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Emily Visits Violaland, Part 3/?

This week marks my fourth as a wayfaring stranger in Violaland. I thought that now might be a good time to take stock and figure out where to go from here.

I’ve been playing an hour of viola a day, as well as an hour of violin. When I first asked for advice for a violinist taking on viola, someone mentioned not to slack on the violin. I remember thinking, “Thanks, Captain Obvious,” but here’s the weird thing: once you start, it’s not obvious. It’s so easy to focus on one or the other, and to start gravitating toward either the sonic thrill of a new instrument or the familiar comfort of an old one. But you must not allow yourself to backslide on the fiddle, and that in turn means committing to the viola wholeheartedly. The viola is not a side-project. So far I’ve combatted favoritism by telling myself that for every half hour spent at the viola, I have to guarantee a half hour will be spent at the violin, and vice versa. I also mix up my practice sessions; every day I alternate which instrument I start with. So far it seems to be working.

Technically, all sorts of things have been changing…for the better, I think. (I hope.)

Most of the changes have been in the right arm. Right now, I’m focusing on relaxing the shoulder and elevating the elbow. I had a brief discussion with Professional Violist Friend (PVF) about this at the lesson. With the relatively low elbow I’d been employing before, he wondered if I’d ever had any pain or discomfort in my right arm. I was so tempted to cackle bitterly before launching into a detailed description of my battle with right arm nerve pain, in the kind of overwrought explanation that an old lady would give at a family reunion when an unsuspecting relative asks about her bum hip. (Thankfully, I resisted the temptation to go into all the awful details.) But the truth is I’ve struggled with bouts of unbearable nerve pain for a decade now. It comes from the pinky and the ring finger and goes all the way past the elbow, into the neck, and down to the toes. (For those who don’t know, I have health problems that exacerbate nerve pain. I’m aware that’s an extreme physical response.) Anyway, after some experimentation, I’m wondering if the low right elbow made those two fingers stiff. Over time, stiffness led to pain. Add in tension from a lowered chin and high shoulder and gritted teeth, and voilà. (Or should I say viola? … Maybe not.) I’m wondering if, with the higher elbow, maybe the code to nerve-pain-free playing has been cracked. I say “maybe” because it seems too wonderful to actually be true, and I don’t want to jinx it. And also because it’s humiliating to think I’ve sobbed in pain because of two stiff fingers. Anyway, this month my bow arm has felt much more relaxed and efficient, both on the violin and the viola. I’ve also taken on the no-doubt creepy-looking habit of closing my eyes halfway to three-quarters of the way. It might make me look high, but as long as nobody’s watching… It’s an expression that helps release facial tension.

The left arm has not been without its adjustments, either. I’ve decided that if I can’t see my elbow through the c-bout, it’s not tucked under enough. I need all the help I can get to stop those strings. Obviously this might be too extreme of a position for other players with different body types, and at times it’s almost too extreme for me (especially when I’m playing on the A-string). But I’ve still found it’s a good goal to shoot for, since I usually fall a little short of it, anyway. This change in position also necessitates some changes with the left wrist, since it’s tempting to arc it away from the neck. I’m having to bring the wrist in more so that it’s more in line with the arm.

Clef-reading has been coming along surprisingly well. I keep waiting for a massive roadblock, but it hasn’t come. The progress is slow but steady. To give a general idea of where I’m at, I can sight-read maybe three-quarters of the first Bach cello suite (not up to tempo, but the notes are largely there). Schradieck has been my savior; it’s just worked so well, especially since I know the exercises from violin. The exercises on one string (the D string in the transcription I’ve been using) really really really hammer the notes home. In fact, it works so well that I’m planning on transcribing it for the other strings. Ševčík , surprisingly, has not been nearly as helpful, although it too has been worth doing, if only to practice the elusive art of shifting on the viola. (Perhaps it will become more relevant once I get alto-clef in first position mastered.) One area I’m still very weak in is naming the notes. I know where to put my fingers, but I can’t tell you what note that is without taking a second or two to think about it. I suppose this will come in time. I guess when I think about it, twenty-five or so hours of playing is not a lot of time to totally learn a new clef. And I’m not a prodigy by any stretch of the imagination. So I’ll cut myself some slack on that one.

The thing that has helped the most by far in note-reading is the idea of intervals. Consequently, certain passages with notes a third or fourth or fifth apart come relatively easily. Things with wider jumps are still a little slower, especially when string-crossings are involved. And don’t ask me to read anything in a key with more than a couple sharps or flats…

I make a point to sight-read something every day. Right now I’m working on the viola part to the Mozart G-major violin-viola duo. It’s slow, but… I’m hoping that once I get my orchestra music for the semester I will start picking up sight-reading skills faster. Maybe eventually – gasp – I will be able to play in positions without my brain splattering all over the music stand. That would be a cool and welcome development.

Another awesome unexpected benefit has been mastery of second position…on violin. Yeah, I’m not sure how that happened, either. But something about learning first position in alto clef made second position in treble totally click. (???) This is something I’ve been struggling on and off with for five years; I would do all the exercises, but it just never stuck. So as you can imagine, I’ve been pretty chuffed, and using my newfound second position chops whenever I get a chance.

At the risk of publicly humiliating myself, here I am playing the Courante and Sarabande from the first cello suite. I’ve been working on the Courante a little bit every day for the last month. On the other hand, I’m sight-reading the Sarabande. (I wanted to prove to people that even if you are not particularly talented, it is possible to become comfortable enough with alto clef in a few weeks to sight-read a slow movement of a Bach suite without getting into a total trainwreck!)

Some observations…

- My voice recorder does not pick up the range of the viola nearly as well as it picks up the range of the violin. The sound seems much thinner and less complicated than in real life. Or maybe I’m not projecting well? Hmm. What I need is a set of portable human ears that I can move across the room and then connect to my brain. Does Shar sell those?

- Especially in the Courante, I’m sounding weirdly like a 90-pound violinist playing a violin with a C-string while using a crappy student violin bow. Which makes no sense, since I’m a 90-pound violinist playing a 14-inch viola while using a crappy student violin bow. At this stage in the game, should I be focusing on just hitting the notes? Or should I be adding “strive for a viola-like tone” on top of changing my right and left arms and reading the clef? How does one get a viola-like tone on a 14-inch instrument anyway? Especially when you’re forced to use a crap violin bow? (Sadly, upgrading won’t be an option for a very long time, and the viola bow that came with the rental is so awful I’m tempted to see if carbon-fiber bows are really as indestructible as their makers claim. I’m thinking a ritual massacre by steak knife…) Anyway, one possible solution I came up with was to slow the tempo down, because the viola clearly needs more time to speak and resonate than I’m used to giving the violin. What do you think? Would this help at all?

- It would be nice to have a full-time teacher. Never going to happen, but it would be So. Frigging. Nice. For any violinists wanting to add on viola, keep in mind that you can teach yourself a lot, but you’re going to get a lot farther a lot quicker with the help of a good teacher.

So, the inevitable question… Will I keep going with the viola?

Hell, yeah!!

Then the next inevitable question… Where do I want to go from here?

I’ve been thinking about it. It would be nice to feel familiar enough with alto clef to be able to read faster pieces at-tempo, so I guess more sight-reading and Schradieck is in order. I’ll need to work on rhythm, especially in ensembles (my rhythm’s atrocious without a metronome). Repertoire… I’ll continue my traversal of the Bach first cello suite, but I also have a viola transcription of Fauré’s Élégie for cello. Fauré is my favorite composer, and IMHO the Élégie doesn’t sound very good in the violin transcription, so… Even if the Élégie proves to be too challenging, I’ve got to try Après un Rêve at least. A Fauré fix is in order. Maybe from there I can take on the Bruch Romance, or something by Rebecca Clarke. Any repertoire suggestions?

To close… In my last entry, I pondered briefly as to what makes a violinist feel like a violist. Since writing that entry, I came up with one of the definitive signs: when you play the violin immediately after the viola, the violin sounds completely unsatisfying in comparison. It feels like a toy – a scratchy, unresponsive, uptight, whiny toy. You finally understand the gospel truth that it is always going to be easier to switch from violin to viola. You’ve heard many other people say this over the years, and you’ve always wondered how it could possibly be true, but then suddenly you experience it yourself and you think to yourself, oh. They’re right.

I still don’t love the viola more than the violin, though. They’re like my two kids. It would feel criminal to choose between them.

***

In future installments of Emily Visits Violaland…

- Emily curses fate that she has to learn all this crap without a teacher. Why God, why?? It’s so much to keep straight! Whine moan whine moan complain moan. She will then melodramatically wave a fist with calloused fingertips toward the sky.

- She tries to learn to sustain the viola sound. This will involve… Um… I don’t know. Experimenting with bow changes? Something like that. I’m not sure.

- She plays viola in an orchestra for the very first time. Will she be an asset to the section, or will her poor sight-reading skills make rehearsal grind to a halt like a New York Philharmonic concert interrupted by a marimba ringtone? Stay tuned.

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Emily Visits Violaland, Part 2/?

In the thrilling first installment of Emily Visits Violaland, Emily decided to take up a second stringed instrument, gorged on viola jokes for the final time, and picked up a fourteen-inch rental that sounded surprisingly good for the size and price-point. Now comes…Part 2! Read on for the earthshattering musical secrets she discovered while taking her first lesson from a professional violist friend (known in this and other Violaland installments as PVF).

***

PVF began the lesson by giving an A on the piano. I drew my bow across the string and suddenly had the terrifying realization – (in dramatic cinematic slow motion) – that the string had unwound by an entire fifth while I was hauling the case through various bus and train stations, hotel lobbies, and pedestrian malls in subzero wind chills. I flushed, ashamed of this ominous start to my viola career, and started to raise my arm to turn the peg, when -

“Oh!” I said. “That’s not my A, is it?”

PVF smiled approvingly.

I took more time tuning than I usually do, worried that the cold weather had done a number on the instrument. Thankfully once I remembered, you know, where the strings were, I found that everything was mostly still in tune, but I winced nonetheless as I played the G and C together.

“What’s wrong?” PVF said.

“The C-string,” I said. I tried to explain that it didn’t feel right, but I couldn’t come up with the words. I guess my ears still aren’t used to the presence of this new pitch, and the C sounded, for lack of a better word, weird.

“Actually, most of us consider C-strings to be an advantage,” PVF said. Mmm. Touché.

Once the tuning was completed, I stood and awaited a deluge of violistic wisdom.

“So,” he said. “How long have you had the viola?”

“Um….two or three days.”

“How are you with the clef?”

“Um….I don’t know it.”

“Any of it?”

“Um….no.”

I suddenly had the fleeting thought that maybe it hadn’t been the greatest idea in the world to schedule a lesson with an extremely busy professional musician without even knowing the clef of the instrument he makes a living playing. I wondered if I was being A) really brave or B) really stupid.

But if my lack of knowledge worried him, he didn’t show it, because he proceeded to bring out an alarmingly thick clump of sheet music. “Okay. So,” he said. “Here are two things you are going to come to hate. Ševčík,” and he dropped a bundle on the stand, “and Schradieck,” and he dropped another one. They came down like bombs. Then at the back was a single sheet of paper. “Oh, and then some Bach, so you don’t want to kill yourself by the end of the hour.”

Yes, this was going to be fun.

I’m one of the few violinists in the world who has spent more time reading about Ševčík’s life and students than I have actually playing his exercises. (Fun factoid: Ševčík had his eye whacked out by an E-string that snapped in his face. When I told PVF this, he said, “Did he really? He sure took it out on the rest of us.” Truer words have never been spoken.) So the Ševčík was…I’m ashamed to admit it…new to me. I know. I’m a very bad violinist. But none of my teachers ever introduced me to him, and I never knew where to even start. Anyway, we started out with some measures from the Opus 8. I was getting lost intonation-wise, and not sure if what I was playing was the same thing that was on the music, and being my melodramatic and perfectionistic self, I began to despair and wonder if I maybe wasn’t cut out for the viola after all.

Then he said one sentence that cleared it all up. “You’re not used to the half and the whole steps.” Over the last twelve years I’ve unconsciously absorbed what marks on the clef consist of half and whole steps. On the violin, you see a note on the bottom line of the clef and then a note on the bottom space of the clef, and if you’re in C-major, you know it will be a half-step. You don’t need to consciously think “E to F, that’s a half-step, so fingers close together”; you just know. With alto clef, when you see the same thing, it’s a whole-step. So you actually have to stop and think “F to G, that’s a whole step, so fingers wider apart.” This relationship between notes is going to take just as much getting used to as the actual note names, and for some reason the thought had never occurred to me. To prove the intonation issues were mainly clef-related, we fast-forwarded to a portion where the music was written in treble, and of course things immediately became much easier. I let out a breath of relief.

