As promised, here are some lesson notes. This student is a marvelous and highly motivated student whose main outlet is playing in a community orchestra. These notes are from a period of time when I was also introducing them to a broad survey of musical ideas, so the listening at the end serves as an introduction to the ideas of minimalism and a distinct departure from the usual construction of phrases. Reich instead uses motifs that sort of melt into each other over countless repetitions and permutations so that if you’re not used to it, when you get to the end and then listen to the beginning again, you kind of ask “How did I get there from here?”
Something I’m trying to do more with students is to continually contextualize their studies back into the world of music as a whole. Sure, we all want to refine as cellists, or flutists, or vocalists, but only so that we can be better musicians. We are vehicles for musical expression, not just technical superiority or masters at any number of contrived manners of manufacturing tone. Don’t lose sight of the music in the fevered pursuit of improvement in your particular domain.
The main goal for the week is to recognize and integrate the two components of moving smoothly (and beautifully) between notes, particularly those that involve string crossings.
The two components are comfort (bodily, cognitive, emotional) in the moment and mechanical simplicity. Moving from one string to the other while changing bow directions is challenging: this work is the real deal. It’s something I spend a lot of time on, and it always rewards me when I am consistent with it.
Watch yourself in the mirror: let your eyes relax and stare at the bow when you change from up to down close to the frog. Try varying the result: land on the destination string heavily, then try with no change in tone, then try to make the second string sound quieter than the first. You can also do this with no string crossing. Remember to stay committed to the lateral motion of the bow; very rarely do we want to slow the bow down and choke the speed before a change. It happens, but it’s a special effect, not our bread and butter.
Keep checking in with the inner BS detector. Did that lovely sound feel like a narrow escape? Or did it feel like a natural extension of the movement of your arm? Counting out loud is breathing. I also sometimes sigh when I start a note if I’m feeling keyed up or like breathing is not easy.
Listening: put this on while you’re on a drive, or a walk, or cleaning the house. This music is like a postcard from the 1970s in the very best way; something of a soundtrack for whatever moment of you life you find yourself in. Steve Reich: Music for 18 Musicians. If you can, try to see this live. It’s incredible.