Monday, December 03, 2018

Week 29/66: Off to Visit a Friend

I haven't been accomplishing what I should be, but I'm headed out on a long-planned trip to visit a friend. 

When I get back, I need to really buckle down.

Friday, November 16, 2018

Week 26: Birding Interlude

I'm keeping busy, reading lots, doing some writing, and I went to the Southwest for my niece's recital and got to do a little birding.  (My Sister-in-Law and Mother were along, so it really was minimal birding.)

Anyway, a couple of pictures!

I think this is a Lesser Goldfinch.  I'm not sure, though.

A Verdin!  You can't really see in this picture, but there's a bit of reddish at the shoulder tip of the wing.  Very exciting!

Great Egret!

Abert's Towhee!

The Lesser Goldfinch, Verdin, and Abert's Towhee were all lifers, as were some American Avocets (no good picture, alas).  Other good for me birds include Black-Necked Stilt, Ring-Necked Ducks.

I also think, pretty sure but not absolutely, that I saw a White-Winged Dove and a Gila Woodpecker.


In other news, I'm now working on the first Vivaldi piece in Suzuki Book 4, the Concerto in A Minor, first movement.  It's so beautiful and fun to work on, but so hard, too!

I posted back here about turning in my promotion portfolio.  I've now received the call from my department colleagues that they voted to promote me, so that's good news.

I got my teaching assignments (tentative) for next year; I asked for, and got, Chaucer.  And I immediately had my first anxiety dream, well over a year in advance.  Ugh.

Finally, the elections turned out pretty well here in the Northwoods.  There's a sliver of hope now that at least things won't get worse this coming year.

Back to work!

Monday, October 29, 2018

Week 23/66: Stress and Despair

I tried to post on the Top Left Quadrant site, but seem to be unable.  Or something.  But I was able to post with a different browser.

I'm stressing a lot about election stuff and social violence.  I've spent some time canvassing with union folks, so I'm trying to contribute.  But I'm so worried that we'll lose and it will be even worse, and I'll feel even worse because I put energy in.  I saw this article, "'They are so sick of losing': hopes of Wisconsin left tempered by past" today in The Guardian and it speaks to my stress so clearly.

What's new?  (This is mostly what I wrote at the TLQ site.)
1.  I dropped out of the orchestra.  I was stressing a lot because I felt so inadequate about my playing ability.  But I talked to the leader and hope to rejoin next fall.  I've been playing about two and a half years (with about six months lapse when I was away), so another year should see significant improvement if I keep practicing.  I have been progressing in lessons.

2.  I dropped the revisions and just started a new paper, the one I've been really thinking about.  I've written several pages, first draft quality, but pixels on paper!

3.  I joined a gym, though I haven't gone enough.

New goals: 
1.  Work on paper.
2.  Get garden prepped for winter.
3.  Keep practicing violin.
4.  Get regular exercise.

In other news: a friend gave me a plant today, and I'm more frustrated than makes sense.  I feel like I can't take care of it (I have no good light in winter without a massive light project, and will be away, etc.)  I'm looking to rehouse it... and somehow, I'm resentful that my friend gave it to me.  She said she likes giving people plants but doesn't get them for herself because they're hard and die.  But she doesn't realize that may be a good reason not to get them for someone who doesn't already have plants around...  ahh, well, I need to get over this.

I guess I'm feeling like giving someone a house plant is a bit like giving them a puppy.  Yay, puppies!  But if you want one, you're probably doing that on your own (assuming you're an adult and such).  And if you don't, having one to take care of is a responsibility.  Of course, a plant is not the responsibility that a puppy is, but still, it's a life and you shouldn't just dump it.  And this one, my friend says, can't be put outside.

Am I totally wrong about this?

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Week 21/66: The Rain it Raineth Every Day

At least that's the way it feels around here.  There's a constant drizzle punctuated by some serious downpours.  I don't feel like going out or doing anything much.

