We took quite a long break from recording the show with everything going on at the moment, but we are so glad to be back. To kick things off again we thought we would use this episode to go through a bit of what we have been up to, staying home with the LA Phil out of action, some of the work and practicing we have been doing and then to field a bunch of listener questions.
We look back at the last few days of regular work before quarantine began and then talk a bit about how we adjusted our schedules after things completely stopped. Nathan talks about his Violympics group, Akiko shares some of her dreams of home fitness and we explain the home recording process we have been working on.
This unusual period presents a somewhat useful possibility to musicians; we all have areas of our playing that we wish we could improve and spend more time developing — and this could be the time to do it.
After the complete rundown of our work-from-home life, we get into answering questions on quieting inner critics and protecting the joy of playing, practical concerns of changing strings and re-hairing bows!
Key Points From This Episode:
- The last days of work and the changes in our schedules since the pandemic began.
- Shifting plans and changing the focus of our practice for time at home.
- The video recording we did and the insecurities that arise in watching yourself.
- Unusual repertoires and more practice time in the work from home world.
- The ‘Violympics’ and the questions that came from the group.
- Staying motivated and practicing during this time with the LA Phil on hiatus.
- Considering the plight of young musicians finishing music school right now.
- Investing in different skills and upping your game during this downtime.
- Personal qualities that lend themselves to a successful career in an orchestra.
- Tips for quieting the inner critic when performing or recording.
- Separating and protecting the joy of playing from the need to do it for a living.
- The importance of friendships and connection within a job in an orchestra.
- Changing strings, re-hairing bows, off the string strokes and more.
- Divisions for practicing a new piece and ways to focus on tricky passages.
“I think it is scary to think of coming back together. I think we’ve all changed. I think it’s going to be such a substantial amount of time that we all would have changed in a lot of ways.” — Akiko Tarumoto [0:24:20]
“Our whole lives I think so much of our self-worth is wrapped up in how we play. I don’t know that that’s healthy or right, but it’s inescapable.” — Nathan Cole [0:25:10]
“It is reassuring to know that orchestra or no orchestra, we’re still musicians.” — Akiko Tarumoto [0:25:25]
[00:00:00] NC: Hi and welcome back to Stand Partners for Life. I’m Nathan Cole.
[00:00:05] AT: I’m Akiko Tarumoto.
[00:00:19] NC: And last time we came at you, the world was a very different place. Needless to say, we’ve taken quite a long break, but we’re happy to be back talking with each other and talking to you. Yeah, even though things have changed quite a bit. We were just trying to come up with what our last episode had been and we were talking conductors. How important is a conductor? Do we really need a conductor?
[00:00:43] AT: Who knew we wouldn’t need a conductor for months?
[00:00:46] NC: Yeah. We got our wish. Didn’t see any conductors for months. Yeah, it’s like the monkey’s paw. Got more than we bargained for.
[00:00:56] AT: The corpse showed up at the front door.
[00:00:58] NC: Yeah. I mean, we certainly won’t be the first people sharing our thoughts about the changed state of the world on classical music since the pandemic began. Maybe our thoughts don’t have to run too deep. But what do you think about our musical and our artistic lives since this all took route? When was the last time we were at work?
[00:01:26] AT: It was what? March 12th to 13th. Something like that. Yeah.
[00:01:31] NC: Mid-March. It was a week full of children’s programs, right? Children’s or young adult programs. Our big challenges that week, we’re keeping all the books straight. Got this book for this program and transferring bowings in and out of this part and that part and just –
[00:01:51] AT: I think there were three different concert masters playing the same solos. That was a challenge too.
[00:01:57] NC: Was one of them you?
[00:01:59] AT: I was sitting next to all of them, I think.
[00:02:01] NC: Oh, okay.
[00:02:01] AT: I was not one of them. But yeah, I was trying to make myself useful.
[00:02:07] NC: I do remember stressing about a solo. Yeah, it’s one of those weird – Something like when you’re a kid, some assignment is due and you pay for a snow day or some fake disaster call the next day that would spare you from having to go in.
[00:02:22] AT: Here now, you got like a snow year.
[00:02:24] NC: Yeah, unfortunately. I mean, who knew that that would be the last day there. I really haven’t been back at the hall. I know you haven’t. I’m sure it won’t come as a surprise that for the next couple of weeks, because it started to sync in, I mean, I’m not sure that I took the violin much out of the case. I had been practicing a lot actually right up until that moment and it came to a screeching halt and then I just didn’t want to play at all.
[00:02:53] AT: Yeah. It was strange. I had somehow injured myself. I think we’ve been doing a lot of like the Ives and Dvořák on the regular subscription concerts. I forget why. I sort of felt like I was susceptible and maybe I wasn’t doing enough individual practice and I was like playing maybe kind of without paying super close attention to my technique.
[00:03:21] NC: Well, it was that point in the season too, where athletes always have that point in a basketball season right around March, April.
[00:03:29] AT: Right. Everyone’s got something going on.
[00:03:31] NC: Yeah, dings and I think we have that too. I often notice by March or April. It’s just been a lot of weeks in a row, and the little things start adding up.
[00:03:44] AT: And we had extra stuff too that we were playing some kind of extra concerts. Yeah, I don’t know. Yeah. I mean, of course we’re getting – we, I’m getting older.
[00:03:53] NC: Well, I think I am too.
[00:03:55] AT: I guess we’re all getting older. It’s becoming more significant. Yeah, I’m just starting to notice a little more wear and tear. That was happening then for me. Maybe not so much for you, but yeah, I immediately just did not play for two weeks because my wrist really hurt. My right wrist. I have to be careful not to say that I was grateful to have a little time to recover, because it’s been such a horrible, horrible thing that’s happened to everybody in the entire world, which is it’s crazy. Nobody wants to say that somehow there were silver linings.
[00:04:29] NC: Well, me too. I thought, “Okay, it’s been kind of a pain to do all these practicing. I’m going to appreciate a few days off, maybe.”
[00:04:39] AT: Yeah. I guess we also didn’t know what the scope of it was going to be so much. There’s that. At first it was like, “Hey, we can hang out with our kids more.” Yeah, just sort of appreciate life getting slow, like really slow. But eventually we did feel the urge to the feel a little bit normal I think. Then we picked up our instruments again, and I fortunately at point had recovered from that problem, and then another problem came up from practicing. But we’ll get into that.
[00:05:12] NC: Yeah. What’s the first thing you remember playing again after – I mean, was it about two weeks? That’s what I remember.
[00:05:18] AT: It was about two weeks. Then I think at that point, it was starting to become obvious that was going to be long. I think it was going to be at least a couple months away from work. Then I feel I wanted people to be able to see LA Phil people playing. So they put out a call for some videos, and I thought – I mean, I think you took a little convincing, but I thought wouldn’t it be nice to take advantage of having two violinists in the same house and doing some cool violin duo repertoire? A lot of that is very technical. I thought that might be a nice chance for me to work on a side of my playing that I am usually really not confident about, which is sort of just fun, technical playing.
[00:05:59] NC: It amazes me.
[00:06:02] AT: I mean, it’s just not – It hasn’t really been my thing. But it’s been back on my mind that I want to do some duo stuff with you, and it just felt almost like a little opportunity to finally do that.
