Crossing Death Valley with My Violin

Have you ever done something that before you began, thought would be impossible, or at least highly unlikely?

When I was a kid I thought, wouldn’t it be cool to play in a major orchestra and to live by the sea. Then by the time I reached 30 years old I had done these things, if one counts the Nanjing National Orchestra as major. The salary may not be what one earns in the Chicago Symphony, but we played on national television in China for the return of Macao to the mainland from Portugal, among other fun and large-scale concerts.

“…mindset plays a crucial role in realizing my dreams.”

Or playing in the Shanghai Opera Orchestra, which also offered some memorable experiences, notably combining with the Shanghai Symphony when we played Aida for two nights in Shanghai Stadium.

 

 

So how did I cross Death Valley with my fiddle? I didn’t! It’s a metaphor though.

Too many people have the idea that you can’t earn a living doing what you love, and that is one of the silliest mistakes one can make with one’s life. Death Valley for musicians and music teachers is the ocean of nay-sayers who are uncomfortable with your self-confidence, or with your personal growth, or with the idea that someone who is creative could carve out a happy life for themselves teaching others without going broke. The problem with the negative voices is that they are actually uncomfortable with themselves making these creative choices.

In this sense I have crossed Death Valley time after time and probably will for the rest of my life. And that’s okay, because I want more people to learn that it is possible to be a music teacher and experience incredible things.

 

One of the most important things I have learned about being a musician and being a music teacher, is that mindset plays a crucial role in realizing my dreams. There might even be some bits of Death Valley lurking in the dark shadows of my own mind, like all of us. Those are the moments when I say mean things to myself and the doubts start to creep in. But there are strategies for dealing with it, like visualizing exactly how I want to feel and situations I want to have happen. I know of plenty of other people who do this too and achieve incredible things.

Another thing I have realized lately, which I think I have intuitively known all along, is that teaching is one of the greatest professions that there is because it is so soul-rewarding! Sure, we can make money, but what we can do with our reach is exponential and somewhat unfathomable. This is probably why it has attracted me more solidly than performing as the main income has. Another reason it is a great profession is that if you love learning, you may continue to improve, learn and adapt for as long as you are alive.

For any other closet physicists out there or if you love science, being a music teacher also scratches this itch with the fact that we use sound as our medium, which is energy that passes through air and resonates with our whole being and not just our ears. That is to say, if you are interested in acoustics or the science of sound, we can be extremely exacting and in fact must be in order to attain excellence and mastery.

There are certainly dozens more reasons why being a music teacher is an awesome profession but I’ll stop here for now. My point is that the world needs more excellent music teachers and the stigma that teachers get from society doesn’t necessarily hold water. What’s your reason for teaching or for learning your instrument? I’d love to hear from you in the comments.♥

Enthusiasm in Orchestra

A question came up recently about attrition, and digging a little deeper I realized this is something we all face unless we actively work to build enthusiasm and excitement into orchestra classes and rehearsals. The context here is in regards to teenagers, or tweens, when the social phase and brain development is underway.

As adults this time of our lives is easy to lose touch with but we all go through it. If you want the science on this, read up on it >>here or >>here, through respected academies and journals. For a very cursory explanation, this period of seemingly strange behavior during teen brain development is due to the fact that the frontal cortex, or where we learn the ability to reason and think before taking action, develops later, even into adulthood. (Although as with any theory, there are certainly scientific inquiries which would just as easily disagree.)

Off the top of my head I mentioned that it is important to make sure we are addressing the social needs of teenage participants, so what follows are things I and others have used to generate enthusiasm and retention beyond an intrinsic respect for excellence in music preparation and performance. These suggestions are not things you would use for every rehearsal, but should be built into a yearly plan so that over the course of a year there are things to look forward to.

Helping players take responsibility for their contributions in addition to concert preparation
Continue reading “Enthusiasm in Orchestra”

Junge Süddeutsch Philharmonie Esslingen 60th Anniversary Concert

It has been wonderful to see many of you at our concerts during the past academic year – thank you so much for your patronage! Live concerts are really the way to get to know this musical art form.

In June Bernd and I are honored to play in the symphony orchestra of JSPE, the Junge Süddeutsch Philharmonie Esslingen for their 60th Anniversary. This is the orchestra I first played with in Germany six years ago, with the amazing cellist Sol Gabetta as she received a prize in the castle in Weikersheim.

The program is fantastic with awesome Mozart and Schubert symphonies, plus a concerto for the double bass by Menotti. We do not often play in this orchestra any more due to our busy lives but we just had to make time for this one, as it is a very special and rare day for the double bass to have its moment in the spotlight!

If you have a love of classical music or would like to get acquainted with it you could make an event out of this; spend a few hours in the medieval town of Esslingen and have a nice dinner afterward. It’s not a late concert, on Saturday, June 16, starting at 18:00, so even children could come and enjoy this great concert.

Get tickets here >>ESSLINGEN CONCERT 2018 

I’d love to see you there!

xx

Bonny

A SMALL PERSONAL EPIPHANY

This post will be a little different. I‘d like to tell you more about myself because I recently discovered something.

When I was a teenager I fell in love with the Bach Violin Concerto in E Major. I think it was an Anne Sophie Mutter record that I used to play. I didn’t understand why I loved that key so much. I also fell deeply for the whole Solo Partita by Bach for Solo Violin in E Major. There really wasn’t much else that I had in my repertoire in this key but for me it was as though the sun came out and shined golden on my life with E Major.

