Uptown Violins

Dallas - Wichita - Kansas City - Springfield

Early Stringed Instruments

In recent years I have found the history of the violin quite fascinating. In my previous post I explore early violins, particularly those of the 17th and 18th-century Italian masters. Here we take a look at a few of the precursors to the violin.

Ancient Greek lyre: Antiquity, c.14th century B.C.

Greek Lyre: by  Lynxette79, CC-BY

Greek Lyre: by Lynxette79, CC-BY

The ancient Greeks and Romans used beautiful lyres to accompany their vocals. Unlike the violin, these stringed instruments were plucked, as opposed to bowed, more like the modern-day harp (Cizek, 49).

Middle Eastern rebab: early Middle Ages, c. 8th century A.D.

Vielle by Joseph Pajot,  image United States Public Domain

Vielle by Joseph Pajot, image United States Public Domain

This is the earliest known bowed instrument. Similar to the cello, it had an endpin-like spike to secure it to the floor. It served as a precursor to the medieval rebec.

Byzantine lyra: early Middle Ages, c. 10th century

This instrument was constructed in the shape of a pear, and used three to five strings. It was not played under the chin like the violin, but rather upright.

French vièle: Middle Ages

Turkish Spike Fiddle / Rebec

Turkish Spike Fiddle / Rebec

During the middle ages Europeans played vièles—instruments made of three parts: top, bottom, and sides (Cizek, 49). They were larger than the modern violin, usually oval-shaped, and used three to five strings.

Rebec: Middle Ages

The rebec, a descendant of the Middle Easter rebab, was made up of three strings. These instruments were composed of only two parts: the top and a curved underside (Cizek, 49).

Lira da braccio: Renaissance, c. 16th century

Lira da braccio from  KHM

Lira da braccio from KHM

The lira da braccio is usually considered the predecessor to the violin. (Cizek 49) The lira da braccio was a beautiful, precise instrument for its time. It was quite popular during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. Its form resembles that of a woman, which for Renaissance musicians represented the connection between love and music. (Cizek, 51). The f-holes were shaped as Cs instead of Fs. Many of the lira had carvings of faces on the backs and scrolls. They had more strings than the contemporary violin, some with 5 on the fingerboard and an additional 2 off to the side (Cizek, 52).

Viol family: Renaissance and Baroque

At the end of the Middle Ages, the vièle evolved into the viol. The viol family covered a wide range of pitch, similar to the modern string family, from bass to soprano. They were usually divided into two groups based on where the instrument was situated. The viola da gamba was played between the legs like a contemporary cello, and the viola da braccio was placed on the shoulder like the contemporary violin and viola (Cizek, 49).

Viola d’amore: Baroque contemporary of violin: 18th century

Viola d'Amore, US Public Domain

Viola d'Amore, US Public Domain

The viola d’amore were usually composed of seven melodic strings, as well as seven sympathetic strings, and are often considered the most beautiful stringed instruments of all time (53). Their f-holes were carved in the shape of flames, and painted faces often decorated their scrolls. Some of the most renowned luthiers of this genre include Jan Oldrich Eberle and Tomas Ondrej Hulinsky of Prague (Cizek, 53-55).

These beautiful instruments provide a rich history for the birth of the violin in the 17th-century.

Works Cited:

Cizek, Bohuslav, adaptation française de Cécile Boiffin. “Chapitre 2: Instruments À Cordes Frottées.” Instruments de Musique. Édition Gründ, 2003.

The Four Seasons of Music

One of my favorite classical works of all time, Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons has been an inspiration for Uptown Violins for years. The Italian baroque composer wrote this masterpiece around 1716, and it still thrills audiences today. I still remember performing the fast section of the “Spring” with Sherèe in high school as dueling violins. The music also serves as a motif in my current literary work in progress.

A few years ago, Brittany arranged a stunning version of the “Winter” with a surprise contemporary twist halfway through, which we performed for our Alma Mater’s 50th anniversary concert. You can literally hear teeth chattering from the cold!

The Four Seasons of Music Camp has been a hit with students in Indiana, Illinois, Kansas, and this year it made its Texas debut. We began each day by reading part of the adorable children’s book The Story of the Orchestra in order to listen to excerpts from the four concertos. My own daughter loves the story, and it really helps her identify the different movements.

Autum.jpg

We decorated for a different season for each of the four days of camp, beginning with autum. Dressed in Halloween costumes, the students arrived ready to learn more about Vivaldi and other festive works, including the 1940s jazz hit “Autumn Leaves.” Originally written in French as “Les Feuilles Mortes” with lyrics by the famous poet Jacques Prevert, it was translated into English in 1947 by Johnny Mercer.

The second day, we celebrated Christmas in July. The students drank “cold cocoa” (chocolate milk with marshmallows) and played Christmas carols. (Who doesn’t love Christmas music at anytime of the year?) They also played the sweet, slow movement of “Winter.”

Spring.jpg

Learning the iconic “Spring” was the highlight of the third day. The programmatic music features chirping birds, a flowing stream, and a violent thunderstorm, followed by the return of the birds. Many of the students recognized the work and enjoyed having the chance to play it themselves. They also composed their own songs!

We concluded the week in summer attire, which was much needed in the Texas heat. The students played a cumulative musical rendition of the game Volcano Island, their favorite part of the week. In addition to Vivaldi’s “Summer,” we also studied Gershwin’s 1935 folk opera Porgy and Bess which highlights the classic ballad “Summertime,” celebrating “when the livin is easy.”

Group.jpg

To conclude the camp the students gave a beautiful concert for their parents that featured music from all four seasons. For refreshments, they served sugar cookies they had decorated themselves with musical notation.

A few weeks ago, the entire Uptown Violins group enjoyed some “easy livin’ at our favorite vacation spot, Table Rock Lake. We cherish the moments we can all spend together. This month we have a Kansas reunion to celebrate the birthdays of three Uptown Violins next generation members. We certainly love summer!

Stay tuned for our upcoming events this fall!

Under the Sea

IMG_2498.JPG

Next week Uptown Violins is excited to host Vacation Music School in Illinois! Our theme this year, Under the Sea, has been a favorite in previous years in both Kansas and Texas. Each day, we will learn about various sea creatures and some of the most beloved ocean-themed music.

On Monday, we will go for a deep dive into the abyssal zone of the ocean — over 3,000 feet below the surface! Home to dragon fish and occasionally the elusive giant squid, the creatures of this region live in perpetual darkness. Students will listen to Saint-Saens’ “Aquarium”— movement seven of The Carnival of the Animals, composed in 1886. This particular movement is made up of string quartet, two pianos, flute, and glass harmonica. Disney continued to promote its popularity, as film composer Alan Irwin Menken drew inspiration from it for the Prologue to Beauty and the Beast. He also wrote the music to The Little Mermaid whose song “Under the Sea” will be our theme music for the week.

IMG_2502.JPG

Another beloved water-themed work is Handel’s Water Music. Composed in 1717, it is a wonderful example of the Baroque era. This large orchestral work is made up of three suites, including minuets (dances played with three beats per measure), hornpipes (fanfares) and bourrées (dances). King George I commissioned it for a performance on London’s iconic River Thames, festive with fireworks.

Tuesday we will travel to the twilight zone (middle layer) of the ocean, where we will discover whales and sharks. Students will encounter John Williams’ villainous two-note motif from the 1975 horror film Jaws. The music provides the perfect opportunity for young musicians to learn how to ramp up musical tension by beginning slowly, and gradually speeding up the tempo with an accelerando to the shark attack. Williams’ theme sounds similar to Dvorak’s fourth movement of his New World Symphony, composed in 1893 at the National Conservatory of Music of America. And who can teach shark day without singing the now epic Baby Shark, which has been made even more epic by James Cordon and even covered by Céline Dion.

IMG_2503.JPG

On a less ominous note (no pun intended!), we will listen to the beautiful impressionistic sounds of Debussy’s La Mer. The French composer wrote the work between 1903-1905 in three movements. The first depicts dawn to midday on the sea, the second represents ocean waves, and the third shows the communication between wind and sea. Debussy drew his inspiration from the ocean itself, as well as paintings of the sea.