I also learned that it’s important to be able to recognize larger intervals. It’s obviously much easier to identify intervals at sight than to think “okay, so if this note is on the second line from the top, I need to go down to think what string I’m on, and that’s D, so now I’m on the D-string, okay, so now I need to add my fingers in, so that would be E, so first finger down, okay, well, I think this is the right pitch…” I’m more familiar with interval-recognizing as it applies to piano-playing, but that will be changing. If I can glance at two notes and see they are a fifth apart, and I know where to put my finger on one of them, all I have to do is use that same finger a string up or down. Done, and done.

Another thing that helped immeasurably was PVF playing through each measure once before I began. That way I could have it in my head and focus more on the actual physical portion of playing the instrument rather than putting all the brain-power into deciphering the clef. I’m finding I can do better work by copying something tricky I’ve just heard than by trying to read it. I used to think this was a bad thing – that it was cheating or something – but I guess it’s not, as long as you don’t rely on copying by ear all the time.

When we moved onto the Schradieck, my prospects grew brighter. I knew the Schradieck; I’ve used those exercises for years on the violin. So I played through a few of those.

“See, look. You’re reading alto clef,” PVF said.

“Um, no. Not really. I’m remembering the violin exercises and then hearing them in my head and then playing them by ear.”

“But that’s how you learn alto clef,” he said.

Well. Maybe.

At one point I said, “I’m wondering if I should just give up reading in treble for a couple weeks.”

“No,” he said firmly. “No need to do that.”

I looked at him, dubious. “Are you sure?”

“Positive. It’s just a separate place in the brain. You have treble clef, bass clef, and now alto clef.” He spoke as if this was no big deal, as if picking up a new clef is as simple as picking up a third book from the library, or a third bag of groceries at the grocery store, but the idea boggled my poor brain. However, PVF clearly knows what he’s doing, so I’ll set aside my doubt (for now) and listen to him.

Especially during the Schradieck, PVF saw some tension in the left hand. Turns out I was overcompensating with pressure because I was playing a viola. It’s big, of course, but it’s not so big I need to press down on the strings like I’m white-knuckling a safety bar on a roller-coaster.

“What would your thumb do if I tried flicking it off the neck?” PVF asked. “Would it fall right off or stay glued?”

“Um.” I actually had to think about this one – to stop and focus, because I wasn’t paying attention to my left hand. “It would be sticky,” I decided. “It would come off, but it could be looser.”

“Try a scale lightly touching the strings, like you’re playing in harmonics.”

That helped a great deal. It seems that if the viola is going to teach me anything, it’s going to be efficiency. Because with the viola, it seems as if you’re either efficient, or in pain. There’s not much of a middle ground…at least for me. I can get away with certain bad habits on the violin that I can’t get away with on the viola.

Although the Ševčík and the Schradieck didn’t engender thoughts of suicide, we finished up with Bach anyway. He’d brought along the Courante from the first cello suite. This was a bit of good luck, as it’s a piece I’ve played many times before on violin (albeit years ago), and of course I’ve heard the cello suite many times. PVF isolated the first line, and off I went.

The Courante was more of a Dirge the first couple of times through, but after a few times I found I honestly was remembering where certain notes were. There were some unnecessarily dramatic pregnant pauses as I calculated what note was where, but by the end of the session…I was reading a portion of a movement of a Bach cello suite in alto clef. Not particularly well, and not particularly quickly, but I was doing it. I thought I’d have to play something like scales or Ševčík or flashcards for weeks before I could even begin to look at something like Bach. But I was wrong; Bach turned out to be just as helpful at helping to lodge the clef into my skull as either scales or Ševčík.

There was obviously much more to the lesson, but a lot of it is stuff that’s difficult to explain in words and would be much better demonstrated in-person. But here are some random tidbits to keep in mind for any violinists who are thinking about taking up viola…

- The viola has a tendency to droop more than the violin because it’s bigger and heavier. (At least it did at my lesson.) Resist the temptation to let the scroll drop; it will affect your ability draw a straight bow.

- Actually, full straight bows in general become even more important than they are on a violin, if that’s even possible.

- Despite the instrument’s larger size, keep the left elbow tucked under; the fingers always need to be right there on top of the string ready to fall on the fingerboard.

- Breathe while you play. Exhale fully. This will help keep your right shoulder low and loose and help your tone. (Who knew exhaling would help your tone on a string instrument? I for one had never made the connection…)

- I was having difficulties getting into and finding higher positions on the viola and I couldn’t understand why. It turns out it’s because I’ve always used the old violinistic trick of knowing you’re in third position by feeling the rib of the instrument lightly on the side of your hand. But not all violas’ third positions are located there. And mine isn’t; if I feel for the ribs, I end up about half a step sharp. Hence the feeling of being completely lost.

- Don’t ever, ever tell cellists you like the Bach suites on viola. They will come and kill you in your sleep. Probably brutally and with an endpin.

I ended the session fried but inspired. “This is going to help a lot of issues that I’ve just skimmed over on the violin,” I said, cheerfully nerdy.

We then got to talking briefly a little about the differences between the two instruments. I said that although I love it, the sound of the viola has a tendency to make me melancholy.

“Embrace the sadness,” PVF said, with a glint in his eye.

***

So what have we learned from this installment of Emily Visits Violaland?

Lesson Number 1: Alto clef is easier than it first appears.

Lesson Number 2: Transcriptions of and familiarity with the Bach cello suites are very helpful.

Lesson Number 3: To help avoid frustration and delusions of idiocy, it’s best for violinists who want to make the switch or the addition to take a lesson or two from a well-trained violist (emphasis on “well-trained”) (did I mention the violist should be well-trained?). Obviously the instruments look deceptively similar, but there are a lot of differences to keep in mind, and only someone who has done a lot of thinking and learning about the mechanics of the viola is going to do you any good. Don’t go to any old yahoo who just plays the viola on the side.

Clearly I have plenty to work on. We’ll see if I can make a dent in some of those etudes; maybe sometime in the spring I can visit PVF again. Actually I have to, because I never did remember to ask about the secret violist handshake. Maybe I can learn that after I get alto clef firmly into my fingers.

***

Coming up in future installments of Emily Visits Violaland…

- Emily wonders what it will take for her to think of herself as “a real violist.” Why does it feel like she’s not a real violist even though she’s obviously playing viola? Do she have to play a fifteen-inch instrument? Does she have to learn a viola sonata or concerto? Does she need to play viola in an orchestra? Where will that dividing line be?

- Ševčík and Schradieck. Lots and lots of Ševčík and Schradieck…

- Thoughts of suicide.

- (No, just kidding.)

- But she may be murdered by her neighbors…

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Emily Visits Violaland, Part 1/?

What do you call someone who hangs around musicians a lot?

A violist.

Haha!

Why don’t violists play hide and seek?

Because no one will look for them.

Hahaha!

What’s the longest viola joke?

Harold in Italy.

HahahaHAHAHAhaha!

Did you hear the one about the violinist who got frustrated arranging music for string orchestra because she didn’t read alto clef, who had some weaknesses in her violin playing that she thought viola playing might solve, and who had a viola-playing friend who she thought might help her navigate the subtleties of switching between instruments?

She took up viola.

HAHAHAHAHAHA -

No. She did.

(laughter fades)

Seriously. I’m not joking. This actually happened.

(awkward silence)

***

A month or two ago I arranged a piano piece by Amy Beach for my little string orchestra. The two violin parts were a piece of cake, obviously. The cello parts didn’t come quite as effortlessly, but they were still relatively easy; I did play for a year or two in my teens, and although I’m a terrible pianist, I’m fluent in bass clef.

But those violas. And that alto clef.

I know that technically it’s not possible for clefs to leer, but I swear this one did. It taunted my cluelessness. I might as well be a cipher to you, it said. For all these years, you’ve sat next to violists; learned chamber music featuring violas; heck, worshiped Lillian Fuchs and had the wildly unpopular heretical thought that there are times in her hands that the Bach cello suites sound just as good, if not better, on the viola…and you haven’t even bothered to glance at me, let alone take the time to learn my pitches. You have to go to Wikipedia to figure out what you’re doing when you’re writing notes on me. Wikipedia! You don’t know when you’re asking violists to make inconvenient shifts, do you? – you don’t know how to finger beginner players’ parts, do you? – in fact, you don’t know anything about violas period, do you? You like to think of yourself as a well-rounded musician, but you don’t know a thing about me. Haha. The joke’s on you now, isn’t it, Miss Violinist? Isn’t it? Isn’t it??

I kept hearing Edith Lynwood Winn’s opinionated turn-of-the-century voice in my head: Every violinist should play the viola to some extent. This aids one to produce a robust tone, and a knowledge of it is very helpful to the ensemble class.

Every violinist should play the viola to some extent…

Every violinist should play the viola to some extent…

***

In one of those common real-life coincidences that editors view as contrived in novels, the guy who sits next to me in orchestra is my luthier, and he has a shop and rents out stringed instruments. In early December my portable stand broke during one of our gigs (FYI, cold Wisconsin winters + plastic stands + forgetting plastic stands in cars in cold Wisconsin winters = problem), so I emailed him asking if he could bring along a spare stand to our next gig and I’d pay him there.

Then, suddenly and on impulse, I tacked on a quick paragraph asking about viola rentals. I asked if he had any available, and if so in what sizes, because with my small frame and chronic pain problems, I’d prefer a smaller one. Weirdly, I didn’t tell anyone what I was doing. I was treating the request like a covert mission. A drug deal. Looking back, I’m not sure if I was keeping it a secret to cushion against disappointment in case it didn’t work out, or whether if deep down all the jokes over the years actually have engendered some anti-viola prejudice in me.

I needn’t have feared disappointment. Sure, he wrote back. I’ve got a 14-inch in stock; if you can handle your violin, you almost certainly can handle this viola. $20 a month.

Yes, it turns out that for pennies a day, you too can give a home to a lonely viola in desperate need of love and attention.

After I heard from him, I started a thread on violinist.com about adding on viola to my musical workload and got some helpful advice (thanks guys!), the most urgent of which seemed to be, take a lesson from a violist.

As it turns out, I’m lucky enough to have an obliging professional violist friend (to be referred in this and future installments of Violaland as “PVF”). He was kind enough to agree to take some time away from his busy schedule of doing the mysterious violay things professional violists do to let me in on some trade secrets. My lesson is this weekend, so by Sunday I should be fluent in the secret violist handshake. (There is a secret handshake, right?)

***

Yesterday I went to pick the instrument up, half nervous, half giddy. My luthier came in the room with a Hoffman Concert from Shar – a really nice sturdy little thing whose value I would have assumed to be at least four or five times what it actually is. It’s not so bad to look at, either. I wonder if this is just a particularly nice shop and a particularly nice rental, or if cheap stringed instruments have drastically improved in quality since I began playing twelve years ago.

He left the room so I could be alone for my big viola debut. I took a breath, raised the bow, and started a scale on the C-string, making sure to relax as much of my weight into the bow that I could.

The weeks of waiting were worth it. The tone resonated through my chest, like someone humming very loudly right next to my heart. I remember the feeling of a soothing vibration from my cello days, but this was so much better because it was right beneath the ear, and the tone didn’t take nearly so much effort to draw out. The G and D strings had large, wide, wise sounds. (How can sounds be wise? But they are. I felt like I was listening to a philosopher.) And the A-string! It should basically be the same thing as my violin’s, right? But it’s not, at all; it’s a totally different creature. It’s mellow, mournful, melancholy. Shifts on the A-string just tug at the heart. It’s the stringed instrument equivalent of walking through an animal shelter and seeing dozens of sad eyes follow you around. And there’s no bright silvery quick-vibrating E-string afterward to cheer you up. The mellow, mournful, melancholy A-string is the high point of the viola. It’s the happy part. I’m melancholy by nature, so I loved it.

While I was at the shop, my luthier kindly offered a fifteen inch for me to try. Its sound was even bigger and broader, and more (for lack of a better word) viola-ish. But my intonation was dodgier, and it was harder to get a good tone out. Verdict: if I didn’t have chronic pain issues and could have weekly lessons with a well-trained teacher, I would have assumed I’d get used to it and brought the fifteen inch home. It wasn’t unmanageable by any means; it just felt inconvenient. It was heartening to know that a woman who’s ninety pounds and five feet five inches can almost handle a fifteen-inch viola. Something to keep in mind for the future.

But for today leastways it would be the fourteen-inch. I signed the papers and away I went.

