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Adventures of an ambitious late-starter violist
Scenes from an unconventional musical journey
Topic Rating: 5 Topic Rating: 5 Topic Rating: 5 Topic Rating: 5 Topic Rating: 5 Topic Rating: 5 (27 votes) 
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ELCBK
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November 12, 2021 - 1:32 pm
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@AndrewH -

Did you decide between Lili Boulanger's "D'un soir triste" or Vítězslav Novak's Serenade No. 2? 

I'm not familiar with either one, so this is exciting! 

 

 

- Emily

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AndrewH
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Fiddlerman said
I missed the performance and the video was not available when I pressed on the link.

I'm glad it went well and that you tested negative for COVID. It's great that so many of my musician friends are getting to perform again. 😁

  

The October 15 concert is back on YouTube, at a different link. The original live stream had a brief video glitch in it (from the streaming rather than the camera itself), so I think the streamed video was taken down and replaced with the video that the cameras actually recorded.

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AndrewH
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I'm going to record the Novak, mostly because it's easier. I haven't started working on it yet, but it shouldn't require a ton of practice; the viola part goes very high, but in a slow tempo, and other than that there aren't big technical challenges. The timing of these projects isn't great, I'm just a bit swamped by non-music things right now.

As I mentioned in another thread, I've felt a bit discouraged lately, a combination of imposter syndrome, a minor finger injury that kept me out for a few days, frustration with not having much time to practice solo rep, and being in a university orchestra with so many talented young musicians who have had all kinds of opportunities that I envy. But that's already starting to pass, especially after a good rehearsal last night. Self-doubt seems to be a very common experience among string players, probably because string instruments are simply hard to play.

Otherwise, I've just been working on the same things: Bach and music for the upcoming concert. I've had plenty of time to work on the Sibelius because I was playing it in two orchestras, so it's very solid now. The 3 and 4 way divisi passages have been restored to the more typical divisi by chair, as the viola section was reinforced in the first week of November by two alumni who had not been available earlier in the year. The McPhee is still tricky because of its rhythms (and hand-copied parts), but the main challenge on concert night is just staying focused through the entire piece. The Wantenaar piece also has rhythmic challenges, but in a different sense: it's heavily influenced by French impressionism, so there's a lot of three-against-two and a lot of rubato.

Concert is tomorrow night, 7pm Pacific, and it's being livestreamed again. We had our last full-length rehearsal last night, and based on that rehearsal I think the concert is going to be spectacular. 

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@AndrewH -

Thanks for the heads up on the concert tonight!  

Best of luck to you! 🥰

 

Be kind to yourself.

You've worked hard, stuck with it and accomplished SO MUCH - it builds character!  Not many people want to work hard these days. 

I have a lot of respect for you! 

Hope you are hanging around with people who appreciated you. 

 

 

There must be something in the weather - too much negativity going around! 

I'm envious of everyone and everything, so I understand that. 

I'm also kindred spirits with frustration, disappointment, pain and depression. 

PLAYING MUSIC DOES HELP! 

 

...omg, I saw a 2 year-old that plays violin better than anyone can ever dream of.  🤣 

- Emily

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AndrewH
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I don't mean to imply that I feel disrespected in any way by the undergrads -- if anything, they tend to assume that the grad students, university staff, and alumni in the orchestra are far more experienced than them. Nor am I implying that they didn't work hard. No one gets to where they can audition successfully for this orchestra and play this kind of repertoire without working hard.

 

It's more envy on my part. I envy the opportunities for high-quality training, from top-notch teachers and in elite youth orchestras, that often aren't available to people who start later. (In my case I was turned away from beginner lessons by teachers who said I was too old to even learn the basics.) I envy the fluidity of motion that comes from having practiced since early childhood. And I envy the family support that many of the undergrads have, after seeing some of their parents show up at the first concert in October. Things like that. Not by any means things that guarantee success, but things that help a lot.

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AndrewH said
Concert is tomorrow night, 7pm Pacific, and it's being livestreamed again. We had our last full-length rehearsal last night, and based on that rehearsal I think the concert is going to be spectacular. 

 

CONCERT IS TONIGHT! 

Sorry, Andrew - I didn't want to bury your post. 

 

Okay, (I scratched one sentence in my prev post) - but now you have me thinking... 

Does it continue to be an issue for late-starting people in this career? 

