Archive for March, 2010

Memories: Violin as Time Machine?

Tuesday, March 30th, 2010

Janice Commentz, Viola Player

Janice Commentz. Violist, Teacher, Mentor, Friend.

I’m not really good at FaceBook. I set up a page, and just let is stay there dormant for a long, long time. My 14-year old daughter was looking over my shoulder at the computer the other night and said something to the effect of, “Why don’t you answer that message?” I was in a fog and asked her what she was talking about.

I had a friend request. Janice Commentz.

Who the heck is Janice Commentz? It took me a good ten minutes to figure it out.

I’m no spring chicken. I’ve been playing violin longer than most of the parents of the girls on my daughter’s soccer team have been alive. My daughter firmly believes that Antonio Stradivari was a classmate of mine and that the music I like was used to lull Ben Franklin to sleep while he was still an infant . . . and that I probably played it for him.

And Janice asked, “Are you still playing the violin?”

She really knew me…but I sure couldn’t remember her. Her picture wasn’t really of any help whatsoever. But then the light came on.

Janice Commentz was my Home Room teacher when I was in eighth grade. She was the chorus director for the junior high school I attended. It was pretty obvious that I played violin, since I carried the case around with me. Some time during the year it came to light that Miss Commentz played the viola.

After leaving eighth grade I lost contact with Miss Commentz until Spring of my Sophomore year in high school. We put on the play Kiss Me Kate. We only had one decent violist in the district, so the conductor recruited Miss Commentz to play with us. It was one of several times that I had the opportunity to play with adults while still in high school. It gives a student a somewhat different perspective on ensemble work. The adults come into the situation with skills somewhat in place and with the music already worked out. True sectional work rather than instruction occurred at rehearsals. It was fun.

I attended several junior high school concerts while I was a Junior and a Senior…my sister Pam sang in the chorus. I believe I only played with Miss Commentz in one more production. A local amateur opera company formed for the purpose of performing Die Fledermaus while I was in college. Many of the members of the orchestra were high school students, and I was one of the “experienced” players. It felt strange, and yet made me feel really good that they looked up to me, and that my teachers felt good enough about my performance to invite me to play.

I haven’t had any contact with Miss Commentz since then…December of …well, if you have to know the year…it was 1972. (Can it really be that long ago?) It’s great to look back across the time and connect with folks who were “instrumental” in forming your personality and developing your musical taste. I probably won’t get the chance to see Miss Commentz again. We live 1600 miles apart. But I’ll sure keep in touch with her via FaceBook!

Violin: Living Through Playing? Growing Through Playing? Remembering Through Playing? And Realizing That Those Things That Really Matter Are Timeless.

Thanks for contacting me, Miss Commentz…or should I say Janice? Nah, Miss Commentz just feels right.

Art Haule

Remember, With Violin (Yes, and with Viola too) The Verb We Use is Play

Soccer vs Violin–They’re Both Playing, But…

Monday, March 29th, 2010


Sunday afternoon I traveled about 4 miles to the local soccer field to watch my daughter’s team play. Don’t ask about the results, let’s just say that the outcome was not pretty. In fact, the result was pretty dismal. But even though the girls lost, I was interested in the reactions of the players and the spectators.

First, let me talk about the spectators. Most of the folks watching the game were the parents and siblings of the players. Let’s face it, soccer played by 14-year old girls is not a big draw…especially on a glorious Sunday during March Madness. The game was fairly even through the first 15 minutes, but then there was a critical mistake by our team’s defense. Despite a valiant effort by our goalkeeper the Red Hots scored. The floodgates were opened and there was no closing them.

Ball after ball entered the net, and the enthusiasm of the players decreased dramatically. Frankly, the Strikers were going to lose the game, and everyone on or at the field knew it. The girls stopped hustling. The game officials seemed to  decide that this game just needed to be over and stopped making even obvious calls. The opposing team even celebrated goals less once a second, and then a third goal had been scored.

But the parents still cheered.

The girls’ performance was dismal, but the enthusiasm shown by some of the parents was genuine. And even though the players made bad decisions on the field, didn’t do their best, and frankly didn’t even care whether they were giving their best, the parents shouted and cheered. I heard words like “Great Play!” and “Super.” And I scratched my head. I’ve been watching soccer for 40 years, and I didn’t see any of the things that the parents were shouting about. I’ve refereed Division I soccer for the NCAA, and I was really puzzled as to what the enthusiasm was all about.

I began to think more about the reaction of the parents than about the performance of players, coaches, or officials. They were all just going through the motions, but the parents were actually excited about their daughters playing soccer. Admittedly, some of the the excitement turned to vitriol directed at the officials, but the parents were actively involved.

