-)

To be honest, it might not be just the increased practicing and new stuff. It could be that 80+ miles a week (including workouts) + lots and lots of viola practice + my advanced age might be just too much, and my body is rebelling by falling completely apart.

Today there is someone here working on the house, so it's easier for me to stick to my resolution to lay off a little bit. I also have a massage scheduled in a couple of days, so hopefully this will be short-lived.

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February 10, 2013


I have a viola lesson in about an hour, and I'm nervous. As always, for years, with different teachers. Why? My teachers haven't been intimidating or mean. Their criticisms have always been valid, and as kind as possible. So why the nerves? My current teacher is also the director of one of the community orchestras I play in; he's heard me play (for better or worse) the past three years, probably more than anyone except my husband and my dog, and he's certainly heard some egregious mistakes. When I started taking lessons from him a few months ago, I never expected to be nervous at lessons. But I am.

I wonder if this is an adult thing, or if kids get nervous too.

Well - praise be to the viola godz - that nervousness turned out to be unfounded. I got through all the C string stuff (Flesch 1-octave scale) with very little squawking, and the 2-octave scale felt fine. My teacher then offered to work on one of the two pieces I'm learning for a chamber music workshop next month. As it happened, he picked the one I kept putting on my list of things to work on but never quite got around to, so NERVES NERVES NERVES but it turned out to be ok. (Side note: I really like playing with other people; I really like the sound of my viola harmonizing with something else. But I guess that's why I'm a violist). After a few minutes I forgot I was nervous and just listened to what it sounded like, and tried different things he asked me to do. I got more work done on that piece in twenty minutes today than I had in several hours on my own.

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February 9, 2013

the state of things

Running: 19 miles this morning, followed by a nap. Tomorrow's 11 will bring me to 80 for the week, and that's the most in quite a while. I'm tired but otherwise healthy.

Flesch C Major #1: Have I mentioned I hate my C string? I hate my C string. I feel like I'm trying to saw through barbed wire, and it sounds like it too.

Flesch C Major #5: much nicer than #1.

All the rest of the stuff I've done at lessons the past 2 weeks: I've been practicing it, none too well. Some of it hasn't been mentioned in 2 weeks. I hope at tomorrow's lesson he doesn't ask for the one or two things I've paid the least attention to lately.

All the rest of the non-lesson stuff: Hmm...intonation, tone, tempo: pick two. I can do two. But not three.

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February 8, 2013

common theme #79

Still not enough hours in the day.

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February 7, 2013


When my teacher says something like "I just know where all the notes are all over the fingerboard" I seem to hear it as "...and you don't, and you will never get anywhere until you do, and it's something you just know or you don't." Am I supposed to know it already? Is it something I will ever learn, or never learn?

If I could take an entire month off work, with nothing to do except practice (and run and do laundry), would that be helpful? I realize that this stuff takes years, but I wonder if some concentrated period of time spent on it would help me out of this quicksand of inconsistency. Oh well - it's not as though I have the opportunity to take a month off work anyway.

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February 6, 2013

chandelier of dreams

Tonight did turn out to be the worst rehearsal in a long time. We started with a piece we read once, 2 weeks ago, and never touched or mentioned again and of course it was the one I'd only worked on a little tiny bit, and not recently. So horrible reader that I am, I managed to mess up a very easy piece. It went downhill from there. I was distracted by everything, couldn't hear what I wanted to hear, heard too much of things I didn't need to hear, etc. I played so badly that I wanted to walk out and never touch a viola again, and that's pretty extreme, even for me.

Driving home I listened to a recording my band made almost 20 years ago. It was good. I was good at that. I should never have tried to learn viola, or at least I should never have tried this orchestra stuff - I should have stuck with playing Happy Birthday or Turkey in the Straw at my friends' kids' birthday parties.

This is cyclical, isn't it? Every several weeks I discover I am the worst viola player ever, and I work so goddamn hard for nothing, and I am ashamed of my bad playing and ashamed of my hubris and arrogance (daring to play in public), and I want to quit, and I drink too much and wake up hollowed-out the next day, and after some hours or days I get back on the horse and do it again. Ugh.

I wish this were not so important to me.

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there never seems to be enough time

I said I was going to spend 15 minutes on something, and it turned into an hour, and even then I didn't quite accomplish what I wanted to. And it had nothing to do with anything that we'll play in rehearsal tonight, so I feel pretty underprepared.

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February 5, 2013

all this flesch

This week's assignment includes C major exercises 1 and (the first part of) 5, played very slowly, ignoring the bowings and rhythms, but with a pulse. A by-product of exercise 1 is having to deal with this new C string - either make it sound better or learn to love it, or at least not hate it. I had some success with the latter. I held the viola as far away from my ear as I could while playing on the C, and it didn't sound as hairy and grainy as it did under my ear. It actually sounded kind of nice. And with one less thing to be tense about, I was able to get some work done.

