Posts Tagged ‘music’

Another Year With Bow In Hand

Saturday, January 1st, 2011

Fun With Your ViolinHappy New Year! It’s January 1, and that starts me thinking about my interaction with my violin.

Frankly, I haven’t been as active this year as I would have liked. I hope to change that this year. Some of my goals (I don’t make “resolutions.”) for the year include:

Getting a whole lot more active with this blog.

Scales and arpeggios at least three times a week.

Playing something that makes me smile every time I pick up my violin.

Using my violin to help others smile much more often.

Working on my fiddling and my improvisation more, rather than just my more classical stuff.

Interacting with more people who share a love of the violin…both in person and on the Internet.

More games on Violin Student Central.

Trying to spread the word about the website better. If we want to stay online we MUST generate more interest! (You can help! Tell your friends and share the URL if you find a daily Tip or History page you like. And if you buy through Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or eBay, or ANY of our partners, you can help us pay our server bills by simply using a link on our site to go to their site. It won’t cost you a cent, and it will be very helpful to us!)

Happy New Year!

–Art Haule  –

It Doesn’t Matter How You Learned, All That Counts is That You Play!

Christmas is Just Around the Corner!

Thursday, December 2nd, 2010

My favorite time of year as a violinist is the time immediately before Christmas. There are a couple reasons for this.

First, it seems to me that the most interesting amateur orchestra concerts occur at Christmas. I don’t know why that is. Maybe I just prefer listening to (and playing) music with which I am already familiar. Maybe I enjoy hearing new variations on favorite songs. Maybe I just enjoy the enthusiasm students show when they play songs they’ve sung for years.

Second, the songs and carols just seem to be ingrained in my fingers. I hate to admit it, but there was a time that my instrument lay unused for almost a decade. When I picked it up again, the songs were still there in my fingers. My wife thought that I was reading music, and walked into the room to find me with my eyes closed standing next to the open violin case playing and improvising. Some of what flowed from the instrument had been parts of pieces I’d played years before. Some were improvisations produced on the spot. But they were not only recognizable, they were pretty. When I’m just too busy…when I’m sad…when I’m frustrated it is the music of Christmas that returns to me again and again.

So, I’ll play this year. I’ll listen this year. I’ll enjoy the songs for my 57th Christmas as much as I did for my tenth — when violin was still a new and wonderful mystery to me. I hope you enjoy the music of the season as well.

Well, back to the Violin Student Central website.


Remember, we don’t work the violin, or struggle the violin, or suffer the violin…the verb we use is play!

Thankful for Violin

Wednesday, November 24th, 2010

Boy Playing ViolinI started violin lessons when I was in fourth grade. I was really happy about it.

But I can tell you that at various times in my playing career I have been somewhat less enthusiastic than others. But at age 56 I can tell you that I am Thankful that I learned to play the violin. Here are some reasons why.

My first teacher was Ellen Buxton (nee Shenton). One of the first things that she told me was that I was really lucky to be allowed to learn an instrument. I never really thought about that before I took lessons from her. But many people want to learn to play an instrument and never get the chance. The teacher is not there. They can’t afford an instrument. Their parents just don’t think it is important. The buy into the fiction that three years of high school football is more rewarding than picking up an enjoyable lifelong skill, and then regret it ten years down the line. Mrs. Buxton reminded us all that it is a privilege to learn an instrument. I’m thankful for that.

Mrs. Buxton also let us know that we were not going to make the immediate progress that many of us were used to in school. I was a member of an “enriched” class, in which many of the students were quite smart. We read something, and it stuck. We were articulate and polite, so many of us were well liked by adults. We worked for a little while, and we achieved what we wanted. Violin wasn’t like that. And most of life isn’t. Immediate gratification was not going to be the norm for my life, and my screeching on the violin just drove that home. It was a lesson I needed to learn, and I’m thankful for it.

I’ve met a lot of people because of violin who I never would have known. Several world-renowned musicians in Rock, Folk, and Classical genres. Instrumentalists gathering from hundreds of miles away for special events. Young ladies who had recently immigrated to the United States, and spoke very little English, but got the chance to play music in school. I’m thankful for that.

A chance to step away from the nonsense of daily life and participate in something more transcendent on occasion. I’m thankful for that.

Just some thoughts on this Thanksgiving Eve.

BTW, I’m Thankful for your stopping in to read what I had to say.

School is Almost Out – Don’t Quit Yet!

Wednesday, May 19th, 2010

The school year is winding down here in Texas, and you can already see the kids beginning to relax. There is talk of swimming pools, vacations, and summer camps. Homework is becoming slightly less important to kids, although their parents and teachers haven’t realized that yet, and still expect it to be completed.

Believe it or not, this is an extremely important time of year for music students!

As we slip into Summer, many students will set their instruments aside to be picked up again the first day of school. This is tragedy enough, but it’s even worse if the student ends the school year with bad habits coming to the fore.

The way we finish this school year is probably the way we will start next school year!

If your posture or position is bad, it will probably be worse when September rolls around. If practice habits are poor now, good habits will be harder than ever to re-establish. If accessories or sheet music are not available as the year ends, they’ll just have to be purchased this Fall, delaying the start of practice for another week or ten days.

My message for you is – Finish Strong!

Now is the time to make sure that you have everything that you need now, because the need won’t go away over the Summer. Now is the time to touch up your posture, you’ll remember the right way to stand, sit, or hold the instrument better if you’re doing things right when school ends. From now until the school year ends you should play a lot! Add fifteen minutes to each practice. Stretch yourself by learning that one additional etude. Play something you really like every single day. Make sure that you remember that when you play your violin (viola, cello, trombone…whatever!) you actually have fun!

Now is the time to make sure that you have a friend or two who will be playing their instrument over the Summer. You can play chamber music. You can get together to jam. You can even just play some of the pieces that you enjoyed from orchestra or band this year. Now is the time to look into Mark O’Connor’s Fiddle Camp or Mark Wood’s Rock Orchestra Camp or any of the dozens of great opportunities to play and have fun that occur over the Summer months. You’ll learn a lot while getting to meet some pretty incredible musicians! Now is the time to realize that playing your instrument is not just a chore, it is a part of your life! It makes you smile and feel good about the things you can do that you never expected.

Finish the school year strong. It will make starting next school year (or maybe even this Summer’s music program) a whole lot easier.

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


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.