IMG_2493.JPG

Wednesday we will explore the sunlight zone at the surface of the water, home to a vast majority of marine life, including dolphins. We at Uptown Violins love the popular jazz song “Beyond the Sea,” originally composed by Charles Trenet with French lyrics in 1946, in which Trenet depicted the beauty of la mer. Jack Lawrence adapted it for English-speaking audiences the same year, and Bobby Darin immortalized it in his 1959 version of the song.

Vacation Music School will wrap up on Thursday with a virtual trip to the beach where we will learn about turtles, alligators, and seagulls. Of course our study of the beach wouldn’t be complete without a tribute to the sixties’ band “The Beach Boys.” Our twenty-first century students will listen to the classics “Surfin Safari” and “Surfin U.S.A.”

We can’t wait until next week to begin our musical adventure Under the Sea!

Helping [Musicians] Become Artists

Recently I have been enjoying K.M. Weiland’s insightful podcast “Helping Writers Become Authors.” She is a master of fiction writing, as well as a brilliant nonfiction author who mentors other writers in their literary craft.

After listening to her recent inspirational podcast “Helping Authors Become Artists,” I couldn’t help but see how it applies to the art of music in additional to the art of writing.

I recommend reading it (or listening to it, if you scroll to the bottom of the article there is a link to the audio) while following along with my musical parallels. Try substituting the terms “writer” with “violin (or other instrument) player,” “author” with “musician,” and keep the term “artist,” which applies to both authors and musicians alike.

Opening:

 Like K.M. Weiland in her journey as an author, our Uptown Violins blog has helped me chronicle our story as a family of musicians.

I like Weiland’s statement, “If you’re a writer, you’re already an artist… You write, therefore you are a writer,” However, she continues, “the term ‘artist’ connotes something a little bigger, a little grander, a little more dedicated, a little more responsible, and a little more accomplished.” We don’t just want to listen to songs, even if they’re performed accurately. We want something that helps us experience something new and inspirational. “Even in our story-saturated culture, authors are few enough and artists are rare indeed.”

“What an Artist Is—and Is Not”

 “1. An Artist Is… a Master Storyteller”

We have to slave away at our craft to truly master it. Just being talented doesn’t cut it. We have to apply diligence to our music, which comes from daily practice.

“2. An Artist Is… a ‘Poet Soul’”

“The ‘poet soul’ is something special that burns in the hearts of true artists… It is something within that resonates to Beauty and to Truth.”

“3. An Artist Is… a Visionary Mind”

As musicians we need to have a unique vision for our music, as well as the skills needed to accomplish this vision.

“4. An Artist Is Not… Someone Who Is Above The Form”

 Even people who have natural musical talent still need to follow the rules of good positions and proper technique.

“5. An Artist Is Not… a Hack”

“Artists have something to say. They have the ‘artistic vision’ and ‘poet’s soul’ (sometimes in spite of themselves).” Although music is our job, we also do it for a deeper reason. We believe that it has intrinsic value.

“6. An Artist Is Not… a Propagandist”

This one is a little more writing specific, and less applicable to instrumental music. However, it does suggest that we shouldn’t simply use our place as musicians to push our views on others, even though we have a right to those views.

“7. An Artist Is Not… Pretentious”

Weiland admits that there are tons of pretentious artists, but this shouldn’t be the path of a mature artist. Instead, your focus could align with hers. “I want to write something someday that is everything I’ve ever wanted a story to be. It doesn’t have to be famous or even recognized. But I hope someday just to write it… In the practical sense of my ink-stained [black calloused] fingers, I absolutely think of myself as an artist. I pursue integrity in my work. I hone the craft. I have a vision for what I do.” This dedication to the craft makes artistry a lifelong goal.

Closing

 Weiland writes, “Even if the title of “artist” is one you already possess, I encourage you to join me in thinking of it as a calling all its own, one worth striving toward with every word we write.”

As violinists we strive to embody Weiland’s view of artists in our musical endeavors, and I agree that it truly is a calling that we take pride and joy in pursuing.

 If you are looking for some summer reading, I highly recommend you check out K.M. Weiland’s books! She has several of them available in paperback, Kindle, and even a few in audio format for those of us with an auditory bent!

Senior Recital

This month had been a particularly special one for Uptown Violins! Christy Peterson will graduate this May with her Bachelor of Music in Violin Performance. As a result, we all returned to Baylor University to attend her fabulous senior recital on April 7th.

Christy began on a light note with Beethoven’s lovely Sonata No. 8, which she performed beautifully. She contrasted this classical era work with Debussy’s impressionistic Violin Sonata, a favorite among all the Peterson girls. Composed in 1917, Debussy performed it on the piano himself at the premiere shortly before his death in 1918.

Christy continued the French theme, performing the formidable Carmen Fantasy, Sarasate’s violin take on Bizet’s famous opera. Flashy and deceptively difficult, Christy personified the gypsy Carmen herself in her stunning red dress. (Her mother Allison had the opportunity to play the Carmen opera this past weekend, so it seems to be a favorite this year!)

Lastly, Christy ended the recital on her electric violin playing a classical/contemporary music mashup with sister Brittany. They began with a duet version of French composer Ravel’s gypsy work Tzigane, followed by a funky pop mix.

The entire recital was phenomenal, and we are so incredibly proud of Christy. Her teacher, Dr. Eka Gogichashvili, taught all five of us over the past 16 years, and we are so grateful to her for all of her instruction, as well as the time and dedication of our mother to help us all achieve our goal of performing our collegiate senior recitals!

Bravo Christy!

Sleeping Beauty

Attach1644_20190403_221741.jpg

On March 31, 2019 my daughter Annalise and I had the opportunity to see Tchaikovsky’s ballet Sleeping Beauty performed live by the Millikin-Decatur Symphony Orchestra in collaboration with the Alabama Ballet. They did a phenomenal job, and I especially enjoyed hearing a friend of mine play the beautiful violin solos as the concertmaster of the pit orchestra. This was also a special event for us because it was my daughter’s first time to see a ballet performed live, and she is obsessed with Disney’s 1959 film Sleeping Beauty.

Attach1645_20190403_221847.jpg

The fairy tale has quite a rich history, beginning in the 14th century, and continuing into the 21st. During my graduate French studies, I had the opportunity to read 17th century French author Charles Perrault’s version of the fairy tale, which largely inspired Tchaikovsky’s 19th century work. Perrault told a wild tale of a king and queen who finally had their first child, a baby girl. They invited several fairy godmothers to the celebration of her birth, where they bestowed gifts on the princess. However, an old evil fairy, jealous that she had not been invited, cast a spell on the princess, saying that she would prick her finger on the spindle of a spinning wheel and die. Fortunately, the last fairy came to the aid of the princess, changing the curse from death to a hundred-year slumber that she could only awaken from by the kiss of a prince. Consequently, the princess did indeed prick her finger and slept for one hundred years, until a prince came to wake her and make her his bride. Perrault continues into a bizarre second half of the story, which was not included in the ballet. (As strange as it was, Perrault’s account was still a “more wholesome” version than the 14th century tale which inspired him!)

Attach1646_20190403_222647.jpg

Tchaikovsky’s ballet and the 1959 Disney film share many similarities, including much of Tchaikovsky’s original music. Maleficent’s ominous leitmotif adequately injects fear into the best of us (and I’m afraid our little ones as well!) Like my daughter now, I grew up watching the film, which was my first introduction to Tchaikovsky’s music. My sisters and I particularly enjoyed dressing up as the three good fairies: Flora, Fauna, and Meriwether. Our favorite character was the blue fairy Meriwether, who plays the sarcastic, mischievous fairy who also casts the counter curse to Maleficent’s evil spell. In Tchaikovsky’s original, the blue fairy gives the gift of mischief, whereas the lilac fairy casts the counter curse and continues as the force of good throughout the rest of the story.

In middle school, I had the opportunity to perform part of the ballet in orchestra, which was incredibly challenging as it was my first time to play “serious” orchestral music. It certainly was not an easy debut, but it deepened my love for the tale and the epic music of the composer.

