Contemplation for a Day Off

In our culture of relentless competition and constant work, we can sometimes loose the sense of contemplation. The need to excel, to be the best, to accomplish more every day can sometimes cause us anxiety and a sense of bewilderment even in the midst of success. What is important for the human soul is to take time to switch from one way of being to another, back and forth from discursive to contemplative thought.

In the book “Leisure, the Basis of Culture”, Josef Pieper says,

“The Middle Ages drew a distinction between the understanding as ratio and the understanding as intellectus. Ratio is the power of discursive, logical thought, of searching and of examination, of abstraction, of definition and drawing conclusions. Intellectus,on the other hand, is the name for the understanding in so far as it is the capacity of simplex intuitus, of that simple vision to which truth offers itself like a landscape to the eye. The faculty of mind, man’s knowledge, is both these in one, according to antiquity and the Middle Ages, simultaneously ratio and intellectus; and the process of knowing is the action of the two together. The mode of discursive thought is accompanied and impregnated by an effortless awareness, the contemplative vision of the intellectus, which is not active but passive, or rather receptive, the activity of the soul in which it conceives that which is sees”. Josef Pieper, “Leisure, the Basis of Culture”, English translation by Alexander Dru, (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2009) 28.

Pieper goes on to say how in the Middle Ages, ratio was held to be a human experience whereas intellectus was considered beyond human, touching the spiritual. If we find ourselves rushing even when we have not much to do, feeling anxious, then it could be time to rest and take in rather than give out, to experience beauty around us rather than try to own and control it. This takes a renunciation of ego, a letting go of the familiar, and an acceptance of the unknown, the mysterious.

Does this happen to you? I like to listen to the classical station while driving around in the car & often catch myself “working” and analyzing the music. I’ll start off by guessing who the composer is, what genre and period of history it comes from, how well the musicians are performing, wether or not they’re playing in as historically informed way, whether or not I could perform the piece and what it would take to learn it. Then I often start thinking of current projects that need to get done.This probably happens all the time to people in other fields as well. We go along unconsciously analyzing minute details. The suddenly something so beautiful bursts in and demands our attention and awe. Being aware of the different ways of thinking can allow us to switch from one to the other and so be able to see beauty in its more subtle manifestations. Discursive thinking is important, for it helps us to get down to the technical aspects of things and allows us to make things work and to make progress, but our thinking process should not be strictly analytical. We should also allow ourselves to experience of the beautiful essence of creation that is all around us, a beauty that is just out of reach of the analytical mind. To enter into the spirit of true art, to allow the beauty of creation to permeate our being, to accept the goodness around us, this is what our souls long for. We should have time each day for this.

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Valverde Performing Arts

If you live in the Ranch area and are interested in taking violin lessons, I’ve just started teaching at the Valverde School of Performing Arts located at 8217 Rochester Ave. Rancho Cucamonga, CA 91730. Valverde is an artistic, creative, and family-oriented school that offers classes for dance and music. It has been owned and operated by the Valverde family since 2005 and the school has just moved to a beautiful new facility. I’m very excited to be teaching at the school. Right now I’m there on Monday afternoons. You can check out Valverde School of Performing Arts at http://vspa.net/index.html.

“The Road” St Patrick’s Day Premiere

This St Patrick’s Day was awesome! Friends and family and String Theory all were over at my house! We were able to perform our new piece, “The Road” and get a video for you to see. It was really fun to write this piece, with and idea here and an idea there. It all came together in the end and I’m super grateful to String Theory for making it sound amazing! I hope you enjoy it! For more information about our group String Theory, you can visit our website at stringtheoryquartet.net.  Here’s the world premiere of “The Road”:

Lyrics

Verse 1:

Give me the sun and a song and a road

and I can go a long long way,

but where will I go if I leave you behind?

For you say I must go,

But my heart says to stay,

Chorus 1:

So come, come along!

What is to stop us?

Leave it behind.

This first step we take together

will start our journey home.

Verse 2:

Together we’ll walk through the warmth and the cold

the dark and the light and in between,

For the story never ends until everything gets told

and everything gets told in the end,

Chorus 2

So come, come take my hand,

Onward we go now to start the dance

as our dreams come together

and our story becomes our home!

Verse 3:

All that I’ve ever wanted in life

was someone to love with my whole heart,

But who would have dreamed that you’d come today!

Let’s step onto the road

and we’ll be on our way!

Chorus 3

And here, here we are!

We’ll watch the sunrise

break into day

and the road that’s stretched before us

will guide us on our journey home!

