Violinist and Teacher in Grand Prairie, Texas

Celtic Fiddler

Friday, October 1st, 2010

Saturday evening, my wife and I went to hear Mariusz Patyra play the Paganini Violin Concerto #1 in D Major. It was an interesting evening.

Mr. Patyra immediately struck me as an interesting character, with just his appearance. He is tall and thin, and has a slight resemblance to John de Lancie (“Q” in Star Trek TNG) with an Art Garfunkel hairdo. He wore an Erroll Flynn-style flying-collared shirt with a mismatched coat & pants that were about 3 inches too long, giving the appearance that he had been dressed against his will. The appearance was quite comical.

However, given the piece he was going to play, and given the fact that the Plano Symphony is a very good orchestra, I figured he could handle it.

He turned out a superb performance. But you had to close your eyes to get the best effect, because he basically just stood still and played (a lot like Heifetz did). With eyes closed, however, you could easily forget that you weren’t listening to Heifetz. He was simply world-class. The audience gave him a standing ovation at the end of the first movement (some folks consider that a breach of etiquette; you are supposed to wait until the whole piece is over), and another after the end of the third movement.

My Patyra then gave an encore. I did not understand the name of the piece, nor did I recognize it. It was far less technically challenging than the Paganini, but an excellent piece to demonstrate the gorgeous tone of his “Il Cannone” 1742 copy made in Dallas in 2000 by John B. Erwin.

The remainder of the evening was not nearly so memorable. After the intermission, we heard Rossini’s Overture to William Tell, followed by Respighi’s Roman Festival. The PSO is a fine orchestra (you can close your eyes and forget that it’s not the Dallas Symphony Orchestra), and the William Tell Overture was enjoyable, but Mr. Patyra’s performance was a tough act to follow.

I did not particularly enjoy the Respighi piece. That’s not because the PSO did a poor job on it — they played quite well. I just don’t care for the piece. To me, it isn’t really music, it’s just a long collection of only marginally-related sounds, and I found myself wishing that I had gone home early in order to get some extra sleep.

I could have gone home after listening to the Paganini, and felt like I’d gotten more than my money’s worth.

Friday, May 21st, 2010

Just got back home from a concert at a local middle school, Robinson Middle School here in Plano, Texas. It was, to say the least, an interesting experience. I had not previously bothered to go to a middle- or high-school orchestra concert in Plano simply because I didn’t think it would be worth my time to go hear a bunch of youngsters scraping bows on strings. But since I have 3 private students in two of the Robinson Middle School orchestras, I promised them I would attend tonight’s concert.

A little perspective: Back in the 60’s, when I was in high school in El Paso (population about 250,000 at the time), my high school (Irvin) had about 1400 students, grades 8-12. Of those 1400 students, about 100 of them played a musical instrument, and most of those were in the band, not the orchestra. The orchestra of which I was concertmaster consisted of about 30 students.

Now fast forward to May of 2010 in Plano, Tx (population about 270,000, in about 1/3rd the area of El Paso). Robinson Middle School (3 grades) has just over 1000 students. Nearly 25% of them play a musical instrument, about 80% of those being strings. Of the 5 orchestras that I saw this evening, one of them was about on the same level as the 8th-grade orchestra at Irvin, one was about the same level as the “advanced” orchestra, and the other three were much better.

In 1969’s El Paso, I was a stand-out as a high school violinist. Here in 2010’s Plano, I wouldn’t have been anything particularly special. I’m going to have to get out to more local school concerts.

Saturday, May 15th, 2010

Back when I was studying violin as a teen, the way you got sheet music was to go down to the local music store, usually with the name of the piece that your teacher just told you to get written down on a piece of paper, and look it up. If they didn’t have it in stock, you would go to one of the clerks in the store, and ask to have it special-ordered for you. Over a period of about 15 years, I spent over $1000 on sheet music, most of which I still have, although it’s not in very good shape after all these years. That would be the equivalent of about $10,000 in today’s money, if not more.

To replace nearly all of that sheet music today would cost — about $100. That’s not a typo, and I didn’t accidentally leave out a couple of zeros. In fact, I have bought a collection of sheet music that not only replaces about 80% of my paper collection, but more than triples the number of pieces in my collection, all for about $80, from an outfit called These folks sell public domain music (in collections that they have copyrighted, licensed, and made a bit cumbersome to access, which I regard as a bit tacky) on CDROMs, for about $20 each (plus shipping). For all of the tacky trappings, just a few of those CDROMs will furnish you most of the material you will need to study for decades — for practically any instrument. So, I regard that as a pretty good deal, and I recommend those folks to all of my violin and viola students once they get close to the end of Essential Elements 2000 Book 2 for violin or Essential Elements 2000 Book 2 for viola. I don’t get any commission for recommending, although if you get the Essential Elements books through my link at Amazon, I do make a little commission from that.

