Sunday, December 02, 2001

Erin's Violin Blog 22

Things just keep rolling along for Erin. She's got a nice, stable vibrato now and is shifting easily. She's wrapped up her first polishing of the three Seitz Concerto movements in Book 4, and has made short work of note-learning for the Vivaldi a minor 1st movement which she is playing confidently now while preparing to start the 3rd. Six months ago I would have predicted her forward progress would slow at the early-Book-4 level. Now I'm sure it will slow by the late-Book-4 level, but I've been wrong so far and I'm prepared to be wrong again.

I'm struck lately by how the perfectionism and volatility of the past is so much smaller a problem now. She is still prone to melt-downs, but they come at really understandable times. For instance, after four metronome runs through the last page of the Vivaldi 1st movement, she develops a recurrent stumble while trying the arpeggio sixteenths in the 3rd movement with the metronome for the first time. Big deal: I'd probably have a meltdown in the same situation myself! Maturity is giving her more resources to tackle bigger things.

In early November she attended a large regional youth orchestra weekend workshop, a thrilling success in a number of ways. This was her first serious orchestral experience, and she was able to pick from a smorgasbord of repertoire choices, including some very challenging pieces. The "Tutti" orchestra comprised 147 players, from age 7 (Erin) to senior high-schoolers and some adult students and teacher-ringers as well. The final concert, after two days of intensive rehearsing, was in a brand-new performing arts theatre, so it really was a fine introduction to "big-time orchestral playing".

The left hand posture problems continue to be a thing of the past. The big push over the past 6 months has been to get her to take responsibility for musical details like dynamics and phrasing. She can play exceedingly musically, and mimicks musical details extremely well, but has shown little interest in actually internalizing them and making use of them without reminders and prods. Probably this will come with maturity as well, but her grandmother-teacher and I continue to try to push the envelope a little by asking her (over and over and over, of course) to please, for example, remember the contrast in dynamics at the end of the fourth section.

We'll be celebrating Christmas in our characteristic low-key way. Erin will be involved in three concerts. In one of them she'll be playing arrangements of a couple of Christmas tunes in a violin-cello-harp trio with a local cellist friend (also age 7) and his mom. These "community connections" are, I think, really important. She'll also be joining the inter-generational local community orchestra after Christmas. She's been attending rehearsals since infancy, so this venue sort of feels like "home" to her. I think the other orchestra members are looking forward to it as much as she is.

Thursday, March 15, 2001

Erin's Violin Blog 19

Big news, of a magnitude that I wasn't even aware of until I realized my last contribution here was just two months ago. Erin's left hand has gone snap! into a wonderful neutral position, her fingers are flexing gently and accurately from the base joints and her intonation has improved astronomically as a result. I have no idea why it suddenly happened, but it did. Perhaps it was related to the early introduction of position-work and the daily exercises utilizing rapid back and forths to harmonics. Or perhaps she just decided it was time. At any rate, she's now rollicking through Book 3 (she'll be starting the Gavotte in g minor next week), is comfortable in third position, is working on shifting and beginning to get ready for vibrato. Her tone is also miles better, her shoulders are half-way relaxed and her general appearance of comfort with the instrument is an order of magnitude better.

She's also become a highly motivated and skilled sight-reader in the past couple of months. She started Joanne Martin's I Can Read Music book 1 just before Christmas and is now confidently completing it. Every day she does a full lesson and there rarely seems to be any teaching, explaining, reinforcing or practice necessary. The new rhythms and notes just seem to roll off her fingers.

Practising has become, in the past few months, a reasonably comfortable part of our daily routine. It's still very hard to get it initiated, but once we're going she's attentive, motivated and enjoying things. Review makes up almost 70% of our time, and she's been very diligent about consolidating recent pieces with continued daily work, especially considering how quickly she's acquired them. We now have five big "recent pieces" that get daily polishing work, in addition to her regular rota of review repertoire.

Saturday, January 13, 2001

Erin's Violin Blog 18

Things are continuing to move ahead for Erin at a rewarding, steady pace. She's working on Beethoven Minuet now and is looking forward to starting Book 3 in the next couple of months. Although practising is never easy for her to get initiated, she is still doing the better part of an hour a day on each of violin and piano. The focus on review continues, with older review and the playing of recently polished pieces comprising the larger proportion of her practice time.

We're also now doing a regular improvisation exercise and some note-reading practice every day. Both of these endeavours are coming along really nicely. I am an amazed and delighted observer of her improv efforts. She uses sequences, specific bowing/articulation patterns, rhythmic motifs and runs of perfectly plotted-out passing notes to reach cadences as planned. It's amazing to realize that she really is internalizing, integrating and generalizing all the musical conventions she's encountering in her studies. They are truly a part of her now.

Posture continues to be an issue, of course. The best I can say is that things aren't getting any worse, and that she does now seem to be occasionally interested in autonomously setting and monitoring good posture habits in her easy review repertoire. We're still a long way from having good replacement habits established, but there's a glimmer of interest now, I think, in her fixing her own problems. I'm trying to gently persuade her that she's closing in on the repertoire level where her posture problems are going to become technically limiting for her (Book 4, as I see it) and that there is some urgency involved.

The other issue that is continuing in the forefront is that of role-modelling. The only students in the area who are more advanced than she are two teenagers. It would be so nice for her to have students she could look up to, whose posture, tone, musicianship and technical facility she could aspire to. She's doing amazingly well to maintain her diligence when she knows not a single other child under fourteen who puts anywhere close to as much committment into musical study of any description as she. The best I can hope for is to give her a little taste of a peer group at the occasional institute, and to the best of my ability give her contact with children and adults who take any pursuit seriously enough to work diligently at it every day. It's a tall order.