Thursday, June 30, 2011

NOI, Day 28

Day 28! Two more days until I get to drive home and see Nathan! I'm really glad I decided to come to NOI (I should say more about that later; back in May, I almost decided not to come!), but I'm so ready to go home.

Today we rehearsed the Stravinsky (Rite of Spring) and the Brahms (Symphony No. 2). The Stravinsky basically requires counting like mad through rapidly changing time signatures, and while it's certainly "trickier," I think the Brahms is much more difficult. I was practicing my part this evening and wondering at the fact that we played this symphony at Gordon College when I was an undergraduate. I loved some things about Gordon -- mostly my violin teacher, who taught primarily at NEC but also took a couple of students at Gordon back then -- but it definitely doesn't have a conservatory-level music department by any means. In fact, the orchestra brings in ringers ("mentors") to fill out the sections because there aren't enough students for a symphony orchestra. How ever did we manage to play Brahms 2? And why does it seem harder to me now than it did then? It's so hard to play all the string crossings perfectly rhythmically and with a good quality of sound. The infamous excerpt from the first movement is incredibly difficult to play beautifully and with precision.

We also had a lecture to attend today, given by the former president and CEO of the Philadelphia Orchestra. I thought the whole thing was sort of a waste of time. He talked about the different kinds of orchestra jobs we all might end up winning, and how to negotiate these jobs once we do (inevitably? hah!) obtain them. Students kept raising their hands with questions like, "What do I do if I win a big orchestra job while I'm still in school?" Or, "What do I do if I win a job with the Orlando Philharmonic, but then I win a job with the Philadelphia Orchestra and want to take that one instead?" Maybe I'm just enormously cynical, but I had to suppress a laugh. Isn't that getting a bit ahead of yourselves, my friends? Winning a job while you're an undergrad? Winning not one job but two jobs? Let's be realistic here. These aren't the kinds of "problems" that most musicians encounter!

(For those non-orchestral-musicians reading my blog, you might enjoy a post from Hannah: Orchestra Auditions for Non-Musicians. It gives a taste of what really goes on in the audition circuit, and all that goes into winning a coveted orchestra job. Violinista also shared her thoughts on the subject here.)

The guy giving the lecture was refreshingly honest about the difficulty of landing an orchestra job, though, and tried to bring some of the students in the room a little more down-to-earth. He encouraged people to be versatile and take a multi-faceted approach to building their careers. He also said some ridiculous stuff, though, like that it was impossible to be successful without a website in today's world. Part of me wanted to raise my hand and say, "Hey, I make a living as a musician. I have 35 students right now, and freelance with five per-service orchestras as well as playing other gigs as they arise. And I don't have a website."

On the topic of auditions and orchestra jobs, being at NOI has definitely given me some food for thought. On the one hand, I'm happy doing the teaching and freelancing I currently do, and truly feel lucky to be doing those things for a job. And I'm more than a little skeptical that everyone here who's hoping to land a big orchestra job will actually be able to accomplish that. (Although of course I'll be happy for them if they do!)

But then a little voice inside me says, "If they have even a chance, then maybe you have a chance, Sarah Marie."

I don't know if I'd have a chance or not. And if I did, I'm not even sure if I'd want to take that chance or not. It could mean dozens of auditions, and dozens of rejections. Maybe it would be worth it, or maybe it wouldn't. But now's a good time to think about whether I might want to try or not. And if I never even try to take any orchestra auditions, am I selling myself short? Will I look back someday and regret it?

I'm not saying everyone has to want an orchestra job. On the contrary, those who know me know that I don't think that way at all. I really love the teaching I do, and the little regional orchestras I play in!

It's just eye-opening to be surrounded by other players who are looking towards that one goal, and to work with professional orchestra players who assume about all of us here that what we all want is an orchestra job. Honestly, it's not sometime I spend a lot of time thinking about. I'm pretty content. But it's good to be challenged to consider: Am I doing what I do because it's my ultimate goal and dream, or is there something more or slightly different that I might like to strive after?

Or, as Kathleen Kelly says in You've Got Mail, "I lead a small life - well, valuable, but small - and sometimes I wonder, do I do it because I like it, or because I haven't been brave?"

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

NOI, Day 27

Hmm, I probably shouldn't blog so late at night. I end up doing things like sharing my deep thoughts on conductors' pants.

