An Intrepid Group Plays the Mandolin

The New York Mandolin Orchestra (NYMO), now in its 94th year, and said to be the prehistoric known always performing Mandolin Orchestra in the country, has a long and well-revered reputation that is being maintained by its newest concertmaster, Dan Barrett, a cellist, who also plays mandolin and is a composer, arranger, conductor and—at his most impassioned—a political philosopher.

The relationship between the mandolin orchestra and social activism is nothing new for a group whose founder Samuel Firstman, a poor balalaika-playing immigrant from Russia, named the group the New York Freiheit [Freedom] Mandolin Orchestra, and which has, over the years, absorbed members from other immigrant and working class-related mandolin orchestras that also emerged in the 1920s.

Though he has been with NYMO for only two years when it had only a handful of performers, Barrett can now count on 15–25 showing up for rehearsals—sometimes even 50—a distribution that includes first and second mandolin, mandola, guitar, mandocello, bass, concertina, flute, recorder, clarinet, bassoon. They play chamber music, folk songs, jazz, bluegrass. Perhaps a Dan Barrett composition?

Violinist Forges New Paths in Music

He’s got a wonderful pitch line—an unusual combination of charming confession and heartfelt sincerity: “Contemporary music may or may not be your cup of tea. Most of the time it isn’t mine.” It’s not just the “But” that follows, explaining why Alan Oser, music lover, long-time chamber music player (violin), and retired columnist and editor of the Real Estate Section of The New York Times, is sending out letters about a new not-for-profit music organization he founded and now chairs—New Paths in Music—it’s his infectious enthusiasm for the project—his sense of its uniqueness and potential and his delight in its debut concert a few years ago.

The fact that the person who sparked his interest in wanting to provide American audiences with an opportunity to hear contemporary music from composers around the world was his son-in-law, David Alan Miller, the Music Director and Conductor of the Albany Symphony Orchestra, certainly gave Alan Oser added incentive to go ahead. He beams, recalling David’s encouraging but somewhat dubious response, “Lots of luck.”

Luck, of course, has little to do with setting up a nonprofit 501-C3 and having it succeed. Maestro Miller’s connections – as well as the former editor’s administrative and PR experience—were critical. But does the world really need another organization devoted to music, contemporary music, at that, much of which strikes audiences as too far out and composed for precious or specialized instruments, live and electronic?

How Can You Become A Confident Performer

female-playing-violinWhen you’ve made the choice to start a career as a professional violist, you are also choosing to become a performer. Then comes the question: ‘How confident are you as a performer?’

Are you going into performances or auditions with a feeling that you’re certain to be playing at your best, and play great from your very first note?

Or are you grappled with anxiety and doubt that maybe started already days or weeks earlier, and are you experiencing the tendency to start your performances tentatively?

Well, when you are like practically all performers and musicians, you will probably belong to the second category, and this happens definitely more often than you would like.

Confidence and Misconceptions

Now it is pretty good that confidence is a thing you can work on, that you can change. You can actually control your self-confidence level to a great extent. We see that, though they are highly successful, many musicians are suffering from a quite a bit of insecurity and self-doubt.

On the other hand, there are also numerous musicians who, though maybe not the most talented, succeeded far better than anyone expected because their self-confidence and belief in their capabilities never wavered.

And I guess most of us are aware that just practicing harder and more will not necessarily be increasing our self-confidence. So what should you do to boost your self-confidence?

More Lost Violins

The probably best-known case of a lost or stolen instrument was when in 1999, world-famous musician Yo-Yo Ma left his prized cello (worth $2.5 million) on the back seat a New York City cab. After a long search, NYPD officers tracked down the valuable and 266 years-old rare instrument in a Queens garage.

Then, some years ago, Chouhei Min, the famed Minnesota Orchestra violinist, lost her Guadagnini violin (crafted in 1778 in Turin, Italy, and valued at more than $500,000) as it was stolen from the Minneapolis Mount Olive Lutheran Church basement.

Now, Boston MBTA police officials say they’ve found a missing violin that’s worth $40,000. This story will really touch your heart. The violin was lost on June 10, just around midnight, when its owner accidentally left it behind at Boston’s South Station.

On Tuesday, the MBTA Transit Police called for the public’s help to identify and trace a woman who the police said held the precious instrument, though the $40,000 violin did not belong to her. On late Tuesday night, police officials said that the exclusive violin had been found, without saying where exactly and how the precious instrument had been located.

Difference between Fiddle and Violin

‘Fiddle’ is actually the generic name for all bowed stringed musical instruments, so including the violin, and the ‘Cambridge Companion to the Violin’ (*), learns us that in fact, the instruments are totally identical and that it’s just the style of playing and repertory in which it is used are different. This view is pretty questionable, though.

Fiddles are violins that are used in country, bluegrass, or folk music, whereas violins are used to play jazz or classical music. Fiddles are also used, though, to play a number of other music styles such as Mediterranean and Middle Eastern music, and Western swing. Note also that the term ‘violinist’ is additionally used identify classically trained violin players, and the term ‘fiddlers’ for musicians who’re playing local dance music.

There are quite a few people who believe that there is a considerable difference between fiddles and violins. The Boise, Idaho, based company Telford & Sons Violins (trade and teaching), is stating that fiddles can be produced by any Grandpa from an old barn door or a fencepost, but that violins are crafted in line with accepted methods and have specific proportions, and are created from traditional materials.

The Price of Stradivarius Violins

Stradivarius instruments are holding the top-5 places when it comes to prices ever paid for any musical instruments, and the most expensive violins made by Stradivarius are those he crafted during his so-called golden period (1700 to 1725).

Stradivarius violins from that period are having opening bids at auctions of several millions of dollars. Here are a few examples:

  • Maxim Vengerov, the Russian violist, bought the 1727-crafted ‘Kreutzer’ violin for almost $1.6 million in 1998. Vengerov owns four Stradivarius violins in total.
  • Stradivarius’ 1720 Red Mendelssohn violin was sold in 1990 for $1.7 million. The unique instrument was bought by the grandfather of violinist Elizabeth Pitcairn who received it as a birthday present when she turned 16.
  • The 1699 Lady Tennant violin was sold at an April 2005 Christie’s auction for slightly over $2 million.  The instrument was bought by the Stradivari Society of Chicago to be played on loan by violinist Yang Liu, and later (in 2009) by Yossif Ivanov.
  • Stradivarius’ Soloman ex-Lambert (1729) was auctioned at Christie’s in 2007 for $2.7 million to an anonymous bidder.
  • Stradivarius’ 1707 ‘Hammer’ violin was sold at a Christie’s auction in 2006 for $3,544,000, a world record for any musical instrument at that time.
  • In 2010, a new record was set when at a Tarisio auction, concert violinist Anne Akiko Meyers acquired the 1697 ‘Molitor’ violin for $3.6 million. The Molitor is said to have been previously owned by Napoleon Bonaparte.
  • Stradivarius’ Lady Blunt violin was auctioned online by Tarisio in June 2011 for $15.9 million, more than 4 times the previous record  The proceeds went to the Nippon Foundation to help fund the relief efforts after the devastating Earthquake and Tsunami.
  • The 1731 ‘Kreutzer’ violin, listed at a 2014 auction at Christie’s for f $7.5 – $10 million, did not reach the reserve price at a sealed-bid auction.

So you see, a Stradivarius instrument is an emotional and financially secure investment that will only rise in value.

Practicing Violin Effectively in Less Time

Is having talent overrated?

Well, this may surprise you a little, but if you want to be a great violinist, freeing up some more practice time is not enough! It’s more in the WAY that you’re spending your practice time.

images-33I’ll give you an example. Around one year ago, there was a student who visited me for just one lesson who, for a period of some five years, had been teaching herself.

She said she had practiced consistently one hour a day for those five years before she came to me for her first lesson in my studio.

You may feel that if someone had been practicing for so long, she would probably sound pretty good, but that’s not necessarily so. If somebody spends lots of time on practicing in an improper way, their progress may very well stagnate, and they may even get set back immensely.

Take Shelly on the other hand, a student of mine who’s just over 50. If she would have been practicing for five years and would have sounded like this, she definitely wouldn’t have been happy about her progress, but she had practiced effectively! It was a great help to her that I had showed her how to practice in the right way, and that I provided her with the proper mindset.

Stradivarius Instruments

Antonio Stradivari (1644 – 1737) was an Italian craftsman predominantly famous for his violins, but he also made cellos, lutes, harps, guitars, and violas.

Stradivari is considered and recognized as the greatest and most significant artisan in this specific field.

U.K. based Hills & Company violin experts are estimating that Antonio Stradivari made 1,116 instruments, and that 960 of them were violins.

They also estimate that of all Stradivari instruments, some 650 survive, including some 450 to 512 of his famous violins.

The instruments made by Stradivari are recognized as the finest and best bowed stringed instruments that were ever created. They come with high prices and are today still favored and played by the best professionals.

There’s actually just one other violin maker, Giuseppe Guarneri del Gesù, who has received a comparable respect among the world’s best violinists.

It is believed that Stradivari was in 1644, in Cremona, Italy, though there still exists some uncertainty about his birthplace, his childhood, and how he had managed to turn into Italy’s most skilled and famed luthier.

One thing is certain, though: Antonio Stradivari dedicated all of his life to making the perfect violin, and already during his lifetime, he had reached prominence, admiration, and recognition, which only increased since he died almost 280 years ago.

Best Strategies For Audition Preparation

unnamedA lot of people often wonder if last-minute practicing before the “real thing” is actually helpful. Just like some furious practicing to warm-up before a sports performance or looking over flash cards before a GED or an ACT exam. Well, this may seem like a highly productive exercise but the question is: does it really help?

Great athletes and performers understand that they’ve already done all the work. They know that during the last few hours before the big thing, the most important thing is that they get into the appropriate emotional, mental, and physical state if they want to to perform at their best.

In the same way, students need to understand that taking practice tests will prove more effective than reading through a book during the last minutes before an exam.

With playing the violin it’s no different. Regardless whether you to want to meditate, take a nap, say a little prayer, or play some long tones or some slow scales to get connected to your instrument, the experienced great performers do whatever they want to get into the right mindset.

You could also want to eat something like a banana or a peanut butter sandwich while you hop on just one leg, you know what you need, so just simply do it! Don’t let any circumstances get in your way, regardless what others around you may think about your game plan or rituals.

How to avoid Learning Plateaus

9466126-beautiful-young-woman-playing-violin-stock-photo-violin-musician-musicIf you want to become an artist, or a real professional, you need to (among many other things) cultivate an internal evaluation locus, your own personal concept of exactly what beautiful art, success, and excellence means.

What it feels like, sounds like, looks like, and feels like. This is, after all, one of the the fundamentals of your artistic DNA. This is what is giving us our one-of-a-kind voice. If we put our head too deep in the sand, though, we may run into another sort of problem. When our learning process is stagnating, we may very well get stuck on a plateau….

We’ve all had this sort of encounters, where we practice harder thane ever before, put in a lot of time, but where we, for whatever reason, don’t seem to be able to take it to the next level. Full of frustration, we begin to get the idea that we’re missing something, some technique element or some knowledge that could us there, but we don’t have a clue, what could it be? So we’re stuck on ore plateau….

Now how can we overcome these situations, how can we break through these terrible plateaus? How can we get unstuck?