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August 29, 2013

oh, very young

This week one of the orchestras I play in started up again. Although it's a college orchestra, motivated highschool kids and "community" (euphemism for "old") musicians can participate too. There were a lot of highschool kids at this first rehearsal, and one of them is a student of my teacher, and we both played at that dreadful recital in May.

I remember that at the recital this guy played well and also performed really well too. He wasn't the most advanced of all the performers, but he had a something...anyway, he went to chamber music camp this summer and got really good, and at rehearsal the other night, the conductor put him assistant prinicpal. Not too shabby for a highschool kid his first time in a college orchestra. When my teacher gets back I bet he'll be thrilled with this kid's progress.

Which leads me to wonder...this going-off-to-camp-and-getting-good business is something you would expect in kids - after all, they have summers off to practice, and scads of camps to choose from. It must be great for teachers to see the transformation that can happen over a few months. It doesn't happen much for us "community" musicians; we rarely make the same kind of leaps and bounds, or have anything so dramatic to present. I wonder if our teachers ever get bored with our plodding.

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August 25, 2013

I must write this down

so I can remember it on down days...today I took out a piece we did in string orchestra over a year ago, a Mendelssohn string symphony that made me wonder if Mendelssohn had it in for violists. That piece was the bane of my existence that semester. I never did get it in my hands despite spending a lot of time on it, and at tempo? Forget it.

Anyway, I took this piece out because it was a good example of something I was working on, and I read it through and noticed 1) I could read it; 2) I could play it; and 3) it wasn't hard! It wasn't performance-perfect, but only maybe a day or two away. And it was better than the day we performed it.

Wow, this makes me very happy.

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August 18, 2013

I don't even know what to call this

Weekly Check-In? How Things Are Going? Never Enough Time? End Of My Rope? You tell me, o hawkers of Ralph Lauren and Karen Mirren. Major thankies.

Running: this week was 81.2 miles, including a speed workout, a tempo run, 2 med-long runs and a 20-miler. I haven't run that much in a week since February. I hit the paces on the speedwork and tempo, but the rest (including the 20-miler) were very slow. The weather is still awful for running. I have three more weeks hovering just north and south of 80 miles, and then I get a little break. Still no racing, despite my coach's gentle nudging. In fact, I haven't even registered for the marathon I am supposedly training for. Guess I need to get on it.

Work: I've been at my job for 3 months (in fact, my 90-day review is this coming week) and I still like it, a lot. I am one of those geeks who thinks of programming as something very creative. I like the work, and I'm good at it, and things are structured so I don't have to be concerned with business or politics or finances or what-have-you; I pretty much get to divide my time between writing code, documenting what I've written, and learning about new (or new to me) ways to write code. Geek heaven, to be sure. The only potential bad thing is that the company underwent a big IT reorganization right after I joined, and is about to make all that our new reality two weeks from now. Still, I am hoping that most of what I like about the company will still exist fifteen days from now.

Music: Orchestra(s) start up again in the next 2-3 weeks, and I've already got the program for one of them. I've been continuing with the theory lessons. My regular teacher comes back after Labor Day. How to make the most of all this? I need more time! Because I now commute to work 4 days a week I have less practice time, and because I run 80 miles a week in this shitty Florida summer weather I am a lot more tired than usual, and brain-dead to boot. So I have less time and I do less with it. I've been hoping that somehow things would level out, but I've just gotten increasingly frustrated with my lack of focus. I finally took an hour and wrote down everything big and small that I want to practice semi-regularly, categorized each thing ("bow," "left-hand", "theory", "orchestra", etc) and then created a Chinese menu type thing so I could choose stuff from each category every day. And I write it down, so I can remember what I did. Maybe that will help me to stay focused.

And besides running, work, and music? There is nothing besides running, work, and music, except maybe Breaking Bad.

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August 10, 2013

end of week musings

This morning I did my long run, and during that interminable thing had all kinds of opportunity to think. I bounced from work to music and back and forth. I thought about how unfocused I'd become with music, and how my viola lessons this summer never really held me accountable for anything so I never practiced anything very well.

I wondered how this would play out once orchestra started in the fall, once my regular teacher returned, and (most immediately) when my cellist friend came over this afternoon to play for the first time in a couple of months. We'd had great plans to learn bunches of stuff: duets, a Handel trio sonata we decided would sound neat as viola+cello+piano, and a Boccherini string trio where the 2nd violin part was low enough for me to play.

Of course I hadn't practiced any of this for a while, so I was kind of dreading today's thing. But I was very pleasantly surprised. The new viola sounded great with my friend's cello, and she is very easy to listen to. But best of all was discovering that I could read! This was especially cool in the pieces I'd totally forgotten. This gave me one less thing to worry about, so I could deal with fingerings and bowings and dynamics and feel and such.

It's really nice feeling just the tiniest bit more competent.

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August 4, 2013

digging all the way to China with a teaspoon

At my lesson today, my teacher noticed that my left-hand fingers were flying around too much finding notes, and she reminded me of the KFD (keep fingers down) mantra we discussed years ago, and which I thought I'd mastered, so I quit working on it. Well, here it is years later and that bad habit has resurfaced, so I will add that to my infinite list of things to work on. I could easily spend 8 hours a day working just on technical stuff and still not cover all of it and still have flaws and bad habits. Aaarrgh, I don't even have 8 hours a day.

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August 3, 2013

math is power, but reading is fundamental

During this morning's long and awful 18-miler, I thought about reading music, and how the brain processes it (or not). I have always been very quick with languages except when the language uses a different alphabet. When I was a kid, I spent a year at a school run by the local Orthodox synagogue, and half the day was conducted mostly in Hebrew (to make matters worse, it was a combination of modern Hebrew and biblical Hebrew). My classmates had all attended this school since kindergarten, while I arrived just after the start of seventh grade with no Hebrew at all except some garbled version of some prayer I had memorized. I was more than competent for the "secular" part of the schoolday, but my parents and the rabbis agreed that I should spend several afternoons a week being tutored in Hebrew. These tutoring sessions consisted of me reading passages aloud for an hour or so. How useless that was, and what a difficult language I found it! The right-to-left part didn't faze me, but the different alphabet really threw me for a loop. I started to realize that the language had a lot of root words that were a few letters long, with various suffixes and prefixes and vowel combinations that could change things. I realized this, yet I couldn't put it into practice, and while reading for the rabbis I struggled to sound out each letter rather than seeing the whole words.

Back to reading music: it should be like reading English or French, but for me, it's been more like reading Hebrew. There are patterns and I know I want to be able to recognize them instead of plowing through each individual note. I have just started taking music theory lessons which are actually more focussed on sight-reading, and though it's just been one lesson so far, it's incredibly useful; the teacher has me doing some things that require looking at/thinking about music in a different way. Pretty cool, but I have tons of work ahead. I hope it's not beyond the capacity of a middle-aged brain. Luckily, it gives me stuff to think about and puzzles to solve during sweltering ugly long runs like I had this morning.

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