***

I got home and compared my violin and the viola, both aesthetically and aurally. I spent the whole time playing various excerpts of solo Bach. I marveled at how the same passages could sound so entirely different on the two instruments…and how brilliantly Bach wrote for each range. I ended the session with my violin (I have to let her know she’s still my baby) with a quiet double-stop from the g-minor adagio – D on the A string and open D. I gently raised the bow from the string and let the pitch ring in the air. This was a day well-spent, I decided.

Suddenly I heard a strange sound behind me that I’d never heard before, as if there was another player in the room. I turned around just in time to see the D-string on the viola vibrating in resonance. My violin was talking to the viola…and the viola was answering. For a brief moment I got weirdly emotional (it was a long day, okay?). It was touching, and all the confirmation I needed that the two instruments can live happily in harmony.

***

This video includes, in order, 1) the allemande from the first Bach cello suite, transcribed for violin, excerpt, 2) the allemande from the first Bach cello suite, transcribed for viola, excerpt, 3) the adagio from first Bach sonata for solo violin, excerpt, and 4) the adagio from first Bach sonata for solo violin, transcribed for viola, excerpt. I thought it only fair to give each instrument a piece from their “native” rep. Also, I’m familiar with the whackload of mistakes in these clips, but forgive me; I always regress in front of an audience or a microphone. Plus, I used my laptop mic, which is made obvious by the mysterious crystally sounds scattered throughout. But hopefully, crap quality aside, the clips give a general idea of where I am at the moment in my viola journey.)

***

So what have we learned in this installment of Emily Visits Violaland?

Lesson Number 1: You don’t need an excuse to try the viola. A simple curiosity is reason enough.

Lesson Number 2: Don’t let your size hold you back from at least trying a viola.

Lesson Number 3A: The viola is amazing. The melancholy of the A-string may lead to dysthymia, but it’s amazing.

Lesson Number 3B: Refuse to listen to Edith Lynwood Winn at your peril.

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Coming up in future installments of Emily Visits Violaland…

  • Emily experiences how frustrating it is when people have no idea what your instrument is, and learns how to strategically deploy the phrase “um, it’s between a violin and a cello…”
  • PVF makes his first appearance and offers wisdom from the rarefied world of professional viola-players.
  • Emily prints out a transcription of the first cello suite by Bach and learns that the pitch of the bottom line of alto clef can be remembered by thinking “F this!”

Until next time…

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Interview with Maud Powell, Violin Mastery, 1919

Here is an interview with Maud Powell from the 1919 book Violin Mastery by Frederick Herman Martens. Powell is one of the more inspirational women in a field chockablock with inspirational women. She was born in a tiny town in the Midwest; became an internationally renowned performer with one of the biggest repertoires around; premiered the Tchaikovsky, Dvorak, and Sibelius concertos in this country; and championed the work of black, female, and American composers. Sadly, there are twenty-four violinists interviewed in this book, and Powell is the only woman. On the bright side, it’s a fantastic interview that touches on violin technique, Powell’s struggles with prejudice, and her championing of American composers.

For more information on Maud Powell and her legacy, head on over to the Maud Powell Society website. If you want to hear a lovely collection of late Victorian and Edwardian violin pieces with connections to Powell, take a listen to Rachel Barton Pine’s Tribute to Maud Powell.

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Powell is often alluded to as our representative “American woman violinist” which, while true in a narrower sense, is not altogether just in a broader way. It would be decidedly more fair to consider her a representative American violinist, without stressing the term “woman”; for as regards Art in its higher sense, the artist comes first, sex being incidental, and Maud Powell is first and foremost – an artist. And her infinite capacity for taking pains, her willingness to work hard have had no small part in the position she has made for herself, and the success she has achieved.

THE DEVELOPMENT OF A CONCERT VIOLINIST

“Too many Americans who take up the violin professionally,” Maud Powell told the writer, “do not realize that the mastery of the instrument is a life study, that without hard, concentrated work they cannot reach the higher levels of their art. Then, too, they are too often inclined to think that if they have a good tone and technic that this is all they need. They forget that the musical instinct must be cultivated; they do not attach enough importance to musical surroundings: to hearing and understanding music of every kind, not only that written for the violin. They do not realize the value of ensemble work and its influence as an educational factor of the greatest artistic value. I remember when I was a girl of eight, my mother used to play the Mozart violin sonatas with me; I heard all the music I possibly could hear; I was taught harmony and musical form in direct connection with my practical work, so that theory was a living thing to me and no abstraction. In my home town I played in an orchestra of twenty pieces – Oh, no, not a ‘ladies orchestra’ – the other members were men grown! I played chamber music as well as solos whenever the opportunity offered, at home and in public. In fact music was part of my life.

“No student who looks on music primarily as a thing apart in his existence, as a bread-winning tool, as a craft rather than an art, can ever mount to the high places. So often girls [who sometimes lack the practical vision of boys], although having studied but a few years, come to me and say: ‘My one ambition is to become a great virtuoso on the violin! I want to begin to study the great concertos!” And I have to tell them that their first ambition should be to become musicians – to study, to know, to understand music before they venture on its interpretation. Virtuosity without musicianship will not carry one far these days. In many cases these students come from small inland towns, far from any music center, and have a wrong attitude of mind. They crave the glamor of footlights, flowers and applause, not realizing that music is a speech, an idiom, which they must master in order to interpret the works of the great composers.

THE INFLUENCE OF THE TEACHER

“Of course, all artistic playing represents essentially the mental control of technical means. But to acquire the latter in the right way, while at the same time developing the former, calls for the best of teachers. The problem of the teacher is to prevent his pupils from being too imitative – all students are natural imitators – and furthering the quality of musical imagination in them. Pupils generally have something of the teacher’s tone – Auer pupils have the Auer tone, Joachim pupils have a Joachim tone, an excellent thing. But as each pupil has an individuality of his own, he should never sink it altogether in that of his teacher. It is this imitative trend which often makes it hard to judge a young player’s work. I was very fortunate in my teachers. William Lewis of Chicago gave me a splendid start. Then I studied in turn with Schradieck in Leipsic – Schradieck himself was a pupil of Ferdinand David and of Léonard – Joachim in Berlin, and Charles Dancla in Paris. I might say that I owe most, in a way, to William Lewis, a born fiddler. Of my three European masters Dancla was unquestionably the greatest as a teacher – of course I am speaking for myself. It was no doubt an advantage, a decided advantage for me in my artistic development, which was slow – a family trait – to enjoy the broadening experience of three entirely different styles of teaching, and to be able to assimilate the best of each. Yet Joachim was a far greater violinist than teacher. His method was a cramping one, owing to his insistence on pouring all his pupils into the same mold, so to speak, of forming them all on the Joachim lathe. But Dancla was inspiring. He taught me De Bériot‘s wonderful method of attack; he showed me how to develop purity of style. Dancla’s method of teaching gave his pupils a technical equipment which carried bowing right along, ‘neck and neck’ with the finger work of the left hand, while the Germans are apt to stress finger development at the expense of the bow. And without ever neglecting technical means, Dancla always put the purely musical before the purely virtuoso side of playing. And this is always a sign of a good teacher. He was unsparing in taking pains and very fair.

“I remember that I was passed first in a class of eighty-four at an examination, after only three private lessons in which to prepare the concerto movement to be played. I was surprised and asked him while Mlle. — who, it seemed to me, had played better than I, had not passed. ‘Ah,’ he said, ‘Mlle. — studied that movement for six months; and in comparison, you, with only three lessons, play it better!’ Dancla switched me right over in his teaching from German to French methods, and taught me how to become an artist, just as I had learned in Germany to become a musician. The French school has taste, elegance, imagination; the German is more conservative, serious, and has, perhaps, more depth.

TECHNICAL DIFFICULTIES

“Perhaps it is because I belong to an older school, or it may be because I laid stress on techic because of its necessity as a means of expression – at any rate I worked hard at it. Naturally, one should never practice any technical difficulty too long at a stretch. Young players sometimes forget this. I know that staccato playing was not easy for me at one time. I believe a real staccato is inborn; a knack. I used to grumble about it to Joachim and he told me once that musically staccato did not have much value. His own, by the way, was very labored and heavy. He admitted that he had none. Wieniawski had such a wonderful staccato that one finds much of it in his music. When I first began to play his D minor concerto I simply made up my mind to get a staccato. It came in time, by sheer force of will. After that I had no trouble. An artistic staccato should, like the trill, be plastic and under control; for different schools of composition demand different styles of treatment of such details.

“Octaves – the unison, not broken – I did not find difficult; but though they are supposed to add volume of tone they sound hideous to me. I have used them in certain passages of my arrangement of ‘Deep River,’ but when I heard them played, promised myself I would never repeat the experiment. Wilhelmj has committed even a worse crime in taste by putting six long bars of Schubert’s lovely Ave Maria in octaves. Of course they represent skill; but I think they are only justified in show pieces. Harmonics I always found easy; though whether they ring out as they should always depends more or less on atmospheric conditions, the strings and the amount of rosin on the bow. On the concert stage if the player stands in a draught the harmonics are sometimes husky.

THE AMERICAN WOMAN VIOLINIST AND AMERICAN MUSIC

“The old days of virtuoso ‘tricks’ have passed – I should like to hope forever. Not that some of the old type virtuosos were not fine players. Remenyi played beautifully. So did Ole Bull. I remember one favorite trick of the latter’s, for instance, which would hardly pass muster to-day. I have seen him draw out a long pp, the audience listening breathlessly, while he drew his bow way beyond the string, and then looked innocently at the point of the bow, as though wondering where the tone had vanished. It invariably brought down the house.

“Yet an artist must be a virtuoso in the modern sense to do his full duty. And here in America that duty is to help those who are groping for something higher and better musically; to help without rebuffing them. When I first began my career as a concert violinist I did pioneer work for the cause of the American woman violinist, going on with the work begun by Mme. Camilla Urso. A strong prejudice then existed against women fiddlers, which even yet has not altogether been overcome. The very fact that a Western manager recently told Mr. Turner with surprise that he ‘had made a success of a woman artist’ proves it. When I first began to play here in concert this prejudice was much stronger. Yet I kept on and secured engagements to play with orchestra at a time when they were difficult to obtain. Theodore Thomas liked my playing (he said I had brains), and it was with his orchestra that I introduced the concertos of Saint-Saëns (C min.), Lalo (F min.), and others, to American audiences.

“The fact that I realized that my sex was against me in a way led me to be startlingly authoritative and convincing in the masculine manner when I first played. This is a mistake no woman violinist should make. And from the moment that James Huneker wrote that I ‘was not developing the feminine side of my work,’ I determined to be just myself, and play as the spirit moved me, with no further thought of sex or sex distinctions which, in Art, after all, are secondary. I never realized this more forcibly than once, when, sitting as a judge, I listened to the competitive playing of a number of young professional violinists and pianists. The individual performers, unseen by the judges, played in turn behind a screen. And in three cases my fellow judges and myself guessed wrongly with regard to the sex of the players. When we thought we had heard a young man play it happened to be a young woman, and vice versa.

“To return to the question of concert-work. You must not think that I have played only foreign music in public. I have always believed in American composers and in American composition, and as an American have tried to do justice as an interpreting artist to the music of my native land. Aside from the violin concertos by Harry Rowe Shelly and Henry Holden Huss, I have played any number of shorter original compositions by such representative American composers as Arthur Foote, Mrs. H.H.A. Beach, Victor Herbert, John Philip Sousa, Arthur Bird, Edwin Grasse, Marion Bauer, Cecil Burleigh, Harry Gilbert, A. Walter Kramer, Grace White, Charles Wakefield Cadman and others. Then, too, I have presented transcriptions by Arthur Hartmann, Francis Macmillan and Sol Marcosson, as well as some of my own. Transcriptions are wrong, theoretically; yet some songs, like Rimsky-Korsakov’s ‘Song of India’ and some piano pieces, like the Dvořák Humoresque, are so obviously effective on the violin that a transcription justifies itself. My latest temptative in that direction is my ‘Four American Folk Songs,’ a simple setting of four well-known airs with connecting cadenzas – no variations, no special development! I used them first as encores, but my audiences seemed to like them so well that I have played them on all my recent programs.

SOME HINTS FOR THE CONCERT PLAYER

“The very first thing in playing in public is to free oneself of all distrust in one’s own powers. To do this, nothing must be left to chance. One should not have to give a thought to strings, bow, etc. All should be in proper condition. Above all the violinist should play with an accompanist who is used to accompanying him. It seems superfluous to emphasize that one’s program numbers must have been mastered in every detail. Only then can one defy nervousness, turning excess of emotion into inspiration.