So, I joined a gym.  I've been thinking about it a while, and talked to some friends, especially one who goes to a gym near me (as does his wife) and likes it.  The thing is, I'm at an age where I really need to use weights/resistance to retain bone density, and I'm just not doing anything in the rain, and I can no longer fool myself that I'm going to.

My goal for now is to work a bit on strength and also on cardio so that I'll enjoy cross-country skiing more than I otherwise would.

In real sabbatical news: I turned in my promotion portfolio.  It should be fine, but it needed to be done, and was taking up a huge amount of psychic energy in procrastination.  So now I'm back to work on revision stuffs.

Since coming back from out west, when I'd practice, I'd pretty quickly get a nasty twinge in my left shoulder.  I was able to practice maybe 10-15 minutes without pain, and then it wasn't fun at all.  I talked to my violin teacher about it (after several stupid weeks), and she suggested some changes in terms of position, chin rest, and shoulder rest.  (She says I've been pinching up with my shoulder.)  So just after my last post, I went to a string instrument shop in a nearby small city and spent some time with the proprietor, a retired nurse, who had my try out some things.  My teacher had suggested a chin rest that fits more over the bottom center of the violin, so I now have one of those, and a different shoulder rest.  The proprietor told me to be sure to work up slowly (I have to reteach my shoulder not to pinch up).

The upshot is, I'm now practicing without twingy pain, though my shoulder gets tired (but not for half an hour or so).  Hopefully between working out, working up, and the new position, things will be better all around.

Happily, I've been able to practice more (two sessions on most days), and have been practicing the orchestra pieces, so hopefully I'll be less lost at orchestra rehearsal tomorrow.  I also have a violin lesson tomorrow.

One more violin thing: I feel a little overwhelmed and dismayed.  There are three newish skills to work on (shifting, double-stops, and vibrato; and shifting involves both the actual moving of the hand AND learning to play in different positions).  And then there's basic bow work and fingering work, and my lesson pieces and orchestra pieces.

Each of the skills involves different work, mostly in technique books.  (I practice playing in different positions by playing Suzuki Book 1 pieces in second and third position.)  Vibrato I work on least, though I should step that up (right now, maybe a minute or two each session).  And each of the skills is important, but not immediately for my orchestra, for example.  (The shifting and double-stops are both

Anyway, at this point, it feels like I'm working on each of these things, but not really improving at all, moving from one exercise to another (or even re-doing the same exercise).  I hope this is one of those things where I'm going to feel a noticeable jump in improvement.

Saturday, October 06, 2018

Master Class

The other day, I sat in on a violin master class.  I've sat in on a few different master classes for musicians these past couple of years, so if you haven't, here's my basic understanding of what happens.

First, the musician giving the class sits either on stage or in the audience, depending.  Then a student performs a piece they've prepared.  And then the musician giving the class works on whatever areas or skills they think will be most useful to the student.   As they work together, the master also usually talks to the group as a whole, making suggestions about practice skills and strategies and such.

Other students watch and take notes.

The other day, the master violinist worked with two students, each for about 40-45 minutes (including the initial playing of the piece).

In all the master classes I've seen now (maybe four or five), the teachers have been incredibly kind and rigorous at the same time; they've all seemed to take the students' work seriously, and have focused in on really specific areas for further work.  And in all the master classes I've seen, the students have been amazingly brave and worked hard to get what the teacher was working on.  (I say "brave" because I think it takes real bravery to expose your work and then stand there and absorb critical help, even the kindliest critical help.)

I gather this is a long tradition and happens all over the world in classical music settings (maybe in other music settings, too, I don't know).

Imagine if writers were paid to take that time with students?  Not in a class of 20, but one on one for half an hour a week?

Of course, only music students who are pretty serious get chosen for master classes, so it's not everyone.  Two of the violin students on campus got to work with this superb violinist, and there are maybe 15 or 20 violinists studying here?


