Sunday, September 29, 2013

Assignment! (or I call it, "the preferred way to practice and prepare for the next rehearsal")

Date: 09/26/13
Orchestra: CYO
Attendance: very good
Repertoire rehearsed: the same two pieces as last week
Little things I noticed: I'm NOT in love with the current seating situation of the wind section. They seem too far and less connected to me and to the strings. I hope to have a solution by next week.

First of all, thank you Mehr, Sydney, Grace, and Sana (ex CYO'ers) for joining us for the Mozart. It was fun. Hope we can do this from time to time.

Ok, so both pieces are sounding better very quickly. I think we can make these pieces sound pretty good by the time of the concert.
For this week, I just have an assignment for you. I hope you can find the time to do this!

: I want you guys to watch the video below and do the following:
1. Pay attention to how they are using their bows - how much of the bow are they using, where on the bow, how fast? how much pressure onto the bow do you think they are applying? Where on the string are they playing - is it closer to the bridge, closer to the finger board,  or exactly in the middle?

2. Imitate them EXACTLY

Winds : Watch the same video. Do the following:
1. Pay attention to the "kind of" sounds they are producing. And by "kind of" sounds, I mean is it a warm and juicy kind? Is it thick and heavy? Sad and weepy? Thin and fluffy, wet and sticky, light and bouncy, rough and angry, bright and shiny, kind and gentle? How often do they change their sounds, and when?
2. Imitate them for all the different kinds of sound that they make. If you like, you may also try doing something completely different to see if any other way can work or not.

Happy practicing!

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Found it on YouTube! (Bulgarian song- the original)

Here's the original of the Bulgarian song.
It's the very same version I transcribed for us!
Gotta love YouTube...

strange beauty

Date: 09/21/13
Orchestra: Chamber
Attendance: good!
Repertoire rehearsed: One weird song, and one not so weird.
Little things I noticed: I'm usually not the one who complains about things a lot, but honestly, I've never ever been satisfied with the lighting situation at the MAC. And the last two weeks in chamber rehearsals particularly bothered me. Hope we can fix this issue rather soon...

I may be the only one (I'm hoping that you will all join me later), but I'm really really excited about what we are doing with the Bulgarian Folk Song, for many reasons.
First of all, this is how we will sit for this piece.
      Vc   Vc
    Vla      Vla
  Vln2        Vln2
Vln1            Vln1

(with a clarinet between 2nds and 1sts, and in a more "V" like shape than a traditional semi-circle)

With this setup, I mean to provide not only music, but also a sonic experience to the audience. I would like to utilize the depth, and the locations of the instrument, to play with not only with the sound itself, but also with "where" the sound is coming from. I mean to play with the depth and the sides (right or left of the bass) of sounds' origin, and also visual effects (with bowings etc...), with this setup!

It's gonna be so much fun!

So this Bulgarian song is one of the songs I really like from the two Cd's I have of Bulgarian folk songs. You might ask "why Bulgarian folk songs???". The answer is simple. It is unique, and beautiful.

Bulgarian folk music is usually based on compound meter rhythm - a combination of 2's and 3's of rhythmic pattern - for example, the one we are doing is in 7/8, meaning each measure (in this case) is divided into two groups of two eighth notes (two quarter notes), and a group of three eighth notes (a dotted quarter note). So you'd count the 7 eighth notes of the measure with accents on the first, third, and fifth eighth notes. Like this, "ONE-two-ONE-two-ONE-two-three". It kind of sounds like a lopsided and awkward 3/4 (with an extra eighth note on the third beat). I think of a three-legged animal with the last leg longer than the other two, sometimes... Imagine it's walk.

Bulgarian folk music is often modal too (however, not in this particular piece, which is in F minor), and like in many modal pieces, the harmony is based on the interval of fourths rather than harmony based on the intervals of thirds, which is the kind of harmony we hear in most any kind of music most people listen to. This gives it a definitely more foreign and ethereal, and more dissonant, but yet somehow more open quality to the overall sound. And speaking of dissonances, they never seem to shy away from dissonances - in fact they seem to rather enjoy them. You can hear prolonged passages of parallel seconds (one of the most "dissonant" of the intervals) in many of it's music, which maybe it's primary characteristic sound of the Bulgarian music.

The music is often playful, so it is a perfect platform for us to really "play" with the sounds that we make!

Because it is unlike most music we ever heard or played before, it might take a bit of time getting used to, but once we have it in our ears, it should be quite manageable, and even easy.

I hope you all get excited about it as much as I am :)

Best assignment you can ever have (Faure's Pavane video)

Here's the video of the piece we are working on (for CYO).
Listen to it many many times (between now and the concert), and get really familiar with how the music sounds as a whole. That way you know what you are shooting for.

It's a beautiful piece. Enjoy!!

