The Legacy Project: Feed a Body, Feed a Soul – Recording a Christmas CD of Fiddle Music

ImageOne of my goals for 2013 was to find a way to give back to the community.  Some might say that I do so by teaching children how to play the violin/fiddle.  Some might say that I do that by performing music and taking some of my groups into retirement homes and hospitals.  I have never felt like those are completely selfless acts as they are part of my business.  I accept money for teaching lessons, and though I am not paid to take my groups to retirement home, I am still paid for running the groups.

This is the year that I give back to my community in what I hope will be a big way!  I have been trying to figure out what to do.  I don’t have a lot of time to give away with volunteering, and I don’t like to undercut other musicians by performing for free, so what now?  I am going to be recording a CD of Christmas music this year, selling it, and donating the proceeds to the local food banks through CBC Fredericton’s “Feed a Family” campaign.  I am excited to be working on this project and hope to be able to parley my time and effort into far more money for the food banks than I could afford to donate on my own.

So why call it “The Legacy Project:  Feed a Body, Feed a Soul”?  Let’s start with the legacy part of this.  My father passed away in 2011.  He was a botanist, but was also very involved in music and had a large impact on the local music scene.  Since he passed away, I have wanted to do something in his memory, but nothing every really felt right.  We used to do family concerts to raise money for charity, so this idea of using music to raise money for a local organization felt right.  This project is in his memory, and I am hoping will become in a way part of his musical legacy in Fredericton, NB.

The “Feed a Body, Feed a Soul” part of the title has to do with the fact that we are raising money to help the local food banks.  In this way we will be feeding a body, or hopefully many bodies.  Music is said to be the food of the soul, so the fact of recording this CD will hopefully help feed the souls of all those that listen to it.

There will be many steps along this process.  I have decided to return to Outreach Productions to record and am grateful to them for agreeing to sponsor this project.  With their sponsorship, we will be able to raise more money for the food banks!

So how can you help?  I am holding a fundraising concert/launching the project on Friday, April 19th in Fredericton, NB at the Charlotte St. Arts Centre (732 Charlotte St.) at 7:30pm.  Many of my musical friends including Derrick Miller, SONAS, Different Folk and Tom Richards have agreed to come perform through the evening.  There will be not cover charge, however I am hoping that you will all come along with your wallets and donate.  Together we can make this project truly great!

Falling in Love Again: Being Reunited with my Violin

fiddle7I have not been playing one of my violins for over year now.  This violin is the one that my parents bought for me when I was in university and is the instrument that I have used for most of my classical performances ever since.  Over a year ago, I noticed that the top was coming apart from the back near the neck of the violin.  I was worried about how much work was going to be needed to repair it as the front was actually bowing away from the violin.  I put off getting the repairs done because I did not want to deal with it.

I studied music at McGill University, and during my second year, decided that it was time to upgrade my violin.  My parents and I went to a luthier to check out some violins, with the plan just to look and not to buy anything right away.  This plan did not pan out, and I walked out with a new to me violin, a lovely Tyrolean violin made in the early 1800s.  I had fallen in love.

My violin and I were together for about 14 years without any issues.  My violin came apart near the neck, and I was worried about how much work might need to be done.  Usually, splitting seams are not all that big a deal and can be fixed relatively easily by a luthier.  I was worried as the front of my violin was actually bowing out away from the ribs.  I stopped playing the instrument because I was worried that continued contact with my hands would cause more damage.

Finally, shortly after Christmas 2012 I was able to send my violin to Montreal with friends to have it repaired.  The luthier called me to tell me that the repairs would not be all that major, and would only cost me a small amount.  It was a huge relief.

I got my violin back on February 19th, 2013, I was in the middle of a concert series with Symphony NB, so did not go back to playing my violin immediately.  I have since started playing this specific instrument again.  My violin did not sound the way I remembered, which was a little disappointing, but I had known that this situation might occur.   It had not been played in over a year, and also had been repaired.  Since then, I have been playing my violin as much as possible to try to get in touch with it again.

My violin and I have been getting along quite well, it is opening up and sounding warmer as time goes on.  As the sound has been improving, I have started remembering why I chose this violin over 15 years ago.  I am in the process of falling in love again with my violin!

Am I Normal? The Question all Fiddle Students Ask

small__3534516458Recently I have been asked the same question several times.  “Do others of your students have this same problem?”  “Is my child learning at a normal speed?”  This is fascinating!  These are students of all ages, so this seems that we don’t grow out of this concern as we grow older.

Many times I have taught students who struggle in their first year of lessons, but who flourish later on.   I have been running a string program at an elementary school for the past three years.  It is great to see that some of the kids who were having difficulty in the first year are now some of the stronger students.  It is great to see their confidence growing as time has gone on.

