Violinist and Teacher in Tucson, AZ

Celtic Fiddler

Sunday, January 5th, 2014

FiddlerwhitebkgLast Thursday, I was prepared to have a string sectional rehearsal for the NTSO at my house. Despite some minor problems, including a clogged-up kitchen sink, I managed to get my living room cleared and ready.

Nobody came.

I got some practice in myself, but I was wondering why absolutely nobody else showed up. It had been announced at the last regular rehearsal, and it was in the latest official NTSO newsletter.

Thinking that I must have gotten something wrong, I dug up the latest newsletter. The problem immediately became obvious. The subject line read: “NTSO: Weekly Update. No Rehearsal until 2014.” The first line of the body copy was: “WINTER BREAK – NO Rehearsal until after the new year!”

The sectional rehearsal announcement wasn’t until the 2nd paragraph. I suspect that nobody read that far. Except me.

If the email subject line had been, “WINTER BREAK – Next String Sectional on January 2nd” I think the outcome would have been different.

Sunday, June 16th, 2013

NTSOatInterfaithPeaceChapelJune2013Last Sunday, the NTSO performed at the Interfaith Peace Chapel in Dallas. I’m the 3rd from the left in the photo that Georgene took at the final rehearsal. The concert was reasonably well-received, despite some major problems with the venue.

For political reasons, the concert got reviews that I would characterize as unreasonably charitable.

Since I don’t have to be Politically Correct, here is my review:

Complaint 1

There is no good reason to set the thermostat at freezing in a performance venue in Dallas in June. Period. I warned Georgene, and she brought a sweater. She would have been more comfortable in a full winter coat. I would compare the place to a meat locker, except that I would expect the acoustics to be better in a meat locker, which brings me to…

Complaint 2

I have actually been in places where the acoustics were worse (for instance, the Plano Liberty Recreation Center shower room) — but none of those was intended for use for musical performance. Any architect who would design a performance venue as an echo chamber needs to find a job that is much less intellectually demanding. I don’t care if the design was “award-winning,” (which casts doubts on the qualifications of the group granting any such award) it is just not suitable for musical performance – or anything else involving sound.

The acoustics were so bad that the audience was unable to understand the majority of the spoken material. The two very talented violinists who did the Bach Double had to forgo the piano accompaniment because it was not possible to synchronize with the accompaniment (the echo was so bad that they simply could not hear the pianist, standing right next to him – and the pianist could not hear them, either). The performance of the recorder quartet was so jumbled that it was painful to listen to. The final note of Palladio echoed for a good 5 seconds.

I seriously considered removing my hearing aids and putting in earplugs to make it easier to follow the conductor.

Complaint 3

The stage in the venue is a personal injury lawsuit waiting to happen. The rear of the stage is a 3-foot drop-off with no rail or back-stop. I spent the entire performance worrying about the possibility of scooting my chair over the edge.

The “award-winning” venue was (I won’t grace the place with a link.)

Under the circumstances, the performers actually did a good job, despite what amounted to musical torture. Too bad that the audience was not able to tell.

I really hope we never book that venue again.

Saturday, June 2nd, 2012

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Sunday, December 11th, 2011

The Fall recital got put off due to various circumstances (one of which was my change in employment) until almost Winter! Indeed, it has been cold enough the past few nights to finally kill off the mosquitoes! But Winter doesn’t begin officially until next week, so I still made in under the wire. It will be Thursday at 6:30pm.

Those of you who subscribe to my newsletter have already seen this, but it’s definitely timely and worth repeating:


What is it about performing for a crowd that makes us nervous? Shaking hands, sweating, thumping heart, flushing, or a number of other things seem to conspire to make it harder to perform.

In reality, the folks who are coming to hear you at your recital are your supporters. They wish you well. They aren’t there to chase you down or beat you up. But you still feel a “fight or flight” response.