[00:06:13] NC: Yeah, it really was. That made me get the violin back out and try to brush those things up. Yeah, you were alluding to the fact that we both sort of seem to reinjure ourselves a little bit. I think we’re very enthusiastic about playing that Wieniawski.
[00:06:29] AT: Oh! So silly. Well, it just goes to show you. I don’t think of myself as a very technical player. Then the first time I try to really work up something technical, then I injured myself. It’s like great. Because I was right.
[00:06:42] NC: Well, so neither of us seems to permanently hurt. But I think we’re just – We’re sore for a little bit.
[00:06:51] AT: I think you pair that with like my sad attempts at home fitness. I think that created home physical fitness combined with home violin fitness, and that was kind of a potent formula for injuring myself.
[00:07:08] NC: Well, almost every time I have gotten hurt, I think it has always been a combination of doing something physical that I’m not quite used to and then a lot of playing at the same time.
[00:07:19] AT: Yeah. One time we were moving, and so you were lifting a lot of heavy stuff and moving around and you’re practicing a bunch of – yeah, you were working up like I think a solo recital, something like Paganini and stuff. Then you were out of work for like two months.
[00:07:35] NC: That’s the only time I’ve really missed an extended stretch of work. Yeah, it’s always like that. During this time, everybody’s routine is different, right? We’re seeing a lot more, the kids — I’m picking up the kids more playing with things a lot closer to the ground. I feel like my back has gotten weird from time to time.
[00:07:55] AT: Oh yeah. I spent a lot of time like in a 90 degree angle.
[00:08:00] NC: Picking up Legos.
[00:08:01] AT: Like bent in half just like picking things up. They always say, “Oh! You should make your kids do it.” It’s like, “You know what? It’s just so exhausting telling them to.” Like the job that they do is not their own.
[00:08:14] NC: Easier just to do it yourself.
[00:08:16] AT: Yeah. If I don’t want to step on a Lego, then I better pick it up myself.
[00:08:20] NC: But I have to say, it felt great to do that Wieniawski. I mean, first of all, it was really fun to play it with you. We should say what it was that we played. Is it Opus 18? I can’t – Anyway, it’s the set of A to Caprice’s. And there are 8 of them, 8 of them or 10 of them, but a few that seem to be more famous than the rest. We did a couple of the better note ones. There’s a really fast one, number 4 in A minor that we did, and then we did also number 2. That’s in E flat. Yeah, it was really fun to play those with you and nice. Because the idea was not just to audio record, but to get a video as well.
[00:09:07] AT: Right, which was tricky for a number of reasons. Because like I don’t know if I’d rather – I mean, like in the audio, then you’re really focusing on the sound because you know the picture. But then the picture, I was a little freaked about, because first of all, speaking of home fitness, it hasn’t been happening as much as I might hope. Yeah, I felt like I was going to surprise people with how like much weight I gained or something. Anyway –
[00:09:39] NC: If you looked any different at all.
[00:09:39] AT: Yeah. I mean, all these like little weird insecurities about the video. I was glad that we did it and I won’t look at it because – I still haven’t watched it.
[00:09:51] NC: Oh! That’s right. Yeah, you never watch, and I had to watch it. I mean, it was a pleasure, but anytime you’re watching and listening to your own playing, there’s a lot of pain too. I have to watch that 20 times to put the shots together. You hear one of your out of tune notes, you hear it once, and it’s sort of pains you. But when you have to listen to it 25 times in a row to get a shot cut just right. It’s like even the stuff that’s in-tune starts sounding wrong to you. You just have to finish the job and pick up –
[00:10:28] AT: Yeah. I’m not going to be watching that anytime soon.
[00:10:30] NC: But you sounded great.
[00:10:32] AT: Thank you. I’ll have to take your word for it. But then I kind of felt like it’d be fun to record other stuff. There’s more violin duos maybe we could think about maybe with less technical ones. There’s Leclair ones that are really pretty. But then part of me is like dying to – This is something that’s happened during – You notice so many things about your playing in this situation because you’re finally playing by yourself a lot only basically.
[00:11:02] NC: We always complain about that, how an orchestra, “Oh! I can never hear myself.” Now, all that you can do –
[00:11:07] AT: That’s kind of amazing. I was reading something in the New York Times about how there was a joke among Broadway performs that they’re all going to come back and really like well-rested and in good shape.
[00:11:20] NC: Oh, yeah.
[00:11:20] AT: I was like, “Yeah, you could say the same thing about us. I mean, everyone is practicing a ton at home. Just kind of incredible. Not to say that we don’t normally, but it is easy to get caught up in the everyday of playing an ensemble. Then to be able to, on a really regular basis, reacquaint yourself with your own playing is kind of amazing.
[00:11:43] NC: It’s gone somewhat in streaks too, right? I mean, there have been stretches where you or I, or both of us, have played a lot. Then other weeks where it’s a little more slack. Because you don’t want to – There was that time when nobody was playing right in the beginning, and then all of a sudden it seemed like everyone had all these energy and everyone was putting up all these videos and concepts and then you’re like, “Oh! Now I’ve got to practice all the time.”
[00:12:09] AT: Yeah. That gave me the courage to make a video, because people were like, “There are so many videos right now that no one will even see yours.” I was like, “That’s what I needed to hear. Thank you.”
[00:12:19] NC: Then you sort of mentally you have a backlash that like, “This is silly! I’m not going to practice and play stuff just because everybody is and everybody expects it.” It’s like this rapid back and forth pendulum.
[00:12:35] AT: Yeah. I mean the fact is that we have to keep up our playing.
[00:12:39] NC: Yeah, because there’s always that fear of if you don’t, will it come back when you need it?
[00:12:46] AT: Yeah. Like I said, I am getting older and I think I’ve had some lucky escapes where like I can play in the past. I didn’t play for a while and I came back. Yeah, it’s still there.
[00:12:58] NC: Still got it.
[00:12:57] AT: One of these days, I’m going to come back and it will still be there. That’s – Keep track.
[00:13:02] NC: I’m going to guess that far in the future for you.
[00:13:06] AT: You never know.
[00:13:07] NC: Well, what else have we been doing musically since then? I mean, I’ve had a number of my own online projects. I think it was right after or right around the same time that we’re playing Wieniawski, and it was good that I had to get in good shape for that because I decided to do some Bach, and that’s not original because so many people have played and recorded and streamed Bach and all that. I wanted to do it from a teaching standpoint primarily. I called the series Bach on the road. Basically, every Monday, Wednesday, Friday for six weeks, got on live on Facebook and YouTube, and every week, looked at a different sonata or partita. In the six weeks, did all of them. I didn’t do a complete performance of every moment. I think for at least three of four of the pieces I eventually play, I did complete play throughs of the movements. But the main thing was to take people through them and come in pitfalls and how to prepare and all that. All that’s on YouTube if you want to check out Bach on the road.
The sort of silly idea with that was I was imagining that Bach – I call it that because I imagine that Back secretly toured the world with these compositions and played them himself even though, as far we know, he never even left Germany. Using my fantastic green screen technology, I was in a different city. So managed to go all the way around the globe over the course of the 18 sessions.
[00:14:46] AT: That’s amazing. It is.
[00:14:48] NC: Certainly amazingly weird. People are like, “Wait are you in Azerbaijan right now now?”
[00:14:55] AT: I mean, nobody wants to watch something that’s already been done many times.
[00:15:01] NC: Yeah. It was a really fun crowd actually, because they were real Bach on the road regulars. It was nice to spend time with them them. Some great questions and discussion and all that, especially about tuning, because that’s – I mean, that’s one of the hardest things, in general, about playing the violin, but especially when you got all those double stops and chords in the Bach.
[00:15:23] AT: Remember my story about how I chose my one Bach movement from my audition?
[00:15:28] NC: No.
[00:15:28] AT: It had to be something without a ton of double stop, without a lot of chords and also without a lot of fast notes.
[00:15:35] NC: When was it?
[00:15:36] AT: Didn’t leave a lot of options. I went with the slow movement of C major sonata.
[00:15:42] NC: Yeah, that’s so beautiful though.
[00:15:44] AT: Of course, it’s beautiful. Yeah, it was amazing to me that you’re out there in the garage recording this. Because yeah, I mean, that just takes a lot of confidence and technique. It’s not easy at all. But yeah, and I would love to – I think in the pandemic, I think we’re – Or I, personally, I’m really focusing on repertoire that I don’t normally do in Bach is definitely one of those things, because you can play it by yourself. To have an amazing, fulfilling musical experience on your own, it’s a nice remember. We don’t have to be in an orchestra to make great music.
[00:16:22] NC: Yeah. That has been a great reminder, also a reminder of just how great that music is. I suppose you probably won’t find too many people disagree that Bach is great. Even you mentioned Leclair. We’re reading some duos by Ludwig Spohr, and those were really fun.
[00:16:42] AT: They are. Yaeh.
[00:16:44] NC: Whether that’s something we’ll record that or the Leclaire. We’ll have to see. It’s a big bonus to have two violins in the house. I mean, I think the only thing that could match that would be a solo instrument and piano.
[00:16:58] AT: Yeah. That would be awesome.
[00:16:59] NC: But two violins. Yeah, I feel lucky. It’s not everybody that can record with not just podcasts.
[00:17:08] AT: Yeah. It was nice. I feel like if you’re listening regularly to us, it’s nice to finally to have – You have tons of recordings out there that people are going to watch, listen to. I feel glad that I have something a little out there to pull up on YouTube.
[00:17:28] NC: Yeah. People love watching and listening to you.
[00:17:31] AT: Yeah. Your voice is one thing, but violinists –
[00:17:35] NC: I think, yeah. I can’t decide which annoys people more. My voice, or my playing. I make sure to put plenty of both out there.
[00:17:45] AT: Yeah. I think it’d be nice to do a little bit more of that.
[00:17:50] NC: Yeah. Okay. Let’s do it. I’m saying it publicly here.
[00:17:53] AT: All right. We’re going to it.
[00:17:55] NC: Actually, the main focus of today’s episode is going to be to answer a lot of listener questions, or as many as we can get to. In fact, we thought that would be a great way to spend the next few episodes, because I’ve been spending some quality time with a lot of folks online in various programs that I’m running. There are a lot of questions that I just can’t get to in the depth that I would like to. We’re going to do some of that today. Did you have some more thoughts about just – our current situation before we get to those?
[00:18:33] AT: No. I think just talking about the kind of repertoire you’ve been able to do and what we’ve been doing. I think sometimes people will come up to me like, “What have you been doing?” With a tone of voice that implies there’s not that much to do.
[00:18:48] NC: Yeah, right. You mean because the orchestra isn’t playing.
[00:18:49] AT: Yeah, and it always amazes me. It’s like my kids are at home. It’s been nice being with the kids and reading, and like everybody else, we’ve been cooking and baking.
[00:19:02] NC: Right, and fighting along with everyone else to get flour and yeast.
[00:19:07] AT: Yeah. That’s a little bit easier now maybe. That was kind of crazy for a while.
[00:19:12] NC: Yeah. First few trips to the store, because I mean we do a fair amount of cooking under normal circumstances anyways. We’re in the grocery store every couple of days. Those first couple of times were a shock.
[00:19:27] AT: Yeah. I remember the trip to Trader Joe’s right before this all just shot down, and there were tons of us. Just the line went all the way back to the back of the store.
[00:19:37] NC: Yeah.
[00:19:39] AT: I hated myself for becoming one of those people. I started throwing random things into my cart.
[00:19:43] NC: Not just the Jojos, but the –
[00:19:46] AT: No. I didn’t get the Jojos. What was I thinking? I should have gotten the Jojos. But I don’t know, like frozen vegetables – I don’t know. Things we don’t normally get. People were just taking and putting in their – It’s funny. I don’t know. The human reaction to crisis is –
[00:20:04] NC: Well, that’s like the time that, in Chicago, you went to the famous running of the brides. What was the name of that bridal shop?
[00:20:12] AT: No. It was [inaudible 00:20:13].
[00:20:14] NC: [inaudible 00:20:14]. But is that what they call it? The running of the brides?
[00:20:17] AT: I think.
[00:20:18] NC: You had to show up at 6AM.
[00:20:21] AT: 6AM. Well, that was when the doors opened, I think.
[00:20:24] NC: Okay. You have to show up.
[00:20:24] AT: Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe they opened up like 7. Yeah. I showed up at 6, and it was already like a line around the block.
[00:20:30] NC: The point of it was it was like a once a year clearance sale on wedding dresses. Was that it?
[00:20:35] AT: There are stories about somebody getting like a $5,000 wedding dress for like $200 or something.
[00:20:43] NC: Okay. But you said the way people did it, so they worked in groups or like gangs even.
[00:20:47] AT: If you were serious about it, you had to bring a team.
[00:20:49] NC: You said people would just grab a handful of whatever.
[00:20:53] AT: Yeah.
[00:20:54] NC: Was closest at hand. Then they could kind of sit on their bounty and then they would trade with other –
[00:21:00] AT: Because it was valuable for trading. Yeah.
[00:21:02] NC: Okay.
[00:21:02] AT: So it didn’t matter if it wasn’t your size. You just – People, members of your team. They will be a member of your team that would help you find your size. But the rest of the members of your team would be just snatching whatever they could so that they could – it was pretty crazy. It didn’t do the female members of the human race a lot of credit.
[00:21:26] NC: Yeah. Luckily the situation didn’t get to that. Well, maybe the online videos are going to get like that too, fighting over who gets to record the Chacon.
[00:21:36] AT: I was thinking that, because I wanted to record Chacon and I was like, “Gees! What if I get it all ready to go?”
[00:21:44] NC: It’s already been hoarded.
[00:21:44] AT: Then the day I send it in, like it already goes up with somebody else I don’t know. Feel terrible.
[00:21:52] NC: There’s room for everybody.
[00:21:54] AT: Bach hoarding.
[00:21:56] NC: My rendition of it is certainly not going to take any space away from yours. Well, are you ready and willing to get some listener questions?
[00:22:07] AT: Yeah, I love questions.
