Friday, June 11, 2010

Rx for Violinists

With summer approaching, and as I reflect back on experiences in my youth, I remember how much of a challenge it was to adapt to the different styles and rigor of learning. As I explained to a lovely adult student last evening, who is making astonishing progress due to her quick analytical skills, there is not one single method, or cure-all that works for everyone, especially when it comes to playing the violin. The best training I received, over the course of my extensive years of study, was the encouragement to make discoveries and experiment on my own. 

I recall my first summer at Meadowmount School of Music, "a boot camp for budding virtuosos" and admit that at the age of eleven, I didn't have the slightest clue how to practice. On my music stand was the thick book of Kreutzer Etudes, a crucial but rather dry book. Years later, during studies in the Heifetz Masterclass, the Kreutzer book would be used as a Physician's Desk Reference. For bow tremor, etude number one might be helpful, but in small dosages. A string crossing disturbance could be aided by number thirteen. Shifting ailments were treated by a strong dose of  eleven and twelve. If the fourth finger experienced fatigue or weakness during trills, the eighteenth etude, practiced at regular intervals, would boost endurance and agility. And so on.

Recently, I have been introduced to another excellent resource for the intermediate to advanced learner. It is 12 Etude-Caprices in the Styles of the Great Composers by Meadowmount violinist and faculty member, Amy Barlowe. What I enjoy most about this collection, is that it reinforces practice tools for helping students learn and discover on their own. It is a wonderful complement to the Kreutzer because it doesn't taste like medicine but offers strong efficacy. Each etude-caprice livens the imagination with a focus on the stylistic differences between great composers, such as Sturm and Drang influence in Beethoven, changing meters in Ravel, and characteristics of Slovak folk music in Bartok. Ms. Barlowe includes concise measure for measure technical and musical practice guides, including improving intonation through the "stop bow" method and double-stop strategies.

There are wonderful illustrations and biographies about each composer, as well as chronological correlations with artists, writers, and historic events which encourages the student to contextualize musical styles. Most important, 12 Etude-Caprices in the Styles of the Great Composers is a curative for anyone who needs guidance during practice. I hope Ms. Barlowe might consider adding a piano accompaniment, or optional second violin, so that these etude-caprices can be included in the recital literature.

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