One practice session will leave me imagining that someday, just maybe, I’ll be able to play this thing.
The next will leave me convinced it will never happen.
I have to keep thinking of the times that I couldn’t use my pinky, even to play the wrong note much less anything vaguely near the right one. And thinking ahead to the fact that I will have the apartment to myself this long three-day weekend, with nothing to do but practice and play viola, piano, and carry out the basic body functions that any mammal engages in. It’s going to be heaven.
That said, the G string is currently exhausting me, and I can’t fathom how anyone could play these things for hours at a time. Forty-five seconds seems to be my limit before I have to put the thing down. The D and A strings don’t present near the difficulty in tired arms that the G string presents. I just have to keep sawing away in small doses and let my body find its natural position for maximum comfort and reach. I also am doing my best to think ahead to string crossings instead of shifting gears mentally, and with sloppy clutch work, when confronted by them. The new viola is working out nicely, but I suspect a wolf near the third finger on the D string. I’m not good enough to worry about it, but I’ll have to ask my instructor to load a revolver with three silver bullets and see if he can hit any.
I also want to work a bit more on just noodling around and improvving on the piano, something that I’m still not doing much of. It’s been enormously fun to arrange even a basic left hand for the New Age icon Enya, and even just that small step is far more than I ever imagined doing when I was a child worrying about right and wrong notes. But just sitting and having some fun with a pretty modulation is still something unusual to me.
I had to swap down, unfortunately. I feel like I abandoned my first viola.
This one does feel better in my hand, though — and the intervals are definitely more comfortably placed. But I feel disloyal to the other one. It was beautiful and sounded great, but it was just too big.
This one is a 16″, and that half-inch makes a vast difference, even in the size of the instrument otherwise. I just have to practice with it to cement the new intervals.
Aside, the chinrest on this one is beautiful — with a very distinct and pretty grain. I like just looking at it. If I need to get yet another one, I want to keep this chinrest.
Blog posts or ideas about how to get more cool, hip young kids with purple hair and people who are ethnically interesting to the symphony written by old or middle-aged, well-off, overeducated white people, or embarrassingly self-consciously progressive yuppies of any kind.
Ever. I mean it, you.
I’m able to use my pinky reliably and in tune on the three topmost strings of a 16.5″ viola, which pleases me. I can’t yet do it when I first pick the thing up, though. I still need to do scales (half-scales up to a fifth on each string) a few times to settle my hand in the appropriate place, upon which point it becomes much easier. However, it does reach that point more quickly than it used to — quite nice. I need to continue doing it as often as possible and moving from string to string to make sure that I can place my hand where it needs to go to have maximum reach on each string in the course of a song without thinking about it. I need to get to the point where my hand falls into that shape naturally, to where holding the instrument any other way feels wrong. It’s happening, but it takes time.
The next thing I need to be able to do is correct my intonation quickly when it’s off. I’m starting to suspect that the best players don’t play in tune magically all the time (although they come very close). They can also roll their fingers up and back very quickly to adjust before it becomes apparent that they’ve gone off. I doubt they need to do this all the time, but they are probably very good at covering fluffs. I need to train both my ear and my hand to detect off-ness and adjust for it rapidly. It’s quite hard, because it takes so much concentration just to play properly that I have few brain cells left over for detection and adjustment. It will come with time and practice, I imagine.
Not much piano this weekend, unfortunately. I’ve finished the next part of “The Sun in the Stream,” though — just the second repeat of the A theme. Next up is at least working with the B theme and trying to make it less repetitive for the viola; I don’t want to just drop it by an octave again. It needs to be more different, probably with more depth in the accomp. But as it’s easier to edit than write on a blank page, the best thing for me to do is just to write something down, just the melody, and then tweak and mess with things once the page isn’t so intimidatingly blank.
I have to admit, I’m a skeptic as to the utility of beta blockers as anything other than a placebo. It’s only recently that I’ve heard that musicians apparently take them for stage fright; I’m on them for other reasons — a genetic heart defect that runs in my family — and as a result, I take way more than most musicians would take for performances, two 50mg tablets a day for the past ten-plus years.
They do ZILCH for me in terms of performance anxiety, which I do have, enough that I detest playing for others and avoid it at all opportunities. (The nervous jitters that come with stage fright and arrhythmic palpitations are not the same thing, at all.) They also do zilch for me in terms of mood or attitude alteration. They calm the heart, but they do not seem to affect the mind at all. The only real change they brought about was that my hands get very cold easily — not exactly a good thing for a musician.
Honestly, beta blockers are already prescribed for lots of people; there are huge populations of people with heart problems and high blood pressure who already take these things. This marijuana-like total lack of anxiety is just not anything we’ve ever talked about or pursued; the placebo effect is indeed very real, but I still think this beta blocker fascination is a placebo. If it helps, it helps, but I can’t keep from thinking it’s a sugar pill.
