No, no, I didn't fall off of the face of the earth, I've just been really busy with Dallas Symphony rehearsals lately.  We played 9 youth concerts over the past week and a half!  The program was John Lanchbery's The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin from The Tales of Beatrix Potter and Prokofiev's Peter and the Wolf.  Squirrel Nutkin was originally a ballet so we had members of the Black Dance Academy come to perform it.  It was well done and extremely amusing - they really got into character!  Peter and the Wolf was fun although I'm always surprised at how long the piece seems every time I play it - especially since Prokofiev is my favorite composer of all time.

In addition to the youth concerts last week, we also performed the music of Billy Joel with Mark Cavanaugh.  There were 3 concerts and they were pretty entertaining.  This week we're doing the film music of George Fenton.  He's written scores for over 75 films, I can't believe I didn't know his name before!  He wrote the music for EverAfter, Sweet Home Alabama, Hitch, Planet Earth, and You've Got Mail to name just a few.  They're going to have clips of the films playing on a giant screen overhead during the concert.  I'm really interested to see how it turns out!  Our first concert is tomorrow night.

Rehearsals have kind of taken over my life right now.  I've also been doing some teaching and seeing a few friends here and there, along with doing homework and my project for my Professional Development for Musicians class.  I really want to be practicing more, I get in a little over an hour before rehearsals in the mornings but then I'm pretty exhausted for the rest of the day.  I'll have a lot of time to catch up next week though since it's Spring Break - if rehearsing with my Trio and doing make-up lessons for all of my students doesn't kill me.

I wrote a short response paper for my class tonight and it focuses on a lot of things I've been thinking about recently so I'll just share it here (please excuse the brain-dead writing):

        I found the readings for this week extremely thought provoking.  Riche’s article on Demographics   and the Dynamics of Change contained a wealth of information and statistics about our nation’s expansion in race, ethnicity and aging.  Just over the past fifty years the percentage of ethnic minorities has increased from 12 to 34 percent and is continuing to grow.  Minority groups that once occupied only particular demographics have now spread throughout the country.  To top it all off, because of advances in technology and healthcare, the population as a whole is living much longer and the number of people within each age group is becoming relatively the same.
        Ben Cameron’s Keynote Address at the Performing Arts Exchange in 2007 touched on a subject that I believe a lot of musicians don’t like to think about.  That being the fact that classical music audiences are decreasing because of cultural and technological changes within our society.  The lives of our population as a whole are becoming increasingly fast-paced and stressful, and the effects are seen in how people are using their “downtime”.  Multiple age groups are staying at home to rest instead of going out at night and a lot of this has to do with the technological changes I mentioned.  With the recent advances in computers and the Internet, people can access nearly every form of entertainment with a click of a button.  Instead of paying tens or hundreds of dollars for a ticket to a concert, they can download a specialized concert for themselves at a mere 99 cents a track.  It is ironic that while the Internet has opened doors for social networking never seen before, people are actually becoming less socially involved as they sit in front of their computer screens at home. 
        With all of these ideas in mind, what is the chamber music scene to do?  Audiences for chamber concerts are smaller to begin with, usually because they are made up of the older “white” population and music students.  Observing changes in our society, one might think that chamber music will eventually fade from existence.  However, I do not think this will happen.  Despite the population’s ever growing desire for loud, fast-paced, mind-numbing entertainment, I believe that there is still a strong part in all of us that longs for a more intimate, and intellectually stimulating world that chamber music captures so well. 
        There will need to be some changes to help generate audiences; music will need to be much more ethnically diverse, performance venues will need to be more accessible and the artists will need to be more engaging and approachable.  There are some ensembles devoted to these ideals already, such as the Turtle Island String Quartet and the Kronos String Quartet.  That isn’t to say that traditional Romantic and Classical pieces can’t be performed in normal venues, but reaching out and engaging audiences is becoming more important now than ever.  The pages we read in Beyond Talent explain how to talk to audiences.  Even though many classical musicians think that their job is to play the music that the program notes describe, they don’t realize how much audiences enjoy feeling connected to the artist in a personal way.  Something people can’t get from on demand entertainment in their homes is personal interaction with the actual entertainment.  Engaging audiences in a personal manner creates an entirely different experience that people will return for over and over again.           
        If musicians can continue to take steps in these directions, no matter how our society evolves, classical music will always be right there alongside it.
The semi-finals for the Shepherd School Concerto Competition were on Sunday afternoon.  I escaped the angst that usually accompanies the week of a competition by convincing myself I wasn't actually participating.  I was still in denial about it even as I put on my dress and make up and stood outside Stude Hall.  I really hate competitions.  I feel like I don't perform naturally and they stress me out beyond reason.  Lately I've been working really hard at adopting a new attitude towards competitions because I know they're going to be a part of the next 10 or so years of my life, and the way I've felt in competitions in the past, even when I've won, is something I don't want to continually experience.

There really is something to be said for positive thinking.  Negative thoughts plague me during competitions and over the past week I had to consciously replace each one with something positive.  I actually think it helped, I felt a lot calmer during the day which even helped my nerves on stage!  That's the other reason I hate competitions.. nerves.  I usually don't get nervous when I'm performing for an audience, but competitions are a different story.  I'm sure many other people feel the same way.

When I stepped on stage to perform the Beethoven Concerto in this competition though I felt really different.  I felt confident and ready and when it was over I was happy with how I played!  That's another rare occurrence for me during competitions.

I was so relieved to receive the email saying I was one of the 4 finalists that is going to perform on Saturday!  And then that's the funny thing about competitions - if you don't advance you will most likely be upset yet relieved that you don't have to perform again, and if you do advance you'll be excited but then stressed about the next round! That's how it is for me at least :)  I'm personally trying not to stress; I'm trying to think of it just as another performance and not a competition.  I'm really excited though! Performing the whole concerto in that hall for an audience will be wonderful.

This week is really interesting though.  I'm subbing with the Dallas Symphony which means that I drove home last night after an entire day of teaching so I could be back in time for rehearsal at the Meyerson this morning.  The schedule for this week coincidentally lists Saturday as a free day which was why I accepted the sub offer, thinking I would be able to get back to Houston for the finals if I actually happened to pass the semis.  Now I really am in the finals and will have to drive back to Houston on Friday night for my performance Saturday afternoon.  Not something I'm really looking forward to! But my mom is going to come with me to watch me perform and help drive, so I can relax a little.

We have youth concerts in the morning and another rehearsal in the afternoon so I suppose I should get to bed!  Maybe I'll dream of the Beethoven concerto! Haha - I love this piece.
The Shepherd School Chamber Orchestra performed its all-Mozart program tonight!  We played the Overture to Cosi fan Tutti, the bassoon concerto in B-flat Major and the all too well known G Minor Symphony No. 40.

I tried to get all of my students to come but I didn't see any of them there.  For some reason, the Chamber Orchestra concerts at Shepherd are never well attended while the Symphony Orchestra concerts are so packed that at least a hundred people end up watching the performance on the big screen TV in the lobby!  I've talked with a lot of people trying to figure out why this is.. no one seems to have the answer.  I for one believe that most audience members are under the false impression that the Chamber Orchestra is a "lesser" orchestra compared to the Symphony.  Maybe because the concerts are often shorter, and the orchestra is over 50% smaller which kind of looks like they're the "extras" that didn't "make it" into Symphony.

This is all speculation of course, I don't really know why generating an audience for the Chamber Orchestra concerts is so difficult.  But tonight we had a really wonderful crowd!!  The whole bottom of the auditorium was almost packed!  (Is it because people just really like Mozart..?) Let me tell you, it certainly makes a difference when you're playing on stage and there's more than 100 or so audience members randomly scattered around the hall.

