Viola Day 2019

Viola Day was Saturday, and I’ve been basking in its glory ever since! It was QUITE the to-do, with (I’d estimate) 45 violists attending. It was really awesome! We had participants as young as 12, though most were high school or college students. The obvious highlight for me (besides meeting awesome young violists excited about viola!) was spending time with Carol Rodland. Not only is she a ridiculously amazing human being, but she truly helped me become who I am today. The summer before I went to NEC for my Master’s degree with Carol, I sustained a debilitating injury, and showed up a new graduate student unable to play. I was literally broken, and Carol fixed me. I can never thank her enough— but as she says, pay it forward. Karen Tuttle did for Carol what Carol did for me, and now it is my turn, and I am blessed and grateful every single day of my life.

Besides a morning concert where Carol and I performed, the day involved mass viola ensemble, Body Mapping with Dr. Andrée Martin (our flute professor at Schwob), a master class with Carol, and an open forum with Carol. I also had the pleasure of hosting William Harris Lee and Co., who brought a bunch of violas and bows that participants tried. Unfortunately I didn’t get the pleasure, and didn’t even take a picture! D’oh! Despite my oversight, it seems like everyone had a great time, and I’m really thrilled to have had such a great turnout.

Here are a bunch of photos for you to enjoy.

Happy practicing!

Viola Day and Vulnerability

Next Saturday I am hosting the second-annual Schwob Viola Day. I’m super excited to say that Carol Rodland, violist and pedagogue extraordinaire, will join us as the guest of honor. I had the very good fortune of studying with Carol for my Master’s degree, when she was still teaching at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston. After NEC, she taught at Eastman for (I think) 9 years, and now graces the halls at the Juilliard School… after teaching at three of the country’s most prestigious conservatories, she most definitely knows a thing or two about refined viola playing and teaching! It’s a fantastic opportunity for me and my students, and everyone who comes to Viola Day (which is free and open to the public), to learn from one of the best, so please join us!

We’ll start the day with a brief concert, and as I mentioned in my last post, I’ll be playing the first movement of the Reger g minor solo suite. Because I’m pretty sure Carol hasn’t heard me play since my master’s recital in 2005, and I want to sound as refined as I possibly can for my former mentor, I decided to do something out of the ordinary in yesterday’s studio class: I played for my students and asked for their critique (in fact, I asked them to be brutally honest), and provided each student with a copy of the sheet music so they could point out specific points.

Asking for brutally honest critique from students is a rather unusual thing for a professor to do. It has the potential to shift the balance of respect, or any number of less-than-ideal repercussions… But I decided to be vulnerable, and put myself out there. Why?

Because we’re all on the same path. At some point, each and every one of us committed to becoming the best darned violist we could be. And the only reasons I’m at the front of the room are 1) time, and 2) tenacity. There is nothing extraordinary about my musical abilities. I was not a child prodigy, and I had to work incredibly hard to get to where I am today, and I continue to have to work hard every time I pick up my viola. Of course many things have become easier with time (thanks to the excellent tutelage from my amazing teachers!), but I cannot imagine that I will ever reach a point where everything is accessible without practice. I don’t think I want such a thing to happen.

Practicing is a beautiful art of self-motivation, self-observation, self-assessment, and self-exploration, and it allows us to grow as musicians and people. I do not want to stop growing. So I decided to let my students give me a hand, and while it turned out to be a rather scary thing, in the end, I am glad I did it. I got a lot of helpful comments that have guided my practice today, and I hope I showed my students that we are all in this together, that we all have something to learn from one another, and that viola playing is a never-ending journey of growth. My students even helped me figure out how to make that pesky high B-flat sound better. So thank you students, for your honesty, and for still respecting me the next day.

Happy practicing.

My Viola and I

This semester I am teaching a Viola Pedagogy class to two of my students. While not exactly a pedagogically-centered book, we are starting this semester by reading Lionel Tertis’ autobiography, My Viola and I. I’m slightly embarrassed to admit that I’ve never read the book, so am now rectifying that oversight in my viola knowledge and taking my students along for the ride.

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I’m very much enjoying Tertis’ style of writing. “I consider that I learnt to play principally through listening to virtuosi; I lost no opportunity of attending concerts to hear great artists perform. I especially remember hearing Sarasate at the old St James’s Hall playing the Mendelssohn concerto most marvelously — every note a pearl.” (page 16) When I read this statement it made me smile widely. You see, when I was living in Indiana, I occasionally had the great fortune to play in the viola section of the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra. A few times I was blessed to sit with Amy Kniffin, who, in addition to being a fantastic violist, is one of the kindest and most genuine people I’ve ever met. After a particularly speedy run-through of some piece or another with lots and lots of notes (I do believe the first occurrence was during Strauss’ Alpine Symphony), Amy would lean over to me and whisper, “every note [dramatic pause] a pearl,” which I thought was quite funny and charming, as there was definitely a run or two that could have used a bit more practice. Did she know Tertis used that phrase? I’ll have to ask.