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can't sleep

2:38am. Wide awake. Long day ahead, starting with a medium-long run (who the hell puts a 14-miler in the middle of the week? Coach Albert, that's who), then a workday with tiresome meetings, then UT orchestra rehearsal tonight. I may do the unthinkable and leave at the break, since we're rehearsing the very-insipid Ticheli (the only piece I'll be playing) in the first hour.

I really need to be less negative. I've been reading this blog, and the writer is so positive - not cloyingly so, but it seems like whenever she hits a bump, she gathers herself up again and goes on.

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February 4, 2013

ray of sunshine

My tone sucks. My intonation sucks. Bowing sucks. I hate my strings. I can't remember exactly what my teacher said to do (play as written, or all separate bows or what) and I'm afraid whatever I decide to practice will turn out to be the wrong thing. Wrong, wrong, wrong, stupid, wrong.

On the bright side: I ran well this morning, 10 miles including a speed workout that went better than expected. And I still have the remnants of a head-cold, so I'm even more pleased with the workout.

But still...it was a dead workday, so I spent a lot more time than usual practicing. Ordinarily I would be stoked about all the extra time, but instead every note was awful, and every piece reminded me of how mortified I will be at rehearsal tomorrow and Wednesday, and how I just want to curl up into a ball.

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for the sake of no one who is reading this

Here's how I arrange my "practice day". It's spread out over an entire day, depending on how busy I am with work and stuff, but the order is always the same.

1. rosin the bow, pick up the viola, and tune it. Sounds stupid, yeah, but there's something really helpful about making some nice, in-tune viola noise.

2. Warmup - usually some tone-production exercise, something really simple like trying to make the strings vibrate a lot while playing at different sound points (side note - I keep waiting for this to creep into my normal playing, but it hasn't yet). After a while of this, I do wall-vibrato, which has started sounding better lately, so it's fun. There are 2 points to the warmup: to warm up (duh), and to do something that produces some nice result, without much frustration.

3. scales. ugh. Until yesterday I was using the Michael Kimber book, which was boring but predictable, and I was only doing major/minor/arpeggios anyway. Yesterday my teacher decided I should start with Flesch and oh, it is not pretty. Especially on my flabby C string. Whoever said Obligato Cs had a nice warm sound was out of their mind. But I'm digressing. Scales. ugh. Not only do I have to hit the notes, but I have to make them sound nice. Needless to say - ugh.

4. vibrato exercise in 3rd position (actually, 3.5 position) with a slow metronome - 2, 3, 4, 5, and (so far, impossible) 6 wobbles per beat. If I remember, I'll do 3rds and 7ths double stops as well as single notes.

5. whatever etude I'm supposed to be working on.

6. whatever piece(s) my teacher has given me to work on, playing them through and/or trying to fix specific things that are broken.

7. 5 or 10 minutes of sight-reading, doesn't matter what it is,

8. orchestra stuff.

9. (for the moment) chamber-music-workshop stuff.

10. take 5 minutes to write out whatever I'm going to do tomorrow.

Maybe after a few months or years, something will come of this.

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February 3, 2013

it ain't all roses either

I had a bad lesson today. Although I thought I'd made some progress this past week (vibrato, etc) we happened to focus on a lot of things I didn't do very well, like

* that damned B major scale

* my horrible tone, which I'd like to attribute to the strings I put on a week ago but which I know in my heart is my own damn fault, mainly a bad right arm

* and finally, this one part of a Mozart quintet that I'm working on for a chamber music workshop a month from now

It is just horrid. My tone is horrid. My intonation is horrid. My hand frame is wrong. I can't find notes, even easy first-position notes. I can't believe I signed up for this workshop - what was I thinking? There is no way I am going to learn to play this even half-decently by next month. Every time I try to play it, I hear in my head what it's supposed to sound like, but I never sound anything like that.

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February 2, 2013

it has been almost 5 weeks

Just about 5 weeks ago, I got serious about practicing. I practice 2-4+ hours a day, depending on whether it's a workday or rehearsal day or lesson day. I also started planning the next day's practice at the end of the current day's practice, which has turned out to be really helpful. Anyway, it's been almost 5 weeks, which is no time at all, really, but a few things have happened:

I'm less afraid to play up high, and suck less at it. All those scales have got me visiting 9th, 10th, 11th positions occasionally. It screeches, sure, but if I get the bow in just the right sound point it makes a real sound. I can also get the thumb out from behind the neck to go up way high. I can also make siren noises, which I use to wake my dog up when she falls asleep in front of the music stand.

I have a usable vibrato, and it's more Audrey Hepburn than Ethel Merman. And a couple of days ago I realized I can now play 2 notes and vibrate through both of them. This sounds like nothing, I know, bit to me it's huge. Up until now I couldn't even hold a vibrato through a bow change. A leaf blowing by could stop my vibrato. Now I can hold it through two notes!

Those are a few of the good things. There are more of them, but I'm tired so I'll save it for another day. There also remain many of the many bad things, but they'll keep too.

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