I was principal second for this concert and I was so proud of my section!  They really handled everything beautifully and I felt that we were extremely together and energized for the most part. Great job guys!  I thought it was funny that my section this semester was entirely made up of girls.  Last night during the Shepherd Symphony Orchestra concert (which was amazing by the way!!!) I began counting girls versus guys in the sections.  In the violins there were 21 girls vs. 7 guys, cellos 8 girls vs. 5 guys and in the violas 10 girls vs. 2 guys!!!! How did I never notice this before??  Mr. Goldsmith wasn't kidding when he said the ratio for female applicants versus male applicants for music schools is 4:1!!! (Has anyone else noticed this at their school?)

The concert went wonderfully though.  Cosi fan Tutti managed to pull itself together after some shaky rehearsals, Matthew McDonald was spectacular in the bassoon concerto, and the orchestra really came to life during the Symphony.  Of course, Larry is incredible with Mozart; he seems to feel it so much more intuitively than other conductors.  So all in all, this was a really fantastic Chamber Orchestra experience!

What are your opinions on Chamber Orchestras?  And for those who may not be musicians, why might you or might not choose to go to a chamber orchestra concert?  Maybe with your help I can come up with some ideas to boost attendance at the Shepherd School's Chamber Orchestra concerts!
My whole performance of the Beethoven Violin Concerto is officially on YouTube!  I don't know how many hoops I had to jump through to get the thing uploaded, but it's there!  Here's the cadenza from the first movement - the rest of the performance can be accessed from there:
Well, it took me forever, but I finally got a movement of the Beethoven Concerto from my performance on Tuesday night uploaded to YouTube!  I only have the third movement, Rondo, right now, but I hope to have the rest soon. Enjoy!
Tonight three of my studio classmates and I went out for dinner and the conversation quickly took a turn towards chamber music.  I'm sure everyone has had their fair share of bad experiences with chamber music, but it never fails to amuse me when I hear stories of how rude people can be during rehearsals!

I have the utmost respect for professional chamber ensembles.  The fact that three or more people can spend hours together on a daily basis, and can be sincerely open to critiquing from the other members blows my mind away.  Whenever I'm in a quartet or trio rehearsal, I feel like I'm walking on eggshells so as to make sure I don't rub my fellow musicians the wrong way.  And I'm sure it's not all butterflies and daisies for the professional groups; one of my best friends is first violinist of the Aeolus Quartet and he's told me of the difficulties they (and every other quartet!) face during rehearsals. (And by the way, you should definitely check out their quartet - they are absolutely STUNNING!!!)

How do they do it??  I love playing chamber music, but feel that my full enjoyment is hindered by my constant worry that I'm doing something the other members don't like.  Maybe I'm just silly and paranoid..

What are your chamber music experiences?
I know I'm not the first person to find that the expectation of a lousy performance often brings about the opposite result.  I remember the first time that happened to me - I was in Riga, Latvia and had to perform Sarasate's Introduction and Tarantella with the flu.  I knew nothing good could come of the performance - I was exhausted and could barely even hear because of congestion.  But I remember playing on stage and being amazed at how well everything was going.  I was hitting notes that were usually "iffy" and didn't even feel the slightest bit nervous.

Our minds play ridiculous games with us as performers, I'm learning this more and more every day.  Tonight I had a performance of the Beethoven Violin Concerto in my studio's recital in Duncan Hall.  For the past few days my left hand has been feeling.. strange. "Twitchy", you might say.  Today it was horrible, I couldn't do anything without my hand shaking and my thumb involuntarily twitching every so often.  I thought, "there's no way I'm going to be able to get through this 40 minute concerto tonight."  But I knew I needed to do it, so I practiced a little in the afternoon, being careful not to overplay, and pulled myself together for the performance.

Even though I was worried about my hand, I wasn't nervous.  There was a sort of paradox going on with my thoughts.  I would think that worrying about my hand not feeling normal during a performance would make me more nervous.  Instead my focus shifted from "I have to give a perfect performance!" to, "my hand isn't feeling right, I can't expect a lot, so I'll just go out and do the best that I can."

