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In Defense of Karl Lagerfeld's Violin Shaped Dress

  
  
  
josephinellorente

In today's blog, SHAR Apprentice, violinist, and fashionista Jospehine Llorente confronts one of the timeless questions: is all that glitters cheaply made? Can't we have both quality craftsmanship and our brightly-lit, irresponsible, neon-colored fantasies? In doing so, Josephine comes to the conclustion that being tough on a hot green VSO (Violin Shaped Object) doesn't mean a girl can't have fun.  

As a former school teacher and current SHAR Apprentice, I have encountered my fair share of VSOs. The worst part about them is that they get kids super excited about playing (that is, until they actually try to play on their neon green VSO). While my extreme aversion to ridiculously colored violins is a subjective opinion, I think it’s safe to say that string teachers and players aren’t too fond of sticking pegs, painted purfling, terribly fitted bridges, and a sound that leaves you wondering if someone’s cat is dying.

As someone who desperately wants a hot pink Daisy Rock Guitar (pictured right), I completelyget why people find VSOs so appealing. Not only are VSOs way more fun-looking than the traditional wood violin, they are cheap (in every sense of the word). In the battleground of online shopping, price is everything. There are numerous websites and apps that help you find the lowest price, because, let’s face it, people want a good deal. I would be lying if I said I didn’t succumb to these ploys. (Although I would love a Dyson, a quick peek at my checking account convinced me to buy a thirty dollar, barely-functioning, Vacuum Shaped Object.)

Last month, I was making my regular visits of various fashion blogs when I saw actress/it-girl Chloe Sevigny in a vintage Karl Lagerfeld dress. I loved the dress: it’s a high-neck number, loose-fitting, with a gold (and glittering!) violin-shaped panel that connects the skirt to the cap sleeves. Then it hit me. OMG. SHE’S WEARING A VSO. And as I was fawning over Chloe in the $4000 dollar dress, to my surprise, I realized that I really loved this VSO. I thought my feet were firmly planted in the anti-VSO camp? How could I just abandon ship and go against everything I’ve learned as a teacher, player, and SHAR employee?! I would have to decide: either my love of the Karl Lagerfeld vintage dress or my lifelong commitment to fighting VSOs would win out.

Did it have to be this way, though? I gave myself some time to think about it. And, surprisingly enough (or not suprisingly), I found that I could both love the Lagerfeld dress and continue to despise VSOs. Although Largerfeld’s dress has the markings of your typical VSO (non-functional pegs and absurdly colored), I knew it there was more to it than what I was initially seeing. I came to understand that the violin dress is much more like a fine violin than a VSO. Like a Bazin bow (or a Dyson vacuum!) a Lagerfeld dress was created by a true master of his craft. He famously stated, Things have to be beautifully made, even if they are full of fun, fantasy, and futility.” He also said, ”It’s all about taste. If YOU are cheap, nothing helps.A bit harsh, but Uncle Karl hits the nail on the head: you get what you pay for. And in this case it’s an impeccably made violin dress. 









"Jascha" by Arnold Steinhardt, Introduced by Charles Avsharian

  
  
  
Guarneri Trio and Charles Avsharian

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

What's In Your Case? (Part II)

  
  
  
What%27s in my case web

In today's blog, we share a few customer photos from our #caseconfessions series. We've got some great stuff here: a garden kneeling pad, old boxers, Phantom of the Opera, and a symphony name tag. Send your case content photos to jamese@sharmusic.com to join in. And check back soon for more case contents photos!

SHAR Has a New E-Magazine

  
  
  
Pizzicato Spring 2013 cover

Hello to the SHAR faithful out there! Today marks the release of our first issue of Pizzicato, an e-zine (electronic magainze) devoted to all things strings. Click on the cover below to read the issue. Feel free to share the magazine with your friends, students, and teachers!

What's In Your Case?

  
  
  
violinist

In today's blog, we take a look at what's inside the cases of our favorite SHAR employees and SHAR friends. Strings, Bach, tuners, tea, playing cards and more. If you want to get in on the fun and share the contents of your case, email a photo and 140 character max description of your case contents to SHAR Apprentice James Engman (jamese@sharmusic.com). Each week, we'll add five photos we like to our blog! Or, if you're on Twitter, post your photo to #caseconfessions.



Suzuki Violin School Book 6, the Revised Edition

  
  
  
Suzuki Violin School, Volume 6   Violin Part L

Alexandra Ostroff, one of our Customer Service Supervisors, has some great news for the Suzuki violin crowd out there: SHAR now has the revised edition of Book 6 in stock! Alexandra offers a sneak peek below.