It's fascinating to watch a master class, by the way.  For the first student, the master worked on their hand frame for a bit, which seems daunting.  (The hand frame is the way you hold your left hand to do fingerings and such while the right hand holds the bow.  If you have a good hand frame, you can shift positions and do vibrato and stuff.  I'm working on the very basic level myself, but the idea of trying to change my hand frame in a lesson is daunting.  It seems like the sort of thing you work with a teacher on for a long time and practice at even longer.)

She also worked on intonation a lot with both students.  Intonation on the violin is shockingly hard because if you put your finger down just a tiny bit differently than you should, you're flat or sharp.

And she worked on starting a note with confidence.  There aren't any frets on a violin keyboard, so when you put your finger down to start, say on a D above the open string D, you have to know and be confident that your finger placement will be absolutely perfect.  And it's one thing for that D, which is played with the third finger in first position; if you've really got your hand frame, then your body knows that placement and you can bow with confidence.

But if you switch to, say, fourth position and play a higher note, then it's a lot harder, I gather (I'm not there yet).  You REALLY have to have practiced it so much that your hand frame in fourth position is as confident as in first position, and that's a whole lot of practice.

(If you look at my violin, or the violins of lots of "younger" players, we have tape across at several places to help us know where to put our fingers initially.  But once students develop a really good ear and hand frame, the tapes go away.  I'm not there yet.  At any rate, no one seems to use tapes for above first position.)

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Week 20/66: Some Things Got Done

I didn't finish the revision, but I wrote the narrative stuff for my promotion application.  It took a while, but wasn't as horrid as I'd feared, primarily because I had the big "Review After Tenure" last year and as I reported, it went very well.  So this should be fine.  I wrote the stuff about what I've done since the last review, and will include stuff from the last review (since promotion isn't just a "what have you done this year" thing).

I did one thing that should be really good, and was also awarded a "Feminist Service Award" last spring, which looks good.

I'm going to a concert that should be very good this evening, and I had a good violin practice today, so I'm feeling a bit more hopeful about the world.

The big goal for this week is to finish the revision so I can submit it and add it to the promotion narrative.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Intermezzo: I Joined an Orchestra

When I took up the violin, I hoped to one day be able to play in a community orchestra, to make music with other folks.  A few weeks ago, my violin teacher told me about a community orchestra for "intermediate" string players, and gave me the email address for the leader.  So I emailed, and tonight was the first rehearsal.

Let's just say, I have a WHOLE lot of practice to do.  There are retired music teachers and such in there, as well as a bunch of health professions folks, and pretty much everyone plays way better than I do.  But everyone was friendly and encouraging, especially the conductor/organizer.

The conductor/organizer (let's call her Maestra, shall we?) runs a cello studio in town, and does the intermediate string orchestra as part of her professional work.  There's a nominal fee for the "semester" which probably covers the purchase and copying of parts and a stipend for her.

The music was hard for me, especially sight reading, but I think with a lot of practice, I'll be able to do my part to make it.  The overall level is higher than I'd thought, but that will be nice as I improve.  Meanwhile, we have to skip next week because there's a concert by the grown up community orchestra, so I have two weeks to work on the music.

I was thinking of it as a middle school level orchestra, but I'm guessing it's more high school level, except everyone was so friendly that it felt really good even though I wasn't keeping up musically.


I had a good lesson today.  I'm progressing on my piece; plenty still to work on, but at least my practice showed.  And my teacher started me on one small part of the next piece, so I'm pretty excited.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Week 19/66: Revision Work

I'm making progress on my revision work, which is a good thing, because I have to get it submitted this week.  Wish me luck.

Last weekend, I went camping with a friend.  Let's just say, it was a bit frustrating.  For some reason, they really wanted to visit all these swimming "holes" they'd used as a kid.  Okay, I can definitely see visiting a swimming hole, taking a nice swim.  Good.  But then they wanted to visit another.  And another.

In the end, I was irritated at myself that I'd gone camping with them.  I'd have been happy with staying at our campsite and spending a relaxed morning rather than visiting swimming holes here and there.  But yes, each was beautiful.