[00:22:09] NC: Yeah, and the first few of these. Where these come from, because the other major project after Bach on the road was done – I decided to do something called the ‘violympics’, and that has just pretty much just started actually. We’re in the third week of a 12-week ‘violympic’ games. But a few weeks before that, I did the trials. Instead of the Olympic trials, these were the violympic trials, and I wrote a little piece that everyone was going to have to learn if they’re going to participate. They had to learn this little dinky piece in five days and actually record it. Every one of those five days, I was going to show up live and help people through it.
At the end of that, we had a kind of a wrap party and just spent some time kind of going over what we learned, and I took some questions then, but then there were many questions in the chat that I couldn’t possibly get to. These are some of those with names attached when I have names, and my thought is that as we put out more episodes, we can just get to more of those questions, because there are such good ones, and they’re for me and for you.
Darlene actually asked, “How are you staying motivated right now with the LA Phil not performing?” I think you’ve already touched on that quite a bit. But let’s say worst comes to worst and the LA Phil doesn’t perform for month and months and months, or the rest of this calendar year. How are we going to stay motivated?
[00:23:45] AT: Yeah. That will be a tough one. I mean, and this thing has changed on every level so quickly from day-to-day and month-to-month. Like we said at the beginning, “Oh! This is just between us a nice little break,” and then it became like, “Okay. Well, this is going to be more than that, and better start doing something.”
I think the answer right now is kind of like, “Well, I guess we’ll keep trying to record things together, play things together and stay in shape on our own.” I think it’s the best motivation. I mean, I think it is scary to think of coming back together. I think we’ve all changed. I think it’s going to be such a substantial amount of time that we all would have changed in a lot of ways. That will be the challenge.
[00:24:35] NC: Yeah. Do you think fear, is it all a motivation? I mean, you were mentioning this before too, like if I don’t keep improving or working, then what’s going to happen?
[00:24:45] AT: Yeah. I mean, part of me thinks like everyone is at home practicing their asses off. I got to keep up. Everyone’s getting better and here I am picking up Legos. Get to it.
[00:24:56] NC: Well. I mean, it’s not just to compete, right? I mean, there’s a pride as well. You want to feel like, for better or worse, I mean, our whole lives I think so much of our self-worth is wrapped up in how we play. I don’t know that that’s healthy or right, but it’s inescapable anyway. Since it’s always been a part of who we are, it’s hard to let go of that.
[00:25:26] AT: Yeah, it is. But it is reassuring to know that orchestra or no orchestra, we’re still musicians.
[00:25:31] NC: Yeah. That has been a great reminder, and I hope that that stays even when we do come back together. Maybe everybody has a little bit more that awareness than, “Hey, we’re not just cogs in a machine, but each of us has their own voice.” Maybe using that voice will actually enhance the group, the group sound.
[00:25:54] AT: This is probably the longest we’ve – I mean, other than maternity leave for me, I suppose. I mean, we haven’t played in an orchestra in our lives, since we started playing.
[00:26:05] NC: Oh, yeah. Definitely. Yeah.
[00:26:07] AT: It’s crazy.
[00:26:08] NC: I would say ever since I was maybe 10 years old.
[00:26:11] AT: Yeah. That’s really weird.
[00:26:14] NC: Yeah. That first time back will be strange whenever that happens, and whatever the piece is I’m sure I’ll always remember what it is.
[00:26:23] AT: It will be like Beethoven 9 or something. Start taking bets. It’s got to be Ode to Joy.
[00:26:30] NC: Here’s an interesting question. I don’t have a name for who asked this, but this could be a tough one. Advice for pre-professional musicians who are between graduation and a career now that there are no public concerts or auditions. I mean, wow! Can you imagine if that was your last year in music school and it basically ended in March? Now, that’s it. I mean, if that had been me, my last year at Curtis, I would not have been able to take the audition in May that gave me my first job. At that point, I was thinking I don’t want to do more school. I just want to get out there and play. Would I’ve kept trying to live in Philly? Would I have moved back home to Kentucky? I really have no idea.
[00:27:21] AT: I’m sure you’d be at home. I mean, where else would you go?
[00:27:25] NC: Right. And then what? I mean, I might have been able to keep taking lessons with my old teacher, Dan Mason, which would have been a good thing. I might have found myself with –
[00:27:36] AT: Maybe it would have been like awesome. Maybe your whole life would have been better.
[00:27:40] NC: Yeah.
[00:27:43] AT: Personally, I always think that I – well, I missed out on kind of a chunk of learning years and have that impostor syndrome thing going on, because I went to grad school and I had this great teacher, but I felt like, basically, at that point, I was like I’m going to get an orchestra job. So the actual business of becoming a stronger musician wasn’t really the main point.
I mean, let’s just say theoretically, that could have – It could have been the time when that would happen. Maybe what I’m doing now in a much earlier form where you’re trying to identify – You have to think about the one thing you have now, which is time, and to identify the things that you wish were different about your playing for me now. I wish I were just more technically confident. I wish I could just get out there and knockout, I would say, a Paganini Caprice, but not even that. I wish I could just get up and knockout a movement of solo Bach, like something fast or challenging and just do it with confidence and with just feeling like it was like old hat.
[00:29:00] NC: You’re saying the fact that there are no performances or auditions now, just take that. Look only at the good side of that and say, “Okay, I’m out of public view for a little bit. I could reinvent.”
[00:29:11] AT: Yeah. I mean, I think most of us have something that we wish we could add to our portfolio, and it sucks that there’s not more options for what to do, but that I think is a huge thing to become more confident as a player. Is there anything better? I don’t think.
[00:29:34] NC: Well, I was just reading an article, which makes a lot of sense. I mean, it was about a business, but basically saying that the unfortunate reality is that a lot of companies won’t survive this time or won’t survive in their current form. But the ones that have the means and the resources to actually invest during this time, that it will pay off really bit, and it’s not all companies that we would maybe with to get bigger and more successful. But companies like Apple and Facebook, they’re buying up assets left and right in the hopes that when this is done, they’ll be in a better position. For those players who can basically make that investment of time and work now, it will pay off.
[00:30:21] AT: Yeah. I say that it is not everybody who’s going to have the luxury of just being able to use this time for personal development. I don’t mean to sound glib or callous, like everyone should just sit at home practicing.
[00:30:38] NC: Right. No. I mean, that’s not what we do. I think we’ve had our times of doing that, our times of picking up the house and cooking and whatnot.
[00:30:48] AT: You’d be surprised how little time picking up the house takes –
[00:30:52] NC: You’re casting an eye around right now.
[00:30:54] AT: Not because it’s so immaculate in here.
[00:30:57] NC: No. I think that’s great advice. Just to turn it a little bit in a more specific direction, Simon had asked, for someone who knows they want to become a professional in an orchestra, which qualities – I think this refers more to personal qualities, which qualities are the most important and would set you up for long term success in an orchestral career?
[00:31:22] AT: Personal qualities, do you think?
[00:31:24] NC: We could branch out to playing qualities too, but this seems more like how to succeed in the job rather than how to win a job.
[00:31:32] AT: Right. I mean, obviously, to be someone without a positive outlook in general is pretty invaluable I think. I think the people who have the hardest time are those people who don’t have that naturally.
[00:31:47] NC: Yeah, that’s a good point, because I don’t know how it seems from the outside. If it seems like it’s always fun to play in an orchestra. I mean, if you’ve been listening to our show for a while, we try to give the unvarnished view and you know that it’s not all peaches and cream.
