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Revolution Strings in China, Day Three

  
  
  
China

Think back to your high school days. You may have played an instrument, and you have been quite good at it. But did you ever get the chance to tour China with thirteen violinists, two guitarists, a cellist, and a bass player? And this was after you released your first album? Allow me to introduce you to Revolution Strings, an alternative strings group culled from Abilene High School and Cooper High School in Abilene, Texas. Although each member has a strong classical background, these string players aren't afraid to dabble in jazz, country, Celtic and more. Revolution Strings has just embarked on their tour of China and they've kindly agreed to blog about their experience for the SHAR Music Blog. Justin Radcliffe, Theater Director for Cooper High School, guest blogs for Revolution Strings.


Abilene's Revolution Strings performing ensemble has created quite a buzz in China.

We woke early on Saturday. Although we were excited to travel on China's new high speed train system, we were also leaving a (now) much-loved Beijing behind; the troupe of violinists loaded onto he new high speed and we were off to the southern city of Xuzhou (pronounced shoo-jo). Xouhou is a small city in China of 5 million, and the two hour ride at 180 miles-per-hour provided an opportunity to bond and laugh with like-minded students from some of the other performing groups on the tour. Serious work began when we arrived.


We set up in the spectacular Xuzhou Concert Hall. Surprisingly enough, it was less difficult than Friday's gig, and the group spent only a short amount of time in sound check. After a whirlwind bus ride to the hotel to eat and get in costume, the band was back at the hall to play for an eager audience. The audience was in for a treat as all four groups on the tour had excellent performances. Revolution, always an audience favorite, brought the house down for their second of six major performances in this beautiful country.









Revolution Strings in China, Day Two

  
  
  
revolution china

Think back to your high school days. You may have played an instrument, and you have been quite good at it. But did you ever get the chance to tour China with thirteen violinists, two guitarists, a cellist, and a bass player? And this was after you released your first album? Allow me to introduce you to Revolution Strings, an alternative strings group culled from Abilene and Cooper High School in Abilene, Texas. Although each member has a strong classical background, these string players aren't afraid to dabble in jazz, country, Celtic and more. Revolution Strings has just embarked on their tour of China and they've kindly agreed to blog about their experience for the SHAR Music Blog. The second blog is also from Justin Radcliffe.

On the first performance day, Revolution found that the excitement and fatigue of a professional tour cannot compare to the thrill of a great performance. They quickly rallied!



While in China, the tour managers have made sure to provide cultural opportunities. Today, the group toured Tiennaman square and the Forbidden City. The vastness of these spaces is remarkable and has surely left a permanent impression on these students from Abilene, Texas. 


Revolution's first performance was held in the performance hall of the Forbidden City, home of the Beijing Symphony Orchestra, which happened to be rehearsing upon our arrival. The day was filled with challenges as Revolution worked to adapt their sound equipment to the electrical requirements of China. Despite some pre-show glitches, such as a cello breaking moments before walking on stage and a performer becoming ill, these students persevered with great spirit and deeply impressed their first Chinese audience.

Saturday brings new adventures as a high speed train will take the performing ensemble to Xuzhou. More soon from Xuzhou!











Revolution Strings in China

  
  
  
welcome

Think back to your high school days. You may have played an instrument, and you have been quite good at it. But did you ever get the chance to tour China with thirteen violinists, two guitarists, a cellist, and a bass player? And this was after you released your first album? Allow me to introduce you to Revolution Strings, an alternative strings group culled from Abilene and Cooper High School in Abilene, Texas. Although each member has a strong classical background, these string players aren't afraid to dabble in jazz, country, Celtic and more. Revolution Strings has just embarked on their tour of China and they've kindly agreed to blog about their experience for the SHAR Music Blog. The first blog is from Justin Radcliffe.
 