Can anything be done to help people now, who are around the age you were when you started? 

I personally think you are a great help on this forum - thank you! 

...also think you'd make an excellent teacher. 

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BillyG
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Thank you for the advance notification @AndrewH - 

  That should work out as 3am UK time.  Now, I'm an "early-bird" and 4am for getting up is most definitely not unknown (and that's without any alarm-clock or help from 'phone or Alexa ROFL... hahahaha) - but this time round I'll set the alarm so I should be able to catch it !

  You work hard to be able to participate at such a level, well done !  ( I know I referred to you once, in some earlier post some-time-back as a "professional" player - and you "corrected" me ROFL- I was simply comparing your abilities,knowledge and understanding to my own.  But, at the same time, that is not so very far from the truth - maybe I should use the term "skilled/very-competent player" - and as you have written - for SURE the only  real way to achieve that level is through the hours of practise it takes.) 

Looking forward to catching the livestream !

Enjoy the moment ! 

I seriously recommend not copying my mistakes. D'oh - guntohead.JPG

Please make your own, different mistakes, and help us all learn :-)

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@AndrewH -

OUTSTANDING CONCERT❣️❣️❣️ 

Thank you! 🤗
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AndrewH
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I'm especially curious about what you thought of Tabuh-Tabuhan? Playing it was certainly a unique experience.

Since I didn't mention it before: "tabuh" is a Balinese word meaning "mallet" and also used to mean "beat" in music. Thus the title "Tabuh-Tabuhan" literally means "beat-beats" in the Balinese language, which speaks to the importance of rhythm in the piece.

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@AndrewH -

"Tabuh-Tabuhan" took me by complete surprise! 

I got pretty excited when your Conductor mentioned this was based on gamelans, because I had checked out some back when I started looking into Indian music.  But, I was not prepared for an interpretation with such an overwhelming, colorful interplay - where so many melodies seemingly take on the roles of percussive, rhythm instruments!  ...or maybe it was just hearing all the sections take on different melodies with different rhythms? 

It was like a gamelan on steroids!

Does that make sense?  

...maybe I can make more sense when I'm not tired.  

It reminded me of some Native American paintings I was obsessed with, years ago.  I was fascinated with them just because the palette was comprised of every imaginable color... and they ALL worked together!  I ended up doing a mosaic in my shower based strictly on that interplay of color. 

 

I liked the Sibelius's 2nd Symphony, but was sure tame by comparison - good thing otherwise I'd definitely be awake all night.  ...which, I already am. (lol)  Very enjoyable.

Wasn't expecting Wantenaar's Prelude, either - really enjoyed it, very interesting - ended up just letting myself see where it would take me & wasn't disappointed!  

Thanks for giving me a remarkable evening!   

Just Being Contented Smiley

- Emily 

P.S. Would love to hear anything special you want to point out about the performance and the music.

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"Gamelan on steroids" was more-or-less the impression I got too. Of course it's not really gamelan music; McPhee said as much, calling it a "purely personal" work and aiming to convey the experience of a Westerner in Indonesia rather than try to truly imitate a gamelan. But there were some things that were taken directly from Indonesia: for example, the flute melody that begins the second movement is an actual Balinese folk melody. Being in the middle of that wall of sound, especially in the very busy third movement, was interesting. McPhee did a lot of things with orchestration that conventional wisdom would say ruins the balance of the ensemble, but it all worked. It was just a completely different type of music.

Playing the Sibelius in both of my orchestras, I was struck by how different the experience was. I think acoustics matter a lot. With Camellia, it was sometimes easy to miss entrances simply because the acoustics of our rehearsal space could be a bit muddy.  UCDSO, on the other hand, has the privilege of playing in a world-class concert hall, which is one of the main reasons I wanted to play in that orchestra and even one of the reasons I chose UC Davis for my LL.M degree. Everything sounded more crisp and easier to follow while playing. On the other hand, the acoustics are also less forgiving of mistimed entrances. I got a bit lucky with my one serious error in the Sibelius: I played a run two beats early at one point, and it probably would have been easily noticeable if not for the fact that that my error actually put me in unison with the second violins.

