Today, I conducted the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra.
Before you start calling me a liar, or asking me for great seats to the next concert, let me fill you in on the story.
I was the virtual conductor for the Vienna Philharmonic and got a chance to conduct Strauss’ Radetzky March, at the Haus der Music. Think of it as Guitar Hero with a baton and a world class orchestra. You get to pretend you are Zubin Mehta for about 3 minutes.
Interested in knowing how I did? I mostly kept up (its a workout). But I lack the passion for Strauss, to do it any real justice. I am not a conductor. I don’t have any interest in conducting. Though at one time, I longed to be on that podium. That position has too much power for me to be comfortable. I can lead the occasional guitar quartet – and group lessons. But it’s easy (or not depending on your perspective) conducting 11 year old boys, because they don’t pay any attention. The focus that professional musicians have is intense and its intimidating, and I have no desire to lead an orchestra down a musical path. I much prefer being the conductor of one (one instrument- one player – only one person gets the boos or the applause). There is much less pressure to being a classical guitarist.
And just so you know, I am a golden goddess when it comes to Guitar Hero.
Now, as for calling me “maestra”, it’s completely unnecessary. And I would prefer that you didn’t.
**Photo Source – Logofag via flickr
Playing guitar doesn’t come easy to me these days. Almost all aspects of playing have become challenging – even areas where I once excelled at have become foreign and a bit enigmatic. Which is why a daily practice has become more important than ever, to me. I’m slowly adding my old pieces back into my repertoire, but am cautiously adding new to me composers as well. For someone who has invested almost her entire life to the playing of classical guitar, there are some huge gaps in my knowledge of guitar music. For instance, almost the entire baroque repertoire, with the exception of the Bach cello suites. So I have added this Weiss Fantasie into my practice. And surprisingly, I am beginning to love it.
For those of you who are interested – this is what my rehab practice looks like. I try to get in an hour a day. Sometimes I am unable to play that long – and sometimes I want to play more, but I know that if I push it too much, the pain that will occur will be too much for me to handle, and I will have to take several days off – and I cant afford that.
- Arpeggio exercises – 10 minutes. I do this instead of scales, because its easier on my hands, and it gives my brain a workout, when I progress past the standard PIMAMI
- Sarabande by Francis Poulenc – its a simple piece, but its quite difficult to master. Its meditative and somber. It was my dog Charles favourite piece, and when I play it, I can feel him next to me, keeping time with his tail. Its a great warm up. Usually I play this for 10 minutes. Trying to get the tone as even as possible.
- Suite no. 1 – Richard Rodney Bennett – A suite of Pieces for the early intermediate student. Structurally there isn’t much happening, but the soprano and bass voices are written in different keys, which makes playing a bit challenging. But mostly its brain work. Usually by this point my fingers are warm and about as agile as Im going to get in the practice session. So the set of pieces usually flows fairly well at this point. – 2 complete tun throughs- plus any extra practice where its needed.
- I am now halfway through my practice session. At this point I choose a couple of pieces I have had in my repertoire for years, and I choose a passage or 2 in each to deconstruct and re-learn. I usually do about 10-15 minutes on this. Usually this is an older contemporary piece, it might go back as far as Mauel de Falla’s Homenaje, or some thing from the Four Pieces by Frank Martin, or probably one of the many pieces I have learned and loved by Leo Brouwer. The only requirement here, is that it had to be something that was at one time, performance ready – and had to have been played in front of an audience.
- The remainder of the hour is devoted to new work(s). I have several in rotation. Weiss, Bach, Stephen Dodgson, Richard Rodney Bennett, and Scarlatti. I usually work on a phrase or 2. Because I usually have between 15-20 minutes left in the session – learning new works is a slow business for me.
This time of regimen is new for me. I used to be the type of musician who would skip warmups. I hated scales and other technical exercises (I still do). I didn’t think technique was necessary. Ah youth – so stubborn, so wrong! In the past, I was the
master mistress of thoughtless practice. I’d just play whatever was sitting on the music stand. I was a really good sight reader, so I didn’t have to think about what I was doing – I just did it, and I could get away with minimal amounts of practice.
Im in a very different situation now, I actually have to think about alternating my fingers. They don’t do it on their own anymore. When you have to put that much thought into movement, playing becomes laboured, heavy, and clumsy. There really isn’t any way to make it sound good. So you have to look at your practice in a new way. Instead of reclaiming a new skill. I have chosen to look at is as an adventure through history. Which is why I am trying to close the gaps. It’s going to take me a long time – since I am lucky if I can master 1 single measure of a new piece in one practice. But if you aren’t aiming to get better, you are getting worse.
So I deem it to be worthwhile.
Studio de Chaos is open for business starting in September. Its been a long year plagued with uncertainty and injury and lessons. Many many lessons. Here is what I have learned:
1. I am not me if I am not playing guitar let alone teaching music.
2. This injury I have has basically put me at level zero of playing. I do not sound like how I should. However, its given me a gift – I now know and understand the frustrations of the beginner. The callouses, the awkward hand positions, the inconsistencies, the triumph of getting that measure perfect 4 times in a row, just to blow it on times 5-19 to get it almost right again on attempt #20. Empathy is a good thing, and will get me back to where I need to be – at least on the teaching end of it. Im still working on the patience side (for myself).
3. My imagination hasn’t gone anywhere. My imagination has always been the strongest asset to my guitar career. I spent an entire year reading books just so I could at least keep one part of guitar game going. And if my practice session this morning is any indication, its going to be a really fun year of telling stories while we learn some classical music.
4. My mental game may be strong – but my physical one is not – so I need to add more exercise to my daily practice. Strength training – along with a whole lot more physiotherapy here we come!
Im getting excited about the coming year – I have lots of ideas, and I am super excited to share them with new students. And for everything that I have lost, I have gained so much more.
So if you are interested in an unusual approach to studying classical guitar, and live in Vancouver, BC – I may be the solution you are looking for. Call 604-679-1731 to schedule a lesson. Ask for Laura.
There are very few photos of me where I am smiling or resemble anything that identifies as happiness. And there have been even fewer smiling photos than usual this year.
But today I was given some wonderful news, I saw my orthopaedic surgeon – who gave me the go ahead to play guitar *regularly*. Some of you may know that I am a classical guitarist, who has for the last several months (which felt like 10 years) has not been able to play due to a bone fragment from my elbow wrecking havoc with the ulnar nerve.
I got the swelling down to an almost manageable amount (its decreased in size by half), and my movement is good. Although, I am still struggling with rotation of my arm, in both directions. There is not a whole lot of feeling in my fingertips -but that should come back in time.
I probably should mention that I am playing because of twice weekly physio and acupuncture sessions, and once a week lesson in Alexander Technique. I have a lot of work ahead of me, but I am celebrating this milestone. I have worked hard. HARD!
Anyway, today is a really special day – I am excited and happy. I sound absolutely terrible, but I must tell you – its the most glorious sound in the world.
I practiced for 28 minutes. 17 of those minutes were actually spent playing. I aim to be playing an hour a day, by the end of September.
Im so happy.
This is Fairfax. Now is a tense time in our relationship, since I am not wanting to play. He sits in the corner not so silently judging me with that enormous eye of his. He is a very big presence. And is always letting me know that I am a failure.
Sometimes Fairfax is a big jerk.