My son, Noah, has taken a few violin lessons from Christian Howes, attended one of his Jazz Violin Camps here in Columbus, and periodically attends a group lesson with him. Here's a small sample of some pretty neat impromptu jamming.
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We took a quick trip to Michigan City this past weekend to visit with Lisa's younger brother's family and while we were there we took that train into Chicago and visited the Shedd Aquarium, took a water taxi over to Navy Pier, and played around at "The Bean" before dinner.
The image above is take from underneath the reflective sculpture looking up.
Jeff and I took the boys to the Hesston Steam Museum and got to see all kinds of bizarre and sometimes mundane machines. I was a bit skeptical about going but had a really good time. Among the many steam-powered contraptions they have on display, they've restored a 1929 #7 Shay gear-driven locomotive. These monsters were a common site in logging camps and gold and silver mines in the west. The engine features 3 vertical pistons that drive a camshaft which turns gears on the right side of the trucks. From what I understand it had several design flaws that were never completely solved. The biggest problem was the expansion mechanism between the gear posts accommodating a greater distance between trucks when cornering would sometimes lock up under heavy load causing the train to derail.
On the way back to Columbus, we swung by Cedar Point riding all the big boys until we ran out of energy and made our way back to Columbus after our whirlwind road trip.
I tried out the Orbitron at the Pittsburgh Science Center.
Women's medium - Swirl with rings (Magenta, Lilac, Medium Blue)
Men's medium - Diagonal Pleats with ragged ends (Green, Yellow, Blue)
Still playing around mostly. I need to get some sodium alginate (kelp) to add to my urea dye prep solution. I used synthrapol during the wash-out and I think it did a pretty good job keeping the dye suspended. Like the other pair of shirts, I left them tied and dyed overnight before the washout. The soda ash is really keeping the colors vibrant. Still need to work on dye application techniques. I might try to pick up a syringe as well.
This is a hot pink and lavender "spider". A special fold restriction and specific dye application (small squirt bottles) creates the effect. Not bad for a first attempt but potentially too little dye depending on your taste for the amount of white.
This is a combination of two techniques using a basic swirl but using spider dye application. Done in Magenta, Lemon Yellow, and a self mixed Orange. I'm not happy with the Magenta bleed and its relationship to the yellow/orange. I'd leave out the Magenta next time. The yellow on the other hand is awesome; very vibrant.
Just hanging out at Derby Court in the Columbus Musuem of Art while my daughter serves her time as an "Art Ambassador" in the cubism gallery. She's playing the role of a docent during an open house for Columbus Public Schools. The exhibit behind me is a Dale Chihuly creation.
I'm thankful for the public wi-fi spot where I can hang out with the Mac while I wait. It's a nice spot and I can listen to a small string group playing for the public (4 violins, 1 viola, and a cello).
After two years, how do you feel about your progress?
Tough question...I'm glad I asked it. I'm going to be attempting to "pass" the final two pieces in the Suzuki Book III at my lesson tomorrow yet I still have very mixed feelings about my progress. Getting through Book III in two years is nothing to sneeze at and I should feel good about that. And frankly, part of me does feel good about that. However, I thought I'd, well, sound better at this point. I'm not happy with my sound and I'm horribly inconsistent. To play the violin well, numerous mechnical items have to align perfectly. If any one item, let alone multiple items, gets out of whack your sound goes to hell in a handbasket. Just a few items you've got to worry about and control while playing: bow alignment, bow hold, bow speed, bow pressure, violin position & alignment, hand position, finger position, arm position, musicality, dynamics, tempo, string crossings, stop bowing, pitch, ... At least on a guitar or piano, when you play a note, it's in tune when the instrument is in tune. With the violin, even the simplest Twinkle Twinkle Little Star can sound like a drugged out Jimmy Hendrix imitating the sound of a wet and screaming cat using iron hooks on a chalkboard.
What do you find the most difficult?
