My Summer Music Experience at Curtis Institute of Music

Curtis Institute of Music

I spent three weeks this summer at Curtis for a summer festival for instrumentalists. The program included orchestra, chamber music, choir, and theory. The faculty included Curtis teachers, and Curtis alumni, as well as some other professional musicians from the area. Their were about 100 program participants.

The day began with choir at 8:45 am. I have never sang in a choir before and am not the most willling singer. But because everyone in the program is required to participate, I grudgingly sang in the soprano section of the choir. Everyone took a theory class, which covered all of the compositional era’s very broadly. During the day, we had about three hours of private practice which I used to learn orchestra and chamber music, and also to practice solo repertoire for lessons. Chamber music was a two hour block in which I played the second violin part in a Dvorak piano quintet. Three times a week coaches came to help the group make decsions and to give advice. Setionals were also part of the daily routine. One of the faculty would lead a specific instrument and help them to learn their orchestra music before the rehersal that evening. We had two hours of orchestra rehersal every night with our conductor, who changed every week.

I thought this program was well organized and needed very few changes to the schedule throught the weeks. The teachers were also very helpful and I feel they imparted their knowledge very well, although I would have liked more than three private lessons. The orchestra was so much fun to be apart of because the music was a joy, and the conductors were so great to work with. Each conductor had a different style in which they ran their rehersals, but each yielded great results. The chamber music was amazing because most of the time the group rehersed alone, which taught me how to run a rehearsal and critique the group without a teacher. Another wonderful aspect of the program is that you can ask any questions of the school or the program, which as a curious young musician, was very helpful. I live in a world where classical music is a thing of the past. That is difficult because classsical music is something so intrical to my way of life. Being apart of the Curtis Summerfest let me be around other young musicians with the same way of life. This program gave a great insight into conservatory life and was overall such a positive experience for me as a musician.

How to Help your Fingers Remember When you are on Vacation

Often times when I am on vacation during the summer or have started a new piece but want to keep the old piece in my fingers, trouble ensues. I believe that family always comes first and if you are on a vacation with your family doing something special, you need that time to take a break and enjoy the company. The only trouble with that is that when you get home, practicing is even more of a drag.

Even though this may be a hassle, it is worth is to bring your instrument with you on your vacation so that it will be in the back of your mind. Even if you can’t play or bring the instrument, listen to your reputoire everyday. Bring the scores and continue to study the scores if you have your instrument or not. Everyday remind yourself of the hard parts of your concerto and how you have learned to play them well. In short, remember the certain tricks you (probably) have learened that help you play the hard parts better. Visualize yourself playing the piece for just 5-10 minutes everyday.

If you have your instrument, just take it out for maybe 10 minutes everyday and just go over one or two common problem areas with slow practice, a drone, or a metronome (or any practice method that you think would be benefical) just to keep the hard parts still in your fingers. If you have time, jsut play the whole piece through at the end of the day to make sure it stays in your memory so that you will stay ready to perform it for when you return home.

How to Have a Successful First Lesson

Wether you are starting lessons with a new teacher, or are just having a single lesson with a professor at a conservatory, having a lesson with a new teacher can be intimidating. I frequently travel to have lessons with teachers from different schools, or have lessons with different teachers at summer music programs. Over the many first lessons I have experienced, I have realized what I did in some of my lessons that either helped or hurt my experience with the teacher.

A lot of your experience during the lesson obviously depends on the teacher and the way your way of learning corresponds to the teaching, but what you may not know is that some of the outcome is in your hands. Everything you do counts even from before you start to play. When you walk into the lesson, you should of course greet the teacher and try to make things less nerve wracking by saying how much you admire the teacher, or how grateful you are for a lesson. In most cases, the teacher reciprocates by asking you questions about yourself which loosens the atmosphere before you play. The most important thing wether the teacher is friendly to you or not, is that you don’t show weakness. When the teacher asks you what you would like to show them, you must have an answer ready. Do not allow the teacher to pick what they would like to hear. This gives the teacher the idea that they can have control over you and this can lead to a terrible lesson. Be ready to play the piece you suggest. The most important thing is to play like you are in a concert, so that means with musicality and technicality, just doing the best you can. You may not know if the teacher will have you play a few measures or the whole movement before stopping you, but be prepared for anything. The most important thing is to always have a strong response to any questioning and always defend your own view as well as that of your private teacher.

The other important thing in a lesson is knowing why you came. You may want to ask about a specific passage. If that is the case, don’t be afraid to ask, teachers love to get questions! If you don’t have a specific concern but just want to improve your overall performance, than you must be willing to change something in your playing or at least be willing to try a new way of doing something and see how you like it. Trying new things is the only way to find out how you really want to play the piece and this teacher might be able to give you a new view.

These are just a few tips on how to have a successful lesson with a new teacher. This is just what has worked for me and I hope these ideas will help with your first time lessons in future.

Musical Analysis: Schumann Piano Quintet in E flat Major

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As a violinist, I have never played anything written by Schumann before. He composed several things for piano, but nothing (that I am aware of) for solo violin. At a music festival I attended earlier this summer, I played the second violin part of the Schumann Piano Quintet in E flat Major. My chamber group played all four movements during the two weeks of the festival. I am going to share what I learned from playing this piece and how we broke down the learning process.

Movement 1: I like to think of the beginning as an E flat Major parade. In the third measure, the first violin actually has two melodies which he/she is switching between. The second violin has just one melody. This theme is continuing to develop until everyone in the group played two half note b flats, after which the music settles down. When it gets to the cello and viola duet, I think of a meadow setting and two people having a conversation that is being passed back and forth. A little later, someone in the group plays the theme from the beginning while other players perform virtuosic scales which actually are the melody in the passage. The unique thing about the next passage is that everyone in the group is playing the same notes and the same rhythms. Then the theme comes back but this time even louder! This is the climax. The piece has been building and this is the point where everything that has come so far is bridged together. The themes from earlier repeat themselves and the movement comes to a crashing end with as I call the “piano concerto”. I say this because the quartet is meant to follow the piano to a very fast and exciting finish, which is very different to what is about to come in the second movement.

Movement 2: The second movement is a funeral march. There is no room for taking any time in the first theme of the march, you just have to think “left right left right”, like a march. In the next passage, the first violin has a beautiful lyric theme that I look at as the hope within the sadness. The main theme is so melancholy and sad and this melody is so beautiful and hopeful. The agitato part is the climax of the movement and all of the anger and sadness really come together will all of players using the off the beat rhythyms as a fugue (a fugue is a compositional structure where the melody repeats itself in different voices). Then both the hope theme and the funeral march return and this finishes off the movement.

Movement 3: The third movement is so much fun to play and to listen to. This movement is a scherzo, which means a joke. In the first theme, everyone is playing triplet scales. The trick is not to play the triplets like an etude and not to have it sound like just scales. The first trio relaxes more and I think of this as floating through a pool with the sun shining before the storm. Then the triplets come back. I like to think  of the triplets as greyhound that are racing, but you can’t let them run so fast that they run over something. The most fun part of the whole piece is trio II. This is a scalar passage as well but this time in 16th notes. The best advice for this passage is: DO NOT ACCENT FIRST BEATS! Create one phrase instead of creating small chunks by accenting the first beats. The “motor” of this passage is 8th notes and that should be brought out more here. From here it goes back to the greyhound-like triplets and comes to a halting finish.

Movement 4: The finale is actually one big fugue. The strings start as the motor or the pulse and the piano is the melody. In this movement there are many transitions but Schumann did not write them in, but instead Implies them. The musicians have to create the transitions by taking short pauses in-between sections to show musical understanding. This movement can sound like fighting and banging if everyone plays their loudest, so be careful to measure your dynamics well and bring out the soft passages. The half notes all need to be extended throughout the movement. When the second violin starts playing the 8th notes by him/herself  at letter N (in the middle of the movement), the piano actually has the melody with its very rhythmic line and accompaniment sounding line. When the first violin comes in with the theme from the first movement ( this is the best and coolest part- good job Schumann), this is the first violins chance to have a solo and should project as much as possible. After this, another huge fugue begins with a new version of the theme. At the coda, the tempo should slow down only to speed back up until the ending. This creates a perfect ending for a seemingly magical piece.

Why Do We Play Music Anyway?

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The main question amidst all of the work is why are we playing music anyway? Why am I committing my whole life to a dream that may or may not happen? Everyone has a different answer to this question, but my answer is that I can’t imagine doing anything else with my life. I would not be happy doing anything else everyday day. Music is not work, it is what I love to do. Music is such a gamble and takes hard work, and if you can imagine a life without a musical career, I would suggest following that other career. Becoming a musician is not a life for someone who wants normalcy.

I often have people telling me that they worry that I don’t have a normal life and that I will not experience common rites of passage, such as going to pop concerts, shopping at the mall, playing on a sports team, etc. because I am inside practicing. I always respond by saying that if I wanted a normal life, I would have it. If I wanted to go shopping or play sports, I would do it. I love to play violin and in order to do that as my career in the future, it takes hard work that I am willing to put in. I don’t want a normal life because I am not normal. I am happy that I am different and we should celebrate the fact that I am living the life that I want to live, and creating a future for myself. If you feel passion for something, go tackle it with all the energy you can because that is how you live your life to the fullest with no regrets.