[00:32:07] AT: And sunshine. I think the other thing I think is that you – If you see the job as a means to an end, that end being security. It’s ironic I’m saying that now, because for the least secure time for orchestras. But I think if you’re just happy that you know what you’re getting out of it. You’re going to have stability. You’re going to know what you’re doing a year from now.
[00:32:34] NC: All the things we don’t know already yet.
[00:32:35] AT: Again, things we don’t have right now. But I think that if you don’t look deeper into it, then that sounds bad in some ways. If you realize that you’re going to find your satisfaction in a lot of ways, and you don’t expect to find all your satisfaction at your workplace.
[00:32:53] NC: Right. No. That’s a good –
[00:32:55] AT: It’s probably for any profession. I know.
[00:32:58] NC: Yeah, professions and also – I mean, I remember people giving that advice about marriage and kids too. It’s like you can’t –
[00:33:04] AT: True. Or just your relationship with anybody. The more you expect from people or things, like the less satisfied I think you’re going to be. We’re not really turning this into the meaning of life here, but I think you would have to tell yourself that that’s going to have to be the way it is. Because I think that least people are the ones who keep thinking that maybe the job is going to surprise them. You just have to tell yourself, there are very few surprises, and that’s good and bad.
[00:33:35] NC: Yeah. I mean, the musical surprises maybe the best of all, like the only way to play Mahler 5 is if you’re playing in a big orchestra. I don’t mean that it has to be a full-time professional orchestra, but that’s an experience that you can’t just conjure up for yourself. It has to be in that context. If you like doing that all the time, then that’s the reason to try to join an orchestra.
[00:34:06] AT: I think, yeah. If you tell yourself the satisfactions will sometimes be on that level, like you’ll take them home with you and it won’t necessarily something that other people are going to notice. You’re just going to know it yourself.
[00:34:20] NC: Right.
[00:34:21] AT: That kind of person would be happiest, I think someone who’s generally optimistic, realistic expectations and just gets a lot of personal satisfaction from playing.
[00:34:33] NC: Maybe, or someone who decides that their entire worth is going to be wrapped up in the fact that they’re a member of whatever orchestra.
[00:34:41] AT: That’s true.
[00:34:42] NC: If you can just decide that –
[00:34:43] AT: If you’re just so happy to be in an orchestra. That happens.
[00:34:50] NC: Yeah.
[00:34:51] AT: That’s just enough for you. You’re just so glad to have that.
[00:34:55] NC: I think that’s how most of us start, right? I mean, that’s how I – I just figured like, “Wow! I’m a member of this great team now and that’s – What’s going to be better than that? Why would I ever want more? Surprise! I wanted more.
[00:35:13] AT: And that happens too. I think that’s sending yourself up for long-term happiness if you can do all those things.
[00:35:23] NC: Yeah. Well, here’s another good one. This is trending more towards some of the projects that we’ve done during this time, like this one. How does one silence the little voice in one’s head that keeps pointing out the mistakes while trying to record?
[00:35:39] AT: While trying to record.
[00:35:41] NC: I mean, we could maybe extend that to say while performing too.
[00:35:44] AT: That’s hard. It’s weird. While performing. We talk about this all the time, and you have like an actual system to silence that voice.
[00:35:56] NC: Really? What is it? Because I seem to have forgotten.
[00:35:58] AT: No. I mean, because – It doesn’t go back to when you first read The Inner Game of Golf, right?
[00:36:06] NC: Well, yeah. I mean, where he kind of breaks it down into two people, self-one and self-two.
[00:36:12] AT: Right. I think I even – I’ve been reading this Trotsky biography like kind of pestering you with these little point about bolshevism and menshevism, and meanwhile I can’t even sort self-one from self-two in the inner game of golf. I think maybe Trotsky maybe a little bit beyond me. But yeah. I mean, it’s a huge. The little voice is a huge problem, especially for someone who works like me. I think we’ve talked about this before. My style of playing and working – my style of practicing is extremely criticism-based. I don’t actually have a system. I just play something and I go, “That sounds terrible, or that sounds okay, or I think I’d do better.” It’s like a whole bit. It’s like this very emotional set up I have for myself. It’s so easy to just – Like today, I had a bad day practicing, and like, “Argh!” Do I know why? No. Not really. It’s like I just – I felt bad, and nothing sounded good.
I mean, you have those days too, but you are much more like systematic about it. When I work with Noa Kageyama, who helped coached me for auditions and stuff. We talked about the voice that you have trouble silencing, and like one of his things is you have to keep your mind occupied so that the little voice doesn’t have time to drown-out. You keep your mind occupied on something non-judgmental basically, right?
[00:37:50] NC: Yeah.
[00:37:51] AT: Again, since I can’t even handle clearly recollecting his advice. I’m not sure that the particulars of the Russian Revolution are destined to stay in my brain. But yeah, something like that. It’s like you have to keep focused on something constructive in order to silence the useless voice.
Because the problem is, of course, when you’re practicing that voice, there’s a function. Then when you’re performing, it’s not useful, because you can’t fix anything. It’s done. It’s out there. That voice becomes 100% not useful. Whereas in your practice room, it was like super useful. Yeah, I mean, that’s something you have to work out. Although recording, I have to say, in my limited experience when we did the video, I was surprised I was not more critical.
[00:38:44] NC: Was it just the awareness of, “Look, you get to do this a few times,” and just having that pressure of you got to take two or a take whatever, did that really take the pressure off for you?
[00:38:59] AT: It did, and I found that I was enjoying myself. I didn’t have to worry the things that I normally worry about in performance. Yeah, like not being able to stop or – I think the not being able to stop is a big one in a performance, a live performance. That is completely taken away in a recording, especially we’re not talking about we’re not in a recording studio. There’s not a bunch of engineers. You’re not wasting their time. This is kind of the ideal set up, because we’ve got home recording stuff. It’s true, we don’t have all day, because we’ve got kids, we’ve got other things to do. But the fact is I’m not wasting anybody’s time. I think that that made the recording lower pressure, obviously, than a performance.
[00:39:44] NC: Yeah. I mean, that’s great. Certainly, Glenn Gould, for him, it wasn’t night and day. He just simply stopped performing in front of people because it was such a completely different experience. I guess I don’t – it’s different. I might still prefer performing in front of people I guess because I know there’s no take two. Whatever happens happens, and that’s that.
[00:40:15] AT: Yeah. I experienced a little bit of that in a very small way. We recorded it and then we’d played it on somebody’s porch.
[00:40:22] NC: Right. A week or two later.
[00:40:22] AT: A couple of week later. We didn’t practice in the interim. We just sort of let it sit there. Yeah, we’re on someone’s porch. So no big deal. I felt that. I felt it was fun. I didn’t have to worry if there was a scratch on something we were playing. It was just like, “I’m going to just go for this. The spirit will come across and the actual details are going to be forgotten.” It will just be people remember that it was fun or whatever. I get what you’re saying. The impression is what matters in the performance, not the excruciating little details.
[00:40:57] NC: I think to the original question. I mean, if you’re talking about – it sounds like during this time, we’re talking about self-recording, home recording, and that is just – ah, I wish I could remember who I was talking to who’s had a lot of experience recording commercial albums. Oh! It was Gil Shaham. Sorry. Just some guy.