Today we had a masterclass with the concertmaster of the Baltimore Symphony, who's been here coaching sectionals for the first violins and also playing in the section at times to offer guidance. Kristen, who played in the masterclass, asked him if using an open A string in a certain passage in a Beethoven excerpt was acceptable. He answered that of course it was, and all of us in the room smiled and sort of giggled. You see, the concertmaster of the Detroit Symphony, who was here for the second week of the festival doing coachings, sectionals, and masterclasses, instructed us quite emphatically that open strings were never acceptable in orchestral playing (except for G, of course), and even Mozart and Beethoven ought to be played in fourth position to avoid open strings at all costs. Since her time here, pretty much every other visiting faculty member has contradicted that advice.

First, the associate concertmaster of the National Symphony said last week, "Oh, you hear sometimes these rumors about concertmasters who won't let anyone in their section use open strings, but I've never met anyone like that... maybe it's just a myth! I can't imagine that anyone like that actually exists." {Everyone who had worked with Ms. No Open Strings Ever smirked, but didn't say anything.}

Then, we told today's masterclass teacher about the aforementioned woman and her Zero Tolerance For Open Strings Policy, and he laughed, saying, "Yes, I've heard that she's a bit of a looney."

So, we are all amused to have encountered such an interesting orchestral player, but relieved to be subsequently told that this is NOT in fact that norm in orchestral playing.

While those of us in the first violin section for this week's concert were working with the concertmaster of Baltimore, a violinist from the Philadelphia orchestra was running sectionals and masterclasses for the second violins. I slipped into their classroom and caught the end of their masterclass today after ours was over, because I kept hearing how amazing this woman was. Her sound is incredible! She was demonstrating the passage on the G string from the second page of the Sibelius concerto -- a section on which even great soloists can notoriously sound crunchy, pressed, or scrubby -- and her sound was absolutely silken but still with great articulation and clarity. I was blown away.. it made me want to pack my bags and move to Philly to study with this woman. I heard her telling the students that she and her husband (principal clarinetist in Philly) firmly believe that if you're not always challenging yourself to improve, and always working towards a goal, then you're probably sliding backwards. She's just passionate about developing a good sound, and never stops working towards making it even better.

She's funny, too; she was talking about tone and sound quality and then, mentioning her husband, said with a dismissive wave of the hand, "Clarinet! Like that's a hard instrument! Why would I want to hear the clarinet when I play the violin? But I always tell my husband I love his sound because it's not clarinet-y at all. I actually hate the clarinet."

And apparently, I am told that in sectionals earlier this week, regarding a passage in Rite of Spring she said:


"The strings won't really be heard in this section, because the brass will be playing so loud. This passage is every brass player's wet dream."

And then laughed, and said hastily, "I shouldn't have said that!"

Of course, anyone who's ever known a brass player knows exactly what she means. Brass players live for Mahler, Wagner, Strauss, and anything else on which they can blow their brains out in pursuit of playing louder than everyone else.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

NOI, Day 26

I have to admit, I'm running low on energy and enthusiasm so far this week. It's good to know that at least I'm not the only one... I think everyone here is feeling it. Our conductor this week is great, but with a considerably more low-energy rehearsal style than last week's conductor. I thought I might fall asleep during this morning's rehearsal; it was just dragging by. I'm sitting third chair in the first violins for this concert, so I ought to be extremely motivated to practice my music. Maybe the motivation will come after a good night's sleep tonight!

Over lunch today, some of us developed a rating system for the three conductors we've had here. The categories included the usual: rehearsal technique, musicality, clarity of conducting, etc. However, we also added a "hotness" category (first place in that category went to our first conductor by unanimous vote), one for "accent" (German, American, and Italian to choose between) and, well, I contributed the category of "best or worst pants." You see, Conductor #1 wore extremely tight pants; you couldn't help but noticing the seams of his boxer briefs showing through. Conductor #2 wore pretty normal, middle-aged-man-jeans. And this week, conductor #3 has us all mystified by the utter absurdity of his pants, which billow out below his belt almost like a pair of swim trunks with air bubbles trapped inside. You'd have to see it to believe it.

