Musical Role Models: Depressing or Inspiring?

Are you the type to be discouraged or inspired by great performers?

 

It seems there are two kinds of people in the world: those who react positively and those who react negatively in the presence of someone who is “better” at something than they are.

For example, while observing a successful performer having accomplished a specific task, individual A might

  1. be discouraged and tempted to throw in the towel.
  2. think or say something something like, “I’ll never be that good, so why bother?”
  3. believe the performer is showing them up.
  4. feel envy, jealousy, or enmity towards the performer.
  5. be hesitant to share his/her “lesser” talents with others in the future.

On the other hand, individual B might

  1. be inspired and encouraged.
  2. think or say something like, “That was incredible. What can I do to find similar success?”
  3. believe in the performer’s good intentions to share a positive achievement.
  4. feel gratitude and admiration for the performer.
  5. be excited to improve and share his/her talents with others in the future.

As a musician, do you find yourself more like individual A or B? When you see a great musical performance, are you inspired and encouraged to practice and improve, or are you tempted to give up?

Having a positive attitude about playing music is incredibly important to your success as an artist. Sure, we all have our frustrating days. Like when no matter how much you’ve practiced, you just can’t seem to get that tricky phrase down. Or you’ve spent months or years working on a piece to perform in a competition to discover one of your peers has smoked you on the same number and beat you out. There may be days when your teacher seems disappointed by your lack of progress, or your technical weaknesses may seem too challenging to overcome.

But music and playing your instrument aren’t meant to be torture, and practice shouldn’t be depressing. If you find yourself feeling discouraged about your progress as a musician, try taking some time to reflect on a few of these questions:

  • Why do you play your instrument?
  • How does music enrich your life?
  • How does music enrich others’ lives?
  • What are your greatest strengths as a musician?
  • What are areas where you can improve?
  • Who are musicians and performers who inspire you?
  • What do you hope to accomplish as a musician?
  • Do you love what you do?
  • Do you like practicing? Or do you hate it?
  • Do you set realistic goals for yourself?
  • Are you investing the time and effort required to meet your goals?
  • What motivates you as a musician?

I often think of a story my husband shared with me from his teenage years when he worked doing construction and remodeling. He worked with many foreign immigrants who struggled to make ends meet. Once, when driving around a beautiful neighborhood of large and impressive homes, one of his coworkers, Hugo, an older man with a difficult life, gazed at the beautiful homes and said, “Aren’t you so happy for these people? I am so happy for them. Look at the beautiful homes and lives they enjoy.” Hugo rejoiced in the successes of others, knowing that even if he never had the riches or talents or beautiful things they did, he could still be happy that someone could have them, if not him.

So even if you don’t perform solo at Carnegie hall or fight back a slew of fans dying for your autograph or sound like Joshua Bell, don’t be discouraged. No matter what level of performance you’re at, remember that there is no “perfection” in the world of musicianship. Be grateful for role models and teachers who inspire. We, including them, are all students, no matter our age, striving to create something meaningful through our art. We constantly improve in a never-ending effort to become a little better at what we do while enriching the lives of others (and ourselves) in the process. So don’t give up. Enjoy the journey, and let yourself be inspired!

OCS Scholarship Auditions

This past Sunday, April 22, the Oregon Cello Society held their annual scholarship auditions.  The auditions were open to students in Oregon and SW Washington.  The OCS auditions have several divisions and levels for students to participate in with awards at each level.  The major award that the students were vying for was the Bud Armstrong Scholarship in the amount of $500.

This year, through the OCS auditions, Kennedy Violins awarded Hannah Burke, a talented young student, a Prodigy Coda Bow.  Hannah is 11 years old and studies with Nancy Ives of the Oregon Symphony.  We know that equipped with the new bow she will progress and continue to be successful in her cello studies.

For more information about the Oregon Cello Society and its scholarship auditions, check out their website or you can contact Valdine Mishkin (valdinemishkin@gmail.com).

Stradivarius in the Attic?

So you’re at Grandpa’s house helping him clean out his attic.  While cleaning, you stumble across a dusty trunk and inside you find some old books, a quilt, and a violin.  At first, it doesn’t look like much, the bridge is missing and who knows the last time the strings were changes.  But wait!  Something catches your eye inside the f-hole.  You take a closer look and see, “Antonius Stradivarius, Cremonenfis, Faciebat Anno 17XX” along with a symbol of an A and an S enclosed in a circle.  That name, “Stradivarius,” isn’t that the one you hear on the news or read about online when a violin is worth millions of dollars.  Your heart starts beating faster and you immediately begin planning out how many yachts that you will be buying….STOP!  Take a breath and read on.