Slow pieces are sometimes more difficult to play

Date: 09/19/13
Orchestra: CYO
Attendance: very good
Repertoire Rehearsed: Faure and Mozart
Little things I noticed: That painting (photo?) of a girl in a blue costume kept creeping me out...
Ahhhh, it is sooo nice to have a full section of woodwinds. I was dreaming of this last year. I mean we still don't have bassoons, but what middle school orchestra does?
Now we just need more BRASS!

But since we don't have a full brass section right now, we do get to play lighter and more intimate sounding repertoire, like Mozart and Faure, which I think is a great opportunity for us. We should be able to hear the more delicate and intricate parts of the orchestra, and really refine our ensemble skills.

Speaking of which, we just had our first "real" rehearsal so this is only to be expected (but neverthless never too early for me to mention), we will need to focus on "listening" a lot more. An ensemble will cease to be,  and would be meaningless, if we don't pay any heed to what your fellow ensemble mates are playing, and see how your part fit in with everybody else's. It would be pointless to play in an orchestra, if it is just to stare only at your music and close your ears. You can do that in your own practice room any day. Let's all make a point of having everyone gather together in one room to create one piece of music! Look around, open your ears.

Faure may be a slow piece, but delicate, fragile, and introverted. Which translate to DIFFICULT (especially for those who are playing in such difficult keys as G# and D# minor... sorry clarinets and saxophones....).

This piece requires tender sounds, which in itself is difficult to produce. Think of warmth, and fluffyness. Think of cotton, and feathers. Never a harshness, or coarseness. Listen to your own sound "very carefully" while practicing by yourself. Also look up what "pavane" means.

Technically, practice your minor scales! Minor scales are too often neglected. Make sure you can "sing" minor scales with your voice with accurate pitches. If you can't do that, then you can't play it. More on that on another entry :)

All and all, really great first reading of the piece! 

P.S. Everybody should bring your stands and pencils to every rehearsal!!! Please don't forget! :)

Monday, September 16, 2013

Back from Summer and Back to Blogging!!!

So I couldn't keep up with the blogging during the summer as I hoped, but I am definitely back now.

This summer, I was fortunate enough to teach at two fabulous music festivals. The first one was called the 4Strings Music Festival, and there I got to give daily lectures on various topics on music, coach chamber music groups, perform some chamber music with other faculties members, and also conduct the large ensemble for two full weeks. It took place in this beautiful resort up in a beautiful mountain in Catskills, so on my spare time, I would wonder off into the woods to reconnect and breathe, which was very needed for I had quite a busy schedule there. Students' age ranged from 10 to 16, a lot of which were very serious musicians (some of them will be very very successful in the future, no doubt).  I couldn't be happier to coach and teach such serious and talented musicians and have them tell me how inspired they were from my teachings. In a way, I was inspired by them too.

The day after I got back from 4Strings, I started coaching at World Peace Orchestra - an international youth orchestra with symphonic and ethnic instruments, with students from over 50 different countries. My duty there was quite undefined... In the planning stage (before the summer) I acted as their musical counsellor - helping them decide on the classical portion of the program, getting additional coaches, and players, etc. Once the rehearsals began, I conducted string sectionals, and coached the lower strings. I also assisted the main conductor in his rehearsals. They also made me do a few different things that i wasn't aware that I had to.... The age range for the WPO participants was 15 to 23, so naturally, we had diversity not only in the cultures, but also in their experience levels. We had performers that were somewhat new to their instruments to people who already play in reputable orchestras professionally. If you've ever taught before, you know that coaching a group of people with wide range of experience level is the hardest to do, and this group had a range as wide as the music world allows.  On top of which, the organization itself proved to be a bit dubious, so certain things became a lot more difficult than they needed to be. Although the organization have many many many points that needed improvements, for the whole month I was with them, I kept being jealous of the participants. I mean, how often do you get to meet, live with and perform with such diverse group of people (in one of the most important venues in the whole world too)? And all while you are still soooo young!! I believe this opened up a lot of doors for many of the participants, and I would say, to a certain degree, mine as well.

In both festivals, I had the chance to meet so many wonderful people (students young and closer to my age, and staff and faculty members), some of them will no doubt be life long relationships.

The day after I saw some people off at the airport was the first day of NJSYO!!  I felt like I came back home. I was very excited to see old faces and to meet new people that are starting this year.
Many of the CYO kids from last year moved up to SYO (congrats!), but it seems like we've gained as many new students as I lost them to SYO. And this year, we have WOODWINDS!!!! I am so going to take an advantage of it! I also like how I still get to see the ex-CYO'ers every week, because we rehearse right next to each other. I feel like I keep gaining students, and never lose them :) Come say hi during the breaks, ok?

We also had our first chamber rehearsal on Saturday. This is where I truly feel at home. It was so good to see all the familiar faces in chamber, and so excited to have another year of fun with you guys.  I'm also very happy to have a couple of new members! 

For both groups, I used the first rehearsal to gage where we are so I can plan for the rest of the year. I think I now have a pretty good idea as to which direction we can head towards for both groups.

I feel very fortunate to get to spend another year with you guys. Let's make this another great year!!