I think it's maybe because I'm at a point where I don't feel a strong attachment to any place from my childhood, really.  None are "mine" in any sense, and I've come to terms with not going back.  I think my friend, though, if having some family issues, and going back to places that made them happy as a kid is a way of dealing.

I went paddle boarding today, and did better than I've done before.  I was able to do it long enough that my arms as well as my legs started getting tired.

And that's the week that was.  This week, I need to work on those revisions and just get them done.  Period.

Sunday, September 09, 2018

Week 17/66: Making Progress

I made some progress on various fronts this week, all of which are good.  And yesterday I had a fabulous day.  It started at the farmers' market, where I found Zestar apples, the best eating apples around, even a bit better than Honeycrisp.  Then I went for a morning kayak with some friends, where we saw some Bald Eagles and had a lovely time.  I went home, did laundry and mowed, then showered, practiced violin, and went out for pizza with several friends/colleagues, some of whom are fairly new, and so they got a chance to know different people around campus who are nice and friendly, and vice versa.  There was ice cream!  All in all, a pretty great day.

Progress on the article front for revision, but nowhere near done yet.

Finished reading a good book that a friend lent me and returned it.

Worked my way back up to near the end of Book 3 in Suzuki, started doing technique exercises again, and had a really helpful lesson.  I'd been frustrated by my tone, and my teacher helped me see that it was a bow position issue, and gave me some exercises to work on to help me.  She's SO good at seeing things and then giving me ways to work on them.  And also kind and encouraging.

In more exciting news, there's an orchestra in town of intermediate adult string players!  I emailed, and it looks like my skills are about there, so I'm going to go.  It starts near the end of September.  I'm excited to get to play with a group.  We'll probably sound like a so-so middle school orchestra, but it should be fun anyway, and I probably won't be so far the worst that it's plainly embarrassing.

I also used my new paddle board for the second time, for about 20 minutes.  My legs shake the whole time, so it's really tiring.  But I'm getting a tiny bit more stable each time.  If you figure the cost of something, and then divide by the times you've used it, you begin to get an idea of if you should have just rented something or not.  It's sort of a mind game: with all the accoutrements, including an electric air pump, I'm now at $400 a ride, about.  So I've got a ways to go...

This coming week:  I MAY try to go north for a day or two to see the Aurora Borealis.

The big push is to make progress on the revision.

I also want to catch myself back up on Suzuki, and work on my priorities:  bowing/tone, shifting, double stops, Suzuki, and vibrato.  In that order.  It's not like any of those is really totally independent, because in order to make progress in Suzuki, I'll need to have shifting and double stops working pretty well.  And in order to do anything, bowing/tone has to be solid at my level.  Vibrato just needs a little work every day, I think, and it will come.

I'll try to get out on the paddle board at least once, and get some exercise every day.

Monday, September 03, 2018

Week 16/66: Getting Busy

The semester starts for everyone else this week, and for me, it's time to really buckle down.

The big goal this week is to revise an essay I should have revised ages ago, and send it out.  In order to revise the essay, I'm rereading the text first, and then will work on revisions.  I also need to make sure I have a good handle on the journal's submission requirements.

Second on the list is to email the head of our promotions committee and let him know I'm planning to go up for promotion.

Today, I went to the city Labor Day gathering.  It was disappointingly sparsely attended, alas.  But I did have a nice chat with a local party volunteer, and am planning to get involved in volunteering this fall since I have more time than ever before during an election.

On Saturday, I volunteered for a local voter registration thing on campus, but they didn't realize that people can't register until they've lived somewhere for ten days, so talking to students moving into the dorms didn't seem effective.  But then I realized that they weren't really so much interested in registering voters, but more in getting students to put their names on a list to be reminded to vote and so forth.  I recognize the importance of such lists, but since I was more interested in registering folks to vote, I was less than thrilled.

And that's the week!