Label from a Stradivarius Violin Copy

Yes, it is true that a genuine Stradivarius violin, or Strad, can be worth millions of dollars, but that is only if it’s genuine.  The reality is that there are only about 500 genuine Strads in existence today (depending on who you ask) and they are all pretty much accounted for.  There are millions copies out there and some date back to the time when Antonio Stradivari was alive.  So how do you know if what you have found is the real deal?

Copy of a Stradivarius Violin from the late 19th Century

The best thing for you to do in this situation is to take it to a reputable violin maker/dealer for an appraisal.  Most places will do this for free.  It’s important to go in with realistic expectations.  There were thousands and thousands of Strad copies manufactured during the late 19th century and on into the mid 20th century which means that you have a 99.997% chance that your “Strad” is a copy.

 

1903 Sears Catalog Listing for a "Genuine Stradivarius"

Strad copies from this time are not worthless though.  Monetarily speaking, if there aren’t any major repairs needed, most are worth $100-$300 (or more if they were well taken care of).  If there are repairs needed, however, the cost to repair the violin could easily override the potential value.  Whether or not you repaired the violin would be up to you.  If money isn’t important to you, why not use this serendipitous find as your chance to start learning how to play the violin?  Or, it could be a gift for another friend or relative wanting to play.  Besides, there is always the sentimental value that is  attached with heirlooms and that is priceless.

What’s That Shiny Lump of Tree Sap In My Violin Case?

Your new violin comes, you’re so excited. When you open the case, one of the things you notice inside is something that looks like a lump of tree sap. What is it? Rosin is a sticky subject. If you don’t get a grip on it, you won’t get very far in playing your violin, viola, cello or bass. Seriously though, rosin is an important element that is required in order to excel at playing, or in fact, to even produce any sound at all with the bow. I shall enlighten you as to what this shiny lump inside your case is, its use, and how to select the optimum rosin for your instrument.
What is rosin?
Rosin is melted tree sap, usually taken from conifer trees. It must be heated to release the terpene components from it. Rosin is brittle at room temperature, but will melt on the stovetop. Melted into a cake, other ingredients are often added, such as beeswax, and sometimes even flecks of gold. Some rosin makers even have secret recipes for their special blend of rosin. Different key ingredients distinguish one type of rosin from another.
What is rosin’s purpose?
The purpose of rosin is to create friction with the horsehair on the violin bow in order to create sound. Without rosin on the bow hair, you cannot produce any sound with the bow. You know you don’t have enough rosin on your bow when your instrument sounds unusually quiet, and/or the bow slips around too much while you are playing. Apply your rosin by rubbing it in long smooth strokes from frog to tip; tip to frog. When you get a brand new cake of rosin, it will be smooth and shiny on the top. Your job is to rough up the surface of the rosin with a piece of sandpaper or a knife. This gets the rosin dust going. If you don’t rough up the surface the first time, the rosin won’t be applied to your bow correctly. Don’t rub your bow across the rosin very quickly, or else the friction created will make the rosin melt on the strings. You don’t want this, you want the rosin duston your bow.
Are their different kinds of rosin?
The varieties and types of rosin are endless. Each variation has a slightly different use. Rosin types can roughly be divided into two categories: light and dark. In general, the light rosins are dustier, and better for more humid environments, while the dark rosins are stickier and better for dry climates. Within those categories, there are some types which are better for violas, celli or bass. My particular favorite rosin for violin is Pirastro Oliv Rosin. Kennedy Violins has a large selection of rosins from which you can choose the rosin to best fit your playing needs. If you have any more questions about rosin, feel free to ask one of our staff members, and they will be more than happy to point you in the right direction.
Written by guest blogger Grace Kobilan
Edited by Marisa Kobilan

 

 

Stage Fright Tips: How to Overcome Performance Anxiety

photo by schleikmeister
Studies show that amongst a general list of “greatest fears,” there’s one in particular that consistently takes the cake. Surpassing a fear of spiders, heights, and even death, the act of public speaking (or performance) leaves most people shaking in their boots.