“Acoustics play a greater part in the success of a public concert than most people realize. In some halls they are very good, as in the case of the Cleveland Hippodrome, an enormous place which holds forty-three hundred people. Here the acoustics are perfect, and the artist has those wonderful silences through which his slightest tones carry clearly and sweetly. I have played not only solos, but chamber music in this hall, and was always sorry to stop playing. In most halls the acoustic conditions are best in the evening.

“Then there is the matter of the violin. I first used a Joseph Guarnerius, a deeper toned instrument than the Jean Baptista Guadagnini I have now played for a number of years. The Guarnerius has a tone that seems to come more from within the instrument; but all in all I have found my Guadagnini, with its glassy clearness, its brilliant and limpid tone-quality, better adapted to American concert halls. If I had a Strad in the same condition as my Guadagnini the instrument would be priceless. I regretted giving up my Guarnerius, but I could not play the two violins interchangeably; for they were absolutely different in size and tone-production, shape, etc. Then my hand is so small that I ought to use the instrument best adapted to it, and to use the same instrument always. Why do I use no chin-rest? I use no chin-rest on my Guadagnini simply because I cannot find one to fit my chin. One should use a chin-rest to prevent perspiration from marring the varnish. My Rocca violin is an interesting instance of wood worn in ridges by the stubble on a man’s chin.

“Strings? Well, I use a wire E string. I began to use it twelve years ago one humid, foggy summer in Connecticut. I had had such trouble with strings snapping that I cried: ‘Give me anything but a gut string.’ The climate practically makes metal strings a necessity, though some kind person once said that I bought wire strings because they were cheap! If wire strings had been thought of when Theodore Thomas began his career, he might never have been a conductor, for he told me he gave up the violin because of the E string. And most people will admit that hearing a wire E you cannot tell it from a gut E. Of course, it is unpleasant on the open strings, but then the open strings never do sound well. And in the highest registers the tone does not spin out long enough because of the tremendous tension: one has to use more bow. And it cuts the hairs: there is a little surface nap on the bow-hairs which a wire string wears right out. I had to have my four bows rehaired three times last season – an average of every three months. But all said and done it has been a God-send to the violinist who plays in public. On the wire A one cannot get the harmonics; and the aluminum D is objectionable in some violins, though in others not at all.

“The main thing – no matter what strings are used – is for the artist to get his audience into the concert hall, and give it a program which is properly balanced. Theodore Thomas first advised me to include in my programs short, simple things that my listeners could ‘get hold of’ – nothing inartistic, but something selected from their standpoint, not from mine, and played as artistically as possible. Yet there must also be something that is beyond them, collectively. Something that they may need to hear a number of times to appreciate. This enables the artist to maintain his dignity and has a certain psychological effect in that his audience holds him in greater respect. At big conservatories where music study is the most important thing, and in large cities, where the general level of music culture is high, a big solid program may be given, where it would be inappropriate in other places.

“Yet I remember having many recalls at El Paso, Texas, once, after playing the first movement of the Sibelius concerto. It is one of those compositions which if played too literally leaves an audience quite cold; it must be rendered temperamentally, the big climaxing effects built up, its Northern spirit brought out, though I admit that even then it is not altogether easy to grasp.

VIOLIN MASTERY

“Violin mastery or mastery of any instrument, for that matter, is the technical power to say exactly what you want to say in exactly the way you want to say it. It is technical equipment that stands are the service of your musical will – a faithful and competent servant that comes at your musical bidding. If your spirit soars ‘to parts unknown,’ your well trained servant ‘technic’ is ever at your elbow to prevent irksome details from hampering your progress. Mastery of your instrument makes mastery of your Art a joy instead of a burden. Technic should always be the handmaid of the spirit.

“And I believe that one result of the war will be to bring us a greater self-knowledge, to the violinist as well as to every other artist, a broader appreciation of what he can do to increase and elevate appreciation for music in general and his Art in particular. And with these I am sure a new impetus will be given to the development of a musical culture truly American in thought and expression.”

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A Goal

I haven’t been practicing much lately. Playing, yeah; practicing, no. I’ve spent much more time listening, thinking, and writing than actually practicing. Since I’m aiming to become a music writer rather than an actual professional musician, I have a feeling that the practicing will take a back seat more often than not. This is dispiriting.

I should have a goal, I think to myself.

I page through the music crushed in my overstuffed folder.

Yeah. A goal would be nice.

I have some goals. Had some. At one point. Last Christmas’s goal was to play the first movement of Bruch. I can hack through it now. Or I was able to, a couple months ago. So…checkmark. On the other hand, I ruined it for myself for a good long while, at least when it comes to using it for orchestral auditions, which right now is the only use I’d have for performing it. I played it too much and practiced it too little, and now it needs a lot of detail work. Especially rhythmic detail work. Why is my rhythm so awful? I’ve always had problems with rhythm. I never was taught a consistent method of how to count. One-ee-and-a-two-ee-and-a…I can’t keep that straight in my head, so I limp along with other less effective homemade methods. I should teach myself another way. How do I teach myself another way? I page backward. Kabalevsky? Do you play Kabalevsky at an orchestra audition? I heard a rumor one of the players in the first violins soloed with a local orchestra once in Paganini 1. Hmm. Actually. No. I read that in a program book once. It wasn’t a rumor. Hmm. Well. There’s another orchestra in town. Maybe I could audition for that. But it rehearses so late at night. It would screw with my sleeping and medication schedule… A goal. I need a goal.

I page back further. Bach. Solo Bach. The g-minor adagio. I smile at that. I’m making progress with that. Unlike everything else. Probably because I brought that to my lesson early last month. I have five copies of it. A beat-up one I’d learned off originally – one with the pencil marks my teacher made – a copy of the one with the pencil marks my teacher made, in case it got lost – one where every fraction of each beat is slashed off, so I can see what notes fall on what portions of what beats. That one looks like heiroglyphics. I can hardly see the notes. And then there’s the one smooth clean plain one that I’m hesitant to mark. A few weeks ago I determined that I need to make a master copy, with only the necessary markings. I need to spoil that clean sheet of paper. I haven’t had the heart to yet.

Amy Beach Romance. I love that piece. I’ve had this idea of presenting a recital of pieces dedicated to female violinists, and chatting a bit with the audience in between each piece about the woman it was dedicated to. Yeah. That would be cool. Beach Romance, Coleridge-Taylor violin concerto, Mozart K454, Lark Ascending. Something like that. I’ll have a lot of fun finding an unpaid pianist for that endeavor. Or getting the nerve up to embark on such a project without needing colon hydrotherapy afterward.

Hmm.

Kreutzer…

Hm.

Orchestra music. I can sight-read that, luckily. Christmas music… Lots and lots of Christmas music… God, the year’s gone fast… So many changes… So many things to think about… StopFocus.

I page further back.

A Mozart duet. Another smile, fainter this time. No excuse to bring that one out. Unfortunately.

Then I see a piece which, for the moment, will remain nameless, since I’m embarrassed to admit I’m trying it. My motives for learning it are not entirely musical. It can’t be used for auditions. It wasn’t dedicated to a female violinist. I don’t have anyone to play it with. It stretches me technically, probably too far. It meshes with exactly zero of my musical goals.

I take it out of the folder.

After a moment of deliberation, I prop it up on the stand.

The logical side of me collapses and starts weeping in frustration. The illogical side rejoices.

I take a closer look at it. Actually, it features lots of techniques I’d like to work on. Double-stops. Lots of those. Double-stopped fifths. Lots of those. High shifts. Lots of those. …Am I insane?… Some trickier timings, for me leastways. Some new styles of bowing. All in short spurts, easy to split up, easy to practice, easy to focus on. If I take it slowly…

Yes. I like it. I like this choice.

I spend an entire practice session on this piece. On a single line from this piece. On a single simple line from this piece. I go over it and over it and over it. The metronome goes click-clack, click-clack, click-clack. Over. And over. And over. And over. And over.

And over.

My obsessiveness feels a little unnerving, especially since it’s so calm and exacting. Calm obsession strikes me as being more dangerous than wild obsession. More productive, too. I inch the metronome forward notch by notch. I trance out in a haze. Once in a while I will skip backward or forward, but I know it’s just a little rest for my brain and my hand, and my concentration always finds its way back to that same line. Two grace notes, four sixteenth notes, a quintuplet, eighth note, eighth note… Two grace notes, four sixteenth notes, a quintuplet, eighth note, eighth note. Two grace notes, four sixteenth notes, a quintuplet, eighth note, eighth note. Blahduh – one-ee-and-a trip-uh-let-plus-two da da.

I suddenly feel a swell of happiness, secure in the knowledge that this is (apparently) all I need to occupy myself. Happy, and a little scared.

When I start to get tired, I turn off the metronome and try it, see if I can play it while hearing the click-clack in my head. I can. But as usual, my dependence on the metronome has resulted in a total lack of understanding of where the line rises and falls. So I try shaping the notes a new way. Suddenly the notes sound like someone talking – like a person sassing back while imitating someone who has frustrated them. I like that. I like the way it sounds, and I like the way it makes me feel as I play it. I like the things I’m finding to pick out to improve. They’re things I wouldn’t have picked out last Christmas. They’re proof I’ve improved this year. Somehow. A little. Maybe.

I snap the case shut and turn off the light.

A few notes, I’ve decided, is a perfectly acceptable goal.

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Article: How To Play the Violin, Girl’s Own Indoor Book, 1880s

Here is a chapter from The Girl’s Own Indoor Book. There is no date, but it appears to date from the 1880s, possibly 1883 or 1888. It is indicative of the popularity of the violin amongst girls in this decade that an essay on how to play the violin was nestled between such uncontroversial chapters as “How to Paint on China”, “Bridal Etiquette”, and “Salads in French Cookery.”

Aside from the fascinating glimpse of how Victorians viewed women violinists, this article is also interesting for the many wise tips the author shares, most of which are still relevant today. This piece was written by a woman named Caroline Blanche Elizabeth FitzRoy, who, after her marriage, became Lady Lindsay of Balcarres. I can’t seem to find much biographical information about her, save that she was a patroness of the arts, a painter, a writer, and a violinist. She eventually separated from her husband and moved between London and Venice. Here is a beautiful 1874 portrait of her, courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery.

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I have been asked to write upon the art of violin playing, but, whilst doing so, I am well aware that it is far easier to say how the violin should be played than to play it, and many a girl who reads this chapter, and who has grown discouraged and despondent over the manifold difficulties of her favourite instrument, will doubtless agree with such a statement. Still, there are some beginners and students who, though persevering and conscientious, are uncertain whether they are really following the wisest course of study; to them much conflicting advice is usually given, until they scarcely know what they should do or leave undone, and to them, perhaps, a few words of explanation and encouragement from a fellow-worker may not come amiss.

First of all, there is no doubt that the violin, whilst it is perhaps the most beautiful and fascinating musical instrument we possess, is difficult in absolute proportion to its beauty. No one should attempt to learn the violin who is not prepared to give up much time to it, to make many sacrifices for it, and to serve, like Jacob, many years for his beloved object. Very much work is required for the smallest result. The beginning is possibly not so difficult as might be fancied; our friends and we ourselves are surprised to find that we can pick out a popular tune on four strings. We are delighted; but, as time goes on, and we leave the comfortable harbour of the 1st position and the safe anchorage of open strings, and sail out amongst the stormy seas of the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 6th positions, grappling with double stopping, arpeggios, and passages, the intricacies of which are felt much more keenly by performers than listeners, we begin to know something of the hard work and toil that lies before us, growing seemingly ever harder and more uncompromising.

Yet such work is not without its reward. The greater the struggle the greater the reward, and it sometimes happens that, as it is darkest before dawn, when we are most out of heart we are making the most progress. It is best to place our standard of excellence high from the very first, however far off and unattainable it may appear. After all, it is like climbing a hill to see a fine view. Though it be a steep hill, we may get a good deal of pleasure during the ascent; it is not all fatigue. Nor is the view, when we at last come within sight of it, the only gratification we shall have gained. Surely a walk on a summer’s day, as we go cheerfully up the hillside, is worth something; there are many lovely sights and glimpses of pretty country on the way, and, above all, we have pleasant companionship. For, as we toil up the side of the steep and rugged hill of musical knowledge, it is not necessary to wait until we become first-rate performers to spend many a happy afternoon or evening of music, to grow keenly interested in our own practising, and glean much delight from the playing of others, nor, more than all, to enjoy the companionship of the great composers who have written so much for our benefit, and whose works no one can thoroughly know or appreciate without learning to play them.

Perhaps of all instruments, the violin is the one to which the performer – and, therefore, as a rule, the owner – becomes the most attached. Its great advantages over other instruments are: -

1. Its extreme portability. You need never part from your instrument, need entrust it to no one, and, carrying it about with you, can always play on the same violin, and are not therefore puzzled or dispirited, like many unfortunate pianists or organists, by the complications of a strange or inferior instrument.

