Balance through collaboration

On CBS Sunday Morning this morning I heard some much needed inspirational words. When asked an imposter syndrome question, comedian Michael Che responded “it’s a good con.” I like this because what I call “outlaw energy” frequently helps me get out from under negative thinking. World’s Central Kitchen founder, José Andrés and director Ron Howard also talked about the power of team work. Here are two ways I am using what I learned today to interpret this card.

Part 1
Creating dynamic contrast for a violinist, except perhaps when playing a solo sonata, involves team work. When playing chamber or orchestral music, the musician must listen for balancing all of the parts in the score. Sometimes a particular instrument group will clearly have the more prominent part. The musicians in the other sections will need to scale down their volume of sound to ensure that the primary voices are heard clearly.

Sometimes multiple sections of an ensemble need to collaborate to create balance. I am thinking of a heavily orchestrated piece such as Rite of Spring in which the entire string section must work together to balance their overall volume of sound so that woodwind solos can be heard. Printed dynamics need to be interpreted in the context of the entire score, dynamic capabilities of the instruments, range, and the number of individuals playing. For example, in order for an entire section of violinists to sound piano, each individual must play much softer than that.

Part 2
I recently had a very talented student question how I was teaching the opening of the Bruch Violin Concert No. 1. Having not grown up or spent the first part of my career in the digital age, I am not in the habit of watching YouTube as part of my listening experience. The issue came up when we were working on the hooked sixteenth notes. The student had just started working on the piece and didn’t have a grasp of the rhythm or tempo.

During the lesson I had this uneasy feeling that the student was questioning my knowledge of the piece. I was hearing that the double dotted quarter notes weren’t held correctly, the sixteenth note was happening too early, was too long and the tempo was fluctuating. The student was seeing that my bow was coming off the string more than that of Hilary Hahn and Itzhak Perlman. What a comparison!

Luckily I took a breath and realized that the student was confused and desperate to learn the piece. He/she was appealing to me to help sort out the incongruity between what I was saying and what the virtuosos on YouTube were doing. Rather than being an indictment of lack of competency, it was a show of respect that I would have the solution to this problem.

Not living a balanced life causes me to not think “straight.” I have a way of slipping into negative thinking. I question my competency, accusing myself of not knowing what I’m doing. I experience the “imposter syndrome.” This confidence crisis was a wake up call for me to step back. I love my students and I truly believe they respect me and value how I teach them.

The text on this card involves balance of volume of sound and balance in life. Both parts have to do with collaboration. To create a beautifully balanced performance, musicians must work together in service of the entire ensemble and score. The different parts of one’s life must also work in concert to create a healthy life.

The Inspiration for Violinists card deck
This “Balance” card is part of a 50 card deck. Every card has a unique image and text inspiring musicianship, mindfulness and spirituality.

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