About Violin Virtuosity
My passion and experience teaching violin began at the age of 14.
Growing up in a small town in the Deep South, I traveled 300 miles each week for lessons with a Curtis graduate. Then returning home, I attempted to pass on to all my friends, who had no teachers, exactly what I had been taught.
Though I regularly performed in recitals, chamber groups and orchestras, my preference for solo playing quickly surfaced. Simply stated, the smaller the group the better!
After only three years of these lessons, I was awarded a full scholarship to the renowned Curtis Institute of Music as a student of Jascha Brodsky, the 1st violinist of the Curtis Quartet. Remaining in Philadelphia for five years, I then headed to Pittsburgh to study with Sydney Harth before joining the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. Participating in a world-class orchestra under the baton of Robert Shaw was exhilarating, but my love of teaching drew me to an early retirement after only 3 years. The rest of my life has been invested in giving to others musically what was given to me - passing on the secrets of these master pedagogues - endeavoring to make every student [one at a time] a success!
After having now taught violin and viola for more than 40 years, my principal goal is to promote violin and viola virtuosity by improving both teaching and playing. There are several reasons I'm driven in my pursuit of this goal.
Violin / Viola Students Are Disadvantaged
Though talent and desire is abundant, sadly, I have found that most students struggle because of poorly fitted shoulder rests and chin rests, not being set up properly with their instruments. "One size fits all” seems to have been the motto. Negative fall-out is rampant resulting in everything from tension and pain to slow progress and discouragement.
But the selection of chin and shoulder rests is neither as simple nor as illusive as one might think. Each and every student is physically unique from all others, and therefore, there can be no standard choice. Differences such as the structure of one's shoulders and length of neck need to be considered, not to mention the length of one's arms.
The solution, in one sense, is no harder than the everyday activity of selecting well-fitting shoes or clothes. There are many good options available today. Whatever combination results in freedom of both arms (not requiring unnatural twisting, lifting, or tightening), beautiful sound, and naturally straight bows is GOOD. No marathon runner tolerates poor-fitting shoes for the race. And no violinist or violist can ever expect to achieve their greatest progress hindered by a poor set up. Both the right and the left arms and hands must be free to move and function fluidly, all joints working together to create the beauty we all love.
Violin / Viola Students Have Destructive (Bad) Habits
1) Left Hand
It might seem unbelievable, but in more than 40 years, I have had only ONE student out of hundreds come to me from other studios with a properly positioned and functioning left hand. Only ONE has come without tension, and with the arm, hand, and fingers (ALL of the fingers) positioned in such a way that speed and accuracy is the norm. Teaching fingerboard fluency as I was taught at Curtis has become my passion—one student at a time—no matter what the background or age. The results are always the same—difficulty replaced by ease, slowness by speed, pain by comfort, lack of control by control, and confusion by knowledge and understanding.
2) Right Hand
A natural bow hold is the foundation of all tone, color, brilliance, and virtuosity. Without proper balance and support in the hand, beauty and ease remain forever illusive and unattainable. All of the joints of the arm from the shoulder down to the smaller joints of the fingers must be free to work together. The average student, however, ends up pushing rather than pulling the sound. Extraneous noises are in abundance, string crossings are unwieldy, and bow changes are noisy and jerky.
This Doesn't Have To Be This Way!
1) Just as surely as peach trees have peaches, so everyone is endowed with naturally fast fingers. Fast, articulate and accurate left hands, therefore, should be the norm, not the experience of only a select few. With knowledge and a proper set-up, I have had the thrill of seeing literally hundreds of performers, teachers, and students set free to enjoy virtuosic playing!
2) I love the axiom, "Keep it simple, stupid!" Tone production, as I was taught at Curtis by Jascha Brodsky (Hillary Hahn's teacher for 10 years), is exhilarating like nothing else I have ever experienced. The modern bow is an amazing invention, and when wisely handled, its timbres and colors are endless. When held unnaturally and without balance, however, the stick is strangled and pressed, and the resulting sound is harsh and uninviting by comparison.
I Want To Change The Way Many Teachers Teach!
I will never forget hearing about a well-known concert artist, colleague, and friend of mine who was asked to listen to and comment on an advanced student from another studio. As I recall, this young man performed the Brahms Concerto impressively. But when asked to play scales, he made a miserable mess of his attempt. My friend responded with, "How dare you take my time! Go, and learn to play the violin, and then come back and play for me."
Today many teachers attempt to teach technique through pieces. I totally disagree with this approach, because the few advantages gained are far outweighed by the bad habits which result. My approach is to establish superior right and left-hand technique so that the student is free to explore all aspects of virtuosity.
It is a fact that we all—spectators and performers alike—most enjoy listening to those who love to play. But performers bound by the handicap of poor and undeveloped technique often encounter problems such as sliding bows, scratchy sound, missed shifts, memory slips and the like. These are neither pleasant for the audience nor for the performer.
What Differentiates My Teaching
* THE PRIMACY OF POSTURE - No matter how talented, driven, or advanced the student, poor posture and/or set-up always slows down progress and limits possibilities. I marvel at what so many have attained working against the odds and can only respond as I often have through the years, "Wow! If she is able to play like this with these handicaps, I can't imagine how much better and easier she could play with the right set-up and posture!"
* FUNCTIONAL FINGERS - I believe that position affects function. Jascha Brodsky obviously agreed with the truism as he wisely repositioned my left arm, hand, and fingers before I was allowed to move ahead. Even though I can only believe that I must have had an outstanding left hand in order to have been granted a scholarship at Curtis, repertoire which before had been impossible for me became easy. Without the proper positioning of the left hand, articulation of the fingers is unlikely, intonation is inconsistent, tension seems unavoidable, and discouragement and fear often overtake those who try the hardest to excel.
* THE ART OF BOWING - I wonder sometimes, "Is there anything more pleasurable than the beauty, brilliance and endless variety which results from the perfectly natural bow hold and its function?" All it takes to forever limit ones possibilities is simply the wrong bow hold. Through this, the wrist is forced to bend in the "wrong" direction, and pushing with the index finger replaces the natural weight of the arm. The sound is compromised, joints tend to lock, and seamless bow changes and smooth string crossings become almost impossible.
* THE FOUNDATION OF FOUR OCTAVE SCALES & ARPEGGIOS WITH DOUBLE-STOP SCALES - For many reasons I begin the study of scales with four-octave scales, not three. My goal is what I like to call "fingerboard fluency."