Since then I have always loved this key and key signatures never have bothered me a bit since properly learning all the scales and arpeggios. I don’t even get it when people complain about the number of “enemies” on a piece, meaning a key with a lot of sharps or flats. (Okay, I do get it actually, because this means that the complainers simply have not acquainted themselves fully enough with their instruments and all of the keys that we play in.)

Now that I have been using guitar a lot more in my teaching and accompanying it suddenly hit me like a ton of bricks, that this is THE Guitar Key, HELLO!

Classical guitars are often tuned E-A-D-G-B-E so it naturally follows that the strongest chord you can get from this tuning is E Major, with the two open strings ringing out and another E in between on the D string.

In German there is the word “Schicksal” which means “fate.” It’s like my fate is to make guitar and bowed stringed instruments live forever happily together ever after. So today, to help my students and anyone who is learning guitar, I published a set of one-finger major scales for guitar starting on each open string. This may exist elsewhere but in the time it would take me to find it I decided to make it myself. Just let me know if you would like a copy.

Just thought I would put that out there for you!

CONGRATULATIONS ON A SUCCESSFUL PERFORMANCE

Wow, it is hard to believe that our lovely student recital is already past, but I want to congratulate every single performer on their hard work and massive improvements. Thank you and your family for your effort and participation! If you would like to make a donation to the nonprofit organization who hosted us out of their own kindness and generosity, you may make a bank transfer to:

Evangelische Bank eG
Kto.-Nr. 3691543
BLZ 520 604 10
IBAN: DE 48 520604100003691543
BIC: GENODEF1EK1

GET WITH THE JA

Sort out the “gah” and get with the “ja!” Wait, what? Get rid of the extraneous and keep on going with what’s great, that’s what that means.

How could that possibly be relevant to us, as string-instrument teachers or learners? Well for me personally, it recently meant a commitment to solving something that last year seemed unsolvable. In fact last year I just gave up on it, and made a compromise instead, which wasn’t the worst thing in the world either.

This year I committed 100% to finding a place for our student spring recital. Should be easy, when you’re employed in a school. That’s a more or less non-negotiable aspect of the job, in fact! But when you’re a self-employed teacher, this becomes a whole other ball game. Even harder when you are not a church member in Germany.

I suppose if one had cash flowing like a waterfall you could just rent a glamorous concert hall. And truly I hope that will happen with SuperStrings Studio soon so that we can provide an amazing space for super-prepared and awesome students. Right now we are still a young studio, though, and our need for a space is strong, for students to get some experience performing and sharing their learning to a wider audience.

This year was no easier to find a space big enough and appropriate enough but what was different was me. I did not let go of the goal and kept working at it until…a beautiful stage has been offered to us! Yes, offered! And it’s in a wonderful care facility for people, exactly what I envisioned, where our students can share their music and people can enjoy it as part of a wider local community.

The thing I learned is that when you need something, keep asking for it until you find someone who is willing to help. 

One of the best things we can do with our lives, is to improve something for others. That’s one of the big reasons for SuperStrings Studio. We help bring joy and connection to families and individuals in an often disconnected world. I hope all of our students will take a few moments, not only to perform their lovely music, but to greet and interact with some of the residents at this home. A HUGE thanks to Rebecca Jones-Buerk and Mr. Joerg Treiber and team at the Stuttgart Pflegezentrum Bethanien! 

WEEKEND LISTENING: SCHUBERT OR BEETHOVEN

Last night we attended the only opera Beethoven ever composed, “Fidelio,” at the Stuttgart Opera. You might say it was a stumbling block for Beethoven, because he re-wrote its “Leonore Overture” three times, and when you go to this, you might not know in advance which one will be used.

It is a wonderful experience to be in the theater and have the live musical accompaniment. But if I’m honest, it was pretty hard to understand. I know the story, which basically rescued me, but there was a lot of spoken dialogue which had no super titles.

If you’d enjoy some musical homework, look up the Leonore Overtures and listen to see which one you love the most, or how you might rank them. And leave a comment here on your ranking.

When we came home we threw some pizza in the oven and started listening again to all of them. And then, we started listening to the Schubert Quintet in C Major, which we’ll probably put into our own performance repertoire in the next year or two. If you need a musical recommendation for what to listen to this weekend, this is the one. Janine Jansen is a huge favorite of mine. Definitely give it a listen if you love music and put it on a big screen.  

RECITAL TIME

And now for the drum roll….

Students will have the opportunity in March to perform a few pieces for the SuperStrings Studio community in our first full recital! Each student is expected to participate in this supportive event. There will be plenty of time to prepare and find out the details beforehand. 

This just happens to coincide with the latest practice challenge – 30 days – to be completed by March 10 17, 2018. Thirty minutes per day for 30 days is 900 minutes, or 15 hours. Keep in mind that these 30 minutes need to include physical warm-up time (2-3+ minutes) of arm circles, stretches, slow head rolls, feet figure-8s and bow-hold practice, slow open strings practice, scales practice, arpeggios (scales, arpeggios and open strings 5+ minutes), assigned exercises for that week (5 minutes), review of previously learned material practice (5 minutes), memorization practice (5 minutes), slow and detailed work on any trouble spots, backwards practice (5 minutes), and finally playing something through (2-3 minutes at the very end). Play along with your recorded tracks to improve your listening and sense of the beat! Just a hint: MANY students need to improve their bow-hand flexibility, with a curved right pinky and lifting the wrist slightly on up-bows past the middle as the frog is approaching the string.