[00:41:19] AT: That guy.
[00:41:20] NC: No. And he was really reminding me. He said with the way that a recording comes out, a CD, when you’re talking about the highest standards, and obviously Gil Shaham can play at those highest standards and all of that. But even so, he was saying the final product really is an equal collaboration between the performer and the engineer, the people making the disk, making the recording. We’re human. We’re going to make mistakes. Those professional CDs come with a lot of professional support.
Again, not to say that he could slack off and not do his homework and all that, but it’s a completely different animal. If you’re trying to record yourself and keep all the plates spinning yourself, you just – it’s kind of foolhardy to think that you’re going to get perfection, because it takes a team to dot all those ‘I’s and cross all those ‘T’s. You have to be patient with yourself. Allow for some human error, I think.
[00:42:27] AT: Yeah, comfortable. Do whatever you had to do. That’s the beauty of being at home. You can just stay there wearing your favorite fuzzy socks while you record. I guess your ankles aren’t showing. Yeah.
[00:42:42] NC: Let’s have one more that applies to this time and then also to a more sort of normal work time. Then I think we’ve got a bunch of rapid fire sort of violin type questions.
[00:42:55] AT: Free association.
[00:42:56] NC: This one is how do you – and this is interestingly phrased. How do you protect your relationship, your joy with your violin playing from the pressure of doing it for a living?
[00:43:08] AT: That’s a really good question.
[00:43:09] NC: Yeah. Unfortunately I don’t have a name with that question.
[00:43:14] AT: Yeah. It’s a tough one.
[00:43:16] NC: Because it’s true. I mean, what you’re asking, I think, is at what point does the pressure, the grind of the job make it seem like, “Ah, this is just isn’t fun anymore. I don’t care how good the music is. I can’t see these people anymore.”
[00:43:37] AT: I think it’s less that the waking up one day and realizing I haven’t chosen what I wanted to play in like as long as I can remember. I mean, I think every week if you’re somehow lucky enough to be just playing a repertoire you love, you feel great. I think there’s a lot of exhilaration that goes to that. I think that if you’ve realized after a while, I think probably everybody, when they do this job for long enough you go, “You know what? I miss playing this or that. I don’t feel like I’m using my skills enough playing X or Y.” And enough of that I think starts to erode the joy of playing.
[00:44:27] NC: Erode to joy. Sorry.
[00:44:32] AT: Yeah. I think that – Everybody says this. You have to have projects of your own choosing, because I think that the disappearance of freewill is what ultimately will really destroy joy. Freewill in whatever form, as a player, I think that’s probably pretty essential.
[00:44:56] NC: Yeah. We’re in agreement. I was going to say the same thing as outside projects.
[00:45:01] AT: I mean, everybody. It’s such a cliché. I mean, like – I think when I first started working, it was like, “Make sure –” You’re going to have to make sure you do a lot of chamber music, because that’s how you’ll stave off the satisfaction.
[00:45:15] NC: Yeah. I remember hearing that.
[00:45:16] AT: And you’re like, “Yeah.”
[00:45:17] NC: I was like, “Yeah. I played chamber music.” Then you don’t realize you take it for granted. You’re like, “Well, you may go years –”
[00:45:23] AT: Well. I mean, but it has to be chamber music with people that you really love playing with, and that’s very tricky. Because if you just say yes to everything that comes your way, that’s not going to spark joy. It’s not going to Marie Kondo your musical life or anything. You need to be with like people you really respect and trust, and that’s a rare thing even for people who are full-time chamber musicians to find these people.
[00:45:53] NC: And because that’s really not – I mean, just to talk specifically about orchestra. The same skills that are essential in a full-time professional chamber group are not the same skills necessary to be successful full-time in an orchestra year after year after year. If all of the chamber music you’re playing is with other members in your orchestra, your first priority really is to preserve that professional relationship in the orchestra, because that’s what you’re going to have year after year.
What that means is if you’re in a string quartet for one week or two weeks with people in the orchestra, it’s not really wise to get in a bunch of shouting matches about retards in a Beethoven quarter.
[00:46:41] AT: Well, that’s never really become an issue, right? I mean, I don’t remember ever getting in a –
[00:46:46] NC: Well, because I think you and I tend to look at the job in a similar way.
[00:46:49] AT: Oh! You mean Chicago. No names. Right.
[00:46:56] NC: Yeah. No. Because it’s so easy to happen. You’re playing a piece that you love and you don’t want to give up your ideas. Then it’s like, “Oh, wait. Once this Beethoven quartet is done, I’m going to have to sit with this person for 20 more years,” and we’re not going to have any choice about how we play things. We’re just going to have to agree on how to turn pages and who gets how much space in front of the stand.
[00:47:22] AT: Right. Since you – Fortunately, you’re my favorite violinist to play chamber music with. I don’t want to ask you if it works the other way, but –
[00:47:32] NC: Absolutely, and you have all kinds of holds over me.
[00:47:36] AT: Right. So you had to say that. But yeah. So we have to think not only should we not get into an argument about this dynamic, because I’m going to sit next to this person at work. It’s like I’m also going to sleep next to this person at night.
[00:47:50] NC: Yup.
[00:47:52] AT: That’s complicated, but it’s a long answer to the question. I mean, I think projects of your own choosing, whatever that means. Exercising your ability to choose what you want to play. Chamber music doesn’t always mean that, because sometimes people just come to you and you didn’t choose that piece. But maybe there’s so much great music out there. New music too, if that’s your – if you just love new music, then make sure that you get out there and you’re doing that. Otherwise, I think, like I said eventually, if you’re the kind of person who starts to chafe at being told what to do because that is most of an orchestral musician’s life is being told what to do. That’s how terrible in some ways, and I don’t mean it in a bad way.
[00:48:37] NC: That’s reality.
[00:48:38] AT: Yeah. You balance that with deciding what you want to do. Then I think that will preserver some semblance of joy in your life.
[00:48:46] NC: Yeah. Yeah, that’s a great way to think of it.
[00:48:48] AT: Also, here’s a note. Sorry. Sub-answer. I think your friendships, that sounds cheesy. I think you’re not just playing with people you respect in the orchestra. I think you’re spending time with them and that’s certainly for us been a huge part of being happy. Work is just looking around knowing there are likeminded people sitting, and it can be as simple as just being able to eye contact with someone across the stage because you know they’re thinking what you’re thinking. I have that so much with Johnny.
I’ll just say it. With Johnny, our friend, who has been on the podcast, who often sits across from us in the second violins, and I’m just looking over at him and somehow that – That can make an entire day fun just to – And then say, “Yeah, I was thinking that too.” Making sure you’re not shutdown. You’ve developed your social circle outside of playing even. It’s going to be huge and only more so as you get older.
[00:49:54] NC: Well, I remember talking to my grandpa who was in the Philadelphia Orchestra back 40s through the 60s, and yeah, the musical stories always seemed to morph into the personal stories. He rarely would dwell on this or that piece or musical moment. It was always what someone did on the break or what someone did on the train or –
[00:50:20] AT: They had so much more togetherness than we ever – the nine-week tours?
[00:50:27] NC: Yeah.
[00:50:28] AT: Where they’d sleep on the train, they get one shower a week. Can you imagine? You get real comfortable with your colleagues.