{If you're wondering why those of us in the orchestra have been examining these men's pants so thoroughly, keep in mind that conductors stand on podiums, which put their pants right about at eye level for all of the musicians.}

My suitemate Rachel is leaving NOI tomorrow; she's having pain in her bow arm and can't play right now. Poor Rachel! We did a little farewell dinner with Brooke, Kristine, Rachel, and myself at a Thai place in nearby Silver Springs.

I think a tiny bit of each of us wishes we were headed home, too - Brooke to be with her husband, Kristine to see her boyfriend, and me, of course, to be with Nathan.

Yes indeed, it's the typical last-week-of-the-music-festival slump around here!

Monday, June 27, 2011

NOI, Day 25

Today was the first day of rehearsals for this week's program, Brahms Symphony No. 2 and Stravinsky's Rite of Spring. Our conductor this week is Carlo Rizzi, whose Italian accent makes me smile. The morning rehearsal involved a run-through of each piece - with minimal stopping only as necessary - to get a big picture idea of what we're working on.

We spent all of the first violin sectional this afternoon working on the Stravinsky. I liked the faculty violinist coaching our sectionals, but he let the violins get away with noodling around and practicing their parts while he was talking - I hate that. At one point five or six players were quietly figuring out some high note passages at the same time during rehearsal. I thought I might have a seizure. Seriously, rehearsal is not your personal practice time, and by the time you're in your twenties, there's no excuse for not knowing that. Best case scenario, come to rehearsal prepared and knowing your part. Worse case scenario, fake the spots you can't play yet, but don't figure out your notes and fingerings during rehearsal.

This probably makes it sound like I'm in a terrible mood... I'm really not! If you haven't experienced hearing groups of violinists noodle around on high passages they really can't play yet, you may not have a fully appreciation for how annoying it can be.

After sectionals I took a two hour nap. It's a toss up as to which part of my day was better, the Brahms or the nap, but I'm kind of leaning towards the nap.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

NOI, Day 24

Ahh, Sunday, a day of rest. I slept until 10:00 or so - overslept and didn't go to church - and then went on a photo excursion around campus.

First I sought out the university's Memorial Chapel. Back in 1946, my grandmother, Marie Savage, was a student here at the University of Maryland. She was one of four students (you can read about it here) who approached the school's board of regents with an official letter, complete with 1,348 signatures of students, faculty, and staff, urging that a campus chapel be built.

The chapel was completed and dedicated in 1952.

It stands not far from the dorm I'm housed in for NOI.

It's beautiful...

And it's surrounded by gardens!

I also got some photos of the campus wildlife - namely, lots and lots of squirrels. There are two main varieties, with one subcategory. First, your typical cute grey squirrel:

Subcategory: grey squirrel with a tail in bad need of a conditioning treatment and some Rogaine.

Then, there are the black squirrels.

Not so cute. Looks sort of evil, doesn't he? And a bit like a giant rat.

After I wandered the campus {intrepid explorer and family-history-seeker that I am}, I met up with Esther around noon, and we took the Metro into D.C. to see the sights for a few hours.

We ate lunch next to a guy with the cutest puppy:

Saw some important stuff:

Went through several exhibits in the Museum of American History:

{Toscanini's batons}

{Julia Child's kitchen}

{needs no explanation}

And walked a lot.

{This is unavoidable in D.C.}

Then it was back to campus to practice Brahms and Stravinsky to prepare for tomorrow's rehearsals.

One week from today I'll be on my way home!

Saturday, June 25, 2011

NOI, Day 23

I've assembled a few more great Michael Stern quotes from this morning's dress rehearsal:

To the violas and cellos:

"NO my little rhythm puppies! It's not together!"

To the first violins, working on the melody in the second movement of Mozart 41:

"You know how when you hold a baby, it's so cute, and it's so lovable, and it's so adorable? But what you don't know, what most of you probably can't quite imagine yet, is holding your own baby. It's completely different than other babies you've held. You hold a piece of yourself. It's suddenly become personal. That's how you must play this melody."

{I think we all teared up when he talked about that.}

In another section, he stopped us because of some rhythm problems and, having us begin again, he counted us in: "Eins und zwei und!" The rhythm was better that time, so he declared, "I see how it is... when I count in German you play together! In the concert, if your rhythm is poor, I will simply whisper to you in German and it will all be perfect."

