Saturday, February 05, 2005

Musical Things

Musically things are ticking along pretty well for all three kids. Erin is still mostly coasting along on violin but she’s decided to accept the invitation to play the middle movement of the Bach E Major Piano Concerto on the regional concerto concert late this spring. Normally students are in the 15 to 19 age-range when they are invited to perform at this venue (with a full orchestra to back them up, including some professional players) so it is a great honour to be asked, even for a relatively easier piece like the slow movement of the Bach, at the age of 11. She wasn’t sure she wanted to do it, being leery of the additional workload, but when assured that this would replace, rather than get appended to, some of her regular work, she agreed.

Noah’s viola playing is once again sounding like he loves the instrument. He’s getting real tone and playing with confidence again all of a sudden. It’s been almost 4 months since he hit a major slump, and I think he’s gradually coming out of it. With piano we’re still trying to find ways to allow him to work productively on his own (since he has meltdowns if I’m within earshot). I think we’re making progress on this one.

Sophie is doing very well on violin. She’s half way through her note-reading book, and will likely be more than ready to play in the entry-level pieces in the community orchestra by next fall. She’s moving through the early part of Suzuki Book 2 and playing with bigger sound and better posture and clearer tone every week.

Last week we went and played at the local nursing home for the first time in over a year. In the past we’d gone in as a violin group and played in the activity room as a sort of ‘concert’ for the residents. Last week we went with just one other family and did a much more informal program. The other family has a beginning violinist and two beginning pianists, all of whom are unschoolers and great friends of my kids. Everyone played one piece on each of their instruments by themselves, and then we paired the kids up for as many duets as we could muster, plus a couple of group pieces. We’d managed brief ‘rehearsals’ a couple of times on the shoulders of playdates, so the kids were fairly confident. We went in at tea-time instead of after school, being all homeschoolers, and the atmosphere was lovely. We used the little piano in the corner of the dining room. The residents sat and sipped and munched, and the kids provided meal-time entertainment in a warm, casual atmosphere. Much appreciation was expressed and when we left Noah said “that was way more fun than I thought it was going to be.” He’s keen, as are the other kids, to go back and do the same sort of playing on a regular basis. We’re thinking once a month would probably be good, though it may be twice a month. We shall see.

Erin and Noah have a piano-viola duet they’ve played a couple of times in the past, and Noah and Sophie have a piano-violin duet as well. They performed these at the nursing home and I was really impressed with how tight and musical these pieces are getting. Especially Noah and Sophie, for whom my expectations were not nearly as high. They’re playing one of Bach’s simple Minuets (“Minuet 1” in the Suzuki violin repertoire for those familiar with it). It is graceful and well in tune; Sophie’s tone is robust. Noah is comfortable and confident with the harmony. And most impressively, they communicate musically as they play ... if Sophie has an almost-imperceptible hesitation on a hooked bowing, Noah glances over instantly, and anticipates the next beat flawlessly so that they stay together. Noah hung on a cadence almost too long ... Sophie knew and waited just a smidge on the repeat, giving him a visual cue for the downbeat. Really amazing from a 6yo and 8yo.

So after they all played at the nursing home I suggested that they really ought to play their duets for discerning audiences as well and that I would like them to play in the Music Festival in April. They've been asked many times by their piano teacher to consider playing in the Festival but have been reluctant about the 4-hour round-trip, the extra preparation which would be involved and the unfamiliar format. But I offered them the other half day at the swimming pool and they jumped at it . While their piano teacher would love to see both Erin and Noah entered in multiple classes ("Bach, 14 & under", "Sonatina, 12 & under", "Concert Class, 8 & under" etc. etc.) and I'd love to see them doing at least something on violin/viola, our compromise is to try out just the two duets (which will mean just two classes back to back) and see how they feel about the experience. If they're happy, we'll consider more for next year.

The festival has competitive overtones in some classes, but from what I'm told the 12 & under classes are always free of that mentality. The kids basically play and then receive some positive and constructive feedback from an adjudicator. They also hear the other children in the class play and receive their feedback. I'm hoping it will be a positive and inspiring experience, although I consider the kids confident enough to weather a less-than-wonderful experience if it should turn out that way. Whether things are positive and respectful is very much adjudicator-dependent, and I don't know the adjudicator.

But I think they'll enjoy the pool either way :-)

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