It is very important to have control of the bow for a variety of timbres, even for the most traditional classical gig. The more contemporary the music, the more important it becomes.
One of the great pleasures of my life was in discovering that playing sul ponticello, if done with care, can duplicate that wonderful distorted sound Jimi Hendrix used for his version of the Star Spangled Banner. I try to keep that sound at my fingertips for sharing with my students.
The timbre that is most ignored by classical players, though, is pizzicato. Until a few years ago I really had two pizzicato timbres, not really very different from each other. During work with Bert Turetzky I started to think more about timbres and to extend that thought to my own pizzicato technique.
Like most teachers of beginning strings in classes, I usually spend several weeks playing melodies pizzicato. Most of my students, especially the youngest ones, are resistant to playing pizzicato. They think it is a beginner thing, an UN-authentic way of playing the instrument. WHY? Because when you see video of people playing violin, viola, cello or bass, they are bowing 95% of the time.
So I began including some listening (and video when possible) in the early classes to four particular pieces: the scherzo movement of Tchaikovsky’s 4th symphony; the 4th movement of Bartok’s 4th string quartet, Strauss’s “pizzicato polka” and Leroy Anderson’s “plink plank plunk.” These pieces have the strings putting down their bows and plating pizzicato throughout. This helps students change the way they think about playing. I get to tell them that they are in reality starting with some really advanced techniques, pizzicato and special effects.
What I want to find next is video (or audio) of Nicholas Walker. I heard him perform at ISB convention last year, a truly awesome unaccompanied version of “Come Together”—most if not all of it was pizzicato.
I would welcome other suggestions of pizzicato pieces for just bass or string orchestra.
Good health is a prerequisite to the enjoyment of ‘pursuit of happiness.’ Whenever the miracles of modern medicine are beyond the reach of any group of Americans, for whatever reason - economic, geographic, occupational or other - we must find a way to meet their needs and fulfill their hopes.
For one true measure of a nation is its success in fulfilling the promise of a better life for each of its members. Let this be the measure of our nation.
”—President Kennedy, Special Message to the Congress on Urgent Health Needs, 2/27/62 (via jfklibrary)
“If women are ever to achieve real equality as leaders, then we have to stop accepting male behavior and male choices as the default and the ideal. We must insist on changing social policies and bending career tracks to accommodate our choices, too. We have the power to do it if we decide to, and we have many men standing beside us.
We’ll create a better society in the process, for all women. We may need to put a woman in the White House before we are able to change the conditions of the women working at Walmart. But when we do, we will stop talking about whether women can have it all. We will properly focus on how we can help all Americans have healthy, happy, productive lives, valuing the people they love as much as the success they seek.”—Anne-Marie Slaughter, Why Women Still Can’t Have It All, The Atlantic Magazine (via mas-alla)
Mom always said that you can’t get along with others unless you can get along by yourself. I think that’s one of the basic Truths of life.
But I sometimes have difficulty balancing that with being lonely. I am comfortable with myself, I have a strong internal compass and can engage myself in many activities—both mental and physical—to move through my day. But I have realized over the years that I need interactions with others, that a hermit’s life is not in fact good for me.
The trick is in trying to structure a life that allows for both, so you don’t uproot one part of yourself to make time for the others. I am the kind of person that feels obligated to do and be certain things for my family. Deviating from that menu sometimes makes me feel like I am neglecting them or neglecting my responsibilities to them. I have found, though, that they do not necessarily think so.
This very confusion is strong evidence that I don’t spend enough time with friends. Because I am still learning how to do it. But I am learning.
Sometimes I think I need to move to mars. It has a longer day in terms of hours from sunrise to sunrise.
I look at the long list of things to do. When I divide it by “things I have to do,” “things I need to do,” and “things I want to do,” it becomes a bit less intimidating. But I rarely get all the have-tos done, let alone the need-tos. I sometimes just skip ahead to the want-tos so I have some recreational activity.
The challenge I have is in classifying some of my to-dos. Is practicing my bass in the need-tos, have-tos, or only want-tos? I generally put it in the need-tos, but then when I don’t get to it, I suffer from guilt and eventually depression. You see, I once had an undiagnosed depression; about three years into it I self-diagnosed and went to get medical help. During the process of recovery I have learned that I have actually had numerous episodes of depression in my life, all previously undiagnosed, and that I seem to live on the edge most of the time. One of my tools in staving it off (pardon the pun) is in music making. Playing my bass serves this need most effectively, though singing, playing violin, or conducting also help fuel the music need.
If put in the context of avoiding a new episode of depression, playing or practicing bass belongs in the have-to list. But that list is so long some days.
I imagine that my struggle is not unusual—most people with families and professional jobs are experts at juggling the three lists. I have begun to look for ways to combine obligations from the different lists. There are not many natural combinations.
I teach at a university that is on the quarter system. In practical terms, it means that my colleagues at other universities are having final exams for their spring terms while I am just in week 7 of the spring quarter. I have 4 more weeks.
It gets really annoying when I see fabulous workshops I would love to attend—that are scheduled during finals week. We start right after new year’s for winter quarter, then we have barely a week off between winter finals and the first class meeting of spring (during which we finish grades and prep new courses). It’s a 22 week marathon.
BUT—in terms of student learning and assessment of that learning, we have THREE juries for studio lessons each year, rather than just 2 at the semester schools. This gives our students the opportunity to get more feedback more often. I suppose that makes it worth some of the craziness.
In Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Outliers, he presents the idea that it takes 10,000 hours of doing something to build true expertise. He cites several examples of people at the top of their respective fields who had unique opportunities in their late teens to do a lot of what they do, which coupled with natural talent and intelligence to produce game-changing ideas. Bill Gates was one of those. He had access to his university computer for 8-10 hours a night when he was an undergrad; he spent those hours writing a lot of code and trying things, and look what he has accomplished. He is one of the world’s weathiest men because he had the right ideas and the right skills at the right time. Microsoft has changed the world and how we relate to each other.
I did some calculations of ways to reach 10,000 hours of doing something. If one spends 3 hours a day, 6 days a week, 52 weeks a year: it takes about 10 and a half years to reach 10,000 hours. For many musicians I know, this is how it averages out. They started playing their instruments at age 9 or 10, practicing only an hour a day or less for the first two years, but then increasing time on the instrument in high school, and then with the choice of a music major, stepped up their practice to 4 hours a day plus actual rehearsal time of 1-2 hours a day. And so by the time they complete the degree, they have accumulated their expertise.
When I mention the 10,000 hours to my classes, there is always at least one person who is completely shocked and overwhelmed. They really had never developed the idea of practicing more than an hour a day.
My conundrum is this: how do you kindly tell someone that they cannot be a competent musician without that investment of time and effort, and perhaps they should re-examine their choice of major? Or is trying to be kind actually unkind?
We get angry at people when they don’t do what we think they should. But should they do certain things just because we think they should? Or only “the right thing”? How do I know the difference between what I want and what is right?
The most difficult thing in a relationship is to let the other person BE.
I got really upset at someone today. Then I got madder at myself for being angry. Then I had to try to function at all my usual responsibilities. I don’t think I did very well.
Ultimately, all I have control over is my own behavior. So I think the right thing to do is to figure out why I am angry and deal with it. The next problem is figuring out how to function while upset without taking it out on other, undeserving, life forms.
Anger is almost always from fear. And fear is always about loss. —this is a paraphrase of a line from Richard Bach that has stuck with me over the last several months. Maybe it will help someone else, too.