I'll give a two fold answer because each attacks different aspects of my playing. The first is purely mechanical: string crossings. My fine motor skills are not what they once were. Making the relatively minute changes in hand/arm position to move the bow from one string to another while simultaneously timing that perfectly with the music is very difficult for me. Making matters even more difficult is that the amount you move the bow differs depending on the relativel position of the frog to the strings. Couple that with keeping your bow speed consistent and the alignment of your bow to the bridge through the movement and it about puts your brain into overload. I heard somewhere that a basketball shot made while jumping requires an inordinate amount of your brain's power to process the muscle movements coordinating the effort. I can't imagine what it must take for your brain to drive your body while playing the violin when all of this stuff is happening with each and every note.
My second answer is my musicality. Heck, I don't even like listening to myself play. I've recorded and listened to myself and it just sounds like crap to me. My brain feels swamped processing the mechanical aspects of playing and it feels like there's little bandwidth for playing the music behind all the black spots. The Suzuki program drives you through the books in a precise order so that each piece layers on another technical hurdle and although you may be able to "pass" the piece you have not come close to mastering that technique. Until mastery...my brain is still working through all of the mechanisms and the music greatly suffers. On the other hand, I now have a much greater appreciation for what it takes to play the violin well.
How much do you practice?
I practice most nights for about 45 minutes. I do skip a night occasionally but that is relatively rare. Sometimes on the weekend I'll practice a couple of times during the day just for something to do. I was recently on vacation for a couple of weeks and I did not take my violin with me. I don't regret the break. I think it actually help me reduce some recent frustration I was having and I think I played better and more relaxed, after getting back to it.
What can you play?
I'm still focusing only on the Suzuki pieces which are mostly classical in nature. The last two pieces I hope to pass are Gavotte in D Major (Bach) and Bourree (Bach). Each lasts roughly 5 minutes so they're relatively long pieces albeit with some repeated sections.
Can I hear you play something?
How often are your lessons?
I take an individual lesson, once a week for 30 minutes. My son and I have the same teacher so there are times when I might run a little long taking a few minutes from his 45 minute lesson that immediately follows mine.
What kind of violin do you have?
A sturdy student violin made by Kohr. The Loft Violin Shop is one of the premium shops in central Ohio and we're lucky enough to live within easy walking distance. They run a rather unique program where you can rent to own a violin (you do pay a bit more for them) but after it's paid for, you can return and upgrade your outfit and pay only the difference in the upgrade cost. In other words, they'll give you 100% on your trade in. When my son upgraded his violin to a full-size, they had at least 30 violins in our rough price range for him to play during his decision. They have an extremely nice plan for allowing you to take multiple violins home to play for a week before you have to make a decision on which to buy and all of the people that work there are very knowledgeable and ready to help all ranges of expertise from getting that first violin to someone trying to find that perfect bow that might cost 5 digits.
Have you ever wanted to quit?
I've had fleeting thoughts. They usually occur when I'm most frustrated and struggling with one aspect or another. I really get frustrated with my habit of nicking adjacent strings and sometimes I want to throw the stupid thing out the window. However, I've never seriously entertained the idea of quitting. It really has become just something I do on a regular basis. In general I like practicing but I don't enjoy lessons at all. I get very nervous and play horribly. I guess I feel like I'm being critiqued or it's a test or something. I still struggle with viewing the lesson as an opportunity to learn and be better. I'm assuming some of it stems from my childhood piano lessons and being unprepared (practice?! what's that?!) for lessons and the dressings down routinely bequeathed to me by my aged piano teacher who also served as the church organ player.
What goals have you set for yourself?
Survival mostly. I suppose sticking with it is another one. I had a goal to finish Book III in two years and given my anniversary is this month I can be happy that I've met that. I don't have a strong goal right now for Book IV. Book IV is a huge jump in complexity and some kids take a year or two to get through it so I don't know how I'll hold up. I don't like to think I'm in a rush; I've got my whole life ahead of me but I really would like to get to a point where I can at least enjoy listening to my own music.
Why are you doing this?
Beats the hell out of me. Masochism? It's expensive, frustrating, time-consuming, and sometimes even physically painful (ever have the tips of your fingers build up a callus and then split to the point of bleeding while you continue to repeatedly press that painful split down onto a thin wire?). However, it is rewarding. It is good for your brain. It does teach you a lot about yourself.
Do you still like it?
Yes. I'm not going to let it beat me.
I experienced violin envy after my son upgraded his kit so maybe I'll upgrade this year once my rental is paid for. And Book IV...watch out...here I come.