And what a strange, crazy trip it’s been!
A cello friend asked how it was possible for me to be working on both Bburg (aka The First Movement of Brandenburg Concerto #5) and Happy Farmer (Suzuki 1). I realize that on the surface it might seem like driving a Formula One car with a learner’s permit (and it sorta feels like that some days).
The short answer: Slowly. Very slowly.
So why am I still in Suzuki 1 after almost two years?
1. I’m a total musical newbie. Dabbling with the E-bass in college was really learning a few Ani DiFranco tabs to play with my roommate. I get a LOT out of the really basic Suzuki 1 stuff. I still have lots of newbie “ah-ha” moments every week. Sight reading still feels like translating a foreign language (notes) into my familiar language (finger numbers) before with the added step of then translating the numbers into movement.
Having learned a second language, I know that there’s a big jump betwen that and actually beginning to think and speak (or in this case play) in that language without translating first.That slows me down a lot. But I’m confident that the ‘click’ moment will actually arrive someday completely on it’s own – much like my first dream in Spanish in which I understood every word. Ah-ha!
2. One of the things I struggle with and really want to improve at is memorization – so my teacher gives me extra time to work on getting it down “with my eyes closed,” before moving on.
3. I am a lesson de-railer: One of the reasons why I love my teacher is that I can ask her all kinds of crazy questions like: “what is that hand shaking thing that makes the crazy trembling sound that makes my heart flutter and how do I do that?” and “So all these notes under the rainbow, what’s that mean?” and “whats that ‘x’ before the 4 all about?” and instead of doing the “We’ll get to that later” brush off she actually stops and gives me an explanation, and teaches me an exercise or two before we move back to what we were working on.
Sometimes I’m really quick to realize something is over my head and we get back to the Brigadoon or Allegretto or French Folk Song. Other times I get fired up and we spend the rest of the lesson practicing the “wah-wah-wah” precursor to vibrato or talking about a piece of music that moved me (and why), or how breaking down body movement for a technique joint by joint and I walk away with another week of whatever I was working on before 🙂
I never feel like it’s wasted time though – even if I don’t get it at the time, it sinks into my brain somewhere and I pull up later when our conductor asks us to vibrato long notes, or to slur the notes as indicated, or where my F# has run off to. Has it made getting through Suzuki 1 take Fo-evah? Yes. But my delayed progression through Suzuki 1 seemed to come in handy when Bburg came crashing into my life 🙂
Fact: Brandenburg is pretty new to the scene – like 3 months ago it barged in demanding some string time. To be perfectly honest, it’s like a battle for the world domination every time I sit down with it. It’s pushed me harder and faster into things like slurs and half position and extensions than Suzuki has, for sure. I had to learn new tricks ahead of schedule SPECIFICALLY for Bburg (and Pavane and Satie, for that matter) I hardly consider myself having any mastery of them. Also, Bburg is the exception, not the rule. I probably “shouldn’t” be playing it at all. But you play with the hand (or the sheet music) you’re dealt. I have never been so challenged, intimidated and impressed with anything I’ve played. So of course, it’s been an incredible teacher.
I also play with an amazingly patient group of people. My orchestra is a small, beginner friendly, community string ensemble. No audition, remember! We are a collection of newbies and instrument newbies and a trio of amazing violinists (a teacher and two really accomplished hobbyists – I think Gita left a comment a while back) I have learned as much from them as Suzuki. We also have a most awesome conductor who has us play at a speed that might be slower than notated, but still encourages the newbies to keep up. It sounds better than allowing us to get dragged through flailing at full speed. I think we’re playing Brandenburg about three quarters speed notated. I still get left behind sometimes, but it makes a huge difference. The first time I heard Bburg at full tilt I almost passed out.
So yea, like I said, slowly. Most days, it feels I’m like driving a go-kart on a formula one track. Although, heck, even Michael Schumacher started out in a kart. And look where he ended up: