Hit or Miss

“Under the ordinary teaching methods, the pupil gets nineteen wrong to one right experience. It ought to be the other way round.”

–F.M. Alexander

A young instrumentalist aiming for a professional life onstage puts in a staggering number of practice hours during their formative years.I heard the director of our Conservatoire recently state the figure of 8 to 10 hours a day for the 18-24 year olds at undergraduate and graduate levels. Does he think that’s what’s happening in the practice room or wish that it were so? Continue reading

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Objects

Last summer I was once again a participant in the Marlboro Music Festival.  As always, the school generously provided my wife, Dorothea, and me with a house off campus.    This time we were given the former home of David Soyer, the cellist of our Guarneri String Quartet for thirty-seven of its forty-five-year existence.   Dave passed away in 2010, his wife, Janet, in 2011.

I knew Dave and Janet’s house rather well, a charming, rustic old place set in the woods, and I looked forward to staying in it.  When people asked me whether I wouldn’t feel funny living in their house now that they were gone, I laughed and said no at first without really thinking much about it.  But then I began to wonder whether Dave and Janet would in fact have liked us to be sleeping in their bed, breakfasting on their porch, or inviting friends over for coffee Continue reading

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Dave

David Soyer, cellist and founding member of the Guarneri String Quartet, passed away on February 26, 2010- one day after his 86th birthday. Michael Tree, violist, and John Dalley and I, violinists, the other founding members, played in the quartet with Dave for almost forty years and we knew him for close to fifty. Peter Wiley, a former cello student of Dave’s and his successor in the Guarneri Quartet, has known him for easily forty years. Given the close musical and personal relationship that we had with Dave stretching over decades, it is hard to believe that he is no longer with us.

Dave and I first met at the Marlboro Music School- quite literally at a rehearsal for Brahms B Major Piano Trio. In the course of that two-hour rehearsal, I learned very quickly that Dave was smart, direct, even blunt, yet full of wit and charm. And from his very first notes, I knew that I was in the presence of not only an outstanding cellist and musician, but also someone with a distinctive and compelling voice. Dave’s playing could never be confused with that of a solid but generic cellist. As in everything about him, music included, Dave was an original. Continue reading

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Working With the Infinite Onion

Here’s a riddle for you:  I am like an infinite onion.  There is always another layer of me for you to peel back and you might feel like crying the entire time.    I am also like doing the dishes.  There is always another meal to eat and that means there will always be more dirty dishes for you to clean….forever!     What am I??

The answer is:  INTONATION!!

Great intonation in a chamber music ensemble is one of the most difficult technical aspects to achieve for any group striving for excellence.  It often requires a lot of rehearsal time, can test anyone’s patience, and all your hard work can seemingly disappear on stage, even for professional ensembles.  I would like to explore the reasons it can be so tricky and complicated, and also offer ideas on how a student ensemble can begin to tackle this thorny subject. Continue reading

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Questions

I would like to beg you, dear Sir, as well as I can, to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.”

     — Rainer Maria Rilke, from Letters to a Young Poet  1903

Einstein began his career working on his theory of relativity and then embarked upon a thirty-year voyage in search of the so-called “unified field theory”, also referred to as the Theory of Everything (ToE). He was ultimately unsuccessful and died leaving this grand question open to succeeding generations of physicists to explore. Continue reading

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Phrasing and Meter