The performance went wonderfully! It wasn't perfect, it never is, but I had no major problems and was really happy with how it all went.  During the first movement, I felt slightly like I was having to control the shaking of my hand.  It's really strange when a part of you is shaking and it's not from nervousness.  As the piece went on though, I felt more control over it and more at ease.  I still felt really shaky for about 20 minutes after I was finished, but now I'm typing and my hand feels almost normal.  It's certainly much better than it was over the past few days.

So what does that mean - it's all in my head?  I'm not sure.  Part of me hopes so (though that would be annoying), but most of me thinks it's some sort of small issue that's exacerbated by adrenaline preparing me for a performance.  My hand hasn't done that before though, so I need to go get it checked out in case there's a problem.  I can say for sure, I'm definitely taking a break from violin in the morning.

Who else has a story about strange physical phenomena before or during a performance?
I'm entering the Shepherd School concerto competition next week and the hair on my Voirin bow is completely shot.  Since I still haven't found a good place to get a rehair in Houston, I've been driving to Dallas for the maintenance.   Which is what I did this morning. Keep in mind that there was an ice storm in Dallas yesterday.. but after living in Cleveland for four years, I know how to deal with winter weather, right?

Maybe do, but the rest of Texas doesn't, that's for sure.  The roads were just wet for the most part until 50 miles outside of downtown Dallas.  Snow, ice and slush built up on the shoulders and then moved their way onto the road.  You would think that the 25 or so spun-out cars on the side of the highway would have been some sort of clue to the people speeding down the road at 70 miles an hour.  Or maybe the terrifying way their cars/trucks/SUVs started to skid around in the muck when they ran into it or tried to change lanes.  I think most of the people driving today had selective blindness.. and.. awareness.... I on the other hand, kept at a steady 40 mph and didn't run into any life-threatening circumstances.  It was scary as heck, and I clung to my steering wheel, praying for dear life, but I got to Jay's repair shop in one piece!  I'll be glad to have my bow back with fresh hair in a few days :D

David Kim is concertmaster of the Philadelphia Orchestra, but he's acting as guest concertmaster with the Dallas Symphony this week and was gracious enough to give me a almost an hour of his time before the concert tonight.  We worked on a few sections of the Beethoven concerto and he gave me absolutely wonderful advice and insight.  It was great to play for him and I'm glad I video-taped it so I can study everything later.

The DSO finally got to play their concert tonight! Thursday and Friday nights were cancelled because of the weather and almost all of their rehearsals were cancelled as well.  They had a double service on Wednesday and then nothing until 4 this afternoon when they got together for an emergency rehearsal.  The first half was the premiere of a percussion concert piece by Stewart Copeland.  It was amazing! Here's a sort of sneak peak at it - incredible.  The second half was Mendelssohn's Scottish Symphony - which was also amazing, especially when you think about how little time they had to prepare it!  What I couldn't get over tonight was the audience! They went absolutely WILD after both pieces!!! It was really refreshing.  I'm proud to say that I attended the DSO's "Concert That Wouldn't DIE" (as coined by DSO's Vice-President of Artistic Operations, Mark Melson)

I think I'm all "music'd" out for one day..... nah.. who am I kidding.
People often wonder why I have such a strong dislike for the winter months.  It's because my hands will get so cold and will take so long to warm up, that playing violin becomes really difficult!  If I've been outside for more than five minutes, even with heavy gloves on, it will take a good thirty minutes for my hands to feel normal again and not like cardboard.

Thank goodness for hot water though.  I can speed up the warming process by running my hands and forearms under hot water for a few minutes.  When I go to a school or a building where I have to perform and they only have automatic faucets in the bathrooms I get very annoyed.  Thankfully we don't have that problem at Rice University :)

I'm practicing in my apartment today.  It's 25 degrees outside, but I'm warm in my apartment with Beethoven concerto, my puppy Himiko and a wintry scented Yankee Candle Co. candle.  In about an hour I'm going to go teach a lesson at Rice and then maybe see a movie with a friend later.  I'm hoping the road conditions in Dallas clear up overnight so I can drive home in the morning.  I'm playing Beethoven for David Kim before the Dallas Symphony concert tomorrow night! He's a great musician, I'm really excited!

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