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Wednesday, June 15, 2011

NOI, Day 13

Today in addition to our usual orchestra rehearsal time we had masterclasses, divided into groups by orchestra section. Since I'm playing first violin for this week's cycle of Mahler, Beethoven, and Pintscher, I was in the first violin group masterclass with Emmanuelle Boisvert. Seven violinists played today, and frankly, I was glad I hadn't volunteered to play when I saw how the masterclass was run. Instead of the students just playing whatever excerpt or two they had prepared, Ms. Boisvert ran the masterclass like a real audition, even making everyone play a little Mozart, part of a standard concerto, and some Bach, which no one had really prepared for. She had all of us fill out comment sheets for each person that played, too, and then went over all the comments as well as her own after all seven students had finished playing. It was pretty intense; I would have been so nervous to play!

One of my comments, for Caitlin, who played the opening of Mozart's 4th violin concerto, was that I thought she ought to start her trills from the upper note rather than the lower note in keeping with standard performance practice. When Ms. Boisvert read my comment (they were all kept anonymous), she exclaimed,

"Yes! I thought this too! You were about to make me scream with your trills! Of course you must start them from the upper note!"

{Poor Caitlin!}

Then, later in the masterclass, Ms. Boisvert declared,

"Taking an audition is the hardest thing there is. Playing a concerto with orchestra is easier. Having your wisdom teeth removed without anesthesia is easier."

While I've never taken any extremely competitive auditions for major symphony orchestras, if today's masterclass was any indication, I certainly believe her. When she delivered her comments and suggestions to students, it was like this:

"More accent. Do it again. No, more accent still! Again. Your D is too low. Again. Articulate the A better. Again. I can't hear the second note in that sixteenth passage clearly. Again. Start on the string. Try it again. Less bow. Again. Closer to the bridge. Again. Vibrate the E. Again. No, vibrate the E! Again!"

{And all this for about two measures of music, played by a student who plays very well.}

Makes you wonder if we musicians are crazy, willingly subjecting ourselves time and again to this kind of criticism, and then locking ourselves in practice rooms for hours on end. Here at the festival, and at my grad school, and at music schools across the country, it's normal to us to hear teachers saying things like, "Acceptable," or "Somewhat better," or "That wasn't too terrible." It's normal to have our playing, a very personal expression of ourselves, picked apart note by note by difficult teachers who encourage us at times but also push us to always do better. It all seems normal to us. Do teachers in other disciplines work with young engineers or students of literature like this? I wonder.


  1. I can answer for teachers of literature - nope. I had some pushback from professors in grad school, but nothing close to what you're describing!

  2. Anonymous6:45 PM

    "That wasn't too terrible"---I'd be in tears. You are very brave to go through such treatment!