Every note a pearl: It’s definitely something towards which I aspire. In fact, earlier today I was working on the first movement of the Reger g minor solo suite, and got hung up on this one note that was sounding shrill every time I got to it (it’s the first high B-flat on the downbeat of measure 5, if you’re curious). Shrill does NOT a pearl make. I experimented with my bow speed, placement, and angle of the hair, and found a sweeter sound. I still have to work on finding the right sound within the context of the phrase (it sure is easier to figure things out when you take them completely out of the surrounding material), but I’m feeling better about it than I did before I experimented.

You can come to Viola Day on September 7th to find out whether or not I achieve a pearly high B-flat. The opening concert is at 11 AM, and I’ll perform that first movement. More on Viola Day in the next post. Until then,

Happy practicing!

Week 1 in Review

It’s a hot and sunny Friday afternoon here in Columbus, GA, and my heart is full. I’ve had a busy and productive week, but overall am feeling really happy.

On Friday afternoons, the Schwob School of Music has Convocation, which is where all of the students gather to hear a few students perform, or on occasion to hear a guest speaker/musician. But the first Convo is different: All of the faculty dress up in their regalia, there’s a procession, and inspiring words by University and Schwob personnel are interspersed with inspiring performances by Schwob students. It was a beautiful ceremony today, followed by a barbecue at which people laughed and sang and generally enjoyed the special community of which they’re a part.

Getting ready for Convo.

Getting ready for Convo.

And that’s the truth— we really are a community! Sitting on the stage (as the faculty do) and looking out at the audience, which was filled with students, I was struck by what a diverse group we are. We have people of all colors and backgrounds, and what binds us all together in this special place is our love of music. I am thankful to be a part of the Schwob School of Music, especially to be able to guide a strong and vibrant group of violists.

I have eleven wonderful students this semester, and I’m excited to see what the future holds for each of them. It was really fun this week talking about setup and bow hold, and (my favorite topic) rich viola sound, not to mention making recital and competition plans. Most of all, I’m enjoying getting to know the new people, and to continue guiding the continuing people. It’s going to be a great semester, and I’m looking forward to sharing the journey with all of you.

Nine of eleven wonderful viola students getting ready for sectionals.

Nine of eleven wonderful viola students getting ready for sectionals.

Happy practicing!

A New Year

Hello! It’s hard to believe that today was the first day of the new academic year, and the first day of my second year at the Schwob School of Music. I ended up being really really bad about blogging last year— I think with the excitement over the new position and being really gung-ho about all of it, I didn’t leave quite enough energy at the ends of my days to write about all of the cool things that were happening. And last year was really fantastic. Looking back at it now, I am sad that I didn’t make the time to document so many wonderful moments, but it has also inspired me to be better this year. SO— here we are, Day One of a new year.

My summer was unique in that I didn't have a single musical- or work-related obligation. I spent a LOT of time with my then-boyfriend, James, working on a project that has nothing to do with viola. At the end of July he and I ran off to the mountains, and last week we got married in Colorado, so now he’s my husband. I’m still getting used to that term, as well as the ring on my finger. I’d say that was easily the highlight of my summer. ;-)

But now that I’m back in Columbus, I’m busily working on Syllabi and taking care of other odds and ends that Just Need Doing. Likewise, I’ve started to practice again— I tend to take a big break during the summers. I play so much during the academic year that I often find myself somewhat burnt-out come May, and I recuperate with a few months of very light practicing (in fact, you might call it (GASP) playing— instead of working, I will play some music and maybe work on fingerings for a passage or two, but mostly I just enjoy the sound of my viola and don’t sweat the mistakes I would during concert preparation). But now I have performances looming, and while I haven’t gotten a practice schedule together yet, I have really been enjoying playing viola again. I’ll be honest— I’m a bit rusty. But I also find that polishing off the rusty bits is a fun challenge. It lets me explore the teacher in me and helps me come up with new ways of getting better (“Now, if my student had just played that, how would I help them to fix it?”).

So, cheers to a new year and the adventures it’ll bring. I look forward to sharing my musical experiences with you.

Happy practicing!