We are so happy to see the newly revised edition of Suzuki Book 6 for violin in stock here at SHAR! The book opens with Tonalization exercises. These exercises focus on keeping a beautiful tone when shifting. It also includes exercises for shifting from 3rd to 6th position on all strings then revisiting Perpetual Motion in the new position. Be sure to take a special look at pages 9 and 32; they have some great information on the new terms and composers in this book and on Dr. Suzuki’s ways of incorporating other repertoire into his teaching. Handel’s Sonata No. 3 has always been my favorite from this collection of works. I enjoy the contrast between the slower more lyrical movements and the more cheerful dance-like Allegros. Also, be sure to pick up the new revised CD recording featuring William Preucil (violin) and Linda Perry (piano) performing.  You can play along with Perry on the piano in the later tracks.



Making the Case for Retail Stores

  
  
  
andy5

Today's blog is from Andy Monefeldt, the manager of SHAR's Ann Arbor retail store. Andy makes the case for visiting SHAR's retail store in Ann Arbor. Sure, everyone will continue to shop online for a long time to come; that's not going to change. But perhaps there's something to be said for SHAR's retail store – you get the same great prices and wide selection but with unmatched in-person customer service.

Until a few years ago, I was doing the majority of my Christmas shopping online. Like most people, I didn’t find myself with a lot of free time to actually go shopping. I work full-time plus at SHAR Music, I play with three community orchestras in the area, and I have a studio of bass students, so it’s rare for my day to be over by the time I punch out for the evening. This means that there's usually a rehearsal somewhere from 7:30-10 at the end of my day, or a few students coming over for lessons after 6, with serious tennis ball interaction with my dog (an Austrailan Cattle Dog) shoehorned in between everything else. With such a hectic schedule, my free moments are nothing more than sweetly singing sirens luring me into the Rocks of Procrastination. All told, I am a world-class procrastinator when it comes to things like shopping.

For most holiday seasons, I generally knew what I was looking for, and while the stores around Ann Arbor (where I live!) had all of the items I was looking for, it was easier to be able to sit in my living room with a cup of hot chocolate, my feet up, and shop online. I could sit there, cozy and stationary, and search for anything that I could possibly want and have it shipped directly back home in time for Christmas. Then last year I procrastinated worse than usual, and while I could still find everything I needed online, there wasn’t enough time left to have things shipped before Christmas. So I jumped in my car and started driving frantically around Ann Arbor. I hit up Macy’s...Roo’s Roast (a great local coffee shop)...Barnes and Noble...REI. In the end, my feet-dragging didn’t matter: I found what I was looking for and also got a little something extra. I ended up purchasing an additional book, one that my brother hadn’t specifically asked for, but one that a store employee recommended to me. My brother loved it.



Inching Through Twinkle Variations with Nonpareils

  
  
  
suzuki

Our latest blog is from Nerissa Nields, a Suzuki mom of two and folk singer in the band The Nields. Nerissa confronts an important question in this post: How do family dynamics show up in her son's Suzuki lessons? Her response is refreshingly honest: while she expresses a lot of frustration with her son Johnny, she ultimately recognizes and respects his current limits.

Johnny has had four violin lessons and one group class. It’s so strange to see how different two children can be. After years of telling friends that my kids were more alike than not, as violinists at least they show their proclivities. Lila’s bow-hold was right-on from the start; Johnny grabs his fat marker in his fist and doesn’t comprehend that one does not wield it like a sword. We are supposed to be clapping out each of the six Twinkle variations to our new teacher’s words, but Johnny wilts after one-half of one, where Lila dashed ahead, graduating from her Twinkles in less than nine months. I take his fists in my two hands and tap them together for claps, but he says, “Dis gives me a stomach ache.” And more painfully, “Dis is my body and I get to do what I want!” Who can argue with that?

In Paul Tough’s new bestseller How Children Succeed (which I am supposed to be reading but haven’t started yet, but I did listen to half the This American Life piece about it) he argues that the skills most necessary to teach kids are self-control, to learn to focus attention, and to delay gratification. The exercises our teacher gives us are all about these skills. We start with a bow in which Johnny says, “Good morning” or “Good afternoon” or “Good evening,” depending on what time it is. We listen to the Suzuki Slow Twinkle CD and clap along, as I said above, and we listen to the Twinkles up to speed while he sways back and forth, his feet in playing position and his box violin on his shoulder. Then we do “Up Like a Rocket” with his pen-cum-bow and his bunny bow-hold. He wants to make up his own lyrics, but his teacher insists on hers. Delay gratification. He wants to make his pen go horizontally for “back and forth like a choo choo train,” but his teacher makes him keep it vertical. Self control. He ends each practice with “Thank you for the wonderful lesson,” and a bow. Nothing to complain about that. It’s teaching him good manners.

