Bridge, pegs, fine tuners, fingerboard, nut — we do it all!
We recently created a new page on kennedyviolins.com highlighting our setup process and what goes into the finally assembly of a violin. If you want to learn the trade secrets of violin setup, check out our Instrument Setup page! You’re bound to learn something new!
Today, we are continuing our “Face to Face” series by featuring the man, the myth, the legend: Joel Kennedy.
Joel is the Founder and President of Kennedy Violins. He has played viola and violin for over thirty years. He attended the Eastman School of Music in New York, where he earned his bachelor’s degree in viola performance and completed graduate studies in education there as well. Joel has played professionally in orchestras all around the United States and has students attending top conservatories in the U.S. and abroad. He is currently a violist in the Portland Opera here in Portland, Oregon.
Recently, Joel took some time to answer a few questions about his life and his time with Kennedy Violins.
1. How long have you worked at Kennedy Violins?
I officially began Kennedy Violins December of 2000. However, as a stringed teacher, I had been providing instruments to my students and friends for years before that.
2. What is your favorite thing about working at Kennedy Violins and why?
My favorite aspect of working at Kennedy Violins is having the opportunity to effect change. As the person who is in charge of “steering the ship”, I am able to use the influence of Kennedy Violins in a positive way that not only affects the local market but the national one as well. For a long time, I have seen how the stereotypical elitist nature of classical music has left many people in our culture out in the cold when it comes to having access to bowed stringed instruments. Working at Kennedy Violins has served as a vehicle for changing this pervasive dynamic in our society.
3. What is your favorite instrument/product that Kennedy Violins carries and why?
This is a tough question because every brand we carry represents what we feel is the best instrument in that price range. I’d have to say that the Ricard Bunnel is my favorite because its low cost gets the most kids involved in classical music. It’s the best starting point, for a kid, if you’re new to a stringed instrument.
4. What is your favorite band/musician/composer?
My favorite composer is Shostakovich. There are many composers music that I have enjoyed for many years but the depth and genius of Shostakovich gets to me every time.
5. If you didn’t play the viola, which instrument would you play?
If I could do it all over again, I’d choose the piano or the cello. I think the cello has the most compelling singing voice of all the bowed stringed instruments and the piano is the complete vehicle in which to experience the full complexity of what a composer was able to create.
6. Which musician (alive or dead) do you wish you could play with?
I’d love to play with Beethoven. I’d sit down at the piano with him and say “do we really NEED to put a repeat there?..”
7. What are you looking forward to most in the upcoming year?
As usual, it’s very exciting at Kennedy Violins currently because it is a time of great change. With the revamping of our web site, the introduction of new workshop instruments, like David Yale (you can see these new violins by clicking here), and the new retail store in Vancouver, WA. I can’t to see how it’ll all turns out in the coming year!
8. What is something interesting that we don’t already know about you?
Most people don’t know that I like to auto race. I have two racing licenses. One with the SCCA and the other is with the ICSCC.
9. What is your favorite thing to do when you aren’t working at Kennedy Violins?
I like to spend time with my wife and two girls and auto race.
Keep in mind that your résumé should include a combination of the information below whether you are a performer or teacher.
Everyone needs to include the same basic information to start, regardless of your end goal:
Contact information (phone, e-mail, address)
Educational background and degrees/certifications obtained
Primary Instrumentand style (classical, jazz, folk, rock, etc.)
Secondary instrument(s). Note: Only list instruments you can play fairly well–not the oboe you played for one year in middle school. As a rule of thumb, honestly consider your capabilities: could you perform in an ensemble or teach beginner/basic music lessons on this instrument? If so, list it.
Below your contact information you will clarify your emphasis in the first (and main) section. Group information in a logical way: chronologically, in order of significance (recommended), or in a combination of both (i.e. categories with information within the category in chronological order).
Performers will emphasize performance experiences on a shorter, focused, résumé that doesn’t need wordy descriptions. According to The Musician’s Résumé Handbook by Bob Borden and Kathy Ivy of the Eastman School of Music, “Performance résumé must be limited to one page and should include only educational training and performance experience. All material should be listed in order of performance, without any description or list of duties.”
However, while its up to you how much and what information you include, you might consider noting your roles as either a section player, principle, or soloist, unless you’ve exclusively been a section player only and repeatedly mentioning it is unnecessary.