This mysterious fairy tale still captures the attention of audiences today, with Disney’s 2014 dark fantasy Maleficent and its upcoming sequel, Maleficent: Mistress of Evil set to release in October, 2019. However, I will always have an affinity for the original Disney classic that first helped me fall in love with the story.

TwoSet is Coming to Dallas!!

***ANNOUNCEMENT!!!***

TwoSet Violin Comedians are coming to Dallas March 18th at Irving Arts Center!

For classically trained violinists, the Australian duo TwoSet with Brett and Eddie is always a favorite. Their hilarious interpretations of various songs, pedagogical techniques, levels of music appreciation, etc. keep us laughing.

A few days ago I enjoyed seeing their serious side as they made a video involving a couple of one-armed violinists. In the video they show a lady playing absolutely beautifully with incredible tone, but surprisingly with a prosthetic arm. It is amazing to hear the smoothness of her bow changes in spite of her alternative method of playing. She looks so happy to have the opportunity to play.

TwoSet also shows a clip of a man playing using a stump arm, performing some of the hardest violin material ever written. They express their amazement at the extent to which people will go in order to keep their ability to play. It is worth asking, what is it that causes musicians to overcome great odds and challenges so that they can continue to play?

As TwoSet mentions in their post, some things can only be expressed through the musical medium. The violin incorporates both the left and right hemispheres of the brain, so it engages the analytical as well as the emotional parts of the brain. Classical music often follows specific forms, which resemble the hero path employed by authors when creating stories. In the Exposition, the hero sets off on a path to find new adventure. During the development he faces many obstacles that have to be overcome in order to win the prize. Lastly, in the Recapitulation, the hero returns to his place of origin, but he is forever changed by his experiences. When playing music, we are able to explore our own hero path and share our story with others. We can tell the story of overcoming hardship and beating the odds.

I agree with TwoSet that these musical geniuses in this video can inspire us to take advantage of the times when we can practice, and be grateful for every moment we get to play our instrument. For those of us who know what it is to have our instrument taken away from us for a time, due to injury or otherwise, we also experience the gift of music on a greater level when we get it back, because we don’t take it for granted.

Beginning Violin!

IMG_4279.jpg

We at Uptown Violins are passionate about teaching, and one of our joys is seeing the excitement on the faces of new students starting the instrument for the first time! It is wonderful to watch them discover a whole new world of music that they didn’t know before.

When we have particularly young students, we begin using a box violin, often consisting of a Gushers box with a ruler sticking out of it, and a dowel rod for a bow. This way the budding young player can get used to he feel of the instrument and how to hold it before raising the stakes with the “real deal.” (It’s easier to replace a broken box than a broken violin if it gets dropped a few times!) On the bow, we place a couple of corn pads to hold pinky and thumb in place. When they move to a real bow we like the bow buddy to help place fingers. I personally like to use the metaphor of a boat with four passengers and a shark to describe the placement of the bow hand. These include Pinky dancer (a bent pinky perched on top of the bow), 2 lazy men dangling their legs in the water for the middle finger and the ring finger, a scaredy cat who only dips his toes for pointer finger, and a scary shark with a fin to encourage the bent thumb. Kids love it, as it gives them a fun and concrete visual to help with a challenging bow grip.

britt pic 2.jpg

We also like to have students use a foot chart, or “stage” so they know where to place their feet while playing. This helps curb little ones from twisting into unusual stances, running off, or flopping on the floor.

Regarding music, students can delve into their Rhythm Train books right away, which gives them a sense of accomplishment. (See previous post about Rhythm Train.) They are able to clap rhythms that they will later learn to play on the violin.

britt pic 6.jpeg

We also encourage our pupils to purchase the Suzuki Book 1 and CD, and to start listening to their CD as soon as possible in order to develop their ear. However, it takes several months before they can actually graduate from the first Suzuki piece, so we often supplement it with the book Songs for Little Players by Avsharian. These are easy songs that help beginning violinists master their new finger placement on the violin.

We hope you find these items useful, and we look forward to working with all of our new and continuing students!



Happy New Year!

IMG_3263.JPG

I can’t believe the New Year’s here,

It’s time for resolutions.

So here we’ll share a few of ours,

Read on through the conclusion!