As good a resource as is, I have recently found one much better: Virtual Sheet Music – Classical Sheet Music Downloads. For $38, you can download as many items from their collection as you want — for a year, after which they want $25/year. While they don’t have everything that CDSheetmusic has, they do have some things that doesn’t, and they are adding new stuff all the time. In addition to the PDF of the sheet music you are after, you can also get an MP3 recording, and MIDI files. You can use those MIDI files to get your computer to play accompaniments for you, and vary the speed to your needs. For me, that’s a BIGGIE.

I signed up last week, and I really wish I’d done it a couple of months ago. I did the 1st movement of the Bach Double along with Leann Cupp (who I am currently recommending as a teacher because my own teaching schedule is completely full) at my last recital, and due to our busy schedules, we didn’t get as much rehearsal time together as we really wanted. One of the first things I downloaded was the Bach Double. The MIDI files would have enabled both of us to practice along with the complementary part on our own schedules. Oh, well… We plan to do all three movements of the Double at my Fall recital, and those MIDI files will help us a lot. Disclaimer: If you buy anything from via my link, I get a commission. But I joined their affiliate program because I like the product, not the other way around.

Wednesday, May 5th, 2010

I have been taking piano lessons from a teacher in Plano (from an eccentric old man who is an excellent teacher, named Leon) for a couple of years now. I initially wanted to be able to handle simple accompaniments for my violin students, but I quickly found that the real value of my piano lessons has been the increased empathy I have for what my own students have to go through. I have been through two recitals, one of which went quite well, and one of which I did quite poorly. The poor performance was primarily due to attempting a piece that was beyond my then-current technique, the “Moonlight” Sonata, by Beethoven.

I have since spent a lot more time working on this piece, and I will be performing it again in recital Tuesday evening, May 18th, 2010, in downtown Dallas. I expect that I will do substantially better this time. I will also be doing a more modern composition that is a bit simpler. While working on the “Moonlight”, I got interested in the “backstory”. I found one such tale in a blog post here.

The story in “Echoes of Childhood Stories” is nice, poignant, and romantic, but apocryphal. There are several such stories (including one I found in Wikipedia, but which has been recently edited out of that article) which vary substantially from the one documented by the composer (Beethoven was a fairly prolific letter-writer).

The one from Wikipedia went like this: “Allegedly, the piece came about when Beethoven heard music coming from a house, which he recognized as one of his compositions. When he entered the house, he found a blind girl playing the piano, although she wished someone would show her how to play the song correctly. He offered to play it for her, and when he finished, she realized who it was. He then improvised the sonata, inspired by the moonlight streaming in through the window, and, after offering to give the girl piano lessons, rushed home to write the music down while he still remembered it.”

Another story I heard (don’t have a source for it) was that Beethoven was caught lurking in the moonlight outside the house of a young woman with whom he was infatuated, and was brought into the house by a couple of male relatives of the young lady. The young lady was a pupil of Beethoven’s, and she told the two men who were planning to take Beethoven to the authorities for “peeping” that he was ok. They required him to “prove” that he was really the great pianist and composer, and sat him down at the piano, where he allegedly improvised the “Moonlight” sonata.

The real story, as found in Beethoven’s correspondence, is also romantic, but somewhat more mundane. The “Moonlight” sonata did not get its present name until after Beethoven’s death. It was originally composed in 1801 with the title “Quasi una fantasia” and dedicated to Countess Giulietta Guicciardi, one of Beethoven’s students. He proposed marriage to Giulietta, and she was willing, but her father nixed the idea, referring to Beethoven as a mediocre musician of low birth with no backing and no future.

“Quasi una fantasia” was immensely popular during the composer’s lifetime, somewhat to his irritation. He wrote in a letter to his contemporary in Austria, Carl Czerny, that “Surely I have written better music than that!”

In 1836, German music critic Ludwig Rellstab wrote that the sonata (at least the 1st movement, anyway) reminded him of the reflected moonlight off Lake Lucerne. “Moonlight Sonata” became the best-known title of the piece.

Saturday, April 17th, 2010

Hello, world! I am a professional violinist and teacher, and I will be using this blog to talk about items of interest to me in that role. I hope that I will find some other readers that find my musings of interest.

I’m also learning about blogging and internet stuff as I go, so there will be frequent changes in appearance, etc. First item is to find a WordPress theme that looks a bit less hokey than the default that came with the installation.

Since I’m also a programmer (I do high-performance graphics tools in C++ for a living), I really don’t have much of an excuse for not doing my own — and I am in the process of learning how to do WordPress templates. But I’m not quite there yet. So I will probably buy one (if I can find one I like for a reasonable price). If you have a favorite template to recommend, I would welcome you to mention it in the comments.

A word about comments, and comment spam. I am going to set the blog up so that you will have to register to leave a comment, and your first comment will be moderated. Also, comments with 2 or more links will be moderated. And if I get a registration with a bogus email address, I will simply delete it. I plan to check pretty much every day, so your first comment should appear within 24 hours. Thank you for your patience.