Revolution Strings has arrived in China and the day has been full. After traveling for a straight 50 hours our team was warmly greeted in the stunning Beijing Airport by the director of the performance tour, John Crozman. The traveling experience was full of the usual new challenges for young travelers including the adjustment to small spaces over extended periods of time but Abilenians would be proud of their students and the way they have responded to the stresses of such a lengthy travel experience. As a reward we were treated to a morning at the Great Wall of China at Badaling, a famous entry point to the wall.


Tonight ended after two hour rehearsal with the creators of the performance tour. Dean Marshall, the artistic director of Canada's famous fiddle group Barrage, oversaw 120 student performers playing together in their first and only rehearsal prior to performances. While in China, Revolution Strings joins three other classical crossover student groups from Chicago and Wisconsin. Show promoters are billing the concert as a performance by the four best alternative string groups in America! The six performances are expected to sell out in Beijing, The Forbidden City Concert Hall, Shanghai, Suzhou, Hangzhou, and Ningbo...

Stay tuned for more from Revolution Strings!











"Colburn School Commencement Address" by Arnold Steinhardt

  
  
  
Guerneri CA (1)

The Guarneri String Quartet (photo by Erwin Fischer) and Charles Avsharian

Art and Illness

  
  
  
Joseph Chapman

Do mental and physical illness help us make better art?

Monday, May 27th was the anniversary of Niccolo Paganini's death. Paganini, of course, was the early 19th century violin virtuoso, and his life now seems like a rock cliché: drugs (he took opium and mercury for syphilis), sex (well, he did contract syphilis), and brilliant musicianship (without a doubt, Paganini was one of the great violin virtuosos). Two days later on Wednesday, May 29th, Igor Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring celebrated its 100 year anniversary. Vaslav Nijinskychoreographed The Rite of Spring, and the combination of his forward-thinking, modern choreography and Stravinsky's experiments in tonality and dissonance caused the audience to riot at the premiere.

Both these anniversaries got me thinking about the intersections between great art and illness. Paganini suffered from a rare disorder called Marfan's syndrome and Nijinsky, following the 1916 Ballets Russes tour of America, was diagnosed with schizophrenia and spent the rest of his life in and out of psychiatric hospitals. (Side note: other famous, alleged sufferers of Marfan's syndrome include Sergei Rachmaninoff, Robert Johnson, and Bradford Cox.) Both Paganini and Nijinsky were, undoubtedly, troubled but brilliant performers.

Moreover, what's striking to me about the proximity of these anniversies is the different types of illness each artist suffered from. Paganini's illness is a genetic disorder that affects, among other things, the skeletal system; people with this genetic disorder typically have a thin, tall frame and longer-than-average fingers (which wasn't necessarily a bad thing for Rachmaninoff, Johnson, and Paganini). In short, it's a physical illness. Nijinksy, conversely, struggled for many years with a mental illness that many have encountered through film and the news, or even through friends and family.

Although I try not to trust Hollywood too much, it's pretty much expected that any depiction of a major artists will include a requisite depiction of illness. A few biopics come to mind:Sylvia Plath in Plath (depression), Jackson Pollock in Pollock (alcoholism), Frida Kahlo in Frida (injury), Ludwig van Beethoven in Immortal Beloved (bipolar and more), the list goes on and on. This correlation between art and illness is one many have long suspected, but last year the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden completed a 40-year-long study of 1.2 million patients and their relatives. Their study found that mental illnesses were more common among artists and scientists than among the general population. OK, so Hollywood isn't totally lying about art and illness. However, what interested me the most about the study was a statement by Simon Kyaga, a doctoral student at the institute: "If one takes the view that certain phenomena associated with the patient's illness are beneficial, it opens the way for a new approach to treatment. In that case, the doctor and patient must come to an agreement on what is to be treated, and at what cost." Basically, what's the cost of treating a condition that enhances one's creativity?