{He then spent the next ten minutes of rehearsal speaking rapidly in German and offering the occasional translation for our benefit.}

Regarding the Mozart:

"The beginning of the first movement should be like taking a bath in C Major! We're going to take a bucket full of joy and dump it all over the audience!"


"If this doesn't convince you there's a heaven, I don't know what to say..."

And concerning the fugue in the fourth movement, with genuine amazement and wonder:

"AAAAHHHH, the fugue is upside-down! How does he do it? How did he think of it?!"

So that was the rehearsal.

In the afternoon I ran some errands, and had both my afternoon and my faith in humanity utterly ruined by the driver that sideswiped me and sped away, leaving this:

{I know... not the end of the world. But still.}

Then, tonight was the concert. And I think my faith in humanity was restored.

Are you ready to be impressed?



Maestro Stern conducted tonight's concert from memory, without a score. The program:

Wagner, Rienzi Overture
Mozart, Symphony No. 41, "Jupiter"
Bartok, The Miraculous Mandarin
Strauss, Salome's Dance {Can we say 'bass oboe'? Very cool.}

{So much for second violin parts being easier; this was a killer program to play second violin on. For one thing, the Mozart is notoriously a difficult second violin part, especially the last movement. And the other pieces were filled with screaming high C-sharps above five ledger lines and other such atypical second violin writing.}

I was particularly impressed with Maestro Stern's knowledge of the Bartok score from memory - all those meter and tempo changes! He was phenomenal, and so engaged with the orchestra in every moment of each piece.

The audience was so enthusiastic -- one man even shouted "one more time!" after the Bartok. I think audiences can tell when conductors and players are fully committed to what they're doing, and our conductor inspired us towards that tonight.

Before the final piece on the program, the Strauss, Mr. Stern said a few words to the audience. I can't recall everything word for word, but it was something like this:

"If you read the papers much you've probably heard that music is in trouble because of cutbacks and all that. Well, look here on this stage. Music isn't in trouble. Musicians aren't in trouble. What's in trouble is the prioritizations that are sometimes made, and the people put in charge of making them."

{He said it much better than that, though.}

After the concert there was a reception for all of us. Which reminds me: just before the concert Ting-Ting declared, "After the concert my goal is to go straight to the reception and eat twenty pieces of chicken!" I'm not sure if she met her quota or not, but we did get a picture:

And Brooke and I got a picture with Michael Stern:

And here's one with my stand-partner Esther:

After the concert Brooke and I talked a bit.

Brooke: I read your blog religiously now.
Sarah: Religiously! Does that mean you cross yourself before and after reading it?
Brooke: No, it means I pray, 'God, please help Sarah because she's such a horrifyingly bad blogger!'
Sarah: Hey, you should start a blog!
Brooke: No; my life isn't very interesting. Sadly, coming to 'band camp' here is the most interesting thing I've done in a long time.

{Perhaps it's the most interesting thing I've done in a long time, too. I've been posting daily!}

To conclude, you should probably listen to the genius of the fourth movement of Mozart's "Jupiter" Symphony.

{No, ours was hardly a period instrument performance like the one in this video!}

And can I just say that nobody writes symphonically for the bassoon like Mozart? I love the bassoon parts in his symphonies. If you didn't listen to the second movement I posted yesterday, go listen to it, and enjoy the bassoon parts.

Oh Mozart. Thank you for making the world a more beautiful place.

Friday, June 24, 2011

NOI, Day 22

Today was a double rehearsal day; full orchestra in both the morning and the afternoon rather than sectional rehearsals or masterclasses in the afternoon. Tomorrow will be the dress rehearsal in the morning and the concert in the evening.

I was pretty tired today. I snoozed long past when I had originally planned to get up this morning, and when the day's rehearsals were finally done at 4:30 I came back to my room and napped for an hour or so.

My favorite thing we've been playing this week is probably the Mozart (Symphony No. 41), although I like everything on the program. The second movement of the symphony is sublime.

And now, I'm ready for more than just a nap. Goodnight!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

NOI, Day 21

I'm continuing to enjoy playing under Michael Stern. Incidentally, I can't get over the striking resemblance to his father, Isaac Stern. These pictures don't really do the similarity justice, but you get the idea:

A few good quotes from today:

"Don't anticipate that sforzando [i.e. get loud too early], but when you get to it, flaunt it, baby, flaunt it."

