Monday, January 28, 2019

Week 36/66: The Glories of the Huntington

I spent last week visiting a friend and working at the Huntington Library, and it was fabulous!  I learned new stuff, was reassured by learning some other stuff, did some organizational work, and read really neat texts.

Best of all, I learned there are some manuscripts I could look at.  And they live in the British Library, so I'll be able to look at them when I go there!

I got back yesterday evening, learned that we were expecting a big snow storm, so went and got gas for the snow thrower, and got a pizza.  Already this morning I've cleared my drive, so the gas was a good investment!  (I might have had enough, but you always want to have plenty!)

This week, I'm going to be buckling down and writing, writing, writing.  I'll also be practicing, of course.

I finished the Coursera music theory course, and am now working my way through the textbook materials for the NWU music theory course.  Fortunately, I have friends in the music department for whom music theory is second nature, so one has been checking my homework and helping me with things I find difficult.  It's fascinating and fun so far.

Wednesday, January 09, 2019

Delurking Week?

I gather from xykademiqz that it's blog delurking week.  So if anyone's out there, please say hello!

Sunday, January 06, 2019

Week 34/66: Happy Violin News

Work is slowly progressing.

In violin news:  I've been working on three pieces, with different emphases.

Seitz, the third piece in Suzuki book 4, has really a hard double stops passage that goes on forever.  I was working on this for a while, and then got it good enough that Strings started me on the next piece, the first movement of Vivaldi's concerto in A minor.  That one has no double stops, but serious shifting, and some fast passages where you have four notes, and one changes and the other three repeat, and so on, with other changes.


Those are difficult for me.  First, I tend to mess up the rhythm, so I have to work slowly with a metronome.  Second, well, string crossings!  (Here's Itzhak Perlman's recording.)

Finally, during viola studio, a couple of the students played a viola transcription of a violin concerto by Oskar Rieding, opus 35.  (Here's Itzhak Perlman's recording.  I don't sound this good!)  The Rieding is beautiful, really.  And it's a student piece, so not hugely difficult on the face of it.

And then there was a break while Strings and I were both away.

I have to confess, I have a pretty strong dislike of the Seitz.  The double stops get my left hand all gummed up.  But for the last week, I almost totally focused on that piece.  And it payed off!  Strings has checked it off!

She also told me that the focus of the Rieding has to be really good, smooth bowing, and that the more I pay attention to my bowing, the better.  That's a continuing thing with me (as with most students, I'd guess, you pretty much always need to improve bowing until you're darned good).

So the good news is that I can focus on Vivaldi this week, which is a total joy, though really difficult.


In other news, I'm doing a Coursera course on music theory.  It's an 8 week course that looks like it ran last year from the University of Edinburgh, and it's interesting, but also a bit irritating.  I kept failing one of the quizzes.  I finally asked Strings, who teaches music theory, one of the questions, and she explained it, but also, it was a bit unfair.  There were two or three correct answers (describing a chord), and I couldn't figure out why they wouldn't accept one of them.  But I finally passed that quiz, and now I'm onto the next section.

My plan is to then start reading the stuff from NWU's music theory courses, so that I'll get it more deeply.  I probably should have just started there, to be honest...

Wednesday, January 02, 2019

Week 33/66: Welcome the New Year at the Halfway Point

Happy New Year!

My sabbatical's halfway over.  It's been glorious!

I usually give a rundown on my biking over the year, but I hardly biked this year.  Going on a long trip, even though I took my bike and used it a few times, really breaks up the summer and the biking mojo.

When I got back from my trip, it seemed to rain non-stop for three weeks.  (It didn't really, but it felt like it.)

In violin news, I'm still on book 4, though I'm working on the 3rd Seitz concerto movement and the first movement of the Vivaldi A minor concerto.  I'm also working on a violin concerto by Oskar Rieding in B minor.  I always thought "minor" meant it was going to sound saddish or something, but neither of these feels that in the least.  And the Rieding is quite surprisingly beautiful (surprising because I'd never heard of him before a couple of the viola students were playing this piece in studio).

Last year at this time, I was starting to practice again after a hiatus in the UK.  I had fun in the UK, but I'm happy to be practicing more.  There are times when I feel like I'm not making any progress, but then I think where I was with shifting and double-stopping a year ago, and I've definitely improved, especially on shifting.  Vibrato, not so much.

