Salt Lake City

I had a very good time at ASTA this year! I must admit, it was a little bit more lonely than last year, as not as many of my friends and colleagues attended, but I learned a lot and really enjoyed spending time with my BSU colleagues Drs. Karin Hendricks and Tawnya Smith. Karin grew up in Utah, so knows a lot about the culture and history, and it was great getting an insider tour of Temple Square, where the Church of Latter-day Saints is headquartered. Here are some photos from our walk yesterday.

In addition to that, I met an incredibly talented young man from Hong Kong! He and his father flew all the way here to experience the ASTA conference. They came to my session Thursday morning, and the next day Gordon asked me about some discomfort he was having related to viola-playing. We found some space and had a mini lesson. I was able to offer some suggestions to which he adapted immediately, and after about ten minutes, he looked (and said he was) a lot more comfortable. Then yesterday, as Karin, Tawyna, and I were heading back to the hotel, I saw Gordon again, and he asked if I could teach him a full lesson. Well of course. :) So we found an unused conference room in the hotel and worked together for a good hour and a half. Gordon is a musically gifted young man. It was so rewarding to work with him-- he's one of those rare "sponges," who needs only to hear something once to be able to understand and implement it. I think he has a bright and promising future ahead of him, and hope to hear from him as he grows and matures. Here we are, post lesson.

And now I'm in the airport, waiting for my plane to board and start the journey home to Muncie.

Happy practicing!

ASTA 2015

Yesterday evening I drove to the Indianapolis airport and flew off to Salt Lake City, Utah. It is GORGEOUS here! The mountains are fantastic, and the weather is simply lovely. I'm here for the annual American String Teachers Association national conference, and gave a presentation this morning: It's Not Just a Big Violin! A Karen Tuttle-inspired approach to violin-to-viola basics. I think the presentation went well, and I've received several really positive comments since then. All of my handouts were taken (I printed 50), and I've already received a few emails requesting the PDF! Now my mind is spinning with how I can expand on this for another session, hopefully for next year's conference.

It's later than I though it was (and, with the time change, is super late in Indiana!), so this is a quick post. More soon. Until then, here is a photo from my hotel room, and a selfie of me right before my presentation. :)

Happy practicing!

Aaand.... we're back: String crossings 101!

Ball State started classes today. I can hardly believe the summer is over and it's back to work! But so it is, and today was a very busy and eventful day! My summer was amazing, and I may even blog about some of the experiences I shared with James around Europe in the future, but right now, it's back to business!

I knew that with frequent traveling and constant adventuring for four weeks, bringing my viola did not make sense. Gasp! I do believe it's the longest break I have taken from playing in over ten years. And though I was having amazing experiences, I actually did miss it! I had a few "Phew!" moments during my travels when I was happy to realize that I am doing with my life what I truly believe I ought to be-- I don't feel quite like myself when I'm viola-less. While a long break was a nice change of pace, it was also strangely disquieting to not be able to practice or play.

But now that I am back home and school is in session, it's time to get my chops back in order. A lot of things are actually still okay, but then there are the little things. For example-- my body has apparently forgotten how to cross strings smoothly! When I first picked up my viola a few days ago, a LOT of things were shaky. I've worked out a lot of those kinks in the last week, but the string crossings are still messier than acceptable. Having had an incredibly full day today, I am only now starting to practice for the day, and I am very much focusing on string crossings.

So, how does a violist make a smooth, noiseless string crossing? You must focus on the balance on the bow within the right fingers. I find that if my fingers are lazy, my string crossings are noisy. If I maintain a certain level of awareness in my fingers, I have more control over the frog, and then am more able to maintain a smooth sound as I cross strings. The elbow is also of great importance-- its height must reflect the string on which the bow is playing, and it must smoothly prepare for crossings. I like to focus on string crossings while playings 3-octave scales. Mogill #11 is an excellent whole body warm-up! But try not to get sucked into the habit of always starting every exercise with a down bow. This evening-- after some long tones and slow left hand warm up-- I was playing one measure per bow (12 notes slurred), starting on a down bow. Once the scale was in tune, my shifts were accurate, and the string crossings were noiseless, I would then play the scale starting on an up bow. It's amazing how such a small change can completely change the physics of the exercise... but that's how you learn what your arm and fingers need to do to keep an even, beautiful sound, no matter what string or bow you are on.

It's back to scales for me, and then perhaps even a little repertoire. But having had so much time off, I am allowing myself more frequent breaks, and an even more rigorous warm up routine than usual. It's nice focusing on the details-- I am more in control and more productive when I work to fix one problem (such as string crossings), rather than trying to relearn all of the repertoire I need to perform in the next months. The notes will come, and much more easily when my foundational bricks are back in place.

Happy practicing!


I am in Louisville, KY attending the American String Teachers Association national conference. So far I've only been to the downtown part of Louisville, but it seems like a very hip area! My day yesterday was full of ridiculous occurrences-- basically anything that could go wrong did. But I finally made it to Louisville, checked in to the hotel, went across the street to the convention center and picked up my conference packet, and then met up with Daphne Gerling, Hillary Herndon, and Kate Lewis, with whom I had dinner. After dinner, a bunch of Kate's students, some of Daphne's students, and Ivo-Jan Wan der Werff joined all of us in a wonderful viola ensemble reading party. Well, it was really a rehearsal for the ladies' session later this afternoon-- I am joining the other viola professors on a most excellent transcription of the Brahms B flat sextet second movement (same piece I played with Daphne in Brasilia in October).

So now I'm off for a quick breakfast and to start absorbing knowledge. Conferences can be very overwhelming, but I'm sure I'll learn a lot of tips and interesting information while I'm here.

Happy practicing!

2014, The Year of the Viola

... According to Berlin! Well, actually it's "Instrument of the Year 2014," but close enough. :) So how have I begun this wonderful year dedicated to violas? On vacation! James, Tula, and I went to Colorado for the holidays, where we stayed with family and enjoyed a lot of down time. I ate too much, slept a lot, and didn't practice as much as I wanted to. It's hard for me to make time to work when there are all kinds of cousins and other family to hang out with, not to mention amazing hikes to take! But we're back in Indiana now, and the semester is off to an interesting start. We had a massive snow storm on Sunday that dumped 10 inches of snow. I hurt my back shoveling (sheesh), though now it feels fine again. The first two days of classes at Ball State were cancelled due to snow and frigid temperatures (the high of -11 F on Monday and Tuesday was... very very cold) and yesterday started out with some news from a student that left me very sad.

On the upside, I have two new freshman this semester who transferred from other institutions, and the Ball State Viola Choir (BSUVC) is up and running! We had our inaugural rehearsal yesterday, to which Dr. Eleanor Trawick came. Eleanor is on the theory/composition faculty, and is also a violist. I commissioned her to compose an anthem for the BSUVC, and it is beyond wonderful. Reading through the lyrics she wrote (they are AMAZING) and the fantastic score left me completely giddy. I'm smiling like a banshee just thinking about it now! I'm really looking forward to sharing this gem with the BSU community. It's really fantastic. Not only do we have an anthem (!!!), but I'll be holding a logo contest soon, and then will be able to make some BSUVC paraphernalia. Fun fun fun! The best part is-- the SOUND! Now, it might sound cheesy, but I truly love the sound of the viola (small wonder I'm a violist, eh?), and multiple violas in harmony, unfettered by the sounds of other instruments, is a warm and really gorgeous sound. I'm so excited about cultivating and coaching this group of viola players.

So while the year is off to a start of wintry weather and mixed emotions, I am, nevertheless, excited about the possibilities this viola-centric year will bring. 

Happy practicing!