It’s been a little while since I did some duo playing and so it has been extra rewarding to get together with fine pianist Douglas Holligan and start working on our duo programme for two concerts this October.
Our programme is a very interesting one, including two lesser played works. The first is Vaughan Williams’ charming Romance for Viola and Piano, which was published posthumously and probably intended for the viola virtuoso Lionel Tertis. The second is Shostakovich’s final work: his Sonata for viola and piano Op. 147 – a towering work covering the whole range of emotions, including what he himself described as ‘an adagio in memory of Beethoven’ which uses quotations from the Moonlight Sonata. Dedicated to the violist of the Beethoven quartet, Fyodor Druzhinin, it was composed just weeks before his death and you can almost hear the meditations on death and the afterlife in the elegiac outer movements. The playful middle movement draws heavily on music Shostakovich had written for an abandoned opera called The Gamblers, based on a Gogol play, and presents many challenges for both instruments, not least several passages of chromatic double-stopped parallel fourths!
Our first concert is 15th October at the Edinburgh Society of Musicians in Stockbridge, Edinburgh, at 7.30pm. This concert will also include piano works by Bach and Rachmaninov. The second concert is in St Andrews at The Byre Theatre at 1.10pm on Weds October 19th. Hope to see you at one of them (or both!)
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Bored of the Referendum campaigns? Then come down to the Byre Theatre, St Andrews, on the 22nd, 23rd or 24th June and see Byre Opera’s performance of Britten’s ghostly masterpiece, The Turn of the Screw. It is based on the novel by Henry James about a governess who goes to look after 2 children in a remote house, and the unearthly happenings that start to unfold after she arrives.
I am playing viola in the chamber orchestra, and this is the third Britten opera I have played in. I have come to like Britten’s style of writing- good tunes interspersed with idiomatic vocal writing, plus the advantage of the text being in English and therefore easily understandable for the audience. Britten’s operas are often very inclusive, containing parts for children, and this opera is no exception – Miles is played by 2 young boys (there are 2 casts for different performances).
The facebook event is here and you will find Byre Opera on instagram as @byre_opera. Look forward to seeing you there – tickets are selling fast!
We are also touring the performance to Stirling MacRobert on 28th June and The Maltings, Berwick on 8th July if you can’t make the St Andrews performances.
I’m excited to announce that I’m now ready to take on a few more private students. I teach all ages and abilities and tailor my teaching to the student’s capabilities and preferences. Ideally I would like a few more viola students, but as I teach both violin and viola, and violin can be a good starting point for viola, I welcome both instruments! I have an excellent record of my students passing ABRSM exams, with most achieving a distinction or merit.
Here’s my profile on Music Teachers UK. Contact me if you are interested in learning to play or if you’d like to hone your skills! I am based in Fife, on the East coast of Scotland.
Here’s a link to the blog article by Alan Missroon of Fugue For Thought that mentions the podcast that we recorded recently. I was inteviewed by Alan for an article for his blog back in 2014, and Alan was keen to talk to me about more viola related things, and this is the result! We talk about viola repertoire including concertos, being a viola player in the orchestra, recitals and a recent masterclass I did with Martin Outram, and much more!
Podcast with Jess Wyatt of A Viola Player Writes. Listen to the episode in iTunes or via Podbean. This is Jess’s Facebook page. Jess Wyatt was another of my early guest interviewees who I burdened wi…
Great article about the student-teacher relationship, from Frances Wilson who blogs on classical music and pianism as ‘The Cross-Eyed Pianist’. She raises many points that I have often thought myself when teaching – the sensitive and personal nature of the relationship between the student and teacher, tailoring our teaching to fit the individual, and above all, the passion for their instrument that a good teacher should transit to his or her pupils!
Please note that currently, my teaching studio is full and I am not accepting any new private students for the moment. Sorry for any inconvenience – I do know that it is hard to find a good string teacher in Scotland!
If this situation changes, and it may do come the spring term, I will post on this blog and on my facebook page to let you all know! (See sidebar or here www.facebook.com/jesswyattviola)
I can’t quite believe 2016 is here. But it is, and I’ve decided to make it the year that I do things that I’ve always wanted to do, and never quite had the time/energy/mental space to do. Here are the things I’d like to achieve in 2016, and the ways in which I hope to achieve them:
Learning to play Baroque viola: excitingly, this one is already underway, as I have been lent a baroque viola by a friend! I can’t quite believe my luck as baroque violas are pretty rare beasts, and this one seems to be exactly the right size for me. I already possess a baroque bow (more on the differences between modern and baroque set up here) so now I just need to learn to play the instrument – harder than it sounds… This is all so that I can hopefully participate in the new Kellie Consort Easter project which is Bach’s Mass in B Minor – TBC following auditions later this month.
Doing more chamber music with friends and colleagues – I have a half formed plan for this forming at the back of my mind but this needs a bit more time and energy spent on it. Watch this space (and my facebook page!)
Improving my (very rusty) piano skills – this is a big one, as my confidence on the piano has never been high, despite piano lessons through school and achieving grade 8 aged about 16… I would like to be able to accompany my younger pupils in lessons and possibly even exams, but at the moment my lack of confidence is holding me back. I think I may try and get a few piano lessons from one of my many pianist friends…
Doing more singing and playing for pleasure – after about 18 months of doing almost full-time teaching, my own playing has taken a bit of a back seat and I’m trying to get back to the balance of playing and teaching that makes me happiest. I’m playing for a good friend’s wedding in April which I’m really looking forward to, and hopefully other fun opportunities will present themselves during the year. My husband and I are also both wanting to get back to singing regularly in a choir, as we met in one back in the day and miss it!
Taking up new and exciting opportunities – I’m quite open to new experiences, and I have been asked recently to write for the British Viola Society’s newsletters, which was very flattering – they published a short article about me in their December newsletter which you can find here. I’m also revising a post on this blog for their Feb newsletter at the moment. A few other exciting things may be popping up this year as a result of the BVS collaboration – I have signed up for a workshop day with Martin Outram of the Maggini Quartet in Feb, which will hopefully be amazing 🙂
The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2015 annual report for this blog.
Here’s an excerpt:
The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 11,000 times in 2015. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 4 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.
I have a new facebook page! If you’d like to stay up to date with all my musical activities, then please press ‘like’/’follow’ and updates should automatically be shown on your newsfeed (I’m still fairly new to how this all works, so please forgive my technical ignorance!) You can also send me messages about professional enquiries (no spam please).
I will be using the page to post news, concerts I’m doing, teaching hints and tips, and to share any other local events that I’d like my students to know about and/or attend if possible!
For the moment, though, here’s something I’m very proud of, as I had the original idea a few years ago and never quite had the time to follow up on it until a student mentioned to me that it was really easy to do! (If you want to create a poster/mug/anything you want, just visit this site – I can highly recommend their service! It’s also excellent procrastination if you like creating hilarious memes/posters/lolcats, not that I would of course, ahem)
Now that I’ve got some years of teaching under my belt, here are a few of the things I find myself saying most often in lessons to students, whether they are very young or old, or are very experienced or have only had a few lessons:
Watch your rhythm! A surprising number of people will unconsciously play minims as crochets, or more commonly crotchets as quavers, and I know that even I do things like this occasionally! My jobs is to point out where students are playing the wrong rhythm and encourage them to count and not guess where the beats are! A good sense of rhythm is so key to playing any instrument – I often tell my pupils that I’d rather they played the correct rhythm and missed a few notes than paused and played the right notes! It is often a good idea to take some time out to work on rhythms – clapping rhythms at sight or saying rhythm names like ‘ta’ and ‘te-te’ or ‘tea’ and ‘coffee’ really helps.
Use more bow on long notes: a lot of beginner students, and some more advanced ones, tend to use tiny bows for everything, especially long notes, producing a sound I like to called ‘mousy’. In order to encourage them to use more bow and produce a bigger sound, I tell them to try and use the whole bow, from the grip to almost the point, and I often put stickers on the bow (marking just above the grip, the middle and just below the tip) so that there is a visual aid for them, as some find it hard to tell. For more advanced students, practising scales and exercises with whole bows is key – just getting them to learn what the movement of their hand and arm feels like when they use the whole bow is sometimes new to them (see below).
Make sure your bow is parallel with the bridge right to the tip – this is an extremely common fault, especially in viola players where the instrument is large and the bow is long. Bowing at an angle, either with the bow angled towards or away from the bridge, will cause the sound to become uneven and break, and the player will experience difficulty at the tip and frog. Sometimes guiding the student’s hand all the way through the bow, or placing your bow to form a ‘guide’ across the strings while they bow will help, though a lot of the time the student will go back to old habits when they play their pieces. Practising open strings and easy scales in a mirror to check the bow is straight will help, but if bowing crooked becomes a habit then it is more difficult to correct, so teachers should be vigilant when beginners first start to use the bow.
Use less bow on short, fast notes – it is so common for students to come to me with difficult fast passages complaining of not being able to play them, when they are using far too much bow. One of my favourite mantras at the moment is ‘Keep Calm and Use Less Bow’ – one student said I should get a mug with this on it! Generally, the faster the passage and the shorter the notes in it, the less bow you need – for really fast semiquavers, I only use about a centimetre or less. This is a revelation for most people and can easily transform a messy passage (think Vivaldi Concerto in A minor for example) into something much more neat and controlled.
Bent thumb in bow hold – this is a common fault with the bow hold experienced by most beginners and sometime more advanced players. The right thumb needs to be nicely curved outwards, not inwards or straight, otherwise the fingers and wrist will stiffen and the bowhold becomes locked in position, making it much more difficult to bow and impossible to create any subtlety in the sound. Bow hold exercises such as bending and flexing the thumb ought to help with this, but constant reminders are often necessary! See this video for how to hold a violin or viola bow
Stand properly – no standing on one leg/slouching/standing in ballet positions! Correct posture is vital for a good sound, so get into the habit of standing with feet shoulder width apart, left foot slightly in front of right foot and shoulders and arms relaxed when the instrument is in position. A common fault is to let the scroll droop, especially with the heavy viola – I often say to children ‘imagine a balloon tied to your scroll!’
Observe ALL the markings in the music – bowings, slurs, articulation, tempo but ESPECIALLY key signatures! I can’t stress how important this is for anyone learning a musical instrument. I often have students who will ‘bulldoze’ their way through a piece ignoring accidentals, bowings, slurrings and sometimes not even playing all the notes! Cue me pointing out all the things they have missed and the student listening with glazed eyes… Attention to detail is really important in music, as the difference between F sharp and F natural in a key signature of D major is fundamental to the music, but may be easily missed if the key signature is ignored. Understanding key signatures is difficult but an essential piece of theory that no musician can be without, so starting early with the concept of keys and sharps/flats is sensible.