The girls mad a great comeback. I wish that I could tell you that they won the game, but it was actually the worst defeat that the team has suffered in the two years my daughter has played for the Strikers. But the parents were supportive at the end of the game. There were hugs, and compliments for things that had been done well, and support for girls who were sad about the outcome.

I began to think about the reactions of parents who listen to their music students have a bad practice. It might be a bad attitude. It might be less than perfect performance. It might be inattention. All of those things were evidenced on the field, but I heard almost none of those things referenced by the parents when the player was within earshot . . . at least none of it was directed toward the players.  I’m quite certain that the attitude would have been substantially different after the violin practice than after a less than satisfactory soccer game. I know that I was not always as enthusiastic and supportive during and immediately after my daughter’s bad violin practice as I was at her bad soccer game.  Why the disparity?

Now before you get the wrong idea, I am not about to tell you to act enthusiastic even when you don’t feel that way. I’ve heard one Suzuki teacher indicate that “spontaneous” enthusiastic applause was expected after each performance of a piece . . . even during practice . . . even if the performance was mediocre at best. And parents were chastised that their spontaneous applause did not occur often enough or with enough vigor. I’m not talking about that sort of disingenuous behavior. I’m simply questioning why parents become so vehemently supportive with sports, even when things go wrong, and show such a half-hearted response with music. Why the positive attitude with athletics practice and the negative attitude with music rehearsal?  (And remember, I’m questioning my own behavior regarding this as well! There’s certainly no accusatory inference here that I don’t direct at myself.)

This one’s gonna have me scratching my head for a while.

Art Haule

Remember, When We Talk About Violin

The Verb We Use Is Play


 

Falling in Love With Western Swing

Friday, March 19th, 2010

Sophia, Hulda, and Grace Quebe

Every time I think that I have reached the limit of genres of music and artists that I enjoy on the violin I come across a new performer, composer, or work that I completely enjoy.

My last birthday I was fortunate enough to receive a CD of The Quebe Sisters Band, and I have listened to them two or three times a week since then. I am not ashamed to say that they are actually creeping into the recesses of my heart where such performers as Hilary Hahn, Zino Francescatti, Mark O’Connor, Nathan Milstein, Mark Wood, Sarah Chang, and Rachel Barton-Pine reside.

Haven’t heard of the Quebe Sisters? You really should look into their music. I was hooked as soon as I heard them!

Sophia, Hulda, and Grace Quebe were raised in the that thriving North Texas Metropolis…Krum. They were home schooled and began playing fiddle in 1998, taking lessons from Sherry McKenzie. The girls showed remarkable talent, and soon their coaching was taken over by Sherry’s husband, Joey (An able teacher as evidenced by the fact that he is 3-time World Champion Fiddler, World Series of Fiddling Champion and 5-time Texas State Guitar Champion). The trio began playing with Joey on guitar and Drew Phelps on bass. (Drew’s credits include a Bachelor of Music degree from North Texas State University, he received a full scholarship to attend the School of Fine Arts at the Banff Centre in Canada, and a National Endowment for the Arts jazz fellowship to study privately with legendary string bassist Dave Holland.)

The Quebes learned to play fiddle by ear, and received no classical training. They’ve won numerous contests and awards. They have appeared in such places as the Grand Ole Opry, the Kennedy Center, and Lincoln Center in New York City.  Their musical style includes such musical styles as western swing, hot jazz and swing standards, western and cowboy songs, vintage country and bluegrass.

If you can listen to these ladies and not want to tap your feet, dance, or move down to the Fort Worth area, you’re a stronger man than I. We’re in the midst of arranging an interview with them, so watch Violin Student Central for an update on the Quebes!

Want to see them live? They post their schedule on their website.

Spring Cleaning: Violin Case Gone Wild

Thursday, March 18th, 2010

Each Spring I look at my violin case and I wonder how it got to the state that I find it. It seems that I accumulate items over the course of the Winter, and I have to take some time to clean out the clutter to make room for the important stuff.
What do I find? More paper clips than I ever knew existed. That cake of rosin that disappeared in September. Sheet music that should have been returned to the music library right after the December concert. ANOTHER mute. Used strings. New strings. Broken strings. I keep fearing (or hoping) that I’m going to encounter a half eaten Big Mac or at least a few fries or Doritos.
What don’t I find? My mechanical pencil. (I replace them every week. I think mechanical pencils and violin cases are related to dryers and socks.) My business cards.
I guess that I’ll take an hour to clean things out…set things up…and clean the rosin dust off my violin and bow once again. And I’ll make my thrice-yearly resolution to keep things neat and clean. Things will look good for a few weeks before the downhill slide starts once again.

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Thursday, March 18th, 2010

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