What to include:
Ensembles with which you’ve played: orchestras, operas, bands (be selective–don’t mention your garage band to a professional symphony admin or anyone you want to take you very seriously).
Teachers of note
Master classes in which you’ve performed or taught. Mention notable artists with who you’ve worked.
Freelance work and recording gigs. Note studio names and other meaningful specifics about the nature of the gig.
Major recitalsand other solo performances.
Major artists with whom you’ve performed or accompanied.
Workshops and masterclasses you’ve led.
Private teaching experience, whether at a studio, a music school, or in your home.
Non-music teaching experiences that reflect your capabilities.
Certificates and memberships with associations like MENC or Suzuki.
ADDITIONAL SKILLS & INFORMATION
Ttowards the bottom of the page, include info that shows you’re a well-rounded individual with other marketable skills:
languages you speak
community service involvement
MAKE IT LOOK GOOD
There are many ways to take advantage of the space on the page of a modern résumé, limiting white dead space and including all the important information you can. Working with columns and even spreadsheet cells can help distribute information evenly across a page.
Using light colored paper, like a classy off-white, can also give it a nice touch. However, as most résumés are distributed online now, you may not need to worry about paper. Still, you could make the background of your résumé a non-white, unassuming color for interest in your PDF or digital file.
DISTRIBUTING YOUR RÉSUMÉ
Now you’re ready to send! Send this résumé (along with a brief cover or introductory letter of inquiry) by e-mails or snail-mail to orchestra managers, school administrators, or other potential employers. You might even Include a recording (on a CD or as a sound file attached to e-mail) or yourself performing.
TIP: Once your résumé has been handed over, don’t just wait for a response, be ready to perform! Have audition pieces ready, to play, be brushed up on your conducting, or have a first lesson for students prepared.
With Valentine’s Day less than 48 hours away, you might be sweating bullets trying to come up with some way–any way–to impress that special someone.
Well, I’m going let you in on a little secret. There is nothing that wins someone over like MUSIC. Sure, you could always gift your sweetheart a violin. But it’s also prime time for serenading and the singing telegram. And this strange tradition of awkwardly showing up at someone’s door to sing songs (think Christmas carolers) is nothing new. It all began with the serenade.
A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE SERENADE
Going back to prehistoric times, there is evidence that music existed. Like verbal language itself, music is similarly a natural and essential form of communication. The oldest known musical instruments include a collection from China even dating between 6,600 and 7,000 BC. Now those are some serious oldies.
If you think about it, almost any piece of music could be considered a serenade in the sense that all music is intended to be performed for an audience, whether it be a hall of concertgoers or simple an individual.
But when it comes to the traditional serenade, this form developed in Medieval times as a way for an eager gentleman to serenade his lady love of choice. This was typically done in the evening through a window (Romeo-and-Juliet style) with self-accompaniment on a lute or guitar.
These medieval serenades developed into an art form of its own kind. During the Baroque era the serenade evolved into a lyrical piece still sung and played outdoors, but for an an audience rather than a courted lady. By the Classical and Romantic eras the serenade further evolved into a form in concert literature for string ensembles and orchestras, like a light symphonic work with multiple movements and varying tempos, but free of heavy, dramatic orchestration. The serenade kept it’s lyrical, evening-song character.
AND IT’S STILL HAPPENING
Going back to the original serenade with that young man singing at the window, this form of the serenade is still performed today. There is no shortage of young men wooing girls on the guitar. One of my old roommates was even proposed to via song. Singing telegrams, caroling, Italian men singing from gondolas, mariachi band specials, and even Elvis impersonators serenading couples down the aisles of Vegas wedding chapels are today’s popular way to send messages of love.
Now, you can even serenade your loved ones online. For example, my friend Fresh Big Mouf will send his original song, “Secret Crush” to your very own secret crush as a digital message of love. There’s modern serenading at its finest.
So if you really want to win over the one you love, you may find that harmony is the key (signature) to the heart. Ditch the chocolates and warm up your vocal chords because now is the time to confess how you really feel. And while you’re ditching your chocolates, send them to me. I can help you out with that.
Instrument, bow, stand, music, pencil–that’s all you need when you sit down (or stand) to practice, right? Wrong. One of the most essential and useful tools for the wise, efficient practicer is this marvelous, magical machine: the metronome. The timekeeper. That thing that clicks.
As a string bassist who grew up classically trained, I was used to bending the tempo, slowing with ritardandos, stopping for fermatas and railroad tracks, slightly altering the tempo based on the lyricism of the piece, and sometimes completely throwing the beat out the window to play a cadenza.