“So, you’re telling me that at a funeral, most people would rather be the guy in the coffin than have to stand up and give a eulogy,” says Jerry Seinfeld.

Exactly.

So what is it about performing for a crowd that makes us so nervous we physically react? Shaking hands, dry mouth, stomach butterflies, sweating, an increased heart rate, the rush of adrenaline. You would think this fight-or-flight reaction would be in response to a rhinoceros threatening to run you down.

And yet, instead, all you’ll find is a group of strangers, colleagues, family, friends, and even your sweet grandmother happily anticipating your rendition of “Vocalise.” And check this out: 99% of them (unless you have very evil friends), are hoping–and knowing–you’ll succeed. No one wants you to see you fail.

The most common reasons for stage fright are a fear of failure or criticism, uncertainty, self-consciousness, and social phobia. Trouble is, most of us deal with some combination of these fears, desperately hoping to impress or please the people around us–strangers or not.

So while it may take a little more to cure you of your fear of failure (you might also try a few hundred hours of counseling), here are a few tips to battle stage fright and have a truly exceptional–and even rewarding!–performance.

___________________

1. Prepare and Practice.

If you’re afraid of biffing that difficult cadenza, don’t avoid it; instead, face it. Practice the most difficult passages to a point where you don’t worry about them anymore. There’s nothing worse than walking on stage knowing you aren’t prepared. You’d be setting yourself up for failure, which is the root fear that causes stage fright.

2. Be Confident.

Easier said than done, right? But seriously, give yourself some credit! Embrace your ego and let yourself feel strong and capable–because you are. Hours and hours and years of years of your hard work and experience have prepared you for success in this moment. Take pride in the skills you have. Be empowered.

3. Remember, No One’s Perfect.

In fact, the majority of the people in your audience probably have zero experience with your instrument. Some have maybe never touched a violin, viola, cello, or bass in their life. So if you’re fretting over your vibrato in that one phrase being less than perfect, remember that there are people in the audience who don’t even know what vibrato is. It’s like picturing the audience in their underwear as if you have something going for you that they don’t. Truth is, you do.

4. Don’t Dwell on Mistakes.

Along with remembering that no one is perfect, keep in mind that that includes yourself. Everyone makes mistakes. The “perfect” performance doesn’t exist. So if you stumble a little, don’t just stop and give up or stew over what just happened. Instantly move on and get back to the music. Dwelling on your mistakes will lead to making even more mistakes because you’ve lost focus. And speaking of focus . . .

5. Focus.

In the performance setting, there are a lot of details to distract you from the task at hand: the lighting, who’s out in the audience, your accompanist’s polka dot tie. Tune all of it out and focus on what you’ve practiced. There will be time to talk to that cute guy or girl in the audience after you’ve taken your bows.

6. Perform Before You Perform.

Don’t let your big performance be the first time you’ve played for anyone besides your teacher. Take every opportunity possible to play your repertoire before the scheduled performance date. Play for your friends, spouse, family, strangers, or even your cat. Schedule a small house concert or go play on a street corner if you have to.

7. Dress Comfortably.

What to wear might be a concern before your performance, but once you’re actually playing, it shouldn’t be. Avoid tight corsets, uncomfortable shoes, strangling neckties, or hot tuxedos. Some people even perform barefoot! Just make sure your clothing doesn’t distract from your focus while you play. Try on and practice your program in your performance-wear beforehand to be sure shifting, moving, or breathing isn’t more difficult than it needs to be.

8. Relax.

I remember before playing a house concert once, I went to the back room and screamed my lungs out to relieve my nerves. Do something to get the adrenaline out of your system: jump up and down, run in a few circles, shake out your limbs. And once you’ve done that, calm yourself down. Deep, slow breathing and some stretching also helps release the tension that’s been building up in anticipation of your performance.

9. Be Familiar with the Venue.

If at all possible, run through your program at least once in the recital hall, auditorium, or performance space where you’ll be playing. You don’t want any surprises on performance day, like blinding stage lights, no piano for your accompanist, or weird acoustics that throw you off.

10. Enjoy Yourself.

Remind yourself why you love music and what this is all about. Then go ahead and let yourself go. Enjoy the spotlight and the support of your audience. Have a good time! After all, isn’t that what’s it’s all about?