To the violas:

"This needs to be disgusting, raunchy, dirty, offensive. So basically, play with your good viola sound."

He talked to us today about having the sense that we're all putting our sound into the center of the stage, actively contributing and creating the ongoing sense of pulse of the ensemble rather than simply following the conductor and the section leaders (although of course those things are important).

"This" - and here he beat time with his baton briefly - "is the enemy of true pulse. I would like to be able to just look at you and smile and have you play this melody beautifully."

We're playing Mozart's "Jupiter" Symphony, and Maestro Stern made the decision to reduce the orchestra in numbers today to make a more classical sound more attainable. The eight basses we needed for Mahler 1 last week are just a bit much for Mozart, not surprisingly! He was apparently under a bit of pressure not to reduce the strings at all simply so that everyone gets the opportunity to play, but today he finalized the decision to cut back on players. Not before looking at the full bass section threateningly yesterday, though, and saying, "Don't make me cut you!" Then, realizing it made him sound like a gang member, repeating it with a laugh and an ominous expression. Today when he dismissed half the basses and various other string players, he declared, "It's time to reduce. It's not that I don't like you all. We just need to do it." Then, pondering his first statement, he added: "And not just reduce, but we should also recycle and reuse." Then he told the now-unneeded string players, "Go enjoy a crunchy wholesome bagel, or perhaps a refreshing beverage." It must be that Harvard education; he never uses a small word where he could use a longer, better one, and he's always quite articulate.

Another piece on this week's program is Wagner's Overture to "Rienzi." In rehearsal today as he was working with the brass section, he said,

"It's pretty good. It's together. It's tight like shutting the door of a Hyundai..." - he smacked his hands together in a demonstration - "But I want it to be tight like shutting the door of a BMW." - he pulled his hands together tightly as if drawn by an invisible force - "Be a gas-guzzling German automobile!"

We're also playing Bartok's The Miraculous Mandarin this week, a [quite unusual] pantomime ballet now usually performed simply as a concert suite. Maestro Stern has from time to time offered insight into the plot and action and how it relates to the music. The nature of the ballet being rather scandalous, he always pauses and says, "How can I say this in as PC a way as possible..." and then comes up with something quite eloquent. He described the youth being lured upstairs by a prostitute something like this:

"There's this youth. And being young, he has a certain paucity of corporeal worldly experience. Which is not to say that he hasn't wanted certain things, but just that he hasn't yet achieved that particular life goal..."

{The entire orchestra applauded his well-chosen words.}

He of course knows that we're all adults here at the festival, but seems to find a certain humor in treating us like impressionable young people nonetheless. Yesterday he made a comment about getting a beer, and then hastened to add, "I mean, no, drinking is bad for your health and none of you should ever do it!"

Time is flying by here, and so are all the notes on the hundreds of pages of music they keep throwing our way. Ligeti, Faure, Mahler, Pintscher, and Beethoven are behind me. Bartok, Strauss, Wagner, and Mozart taunt me with their tricky passages this week. And next week it's on to Brahms and Stravinsky!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

NOI, Day 20

Wow, I can't believe it's already the 20th day of NOI. This festival is flying by, which kind of surprises me, because in the first week of the festival I definitely felt like time was crawling along very slowly.

I'm really enjoying having Michael Stern as a conductor this week. Besides being, obviously, a good conductor, he's inspiring, funny and incredibly articulate. Anytime he starts talking, I find myself really wanting to listen, which sadly is not always the case with conductors. One of my favorite comments to the violins today was this one:

"I'm more interested in the vibrato between the notes than in having lots of vibrato on those notes. Let's not throb ourselves into the Guinness Book of World Records."

I played the Mendelssohn Scherzo excerpt in a masterclass today for Stephen Rose, and I was completely horrendous. Looking on the bright side, I guess it's good to have those experiences that remind you that how you play in the practice room doesn't matter all that much; it's what you can do under pressure that wins or loses an audition. And I, like so many other violinists, am capable of playing my worst when my nerves get the better of me. Sometimes I notice other violinists with the mentality of, "Oh, so-and-so played his Don Juan excerpt badly in masterclass; I can play it better than that, therefore I must be better." I think a mature person is the one who can accept the reality that comparing your own personal best playing in the practice room (in ideal conditions, with no nerves or pressure coming into play) with someone else's nerve-wracked performance (with sweaty palms, a racing heart, and shaking hands) isn't realistic. We're all (we mere mortals, anyway) capable of royally sucking. Which is what I did today. Yay, me.

