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March 30, 2013

today's discovery

If I look at a piece of music and my first thought is what lovely artwork it would make, then it's probably a little too hard.

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March 27, 2013


1. My foot has healed quite a bit in the past couple of weeks. Running volume is still low (around 40 mpw) but I've made an effort not to be so slow. Yesterday I even did a speed workout and hit paces not too far off from normal.

2. Last week my doctor started me on a medication that seems to do little except make me very, very moody. As in sudden plunges into despair, punctuated by impatience and rage. During these intervals I hate my job, my life, myself, everything. Not cool, not at all. I wasted so many years being "unhappy" that I want to make the most of what I have left. I see the doc for a follow-up next week, so I'll give it until then, but no more.

3. (university) orchestra rehearsal last night: for the first time ever, it was just strings (which was good) but since I haven't learned the pieces by heart, it was still lots of reading (not so good). Even though I am one of six or seven people in our section, I'm really self-consious.

4. (community college) orchestra rehearsal tonight: this was our penultimate rehearsal, but it felt like we were only just starting to get to work. Oh well. The conductor even ended up cutting a piece I really liked because we haven't really taken enough time with it. Oh well. On the other hand, I somehow manage better in this orchestra even though I am one of two or three violists (tonight we were two).

5. viola in general: the no-banana thumb remains, and this makes a lot of things sound better. But I have so much going on - scales/etudes/drills/pieces for both orchestras/oh my goodness I have to pick a recital piece/etc - that I feel scattered and unproductive, and not really mastering anything. I want to be good, dammit.

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March 25, 2013

yes, we have no bananas

For today, at least, I seem to have lost the dreadful locked-straight right thumb. Don't know how, because I haven't been trying (despite my teacher's admonishments, and his predecessors' before him). But today I noticed that 1) my thumb is curved and 2) my bow is still controllable and 3) straight, and 4) my bow changes suddenly sound a lot better, which is to say they don't sound very much at all. Hooray! I don't know if this will last another minute, but it did happen so it can happen again.

And since it's been blogged about, it must be true :-)

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56 Up

Last night we went to see 56 Up, the latest in Michael Apted's Up series. I liked it, but at the same time I was shocked at how old these people sounded (and sometimes looked) at 56. They spoke as though their lives were nearly over. My god - will that be me in six years? I am not nearly ready.

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March 24, 2013

all days can't be good days

It was bound to happen - I got to the lesson today and just choked. Everything sounded bad, even the scales. I couldn't find easy notes in easy positions. Lots of stuff was scratchy-sounding and I kept hitting extra strings. And despite my resolution not to swear, a few muttered "damn its" escaped.

The Bach was especially bleh because I learned that it might be my assigned recital piece, and despite the work I've done, it still sounds terrible even at way-under tempo. And it's unaccompanied and I would have to perform it without music. Oh boy. Anyway, when I got home I decided I need to practice that piece a lot smarter. I decided to break it into chunks and only work on (i.e., fix stuff in) one chunk per day. I can play through the whole piece as many times as want, but I can only pick apart the designated chunk for that day. Hopefully that will keep me from getting distracted and overwhelmed by all the things that need to be fixed.

The idea that things are linear, that X hours of practice per day will make each day Y% better than the last - where did I ever get that idea?

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March 23, 2013

climb down from Cloud Nine

The reading party was great fun, really great fun, but now it's time to get back to work.

Stuff I need to do for the lesson tomorrow:

1. (Flesch) D minor 3-octave scale plus all the arpeggios. I know he wants "slow, long bows" but I feel like such a beginner when I do that, not that I even get it right 100% of the time anyway.

2. Kayser 7 (not all of it), smoothly, with dynamics, at some tempo that suggests that allegro moderato might be possible someday

3. Gigue from 1st cello suite - in tune, in time, with the right feel and dynamics everywhere. Ha. Tempo is currently more like a minuet, but that will just have to wait. I can't fix everything at once.

Earlier this week I realized I'm starting to get just a little more control of the bow. For example, crossing to the C string (especially at low volume) always sounded grainy and scratchy, but now it has some tone to it. This makes me very happy.

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March 22, 2013

well, that was fun

Tonight was the night my teacher had invited his orchestra colleagues and me over to play the Mozart I didn't get to play at the chamber music workshop a couple of weeks ago. We did that, plus read some of another quintet. It was amazing, not in the way you might think. I did not play as well as I wanted, not even as well as I know I sometimes can. And my sightreading was almost a joke. But I really tried not to dwell on that or get super-intimidated, because they were all nice people whom I (mostly) know. For all the mistakes and flubs, I could hear what I was supposed to be doing and how I might contribute once I ever learn how to play. But the truly amazing thing was that anyone would set this up in the first place. I still can't get over it. I feel like a make-a-wish kid.

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March 19, 2013

I am not a good reader

I am not a good sightreader, and first nights of rehearsal (which are always spent reading reading reading) have always been demoralizing affairs where I leave feeling just plain hopeless.

Tonight one of my orchestras reconvened after spring break and we set to work reading 5 new pieces which we will perform in about 5 weeks. I lasted about one piece before everything turned into a bunch of dots. My stand partner amazed me with her reading ability, and I felt lucky just to be able to count and turn pages and catch the music when the A/C would blow it off the stand. Still, in January I didn't even get through one piece. And I'm not particularly demoralized. After a little time with the music I'll have a better idea where I am.

