Tag Archives: St. Louis

Paganini Caprice No. 5

We’ve listened to Paganini’s Caprice No. 5 in A Minor here before. It’s a piece that’s often on my mind, as it’s one of the more “accessible” (obviously that’s a relative term, as it is still rather difficult!) of Paganini’s 24 Caprices to students. It’s built on a series of arpeggios and sequences that are not unlike the Wohlfahrt or Kreutzer Etudes that students will have studied by this point in their playing – it’s just more challenging!

Today, I wanted to take a look at two very different versions of the same piece. Both are extremely virtuosic, excellent, and exemplary. But from tempo, to bow stroke, to character and style, the two could hardly be more dissimilar. One is Sumina Studer’s amazing recording, in which she displays incredible technique in using the extraordinarily difficult ricochet bowing that most performers opt not to use for this Caprice. The other is Leonidas Kavakos’, which he approaches with raw power and prowess. Which do you prefer?

Committing to Fill our “Ability Buckets”

A few years ago, the one of the faucets in our house developed what I would have described as a “little drip.” Nothing particularly serious. A little drip every few seconds. Certainly not worth putting right at the top of my to-do list. I’d get around to fixing it when I had the time, I thought.

And then the water bill for that month came in. I don’t recall exactly what it was, but I do remember that it was over ten times our normal monthly bill! I won’t soon forget that part.

So, I went straight to Home Depot, picked up the part needed to fix the leaking seal for, and with about 15 minutes of work, I had the problem solved. Next month, the water bill was back to its normal range.

My point? Even a little drip can add up to a whole lot of water when it drips steadily over time. In this case, the result was not so positive. But let’s turn it around and apply it to something productive.

I hesitate to refer to anything from the ’20-’21 school year as a “silver lining,” because it was such a difficult year for so many people. One of the realities for us at West County Strings, though, was that violin or viola lessons was in many cases the only activity that students were able to stay involved in, as sports and other extracurriculars had to take a break until they could be done safely again.

The result? Students had a lot fewer things vying for their time and attention, and a lot more time to practice! I dare say that a lot of the exceptional results we saw from students during the ’20-’21 school year were due to this reality.

And now, as things increasingly return to “normal,” we are also seeing students and families returning to balancing more and more activities and events, and practicing sometimes getting lost in the mix.

So why did I begin by mentioning our leaky shower and the water bill that ensued?

Because just as even little drip can add up to a whole lot of water, so too can a little bit of careful, consistent, thoughtful, focused practice add up to a whole lot of ability.

I’ve been thinking about it like this:

We’re all trying to fill up what we’ll call our “buckets of ability.” We try to fill them up before coming to each lesson. We try to fill them up on a larger scale over the course of a semester before recitals. And we try to fill them up on an even larger scale over the course of a whole school year, and over the course of many years of practice.

The problem is that all too often – and especially this year as we all get back to more and more different types of activities and events – we try to turn that metaphorical “faucet” on all the way and fill up our bucket in one or two big efforts over the course of the week.

And I suppose that would be okay, if our bodies and brains worked that way. But for better or worse, they don’t. Our bodies and brains work best, learn best, and develop best with high-frequency, moderate-intensity efforts.

Dr. Suzuki didn’t have all the science that we have today to back this fact up when he started teaching, but he knew it from observing life. And he wrote about it a lot. In the preface to Suzuki Violin Book 1 (Revised Edition, pg. 5), he says:

“It is the daily practice at home that leads to ability development. The key is how much and how well the student practices the teachers’ instructions.” (emphasis mine)

So, as we find ourselves roughly a quarter of the way into the Fall ’21 Semester, I’d like to encourage each of our students, and each of their families, to commit to this idea of a steady, daily filling of our “buckets of ability” through practice.

Ideally, this would mean focusing on the materials assigned in each students’ private lesson. It may be necessary to practice music for school or community orchestras, as well, but these should not be considered replacements for developing individual skill on lesson assignments.

Given that we are only human, not all days will be of the same length or quality, and some days it may feel utterly impossible to practice (Dr. Suzuki would remind you, “Only practice on the days you eat!”). On the most difficult days, it may be a good idea to simply practice a scale or review piece and relax with the Suzuki CD or recording of another work you are learning.

There is more we can all talk about individually in lessons as the school year goes on, but I’d like to think of West County Strings as a place where each and every student is slowly, steadily filling their “bucket of ability,” and will eventually find it overflowing!

Congratulations ’21-’22 SLSYO Audition Winners!

Kirby and I want to take a moment to extend our heartfelt congratulations to Aaron Wolz and Kaya McNurlen, two members of our West County Strings community who earned places in the ’21-’22 St. Louis Symphony Youth Orchestra through their audition efforts earlier this summer. It’s always wonderful to see students’ years of musical growth and development mature into opportunities like this, and we trust that they’ll thoroughly enjoy their experience as members of the SLSYO this upcoming season. Once again, congratulations, Kaya and Aaron!