2. The violin greatly resembles the human voice in its tone, and whilst possessing a far wider range of compass than the voice, has a similar capability of creating a responsive vibration in the hearts of its hearers, together with the same power of portamento, that is, of blending or carrying one note into another.

3. The notes are not ready-made, but have to be created by the player. Every player brings out a different quality of tone to that of other players, even when using the self-same instrument, and this adds much to the charm and personality of the music.

4. The violin is tuned in perfect and natural tune, and not according to the tempered scale, as are of necessity all ordinary keyed instruments (where the notes are divided), such as the piano, for example. Its vibrations are, therefore, infinitely more pleasing to the ear than the sound of any instrument tuned according to the tempered scale.

5. The violin is less monotonous for practising than many other instruments: it is more interesting to train the ear, together with the hand, in seeking after beauty and quality of tone, and not mere manual dexterity. Also, music written for violin is often simple, and so easily learned by heart that much practising may be gone through by moderately-advanced students whilst walking about the room, thus gaining a pleasant change and rest, though such a method is scarcely to be recommended for careless players.

6. Lastly, and not least, the violin is the leader in an orchestra, as in a quartet; and, even among its own family of beautiful stringed instruments, it is more brilliant and more capable of variety of tone than the viola or the violoncello.

It is not very long since the violin was considered an ‘unladylike’ instrument, ungraceful and impossible for women. I remember, as a child, reading in a story-book of a little girl who had surreptitiously bought a red fiddle, and who delighted her schoolfellows by playing to them in secret. This unfortunate girl was not allowed to become a great violinist, but was, on the contrary, reprimanded by the schoolmistress, who advised her to choose a more ladylike occupation for the future. I have also in former days known girls of whom it was darkly hinted that they played the violin, as it might be said that they smoked big cigars, or enjoyed the sport of rat-catching. But now all this has changed; there is scarcely a family of girls where there is not at least one who plays the fiddle. (I heard lately of a lady whose six daughters are all violinists!) Classes are held for female violinists, who likewise play in the orchestra of the Royal Academy of Music, and in that of the Royal College of Music, and it is no uncommon sight in our streets to see a girl carrying her fiddle in its black case. Besides this, in almost every programme of a concert we find the name of some lady violinist, who probably plays with fine tone and execution, for there are many good artists among us now.

For this change we are indebted to Madame Norman-Neruda (now Lady Hallé). She, by uniting with the firmness and vigour of a man’s playing the purity of style and intonation of a great artist, as well as her own perfect grace and delicate manipulation, has proved to the public at large what a woman can do in this field. Madame Neruda’s masterly playing is not to be surpassed by any one, whilst her feminine ease and elegance add an unusual charm to violin-playing.

Even in former years there were some notable exceptions to the universal custom which precluded women from such performances, viz.: the sisters Ferny, the sisters Milanollo, and others; but these ladies, while achieving much reputation, seem to have had but small influence on others. It was reserved to Madame Norman-Neruda to head the great revolution, and to enlist an enormous train of followers. And yet it is difficult to say why a prophet should have been so sorely needed, for in the Middle Ages, and later even, women and girls were taught to play on viols and similar stringed instruments, held sometimes downwards like violoncellos, but also often beneath the chin as we hold our violins, whilst in the old Italian pictures, in the works of Fra Angelico, Bellini, Raphael, and many others, angels and feminine figures are constantly depicted playing on the violins of the period, so that we may assume that, in the eyes of the great painters, such doings were by no means unwomanly or ungraceful. Be this as it may, the question need no longer arise, the crusade need not be fought anew; Madame Neruda, like a musical St. George, has gone forth, violin and bow in hand, to fight the dragon of prejudice, or rather, like a female Orpheus, has made captive all the wild beasts about her by the sweet sounds she has evoked. Certainly, no one requires now-a-days to be encouraged to learn the violin, but rather the contrary. Nay, sometimes, I am haunted by the fear that all ‘girls of the period’ of the next generation will scrape unmercifully on their fiddles, with much complacency, perhaps, but with little time or tune. There will be no one left who does not play the fiddle, and with our modern system of mental cramming, patience and leisure will alike be wanting for necessary practising; consequently, but few will play well, and, alas! the pianoforte, the harp, the organ, the guitar, the zither, and many other beautiful instruments will be altogether laid aside, or left to the sterner sex.

The best axiom, therefore, for our present times seems to me: Let no one learn the violin who has not a distinct and earnest vocation thereunto; and let whoever is determined to learn, learn well and thoroughly. Or, as Mr. Haweis wisely says: ‘Do not take up the violin unless you mean to work hard at it; any other instrument may be more safely trifled with.’

To those who work, and want to work, I would venture to give a few practical hints.

Use every endeavour to learn from a really good master at the very outset, and to have as many lessons from him as possible. Later on it will be easier for you to practise alone. At first, by working alone (however carefully, even with the help of books written for students), many bad habits are engendered that are afterwards hard to cure: the violin is held wrongly, or is imperfectly tuned; the bow is not drawn straight, nor is the whole length of the bow used; the wrist of the left hand is allowed to support the instrument for the comfort of the player.

When you have advanced sufficiently to play fluently you can get on tolerably alone, though by no means so quickly as under the guidance of a master. But, having a naturally correct ear, you can make progress, using a metronome, a practical school of violin-playing, and, occasionally, a looking-glass.

Remember that each hand has its special work to do; each different, yet very necessary to supplement the work of the other. Your right hand represents tone, your left hand tune. Your right hand gives expression, your left hand correctness. Most people think that the left hand does all the work – that bowing consists of sawing the bow up and down across the strings. Yet the right hand has perhaps the harder task of the two, as its duties are manifold, pure intonation and careful fingering, though important, being the sole occupations of the left.

It is very difficult to bow well; to hold the bow aright, lightly, and in what seems a constrained attitude; to keep the thumb steady, and the four fingers straight (not curved outwards), the tips resting firmly on the bow. It is very difficult in slow passages to bring out a full and mellow tone, to give fine expression, to draw the bow to its utmost limit (for there must be no tell-tale greyish mark on the horsehair near the nut to prove that the whole length has not been in constant use), also, to learn the different short, quick styles of bowing, staccato, saltando, etc., to mark a crescendo or diminuendo by more or less pressure, to prevent the bow from squeaking or slipping on the strings, or from giving a little grunt of disapprobation whenever you come to the end of an up or down bow, and proceed to draw it in the opposite direction. All these difficulties and technicalities can scarcely be overcome without the help and counsel of a master, whose patience and endurance must equal the docility of the pupil. But these are the difficulties of all beginners – nay, or all students, and many a moderately good artist has by no means conquered them.

It is absolutely necessary to stand well in a steady, upright, yet graceful attitude. Many girls, whose movements are natural and positively pretty before playing, undergo an extraordinary transformation the moment they take a violin in hand; they contort their features, turn their heads overmuch round, place their elbows and wrists at fearful angles, and look as though they were enduring frightful torture. Believe me, if from time to time you attempt a few bars before the looking-glass, it will by no means feed your vanity, but rather prove a wholesome lesson of humility.

It is very ugly to see a girl place a pad like a large pincushion on her left shoulder before playing, or to see her use a piece of wood like a patch of black sticking-plaister on the violin itself. All that is required to prevent the violin from slipping under the chin (thus causing premature double chins and all manner of wry faces) is, to raise the shoulder very slightly, keeping the elbow well forward and a little turned inwards. Hold the violin high, that is to say, quite horizontally, and you will soon forget that it was ever disposed to slip away. Habit will become second nature; even in changing the positions the attitude that at first was so trying will grow perfectly easy; you must, however, remember that in the lower positions the wrist must never be allowed to touch the violin, but your hand must slide comfortably up and down, the neck of the violin merely resting between the thumb and first finger.

In all this, I fear, my hints are chiefly negative. It is easier to point out probable faults than to give instruction on violin-playing merely by writing. As I said before, the practical teaching of a master is absolutely necessary to all beginners.

I will, however, now suppose that you have mastered the first difficulties, that you have had a certain number of lessons, and have profited by them sufficiently to play little pieces and moderately difficult exercises fairly well. I will suppose that you are in the country, unable for some time to come to obtain any further instruction, yet anxious to ‘get on.’

I should recommend you, above all, to practise regularly – that is, every day at stated times, one, two, three hours, as the case may be. Practise regularly, even though you are disinclined; unless you are really ill, a little weariness or fatigue soon goes off, and after playing for ten minutes you will probably feel fresher than before you began. Play good music, but do not disgust yourself with well-known beautiful things by playing them badly. Preserve them rather for by-and-by; pull them out of the drawer every few months, and play them through once or twice; then you will see how much progress you have made.

It is a good thing when you are working alone to vary your form of practice on alternate days. Let one day be devoted to difficult exercises, and to studying hard whatever pieces are to be studied. The following day, go through only a certain number of finger exercises, and then read at sight some easy sonatas, with or without pianoforte accompaniment, according to your opportunities.

In practising pieces that you have learned, but cannot quite conquer, do not play them all through, or you will tire of them quickly, but pick out the difficult passages, and leave the easy ones to take care of themselves.

Invent small exercises and new combinations for yourself; try to add thirds and sixths to notes in different positions, thus accustoming yourself to play chords; learn by heart as much as possible, for two reasons, viz., that you should not always have the trouble of preparing a music-stand, candles, &c., also because you will never play any piece really well that you do not know by heart, even though you play it from the book before your friends.

Whenever you are studying any new music, play it through once or twice with a metronome. Even though no metronome time be marked, the indications of allegro, andante, or adagio, will give you an idea of how to adjust the pendulum.

It seems to me more difficult to play in time on the violin than on the piano, because there is no bass for a foundation. The bass in pianoforte music is almost to the eye what a metronome is to the ear, and is a natural guide. In violin music you have but one stave; you cannot see what is going on below, and cannot, therefore, grasp the true nature of the composition.

A correct appreciation of time is very requisite. We often hear of amateurs who play charmingly, with wonderful genius and expression, but without any sense of time. That is very dreadful. Never allow your love of sentiment to put more rallentando passages into the music than are absolutely marked by the composer or dictated by your master.

It is a good thing to play often with pianoforte accompaniment, so as to learn the piece as a whole, to grow accustomed to the sound of the piano, and also to learn to play in time. But if you have no accompanyist, play the violin part once or twice from the book in which both violin and piano parts are written. Or, if you are a sufficiently good theoretical musician, look at it well and study it, and hear the whole composition, as it were, in your mind. But the best plan of all is to play the accompaniment yourself on the piano, for, indeed, every violinists should be somewhat of a pianist also. In most conservatoires a slight knowledge of the piano is obligatory. The pianoforte is, in our drawing-rooms, the nearest approach to an orchestra; on this instrument alone can you get any orchestral or complete effects; and, as a musician, if you do not study it at least a little, you will debar yourself from much musical knowledge and advantage.

In playing before an audience, however limited, however friendly, you will probably be nervous, more or less nervous according to your nature. Some people unfortunately never quite get over nervousness; but it is best to do our utmost from the very first to struggle against it. Do not begin to play without careful consideration; see that your bow has a sufficient amount of rosin; tune your violin steadily; try to avoid being flurried. Practise the art of beginning well, not with a scrape nor out of time, so that the accompanyist must needs begin again.

Wash your hands always before playing (as, indeed, before practising), and keep your violin nice and clean, carefully wiped before putting it away within its case under a silk handkerchief and flannel coat, the strings always in good order.

If you know that you are to play to an audience, try the strings a little beforehand. If you put on a new E-string, play on it for an hour or two in your own room before using it in public. Play enough beforehand to be in good practice, and to feel your fingers comfortably supple. Avoid if possible practising at the very last the piece you have to perform. Chopin, who usually performed his own pianoforte compositions, used immediately before his concerts to practise Bach’s fugues.

As you progress in your art, you cannot fail to grow more and more devoted to it; violinists are, as a rule, as enthusiastic and ‘shoppy’ in their talk as the keenest sportsmen, racing or hunting men, golfs, &c. To play or even to practise will be your greatest delight; you will lament the very shortest separation from your dear violin.

Do you remember the old rhyme? -

“Jacky, come give me thy fiddle,

If ever though hope to thrive.”

“Nay, I’ll not give my fiddle

To any man alive.

Were I to give my fiddle,

The folks would think me mad;

For many a joyful day

My fiddle and I have had.”