 

Allison, with daughters five

Would like to keep performing,

Teach students to love music more,

And make a few recordings!

 

Ashley says she hopes to teach,

Her child the violin to play,

With lots of help from Grandma, too!

And write blogs each First Friday.

 

Sheree, the head of KC branch,

Would like to play new venues,

Our chief of social media,

She shares all Uptown’s fun news.

 

Our fearless leader Brittany,

Much music she arranges.

She’ll lead us in recordings, gigs,

We’d not make any changes!

 

Kerri’s New Years goal this year

Will empty out our cabinets,

She’s helping organize our songs

To read right off our tablets!

 

Christy, a college senior now,

Has one driving ambition.

Perform recital with great flare

To walk May graduation.

 

IMG_3250.jpg

We made some great memories last year,

And are ready for some new ones.

We hope you had a great year too,

And keep your resolutions!

Happy New Year from Uptown Violins!

Ashley Rescot, 2019

Dallas Showcase!

Forty-Five Ten (downtown location)

Forty-Five Ten (downtown location)

“I learned a lot I wouldn’t have learned roaming the streets of Dallas.” -Dennis Rodman 

Brittany Peterson, executive director of Uptown Violins and Dallas resident of 7 years, shares some of her experiences performing for a wide variety of venues in the Dallas metropolitan area.

Brittany, which venues have you performed for recently, and what did you enjoy most about them?

Republic Center, AD EX

Republic Center, AD EX

Recently we have performed for Arlington Hall at Lee Park, The Rosewood Mansion on Turtle Creek, the Adolphus Hotel, Perkins Chapel on SMU's campus, the Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Gardens, Hidden Pines Chapel, KPMG Plaza at Hall Arts Center, the Republic Center for the Architecture and Design Exchange, and First United Methodist Church downtown! Whew! (We have been busy!) We really enjoyed playing in the sculpture garden at KPMG's Plaza at Hall Arts Center because it was a beautiful night with a great crowd who loved both the classical and pop music! Arlington Hall is one of our absolute favorites to perform for because of the amazing facilities and staff who work there! The Architecture and Design Exchange opening was held at the corner of St. Paul and Pacific where the new downtown park will be opening soon as well! Lastly, we always love playing at both the Adolphus Hotel and the Rosewood Mansion on Turtle Creek because of their gorgeous layouts as well as their dining options!

What Dallas venues do you think lend themselves well to weddings?

Hidden Pines Chapel

Hidden Pines Chapel

Arlington Hall at Lee Park is one of the best locations in Dallas for a wedding because of the beauty of the Hall as well as the surrounding gardens and park. It is located right off Turtle Creek and is very close to a number of beautiful hotels for your guests! The Arboretum is a classic outdoor choice for weddings because of its seasonal décor, including pumpkins in the fall, lights in the winter, tulips in the spring, and other beautiful flowers in the summer! Hidden Pines Chapel is also a fairly new beautiful venue which is perfect for large weddings, as well as convenient because the whole wedding can be held in one place, accommodating the large number of guests!

Can you share your recent experience playing for First Baptist Dallas?

First Baptist Dallas

First Baptist Dallas

It was so much fun to be able to fiddle "live" with First Baptist Dallas! They are such wonderful musicians and people! They always perform with a full choir and orchestra to accompany the soloists, so we all have a blast up there just worshipping! It was fun to play a little country at church, haha. (All Hail the Power)



Which Dallas venues will Uptown Violins be performing for this holiday season?

Adolphus Hotel

Adolphus Hotel

We are staying busy throughout the holiday season here in Dallas! We will be playing at the Adolphus Hotel for the Modern Luxury “Power Players” event, the Shops at Clearfork Holiday Teas where we will be accompanying dancers with Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite music, "A Night of Christmas" at First Dallas the weekend of the 14th-16th, Park Cities Presbyterian Church for their Candlelight Services on December 16th, Gateway Community Church the weekend before Christmas, and several other private performances! We cannot wait to play our new Christmas pieces from Sia's album, Lindsey Stirling's album, and the all time favorite "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)"! 

Adolphus Lounge where we perform

Adolphus Lounge where we perform

We hope you come to see us this season!