Good morning and happy Saturday! The Albany Gay Men’s Chorus annual spring concert was supposed to be this evening. I am really bummed that it had to be cancelled but considering the state of things, it is for the best. Even if it were perfectly safe to have a large gathering, our rehearsals stopped in spring and there was no feasible way for us to continue to rehearse remotely.
Our last rehearsal was in March, and it was an interesting departure from our usual rehearsal sessions. We gathered at the Shaker Meeting House in Colonie to practice shape note singing with the Sacred Harp group that meets there weekly. Shape note singing and the Sacred Harp tradition is very unique, and my words wouldn’t do it justice, so click on the links and check it out.
Until we were contacted by our director around the beginning of May for our Why We Sing project, I hadn’t been keeping up with any vocal exercises at all. It was a struggle for me to come up with a recording to submit that I wasn’t thoroughly horrified by. I cannot tell you how many times I have sung this song. I know it well, and I rarely need more than a brief refresher with the music to perform it. Most of my struggle (99.9%) was literally me trying to do something…anything knowing that there was a camera recording me. Eventually, I got something that I felt okay about so I sent it in.
While I haven’t been keeping up with any choral work, I haven’t been letting myself go musically stale either. When I began taking violin lessons and practicing (mostly) daily since then, I knew that improving my music reading skills as part of that would help me in chorus. I didn’t think that I had picked up that much in my time with the chorus, but as it turns out, I picked up more than I thought and that has helped me with the violin too.
My spinning students all hear me say that learning to spin yarn is like like learning to play a musical instrument, and that it takes practice, practice, practice. I tell them to practice daily, or as close to that as possible. About 20-30 minutes, maximum, increasing the time as they get mote comfortable. Learning something new, especially something that uses your muscles in ways you aren’t used to using them, can cause fatigue pretty quickly. I started out practicing for about 20-30 minutes twice a day, morning and evening, but I typically practice only once a day for about 30 minutes now.
I also tell my spinning students to go easy on themselves. Most adults have forgotten how to be new at something and we criticize ourselves harshly when we don’t pick things up as quickly as we think we should. Building muscle memory takes time. Building competency at something takes time. And building skill at something takes time. Before I began my violin lessons and practice I had to think about what my goals were. They had to be specific and realistic.
I don’t know that being able to play without the use of tape to mark finger positions is necessarily specific as a goal, but it is realistic. I have replaced the tape several times since January, and most recently removed the second finger tape as I am now learning high and low second finger positions and have been able to hit those notes relatively accurately. It was difficult at first though, as everything I had practiced up until this point was with the high second finger position, so there was new muscle memory to build.
My progress has been slow. The dexterity and coordination of my left hand is definitely improving, as are my bowing skills, but it’s my music reading skills that improved most. I have made time for reading a part of but also separate from my hands on playing practice, and spending that time up front is helpful when it comes time to practice playing a piece. It is very much like reading through a knitting pattern before you sit down to cast on a project, which I admit I rarely do.
We are following the Suzuki method with my lessons. Books 1 through 6 were some of the extras I treated myself too when I got my violin five years ago. There are ten books in the Suzuki violin program, and I am nearing the end of book one after just six months. It will likely be a couple more months before I “finish” it, and it will be a long time before I finish the books I have. That has not stopped me from venturing outside the Suzuki program, which my teacher has encouraged, and I have found that other resources can help round it out.
Early on, I purchased a good deal of violin sheet music for a number of more contemporary songs that interest me, and I have pulled a few to slowly start practicing in addition to my Suzuki studies. My teacher has paired me with a practice buddy who is at about the same level with the piano as I am with the violin. Our assignment is to learn Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah, but there’s a twist. We have no existing arrangement to work from. We are working it out by ear, which my teacher had started to do with me on Sunday last weekend when we met for some in-person time for the first time since moving to the Zoom app in March for my lessons.
Yep, six months into learning to read music and I am already being challenged to learn to play something without it. It’s a good thing I like challenges, and I expect there will me more as I move forward with this endeavor. Bring them on!
That is all I have for this morning. I am heading outside to enjoy the rest of the morning before this day gets too sweltering hot to do anything but veg on the couch inside with the AC cranking. Have a great weekend, stay safe, and remember to wear your damn mask when you’re out in public and cannot maintain a safe social distance.