In 2018, kept a reading list for the first time in many years. Looking at the list, I read 52 books (not counting books for work, but including books on CD while driving). I made an effort to read books by women and people of color (recognizing that both of these categories are potentially problematic and even if they weren't, I can't necessarily tell from just names.). How did I do?
29 by women, 23 by men.
11 by women of color, 3 by men of color.
20 non-fiction (almost all the books on CD are non-fiction because I'm limited in my choices: mostly the library has non-fiction, or mysteries, or thrillers, and I avoid mysteries and thrillers; most of the books on CD seem to be by white men). 30 fiction. 1 poetry, 1 play
Top favorites for the year (in no particular order):
Tommy Orange, There There
Neil Gaiman, The Ocean at the End of the Lane
Jesmyn Ward, Salvage the Bones
George Saunders, Lincoln in the Bardo
Ahmed Saddawi, Frankenstein in Baghdad
Clementine Beauvais, Piglettes
Amor Towles, A Gentleman in Moscow
(Notice a pattern? Even making an effort, I didn't read that many books by people of color. And the books by women weren't among my favorites, mostly.)
The only author I read more than one book by was Louise Erdrich.

While 2018 was a political mess, it was a good year for me, personally.  
I hope 2019 holds good things, too.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Week 30/66: Pittsburgh and Fallingwater

What a lovely time I had visiting my friend.  It's hard to pick out the highlights, but here I go.

In order:

There's something I'd never heard of, but should have, called the Carnegie International.  It's an amazing program/exhibit/collection of very contemporary art, put on every few years.  This was the 57th edition.

Much of the art is intellectually challenging, as art should be.  Some is incredibly beautiful, some quirky and odd, and some utterly fascinating.  One of my favorite "pieces" was in this big marble hall, a very classical looking room.  The floor in the central area of the hall was covered in sort of rivers/islands of rusted machinery (very three dimensional), coal, and these white crystal looking small rocks (about less than an inch around?).  I don't often think about how beautiful rusted machinery is, but the colors were beautiful, and the shapes, and it made me think.  And the coal was surprisingly sparkly, as were the white rocks.

Another fascinating piece was a sort of neon outlined room with an 8 hour (I think) video loop running on a big screen TV in front of four chairs.  We just got drawn in by the whimsical weirdness of the videos.  The artist appears in the videos, in widely varied costumes, and weirdness ensues.  For example, in one setting, the artist was dressed as Mr. Rogers on the Neighborhood set, with the puppets and stuff singing "Edelweiss" from The Sound of Music.

That was GREAT!  Having a really good art museum within a short drive is something I really miss living here in the NorthWoods.

Maybe even better, though, and probably my highlight:  one of my cousins' daughters (A) is studying ballet at the Pittsburgh Ballet Theater.  Because I live so far away from pretty much everyone else in the family, I hardly know any of my cousins' kids, most of whom I've seen only as little kids.  But A took the time to come have dinner with my friend and I, and it was just the best.  A is lovely: she's kind and thoughtful, fun, interested and interesting, and just really cool in the best way.

And the next evening, we went to see The Nutcracker with A dancing!  I must admit, I've never been to the ballet before, so I'm a novice.  But it was stunningly beautiful, almost overwhelmingly beautiful.  I'm so happy I went.  (And it was even more special that A was dancing, of course.)

The two slightly lesser lights of my visit would be the Pittsburgh Glass Center, which was really wonderful.  If I lived closer, I'd LOVE to take some of their classes.  What a great community resource!

We also went to visit the Contemporary Craft Center.  Another fabulous community resource.  They had a really interesting and challenging show of quite politically smart works using found objects.  So good!  It's heartening to know there are artists working in places like Pittsburgh to make challenging, wonderful art!

The last highlight of my trip was a visit to Fallingwater.  Yes, THAT Fallingwater, the Frank Lloyd Wright house.  I hadn't realized it was built for a Pittsburgh department store owner and his family, and so a fairly easy drive out of Pittsburgh.  (For some reason, I thought it was in New York State...)

I've been to several pretty darned fancy houses in my time, but Fallingwater is special.  It's much smaller than most fancy houses I've taken tours of, more intimate, and also beautiful in a different way.  It's not massively beautiful, the way, say Burghley House or Versailles are.  In a way, it reminded me of the Gaudi houses, Casa Battlo say.  They feel like real people could live in them, and actually live and enjoy them.  Fallingwater's smaller than Casa Battlo (not being an apartment building), and so even more intimate.

And now, it's time to really buckle down on the sabbatical work.  The goal for the next week is to post a couple times, and focus better on that.

Meanwhile, Happy Holidays for those who are celebrating the season!

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.)