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.)