Monday, April 30, 2012

Trust your ears

Musicians, trust your ears!

Just two things I observed this past little while.  First, I attended our local music festival.  Some of the young violinists played out of tune.   Let me change that.  Many of the young violinists played out of tune.  Why?  It wasn't just that they were missing shifts.  They put their fingers down where they thought the right note was, and just left them there - no adjustments.  They weren't LISTENING!  They were trusting their eyes instead of their ears - their fingers were on the tapes.  Unfortunately, the finger can be "on the tape" and still not in the right spot.  We have to use our ears for tiny little adjustments - after, of course, training our ears to hear what "in tune" is.

We have lived with trains across the street from us for almost 19 years.  For the most part, we just don't notice them.  Sometimes the rails are noisier than other times - a little more clickety-clack.  And then either the weather changes or they come and do maintenance or repairs.  But the last few days it was more than a little more - it caught my attention.  I used "Kadack -adack" earlier today in describing the sound.  But I saw workers in the area, so I thought they would know if it meant any trouble.  Granted, I didn't see them out of their truck, but I really just wasn't paying them a lot of attention. 

Don noticed the noise last night.  Maybe it had gotten even worse?  Or maybe he hadn't heard it before as he's not home as much (or when he is here ... well, it's playoff season!).  He had a thought that maybe he should take a flashlight and see if he could see a problem with the rails.  His dad had been known to do that, having been a former (train) conductor.  (Have to make that distinction when blog posts are usually about music here.)  But ... he didn't.  And he didn't say anything to me, and I didn't say anything to him.

Trains now have sensors to detect track problems - I don't know much about them, but in this day and age everything is so electronic.  They used to have manned cabooses, they used to get off the train to throw manual switches, they used to have people living all along the line to walk the rails regularly to check for problems. No radios even - they swung lanterns, held messages on a pole at the side of the track for the engineer to grab as he rode by!  Anyway, technology is good and probably more fail-safe in many ways, but do the current employees know how to listen?  Even though I heard something, I was pretty much trusting all their instruments - that they would know if that clackety-clack was a problem that needed attention or not.  Don was somewhat dismissing his ear and instinct, too, for the same reason.  I told him today, "We're musicians! We should trust our ears!"

Now I can't say for sure it was what we were hearing that caused it, but a loaded coal train derailed in front of our house early this morning.  When the CP police came to ask if I'd noticed anything lately I told him what we had heard.  He asked how long we had lived here.  He was wanting to know how conditioned our ears were to normal vs not normal.  Another case in point - I woke hearing the racket of the wheels over the (possibly broken or loose?) rail around 5:30.  Then a bang, groan, rumble, etc., and no more wheel racket.  Dead quiet.  Sometimes emergency stops the trains make (someone looking like they're not stopping at the crossing, etc.) make me jump - the couplers pulling apart all at once or in very quick succession sound like an explosion, the wheels grind and groan.  But I've heard them enough now that they don't usually send a rush of adrenaline any more.  So this loud noise didn't make me jump.  But again, this sounded a little different.  Even though I was still half asleep, it sounded like something to get up and check.  Don didn't know what woke him, but he looked at the clock and said, "The power's out."  That just made me think all the more that what I had heard was not the sound that USED to make me think there had been an accident, but that this was the real thing.

Trusting one's ear after the fact, unfortunately, doesn't really do a lot of good.  Musicians!  Develop your ears, then trust them!  Who knows, it could prevent a train accident. Or maybe, at least, prevent a "train wreck" of a performance!

Thursday, April 26, 2012

The iPod Theory

More from Parents as Partners video "7 Guarantees for More Progress During Practice" by James Hutchins, Suzuki violin teacher, teacher trainer, and parent:

Every performance a student hears gets "downloaded" and stays with them. We all know we'd like to have the best performances downloaded. But as we are learning, we will play mistakes: out of tune notes, wrong bowings, etc. These are also getting downloaded. If we are only playing it ourselves, that is the only version getting downloaded and memorized, and it's the wrong version.
For an example of what should happen, he drew a chart (for those reading music - if not yet reading, just take that step out):
Start with playing a piece by memory.
For every memory performance you want to have played it two times with the music.
For every two times with the music, you will want to have listened to it four times.
Often this is reversed - listened once, played with music twice, played by memory four times. This results in more mistakes as the wrong version was downloaded more than the correct one.
You may think all this listening will take a long time, especially for the longer pieces. But if you start early, even a year or two previous, the right version will be downloaded before they even start and the student will know a wrong note right away.
I can attest to witnessing both the good example and the "often happens" one!
When a good amount of listening has occurred, the learning is so much easier!

Saturday, April 14, 2012

In memory of the Titanic Musicians

From the 1958 movie.

And the more recent movie.

There is some debate over which was their last song. There are three tunes for Nearer My God to Thee: British Horbury, North American Bethany, and the Methodist favoured Propior Deo. Many survivors reported this was the last song they heard - both British and Americans. And then there was a very credible witness who said their last tune was "Autumn".

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Practice tips: Lights out!

Practicing in the dark helps us to listen better. We can hear intonation, tone, expression. The practice partner can use a FLASHLIGHT to check one thing at a time: Bow hold, flat left wrist, general posture... It's also a fun motivator for kids to play in the dark with a flashlight!

Thanks to James Hutchins for sharing this and other ideas in his Parents as Partners talk, "Guarantees for More Progress During Practice, the Sequel"! for those registered.

I just love that playing the cello is something we can do in power outages - as long as we have some repertoire memorized!

Thursday, April 5, 2012

More relay pics!

And even better than mine - these were taken from the official Rick Hansen RV which preceded the medal-bearers and found on Flikr, but I'll copy/paste them here. I only had to look through a few hundred shots to find him since they weren't all in order on Flikr!

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Rick Hansen Relay - 25th year Anniversary

Son number two had the honor of being chosen to be a medal bearer in the Salmon Arm leg of the Rick Hansen Relay this morning.

I arrived just as he started down the hill for his 250 m portion of the run.

He runs in Salmon Arm a few times a week, but not usually with a flashing lights entourage!

...and not usually such a short distance.

Hand-off to fellow McDonald's representative

Team McDonald's with commemorative medals at City Hall
Awaiting the ceremony and arrival of the official medal.

Media interview
Salmon Arm "Difference Makers" medal bearers.

Team McDonald's with Ronald :-)
Check in at the official site later for more of today's pictures: