Author Archives: Brad

Prokofiev – Romeo & Juliet: Montagues and Capulets

I can remember few more powerful moments in my life than being on stage performing Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet, particularly the first selection from the second Suite: Montagues and Capulets.

The music is intended to accompany a ballet, which in turn tells the story of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.  Montagues and Capulets are two warring families, which this music conveys quite well.

From the driving power of the basses, to the dissonance in the strings, the staccato attacks of the percussion, and the volume of the brass, the tension is palpable.  Make sure you listen from 1:25 to the end!

Holiday ’18 Update

It seems like as each semester at West County Strings comes to a close, I say to myself, “This was our best semester ever!”  And yet, seemingly without fail, the next semester is even better, filled with even more learning, growth, development, and wonderful memories than the last.  And so, with the Fall ’18 Semester now behind us, I find myself saying once again, “This was our best semester ever!”

A few factors stick out that made this past semester so great:

  1. Consistent Practice.  No one wants to feel “stuck in a rut” with their playing – not students, not their parents, and certainly not Kirby or me as your teachers!  Moving forward and making progress feels good for everyone involved, but it can only be done when the practice is frequent, and done with great care.  So THANK YOU for all the days, hours, and minutes that you all put in practicing this semester!
  2. Group Class Attendance.   If practicing is to developing ability on a stringed instrument what water is to a plant, then group class might best be described as the fertilizer.  Group class allows us to develop so many things that are hard to do in individual lessons, and all in a fun way.  THANK YOU to everyone who made the effort to regularly attend Tuesday night group classes.  Know that those make all the difference in your child’s continued musical development.
  3. Participation In Extracurriculars.  Kirby and I are daily reminded what a special community of families we’re privileged to work with at West County Strings.  THANK YOU to everyone who played in community concerts throughout the semester or came to the Holiday Play-Along Party last weekend.  It is these little and not-so-little things that help make music such a special part of our lives and our children’s lives, and that make West County Strings a special place to be.

We wish you all a happy Holiday Season and safe travels to see family and friends.  Lessons will resume Friday, January 4 and group classes will resume Tuesday, January 8.  Encourage your children to enjoy some much-needed time of rest and relaxation, but also to keep their strings singing throughout the holidays.  I’m sure a few minutes can be found here or there to do some scales, etudes, and review!

Thanks again for a great 2018, and we’ll see you in 2019!

Wieniawski Polonaise No. 1 – Jascha Heifetz

No study of violin repertoire would be complete without an understanding of the life and career of one Jashca Heitfetz who, in the early 1900s, set the standard for violin playing for decades to come.

Heifetz is known now for his technical mastery, attention to detail, and precision, which have led some to label his sound as being too “robotic” and lacking in “soul.”  While there may be merit to this argument, none can deny his place among the pantheon of all-time great violinists.  It’s a shame he didn’t live when we had better recording equipment to capture his incredible catalogue of performances!

Today’s selection performed by Heifetz is Henryk Wieniawski’s Polonaise No. 1 in D Major.  A polonaise is a slow dance in 3 time.  While nothing may seem slow about the violin part in this polonaise, you can hear that the underlying beat is a steady and relatively slow 1, 2, 3, 1, 2, 3… particularly in the piano.

Aspiring violin virtuosos, take a listen!

Paganini Caprice No. 24 – Hilary Hahn

Today we return to the violin repertoire, and this time to the unaccompanied, more etude-like side of the spectrum with Paganini’s Caprices.

To refresh, Paganini was known as the preeminent violin virtuoso of his day, and his exploits with the violin were so famous as to create a legend around him that lives on to this day – did he sell his soul to the devil in exchange for the fiendish abilities he possessed on the violin?

Whatever the case, Paganini was not only a performer without equal in his day, but also a composer of music as challenging as he was capable, as evidenced by his 24 Caprices, which remain to this day at the core of advanced violin study and performance.

Today, I have selected perhaps the most famous of Paganini’s Caprices – No. 24 and returned to a performer whom we have also seen before – Hillary Hahn – for her unmatched precision both with intonation and clarity of the bow.  Enjoy!

J. Schubert Viola Concerto in C Major

This week we are turning our attention to the violas, but violinists don’t tune out yet!

Our selection is the Viola Concerto in C Major by Joseph Schubert (not to be confused with the more well-known and prolific Franz Schubert).  J. Schubert was a representative of the Classical period in music history, as reflected by the characteristics of this concerto, which for violists is always a welcome note as so much of the standard viola repertoire is from the relatively modern era.

Schubert’s Concerto in C Major is a fabulous example of the qualities of Classical concertos – clear statements of a theme (or themes), development of those themes in related keys, clear restatement of the themes with slight variation, much reliance on arpeggiation to flesh out melodies, and perhaps above all crisp, clear, articulation demanded on the part of the string player.

At the end of the day, this concerto is a delightful sample of Classical repertoire, and makes for something invigorating to have on in the background as you go about your daily work – even if you are a violinist!  Violists, however, particularly enjoy!

Fall Solo Recitals Sign-Ups & Information

Every semester, we look forward to our solo recitals as both a goal to be strived for and a moment of achievement to celebrate all the learning that has been done over weeks of work and many days of practice.

Our solo recitals this fall will be held at:

Chesterfield Presbyterian Church
KREW House
15037 Clayton Rd.
Chesterfield, MO 63017

The KREW House is located on the east side of the church’s main parking lot.

Recitals will be held at 2:00, 3:15, and 4:30 p.m.  To see which recital your child/children will be playing on, please see the recital assignments list.  We have tried to incorporate all scheduling requests into our recital time assignments.  If a correction needs to be made, please let us know as soon as possible.

Piano rehearsals in preparation for the recitals will be held in the studio (1199 Fieldhurst Dr.) on Tuesday, December 4 and Wednesday, December 5.  Additional rehearsal time will be made available on Sunday, December 9 at the KREW House (15037 Clayton Rd.) prior to the first recital.  We ask that this time be reserved for Book 1 students, and it has been divided into 10 minute slots, instead of the usual 15 minutes.  Please tab over on the rehearsal sign-up sheet to find the Wednesday and Sunday sign-ups

And finally, we always look forward to the time for students and their families to visit with each other during the reception after each recital.  Please visit our volunteer sign-ups to sign up to bring a snack or a drink for everyone to share and/or to help set up or clean up for each reception.  Please scroll down to find the sign-up sheet for your particular recital time.  Thank you so much for your help.  We truly couldn’t do these events without you!

Bach A minor Violin Concerto – Julia Fischer

This week, we’re taking a look at something that some of you have played, that some of you are currently playing, and that some of you will have the opportunity to play at some point in your learning – the Bach A minor Violin Concerto.  All three movements of this concerto can be found in Suzuki Violin Book 7.

The more one gets to know Bach, the more appreciates what a genius he was.  And in this concerto one finds true mastery not only of the craft of musical composition but of the understanding of the violin as a unique instrument.  Bach was so incredibly skilled at using the nuances of a stringed instrument – string crossings, bow changes, finger patterns, etc. – to his advantage throughout his composing.

The result is a piece that is simultaneously well-suited to the violin and challenging to the violinist.  Students generally find this work to be challenging both in its scope and in its technical difficulty, but they also find it particularly satisfying as it is increasingly learned and mastered.

Here is the impeccable Julia Fischer giving her rendition of this time-honored piece.