Sunday, October 7, 2012

What is going on!?!?!?!

The blogosphere and other media are buzzing.  The arts are doomed!!  Minnesota Orchestra is locked out, Atlanta Symphony just settled with HUGE concessions, and even Chicago Symphony may be in trouble.  Even America's venerable music conservatories are announcing cuts and trying to "rightsize" their programs.

Disgust for modern day buzzwords and rhetoric aside, one has to wonder: IS this a symptom of the times?  Are orchestras, conservatories, and classical music in general really doomed?  I have heard arts administrators call the symphony orchestra and the string quartet "dinosaurs."

Consider this, over 150 years ago, a music critic, disgusted by dwindling attendance at concerts and what he considered to be a lack of appreciation for musical genius, proclaimed the death of the symphony orchestra and classical music in general.  That music critic was composer Hector Berlioz, who some might even call the "father of the modern day symphony."

Art is and should be a reflection of the times. It is also what people turn to in hard times for comfort and inspiration.  The arts today in this rapidly changing media driven world are more alive than ever, but must be strong while holding to traditional forms, and flexible in their delivery and communication. And most importantly, in the wise words of conductor Stanislaw Skrowaczewski:

"Any important cultural organization must have a clear-sighted artistic vision as the number one priority. No amount of business plans or financial strategies can succeed in the long term unless they are underpinned by an artistic policy that aspires to the very highest level. Artistic leadership is crucial to this end."

Wednesday, January 25, 2012


Here is a very interesting collection of articles about vibrato.

I've found that one of the hardest things to do to a student is to slow down a fast vibrato.  What you basically have to do is ignore the learned vibrato and start again from the beginning.  Sometimes it may even seem easier to start a new vibrato from the right hand!  Of course that involves a host of problems, restringing your instrument, resetting the bass bar, learning to play left handed....

Sunday, May 29, 2011

The summer begins

It's been quite a while since any of the nerdy violists published on this blog!  I'm sure it was because we were all practicing...yeah, that's it....

Came across the best site ever today,

Chock full of great and useful info along the lines of what I have been yelling at my nerdy proteges all YEAR.  MORE focus excercises, MORE drills, MORE tests, MORE of what makes you cry...I mean strong.

So if you feel like "please, sir, could I have some more?" check it out now!


Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Concerto Competition Studio Class!

Today in studio class you were the judges.  The goal of this exercise is to

1) simulate and encourage fear and paranoia in the contestants, a.k.a your studio-mates

and 2) to let the rest of you experience power!!  raw! unadulterated!! power!! Moo hahaha

Seriously though, this was a useful exercise in preparation for the real Paranov Competition of which 7 of our studio are doing next week.  Thanks to EmilyChanaynay and Ryan for tabulating the results.  I am going to post each person's comments  as a separate comment to this post, then I'd like the contestant in question to first comment about how you thought you did, and what you thought went wrong or could have gone better.  In doing this you may be surprised at your perception of the performance versus the "people's perception."

Also, by looking at the rankings of 9 different judges you see evidence that individuals disagree, and that different factors affect different people differently. Do not dispute the validity of the previous sentence, I am your PERFESSOR....

remember what we talked about in class, how when you judge a multi-instrument/piece competition, many factors are in play:  the "wow" factor sometimes being the least.  I tend to look for the most finished and most convincing performance of that particular work regardless of difficulty, and also for the most marketable.  Based on THAT, I give the following rankings.

1. Danielle/Laura (tie)
2. Jhoana
3. David/Ariel/Fernando (tie)
4. Mary
5. Gabe

Concerto Competition Pre-Preliminaries

Studio  Standings from studio members (not all)

Various Rankings:

1. Laura, Ariel, Gabe, Jhoana, David, Mary, Danielle
2. Laura, Ariel, Jhoana, Gabe, Danielle, Mary, David
3. Laura, Jhoana, Ariel, Mary, Danielle, David, Gabe
4. Laura, Jhoana, Ariel, David, Danielle, Mary, Gabe
5. Laura, David, Ariel, Danielle, Mary, Jhoana, Gabe
6. Ariel, David, Gabe, Laura, Mary, Jhoana, Danielle
7. Laura, Ariel Jhoana, Danielle, Gabe, Mary, David
8. Laura, Ariel, Danielle, Jhoana David, Gabe, Mary
9. Laura, David, Ariel, Danielle, Jhoana, Mary, Gabe

*(made by the class, even though I appear as author of the comments I have privately emailed you my opinions)

Saturday, September 25, 2010

National Intonation Month!

The Beat up the out of tune violist method.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Intonation 101

Welcome to the new school year kids.  I hope your INTONATION drills are going well.  Please feel free to post comments about what is and what is not working.  Below is a little missive that will brighten your practice room (I hope).