If possible, go often to good concerts, and hear good music, which, like good pictures, and indeed all good art, is thoroughly inspiring. We may be depressed by hearing a moderate player, but we become ardently anxious to work as we listen to something really great and fine. Such a performance incites our best efforts at imitation; we feel that it is worth while to work. You will learn a great deal by going to the Saturday or Monday Popular Concerts, by hearing and seeing Madame Norman-Neruda, the queen, and Herr Joachim, the king of violinists; or Signor Piatti, to whom his mighty violin of larger growth is a true slave of the ring, a potentate that conquers us but obeys him. You will learn more of bowing, phrasing, more of attitude, more of style, tone, or tune, than can be taught by a mountain of books or essays. You will learn, in fact, if not how to play the violin, at least how the violin should be played.

I have said nothing about books, violin-methods, or schools, as they are called. Any master you learn from will probably prefer one or another. To me, the elementary or first part of De Bériot’s violin-school seems the best and easiest for beginners. Berthold Tours’ Violin Primer (Novello) is also useful for beginners, and very cheap. At the commencement of De Bériot’s and many other schools, you will find drawings of mild young gentlemen, in different attitudes, that will show you clearly how both the violin and the bow should be held. As you progress, you will probably learn to play the exercises of Kayser, Dont, Kreutzer, Dancla, Léonard, Ries, and others. As for drawing-room pieces, there are a great many, more or less pretty. You must choose these for yourself. Messrs. Stanley Lucas, New Bond Street, can provide you with as many as you wish, especially those published in cheap German editions. As you gain mastery over your instrument, you will love more and more the Mozart and Beethoven sonatas, the old music reprinted in the Hohe Schule; by-and-by, trios, and quartets.

We have no space, unfortunately, for the history of the violin. It is an interesting history through these last three centuries, during which time the instrument itself has been scarcely altered in any way. ‘What a little thing to make so much noise!’ says the ignorant observer. ‘What a little thing to have so stirred the hearts of men!’ responds the philosopher. And, as we hold the treasure in our hands, reverently and affectionately contemplating the delicate work of Stradivarius, Guarnerius, or Amati, we wonder through whose hands before ours our fiddle has passed, whose magic touch, long since silent and dead, evoked sweet melodies resonant from the brown wood that still shines with its fair coating of varnish almost as of yore. We seem to hear divine and strange harmonies; we can almost see the shades of Corelli, Tartini, Haydn, Spohr, or Paganini, beckoning us to follow their example, leading us on in the path of music, and teaching us in truth, by those traditions that are our tangible heirlooms, how to play the violin.

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Meeting Edith Lynwood Winn (And Her Opinions)

Meet Edith Lynwood Winn.

Winn (1868-1933) was a turn-of-the-century writer, violinist, and pedagogue. She had a lot of opinions, and she took great joy in sharing them. Her books include Violin Talks (1905), How To Prepare For Kreutzer (1910), How To Study Fiorillo (1910), and The Etudes of Life (1908). I just stumbled upon them yesterday by accident. Winn sidetracked me with her authoritative voice, and ever since I’ve been reading her highly entertaining work in my spare time. I know relatively little about her besides what she reveals in the books. She apparently studied in Europe (as almost all serious musicians did in those days) – once had a nervous breakdown after practicing too hard for too long – taught in public schools and colleges – lived in Boston – studied with Julius Eichberg, a Boston-based teacher who taught many great female violinists – and had “unfortunate fingers”, in particular an obnoxiously short fourth finger (just like me!). She sounds like a very interesting, strong-willed lady, and even when I oh-my-gosh totally absolutely 100% disagree with her, I still find I Can’t Stop Reading Her.

Here are some excerpts from Violin Talks.

Children’s work in America has been as yet an experiment and is not based on psychological and pedagogical training such as teachers in the public schools are obliged to receive before they are entrusted with the education of the young. The theory that “any teacher is good enough for a beginner” is fast becoming null and void. There must be teachers trained for children’s work. They most love this preparatory work. They must be willing to serve art from the beginning of child training. Such teachers are born and not made, and yet their preparation for teaching must be broad. They must know violin literature; they must love children and be able to meet the child on his own plane; they must be unselfish, consecrated, thorough. Above all, they must be able to produce a beautiful tone, – the first model which a child hears.

The teacher should possess a winning personality. The child should be obedient, respectful, prompt, and willing. The German child always comes to his teacher with a “good morning” and a hand-shake, but he stands somewhat in awe of his master. Teacher and pupil can be sympathetic without seriously interfering with the dignity of their relation. The nervous and high-strung child suffers under severe teaching.

In general, if a pupil has worked hard for eight or nine months without interruption, he should have a vacation during the summer, and he will begin with more freshness and vigor in the fall.

I believe that ear-training should go hand in hand with violin study. It is unfortunate, indeed, that the public schools of every town do not afford some musical training for children, but it is only in the average large town and city that there are trained teachers of music who direct and supervise the study of music through the various school grades. The consequence is that music teachers have to do more real drudgery than they should, and they are also compelled to teach ear-training, time values, and many other things which students ought to have learned long before.

Many people ask at what age a child should begin violin study. This depends upon the constitution and taste of the child, and upon his musical environment. It is better to begin at fifteen years of age with a competent teacher than to begin at seven with an inferior teacher. If there is no fine violinist in the town, let the child begin piano study with some good teacher, for piano teachers are more easily found. At the proper age let the child go to the city for violin lessons. Country and city standards differ. Country teachers, because of little competition, are prone to advance pupils too rapidly. The thoroughness with which the best city teachers work is an evidence of high standards. A faithful study of the first position requires two or three years for the average child.

Every violinist should play the viola to some extent. This aids one to produce a robust tone, and a knowledge of it is very helpful to the ensemble class.

It pays to be broadly educated. It makes us richer. It makes the world richer. It helps us to be happier. The man and woman who intend to devote life to the profession of violin teaching, or concertizing, cannot be too well educated.

Few pupils know how to practice, hence the prevailing fault of neglected rhythm. Said a well-known teacher: “Never let anything pass which is not up to the standard of true musicianship. It is better to play twelve Etudes in one year, and play them well, than to go over the whole range of Kreutzer and Fiorillo. You will have it all to do over again some day, and it will be hard indeed to undo what you have done unwisely or carelessly.”

Many piano pupils use a metronome for daily practice. Let the violinist use his brains.

“Rag-time” music is the very enemy of careful reading, attention to rhythm, and the cultivation of the highest in music. It develops inexcusable laziness in pupils, and the teacher has to undo a host of faults which could be avoided if parents only knew them to be positively the result of the “rag-time craze,” and would forbid it. This would save hard work on the teacher’s part, and much sorrow on the part of the pupil.

A certain pupil has an over-emotional temperament. She even plays unrhythmically. A year or two of ensemble work will aid her greatly. Another pupil suffers from the effects of overpractice. She also plays unrhythmically. Rest is her only cure.

If I were the mistress of a home I should teach every child to recite poetry. The child who cannot feel the rhythm of poetry will not feel it in music, but he can cultivate both. I should allow him to dance. From his earliest years he should sing child-songs. When he is older let him study the languages and learn to scan Latin. Our greatest musicians are fine linguists.

Few girls can practice over four hours daily. Common sense and physique forbid.

Naturally a girl has more supple fingers than a boy. She also has a fine command of her upper notes on the E string, for her fingers are small, delicate and agile, but she has no the endurance of boys. She can play, and play well, but she must keep her health and practice only as much as she can endure.

The effects of overwork are spasmodic movements of the body and face, nervous bowing, and unsteady tone, affectation, and absence of rhythm. This, added to a poor sense of pitch, which often accompanies nervous troubles, is a serious detriment to success. Life is too short and too full of meaning for us to cripple our energies by overwork. The violinist should keep his energies normal.

From the first the violin should be a good one. There is no inspiration in a bad violin. Not everyone can have a good, or, rather, a valuable violin. Everyone can have a violin correctly made.

The violin should go to the repairer at least once a year. The bow should be rehaired as often as necessary. Mine goes to the shop three times a year. Both violin and bow should be kept very clean and free from excess of rosin. Many students permit rosin to accumulate under the bridge. That is dangerous. Rosin injures the varnish, and dust-particles spoil the resonance of the violin. One can wash the bow with good soap and water and a little ammonia.

Two or three half-hour lessons a week are sufficient for the average intelligent boy or girl. It is well to have someone at home supervise the daily work of the child, but that person shuld attend the lessons with the child.

I don’t know why it is, but violinists are very often quite sensitively organized and delicate. One or two hours of daily practice is the most the beginner should undertake. I regret a year of hard work at six hours a day of practice. I paid for it by a nervous collapse.

I have often said that pupils should devote from fifteen to thirty minutes daily to scale practice; then they are not hampered by technic, as in Etude work, and, because the mind is concentrated one one thing, there is no excuse for faulty position. The prevailing “bad point” of new pupils is that the left elbow is not well under the right side of the violin, thus compelling the hand to tilt to the left, the thumb to cling too closely to the neck of the violin, and the whole arm to be changing its position constantly. There can be no progress with such a position, for intonation will never be correct, and technic, as well as a command of positions, is out of the question. Teachers who neglect these points do so at the risk of their own musical reputation.

Speaking of fingers, many violinists have most unfortunate fingers. I am one; my fourth finger does not reach to the last joint of my third finger, and in the higher positions, my thumb sometimes clings to the body of the violin, instead of to the neck. I have found, however, that persistent practice in the positions, with my fingers (on the E string) a little inclined toward the left, aids my thumb, while raising the hand and running the elbow very far under the violin permits the thumb to regain its proper position.

And now we must labor to obtain a normal position and as little extra movement with arm and hand, for all unnecessary movements cause great uncertainty and loss of security and time.

A prevailing fault is that of grasping the violin too tightly with the chin. The violin should be held by the left side of the jaw and not by the chin, which should rest upon the instrument at the left of the tail-piece.

There are many methods of holding the bow, but there is only one way of holding the violin – and that is the right way, – free and beautiful.

Now that I have spoken of the position of the body, it may be well to remark that young students should try not to move about much while playing. Paganini indulged in many contortions of features and of body, but his day is past. Many violinists sway the body to the rhythm of the music. It is, indeed, very hard to stand perfectly erect and motionless. The great artist is very full of moods, and he responds to the spirit of his music to such an extent that he is prone to move his body as he plays.

The violin is a difficult instrument indeed, but the drudgery of teaching lies in certain almost necessary repetitions. I find myself saying certain things daily. One is, “Do not allow the left elbow to remain far to the left of the violin.” Another is, “Keep the fingers down as long as possible.” Still another is, “Do not cling to the violin with the thumb.”

And these excerpts are only the first thirty-odd pages! She has much more to say throughout the rest of the book.

So what do you think? Anything in there that leaps out at you as being incredibly relevant? Incredibly irrelevant? Good advice, bad advice, advice you can’t make heads or tails of?

Winn’s books have made me wonder, what will teaching be like a hundred years from now? What conventions of today that we take for granted will tomorrow’s students laugh at? Which of Winn’s ideas are due for a come-back (personally, I love the ideas of mandatory ear-training and viola-playing)?

Isn’t it wonderful to read the work of a woman from a hundred years ago who is just as opinionated about the violin as we are today? What an honor to be part of this long continuum of passionate intelligent music-lovers…

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Article: Addendum on Female Violinists by George Dubourg, 1852

Here is a fascinating chapter on female violinists from the book (take a deep breath!) The Violin: Some Account of That Leading Instrument, And Its Most Eminent Professors, From Its Earliest Date to the Present Time; With Hints to Amateurs, Anecdotes, Etc., by music writer George Dubourg (1799-1882). It was published in London in 1852 and, considering the era in which it was written, is a surprisingly liberal text. Dubourg had a prophetic viewpoint that women were just as capable of becoming great violinists as men were, and his spunky, spirited defense of his opinion makes for a highly enjoyable read. Wilma Norman-Neruda and Camilla Urso were both about twelve years old when this edition of The Violin was published, and they were just on the verge of proving Dubourg’s thesis right. No doubt in his later years he regarded their careers with satisfaction.

***

ADDENDUM

FEMALE VIOLINISTS.

“Place aux dames!”

[This section of the Work, which should have formed Chapter VIII, having been accidentally omitted in the printing [(Emily: *eyebrow raise*)], there remained no other course than, either to insert it here (as is actually done), or, by a dismissal utterly at variance with the laws of gallantry and of justice, to exclude it altogether, and so to debar the fairer portion of the community from all participation in the honours connected with the “King of Instruments” – an idea not to be for a moment entertained. If, in this volume, as in a campaigning army, the ladies find themselves placed altogether in the rear – let them attribute the position, in this case as in that, to any-thing but disrespect.]