When I went to music school in college, I was introduced to jazz, and I realized I was on a completely different playing field, playing a completely different ballgame. As a player used to hashing up melodic solos, playing jazz forced me back to the bassist’s primary role: keeping the beat. I remember my teacher telling me that a bassist who can’t keep time is useless. A musician might have perfect pitch and stellar chops, but without a sense of rhythm . . . well. Good luck.
Another time I was preparing for a blind audition and was given a tip to keep in mind. When you can’t see the adjudicators listening from behind a screen, you won’t see their faces, but you also won’t see their pencil lightly tapping on their knee checking the consistency of your tempo. Hopefully all panel judges aren’t that cruel, but my paranoia of that “one” judge made me reconsider my relationship with my metronome.
We needed to become best friends.
USING YOUR METRONOME
If you don’t have a metronome, now is the time to keep time. My personal favorites are metronomes with a dial (rather than digital metronomes) such as the Wittner MT60 Quartz. But anything that keeps steady time will do.
Here are a few things your metronome can help you do to become a better musician:
Understand tempo markings. I like metronomes with a dial that show you the numerical ranges for common tempo markings like largo, andante, moderato, presto, etc. The metronome can help you get the feel for the overall tempo of a passage or piece.
Set the tempo. Sometimes composers and conductors mark the music with a specific numerical tempo marking in addition to a general tempo marking (like “largo”). Identify the appropriate tempo for your piece of music. This doesn’t mean you’ll start practicing at that tempo. It’s just what you’re aiming for. (See number 5.)
Warm up. When you pull out your instrument, start with long, slow tones to warm up the rosin on your bow and smooth out your tone. Typically you’ll start with scales. Warming up with a metronome is like getting your musical heartbeat pumping again. Wake up the rhythm in your body! Ole!
Practice scales and arpeggios with different rhythmic patterns. After playing scales with whole notes, half notes, and quarter notes, change it up a bit, moving up the scale in triplets (one triplet per bow) or groups of sixteenths. Then practice arpeggios at a slow tempo, gradually turning up the speed.
Perfect difficult passages. For all music, whether you’re playing scales, arpeggios, orchestral excerpts, or solos, START SLOW. Only increase the speed on your metronome once a passage or lick is free of error. You can apply this principle to even a single measure, a group of notes, or even a single shift between two notes. Zone in on exactly what you’re tripping over and then conquer it with your metronome.
Subdivide. Your metronome beat doesn’t have to just be for a quarter note. Set it four times faster to click on the sixteenths, or three times faster for triplets. This will help you decipher tricky rhythmic passages, steady your dotted rhythms, and keep a steady beat overall.
Learn vibrato. A great way to get your hand and fingers comfortable with the physical motion of vibrato is the slowly roll your wrist, forearm, and/or fingers in time with a slow beat. This will develop a vibrato that vibrates consistently rather that shaking uncontrollably. (See “String Instrument Techniques: How to Learn Vibrato.”)
Sight read. After regularly using your metronome, you should get a good feel for basic tempo markings. Remembering that “60” means 1 beat per second, if you can get the feel for the timing of seconds, this can be your baseline reference. When you get a piece of music to sightread, always identify the expected tempo before taking off. (See “15 Tips to Successfully Sightread.”)
Prepare your accompanist. Whether you’re playing with a pianist, a duet partner, a small ensemble, or an orchestra, you can set the tempo specifically to what you’re comfortable with. It’s the worst when your accompanist rushes ahead of you at a pace that makes you stumble over your tricky passages. Even five extra beats per minute could throw you off if it’s faster than you’ve prepared. It’s also torture when you accompanist drags behind you. Give them an exact number so you can play in rhythmic harmony.
Conduct. If you conduct music, all of these principles apply to your ability to lead musicians in time. Just like I was saying how a bass player who can’t keep time is useless, a conductor who can’t keep time is even MORE useless! Conductors have to be the rock when it comes to keeping the beat. If you tend to rush or slow down, spend more time with your metronome.
Now, off you go to the practice room. Have a great TIME!
6. Classical music is relaxing.
Sometimes, when I’m washing dishes, I’ll turn on one of three things: talk radio, classical music, pop, or Broadway music. Interestingly enough, while I do find most pieces on the classical music playlist to be calming, I believe that’s a result of the host arranging a playlist that appeals to what a general audience perceives as what classical music should sound like. In other words, the repertoire heard on the radio is vastly different than a professional orchestra’s repertoire for the season.
