Starting in January, I was accepted to participate in Nathan Cole’s Virtuoso Master Course (VMC). To say it’s a major commitment to, and investment in, my violin and viola playing is an understatement. To see the progress I’ve made in 8 weeks is a shock, to me. But not to Nathan’s students.
The thing is, I’m not going into this playing a lot of repertoire. In fact, I’m going backward to go forward. I was fortunate to learn violin in school, with good orchestra teachers. But I did not have the opportunity to seriously study technique until I was in college, and by that time, there were a lot of bad habits I had ingrained, especially in my left hand.
Fast forward twenty years. I nearly lost my ability to play violin and viola after getting Covid in March 2020, which kicked my Spondyloarthritis (undiagnosed until November 2020) into high gear. I did not know what the hell was happening in my body, but it was bad. After getting diagnosed, the first thing I needed to do was get back to violin. I spent months working with my doctors to figure out a treatment plan that would allow me to play. It paid off. Last August, I worked to audition for several orchestras, and I now play frequently in the Hudson Valley and NYC. It’s not without pain, but it is with SO MUCH JOY!!!!
Now, I have something rare. I have the gift of time to slow down, and go back and work on my basics. In the past 8 weeks, I have not focused on hard repertoire (except my orchestra music). The bulk of my practice time is spent in the basics I never experienced – one and two octave scales, played slowly, with beautiful tone, in different positions.
Attention to the placement of the third and fourth fingers of my left hand.
Alignment and hand frame.
After the first four weeks in VMC, I decided the bulk of my practice time will be dedicated to the ugly, unglamorous work of the two octave scale, in all keys. Of Schradieck, played mindfully, attending to the placement of each finger, the way it lifts and returns to the string. The requirement of finger independence AND fingers that will work together as a team.
This is the stuff of violin nerds. The stuff of technicians that, when mastered, seems effortless, and allows the music to shine through because there is control.
Yeah, it’s tempting to go back to survival playing and bad habits. But it’s infinitely more rewarding to go on this journey of building mastery of my technique, of getting the experience I couldn’t get as a kid. And now, I appreciate it more. I have the time and the wisdom to know that slowing down, taking my time, and working intentionally on these basics is the thing that will allow me deep freedom and control over my musical expression. I have been keeping a private practice journal, but the little instagram videos I post show surprising progress in the short time I’ve been in the VMC.
I’m bursting with excitement – I’m so ready to level up my technique and my ability to play violin in the way that reflects how I hear the music in my head! More to come…