Instead of a bow-arm, must ladies be allowed only the arm of a beau? Why should not a lady play on the Violin? The common objection is, that it is ungraceful. The ladies in Boccaccio’s Decameron, however – and who shall charge them with want of grace? – played on the viol, a bowed instrument requiring from the performer a similar position and handling to those exacted by the violin. If this latter instrument, considered in relation to a lady, should be admitted to be somewhat deficient in grace, – has not the lady, out of the overflowing abundance of this quality, which is her sex’s characteristic, some of it to spare for communication to the instrument? Can she not impart some of it to whatsoever object she chooses to associate with herself? Surely, she who can transform the rudest of beings from a bear to a man, and from a man to a gentleman, can lend a few spare charms to so grateful a receiver as the fiddle, which is found to repay in so eloquent a manner the attentions bestowed on it. But if the doubters continue to shake their heads at this, I would ask them whether, after all, we are to expect grace in every act and habit of a lady’s life, and call on her to reject every thing that may be thought inconsistent with it? Our modern respected fair one may, like Eve, have “heaven in her eye;” but really, looking at some of the offices which we are content to thrust upon her, it seems rather too much to insist that she shall also, like our original mother, have “grace in all her movements.” Is there grace in making a pie, or cutting bread and butter, or darning a stocking? If we have grace in the effect, shall we be rigid to require it in the means also? Now, the grace which belongs to violin-playing is audible rather than visible, residing in the effect more than in the means: nor ought we to be such cormorants of pleasure, as to demand that the person who is filling our ears with rapture, shall, at the same time, be enchanting to the utmost our eyes. If, then, a lady, full of soul and intelligence, is capable of expressing these through the fine medium which this instrument offers, should she be debarred from it, and restricted perhaps to the harp, because, forsooth, the grace that is merely external is found most in association with the latter? Let us only be reasonable enough to be satisfied, on principle, with the delicious effect that visits us through the ears, and we shall then give no hyper-critical heed to the rapid action of a lady’s arm in a presto movement, or to the depression of her head in holding the instrument; nor shall we continue to demand, with a pertinacity more nice than wise, that a feminine fiddler be

“Graceful as Dian when she draws her bow.”

That exquisite sensibility which is one distinguishing charm of the female character, has its fittest musical exponent in the powers of the violin, which, therefore, in this particular sense, might even be styled the women’s own instrument: but, without going so far as this, there seems no sufficient reason why it should not, occasionally, be honored by figuring in the hands of the fair. Should these defensive remarks, however, be found unsatisfactory by your anti-women’s-playing-the-violin-at-all sort of people, I have nothing farther to say to them, but leave them to quote, undisturbed, their “quae sunt virorum, mascula dicas,” &c. For my own part, I think so highly both of the ladies and the violin, that I rejoice at every opportunity of their being introduced to each other, and am delighted to know that, from time to time, certain clever and spirited women have been found ready to overcome the prejudices that have so long kept them asunder. Let us by all means enquire who these are.

A very high name meets us at the outset of our investigation – no less a one than that of QUEEN ELIZABETH. This exalted personage, who is recorded to have been musical “so far forth as might become a princess,” appears to have amused herself not only with the lute, the virginals, and her own voice, but with the violin. An instrument of this denomination, of the old and imperfect fashion, but splendidly “got up,” has been traced to her possession. If any particulars of Her Majesty’s style of performance could now be obtained, it would doubtless be found that she displayed, in no common degree, what is called “a powerful bow-arm”, but that she neglected the “sweet little touches” that give delicacy to execution.

To arrive at instances nearer to our own time, let us go at once from the Queen of England to Madame MARA, the Queen of Song. Her first musical studies were directed to the violin. When yet an infant, the little Gertrude Elizabeth Smaling (such was her name) discovered so strong an inclination for the violin, that her father was induced to give her a few lessons on that instrument. Her progress was so rapid, that, as early as her tenth year, she excited the public surprise. It is certain that the development of her vocal powers was not a little aided by this cultivation of an instrument that may be called the friendly rival of the human voice. She herself was known to declare, that, if she had a daughter, she should learn the fiddle before she sang a note; for (as she remarked) how can you convey a just notion of minute variations in the pitch of a note? By a fixed instrument? No! By the voice? No! but, by sliding the fingers upon a string, you instantly make the slightest variations visibly, as well as audibly, perceptible. It was by her early practice of the violin, that this celebrated woman had acquired her wonderful facility of dashing at all musical intervals, however unusual and difficult. She married a violoncellist, of no great capacity, except for drinking.

MADDALENA LOMBARDINI SIRMEN, who united to high accomplishment as a singer such an eminence in violin-playing, as enabled her, in some degree, to rival Nardini, had an almost European reputation towards the end of the last century. She received her first musical instructions at the Conservatory of the Mendicanti at Venice, and then took lessons on the violin from Tartini. About the year 1780, she visited France and England. This feminine artist composed a considerable quantity of violin music, a great part of which was published at Amsterdam. A curious document is extant as a relic of the correspondence between this lady and Tartini. It consists of a preceptive letter from the great master, the original of which, along with a translation by Dr. Burney, was published in London in 1771. From this pamphlet, which is now among the rarities of musical literature, I shall here give the Doctor’s English version of the letter:

“My very much esteemed

“SIGNORA MADDALENA,

“Finding myself at length disengaged from the weighty business which has so long prevented me from performing my promise to you, I shall begin the instructions you wish from me, by letter; and if I should not explain myself with sufficient clearness, I entreat you to tell me your doubts and difficulties, in writing, which I shall not fail to remove in a future letter.

“Your principal practice and study should, at present, be confined to the use and power of the bow, in order to make yourself entirely mistress in the execution and expression of whatever can be played or sung, within the compass and ability of your instrument. Your first study, therefore, should be the true manner of holding, balancing, and pressing the bow lightly, but steadily, upon the strings, in such manner as that it shall seem to breathe the first tone it gives, which must proceed from the friction of the string, and not from percussion, as by a blow given with a hammer upon it. This depends on laying the bow lightly upon the strings, at the first contact, and on gently pressing it afterwards; which, if done gradually, can scarce have too much force given to it – because, if the tone is begun with delicacy, there is little danger of rendering it afterwards either coarse or harsh.

“Of this first contact, and delicate manner of beginning a tone, you should make yourself a perfect mistress, in every situation and part of the bow, as well in the middle as at the extremities; and in moving it up, as well as in drawing it down. To unite all these laborious particulars into one lesson, my advice is, that you first exercise yourself in a swell upon an open string – for example, upon the second, or la: that you begin pianissimo, and increase the tone by slow degrees to its fortissimo; and this study should be equally made, with the motion of the bow up, and down; in which exercise you should spend at least an hour every day, though at different times, a little in the morning, and a little in the evening; having constantly in mind that this practice is, of all others, the most difficult, and the most essential to playing well on the Violin. When you are a perfect mistress of this part of a good performer, a swell will be very easy to you – beginning with the most minute softness, increasing the tone to its loudest degree, and diminishing it to the same point of softness with which you began; and all this in the same stroke of the bow. Every degree of pressure upon the string, which the expression of a note or passage shall require, will, by this means, be easy and certain; and you will be able to execute with your bow whatever you please. After this, in order to acquire that light pulsation and play of the wrist from whence velocity in bowing arises, it will be best for you to practise, every day, one of the allegros, of which there are three, Corelli’s solos, which entirely move in semiquavers. The first is in D, in playing which you should accelerate the motion a little each time, till you arrive at the greatest degree of swiftness possible. But two precautions are necessary in this exercise. The first is, that you play the notes staccato, that is, separate and detached, with a little space between every two, as if there was a rest after each note. The second precaution is, that you first play with the point of the bow and, when that becomes easy to you, that you use that part of it which is between the point and the middle and, when you are likewise mistress of this part of the bow, that you practise in the same manner with the middle of the bow. And, above all, you must remember in these studies, to begin the allegros or flights sometimes with an up-bow, and sometimes with a down-bow, carefully avoiding the habit of constantly practising one way.

“In order to acquire a greater facility of executing swift passages in a light and neat manner, it will be of great use if you accustom yourself to skip over a string between two quick notes in divisions. Of such divisions you may play extempore as many as you please, and in every key, which will be both useful and necessary.

“With regard to the finger-board, or carriage of the left hand, I have one thing strongly to recommend to you, which will suffice for all, and that is the taking a violin part – either the first or second of a concerto, sonata, or song (any thing will serve the purpose) – and playing it upon the half-shift; that is, with the first finger upon G on the first string, and constantly keeping upon this shift, playing the whole piece without moving the hand from this situation, unless A on the fourth string be wanted, or D upon the first; but, in that case, you should afterwards return again to the half-shift, without ever moving the hand down to the natural position. This practise should be continued till you can execute with facility upon the half-shift any violin part, not intended as a solo, at sight. After this, advance the hand on the finger-board to the whole-shift, with the first finger upon A on the first string, and accustom yourself to this position, till you can execute every thing upon the whole shift with as much ease as when the hand is in its natural situation; and when certain of this, advance to the double-shift, with the first finger upon B on the first string. When sure of that likewise, pass to the fourth position of the hand, making C with the first finger, upon the first string: and, indeed, this is a scale in which, when you are firm, you may be said to be mistress of the finger-board. This study is so necessary, that I most earnestly recommend it to your attention.

“I now pass to the third essential part of a good performer on the Violin, which is the making a good shake; and I would have you practise it slowly, moderately fast, and quickly; that is, with the two notes succeeding each other in these three degrees of adagio, andante, and presto; and, in practice, you have great occasion for these different kinds of shakes; for the same shake will not serve with equal propriety for a slow movement as for a quick one. To acquire both at once with the same trouble, begin with an open string – either the first or second, it will be equally useful: sustain the note in a swell, and begin the shake very slowly, increasing in quickness by insensible degrees, till it becomes rapid. You must not rigorously move immediately from semiquavers to demisemiquavers, or from these to the next in degree; that would be doubling the velocity of the shake all at once, which would be a skip, not a gradation; but you can imagine, between a semiquaver and demisemiquaver, intermediate degrees of rapidity, quicker than the one, and slower than the other of these characters. You are, therefore, to increase in velocity, by the same degrees, in practising the shake, as in loudness, when you make a swell.

“You must attentively and assiduously persevere in the practice of this embellishment, and begin at first with an open string, upon which, if you are once able to make a good shake with the first finger, you will, with the greater facility, acquire one with the second, the third, and the fourth or little finger, with which you must practise in a particular manner, as more feeble than the rest of its brethren.

“I shall at present propose no other studies to your application: what I have already said is more than sufficient, if your zeal is equal to my wishes for your improvement. I hope you will sincerely inform me whether I have explained clearly thus far; that you will accept of my respects, which I likewise beg of you to present to the Princess, to Signora Teresa, and to Signora Clara, for all whom I have a sincere regard and believe me to be, with great affection,

“Your obedient and most humble servant,

“GIUSEPPE TARTINI.”

REGINA SCHLICK, wife of a noted German Violoncellist and Composer, was celebrated under her maiden name of Sacchi, as well as afterwards, for her performance on the violin. She was born at Mantua in 1764, and received her musical education at the Conservatorio Pietà, at Venice. She afterwards passed some years at Paris. This lady was a particular friend of Mozart’s, and, being in Vienna, about the year 1786 solicited the great composer to write something for their joint performance at her concert. With his usual kindness, Mozart promised to comply with her request, and accordingly, composed and arranged in his mind the beautiful Sonata for the piano and violin, in B flat minor with its solemn adagio introduction. But it was necessary to go from mind to matter – that is, to put the combined ideas into visible form, in the usual way. The destined day appeared, and not a note was committed to paper! The anxiety of Madame Schlick became excessive, and at length the earnestness of her entreaties was such, that Mozart could no longer procrastinate. But his favorite and seductive game of billiards came in the way; and it was only the very evening before the concert, that he sent her the manuscript, in order that she might study it by the following afternoon. Happy to obtain the treasure, though so late, she scarcely quitted it for a moment’s repose. The concert commenced: the Court was present, and the rooms were crowded with the rank and fashion of Vienna. The sonata began; the composition was beautiful, and the execution of the two artists perfect in every respect. The audience was all rapture – the applause enthusiastic: but there was one distinguished personage in the room, whose enjoyment exceeded that of a ll the other auditors – the Emperor Joseph II, who, in his box, just over the heads of the performers, using his opera-glass to look at Mozart, perceived that there was nothing upon his music-desk but a sheet of white paper! At the conclusion of the concert, the Emperor beckoned Mozart to his box, and said to him, in a half-whisper, “So, Mozart, you have once again trusted to chance!” – “Yes, your Majesty,” replied the composer, with a smile that was half triumph and half confusion. Had Mozart – not studied – but merely played over, this music once with the lady, it would not have been so wonderful: but he had never even heard the Sonata with the violin*.