Violin Tip No. 1: The Art of Listening

While going about my daily business, I like to make connections between different experiences and ideas. Since music mirrors life, I believe these discoveries will prove thought provoking to many people, not just violinist, so I’m going to be writing down them down under the title, “Violin Tip No…..” This is the first of such articles. I hope you find them intriguing. Feel free to comment and add your own thoughts 🙂

Teaching is exciting for a number of reasons, not the least of which are the frequent life-altering discoveries that are made while teaching children apparently simple exercises and lessons. This happened today in a way I’d like to share and remember. We started talking about the “art of listening”. When we’re studying music, there are two (there are more, but for practical purposes we’ll discuss two) main ways we can listen. They are 1) just listening to the sound coming out of the violin and 2) listening to the music in your head and imagining how you want it to sound. These two ways of listening go hand-in-hand. We can improve every day when we compare what we are really hearing to what we are imagining. When the sounds are alike, we know we want to do more of the same. When they are different i.e. when what’s coming out of the violin doesn’t line up with what we are imagining, we can objectively see the aspects that need improvement. This is a reason why, when studying music, it’s important to listen to other artists and also to use your own imagination so as to gain a clear picture of the sound you wish to capture.

I explained this concept of listening to my students today. All of them were under the age of ten. They already knew a bunch of stuff to listen for, but would need to be reminded again and again. This time I gave them the word for today’s lesson, “listen”. I told them about the two ways of listening and then told them, “Now play your piece and listen to the sounds”. After I would ask, “What did you like?” They gave answers like, “Oh, my sound was good”, or “This spot was smooth”, or “My intonation was good right here”. “Good”, I said, “I noticed that too. So you can continue to do more of those things. Now what did you notice that you would like to make better?” Then they’d say things like, “This spot was hard” or “It was squeaky” etc. Then I’d ask what we could do to make it better and gave some suggestions. The exciting part about all this was that they are now teaching themselves and all I have to do is guide them.

Life can be amazing when we listen. To just contemplate things that go on around us, to take in what another person is really saying, to ask if you are comprehending their meaning, this gives depth and connection to our lives and our world. We have so much in our own heads sometimes, it’s refreshing to sometimes just sit back and really listen.

What’s the Difference Between a Violin and a Fiddle?

This is a really good question. Violinists get asked it a lot. The answer is really quite fun. Here’s a violin:

Here’s a fiddle:

How can one instrument be two things? It’s kinda’ like a ballerina who dances swing on the weekends. The word “violin” can be associated with a variety of styles such as the romantic violin concertos, symphonies, operas, and string quartets of the 18th and 19th centuries as well as the art music of the 20th and 21st centuries. Terms such as violin, violon, and violetta can be found as long ago as 1530 in Italy and France. It is unclear at what point these terms were used to describe the true violin as we know it, but iconography shows that the violin did exist in Northern Italy as early as 1530 (David D. Boyden, “The History of Violin Playing from its Origins to 1761”,Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990, 8). What is really funny thing about this topic is the fact that today the word “violin”, as opposed to the fiddle, is often associated with a sort of eliteness, sophistication, and even pride. But in the early days of the instrument, it was not seen that way at all. Here is a quote by Philibert Jambe de Fer from his Epitome musical, Lyon, of 1556:

“We call viols those with which gentlemen, merchants, and other virtuous people pass their time…The other type is called violin; it is commonly used for dancing…I have not illustrated the said violin because you can think of it as resembling the viol, added to which there are few persons who use it save those who make a living from it through their labour.” (Boyden, 4).

The violin is a beautiful instrument because for centuries it has been used by people from around the world to express the unique musical language of their own cultures. It is a very sincere instrument, much like the human voice. For this reason, the violin can be found in concert halls as well as in pubs.  The lines between “folk” and “art” music are extremely vague at times because they really express the same thing: the human experience. But you can take extreme examples, say an Italian opera aria and an Irish hornpipe, and see that they have some striking differences. The former would be associated with the term “violin” and the later with “fiddle”. Today the word “fiddle” is used for traditional Irish music, blue grass, and country music. The word “violin” applies to many different styles including classical, jazz, movie music, rock and pop. Same instrument, different styles of music.

Here’s a fun comparison of the violin and fiddle. Every professional violinist has probably played Pachelbel’s Canon at least one hundred times. Here’s a beautiful rendition of it done by a good violinist friend of mine and the Pasadena Strings:

Here’s the same piece played in the Irish fiddle style: