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Orchestral Violin Practice Challenge: My goals for the next two years

One of the things I absolutely love about playing the violin is playing orchestral music. I love the variety of repertoire that it brings – from Bach Cantatas to Tchaikovsky Symphonies, Bizet’s suites, and modern, cutting edge compositions. Orchestral playing, and the violin practice that goes with it, is constantly interesting and challenging.

Rehearsing with the Bendigo Symphony Orchestra

When I was going through my Bachelor of Music, I loved orchestral playing. I even did a research project on what was required to win an orchestral violin position in an Australian orchestra. But my playing was never at the stage where I could consider applying for an audition, let alone winning that audition.

I went away from music for a few years, but now I’m back – currently studying to be a High School music teacher. I’ve got two years of study to go, so I’m setting myself a goal.

In two years, I want my playing to be at a stage where I could feel confident in applying for an audition. I’m not going to say that I’m going to win that audition – but to borrow a line from a hit musical, “I want to be in the room where it happens.”

What’s required?

So to start with, let’s look at what’s required for an Orchestral Violin audition.

First, you generally need to have two violin concertos prepared. These are broken up into two categories. The first is a Mozart Concerto – by which they will either specify, or at least expect either the Fourth concerto in D Major, or the Fifth concerto in A Major. The second category is either a Romantic or Twentieth Century concerto. These have a bit more flexibility in them, and do allow for a bit more choice, but most audition panels would be expecting to hear the Tchaikovsky or Sibelius Violin Concertos.

Then you are required to play some orchestral excerpts, which allows them to see how you might fit in to the individual stylistic playing of the orchestra. Over the many years of orchestral auditions, there have been a number of excerpts that have proven themselves to be required more often than others. As a result, even though you may not get a list of required excerpts until the audition is announced, or even closer to the audition date, you can still prepare these excerpts knowing that it is likely they will be included.

Reviewing where I’m at now

When I consider my own playing and my own repertoire that I know at the moment, there are a few things that are missing. I’ve learnt the fourth concerto by Mozart, and I refreshed it in 2020. However, I’ve not really learnt any of the major romantic concerti. And while my head knowledge remains relatively fresh, a lot of my technique has slipped. And if I’m to seriously tackle the Tchaikovsky concerto, then I need to address the weakest part of my playing – my double stops.

Difficulties ahead

A Bendigo Symphony Orchestra chamber music rehearsal

When taking on any challenge, it’s important to note the things that can get in the way, or make it more difficult. Firstly, I’m heading into full time study this year, which is no easy feat on its own, but my studies will see me be required to complete three month-long practicums – two this year, one next year. That will take up a lot of my time, and mean that finding time for my violin practice will be difficult. Secondly, I have three kids, one who is diagnosed ASD, and one who is undergoing diagnosis. As such, there are a lot of appointments and therapy sessions to attend to. And while this is an important challenge to me, my family will always come first.

As such, I’ve come up with a plan for my violin practice that I feel is achievable despite these time constraints, however, it will still enough of a challenge that it will stretch me. I’ve divided it up into semesters, but in other words it means the first half of the year, and the second half of the year.

The Goal

Semester 1Semester 2
2021Polish Mozart 4
Learn Mendelssohn
Technique focus on Double Stops
Excerpts: Bach St Matthew Passion; Beethoven Symphony 2, 3 and 9; Mozart Symphony 35 and 39
Polish Mendelssohn
Learn Mozart 5
Technique focus on tone production
Excerpts: Brahms Symphony 1 and 4, and Variations on a Theme by Haydn; Elgar Enigma Variations; Prokofiev Symphony 1; Shostakovich Symphony 1
All 2021Kreutzer and Fiorillo Etudes
2022Polish Mozart 5
Learn Tchaikovsky
Technique focus on intonation
Excerpts: Prokofiev Symphony 5; Rimsky-Korsakov Scheherazade Solos; Strauss Don Juan; Tchaikovsky Symphony 4 and 5; Bartok Concerto for Orchestra
Polish Tchaikovsky
Technique focus on bowing
Excerpts: Mahler 3 and 5; Prokofiev Romeo and Juliet Orchestral Suites; Strauss Ein Heldenleben (Solos) and Der Burger als Edelmann (Solos); Tchaikovsky Swan Lake (Solos)
All 2022Rode and Dont etudes

In terms of the amount of violin practice I am able to do, I am aiming to do two hours of practice a day. While that might be a bit of a stretch some days, so it might only be one hour, but that is the aim.

Do it once and do it right!

One of the things that I am really trying to focus in on is learning the right way. So I will also be really looking at my practice techniques, utilising resources such as Practiceopedia by Philip Johnston (no longer in print), Youtube, and others, to improve my practicing and make it as effective and efficient as possible. In time, I’ll be sharing these in my weekly videos as I share what I’ve been working on, how I’ve been working on it, and how well it has worked.

I’m excited to see what this program will be able to do for my playing. Similarly, I am looking forward to what it will do for my teaching. In conclusion, I hope you’ll be able to join me for this journey by subscribing to my YouTube channel. But for now – I need to go and practice.

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Well, I better have a Well-Being Plan

The Salvation Army Training College, Melbourne

I’ve practically finished my first week of orientation at the Training College. We’ve had a lot of different orientations – to uniform, to education, to prayer and more. Yesterday, we had a session called “Coping with Change”. We have all had to go through a big change in order to come to the Training College. At a very basic level, the shift from Perth to Melbourne was a big change. We were discussing yesterday the differences in language that we share – from Milk Bars and Delis, to Stobie Poles and Power Poles and even the way we pronounce Lego.

One thing we did was to create a well-being plan that focussed on some goals in four areas – Physical, Mental, Emotional and Spiritual. By setting goals in these four areas, we can help take control of certain areas of our life so that we can deal with the change better, but also be in a better mental state. Part of the exercise was to write down some names that we would share the plan with so that we can be accountable with it. So I’m going to share my goals with you, and post regularly on how I’m going. Continue reading Well, I better have a Well-Being Plan

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2011 – ever looking forward

I’m really excited about this year. There are lots of exciting things happening in my life. Lots of things that my wife and I have planned. For example, we have a couple of holidays that we’re looking forward to. We’re going to go to Margaret River for a weekend to see Michael Bublé, and we’re looking to go to Melbourne to stay for a week. I’m looking forward to visiting Kalgoorlie for the first time later this month – though I wish I had booked a bit of extra time there so that I could play a round on the Kalgoorlie Golf Course.

Speaking of which, I’m looking forward to playing lots of Golf this year. I’m planning on going every fortnight, and really hoping to get my round scores down. Start shooting more pars and bogies than double bogies and above. I’m also looking forward to getting my weight “below the line” – get down into the “ideal” BMI range.

I’m looking forward to some pretty significant achievements at work – putting together the directory for the Uniting Church for one thing, and developing a few new themes for the congregational website.

I’m also looking forward to progressing down the path towards becoming a Salvation Army officer, and exploring that calling deeper.

And finally, but most importantly, I’m really looking forward to celebrating my first anniversary with my wife. Definitely going to do something super special for that.

What are you looking forward to this year?

Postaday2011 links

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How to walk through Steel-Reinforced Walls

From the Avanoo founders, and thanks to StumbleUpon, I discovered How to Walk Through Steel-Reinforced Walls. While sitting in a coffee shop, this guy decided that instead of teaching a little boy who was trying to walk through walls like Harry Potter that it couldn’t be done, he thought to foster his imagination. He took him through the steps listed, as instructions on how to walk through walls – without actually telling him that it could or couldn’t be done. As fantastic a story as it is, obviously some people just don’t get it – including the mother of the little child, who said that his advice was very irresponsible and that he shouldn’t have kids for a very long time.

Shame on her I say! We should do everything to foster people’s imagination in this day and age. As this blogger pointed out – while something might not be possible now, it may be possible in the future. Who would’ve thought in 1920 that we would have a computer that fits in the palm of your hand. It’s the imagination that drives these things – for someone to say “why can’t it be possible! Why can’t I do that?”
Continue reading How to walk through Steel-Reinforced Walls