Many people believe  that classical music is a dying art and that in a few generations, there will be no such thing. I, on the other hand, believe the future of classical music is very bright. It is my job, as a young musician, to share my passion with others who could grow up to do the same. Music is an art that will continue to be passed down. We need to introduce classical music to children at an early age, before their views are tainted by other children, who are pressuring them into the realm of pop music. Classical music creates feelings that words cannot describe. Classical music isn’t boring because it is a story of history, and a metaphor for life. As long as people continue to see this, classical music will continue to thrive.

The Complexity of Intonation

 

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When I say “intonation”, most people ask me what that means. I always say that intonation is how intune or out of tune I play (on a violin this is relative to where I place my fingers). That answer, while explaining the main concept of intonation, isn’t the full answer, which is so much more complex. When you google the definition of intonation, it provides a similar answer to what I give when asked this question. When I am complimented on my good intonation, that means that yes, I played in tune, but no one every really discusses what “in tune” is and how there are many different ways to play a note “in tune”. Pianists don’t have to worry about intonation, as they play a pre-tuned instrument, but the rest of us battle with having good intonation every day in practice.

A piano is tuned to what people call equal-temperament. There is a formula for the distance between the notes in equal temperament, but simply, this just means that all intervals are constant on the piano and there is only one way to play an “in tune” note. On a violin, you can pre-tune the instrument to many different “in tune” A’s*. The most common tuning system is A 440. This means that the string will vibrate 440 times (another common tuning pitch is A 442- A is the pitch an orchestra/ chamber group/ soloist tunes to). Because violin is pre-tuned and the A pitch can vary, there is no single way to play an in tune third, or any other interval. There is definately a way to play an interval out of tune, but there is a very small amount of wiggle room where the pitch remains in tune. This cannot happen on a piano.

When you play with a quartet, or to mix it up even more, a piano quintet, things start to become even more confusing. In a quartet, the pitch you play must be relative to the pitch the other musicians play (playing in a small group requires more attention to intonation than playing as a soloist or in an orchestra). Example: certain intervals must be played lower and quieter if the first violin is playing a certain pitch. (There is a basic chart for this at the top). When you add a piano to the traditional string quartet, the piano with it’s equal temperament will be considered out of tune next to the quartet. This is considered ok and the quartet doesn’t need to tune to the piano, but tunes to the lowest instrument, in this case, the cello.

On a piano’s equal temperament, it divides each octave into 12 semitones of 100 cents each (semitone is a half step). A cent is a unit of measurement for each interval. The alteration of one cent is to small to be heard. An octave in equal temperament spans 1200 cents.

This is just delving in to the basics of tuning, and I am by no means an expert. Many musicians don’t teach tuning with this method, but it shouldn’t be hard to find information. There is a chart on the top explaining how intervals go together and how they change if certain intervals are played together.

*A=the pitch A

This is my favorite violinist, Janine Jansen

This is my favorite violinist, Janine Jansen

When you search iTunes to buy classical music, it can be overwhelming with all of the artists and orchestras. After listening to many string players, I have found a few of my favorite players.

In terms of violinists,there are so many artists to listen to, some good and some who are not worth your time and money. There is no solid “best” violinist, but the most technically refined is Hilary Hahn. Although she may be lacking in musicality and personality,her tone, technique, and virtuosity are commendable. On the other side of the spectrum, Anne- Sophie Mutter is very musical and has good virtuosity as well. Her trademark quality is her slide between shifts, which is good for romantic music, but I could do without it in her Mozart concertos. My all time favorite violinist, who I believe has Hahn’s technique and Anne Sophie’s musicality (minus the sliding) is Janine Jansen. She has perfect technique and intonation and her musicality is so amazing that she doesn’t even have to worry about technique during a performance, so she can just focus on the interpretation. My second all time favorite violinist is , Lisa Batiashvilli, who I think has similar qualities in her playing to Janine Jansen.

For violists, I know a little less.

The composer Paul Hindemith was also a virtuoso violist, but there are not many recordings of him. A great violist today is Kim Kashkashian, who has many recordings today that I really have enjoyed although I am not a violist and don’t know as many great violists. As far as cellists go, Yo Yo Ma is of course fantastic. His recordings have both technique, class, and musicality. Aliza Weilerstein is a younger cellist who I have heard a few times and enjoy her music greatly. From the older times, Pablo Casals is just wonderful as well. And finally, Jaqueline du Pre, who died very young but still had a fantastic career. Her recording of Elgars cello concerto with The Philadelphia Orchestra which Du Pre recorded at the early age of 20 is fantastic! All of these string musicians are worth listening to and spending money on and although everyone has different standards of what they want in a musician, these are some of my favorite players.