’20-’21 Registration Now Open!

Hello WCS Students & Families! 

I hope you all have been enjoying a wonderful summer, and had a fabulous July 4 weekend in particular.  From a teacher’s perspective, Kirby and I have been loving this summer – with more free time and less school stressors, students have been absorbing information like sponges, and making huge strides in their technique, repertoire, and overall musicianship.  

As much as we’ve been enjoying summer, it’s already time to start preparing for the ’21-’22 school year, in which Kirby and I look forward to furthering and deepening each student’s individual ability and accomplishments, as well as building upon the exceptional work that students did in group classes to help them become better ensemble musicians.  

Our ’21-’22 school year will run from Monday, August 23, 2021 – Saturday, May 28, 2022.  Registration for the ’21-’22 school year is due by Sunday, August 8, so that Kirby and I can have time to create a schedule that works for everyone and get that information out to everyone a week before the school year begins.  Please download a copy of our ’21-’22 Registration Form, which can be returned hard copy or by email.  Similarly, registration fees can be paid by cash, check, Zelle, or Venmo.  

After a ’20-’21 school year that required extraordinary adaptability from all of us, Kirby and I are very much looking forward to a ’21-’22 school year full of much more “normalcy,” and the ability fo focus on the community, collaboration, relationship, and enjoyment that comes along with all the dedication and hard work we, our students, and their families engage in in order to achieve exceptional musical ability.  We can’t wait to start this upcoming school year with all of you!

MFMC ’21 Competition Results!

Every spring, we look forward to the opportunities afforded to our students by the Missouri Federation of Music Clubs Virtuoso Club. Whether to give students the opportunity to prepare and perform for ribbons, trophies, and judges feedback, or for camp scholarships, district and state honors, or even college scholarships and scholarships to major summer institutes, the Missouri Federation of Music Clubs is a great organization that we love participating in. This year, we want to congratulate our students who took home honors in the Camp Scholarship and District Competitions.

District Competition

The Missouri Federation of Music Clubs Virtuoso Club’s District Competition is open only to 10th – 12th grade students, and affords the winner the opportunity to continue on to compete at the State Competition in May. With only one winner from all string entrants, the competition is stiff, and this year we want to congratulate Nathan Zhou for coming in 1st Runner Up in the District Competition, performing Mozart’s Concerto No. 3 in G Major, 1st movement – a huge accomplishment! Nathan As only a 10th grader, participating in this competition for the first time, we’re sure the future is bright for Nathan and have high hopes for him next year, as well. Many congratulations for your hard work and a job well done, Nathan!

Camp Scholarship Competition

The Missouri Federation of Music Clubs Virtuoso Club’s Camp Scholarship Competition is open to two divisions of students – those in 7th – 9th grade, and those in 10th – 12th grade. This year, we want to congratulate Christien Fanta and Andrew Kang, who both won scholarships in the 7th – 9th grade division of this competition. Both Christien and Andrew performed Haydn’s Concerto No. 2 in G Major, 1st movement, earning themselves scholarships to use towards furthering their music education. Congratulations, Christien and Andrew! And with last year’s Camp Scholarship Competition winners eligible to reenter the competition next year and even more of you growing and maturing in your musical ability who could enter for the first time, we look forward to a great presence in the Camp Scholarship Competition in 2022!

It’s always wonderful for students to have a concrete goal to work hard towards. The progress they make, the self-discipline they cultivate, and the overall improvement to their level of playing that they achieve simply by going through the process of preparing over weeks and months to be ready to compete is the real reward. Winning is simply an added bonus. We’re so thankful for the Missouri Federation of Music Clubs Virtuoso Club and all the opportunities it affords to students, and we hope that even more of you will participate in the Festival, Camp Scholarship Competition, District Competition, or College Music Major Scholarship Competition next year!

Reminder: Summer ’21 Registration Due April 30!

Hello Everyone!

The month of April is absolutely flying by, as we prepare for all of our end-of-the-school-year festivities. In fact, it’s hard to believe that the month is already half over! So, Kirby and I just wanted to extend a quick reminder that registration for the Summer ’21 Semester is due by Friday, April 30, so that we can put all of your lesson time requests together into a schedule that works for everyone, send it out to everyone, and work out all the kinks before the Summer ’21 Semester begins.

As always, please let us know if you have any questions as you go through registration. We so look forward to the opportunity to continue working with you all this summer and building on everything we’ve done together this school year, and to welcoming new members into our music community, as well!

Summer ’21 Registration Now Open!

Hello returning and prospective West County Strings students and families!