Intonation 101

A string player’s sense of intonation is a tricky subject.  We do not play on instruments that possess set notches (guitar, recorder), holes (flutes, clarinets, bassoons), or buttons (keyboards, accordions) to determine notes.  While beginning string students may have the benefit of fake fret-like tape on their fingerboards, this crutch is soon stripped away and we are ostensibly taught to rely upon “feel” and “hand position.”

Even once a good sense of intonation is gained, as we begin to play with other instruments, even more problems emerge. In a string quartet rehearsal the issue might be the struggle between the way we hear the perfect fifth and where the middle voices place the third or the seventh.  A violinist and a cellist will hear things differently, based on their place in the chordal structure.  When playing with a piano (a tempered instrument) one has to rely less on color of pitch but mathematical distance between them. 

Intonation 101 checklist:

Starting out by yourself in the practice room

  1. Can it be tuned against an open string?  If yes, then not only check it against string but listen and feel for the ringing.  If not, then

  1. Can the note be fingered or related to a note that is an open string note?  If not then

  1. Can it be related to a note or finger that you are assured of getting in tune (i.e. something in first position, or some other position that you can hit every time)? If not, then

  1. Can you simplify the approach to the note?  Keep it in a low or safe (for you) position?

Add a piano (all the above, plus):

  1. Where in the chordal structure are you?

  1. Do you know what the melodic intervals are from note to note?

Add another string player (all the above, plus):

  1. Where in the chordal structure and inversion are you?

  1. Are your fifths tuned lower as you reach the bottom strings?

  1. Are you using vibrato?  Are your vibratos matching?  Are you using similar positions?

Add a woodwind player (all the above, plus):

  1.  Is he/she warmed up?  Wind instruments change in pitch according to the external room temperature

11.  Are articulations similar?  Sometimes pitch bends during hard articulations.

For more on the History of String Intonation, check out this article written by Hasse Borrup.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010


It's summertime, and I am in the middle of the slog of summer festivals. I am on festival #3, the NYU Intensive String Quartet Seminar, located in New York City on the NYU campus.  It's nice to have students scattered around at these various festivals; not only do I get to keep an eye on them, but we get to explore many aspects of performing and traveling that we may not approach during the normal school year.

here is a link to a radio broadcast I did last week when I was performing the Bartok Concerto in Houston.  Chock full of interesting factoids for the viola-nerdy.

Looking forward to seeing you at the next festival!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

A Violist's Vacation

Clay Pipkin: Acoustical Engineering & Music Major, Violist.

1.6 Billion people, about 25% of the world's population, don't have access to clean water- that's five times the population of the United States of America. More people die from unsafe water than from all forms of violence, including war.

On January 7th 2010, I lead an Engineers Without Borders assessment/ implementation trip with ten of my peers and four professors to a small village in Abheypur, India. For the majority of the students travelling, it their first time seeing poverty beyond that of what is seen in America.

-before EWB, this pump was the primary source of drinking water for the villagers. Women would wait in line for hours hoping for electricity to power the pump. If the power cut out before they got their share, they were out of luck.

Throughout history, NGO's and other help groups have gone into countries and communities trying to make a difference, but often do more dammage than actual good. An example would be Goodwill in the late 1970's. They offered a massive donation of clothing to various communities in Kenya. It sounds great that they could offer goods to people in need, however in doing so, they destroyed an entire clothing and farming industry.

EWB works towards trying to make sure our projects have a lasting and sustainable impact.

I'll post again sometime soon telling more about what happened on my specific trip, how we ensure our projects are sustainable, and how I felt about the work I was doing.

In the meantime, check out last year's video:

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Orchestra Rep schedule Spring 2010

The Spring Semester Rep Class will be focused by different techniques that are required to skillfully demonstrate in an audition:  bow techniques such as spiccatto, legato; how to maximize intonation; rhythm, and psychological techniques for the audition boot camp.  Students are required to obtain the Don Greene book "Performing Under Pressure."

Orch rep schedule Spring 2010

Jan 25:  legato:  Brahms 3 and Tchaikovsky 4
Feb 1:  legato: Ravel: Daphnis and Chloe
Feb 8:  fakey spicatto: a review of last semesters spiccato excerpts: Mendelssohn Scherzo, Brahms Haydn Variation 5
Feb 15: “real” spiccatto:  Mozart Haffner
Feb 22: string crossing nightmares:  Mozart Haffner
Mar 1: rhythmic issues: Daphnis and Chloe; how to practice sightreading
Mar 8: midterm, friendly audition
March 22: intonation: Rachmaninoff Symphony No. 2
March 29: intonation (high): Heldenleben
April 5: Don Greene drills
April 12: mock audition (internal) using Don Greene techniques
April 19: more drills: spiccato under pressure, legato under pressure
April 26: yearly review for scary mock audition final

Friday, October 30, 2009

The Traveling Violist

Nerdy Violist-

For those of us who have to fly with our violas this winter, where can we find that handy piece of paper that says we are allowed to carry on our instruments?