Monday, January 03, 2005


Violin Update

When I recently started playing the violin, I thought it might be a good idea to read up on the history of the instrument and get into the swing of the violin subculture. Boy, did I underestimate what I would find. Here’s an introduction to two violinists I really like, and a bit about my experiences learning the instrument.

Of all the instruments I've tried to learn how to play, the violin seems to be the most viral. It infects you, if you are so chosen, and instead of "someone who plays the violin" you often end up being "a violinist."

The beginning of wisdom being the definition of terms, let’s be pedantic for a moment and see what the real difference is between the two terms. A violinist is n : a musician who plays the violin [syn: fiddler]. The denotation doesn’t offer us much, but the connotation of violinist does. Imagine a violinist and you might conjure up the image of an itinerant solo magician, with long black gothic locks of hair, disheveled tuxedo, and not-quite-sane glaring staring bottomless eyes are used to stab out at the bourgeois audience, daring them to applaud at the wrong moment.

There being a grain of truth in most every stereotype, like this exchange in an interview on Juliard violinist Chee-Yun’s website shows.

What do you do when you’re not practicing?

I like to go shopping, I love to eat, go walking—but only if the weather is nice and [I like to] go dancing with my friends.

What other kinds of music do you listen to?

Blues, jazz, pop and R & B.

What sign are you?

Taurus—do you really need to know?

What’s the dumbest question you’ve been asked during an interview?

Can I take the 5th on that one?

When I read the last two questions and answers, my first thought was “oh, what a spoiled brat diva.” Of course, if you have the chops to back it up, then you’re not a “brat”, you’re “inspired.” It reminds me of the saying “Poor people are crazy. The rich get to be eccentric”.

Another violinist that I’m completely enamored with was in San Diego this past week, but not to play the violin.

Recent News
On Dec. 29th Jasper Wood proposed to the love of his life Grace Cho in San Diego, California and asked her to be his wife.
(She said YES!)

He just finished recording for an upcoming CD in Ontario, Canada. He’s been appointed as professor of violin at the University of British Columbia, and is just amazing to watch.

Here is a set of videos you can watch online. Check out the one on the bottom left, the “East Coast Music Award Concert Jasper Wood with Denise Djokic Handel/Halvorsen Pasacaglia”. Wow! Check out the speed, accuracy, and just plain bombastic fun that these guys have playing this piece.

I have a goal of being able to see both Jasper Wood and Chee-Yun in live performance. Along with Diana Krall.

The one on the bottom right, “Prokofiev Sonata for 2 violins (2nd movement) Jasper Wood with Judy Kang” is remarkable. I detest Prokofiev because it’s of the sort of music that I like to snidely call “inferior Stravinsky wannabe angry bee music”. But, they do it pretty well. I might have to rethink my prejudice against angry bee music. His partner for the piece, Judy, really pulls off that violinist aura I’m talking about here.

So, when I play the violin, am I angry? Do I wander around wearing ball gowns sawing at the strings with impassioned renaissance spirit? Well, no, because I currently suck pretty hard. If you want to hear Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, that’s like the star of my repertoire right now. That and a wheezing rendition of Simple Gifts. But, I have to say, I’m a hell of a lot better than I was a week ago, when something kind of similar to Go Tell Aunt Rhody could be heard emanating, over and over, choppily, from the upstairs office.

There is a saying in music and that saying is “no personal Everests.” That’s good advice. You don’t want to kill off a dream by having a goal that is truly unattainable. Most western-European/American types need some sort of mid-term goal that can be worked towards and achieved. I said screw that and picked the violin pieces from Howard Shore’s work on The Lord of the Rings. That’s what I would like to be able to play from memory. Along with a lot of reels and jigs and a good number of Metallica solos.

Yesterday I took my violin with me to choir at church. After we sang (and boy did we pull it together on a really hard piece we’ve been working on for a long time) I reported for inspection to the violinists that accompany the choir. They’d demanded to see “the new horn” a few weeks ago and I’d promised to bring it with me so they could see it. Now, imagine, a set of identical twins, who both play the violin, and who dress very similarly and can be nearly indistinguishable.

They descended upon the violin with fervor! One took the bow, disassembled it in short order and repaired or adjusted something. The other took the violin, put a shoulder rest on it, and started playing it. In four seconds he’d tuned it. In eight seconds he identified a leaning bridge and then shifted it back where it was supposed to be. The violin got flipped, turned, tightened, briefed, debriefed, stamped, numbered… ok, wait, that was from The Prisoner television show. But, within a few minutes, the violin was declared quite good, well worth the money. The strings were pronounced inferior and they ordered me to change them. I was told my bowing was pretty darn good. I was asked why I didn’t have tape on the fingerboard to mark where the notes were. I dissembled a bit about how I was trying not to use tape, and that I was hitting the notes pretty well as it was, but they gave me a rousing speech about Tape and how All Great Musicians Start with Tape. I wasn’t entirely convinced about using tape to mark positions on the fingerboard, but I thought maybe an old Def Leppard sticker on the side of the violin case might look good.

When the twins talk (Father Nick refers to them as “the fiddler boys”), they alternate sentences. They seamlessly communicate, never talking over each other, and often finishing each other’s sentences. They are charming, nice, smart, and funny, and I can’t wait to get better at playing the violin in order to maybe play with them. I enjoy singing with the choir very much, and am active in supporting it, but if I were to change jobs in the music ministry, it would be to play the violin.

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