Well, tomorrow is a new day.

And tonight as Brooke and I were walking across campus, we passed a saxophone player (disclaimer: definitely not affiliated with NOI!) standing in the dark on the grass playing "My Heart Will Go On" to the vast expanse of the University of Maryland, to the great outdoors, and beyond.

So at least my performance wasn't the most ridiculous thing that happened today, after all.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

NOI, Day 19

Today I actually looked forward to practicing. We had orchestra in the morning and sectionals in the afternoon, but at 4:00 pm I was done with rehearsals and had unadulterated practice time. I'm no longer feeling the need to desperately cram this week's orchestra music like I was over the weekend and the past two days, so this evening I was able to practice slowly, carefully, perhaps even intelligently (one hopes, anyway).

I'll end this very brief post with a humorous comment from Mr. Stern in orchestra this morning:

"Play this with more breath and energy, but I don't mean in a touchy-feeling, zen-like, tofu-eating kind of way..."

Monday, June 20, 2011

NOI, Day 18

Today was the first day of rehearsals on our new set of music for this weekend's concert. I'm in the second violin section this week, and I'm glad - the second violin parts to these pieces are hard enough, and the first violin parts are harder! Our conductor this week is Michael Stern, who is, incidentally, the son of the late famous violinist Isaac Stern.

It will be interesting playing under him. He's funny, a little quirky (but what musician isn't?), and sarcastic at times. Today after the first violins played a passage noticeably badly, he eyed them and said, "Perfect!"

Before we began to rehearse Mozart's "Jupiter" Symphony, he commanded us: "Spines straight, eyes bright, hearts happy!"

He urged us to play with more lightness and a sense of upward motion, but was not altogether pleased with the results so far: "That sounded like milk toast that was put through a de-flavor-izer!"

After orchestra we had sectionals. Our faculty member this week for the second violins is Stephen Rose, the principal second violinist of the Cleveland Orchestra. Given his status, I suppose it goes without saying that he's a brilliant player. As we worked on the second movement of the Mozart, he played the first violin line along with our section, and his tone was so beautiful my eyes actually filled with tears. I felt a bit silly and hoped he didn't notice, but wow... I wish I could play like that. He's also funny; he started one of his sentences like this: "In my humble but correct opinion, two notes under a slur in Mozart..."

After I was done orchestra-ing for the day, I drove to my friend Story's house to make cakepops for her daughter Gwendolyn's third birthday party tomorrow. They were a lot of work, but they turned out so cute!

We were pleased with the results of our labors.

All ready for a party:

Makes you wish you were turning three, doesn't it?

While we were making them, Story was kind enough to let me use her washing machine to do some laundry. Her kids thought my mesh laundry hamper was pretty fun.

It's hard to believe Gwendolyn is turning three. I held that baby girl in my arms when she was just a few months old, and it seems like only yesterday. Look at her now!

Happy Birthday, Gwendolyn!

Sunday, June 19, 2011

NOI, Day 17

Today started off quite well: I slept until noon!

This meant I didn't get to go to church, but I really needed the rest.

When I got up, Rachel and I cleaned our suite bathroom together, and then I drove to a nearby Whole Foods to pick up a few things. I don't have a refrigerator in my dorm, so my food options are a bit limited, but I did find some good options. I also hit up the hot food bar for lunch while I was there, opting for sesame noodles with veggies and then adding a bunch of sauteed collard greens. I was craving green veggies! I also bought a bag of cherries and a pint of blueberries, figuring I could finish them off soon so the lack refrigeration wouldn't be a problem. {The blueberries are already demolished; Brooke and I made short work of them this evening during practice breaks!}

I called my Dad to wish him a Happy Father's Day. He's the best Dad in the world, in case anyone was wondering.

The late afternoon was decidedly less pleasant; I received sad news from a family member, which has since been on my mind all afternoon and evening. And I had to spend hours practicing Bartok, Strauss, Mozart, and Wagner -- all the new music for this week's orchestra cycle, which begins tomorrow morning with a full orchestra rehearsal, followed by sectionals.