[00:50:34] NC: Yeah. Oh, exactly. Then it was – That orchestra was a real musical machine too, but you really – You had to get along with the people you are around or you were just sunk. You couldn’t even function. Yup, friendships like you say.
Well, here are some quick, or we can do this pretty quickly I think. How often do you change strings and re-hair your bow? For me, it’s probably changing strings every three or four months, and maybe about the same for re-hairing the bow. Why?
[00:51:07] AT: This is like the Seinfeld one. Was it Kramer who asks Jerry how often he cuts his toenails?
[00:51:16] NC: I don’t remember this.
[00:51:17] AT: I’d say every two to eight weeks. That’s how I feel. It’s like, you never really know.
[00:51:27] NC: Strings. Can I tell everyone that I change your strings?
[00:51:31] AT: Yes. I think pretty much everyone knows that you carry my violin, change my strings. You don’t tune my violin.
[00:51:39] NC: No.
[00:51:40] AT: I still do that.
[00:51:43] NC: Now, Lily asks how can you get a solid tone even in off –
[00:51:48] AT: Wait. No. I feel bad. I just feel an over flipping answer to that.
[00:51:52] NC: Okay. Well, let’s have some real numbers.
[00:51:55] AT: This is a good question.
[00:51:58] NC: Why? I gave my answers.
[00:52:00] AT: What did you say?
[00:52:02] NC: I said strings every three to four months and re-hair is about the same.
[00:52:06] AT: Yeah, okay. Good. That’s about right. I think my strings, it’s like when I start noticing that like I play a four-note chord and it seems to dip. It’s like the Doppler effect once I lift my bow from the string. Then it’s time to change your strings.
[00:52:24] NC: Yeah. That’s like a false string.
[00:52:27] AT: Yeah. That string is done. We talked about the fact. I’ve never had a string break on me in concert.
[00:52:35] NC: I mean, that is nuts.
[00:52:36] AT: I mean, we don’t play that many concerts.
[00:52:40] NC: Still – Well, I mean, a lot of the E strings that I’ve broken I’m sure have been because I hit the E string with the metal of the bow, which I know you still don’t understand how that could ever happen, but it’s definitely happened. Now, it hadn’t happen to me in I would say a good 10 years.
[00:52:58] AT: The string committed suicide.
[00:53:01] NC: Yeah.
[00:53:02] AT: And the bow hair, I do in an ideal world, if I could swing it, I would change my bow hair every two months, because I feel like the little teeth, and it depends on the quality of the hair. Actually, the quality is not so great these days. I think every weeks, like a haircut. I feel like I would – I think that’s what they tell you. You get your haircut every eight weeks. And I don’t know how many people actually do that, probably men.
[00:53:27] NC: I think businessmen, it’s like every two weeks.
[00:53:30] AT: Well, that’s true. Yeah, I would – The bow hair, I’m actually more concerned with than the string freshness, because I feel like I’ve got enough intonation issues on my own. Like the falseness of my strings doesn’t come into play as much – But I feel like that, really, I like the grippy hair and it really bugs me when the little microscopic teeth start noticeably disappearing. Then I have to rousing like twice a day or something.
[00:53:55] NC: Yeah. Shlomo Mintz.
[00:53:59] AT: Yeah. I think, the quantity of rousing can make up for non-rehairing. But it’s depressing.
[00:54:10] NC: Well, is that a good enough answer for –
[00:54:11] AT: Yeah. I’m done with.
[00:54:13] NC: Awesome. I don’t know if that counts as rapid fire, but –
[00:54:17] AT: I’m sorry. I didn’t realize it was the rapid fire.
[00:54:19] NC: Well, I mean, we’ll just do a couple more.
[00:54:21] AT: All right.
[00:54:22] NC: These are more violin-related. Lily had asked how to get a solid tone even an off the string notes? I think a lot of folks, they may feel good when they’re sustaining notes, but then as soon as they take it off the string, the string doesn’t seem to catch.
[00:54:41] AT: Get your bow re-haired. You’re the teacher. I mean I would say probably just superficially you’re working with bow angle, hair angle. Probably more hair with equal more sound.
[00:54:58] NC: Yeah. I usually find that people’s bows behave very differently on and off the string. For any off the string passage that you’re trying to work, there is an on-string equivalent that you should try to find. So if you, for example, last note in the Tchaikovsky concerto, and he’s very aggressive. If someone said you have to play that on the string and you found what that stroke was, you would notice how much bow you were using. What the contact point is. How into the string you are? All of that needs to say the same when you take it off the string. Same contact points, same amount of bow and same depth.
[00:55:48] AT: You’re a really good teacher.
[00:55:48] NC: Into the – well, I mean, this question comes up all the time.
[00:55:54] AT: That’s very interesting. I have a whole thing about how there’s no such thing as an off the string stroke. It’s not one of my –
[00:56:02] NC: What? I almost feel like that goes along with what I’m saying too.
[00:56:05] AT: Yeah. I think maybe it’s another way of saying what you’re saying, but I think certain – like the velocity will make it come off the string. But as you say, I think the basic element, or maybe the same – Even like if you actually watch like a super slowed down video of someone’s off the string stroke, I think personally I haven’t done it, but you’d be surprised how little it actually comes off the string. There’s not a lot of air. Not a lot of distance from the string. I think that it’s just more aural than visual.
[00:56:37] NC: Yeah, I agree. I think there needs to be more connection to the string usually.
[00:56:46] AT: Yeah, and I think the big problem, and we see it in a professional level all the time, people will sacrifice some basic elements in music making to getting a stroke off the string. I mean, it seems obvious if you just think about it, but it’s like the time taken, the rhythm, that all has to come first. Then the stroke, whether it comes off, is a different matter.
[00:57:12] NC: Yeah. I mean, one time I played for Zukerman, he reminded me there’s only sound when the hair is on the string. Well, I mean, there may be ring after that, but basically you’re only making sound when there’s contact with a string. Better have a good reason for taking it off.
[00:57:32] AT: He knows what he’s talking about.
[00:57:35] NC: Two more, and they’re very closely related. The first, and neither one of these has a name. But do you usually divide and practice by sections when you’re tackling a new piece? Are you organized in that way or is it more just I’m going to play through the piece and then just kind of work on it bit by bit?
[00:57:57] AT: When was the last time you learned a new piece even?
[00:58:00] NC: Well, now I’m doing it all the time with the violympics. I’ve got a new challenge.
[00:58:05] AT: You go for it. How do you do it?
[00:58:07] NC: Piece, but well it’s kind of like the – This is like the whole Instagram culture, right? Where everyone gets to present the idealized version of their lives and all of that. The way I teach is, yeah, you divide things into sections and figure out the difficulties. I think I’m like everybody else. I probably try to play a piece through and see what parts seem hard and what don’t. I’m a little better than I used to be in recognizing, “Okay. This whole section is stuff that I’m comfortable with, I’m familiar with. There are some annoyances in there or some things that aren’t happening the way I want. But here’s the section with some new challenges and some things I really have to work out before I can even begin the real process of getting it into performance shape.”