Of course, much of what I'm writing here is speculation. (In fact, some researchers took issue with the Karolinska Institutet finding.) I know that all different types of folks become artists, and the only real thing that unifies them is, well, the fact that they make art. But I can't help but wonder about the conditions that catalyze art. Isn't art, in almost any genre or discipline you can think of, "a certain slant of light," an askance view of reality, or another reality the artist has created? I think of Paganini and Nijinksy and how illness, mental or physical, gives the artist distance from the reality most other people experience. Its their distance -- imaginative, prophetic, medical, or some combination of those -- that allows artists to create the alternate worlds that confront (and change) us.

In my head now, I hear the beginning of Beethoven's fifth symphony. 













The Best Metronomes and Tuners

  
  
  
best metronomes and tuners

Ever wondered what the best metronome or tuner is for you? In our newest e-catalog, the 2013 Metronome and Tuner issue, we have some handy charts that compare tempo range, beat, display, calibration, power source, and more. If you're in the market for a new metronome or tuner -- or a metronome-tuner combo! -- look no further than our latest e-catalog. Click on the image below to shop and compare!

SHAR #CaseConfessions Contest: What's In Your Case?

  
  
  
Bluegrass Gigger

Ever wonder what your fellow musicians carry in their case? Want to share what's in your case? Submit to and follow our #CaseConfessions contest and win a free Joey Violin Case Carrier! Here's an example entry below:
 

James E, Bluegrass Gigger, WI: Crucial stuff. Sound post adjusters, Dampit, fresh strings, and manicure kit keep everything in check for a tight schedule.  


"A Tale of Three Violinists" by Arnold Steinhardt

  
  
  
Guarneri Trio and CA

The Guarneir String Quartet (photo by Erwin Fischer) and Charles Avsharian

Watch the Winning Performances from SHAR's 2013 Quartet Competition

  
  
  

Each year, SHAR holds a string quartet competition for high school students. We get applicants from all over the state of Michigan; typically, these applicants represent up to a dozen high schools and youth orchestras. We divide the quartets into two divisions, depending on the size of their school or orchestra program. It's such a joy each year to hear these talented students play, and this year was no exception. You can watch the winning quartets play below:

Summer Suzuki Institutes Are Just Around the Corner

  
  
  
Joseph Chapman

I have plenty to regret from my high school days, but strangely enough one of my biggest regrets isn't one of the usual suspects: a train-wreck romance, a misguided teenage prank, or an angst-ridden poem I stupidly shared with friends. No, it's summer camp. Or, rather, not going to summer camp.

In North Carolina, right before spring and allergy season cloud what little sense a teenager has, high school teachers notify their best and brightest sophomores that they've been accepted to a month-long academic and arts program called Governer's School. (The nomination and selection process goes on behind the scenes, and starts in September.)

When I received my letter of acceptance for the Governer's School English Program that March, at first I was giddy. Someone noticed me! But when I saw that I'd be away from my friends for a whole month, I made, objectively speaking, a bad decision. Why would I want to go to school for a whole month during the summer? My teachers and guidance counselors were confused when I declined, but the decision made perfect sense to me.

That is, it did until late in the summer when I hung out with a friend who actually went. He described the comraderie, the fancy labs (he went for science), art studios, and the palpable dedication and creativity. My high school self still scoffed at his description, but I secretly wished I had gone. And as I've gotten older and taught at some wonderful summer institutes (like the Young Writers Workshop at the University of Virgina), my regret has grown. These summer institutes -- where testing and the hazards of typical school days disappear -- are havens for young creative minds.

All of this is to say that you should check out the Suzuki Summer Institutes schedule posted here. The Suzuki Method is meant to be a community effort (like language!), and I can't think of a better place to have that happen than a supportive, immersive summer institute. As Alexandra Ostroff, a Suzuki Teacher-in-Training at SHAR told me, "Taking a week to spend immersed in music is well worth the time and money. As a child seeing the wide ranges of players at camp help inspire me to practice harder and become a better player." One's creative endeavors, especially as a child or adolescent, aren't easy to maintain. But the right support structure, even if it's only for a week or two, can nourish an aspiring artist throughout the year.

For more on the Suzuki Method and summer institutes, check out Suzuki instructor Lucy Lewis's series of blogs here











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