At one point Brooke (who was also practicing) came into my practice room for a quick break, and commented jokingly, "At least with the Mozart I can tell if I'm playing the right notes or not. With the Bartok it's like I play it five times and each time is different, and I have no idea which one is correct."

She was kidding, of course, but it's unfortunately true that the less common tonalities of the Bartok (as opposed to something like Mozart) do make it far more difficult to learn.

I made good use of a metronome tonight. There's something perversely pleasing about getting in the zone with a metronome and repeating a difficult passage one click faster each time. Ahhh.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

NOI, Day 16

This morning Brooke and I dragged ourselves (we were both really tired this morning!) across the campus to the music building to enjoy the free coffee and bagels provided to all the NOI students. These free meals aren't a daily occurrence, so we take advantage of them when we can. I was amused to see lots of students grabbing as many as five or six additional bagels and stuffing them into backpacks for later meals.

After breakfast was our dress rehearsal for tonight's concert, during which I ended up sitting at the front stand during the Beethoven symphony rather than my seat at the fourth stand -- our play-in faculty member this week has been mixing things around during rehearsals from time to time. It was fun to sit at the front stand; the girl who has been concertmaster for this week's program is really a fantastic violinist, and just sitting next to her made me want to play every note more beautifully.

After the dress rehearsal, Brooke and I took a long-awaited trip to a mall in Annapolis to make a very important purchase. I'm almost ashamed to say it, but we both had been coveting a certain kind of shoes that two girls here, Anna and Esther, both have. The shameful part isn't necessarily the coveting, it's that the shoes are Crocs. I've long been vehemently opposed to Crocs, but these Crocs changed my mind:

See? They're like cute, retro, jelly shoes! And the best part? We had it on good authority from both aforementioned owners that they are comfortable. Since we're walking a couple miles each day back and forth across campus here, our current flip-flops just weren't cutting it.

So Brooke and I are now the not-so-proud owners of Crocs. Really, I never thought I would ever own a pair of this brand of shoes, but I'm quite happy with these cute grapefruit-colored flats.

Tonight was our first full orchestra concert. On the program: Beethoven's Symphony No. 1, Pintscher's "Towards Osiris," and Mahler's Symphony No. 1, "Titan."

The Beethoven, while beautiful, was slightly terrifying to play because it's so open and exposed.

The Pintscher was, well, crazy. (I mentioned it once before.) Let's just say that when Nathan was visiting and sat in on a rehearsal, he sent me a text message that read: "I'm sorry, baby. If I really loved you, I'd shoot you so you wouldn't have to play this piece." It was pretty difficult, both in terms of notes and rhythms.

Our conductor for this evening's program was the composer Matthias Pintscher himself, who I must say, is a very good conductor.

{Photo credit: Nathan took these pictures when he was sitting in on a rehearsal earlier this week. If the Maestro ever stumbles upon this humble blog and demands that his face be removed from this post, I will of course humbly oblige.}

After the concert we mingled around at a reception and took some pictures. Unfortunately, the lighting was not good, and an iPhone can only do so much. But here's a picture of me with another violinist here, Ting-Ting:

I'll leave you with an opportunity to listen to the last movement of Mahler's First Symphony, the final thing we played on tonight's program. As you can hear, it's pretty intense. I spent a lot of hours woodshedding that first violin part in a practice room this past week.

The day ended with a seemingly benign phone call to my parents that ended up being a family event, as my brother and sister-in-law were there for the evening, and my sister and brother-in-law were visiting from southern CA, and my Dad put me on speaker phone. Family phone time... very fun.

Friday, June 17, 2011

NOI, Day 15

The best part of today?

Probably not the five hours of orchestra rehearsal.

I'd have to say the highlight of my day today was an unexpected chance to spend time with someone I love; someone I'm proud of.

Also, I picked up Shiny from the Apple Store this evening, good as new, and my SD card reader is working now! You know what this means...

As promised: photos of my octet!

#1: Everybody smile!

#2: Everybody do something silly!

#3: "Everybody make a Sarah Face!" (Maki) "What? What's a Sarah Face?" (Me) "The face you make when we're arguing as a group and things are tense, and the edges of your eyebrows go down like this!" (Maki)

#4: Unscripted; just laughing