Here are some tips that will help with recital nerves:

  • Be prepared! Practice the hard parts until they aren’t hard any more. If you haven’t, you’ll know you aren’t really ready, and that will make it worse. In addition to having your piece well-prepared, make sure you have everything you need before you make the trip to the recital hall. Pack an extra set of strings! I always take an extra bow, even though I very rarely need one. But having it there “just in case” is a good feeling. Be sure to pack a soft cloth or handkerchief to use to dry your hands just before you go on stage.
  • Practice performing. This is part of being prepared, but is often neglected. The recital should not be your first attempt to perform the piece. Play it for your friends and family. Play it for the video recorder.
  • Remind yourself that you are “showing off.” After all, you’ve done a lot of hard work getting prepared, and you deserve the opportunity to show off.
  • Give yourself permission to make some mistakes. Nobody’s perfect. When I practice the hard parts, I usually come up with a “plan B” that I can use just in case I flub. Having a “plan B” actually reduces the chance that you will need it!
  • If you make a mistake, just pick up and go on. Don’t dwell on it, and don’t let it cause you to stumble to a halt. Most of your audience doesn’t know your piece, so they might not even notice if you left a note out, or reversed something.
  • Focus. Focusing is sometimes easier if you make a conscious effort to listen and coordinate with your accompanist or your duet partner. In fact, in my own experience, duets are less nerve-wracking than solos simply because I’m too busy communicating with my performance partner to think about getting nervous.
  • Dress appropriately. Don’t wear anything that is uncomfortably tight, especially shoes! But make sure your look is appropriate for the venue. For my recitals, that means a nice dress for the girls, and slacks and dress shirt for the boys (tie optional).
  • Relax. Force yourself to take several slow, complete breaths. Do some simple stretches.
  • Slow down. In performance, most folks tend to play faster than they really intended. Deliberately slow down and work on making your rhythm very precise. Take advantage of the fact that a precise rhythm sounds faster to the audience than it does to you.
  • Perform! Stand up in a manner that says you are proud of what you are doing. Hold your head high, and don’t slump your shoulders. Finish with a flourish, and take a bow!


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Tuesday, July 12th, 2011

Could It Be B12?

by Sally Pacholok

Some background: I have had some minor hearing loss that has bothered me for several years. In fact, I’ve been aware of some hearing loss since the early 70’s. Due to the pattern of the loss being worse at very low and very high frequencies, I have some trouble hearing the pitch of piano notes more than an octave below middle-C, and some of the higher passages of some of the major violin concertos sound “out of tune” to me. The latter is very unlikely, since anyone who can play the Beethoven or Brahms concertos is probably not going to play the high notes out of tune. I recall having trouble with playing a cello about 6 years ago, because I couldn’t hear the pitch accurately on the C string. At the time, I just thought it was because the instrument was a cheap one. I even had a little problem hearing the pitch of the viola C string, which is only a fifth below the pitch span of my main instrument, the violin.

On our recent low-carb cruise, my wife picked up a book by Sally Pacholok, R.N., B.S.N., and Jeffry Stuart, D.O., entitled Could it be B12? It looked pretty interesting, so I ended up reading it before she did. I was pretty skeptical about the subject of the book (subtitle: “An Epidemic of Misdiagnoses”), but as I delved into the book, I concluded, despite the anecdotal nature of most of the evidence cited, that the authors had an important point to make.

Vitamin B12 is an essential vitamin of which the human body needs a relatively tiny amount. However, without that tiny amount of B12, the body does not function well, and exhibits symptoms that are commonly confused with other (many of which are incurable) diseases.

I think the book is a bit longer than it needs to be, but it was an entertaining and educational read. The main points of the book:

  • B12 deficiency can be devastating, even ‘sub-clinical’ deficiencies.
  • B12 deficiency can be positively identified easily and inexpensively.
  • B12 deficiency can be treated easily and inexpenively.
  • B12 is completely safe, so taking large doses of it will do no harm even if you don’t need it.

Based on that information, I decided to try taking large-dose sub-lingual B12. I started taking 2500 mcg/day about a month ago. I didn’t notice anything really remarkable for a while. I did feel a little better, but that could be placebo effect, or just the additional exercise I’ve been getting by riding my bicycle to work (6 miles). But a couple of weeks ago, I noticed a change that was very startling — and can’t be written off as placebo effect.

At my piano lesson a couple of weeks ago, I noticed that I could actually hear the pitch of the low notes on my teacher’s piano! That was totally unexpected, and when I got home, I drug out a recording of the Beethoven violin concerto and listened to it. I could hear the high notes correctly! Then I picked up my viola and played some scales and arpeggios on the C string. They sounded clearer than I had ever before heard them!

I don’t know for sure whether it was B12 that made the difference. But the difference is quite profound, and B12 was the only major change I made in my routine in the preceding two weeks. I can say that it definitely didn’t hurt anything! I find myself wondering how much difference this would have made in my musical career if I had discovered it four decades ago.