*Disclaimer~ I am a violinist and know a lot about famous and great violinists, but all opinions are my own and I accept that every musician has their own opinions.

Basic Practicing Tips and Tricks

Practicing is something that all musicians seeking excellence have to do a lot of. Not only do we have to practice a lot, but we have to learn to do it well. Practicing is an art that I have by no means mastered, but I will share a few of the tricks I have learned over the years.

Tip 1. I know that we all want to sound good in our practice, but if we want to sound good in performance, that is just not realistic. Don’t be afraid to take your piece at an adagio tempo and play each measure 50-100 times to solidify intonation, tone, style, bowing, etc. SLOW PRACTICE IS YOUR FRIEND!

Tip 2. If you are playing a legato/slurred passage, play it short and staccato to hear each individual note better. If your passage is short, staccato, or off the string, play it legato and connected to hear the lines better.

Tip 3. In order to get the intonation to be perfect, you MUST know what note you are aiming for next. Sing the part with difficult intonation as well as play it on the piano. Once you can sing it perfectly, you can play it even better!

Tip 4. String instruments! If you are having difficulty with a string crossing, write down the open string that name that corresponds with the string the notes are on and try that for a while. Once you understand that, play the real version.

Tip 5. String Instruments! For a troublesome shift, take a pause in between the notes where the shift is and as you repeat this, gradually shorten pause.

Tip 6. Play everything in your piece slowly until it is perfect. This may mean spot work, like I explain in the first tip, or playing through the whole page slowly until it’s perfect then move the metronome up a little up and continue in this fashion until you hit perfection at the correct tempo.

Tip 7. Enjoy yourself and remember that the more you practice, the less tedious it will become!

Different Eras of Classical Music

Classical music was first mentioned in the renaissance period which went from the 1400’s to the 1600’s. Some of the trademarks of the start of classical music were a greater use of instrumentation, more interweaving melodies, and the use of the first bass instruments. During this time, the staff and other elements of musical notation were starting to take shape. The typical instruments were a little different. The most common string instruments were the harp, the lute, and the vielle. For wind instruments, there were the flute, trumpet and bagpipes. Simple organs existed, but strictly in churches. Later in the time, some versions of the keyboard just began to come into the equation.
The baroque period went from the 1600’s up until the mid 1700’s and was characterized by a continuous bass line, as well as advanced tonal counterpoint, which is the relationship between the voices that are harmonically interdependent, but that are independent with rhythm and contour. More advanced musical concepts came into play, like major and minor, and the sonata form. The most famous composers from the era include Bach, Handel, and Vivaldi, among many others. Throughout the era, organ music became increasingly bigger, as well as the violin and stringed instrument family. Now with the variety of instruments that took shape, the full orchestra as well as the chamber orchestra were formed. The concerto was created, making a great vessel for solo performing,although the solo performers relationship with the orchestrates quite simpler.
The classical period dates from 1750-1820, creating many of the norms and styles of the music. Piano grew to be the most popular keyboard instrument, and chamber music became very big. The violin became the lead instrument carting the melody, replacing the harpsichord. Wind instruments became more refined, and double reeded instruments, oboe and bassoon, became more standardized. Single reeded instruments were not widely used until the classical era, where they became quite popular. The main composers of the era included Mozart, Haydn, and early Beethoven. The classical style was light and simple, creating an exposed feeling which left no room for mistakes.
The romantic era went from the early 19th century, to the middle of the 20th century, characterized by an increased attention to an extended melodic line, as well as more emotion and feeling. Musical forms began to differ from the classical era forms, with three formed pieces, such as preludes and nocturnes. The music became more chromatic, dissonant, and finally colorful, with key signatures starting to be recognized. The composers of the era were Chopin, Dvorak, Liszt, and many others. A wider range of instruments were beginning to be used, such as percussion and stringed instruments with a larger range. The brass family took a large roll.

The Master of Music: Itzhak Perlman

Last Saturday, I had the great fortune to hear the master of music, Itzhak Perlman. He played and conducted with the Philadelphia orchestra, playing at the kimmel center. He played Beethoven first and second romance, and conducted Dvoraks see ends for strings, Beethoven’s second symphony, as well as Brahms Academic Festival overture. He played marvelously, with flawless tone, although his age made it harder to keep up with technique. It was quit amazing to see him hobble out on his crutches. It would take a great deal of courage to be able to still be able to play, despite his disabilities. Mr. Perlman also conducted, which was also fantastic to see his skills, not only as a violinist, but as a conductor as well. I have a great deal of respect and admiration for Mr. Perlman for continuing to play, despite his physical disabilities.

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