Beyond what’s played on the radio, there is a world of complex, intense, cacophonous, dramatic, edgy, avant-garde, and even violently animated orchestral music that is by far NOT RELAXING. Works that come to mind include Wagner’s Ring Cycle and Ride of the Valkyries, Prokofiev’s Symphony No. 5, Bartok’s Concerto for Orchestra, and Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 5.
In fact, rather than feeling relaxed when I listen to these pieces, I find myself distracted from the tasks at hand, absorbed by the excitement and motion in these rich compositions. I have trouble treating most of the greatest masterpieces as “background” music that might relax me. These are the pieces that keep me riveted and on the edge of my seat.
7.Only educated intellectuals can understand and enjoy classical music.
There is some truth to this point in the sense that those who have studied music theory, history, form, and performance have a deeper understanding of classical music as a result of increased knowledge about classical compositions. But knowing where a piece was composed, in which key it’s written, from which musical era it originated, which opus number it is, or even who composed it doesn’t necessarily influence how enjoyable a piece may be to an audience member–educated or not.
In fact, sometimes the intense study of music–the probing and picking at it–can take the magic out of it. Beating a beautiful piece of music to death in the practice room can sometimes lead a performer from loving it to hating it in no time. I know plenty of professional performers who loathe and mock pieces like Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker and Handel’s Messiah just because they’ve played them too many times and find them boring.
Sometimes it’s those who are not educated in the field of music who have the greatest appreciation for it. To them it is some kind of mysterious magic; how can someone take something as static as a wooden instrument and make it sing and speak in such a moving way?
On that note, educated and studied musical scholars can often be the most critical of listeners, hearing the mistakes in performance and poor composition of harmonically challenged pieces. While being a learned musician may give you a deeper understanding of music, often it is the innocent or even ignorant who understand the true and deeper purpose and meaning of the music.
Composers did not write music for intellectuals only, but for the masses, for all people. Cooks don’t just cook for cooks, but for people to eat who will enjoy it whether or not they know the methods and techniques employed.
8. Listening to classical music will help you fall asleep.
Something that fascinates me is that massage therapists typically don’t use classical music as background music during a massage. Instead, there’s an entire genre of ethereal “massage music”–it’s like there’s a whole industry revolving around this dreamy, synthesized stuff. Okay, this is going to sound snobby, but because I’ve found typical massage music to be almost irritating, I’ve actually brung CDs of my own favorite, calming classical pieces to play that will edify rather than annoy me.
This statement though, that classical music will help you fall asleep, refers back to point number four in my previous post: all classical music sounds the same. I actually think there are very soothing and beautiful compositions and lullabies to which listening to would be far more effective than counting sheep. But it’s inaccurate to assume that all classical music creates this effect.
However, you might have to argue this point with that guy who always snores through every symphony concert you attend.
9. Only people who play classical music actually listen to it.
People who play orchestral instruments and music definitely tend to listen to more classical music than those who do not. Many people who don’t play classical music don’t listen to it because perhaps they have never even been exposed to it.
Exposure to orchestral music, then, is usually all it takes for one to develop an appreciation and love for the music. In my previous point (number eight), I established that one does not need to be trained or educated in the field of music to understand or enjoy it. I have developed a greater respect for people who don’t play classical music who listen to it and attend concerts because I appreciate their devotion and interest.
As a performer, if only players of classical music attended my performance, I would have a very small audience. I am so grateful for those who attend and listen to performances who have no musical background; these are those who are often most edified, impressed, and moved by the truly awesome power of refined music.
10. All classical music originates in Europe.
Most of time time the mention of classical music conjures up images of pink-cheeked men in powdered wigs and coats with shiny buttons. Okay. So it is true that Western classical music originated (note: past tense) in Europe. Western music notation with lines on a staff and notes written with rhythmic symbols were established in Europe in the 16th century.
What is amazing since the industrial and digital revolutions is that Western classical music began to spread across the globe not only on record, but in theory and compositional textbooks. In other words, the use of the musical staff and Western music theory became worldwide standards.
BUT what we can’t overlook is the entire genre of Middle Eastern and Eastern classical music. This is rich stuff! Eastern classical music is notated differently and composed with unique instrumentation. I can’t even begin to list the names of Asian and Middle Eastern instruments.