I'm not a good sightreader, yet.

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March 12, 2013

all you musicians out there

After learning something at an insanely slow tempo, what's the best path to picking it up? I've been working on this one piece v e r y slowly to a) learn it and b) figure out how I want it to sound and feel, and (approximately) what I need to do with the bow to get it that way. So right now it's, um, about a quarter of the marked tempo, and I'm wondering how to speed it up. And when. 5 beats every day? Ten? One? Play to the point of failure (tempo-wise) and then retreat? I want to try and keep what I have, not lose it or develop other bad habits trying to play too fast. Also, it's not all linear, and just because I played ok at 35 (yes, 35) today and then only manage 30 tomorrow doesn't necessarily indicate a regression. I think.

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March 10, 2013

people can be pretty cool, part II

Before I start to worry about this - and I will; it's my nature - I have to put it out there.

Today during my viola lesson, my teacher told me he'd asked three of his colleagues from the orchestra (two of them my former teachers, as it happens) to come over week after next, and we'd play the two quintet movements I'd learned for the workshop-that-wasn't.

For the moment, I'm going to forget that these are professional orchestra musicians who certainly have much better things to do with their time. And I am going to forget that I'll be more than a little self-conscious, like I thought I'd be at the workshop. I am just so blown away that anyone would do this. Just completely blown away.

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March 9, 2013


For the past few months, my right foot has bothered me; after a hard effort, I'd feel like I was running directly on the bones of the ball of my foot. I wondered if I'd broken my foot, or a toe, but the pain would always subside after a bit. But with the increased mileage this training cycle, the foot got sore and stayed sore, and it became harder and harder (and then impossible) to get up on my toes to run fast.

A consult with Dr Google suggests a plantar plate injury, which is often treated surgically (yikes!) but might respond to rest-ice-ibu. Here's hoping. I haven't run since Wednesday, and won't try until tomorrow or Monday. Meanwhile, I'm taking comfort in not having to get up at 5am every day.

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March 5, 2013

people can be pretty cool

Yesterday at my viola lesson, the first thing my teacher did was ask how the workshop went. Oh boy, what an earful he got! He was completely sympathetic, which made me feel a lot better because by this time I'd started to wonder if maybe I'd expected too much from the weekend and was taking it all too hard. (Yeah. The weekend that I'd paid money for and spent a lot of time preparing for, and all for nothing. Yeah. That weekend).

Anyhow, with that out of the way, we went on with what turned out to be a really good lesson. I played the assigned scale/arpeggios/etudes and he gave me some new stuff to work on, including a movement of the first cello suite. For that piece we talked about not only "how do I play this?" but "what should it sound like?" which gave me a lot to think about. I'm going to have a lot of fun working on that one.

He also invited me to watch a coaching session for a high-school string quartet he coaches, which I did. Very cool. It was great to see them bringing the music together over the course of the hour. The first violinist made a huge impression on me - she was absolutely unafraid of her sound. Anyone who's ever tried to learn to play drums will understand how unnerving it is that everything you do is SO LOUD AND YOUR MISTAKES ARE ALL MAGNIFIED TEN TIMES. You spend all your time trying to get beats and fills, yet running away from your sound until you're "perfect," which you never are. This first violinist had a really good sound. She also didn't play every note in tune, or get every shift, or read the rhythms right every time. But while she was working on any or all of these, she never ran away from her sound. It was really pretty inspiring. I thought about this today while I was practicing.

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March 3, 2013

well, that was just awful.

It was just as I feared it would be. I am so disappointed. It won't seem so tragic as time goes by, but right now it feels like the second-worst day of my life.

I think I won't talk about it anymore until some time has passed.

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unhappy miracle

All this time I worried about the chamber music workshop - that I would be the absolute worst player in my group, and no amount of hard work would be enough.

It never crossed my mind that the opposite would happen, or even could happen. I'm in a quintet where the other four people can't play this music. In fact, a couple of them can't really play their instruments at all. We literally can't get the first measure of the adagio. We haven't even tried the minuet. I was so afraid of looking like one kind of fool that I didn't realize there was any other kind.

I like these pieces a lot. No - I love them. I spent a lot of time working on them. I am not a good violist by any stretch of the imagination, but I gotten this music into manageable shape, and had started looking forward to working on it with other people to see what we could make of it. But it's really hopeless; we're not looking at anything more than grinding out some notes at this point. I am so dreading this master class today.

Oh well, it's only a few hours out of my life. The coaching session today will probably be painful, and the master class will definitely be. But it's just for a few hours. What good came out of this? I got to listen to some great performances by the faculty and by the USF students in the masterclass yesterday. I got to learn these two movements really well on my own, and apply my own interpretations to them. Sound like Pollyanna yet? I also got to take a day off from running and sleep past sunrise today (though this stuff kept me awake most of the night), and I can have a drink, And I took Monday as a vacation day.

I've decided that I will not ever do anything like this again, unless it's something that requires an audition. That way, either 1) I'll not be accepted at all because I'm not good enough, or 2) someone will say "oh, she plays at XXX level, let's put her with these people and have them play YYY." But this roll-of-the-dice, no-auditions-necessary thing can end up being a bad fit and a waste of time.

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