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April 28, 2013

head, meet brick wall

My husband is never one to bestow false compliments. In fact, he's one of those people who lie so poorly and awkwardly (and rarely) that you instantly know when he's doing it. He's pretty honest, especially with criticism. He does, however, have a habit of trying to lighten his criticism by making jokes, which has resulted in some of the following:

"that wasn't too horrible" (after my very horrible, first and only viola recital)

"that was the most excruciatingly embarrassing thing I've ever sat through in my life" (after a 1-act musical-theater performance where I played bass in the backing band)

"you're so musical and you've been trying to learn viola so long - why aren't you any better? Do you think maybe it just isn't the instrument for you?" (after I mentioned I'd been playing viola for 4 years)

"uh oh" (as I came out to the living room for the nightly "performance" of my recital piece)

I certainly don't expect blind adoring support. During all my years as a semi-competitive-age-group runner, I grew to despise the whole "well, at least you're getting up off the couch, getting out there and doing it!" sort of back patting. And I'm pretty sure I'm not terribly thin-skinned; not everyone has to like what I'm doing or the way I'm doing it. But when I spend hours upon hours trying to get a good sound, play a right note, accomplish anything (and yet accomplish nothing), my husband's levity is not what I want to hear.

I know damn well that I'm not good. At this point I'm just trying not to quit. And I hope I can get through my lesson today without breaking into melodrama.

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April 27, 2013


I can't make a nice sound no matter what I do. Sometimes it just seems so hopeless.

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April 24, 2013


A question for anyone: when you can narrow a problem down to its smallest increment, and you practice that little bit for a while, how long do you need to work on it? I'm not talking about time time, like minutes or hours, but progress time. Until it's perfect? Until it's a lot better? A little better? Hardly-even-noticeably better? I wonder if even that last option will have some good effect later, if not right then.

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April 23, 2013

the angry violist

When I was sick a few weeks ago, I had no desire to drink coffee (or anything at all) during the worst of it. By the time I felt better, most of the caffeine-withdrawal symptoms had subsided, and I thought what the hell, let's see what life without coffee is like. Well, that lasted about 2 weeks. The other day my husband brewed some coffee and it smelled so good I just had to have a cup, and the effect on my world was immediate. Oh my lord, what I had been missing! So I decided that I can have a cup of coffee on days I really need to stay awake or focus or whatever.

Today was one of those days - two lousy meetings scheduled for the morning, one in the afternoon, and the final orchestra rehearsal (for the orchestra that is over my head even when I'm prepared, which I'm not). So after the first lousy meeting I brewed some espresso and then practiced viola during my lunch hour like always. Boy, did I have some arm weight! Boy, did I have some bow speed! Boy, was I loud! And when I played something I didn't like the sound of, I went back and played it over and over again until fixed that sucker. Boy.

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April 19, 2013

another observation

Tonight we went to see the orchestra perform the pieces I saw them rehearse on Wednesday. Wow. Beautiful. I was afraid this would sell out, so I sprung for mezzanine seats, where I happened to have a bird's-eye-view of the viola section. Wow. Beautiful. And I noticed this: quiet upper arm. No flapping chicken wing, no high elbow, no visible tension whatsoever (in all but one violist). Meanwhile, the violinists - including the concertmaster, especially the concertmaster - were really working the right arms. I guess that's one of the subtle differences between the two instruments. It's not a big violin, folks.

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April 18, 2013

more sighs

Last night I went to an open rehearsal of the local professional orchestra - the one my present and former teachers, and the Make-A-Wish ChamberFest celllist, play in. It was lovely. I sat practically alone (in fact, after a while I was alone) in a huge empty hall, and just stared, transfixed, at the viola section. I love to watch peoples' right hands. The principal violist has a very relaxed hand and arm; he holds the bow so far up on the stick that only his 4th finger gets anywhere near the frog. He makes it look both effortless and super-efficient at the same time. And the tone he gets, they all get, ah! What I wouldn't give to be able to do that. Or anything near to that.

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April 17, 2013

still not enough hours in the day

I don't know where the time goes, but I certainly haven't had enough of it lately.

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April 14, 2013

what a concept

At my lesson today, we attacked the Bach. Rather, we deconstructed my one question - "why does it suck so bad?" - into smaller and more meaningful questions that might actually have answers. The biggest problem, we decided, is my tone. I don't have a good tone, don't know how to make the tone I want to hear, and this frustrates me and eventually affects the parts of my playing that aren't terrible, like intonation.

Not that this is anything new. But my teacher gave me an exercise: play the Bach superlegato all the way through ("no-style," as he put it), just listening for tone. Do whatever to get the tone I want in any given spot; if I'm not hearing the tone I want, then stop and figure out why, get the tone, and go on.

I did this a few times at the lesson, and spent a bunch more time on it since I got home. It's very interesting. When I get the tone I want, I'm half-inclined to run and write it down (Put the Bow at X Soundpoint, with Y Amount of Weight, and Speed Equal to Z...), but I really don't want to get that clinical about it. (Anyone who happens to be reading this - please tell me this is not necessary .) I'm hoping that after a while my body will somehow start to remember.