[00:59:03] AT: Yeah. Yeah, that sounds random, and I wouldn’t dream of trying to play through something repeatedly if there was like a difficult passage. You really focus on –
[00:59:14] NC: Right. But I mean that is the way we practiced as kids probably, right? I mean, you just keep sort of ramming your –
[00:59:20] AT: Yeah, I don’t remember. I mean, of course, you focus on the technical. Then once you feel more comfortable, that if you see if you can integrate it. Then if you can acceptably, then you start doing it slowly, right? You’ll integrate it. You’ll play through it slowly so that your brain can get used to the idea of continuing, starting at the less hard part, continuing through the hard part and then continuing past that.
[00:59:47] NC: Are you fine now – I mean, like if every section of a piece doesn’t have the same tempo in practice. Are you fine with that, or like do you have to –
[00:59:56] AT: I don’t love that. I don’t love that. I do it, but I find that playing under tempo always has benefits.
[01:00:04] NC: Right, because the next question is basically is the best way to learn a piece just to get it all to one tempo and then put the metronome up a little bit and get it faster?
[01:00:15] AT: I see. To play the entire thing at the same –
[01:00:18] NC: Or, basically, do you treat each section independently?
[01:00:24] AT: I think that there are parts that you will feel comfortable playing at tempo always. I’m not sure. You shouldn’t mess around with that too much. The parts that you don’t feel comfortable, you should have margin on either side of the passages you find difficult and make sure that you work those up. But I don’t see any need to include all the parts that you’re already comfortable with to play those at a tempo, because I think that if you do the parts that you’re already okay with under tempo repeatedly, maybe start ironing in strange habits that you wouldn’t –
[01:01:01] NC: Yeah, I think so too.
[01:01:04] AT: I think focus on the parts that are causing trouble and the parts immediately before that. There’s a physical element to it. It’s almost like a long jump or something. You want to envision everything going up to the part that’s hard, and part of that is just getting super comfortable to set up to the hard part. But I don’t see any need to – The entire piece doesn’t have to be worked at at that pace.
[01:01:30] NC: I think the second part of that person’s question was for the parts that are a problem and let’s say they’re slow at the moment. How do you get them faster? Basically the question was is it always just a matter of putting in the repetitions, getting it a little faster, a little faster? Is that the long and short of it or are there tricks you can use to circumvent that?
[01:01:59] AT: Well, it’s like Homer when he’s trying to –
[01:02:03] NC: You mean the Simpson, Homer?
[01:02:04] AT: Yeah, Homer Simpson, when he’s trying to figure out how to make more money at the bowling alley and he like buys a textbook on like advanced economics or something and then he seemed – In each scene, it cuts to him downgrading. It’s like then it’s like basic economics and that’s like a dictionary.
[01:02:22] NC: He’s looking up the work economics.
[01:02:24] AT: But I always feel like that. It’s like when am I going to tackle this, I better figure out how to play thirds. It’s like, “Oh. I’d better just play like a scale in this key.” There is some downgrading that will happen if you can’t get it. Then for me, if I’m – I’m really sensing. It’s not getting any better after X number of repetitions. Clearly, I have to go down to the next more basic rung.
[01:02:51] NC: Yeah. I mean, I think that’s a smarter way, because you could just sort of mindlessly put the metronome up and then –
[01:02:58] AT: I never use a metronome when I practice. Do you?
[01:03:01] NC: Rarely. I will use it –
[01:03:03] AT: I mean, is it bad?
[01:03:05] NC: Well, I’m like you. I find it helpful to check the seams between sections.
[01:03:13] AT: Interesting. For auditions, it’s more useful, because like – yeah, for auditions, definitely, because the steadiness is an issue. But I haven’t used one in a while I think.
[01:03:29] NC: Yeah. I’ll use them to keep a record kind of where I am, but I’m sort of militant. I’m kind of against just turning on the metronome and leaving it on for very long.
[01:03:42] AT: You’ve always — I mean, I remember that.
[01:03:44] NC: Yeah. I mean, the whole idea of working things up. The reason is that unless you solve some underlying problem, you’re always going to hit a wall. Something like feels okay at 62 and you want to get it to 80 and it just – like you can’t get it past 62. There’s some reason for that. Just setting it to 64 and trying to play it over and over again is not really – that’s not solving the problem.
[01:04:13] AT: I think you should really have to target what the problem is. It’s funny I have been trying to — talk about basic, but I’ve been trying to work up the E major preludio.
[01:04:22] NC: Basic.
[01:04:23] AT: It’s hard.
[01:04:24] NC: It’s a hard move.
[01:04:24] AT: E major is a hard key and it’s a tough movement to get. Today I was thinking – It’s just giving me a really hard time and I realized I was playing it just a couple clicks faster than usual, and those couple clicks were causing the problem. It was like even that small percentage of increase was making everything a lot less accurate. Sure, I think that working with metronome is not a bad idea. It can give you a more concrete idea of why things aren’t feeling right.
[01:05:01] NC: Again, just as a check. You can write that number down and know kind of where you stand, but you wouldn’t just put it on and keep it on.
[01:05:10] AT: Like I said, for orchestral excerpts, sure, maybe. For something like solo Bach, no. I kind of find that stultifying.
[01:05:21] NC: Okay. So we agree –
[01:05:22] AT: Anti-creative.
[01:05:24] NC: You try to figure out what the problem. If you can’t figure out what the problem is, then that’s – you need some outside help. You need another ear. Because if you can’t figure that out, then you’re sort of just left with –
[01:05:37] AT: You just got to figure it out. I think you have to play it slowly enough that you understand, and you do this. You have this whole exercise with visualization. I always thought it was kind of a strange way to go about it, but you’re right. It’s like if you imagine you’re playing and something strange happens, like your violin flies out of your hands, that happens. When you’re practicing, you realize that something strange is happening there.
It may not be – if you’re actually holding your violin, you’re not going to imagine that your violin is flying out of your hands. But I feel an insecurity. If you actually think about, it’s like tapping on the wall and hearing something, something that indicates some kind of structural flaw. That’s what’s happening. Like you have to really to tap on the walls and find, “This is the problem.”
[01:06:22] NC: Right. House hasn’t collapsed yet, but you hear that hollow sound and you’re like, “Oh, good. That’s –”
[01:06:26] AT: Yeah. That’s bad news. There’s black mould. Yeah, I mean, I do that a lot because I sense like, “Hey, this finger is going down.” Even though it’s technically going down in the right place at the right time, it’s not securely doing that. Recognizing the different between it happening fortuitously and purposefully, that’s the difference I think between feeling insecure and secure about a performance.
[01:06:58] NC: Yeah. I think where we’re going to go from here is in the next few episodes we’re going to take questions from our violympics group, because those people with me in the violympics are going through six events, each with its own challenge piece, and there are lots of great questions that we just don’t always have time to get through in the group, and you and I can answer them here, because everybody is interested in your perspectives too. They hear way too much from me. That’s where we’re going to go in the next few episodes. If you’re up for that, we’re going to be quizzing you about our challenge pieces.
[01:07:37] AT: Oh! I’m always full of opinions.
[01:07:42] NC: That’s what we want. All right. So thanks so much for joining us here, and I will look forward to your questions. If you’re in the violympics groups, keeps those questions coming. If you’re not, then hopefully you can join the next time around. We will come back at you with more Q&As next time on Stand Partners for Life.