* Anecdotes of Mozart, by Frederic Rochlitz.

LOUISE GAUTHEROT, a Frenchwoman, was also distinguished on this instrument. In 1789 and 1790, she performed concertos at the London Oratorios, making great impression by the fine ability she manifested. In referring to this lady’s professional achievements, one of those who refuse to consider violin-playing as “an excellent thing in woman,” has indulged in the following remarks: “It is said, by fabulous writers, that Minerva, happening to look into a stream whilst playing her favorite instrument, the flute, and perceiving the distortion of countenance it occasioned, was so much disgusted, that she cast it away, and dashed it to pieces! Although I would not recommend, to any lady playing on a valuable Cremona fiddle, to follow the example of the goddess, yet it strikes me that, if she is desirous of enrapturing her audience, she should display her talent in a situation where there is only just light enough to make darkness visible.” – Shall we reply, ladies, to a detractor who is forced to seek support for his opinions in “fabulous writers,” and, even then, drags forward that which is no parallel case? Nay, nay, let him pass! Let him retire into the darkness which he so unwarrantably recommends to others!

LUIGIA GERBINI, who ranks among the pupils of Viotti, attained considerable credit as a performer. In 1799, her execution of some violin concertos, between the acts, at the Italian Theatre in Lisbon, was attended with marked success; as were afterwards her vocal exertions at the same Theatre. This lady visited Madrid in 1801; and, some years later, gave evidence of her instrumental talent at some public concerts in London.

SIGNORA PARAVICINI, another pupil of Viotti’s, earned a widely spread fame as a violinist. At Milan, where various fêtes were given in celebration of the battle of Lodi, the wife of Bonaparte was very favorably impressed, during one of these, by the taletns of Madame Paravicini. Josephine, a woman of generosity as well as taste, became the patroness of this lady, engaged her to instruct her son, Eugéne Beauharnois, and afterwards took her to Paris. However, for some reason not publicly known, Madame Paravicini was, after a time, neglected by Josephine; in consequence of which, and of other misfortunes, as to be compelled to live on the money produced by the sale of her wearing-apparel. Driven at last to the utmost exigence, she had no remaining resource, except that of applying to the benevolence of the Italisn then in Paris, who enabled her to redeem her clothes, and return to Milan. There, her abilities again procured her competence and credit. Her performance was much admired also at Vienna, where, in 1827, she

“Flourished her bow, and showed how fame was won.”

According to the report which travelled in her favour from thence, she evinced a full and pure tone – a touch posessing the solidity and decision of the excellent school in which were formed a Kreutzer and a Lafont – and a mode of bowing so graceful, as to triumph over all preconceived ideas of the awkwardness of the instrument in a female hand. Madame Paracivini, in the course of her professional migrations, was performing at Bologna in the year 1832.

CATARINA CALCAGNO, born at Genoa in 1797, received, as a child, some instructions from the potential Paganini; and, at the age of fifteen, astonished Italy by the fearless freedom of her play – but seems to have left no traces of her career, beyond the year 1816.

Madame KRAHMEN, in 1824, executed a violin concerto of Viotti’s, with great spirit and effect, at a concert in Vienna. At Prague, in the same year, a young lady named SCHULZ gave public delight as a violin performer. Mademoiselle ELEANORA NEUMANN, of Moscow, pupil of Professor Morandi, also astonished the public in like manner at Prague, and at Vienna, when she had scarcely reached her tenth year! She is said to have treated the instrument with great effect, and with a precision and purity of tone not always to be found in those “children of larger growth” who are content to substitute feats of skill, in place of these essential requisites.

Madame FILIPOWICZ, of Polish derivation, has given us evidence, in London, not many years since, of the success with which feminine sway may be exercised over the most difficult of instruments.

The instances I have thus brought forward will probably be deemed sufficient – else were it easy to go backward again in date, and to mention Horace Walpole’s visit to St. Cyr, in one of the apartments of which serious establishment, he behold the young ladies dancing minuets and country-dances, while a nun, albeit “not quite so able as St. Cecilia,” played on the violin! – Or, I might allude to the threefold musical genius of Mrs. Sarah Ottey, who, in 1721-22, frequently performed solos at concerts, on the harpsichord, violin, and base-viol! Enough, however, has been produced, to shew “quid femina possit” – what the fair sex can achieve, upon the first and most fascinating of instruments.

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Being Present

Late last month I went to visit some friends in Minneapolis. Before I left town I posted an innocent straightforward question about bowing variations on the violinist.com discussion board; when I came back, I logged in to see what my fellow fiddlers had to say. I was expecting an answer or two. As of this writing, there are twenty-seven. Granted, they contradict each other – but still, they were all thought-provoking. Surprisingly, the main thing I’ve taken away from the discussion is not how to practice bowing variations, but rather something deeper: I need to be more present when I practice. I need to pay more attention to what I’m doing. I have a feeling that if I am and if I do, those bowing variations will fall into place. Or at the very least be easier.

Earlier today I remembered that back in March 2009 Laurie Niles talked with James Ehnes about focusing during practicing. So this afternoon I clicked back for a much-needed reread. Ehnes was the guy who just about singlehandedly made me take this violin stuff seriously, and I remember reading this interview when it was first posted (actually more than once *cough*). The bit about focusing during practice really stuck out to me. I remember admiring the sentiment, and finding it to be very wise, and well worth listening to. But apparently my admiration is occurring on some far distant mental plane, because you know what? I’m not listening.

In modern Internet parlance: D:

I’ll describe a bit of my thoughts as I read. Bold is Ehnes. Italic is me.

Sometimes, when people learn a piece, they’re very focused.

*thinks back to the early days of learning Bruch a year ago* Mm-hmm. They have to be.

They have to be.

Exactly.

They have to be, they’re first getting it in the hands. Then when they are actually in the preparation-for-performance phase, they get into this sort of a trance-like run-through phase. They’ll run it through, every day. I gotta run it through, gotta run it through… The mind starts to get a little bit on autopilot.

Old news, Mr. Ehnes. I should be able to haul out a metaphorical fingernail file to use to while away the time as I read these words. I have, after all, played for twelve years, and this is kinda sorta one of those basic things that a person learns early on.

But…

I can’t help but think of all the times during my recent “practice sessions” where I’ve run through Bruch “for fun.” In the hallway at orchestra rehearsal. In the front hall in front of a mirror. In the bathroom in front of a mirror. In the bedroom in front of a mirror. In the bedroom not in front of a mirror. Anywhere in the house, for no reason whatsoever besides the fact that life is short and stressful and invariably depressing and sometimes a girl just needs to hammer through some gritty wangsty Germanic Romantic-era quadruple stopped chords, you know?, and does it really matter if they always sound muted and smothered?, because I mean, unlike some people, I really love the Bruch, and I respect it, I really do, and someday obviously I’ll get to those quadruple stops, and actually work on them, and do some bowing exercises, and fingering exercises, or whatever the heck kind of exercises one does to improve quadruple stops, and all of them will ring nice and clear someday, and I’m sure I’ll be able to play them on command flawlessly and they will be lovely and beautiful and – what were we talking about? Focusing? Right.

Laurie then asked Ehnes: “How do you make the focus happen?”

Yes, James. How do you make the focus happen? Tell us.

*takes a deep breath*

*prepares for massive life-changing earth-shattering revelation*

Just stop, start from where you last knew you had your focus, and really pay attention, really listen.

Sigh.

Is there anything in the world that sounds easier? Is there anything in the world that’s more difficult?

Maybe he has a shortcut…

*scrolls down to see if he mentions a shortcut*

People who practice well can get more done in an hour than people who practice poorly can get done in a lifetime.

Yes, I agree with this. But what you’ve just described is hard. And I’m not so keen on hard. You’re a frigging violin god. Can you spare a shortcut for a mortal?

The focus during practice sessions is so important.

*muttering* There is no shortcut, is there?

Too many young people get caught up in “time,” logging the hours.

FOR SHAME, young people. FOR SHAME. I’ve never been concerned about “time” or “logging the hours” or felt pride because I’ve played two or three hours in an afternoon without a goal or knowing if I’ve achieved it. Never ever ever done that. Especially recently. Never. *shifty eyes*

If people can have a particular goal in mind, and if reaching that goal can take on more important than just logging the hours, then I think real progress can start to happen. Of course, you want to make sure that the student is spending enough time to build up stamina, and build up that level of concentration. But when you are dealing with advanced students, if they’re saying, “Now I’m 16, now I’m getting serious about getting into the conservatory so now I need to practice X number of hours a day…” Well, maybe you should think of it in terms of, “I want to learn this piece and this piece, by this time,” that might be a more valuable way of looking at it.

*deep breath* Okay. This is familiar. Buri has said this before. Multiple times. He talks about this about as often as he discusses prunes. Maybe more often. And if Buri and Ehnes say it, then as far as I’m concerned, it’s Violinistic Gospel.

So…

You know…

Sigh…

I should work on this.

Now I’m looking back and cringing, thinking of all the times I’ve played through Bruch in a distracted totally half-*ssed manner, using it as a brainless emotional release valve way before it should have been used as such. Granted, 2011 has been Emily’s Year From The Deepest Innermost Pits of Hell (TM), and everything and everybody in my life is shifting and evolving and changing, and I’ve never been so distracted in my life, and oh, did I mention that I’ve had a crappy craptastic year of crappiness? And so I acknowledge that a little distraction is warranted. But…still. It’s a little dispiriting I didn’t even have a clue this was happening. It’s terrifying, really. What else have I been doing on auto-pilot? What else am I doing without realizing? Will I catch myself in time?

I need to shift my perspective. Recalibrate. I do this with my violin-playing every year or so, and it always helps. I need to go through my practice routine and see what stays and what goes. Scales: I need to figure out what I’m doing with them. They need a purpose; they deserve more than to be my precursory warm-up exercise. Kreutzer: I don’t need to learn how to play Kreutzer, I need to learn why I’m playing Kreutzer. What is each etude helping with? If I don’t know, then why the hell am I playing them? Bruch: if I choose to keep working on this (and I may ultimately decide to set it aside for a while), I’ll need to print out new music and really start afresh, isolating the tricky sections and working diligently with the metronome. In short: less what, more why. Less what, more why. Less what, more why.

In other words, I need to Be Present.

Who needs therapy when you play the violin?

(Or should that be, if you play the violin, then you really should be in therapy?)

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Article: As I Found Miss Bang At Lake George

This is an article from The Violinist from October 1920, “By a Pupil”, about violin teacher Maia Bang. I haven’t been able to find out much about her online. Can you help me and contact me with any information about her?

***

When a visitor reaches Lake George in summer he is greeted by green hills, a blue lake, and a peaceful village. He soon learns that there are gathered here violinists from various parts of the globe. The raison d’etre of this interesting group is the advent to Lake George, for the summer, of Professor Auer and assistant teachers.

One of the best known of these teachers is Maia Bang, who came to this country about three years ago, at the same time as Professor Auer. Her “Elementary Violin Method,” the first two volumes of which are already in the hands of many prominent teachers, is fast gaining her friends in this country.

Miss Bang likes America, but is a staunch and loyal patriot of her native land, Norway. It is indeed pleasant to hear one who loves them so, describe the mountains and fjords of Scandinavia.

Miss Bang combines art and science in her teaching. She never lacks enthusiasm, and while critical of details is always encouraging to pupils, and never lacks appreciation of all efforts. She demands the correct things, but supports all attempts. She is democratic, looking with happy approval on the movement for putting violin instruction in the public schools. She gives hope and help to each of her pupils as his individual talent merits or requires.

Miss Bang admits of no limitations in her teaching. She says, “We can make all things. There is no ‘perhaps.’” If one follows the directions given, the goal is sure, provided, of course, that there is no serious handicap in the adaptability of the pupil. There being no phase of violin art which she has not analyzed, all one has to do is to apply the analysis. This is brought out effectively in her Violin Method mentioned above, the last part of which is now in the making. These volumes are in accordance with the principles of Auer, who, it is well known, possesses the last word with regard to methods and requirements of the modern virtuoso.

The pleasure and inspiration in writing such a method was brought out when one afternoon in a quiet and friendly conversation she remarked that her mind was teeming with ideas, and that as she writes the ideas do not come at the beckon of her will, but easily without any effort, as it were from above.

Miss Bang is a generous friend, a strong yet gentle character, an unusually interesting person to talk with on account of her originality and genuineness. She possesses a happy disposition, with a fine appreciation of the humorous. She is reverent to all things sacred, including other people’s personalities. She loves sports of all kinds. She is clever with children, and very inventive in methods to interest and to control their work.

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