Beyond Eastern music, there is classical music composed by international composers from every nation. I encourage you to seek out and listen to a wider variety of classical music; there is just too much culture to be absorbed and too little time!
So while I do believe that to enjoy classical music a basic understanding of it can improve both an appreciation and sense of fulfillment when listening or playing it, I also believe that an extensive knowledge is definitely not necessary. Classical music is for everyone.
So if you’re one who always opts for pop over classical, try giving the classics a chance! I GUARANTEE you’ll find something you’ll love.
Some strange kind of stigma has become associated with classical music, and I want to get to the bottom of it. It isn’t unusual for stereotypes about classical music and its listeners or performers to exist; after all, there are similarly plenty of opinions out there about Twilight-loving teenagers, Bronies, Trekkies, band geeks, and people who wear sandals with socks.
It’s nothing new, then, to assume that all classical music and its listeners can be stuffed snugly in a box tied up with music-note-printed ribbon and mailed to Austria. But for a brief moment, I’d like to debunk some myths about classical music.
1. Classical music is for rich people.
I can see how this myth originated; in the 18th century the wealthy nobility were the patrons and commissioners of classical music, opera, and live performance. Watch a Jane Austen movie and you’ll see how playing the piano forte was as a mark of refinement.
Today, however, I will take this opportunity to inform you of some heartbreaking, but fairly well-known news: a great number of artists and musicians live in poverty. Even centuries ago they did. Music majors are among the ranks of graduates who receive the lowest starting salaries out of college. While the society at large believes in the great value of music and the arts, this is not proportionally reflected in the funding of the arts.
There definitely still remains the association of classical music with those who drink tea with their pinkies raised, or the nobility of the old aristocratic patrons. But, with the introduction of mass media and the internet, classical music is now accessible to listeners from all backgrounds around the globe.
2. Anyone who takes music lessons comes from a wealthy background.
Where people invest their money is a reflection of their values. Yes, weekly private lessons can add up as a monthly or annual expense, so are often quickly crossed off the budget when things are tight. And with the recent recession, as many families simplify their spending, it’s understandable that lessons often fall by the wayside.
However, there are so many affordable and even free opportunities to provide both children and adults with exposure to classical music. Many public schools offer orchestra programs with instruments students can use for free. Quality violins purchased online are more affordable and accessible than ever. Community centers and programs often sponsor free concerts, workshops, and even individual music lessons and scholarships for interested students.
In essence, where there’s a will, there’s a way. Be sure to take advantages of the wonderful resources that are available!
3. Music without lyrics is boring.
Yes, one might assume that because a piece of music isn’t accompanied by dramatic lyrics, fog machines, neon costumes, plastic surgery, and loud flashing lights that it must be boring. But classical musicians will tell you just the opposite.
While pop and folk music are often written with the same three chords and simple rhymes, I would almost argue that because pop music is “boring” in it’s composition, it’s easier to listen to. (Note: I am in no way arguing that classical music is “better” than pop music; the two simply serve different purposes and audiences.)
Unlike most pop music, classical music is composed with the richest of harmonic variations, the widest array of instrumentation, multiple melodies in one piece, and an incredible range of motion, tempos, and dynamics within a single composition. I believe that this is the reason why classical concert-goers sit silently while viewing and listening to a live orchestra; there are so many nuances in the music requiring focus and concentration to absorb. This is the opposite of boring–in fact, it’s both captivating and stimulating for the mind!
4. All classical music sounds the same.
I don’t even know where to begin with this one. [Utterly ridiculous? Anyone?] To say that all classical music sounds the same is like saying all Asians look the same. There is so much variation and personality provided by individuals within a culture and pieces within a genre of music. Listen to Stravinky’s Rite of Spring and Ralph Vaughan Williams’ The Lark Ascending to hear a vast contrast.
5. Classical music is great for atmospheric background music.
I recently had a horribly memorable experience sitting through extremely loud, staticy rendition of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons being forced down my ear canal while waiting on hold. Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t think classical music sounds its best from the receiver of a telephone.
As far as other background music goes, I absolutely 100% support the use of live classical music performed incidentally at receptions, parties, and other gatherings. Likewise, some classical music is wonderfully appropriate to play over the speakers in a store or restaurant. But again, I reference point number four. With the wrong set list, you may have guests or customers nodding off in their seats or running for the doors as Medea’s Meditation and Dance of Vengeance by Samuel Barber blares down from above.
