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Practice, Practice!

Today, I came across a wonderful article by Laurie Niles (but, then, she always writes beautiful articles!), about her “revelation” at the Colorado Suzuki Institute.

“We were watching the recital hour…when about 35 students came to the stage to receive an award.” These students had made a pledge to practice every day for a year!! Afterwards, all in the audience were asked if they would like to make a stand and proclaim the same pledge for themselves.

How many of us can say we’ve done that? And, for those who can and continue to hold to a daily practice regimen, I’ve a feeling you would say there’s no better way to go about it, that you’ve really “found the true way of practicing.”

Continue reading Practice, Practice!

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Thought for the Day

“A great violin is alive; its very shape embodies its maker’s intentions, and its wood stores the history, or the soul, of its successive owners. I never play without feeling that I have released or, alas, violated spirits.”

Yehudi Menuhin

Check out this fascinating article by Laurie Niles about Stradivari’s genius. I was especially struck by the realization of an old instrument’s “memory”, that, being made of wood, somehow the sound vibrations created by violin masters of old are woven into the very fibers of the instrument and recalled sympathetically when another musician attempts the same piece on the same instrument. This is partly what creates such a unique bond between player and string instrument.

See? String players aren’t all entirely crazy… 😛

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Other Links

Not too long ago, James set me up with the Other Links addition on my sidebar, and I’ve been having a blast with it! As you’ll see when you click on it, it will take you to my new bookmarks page, where I’ve posted, for everyone to explore, a list of my favorite online sites. These include, not only music sites, but also sites that pertain to writing, reference, education, history, free stuff and shopping, or just anything that strikes my interest. So, exploring this list may reveal a little more about me, besides my musical side. 🙂

Two of my favorite sites include the Classical Music Pages – a vast web of reference links where you can find information on composers, their music, the history surrounding them, and much more – and Project Gutenberg – a place where you can find and download a myriad of public domain texts and music, including works by Shakespeare, or string quartets by Beethoven, all for free!

What James has also done is create an opportunity for anyone to save an article on the Sarah Wallin blog to their own bookmarks account. Check out the Add to link at the bottom of every article.

So, enjoy browsing my other links for information and fun, and if you don’t already have one, I highly recommend signing up for your own bookmarks page. It’s just a great way to share!

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A Great Website!…

I recently stumbled on a great website for music educators, musicians, composers, and just about anybody else interested in music! It’s The Sound Exchange, hosted, created, and maintained by London’s Philharmonia Orchestra. One could spend hours exploring the wealth of information and activities on this site!

For example, one of my favorite pages to visit is the Instruments page, where you can choose from a list of symphonic instruments on the sidebar, and read all about the instrument’s history, construction, range, transposition, or any special techniques the instrument is capable of. There are also sound clips of the instrument available, and video clips of interviews with Philharmonia musicians on that instrument; interview topics include many insights into the typical play of the instrument (what is or isn’t expected by the musician), such that would interest a composer looking to write for the instrument and still be in the player’s good graces. 🙂

Take a look at this Violin page, as just a small example…

There is also information on the history of the orchestra, the typical seating of the orchestra, the duties of the conductor, quizzes and games, and information on history of sampling techniques and current practices. You can even “contribute your samples, loops or finished tracks to The Sound Exchange no matter what style of music it is, whether you’re a beginner or a professional”, and download others’ tracks!

But, wait, there’s more! There is even an opportunity for composers of all abilities to have their work rehearsed by members of the Philharmonia Orchestra and to receive positive feedback to improve their work. Check out the Composer Resource for more information.

I am truly excited about this site, and would recommend it to anyone interested in learning more about music and the instruments and musicians that make it possible!

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MIDI Band Concert a Success!

“I brought my son with me to the MIDI Ensemble concert and we both enjoyed it very much. We thought Widescreen, Autumn Interlude, Flying on the Wings of Steam, Karma Police, Personal Echo and Theme from ‘X-Files’ were brilliantly arranged, orchestrated and performed. Thanks for the opportunity to see the performance.”

-Kathy R. Yeh, student at Cal Poly, Pomona

😉 Yes, Widescreen, Autumn Interlude, Flying…, Personal Echo, and Theme from “X-Files” were all works that I have arranged or composed, and, yes, I loved having the opportunity to share with the audience what knowledge I had of most of the tunes we did, and of MIDI and digital music in general. Comments like the above quote are a great honor for me, and I am extremely pleased that I was able to bring as much joy to the audience as those arrangements have always brought to me. But this concert could not have been pulled off nearly so successfully without the talents of each Band member and the director, Professor Lori Huff. It is because of their hard work, dedication, and marvelous musical intuition that my arrangements could be performed so successfully.

Last Monday evening was a real blast, and I enjoyed every minute, sharing the stage with the Cal Poly MIDI Ensemble! :mrgreen:

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The Miracle Earplug

According to a post by Scott Crandall on on September 29, 2005,

“…I am a returning adult student. I could not tell if my notes were in tune, I could tell if someone else’s notes were in tune, but not mine. There is a chain on this website where a professional violinist tells how he had trouble playing in tune, but when he used headphones in the recording studio his intonation was fine, [his] solution was to use an earplug in his left ear. After reading that I did some research. I found many articles dealing with hearing problems in violinist’s left ear, seems we subject our left ear to decibels that would not be permitted in Factory environments (up to 115 decibels). I also talked to my daughter’s vocal professor who had data that our right ear reacts faster to musical tones than our left.