One thing I wasn't aware of until I heard it in rehearsal this week is a bit of the story behind Sibelius's 2nd. Because of the time in which it was written (just after Finlandia), listeners often think of it as the most Finnish of Sibelius's symphonies, and as a protest against Russian rule. Sibelius insisted that there was nothing programmatic about it, and that people were reading too much into it. But it turns out that it does have its origin in program music -- just not what most people imagine. Sibelius began working on it during a year's sabbatical in Italy. While in Italy, he had the idea of writing a tone poem based on Dante's Divine Comedy, but abandoned the project after a short time. His sketches for that tone poem, however, ended up being reworked into the second movement of his 2nd Symphony. (And suddenly I see the chant-like theme at the beginning of the movement in a different light.) The same movement that is often thought of as either a protest or a Scandinavian landscape was in fact inspired by Dante.

We decided only at the last full-length rehearsal on Thursday night to have all the brass players stand up for the last few measures of the symphony, to give them a bit of extra punch. It definitely had that effect. From the viola section, I could easily hear the exact moment the brass players stood up.

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@AndrewH -

It's nice to be reminded of how important the acoustic properties of our surroundings are for playing and recording our music - from a big Music Hall... down to my little bedroom. (lol) 

That is a great story about Sibelius!

I had read that about Sibelius's 2nd Symphony, right before your performance, and found even more of the story very endearing.  

He and his wife had lost their youngest to a sudden death, and a good friend tried to help him get back to composing, after grieving.  If it hadn't been for the prodding and generous support of this friend, who also raised funds and made arrangements for that creative, Italian retreat - this, "one of the few symphonic creations of our time that point in the same direction as Beethoven’s symphonies", may not exist today! 

Don't think I'll forget that Sibelius supposedly said, "My second symphony is a confession of the soul." (Wikipedia) 

 

https://isteam.wsimg.com/ip/d169e491-547b-11e5-8f1d-14feb5d9e2d6/ols/620_original/:/rs=w:600,h:600

 

 

Thanks again, Andrew! 

- Emily

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AndrewH
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I've been a bit swamped lately, so there's a bit of catch-up to do. I had a final paper due the Monday after Thanksgiving (for a seminar class that ended about a month before the other classes), and an in-class presentation on a different final paper in progress the same day, so except for a quick trip to my sister's house in the Bay Area for Thanksgiving afternoon and evening, I basically spent the entire long weekend scrambling to finish both.

That's not to say that I didn't play. I just didn't really practice for the entire week after the concert. That Friday, I needed a change of scenery and decided to go work in the law school's student lounge for most of the afternoon and evening. The idea was: with the building almost completely deserted, and no cat around, I could leave my viola case open and play whenever I needed to take a break. That day I finally got around to playing through the entire Bach Cello Suite No. 2, from beginning to end, for the first time. I've now done that twice: the second time was today, in the law school courtyard. (Today was tougher, because it got chilly in the late afternoon and it made fingers harder to move.)

I'm off from orchestras until January. UCDSO had a short rehearsal this week, just to distribute the music for the next concert and do a first reading of it without spending too much time working on anything. This gives everyone winter break to practice before resuming rehearsals in January. On the program: three opera overtures (Mozart's Don Giovanni, Johann Strauss Jr's Die Fledermaus, and Beethoven's Leonore Overture No. 3) and a newly composed cello concerto by Argentine composer Alejandro Civilotti -- we'll have Eduardo Vassallo, principal cellist of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, crossing the Atlantic to perform with us.

Today was my first serious practice session since the concert. I was on campus for the day, so reserved a practice room for the maximum two hours. I spent about 20 minutes on pure technique, to get my fingers moving and really work on resetting my sense of intonation, as my first finger was consistently going a bit sharp: mostly Sevcik, as well as an exercise I've gotten from my viola teacher of crawling up two strings in alternating double-stopped thirds and fourths. Next, about 50 minutes on the Bach suite, focusing on the Courante, Menuet, and Gigue. I took a 15-minute break from playing the viola at that point and used the piano to work out what some of the trickier bits of the Civilotti viola part should sound like, and then the remaining time split between the Clarke sonata and the Brahms E-flat sonata, both of which I'd like to work on during the month of December while orchestras are idle.

One funny incident last Friday in the student lounge: a few people walked in and out while I was playing, and one of my LL.M classmates stopped to listen to the last movement of the Bach suite and told me my guitar sounded good! To be fair: many LL.M students are foreign law graduates who are getting the degree because they need some kind of US law degree to take a US bar exam, and this classmate in particular was from Saudi Arabia. So his first language isn't English, and he had actually never seen a violin-family instrument before. For some reason the Arabian Peninsula never adopted the violin into its folk music even though violins are used widely in Arab folk music elsewhere. (I'm aware of this because, again, I grew up in Dubai myself.) Still, I was a little surprised, because surely he'd seen enough guitars to know that my viola wasn't one! Maybe he thought "guitar" was a generic word for string instruments? In any case, I got to introduce someone to not only the viola but the entire family of instruments, and it was also the most surprising thing someone has mistaken my viola for. (I once had someone at the airport see my case and ask me whether I played trombone professionally, but that person never saw the actual instrument. I've also been complimented on my cello playing on two different occasions.)

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AndrewH
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It's been a while since I've updated.

There wasn't much new going on in December and January, in large part because of shoulder pain flare-ups limiting my practice time. I kept working on the entire Bach suite in lessons. Because my orchestras were inactive in December, I also added the first movement of the Brahms E-flat major viola sonata -- this is his E-flat major clarinet sonata, which Brahms arranged for viola himself at his publisher's request, doing it in such a way that it looked like it could well have been originally written for viola. I now have the entire first movement of the Brahms reasonably under my fingers and ready to work on interpretation.

With the Bach, my goal is to record the entire suite from beginning to end by spring break, or the second half of March, and I'm also planning to try to perform it live in some sense (possibly online) around that time.

Orchestras are finally back up to full speed as of last week.

Because of Omicron, UC Davis went back to Zoom for the month of January. The orchestra was one of the few things still going on in person, but only on a limited basis: we had only socially-distanced sectionals for the month. Because of the limits on rehearsals, the February concert was canceled and we immediately started working on the next concert, scheduled March 5. That concert is anchored by Dvorak's 8th Symphony, which is very familiar to me; it's one of only a handful of symphonies I've played twice before. (But I've only played the viola part once before; the first time I played it was the year that an orchestra asked me to play second violin because there were too many violists and not enough violinists.) The other two pieces on the program, however, are both new compositions. The first thing on the program is the winner of the university's annual student composition contest, which was just announced last week: "Three Pieces from the Pandemic" by graduate student Joe Peterson. I haven't seen the music yet because we don't start working on it until the next rehearsal, but I expect the string parts to be well written because the composer's own main instrument is the viola. Also on the program is a newly composed violin concerto by Chilean composer Miguel Farías, with University of Washington violin professor Rachel Lee Priday as guest soloist. The Farias concerto is titled "Kuyén" and is inspired by Mapuche mythology (Kuyén being the Mapuche moon goddess).

Camellia Symphony likewise decided to be cautious and have only sectionals for the first two rehearsal nights before resuming full-scale rehearsals. We're performing February 19, and it will be exactly the same program that we originally planned to play in April 2020 before everything was canceled. We're playing the Prokofiev Symphony-Concerto for cello and orchestra, with San Francisco Symphony assistant principal cellist Amos Yang as guest soloist; it's not played that often, and from the soloist's perspective it's considered by many cellists to be the single most difficult cello concerto in the standard repertoire. This will be followed by Beethoven's 7th.

I'm finding a lot of support in the law school's graduate program this semester, now that it's quite well known that I'm the law school's first representative in the university orchestra in more than a decade. The LL.M class is planning a group outing to the next UCDSO concert. Also, I might have musical opportunities within the program: it turns out that one of the other LL.M students is an excellent pianist, and a member of the program staff has a bachelor's degree in clarinet performance, and they're both interested in meeting up to play chamber music. It just so happens that a number of composers have written trios for viola, clarinet, and piano, most notably Mozart, Schumann, and Bruch.

Earlier tonight I recorded a couple progress videos on the later movements of the Bach. Here's the Menuet (probably the trickiest movement of them all because of the awkward triple stops) and the Gigue.

I also bought a copy of Nokuthula Ngwenyama's "Sonoran Storm" for unaccompanied viola, and spent a little time playing through it this weekend. It's a challenging piece, and because it's 11 pages long with no rests longer than half a beat, I would need to either memorize it or use a tablet with pedals in order to play straight through without stopping. As it is, I'm not actively working on it, it's just a fun read.