Spring is always a busy time of year for everyone, but in such a good way – as we work toward all the joyful and rewarding culminations of the school year that’s now mostly behind us, we simultaneously start to prepare with excitement for all the possibility of the summer that lies ahead. As I write this, I’m so thankful for the sunshine, the clear sky, and the trees and flowers bursting into bloom that bring so much energy and give a literal breath of fresh air after a winter that was more burdened than most!

So, it’s with great excitement that Kirby and I can say that registration for the Summer ’21 Semester at West County Strings is now open as of today, April 1. You can download your Summer ’21 Registration Form here! As always, our group classes will go on hiatus until the ’21-’22 school year – although we do hope to be able to get back to getting groups together to play at farmers markets, community centers, and the like again this summer – but we look forward to hopefully seeing each and every one fo you for weekly private lessons throughout the summer!

Summer is such an amazing time to not just keep rust from accumulating between school years, but a time to truly make some of the best progress of the entire year. With students generally having a lower school workload, less stress, and more time and energy to devote to practicing, so much can be accomplished, and students can enter into the ’21-’22 school year full of confidence in the progress they’ve made, and ready to jump right into another school year at full speed.

Returning students, your teacher will be in touch with you in the next few days to discuss what they feel is the most appropriate lesson length for you to meet your goals and keep on progressing. Prospective students, now is a great time to find your place at West County Strings, begin your journey of learning and enjoyment, and ensure that we will have space for you in our ’21-’22 school year. If you have any questions, call or email us today!

Congratulations!

Ms. Kirby and I want to extend our heartfelt congratulations to:

  • Tarini K. and Aaron W., who won seats in this year’s St. Louis High School All-Suburban Orchestra.
  • Kaya M. and Alan S. who won seats in this year’s Missouri All-State Orchestra.
  • Aaron W., who also placed in this year’s St. Charles County Youth Symphony Concerto Competition.

If we missed any All-Suburban (middle school or high school), All-State, or SYCCO Concerto Competition winners, please let us know, so that you can be recognized!

We recognize that doing well in any event like these is not something that can be done by last-minute preparation, but rather is the result of consistent dedication, and steady improvement over many years, which certainly deserves to be applauded.

With so many more opportunities for students coming up this spring, we can’t wait to see all that you will accomplish! It truly is rewarding and motivating to see what started as seeds of musical ability being nurtured, developing, and flourishing.

Holiday ’20 Update

“Where love is deep, much can be accomplished.” – Dr. Sinichi Suzuki

To say that 2020 has been a “wild ride” would be an understatement of the highest degree. Indeed, one would be hard pressed to come up with a superlative that is too extreme or extraordinary for the unprecedented challenges we’ve all faced this year. As the year draws to a close, and we sit back and reflect on all that has happened over the course of the past twelve months, Kirby and I have been struck by just what a constant joy and pleasure making music, teaching music, and navigating all of the challenges of this year with each and every one of you has been. We always feel blessed to have the opportunity to do what we do, to bring the joy of learning music and developing musical ability to children and their families, but we have never felt that blessing more profoundly than this year.

This has caused us to think back not only on this year, but on the 12 years that we have now been in St. Louis teaching music. The number of wonderful relationships that music has brought us into, the number of children we have been able to see go from forming their first bow hold to heading off to college and beyond, and the number of special, unforgettable musical and relational moments that we have had as music teachers is overwhelming. That’s why this year we wanted to send this message not only to all current West County Strings students and families, but to everyone who’s ever been a part of our teaching here in St. Louis. You are all part of a special group of people to us. We’re so thankful for you, and the ways in which you have enriched and continue to enrich our lives.

As noted above, Dr. Suzuki was famous for his belief that, “Where love is deep, much can be accomplished.” Stated differently, it is only when there is a mutual understanding, respect, and closeness between parents, the student, and the teacher that ability can truly be developed to its highest degree. We’re so thankful that due to the relationships we’ve been able to develop with each of you, West County Strings has been a place where love has been deep and much has been able to be accomplished, and we look forward to 2021 as an even better and brighter year than all that have come before.

For all current students and families, we will be on Winter Break from Wednesday, December 23, 2020 – Tuesday, January 5, 2021. Private lessons will resume on Wednesday, January 6, 2021, and we plan for our group class sessions of the Spring ’21 Semester to begin in March. There’s a lot coming up at the start of the New Year, including All-State auditions on January 13. So, be sure to use your time over break wisely, both to rest and relax and to listen, prepare, and practice well!

If you are an alumni or former member of West County Strings, we would love to hear from you this holiday season. We hope that you have all been safe and well, and would love to know what you and your families are up to these days. You have all played a special part in our lives, and we’d love to stay connected with you.

To everyone that music teaching has brought Kirby and I into contact with – Happy Holidays! We are blessed to know you, and so thankful for you. We’ll see you in 2021!

– Brad & Kirby