“To make a long story short I began using one foam ear plug in my left ear….what a difference in my intonation, no more scratching noises in my ear from the bow, you would not believe how loud and distracting that is until you don’t hear it anymore. Since using the earplug I can hear my Intonation. I may not be hitting all notes correct initially yet, but now I know when they are incorrect and can make the correction needed, right away. My first lesson with the ear plug, blew my instructor away…we had been fighting intonation problems for 3 months to that point, he’d told me he didn’t know what else to do that maybe I had a physiological problem… well I did. Now I am making progress and I like to hear myself play. Periodically I don’t use the plug as an honesty check… the result convinces me all over again that the plug works. It may not be your solution, try one earplug in your left ear, see if that helps.”

So, what of this miracle plug? I confess I was initially skeptical, because I knew that using a practice mute similarly cuts out the resonating harmonics (and a few decibels) of a bowed string, in effect dulling the sound. And, for me, I actually found myself losing my sense of accuracy when playing with a heavy practice mute (see a similar complaint by Larry Brandt).

Continue reading The Miracle Earplug

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See the Yang Liu Performance Online!

After twenty-five years of silence, “The Lady Tennant” Stradivarius took the stage again in the capable hands of Yang Liu, today at 6pm at the Kennedy Center. You can read the backstory for this special concert event in this article.

Liu’s performance opened with the much loved “Spring Sonata” — Beethoven’s Sonata No. 5, Op. 24, followed up with the Bach Chaconne and Prokofiev’s Second Violin Sonata. If you’re like me, and you couldn’t catch a last minute flight out to Washington, DC to see this concert live, take heart! The Kennedy Center not only streams live broadcasts of the nightly events on its Millenium Stage (where the Liu performance occurred tonight), but, if you happen to miss the live broadcast, the Center also keeps archives online for later viewing.

So don’t miss out! You can still see Yang Liu performing on the “the most expensive musical instrument purchased at auction”. (Note: Don’t fret if the sound is too soft at the beginning of the performance. It does pick up a bit, and properly levels out by the start of the second movement of the Beethoven Sonata.)

You can find the archived performance here.

yang liu 2

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Thoughtful History for the Day: Leopold Mozart

“When I was a young fellow I used to think that philosophers were people who said little, seldom laughed, and turned a sulky face upon the world in general. But my own experiences have completely persuaded me that, without knowing it, I must be a philosopher.”

Leopold Mozart (in a letter sent to the Baroness von Waldstadten in Vienna)

leopold portrait

“Leopold Mozart is and will remain, in the memory of posterity, the father of his son,” writes esteemed musicologist and music editor, Alfred Einstein, in his Preface at the beginning of the 1937 and subsequent publications of “A Treatise on the Fundamental Principles of Violin Playing” by Leopold Mozart (who first published this historic work in July 1756, five months after Wolfgang’s birth).

Einstein goes on to present a detailed and fascinating look into the life, personality, and trials of Leopold, including the pain and frustration of his estrangement with his famous son, and his joy at seeing Wolfgang achieve through his composing what Leopold and his classical contemporaries had not previously done (namely, find a way to combine Genius and Art — the “gallant” style derived from the new and popular opera buffa, and the “learned” style of the old music; i.e., from the 1600’s.)

I highly recommend this book, both for Einstein’s in-depth Preface, and for its effect as a rich backdrop for Leopold’s own learned thoughts on the history, technique, and sound musicianship of the violin and its proper execution, as derived from his own era.

blankTreatise on the Fundamental Principles of Violin Playing

leopold mozart

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“The Violin Close Up”

This web version of the 1980 book “The Violin Close Up” is a really neat introduction to the violin. The author and photographer, Peter Schaaf, presents the story of how the violin produces sound, in a most charming manner. The photos are just beautiful (good pick for the subject, too — a very lovely instrument), with up close views of the bridge, the belly, the tailpiece, etc., etc. Every part of the violin and bow is detailed, but the “technical” descriptions are tastefully child-like and poetic. Definitely a good read for children and adults alike!

I also recommend that, while visiting Mr. Schaaf’s site, you take a look at some of his other striking, high-quality works, such as his photos of the beloved Dorothy DeLay, the “grayscale women”, and (my personal favorite) the wild antics of Peter Schickele, including his “swinging” entrance into Carnegie Hall! Click here to begin exploring Peter Schaaf’s site.

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Knilling’s “Perfection” Pegs

I first came across these geared pegs at the CMEA Convention last weekend, and, after handling Knilling’s display violin, I was immediately impressed with the pegs’ fluidity and perfect outward appearance.

These aren’t your regular geared pegs that you find on guitars or string basses! The gears are all on the inside of the peg, and consequently do nothing to harm the instrument, practically or aesthetically. On all four strings, the pegs rotated smooth-like-a-dream (no need for any fine-tuners, not even the E!), and they stayed put: no slipping or sticking, and no need to push into the pegbox while tuning. This is definitely something I’m putting on my wishlist! =)

At, a thread on this very subject had the great pleasure of a visit from Gary Byers, a representative for Knilling’s Perfection Pegs at the manufacturing and marketing level, who answered many questions about these pegs. Click here to read that discussion. Also, you can click here to see Knilling’s own site and to view a trailer about these fantastic pegs.