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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


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

The Ultimate Guide to Composer Sanity and Aesthetic Taste

Composer Graph

Ever wondered just how crazy and/or avant garde your favorite composer was? SHAR Apprentices James Engman and Josephine Llorente have put together this handy graph! It displays, on X and Y axes, the relative sanity and aesthetic taste of your favorite compsers. Agree, disagree, or think the graph needs a slight change? Leave a comment for the SHAR Apprentices below!

Felix Mendelssohn
As far as child prodigies go, Mendelssohn was pretty grounded and together. Felix and his three siblings were born with silver(ish) spoons; later he and his wife Cecile had five children of their own. Yawn. And although I love listening to/playing his music, Mendelssohn was also famously more cautious than some of his zanier contemporaries (ahem, Wagner). Double yawn.

George Gershwin
Gershwin’s life/personality seemed relatively normal; he was a Brooklyn-bred, first generation, high school dropout. And oh yeah, he was also sort of a musical genius. Although Porgy and Bess was initially slammed by critics, it was later lauded as one of the most important operas in history.

Franz Josef Haydn
Although Haydn had a bit of a rough start to his life, including bouts of starvation and homelessness, later in life he enjoyed wealth and fame in London and Vienna.  He was also described as likeable and humble — no easy feat for a prolific and successful composer.

I know it’s hard to view Papa Haydn as revolutionary in his musical contributions, but for us string players, but he was definitely a trailblazer... can you even imagine what our rep would look like if his string quartets didn’t exist?

Robert Schumann
I don’t have perfect pitch, but in my heyday in music school, I pretty much had an A440 stuck in my head at all times. Like me and George Costanza, Schumann went nuts over one note. (Remember this episode of Seinfeld?) All kidding aside, the reason he was institutionalized was because of severe depression. His works were fairly conservative in regard to form, but he helped push the boundaries of romantic music.

Johann Sebastian Bach
In his time, Bach was a name synonymous with “musician.” Being from a large family of musicians, Johann met and exceeded all of his expectations. Having never left Germany once in his career, he was a bit of a homebody. Besides conquering the study of counterpoint and being one of the greatest virtuosi ever, he was pretty much just a full-time family man.

Ludwig van Beethoven
Our favorite hearing-impaired composer places high on the crazy and genius/influential scale. He was definitely the tortured artist type — moody, passionate, and absolutely brilliant. We can thank him for bringing us into the Romantic era.

Johann Brahms
The mystery of his impoverished childhood has been debated — many think he may have been employed at the request of his parents in a dance hall. The circumstances of that appointment raise more questions regarding his very close relationship with Clara Schumann and his troubles successfully courting women. On many nights long-bearded Brahms could be seen in cheap clothes, walking with no socks on, to his favorite pub the Red Hedgehog. He would often hand out candy to children along the way. Despite his eccentricities, his music was labeled by the other half of the War of the Romantics as being “old-fashioned.” He admittedly focused on the study of counterpoint and imitation and development — much like his role-models, Bach, Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven.

Dmitri Shostakovich
As a musician I feel like I have the right to say that MUSICIANS ARE CRAZY. Sure Shosty was often described as a bundle of nerves, and he even allegedly had some OCD, but he was a child prodigy and musical genius. I should also probably mention that he had to grapple with keeping Stalin happy and staying alive. With the cards he was dealt, I think Shostakovich was pretty together.

Shostakovich’s music is deeply emotional and restrained in the best way. Even though he’s pretty average on this particular matrix, he’s ranked high in my book.

Hector Berlioz
Because of his fascination with opiates, some of you may think Berlioz should be ranked higher on the crazy scale, but hear me out. If you heard that a famous rock musician did some drugs and then created a composition based on that experience, you would probably shrug and move on. Berlioz was just ahead of his time. After writing Symphony Fantastique and other works, we can thank Berlioz for significantly changing the instrumentation of the modern orchestra.

John Cage
In my opinion, there’s a "good crazy" and a "bad crazy." People who are bad crazy hurt people for no reason. People in the good crazy category think outside the box and have weird interests like Cage, who happened to be an expert of mushrooms (the funghi, not the drug).

Without a doubt, Cage was a leader in avant-garde music. Just looking at one of his pieces shows that the dude thought way, way outside the box. I’m pretty sure he’s the only person who could release a work of silence and still be super respected by the music community.

Johann Strauss II
Strauss was the tin pan alley composer of classical music. He came from a musical family; his father Johann Sr. and two brothers were also composers. When I think of a musical Austrian family I think of a happy bunch, but the Strauss’ were less like the Austrian Von Trapps (pre-war, of course) and more like the American Jacksons. Johann Jr. and his father were in serious competition, and we all know who won the title of "The Waltz King."

Karlheinz Stockhausen
His ex-friends would say Stockhausen totally belongs in a looney bin. After reading this article, I can understand why. Maybe there’s some bias in the article, but Stockhausen is at best portrayed as eccentric and delusional. I can’t even imagine what it was like to rehearse the the Helicopter quartet with Stockhausen, who is often described as a hot-tempered perfectionist.

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Tchaikovsky was known to be extremely sensitive and painfully shy. His anxiety began early in his childhood and continued in his adult life; there is speculation that he even ended his own life. The Russian composer made his most significant impact in ballet music, but his worship of Mozart influences his work's strict classical form.  

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