The debate continues. The tension increases. Individuals and societies pit themselves against each other over THE question, yes, that question: when is it too early to start listening to Christmas music?
Whether you crank up tinsel-tunes before Thanksgiving, after Thanksgiving, or sometime in July, one truth remains: music brings meaning to the holidays. Unlike any other holiday throughout the year, there is more music associated with the Christmas than any other holiday–even Easter. Not only that, but every nation around the world that celebrates Christmas does so with song.
So what could be more appropriate than to celebrate the holidays by pumping them full of melody? Here they are:
TEN WAYS TO SPICE UP THE SEASON WITH QUALITY TUNES
Give the gift of music. First things first. You know you’re sweating over your Christmas shopping list. But here’s a little secret: everyone loves music. Easy peasy. Wrap up your favorite CD, give an iTunes gift card, or tie a bow on the violin your child’s been bugging Santa about for years. Don’t forget the frosting on the fruitcake: sheet music and accessories!
Go caroling. Bundle up and don’t even worry about bringing music along if you don’t want to. Sing the standards you know: “Jingle Bells,” “Frosty the Snowman,” “Let It Snow,” “O, Christmas Tree,” and all your other favorites. Gather a group of friends and family to carol around the block or drive around the neighborhood to loved ones’ homes. Organize a group of musicians to play or sing carols at a nursing home. You’re sure to brighten someone’s day.
Organize a holiday recital. During the holidays, people are looking for excuses to get together. If you’re a private teacher, schedule a holiday recital for your students to play for their parents, friends, and other family. If you’re a solo performer or play in a quartet, organize a performance with some traditional tunes. Don’t forget to pull out the cookies and hot chocolate after the show!
Host a singalong. It’s especially fun if you have a piano. Make copies of Christmas songs and put them in binders. Invite a pianist to accompany and ask guests to bring a holiday treat to share: think peppermint bark, caramel corn, and gingerbread men. Now there’s something to sing about.
Light the Menorah. Learn and sing the three Chanukah blessings when lighting the menorah: l’hadlik neir, she-asah nisim, and she-hekhianu. And don’t forget to sing “Dreidel, Dreidel, Dreidel,” when you pull out the top.
Hire a quartet. There’s nothing classier than a live quartet or small ensemble providing beautiful background (or foreground) noise at a holiday party. If you’ve never arranged for live performers at a gathering, ask around to find a good group of experienced players. Appreciative guests will be telling you all evening how much they love the entertainment.
Attend a concert. Holiday concerts are never few and far between. And school orchestra and choir concerts are only the beginning. Look through the paper or online to find out where and when you can attend. For some extra interactive fun, find a local “Messiah Sing-Along” to attend and rock out with Handel’s famous oratorio. Don’t forget to warm up those vocal chords before you go!
See The Nutcracker. What could be more classic? Enjoy taking part in a historical tradition by attending this popular ballet. Tchaikovsky’s famous, heart-warming melodies will definitely leave you feeling the spirit of Christmas.
Send a musical card. Come on, birthdays aren’t the only occasions worthy of the stationery sound chips. Distant family and friends will especially enjoy finding a tune in the mailbox to fill them with Christmas cheer.
Watch cartoons. Christmas brings out the kid in everyone, and there’s no better time to tune into classic holiday specials like A Charlie Brown Christmas and How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Sing along with classic toon tunes like, “Christmastime is Here,” and “You’re a Mean One, Mister Grinch.”
It’s time to celebrate, and what better way to do it than with music? After all, that’s our specialty. Happy Holidays!
Playing music is more than just playing notes on a page. Simply playing the notes would be like saying words without expression, asking questions without the rising inflection at the end of the phrase, writing without punctuation, eating food without salt or spices, seeing the world without color . . . you get it. Creating beautiful music happens when you add flavorful touches and techniques:
That last one is hard to define for students and sometimes hard to teach. But when you understand the following classical music genres, you’ll know how to better shape a piece to represent the period in which it was written.
THE COMMON PRACTICE PERIOD
The phrase “classical music” usually refers to any music played by an orchestra or ensembles including stringed instruments, piano, or vocals that feel . . . old. Music written by dead people who wore powdered wigs. Music directed by some guy in coat tails holding a stick.
Much of the classical music you hear today on classical music radio, Pandora stations, and Spotify playlists comes from the Common Practice Period. The term “Common Practice Period” refers to the three centuries between roughly 1600 and 1910 when the techniques, ideas, and written language of Western European music as we know it today were standardized and systemized.
THE THREE CLASSICAL GENRES OF THE COMMON PRACTICE PERIOD
You’ve probably also heard the terms “Romantic” and “Baroque” and “Classical” as sub-genres of general classical music. Well, that’s confusing. How can there be a classical music sub-genre of classical music?
Understanding the genres of classical music becomes increasingly important as beginning students advance into more mature performers. To bring some light to the subject, let’s break it down. From “oldest to youngest,” here are the three subsets of classical music.
1. BAROQUE (1600-1750)
Definitive Composer: Johann Sebastian Bach
Other Baroque Composers: Antonio Vivaldi, Arcangelo Corelli, George Frederic Handel, Henry Purcell
Defining Characteristics: Continuous bass line (basso continuo), use of harpsichord and pipe organ, introduction of written works such as cantatas and oratorios, smaller ensembles with limited or no wind and percussion parts
Performance Style: added embellishments and tremelos, little or no vibrato, trills starting on the higher note
2. CLASSICAL (1750-1820)
Definitive Composer: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Other Classical Composers: Christoph Willibald Gluck, Carl Philipp Emanuel (C.P.E.) Bach, Joseph Haydn, Ludwig van Beethover (early works)
Defining Characteristics: short melodies and phrases, obvious cadences, larger orchestra than Baroque, music in sonata form, eventual disuse of harpsichord and introduction of piano, quartet music
Performance Style: light and clear articulation, trills starting on the lower not, modest use of vibrato, more dynamic contrast
3. ROMANTIC (1820-1910)
Definitive Composers: Ludwig Van Beethoven (transitional later works), Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Johannes Brahms
Other Romantic Composers: Franz Schubert, Felix Mendelssohn, Frederic Chopin, Robert Schumann, Richard Wagner, Antonin Dvorak, Edward Elgar, Gustav Mahler, Richard Strauss, Sergei Rachmaninoff
Defining Characteristics: reflective of human emotion and expression; a response to social and political movements; rich and song-like melodies; more modulation and key changes; larger orchestra with more winds, brass, and percussion; programme music and symphonic poems;
Performance Style: dramatic, expressive, wide vibrato, dramatic and high-contrast articulation and dynamics, rich texture, virtuosic playing, lyrical and song-like phrasing
Next time you pull out your sheet music, take a look at the composer’s name and their birth and death dates (usually included after the name). Identify the musical period from which your piece was performed, then try adding the stylistic characteristics relevant to that genre of music. Perhaps you’ll find yourself developing a greater appreciation and understanding of the historical value of music as well as the brilliance of these amazing composers. Enjoy taking your performance to a whole new level of musical maturity!
When I was younger, the word “recital” conjured up a distinct memory of only one thing: “Coda,” Episode 7 of Season 2 of The Wonder Years. I love this conversation between Kevin Arnold and his piano teacher, Mrs. Carples:
MRS. CARPLES: Have you thought about what you’d like to play for the recital this year?
KEVIN: I think I’m busy that night.
MRS. CARPLES: I haven’t told you what night yet.
KEVIN: I mean, um . . . I’m probably gonna be busy that night. See, I’m in junior high now,
and there’s a lot of demands for my time.
MRS. CARPLES: Last year’s excuse was much better. Did your uncle ever pull through?
Kevin ends up facing off with his musical arch nemesis, local piano prodigy Ronald Hirschmuller, in Mrs. Carples’ student piano recital. Both boys are playing Canon in D . . . and Kevin absolutely biffs it.
And so, after watching this I came to only one natural conclusion: recitals were created for one (and only one) purpose . . .
. . . Humiliation.
Fast forward about 15 years to the day I played my very first solo recital. I practiced and practiced for hours every day throughout the summer in preparation for my big showcase. When the day came, I knew it wouldn’t be perfect, but I was unusually excited—and confident—to finally share a talent I’d developed over the course of my lifetime. I performed in an historic lecture hall with elegant balcony seating and soft lighting. I wore a bright yellow blouse and printed my programs on yellow paper to match. I wore a beaded flower pin in my hair. Family, friends, and strangers filled the hall, applauding as my pianist and I took the stage.
And then I performed.
Doesn’t it seem a strange thing to do, to practice hundreds of hours for one 50-minute performance? And it wasn’t even perfect—of course it wasn’t.
