March 20, 2010

Guest Post by Bratsche


We’ve had guest posts about making a variety of things, including yarn (delicious for the eyes and hands), cakes (just plain delicious!), and pottery (fascinating, long process), so here’s one about assembling a solo* viola recital.  

It’s a fairly short list of ingredients: viola, violist, sheet music, pianist, performance hall (with piano), recital date, concert outfit, invitations, and audience. 

The last recital I gave was 12 years ago (funny what getting married and having kids will do to put pauses in some things!).  I intended to do a recital last spring, but there were several reasons for it to get postponed.  This turned out to be blessing in disguise though, since it gave me even longer to learn and live with the music I’ll be performing.  I’m playing one piece I’ve performed before (Brahms Sonata Opus 120, No.1) and several new pieces (Bach Suite No. 4 for solo Cello (borrowed by we violists) and four short pieces by Rebecca Clarke**).  

Practicing forms a rather large part of my recital preparation, of course!  Part of the fun of doing a recital is that I get to live with the music for so much longer than just the performance.  There are times when I’m so thrilled by the wonder of the music that I stomp around and make emphatic noises of soul satisfaction.***   There are also days when I’m tired or not feeling well or just not managing to concentrate as much as I’d like and the practicing is much less inspired; but as with anything worth doing, part of the endeavor involves working through those times and emerging on the other side of them.  

My practicing occurs in four or five stages.  The first stage is the initial encounter, which includes the first time I play through a piece as well as the subsequent play-throughs while I decide if I want to make it part of my recital.  For some of my music (Bach and Brahms), that happened years ago.  The Clarke pieces were recent encounters.  Second stage is getting the music into my fingers, which means that I’m getting very familiar with it and figuring out how I want to finger it (which fingers to use for which note) and bow it (which way to move my bow and when).  Stage three is really learning the music:  making sure my notes are in tune, my bow movement fits the music, my vibrato is consistent, the music has flow and character.  Since I’m playing the music over and over to get it settled into my fingers (and muscles and ears), it doesn’t take too much extra work to start memorizing at the same time.  So stage three sometimes has an additional part to it.  The fourth stage is one of minute pickiness, also known as polishing.  If the piece includes a piano part, the fifth stage consists of putting my part together with the piano part, which is always fun since on those pieces my part by itself isn’t the whole story. 

The biggest challenge I set myself for this recital is to perform the Bach from memory.  I enjoy giving recitals, and I’ve been memorizing music since I was a young child; so this is not a new goal, but there’s still a certain amount of “on-the-spotness” about playing from memory.  So, I’m glad to have ended up with extra preparation time.  The other challenge I gave myself was to approach the Brahms from a clean slate (or paper, in this case).  I wanted to see what choices I would make without being influenced by seeing how I’d played it when I was in college.  I ordered myself another copy of the music and worked through it figuring out bowings and fingerings without referring to my first copy of the piece.  Once I had figured out how I wanted to do it this time, I compared it to how I had learned it before.  It was fairly similar (which I expected), but I have the satisfaction of knowing that I’m not just relying on the experience of my teachers (who were fabulous!) who gave me the original markings. 

The recital location and my pianist were both settled in January, but I won’t do much with either of them until later in my preparations.  My recital is in early May~, so I’ll be getting together with my pianist several times in April.  We’ll probably rehearse at her house.  Then we’ll do one rehearsal in the performance hall a few days before the recital.  I’ll try to have at least one or two people there to listen to how the viola and piano balance in the hall. 

I already have my concert outfit — a long, full, blue and white, twirly skirt (not that I’ll be twirling while playing, but it’s satisfying knowing that my skirt is great for twirling anyway!~~) with a white linen shirt with blue embroidered flowers. 

The invitations serve the basic function of letting people know that a recital is coming and when and where it will be; however, I want them to be a bit more than that.  The tradition at Oberlin Conservatory (where I did two recitals as part of my Bachelor of  Music in Viola Performance) was that the invitations be more than just a bare presentation of information.  I haven’t designed the invitations yet, so I don’t know if they’ll end up being humorous, elegant, thematic, or something else entirely.  I have given a little bit of thought to asking David Malki (Wondermark creator) if I could use his “poison paper” idea.  That one has made me chuckle since the first time I saw it (via a link from Robin) and immediately made me think of recital invitations! 

My goal in doing this recital is to play some wonderful music for people who might not have any other way of encountering this music in person.  I have been blessed with the gift of music+ and want to share it with other people. 


 *  A solo recital is generally one main soloist with another person (often a pianist) playing with them on some or all of the pieces on the program.  A chamber music recital tends to be three or more people playing music together (trios, quartets, quintets, octets, etc). 

**  Morpheus, I’ll Bid My Heart Be Still, Passacaglia, and Chinese Puzzle 

*** This really requires the accompanying emphatic hand motions and inarticulate “it’s SO….” to complete the picture.  If I can share a bit of this wonder of music in my actual performance, I’ll be delighted! 

~ May 8th in Vancouver, WA.  Anyone who happens to be in the area is welcome to attend. 

~~  Based on past performance experience, I actually probably will be twirling some during the last 10-15 minutes before the recital while I lurk backstage and wait for show time.  It’s something I enjoy doing, and it works pretty well to focus my mind on that specific moment and not stew about what’s coming! 

+ Lest that sound at all pretentious, I will add that I am probably the last person to be able to tell you what “size” a gift it is — I assume it’s of a middling size.


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