I shouldn’t even be playing music really, not at this stage. Just scales, over and over and over. It takes me a week to get through one piece to my satisfaction, two if I’m willing to be sloppy about the second — and these aren’t real pieces, just short little Suzuki ditties.
Seriously. With one hour a night on weeknights to practice, that gets eaten up very, very quickly with just long tones and scales over and over on the top three strings. By the time I get to “Perpetual Motion,” a half an hour has already gone by, and I need go back to scales between every theme repeatedly just to recalibrate my hand. I need to look at what I’m doing to make sure I’m placing my fingers correctly, but I can hear whether I’m off of not much better when I close my eyes.
I really do need to just let myself do nothing but scales for about fifteen minutes, slow, fast, over and over, until I feel comfortable with the thing in my hands before moving on to even little short songs. I have to stop rushing, or thinking that I should.
I doubt it, or at least not this type of string; I understand that Schon insisted that all members of the band could at least play a guitar if it wasn’t their primary instrument (Perry himself is a bass player). However, a significant number of Journey’s songs are written in D and A. G would be more convenient on a viola, but it’s only a whole step up and tuning the thing a step up for those songs is at least a vague possibility. They don’t seem to have gravitated to C very often, unlike bands that are led by pianists, but they stick to the less remote keys very often nevertheless. And from what I can seem many of those keys are very string-friendly or else easily managed by tuning up or down a mere whole step at most. Nice!
A goodly number of their songs also have the feel of the 8-in-the-bottom type of time signature so often favored by singers. Singers love triplets.
My instructor continues to fine-tune my technique with minimal effort — I’m very pleased that he seems to know precisely what is in my way and with one sentence, can communicate the key to removing whatever obstacle happens to be annoying me. “Lay your hand back.” “Lift your first finger.” “Put your thumb here.” I do these things or let him adjust my hand, and *poof* problem gone. I suppose that’s what happens when one has been teaching for some time.
I suppose it’s all basic stuff since I’m still in Suzuki v1, but I’m pleased to have most of the major mechanical issues settled for the moment to the point where I feel that I can move forward with the tools currently in my toolbox. My wrist doesn’t hurt, on either hand. I can reach a fifth on an open string, even though it’s apparently not a common thing to do with a larger viola; thanks to the “lift your first finger/move your thumb up” advice, I can even go sharp on occasion with my fourth finger (not something to be proud of in itself, but at least it means I can reach all the way).
Next up in terms of noticeable changes is to have the neck of my viola narrowed somewhat (and possibly to have the string length shortened by moving the tailpiece up if that doesn’t do enough). This may take some time to complete, so I’m going to wait until I’m naturally out of town before having the work done, since I think I have enough to move forward with now that I can make progress with the viola as it is. Happy day!
I admit I’ve been lukewarm about Dutoit. He’s good … but he’s got a reputation for being one of the old-world tyrants, and I’m a bit protective toward that orchestra. They belong to the city of Philadelphia, and that means me. And I’ve been a bit lukewarm toward someone who might have been yelling at my musicians. Not that they can’t handle it — coping with tyrants is part of the job if you’re in an orchestra — but it just made me a bit leery of him, for all his skill at nurturing and using that legato, string-soaked Philadelphia sound, sort of the Wall of Sound of classical music.
Nezet-Seguin has a reputation for being one of the new collaborative breed of 21st century conductors. I’m sure Salonen, Tilson-Thomas, Alsop, and Dudamel can get cranky if things don’t go the way they want, but nevertheless, they have a very non-Stokowski approach to their musicians. I don’t see any of them pulling an Ormandy and throwing things.
I just hope he does well, and manages to energize the pride of a city that is already known for taking excessive working-class, blue-collar pride in the wonderful things that make it *said in a stage whisper* better than New York.
Not sure about the “look how young he is” approach, though. Ormandy and Muti were in their 30s when they took over.
Very good weekend. Again, I can play better on the viola if my eyes are closed for some reason, although I imagine I’ll run into the limitations of that at some point. It’s must easier to just listen and hear what’s going on when I’m not distracted by what it looks like and how I’m fingering the string. If I don’t look, I can tell instantly if I’m off and how, and I can just reach for the note and hit it without worrying about hitting it “prettily.” I’m still getting my hand used to the “feel” of doing it right, but I’m starting to settle into a rhythm of sorts.
The V+P arrangement is also going nicely. It should take a bit of time, but not too much. It’s a simple melody in a sort of AABBA form with no cadenzas, so it’s just a matter of writing down the melody itself and managing something that sounds nice, and then fine-tuning it. The fine-tuning part should take roughly forever, which will be the problem. I’m very glad I can write music at least a little bit. I cannot fathom how people who don’t do notation remember everything.
To compare, “Twilight” is ungodly complicated, and “Boat on the River” has that mandolin cadenza in the middle that is just kicking my backside in terms of finding a nice way to get that across on a piano. “Twilight” could be a concerto if Lynne had swung that way.