But, on the other hand, it was a wonderful, wonderful experience. My first recital turned out to be one of the greatest accomplishments of my life so far—something I’m so proud of. Not only did I feel great about it, but those who came were edified by the performance—even inspired to develop their own talents to share with others.
I left not remembering the mistakes, but the feeling of the instrument in my hands, the applause, the warm hug from my bass professor, the taste of the cinnamon rolls we ate afterwards, and the satisfaction of so many years of lessons and practice finally being brought to fruition.
Recitals aren’t meant to be a chore or just another chance to feel overwhelmed by stage fright. A recital is simply an opportunity to share. Yes, yes, recitals are a lot of work in the sense that they require diligent preparation. But there is nothing that will motivate you more to practice and develop yourself as a musician as an opportunity to perform. And, seriously, what’s the point of practicing in a closet and never performing? Music is meant to be heard.
HOW TO PLAN A RECITAL
There are two main types of recitals: studentrecitals and solorecitals.
A studentrecital is a recital organized for multiple performers who are students of the same teacher. A private teacher may have seasonal or annual recitals scheduled for students to perform what they’ve learned in their lessons for parents, friends, family, and other members of the music studio.
A solorecital is a recital by a single performer, usually with an accompanist. Solo recitals might include a duet or small ensemble piece. Joint recitals are sometimes organized with two soloists contributing to one program.
Whether you are a private teacher or solo performer planning a recital, you’ll want to keep a few things in mind. Here are some basic steps to follow when as you organize your program:
Set a date. Give yourself enough time to practice and prepare. Think months in advance instead of weeks. Consult with family members and friends to pick a date that’s convenient for your most important guests.
Find a venue. Because recitals are usually for smaller audiences in intimate settings, there are many excellent options as far as performing spaces go. House recitals are wonderfully cozy. Homes with vaulted ceilings usually have lovely acoustics. School and city auditoriums, cafes, libraries, community centers, and even outdoor parks and amphitheatres are great options. Call in advance to book a venue.
Choose your music and finalize your program. Try choosing a variety of pieces to round out your program with a variety of composers and pieces from various eras (Baroque, Romantic, Classical, Modern, etc), or pick a theme (Bach, autumn, arias, movie music). Try not to add pieces last minute, throwing off your practice schedule and leaving you with inconsistently prepared pieces. For beginning students, Suzuki pieces are an excellent choice for student recitals, giving young players confidence to play on stage from the start with wonderful standard tunes. Kennedy Violins now carries sheet music perfect for the occasion.
Find an accompanist. Choose someone experienced over an acquaintance or neighbor who just happens to play the piano. Remember that accompanists are usually paid per service.
Practice with a plan. Write out a schedule devoting equal time to each piece on your program. You don’t want your favorite piece to sound great while everything else doesn’t. Consider focusing on one piece per weekday while still running through each piece daily.
Keep up with lessons. Having a mentor is key when preparing. You need someone who can not only listen to you play, but give you pointers to perfect your performance.
Invite people. Invite anyone and everyone! You can have small recitals for family members or open it up to the general public–whatever you want to do! Recitals are excellent opportunities for community members and loved ones to get together.
Print programs. Keep the program simple. Take a look at program examples online for ideas. Include the title of each piece with the composers name. You could also include the composer’s birth and death dates, a bio about yourself and/or accompanist, and the names of each performer in the recital for group, joint, or student recitals.
Arrange for audio/video recording. For student recitals especially, parents love a good video of their child performing. For professional recitals or to record pieces you’re like to submit as audition sample recordings, find quality equipment and possibly a sound engineer to record for you.
Consider refreshments. Assign a friend or family member to take care of this for you so you don’t have to worry about it the day of the performance. A little munch and mingle after a recital is a great opportunity to receive positive feedback and plenty of hugs from all your fans.
Decide what to wear. Choose something comfortable and cool. Practice in your outfit before hand to make sure you’re not restricted or uncomfortable while playing.
If possible, practice in the venue. Test out the acoustics and balance with your accompanist.
Have a dress rehearsal. Be sure to play through your entire program withoutstopping at least a few times on your own and at least once with your accompanist. If you can, have your teacher present for your dress rehearsal to give you any last pointers to prepare for the big day.
Perform. Don’t stress about each and every difficult passage–just go for it! Let loose and do your best! Put in everything you’ve got and relish your moment in the spotlight. Performances like this don’t happen every day!