Here's an excerpt of it, starting close to the end of the first page and ending about halfway down the third page. (This is a relatively easy portion of the piece, which is not to say that it's easy at all!) It's not great playing because I haven't done much more than sight-read the piece and figure out some fingerings, and I was still almost totally focused on just playing the notes. Also I tried to play under tempo but got excited and unintentionally accelerated to something close to performance tempo for a while.

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You have been very busy. I love the sigh at the end of the 3rd video. Yep, I bet you were tired out after that. 

The Bumblebee Flies!

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@AndrewH Wow, a lot of things you’ve been working on! They all are sounding great!  

Sorry to hear about your shoulder – having been a “frequent flyer” of physical therapy, I know physical pain can be quite the obstacle sometimes.  Glad to hear that your orchestras are fully back up. Really great that there are other LL.M musicians—chamber music would be awesome for you! 

Characterize people by their actions and you will never be fooled by their words.

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Great job @AndrewH ! I like the sound of this "Sonoran Storm" piece. It's fun (but looks hard to play).

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@AndrewH -

Glad to hear it seems things are starting to look up! 

Sonoran Storm is like running a marathon - THAT'S A LOT OF WORK!

GREAT double stops! 🤗

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One more concert done. And it was a real workout. This one was with Camellia Symphony, featuring the Prokofiev Symphony-Concerto and Beethoven's 7th. Both pieces are intense and drive forward relentlessly, especially the last two movements of Beethoven.

No video of us, so I'm just going to post videos of other orchestras playing the pieces.

With the Prokofiev, I spent a lot of time working on the passage that you hear from about 8:08 in the video: it leaps a 9th to the C# above the treble clef (so it's a shift  straight from 1st to 7th position) and needs to be played legato. The arpeggiated figures at the very end of the piece were tricky too, not least because the easiest fingerings for me involved some non-intuitive shifting. The photo below is the last two pages of the piece: at the speed it was going, I had to mark some of the non-obvious shifts with up and down arrows (bottom four lines of second-last page).

20220221_013457.jpgImage Enlarger

Beethoven's 7th was especially challenging for me because it calls for so much sautillé bowing: basically all of the third and fourth movements, and much of the first. Yes, the left hand fingers have to be agile as well, but my technical deficiencies are mostly in the bow hand. A lot of it comes from not being used to small bow strokes with mainly wrist and finger motion, because I didn't start to learn bowing technique properly until the last few years. A little of it might be from starting late and thus not developing much wrist flexibility at ages when it would have been easier. I can do it, it just still takes a lot of attention to basic technique.

Other than that, there were some extra challenges unrelated to the music itself. I actually had to sit out almost half of the dress rehearsal, because I cut my hand getting out of my car right before the rehearsal, right on the pad of my left middle finger. (Not sure how it happened, but the finish on the interior door handle was damaged and there was a sharp edge I didn't notice.) I needed to wait until the bleeding stopped before playing, so that I wouldn't bleed on my strings and fingerboard. By the time we played the concert, there was no danger of bleeding, but the finger was still a bit irritated. I'm taking the rest of the long weekend off from playing viola at all, so that the finger can heal completely.

There's still another concert coming up in two weeks with UCDSO. That one will be livestreamed, and I'll post a link closer to the concert date.

On the solo side, two new developments.

First, my viola teacher and I have decided that I'm going to perform Bach's Cello Suite No. 2, in its entirety, on a live stream some time during the law school's spring break in the second half of March. I don't have a date set yet, and I'm going to have to figure out what platform I want to use for it.

Second, my teacher has recently been hired to teach viola at a liberal arts college, and because I'm currently her only advanced viola student outside of the college, she's going to try to give me the opportunity to attend studio classes and participate in studio recitals for no extra charge, if the college allows it and the logistics of having just one person attend remotely can be worked out. (Everyone else would be in person, but for me commuting from California to the East Coast is not exactly a practical option.) Whether it works out or not, it's a big confidence booster: she thinks I would not look out of place in a college-level studio that includes viola performance majors. Maybe that should have been obvious already, given the orchestras I already play in, but I tend to get imposter syndrome in those orchestras, so to hear it from someone I've been taking lessons from for a year is encouraging.

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that shift from 1st to 7th position sounds extremely difficult @AndrewH.  

congrats on the class.  No worries on the imposter syndrome.  You belong and I know it had to be motivating to hear from your instructor that you should be there.  

The livestream sounds kinda nerve racking.  I can imagine thats going to be a big part of the next few months for you.  looking forward to watching if its available.

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