I try in my lessons to encourage students to improve without worrying about where they are compared to others.  In the end it does not matter whether or not other students have the same problems.  What matters is where you have are having difficulty and how we can fix it!  You need to keep improving and moving forward.

I am not immune to this issue myself and am always comparing myself to other violinists, fiddlers and professional musicians.  At times I feel like my career is moving very slowly compared to some other people.  In the end, I always find that it is best for me to travel at my own speed.  When I think of all that I have accomplished, my career is moving along quite well.

My hope for all us (me included) is that we can concentrate on ourselves, and continue learning and improving.

Tips & Tricks: Overcoming The Dreaded Plateau

progressRecently a student of mine was getting very frustrated because she was working really hard, practicing regularly, and felt that she was not improving.  I have been through this many times over the past 20 years.  We all think that progress should be a smooth curve, like the image I have included here.  It is not!

In reality, even though you are practicing regularly, there will be times when you won’t feel like you are progressing at all!  There will then be times when you will feel like your playing has improved immensely over night.  The plateau periods are incredibly frustrating and make you feel like you might as well quit trying, but over time, it will all pay off!

So, once you hit a plateau period, what should you do?  The big thing is not to quit trying, but to persevere.  I will often change my practice routine.  I honestly don’t know that it helps break the plateau any faster, but it does help your morale!

Something else you should know is that I still experience plateaus at this point in my career.  I still practice and am still aiming to improve.  I also still experience the moments that seem like sudden improvement.  So, when you run into a plateau, don’t get discouraged and keep on working!

Please leave a comment if you have a great way to break the dreaded plateau!

Tips & Tricks: How Violin is Like Hockey

small__4912748706Perhaps due to my classical training, I feel best about lessons that include technique, such as scales, as well as learning pieces.  Here is a conversation that often occurs as I am working on a study or scale with a student:

Student:  “What is the name of this piece?”

Me:  “D Major Study.”

Student:  “So, is it a song?”

Me:  “No, it is an exercise.”

Student:  “If it isn’t a song, why do I have to learn it?”

I would usually tell the student that you have to practice your studies/scales so playing pieces will be easier, but one day, in a moment of brilliance one day I told the student I was teaching at the time that learning the violin is like going to a hockey practice:  You don’t just play the game, but you also have to work on drills.  The reason for doing these drills is so that you can develop all the skills you need for playing in a game situation.  By already having the skills, you can react as needed when a certain situation arises.  That seemed to make sense to him.

In music, you should practice your scales and arpeggios so that when you come upon one in a piece, you don’t have to think about every single note individually. The pattern will already be familiar to you.  You should also work on exercises that will develop your technique.  This is again so that when you run across a specific technique in a piece of music, you will already have the skill needed.

Having said all this, there are some teachers who don’t believe in using studies, and prefer to teach technique by picking pieces that include whatever it is they want to teach.  There is definite validity to both techniques.  My teachers were great believers in scales and studies, and it is these habits and techniques that I aim to pass along to my students!

photo credit: Paul L Dineen via photopin cc

A Violinist’s Experience Playing in a Chamber Orchestra

SINFONIA_LogoK+PMSMet117I play many forms of music with many different groups.  This past weekend I performed as part of the Atlantic Sinfonia, a professional chamber orchestra based in Fredericton, NB.  I got thinking about the rewards and challenges of playing with such a group and thought I would share them with you.

Formed in 2004, the Atlantic Sinfonia is a group of professional musicians from New Brunswick.  The ensemble alternates between concerts featuring a string ensemble, usually formed of about 13 members, and concerts featuring a wind ensemble.  As could be guessed, I am involved in the concerts that feature strings.

This group performs in an 18th century style, standing up instead of sitting down.  I actually prefer standing to play the violin as there is more freedom of movement.  Also, if you who have played your violin sitting down, you will know that you legs are constantly in the way!  Standing up eliminates this problem.

The big challenge of playing in such a group is that we don’t have a conductor.  This means that we are playing more as a chamber group than as an orchestra.  We have to be really in touch with the other players to stay together.  During rehearsals we have to decide who is going to cue each beginning in the music.  For the most part, it is our concertmaster, so he is not only playing his own part, but cueing the rest of us.

We also spend time in rehearsal making sure that we are all on the same page as far as expression, dynamics and bowings.  Without a conductor, everyone is more a part of the decisions about expression in the music.  It is a more democratic setting than working with a conductor.

As far as rewards, I love being in a small group and feeling like I am really important.  I know that all the players in a symphony are important, but when you are one of 10-12 second violins, you don’t always feel that way.  In the Atlantic Sinfonia, there were only four second violins.  Playing in a chamber orchestra you definitely feel like you are making a difference!

Please leave a comment if you have any experiences playing in a group that you would like to share!