Meanwhile, I'm having a blast playing the Bach (and other stuff) just listening for tone. Just playing to try and get beautiful sounds to come out - what a concept.

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April 12, 2013

there will be a bright side, just not today

Physically, I'm feeling much better. I get hungry. Today I ate three meals and two snacks. I ran 4 miles this morning (if you can call it that - I was weak and wobbly as a colt). I'm awake at 9:20pm. That's something.

My viola playing is another matter. I don't know what happened, but everything sounds bad, and feels bad. It's as though the mechanics of playing are still so new to me, still so not ingrained into my muscle memory, that the slightest bump in equilibrium - like being really sick for four days - knocks it all loose. Banana thumb is back, shaky-downbow is back, crooked-bow is back, stiff-hands are back, left-hand-death-grip is back. It's been really humid the past few days too, and my viola doesn't sound so good in humidity with the strings I have on it. But really, it's me. I am dreading my lesson this week, because I will have to play badly for my teacher and he will wonder what the hell happened.

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April 10, 2013

well, that was a wash

Our string orchestra had its once-per-semester concert tonight. We played four pieces, all of which I liked a lot and all of which I had worked hard on. And damned if the past 3 days of being sick and hardly practicing didn't wipe out several years worth of work. I could barely hold my viola up, barely play in tune, barely concentrate on anything. Barely using my arms, I wasn't using nearly enough bow and I sounded weak and puny. And vibrato? Tone control? forget about it. Ugh. 2 weeks ago I felt like a contributing member of our 3-person viola section. Tonight I was just dead weight.

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April 8, 2013


Before trying to be musical, shouldn't you at least know how to work the instrument so that the right notes come out? I mean, yeah, I understand (or am beginning to) about phrases having shapes, but if I can't even get the notes, show cares about the shape?

note to self: don't ever try to do anything constructive while sick.

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food poisoning

I got food poisoning or something yesterday, and I am the sickest I've been in years. Bleh. The worst seems to be over (probably because I haven't eaten in nearly 24 hours) but I'm tired, worn-out, can't-concentrate, achy, good-for-nothing. I can read for about 10 minutes, play viola for maybe 5, and then I have to stop and lie down. I hate this.

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April 5, 2013

GoToMeeting: online meetings made easy!

Friday meetings are pointless.

I have a job where I have to run lots of meetings (gag), and there are 2 standing weekly meetings on Fridays (gag) and for the past 5 or 6 weeks I have been stood up every time! Including now. I'm giving this guy 7 more minutes and then I'm hanging up. In the meantime, a quick update:

I am really really really sore. Last night I asked my husband to work on my left rotator cuff for 5 minutes and it screamed. Well, I screamed. Well, not really, but I did whine and make faces. This morning it was still sore, and I saw that my LMT had some time today so I made an appointment. That helped, but I am still sore, so I am going to try the following experiment: No scales today. Or rather, no arpeggios. The scale is ok because I know what I'm doing and can get up and down pretty quickly. But with the arpeggios I get lost every few notes, and end up sitting there frozen in 5th or 7th or 9th or 11th position while I painstakingly (and painfully) figure out what to do next. Gah, it hurts just thinking about it. So, no arpeggios today.

In fact, maybe no "work" practice at all today, just playing. We'll see.

Ok, Bill, time's up. Hanging up the phone.

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April 4, 2013

more miscellany

Funniest thing heard at rehearsal last night: "Do you believe in bowings?" (conductor, to the 2nd violins, who have replaced the violas as the Bad News Bears of the orchestra). I almost had a giggle fit.

My left shoulder hurts, front (pec) and back (subscapularis). I'm pretty sure that it's from 1) the scale assignment this week, which starts in 5th position and just gets worse, and 2) all the 5ths in this one etude I can't seem to graduate from. I limit myself to 30 minutes' practice at a time, and try to practice smarter, whatever that means. But I have so much to do. I have a massage appointment in a week, but god knows what I'll feel like by then.

My strings don't like this humidity. The viola refuses to make nice sounds for me.

My foot didn't hurt once today. In fact, I spent my whole 7-mile run thinking about my left arm until the last half-block when I remembered I had a bum foot.

I will never get this Bach sounding good.

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April 3, 2013


When I used to play in bands we would always say "lousy practice, good show." This had better apply to string orchestra for which we had our final rehearsal tonight. We were not good. I was not good. Even the pieces I knew, I messed up. I could not for the life of me play with the principal violist, and couldn't hear the one who sat in the 2nd row. My shoulder/jaw/arm/hand hurt. I lost patience. It was amazing how I could go from "ok community string orchestra section player" to "you should just donate that instrument to some deserving youngster" in the space of two hours. Bleh. If the folklore is true, we are going to have one helluva concert next week.

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April 2, 2013

still here

And sore again, back to the left shoulder/arm/wrist/hand after it stopped hurting six weeks ago. I don't know that I'm doing anything different or more or longer, but I am definitely sore. But I keep telling myself it's a good kind of sore, and I am not going to let it get to me, at least not until after the concert next week. And the other concert at the end of the month. And the recital in May.

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