So why is this all so hard for me? Because he doesn’t always want to do any of it, and I feel foolish, frustrated, helpless, and most of all like a Tiger mom. A failed Tiger mom at that. We set up his foot chart (a 20″ cardboard with construction paper cut outs of his feet positions) and it can take 20 minutes for him to get in rest position and bow. Before he can do this, he has to fall on the floor a few times, balance on one foot and go, “Whoa! whoa!” and wave his arms around, ask for a drink, decide he has to pee, take off his shirt, roll up his pants legs, look out the window to see if Gulliver the Cat has come over, look out the window to see if his dad has biked home yet, set up his favorite cars to watch the practice, go get his ducky to watch the practice, count the marbles in his marble jar and then fall on the floor crying and insisting he hates violin and never wants to play again.

And we haven’t even picked up the actual violin.

Lila’s teacher Emily Greene says that whatever you are dealing with in terms of family dynamics will come out in the violin practice. As an author, and a teacher of writing, I notice that whatever is hard for me in life is hard for me on the page, and so it goes with my students. If a student doesn’t know herself, it is hard for her main character to be known. If a student is impatient and in a hurry, her scenes will skim by. If a student is fluent in the language of emotion but slow to take action, her scenes will be rich studies of humanity but lacking plot. And if a person cares more about being liked and well-thought of by teachers and other authority figures (but not little boys) and is the tiniest bit afraid of confrontation, violin practice sessions can turn into the Clash of the Titans.

Today I wised up. I looked at what we were being asked to do. Johnny can’t make it through even one Twinkle, either in the swaying exercise or the clapping one. Our teacher doesn’t know this because I haven’t told her. Instead I have brought her practice sheets covered with stickers (and let’s be truthful: the stickers are for me, not Johnny. I am the one who puts them on and gets a big hit from seeing them taking over the yellow lines of the paper.) But I will go in on Thursday and tell her we need to slow down, even though progress seems snail’s-paced to me as it is. And this morning, I got down a shaker of nonpareils which I used to bribe him to do each item on our practice sheet. I had Johnny bow, do one Twinkle variation for swaying, one for clapping and his up like a rocket. It all took five minutes. I hugged him and praised him and he bowed deeply. “Sank you for a wonderful lesson,” he murmured.













Choosing Music

  
  
  
Kim Wren

We have a wonderful guest blog today from Kim Wren, the upright bassist for the indie-folk band Doug Mains & the City Folk. Ms. Wren has been a member of Doug Mains & the City Folk since 2010 and is currently a senior music education major at Michigan State University. Ms. Wren talks about how "choosing the bass as a lifelong musical partner" introduced her to a rich variety of genres like classical, jazz, rock, and folk and to her current bandmates. It's a great story for our blog, where musicians like Christian Howes and Mark O'Connor have stressed the importance of playing in genres other classical.  

When I first saw the upright bass in the back of my brother’s 6th grade orchestra class, my ten-year-old self would have never imagined the places that instrument would take me over the next decade. From a performing arts high school in Georgia to traveling on the road with an indie-folk band in Michigan, choosing the bass as a lifelong musical partner has lead me down many unexpected and exciting paths.

I switched to bass in 6th grade after playing the violin for a year in 5th grade. For various reasons (mostly because of the screeching sound of the E string), I didn’t enjoy my 5th grade year of violin playing at all and I was ready to drop out of music completely by the time 6th grade came around. But my mom and the middle school orchestra teacher convinced me to stay and try the bass out for a few weeks before I made a final decision. So I started staying after school for beginning bass lessons with the orchestra teacher and two other 6th graders who were also switching to bass. It was just about instant love when I first played that beast of an instrument. The low E string, instead of screeching like my violin, rumbled the floor. I was hooked on orchestra for good. My teacher let me take a school bass home and, especially in those early stages, I remember my parents having to stop me from practicing so much because it was driving them crazy.

Since those beginning years, being a bassist has lead me to many places I very likely would have never gone had I not stuck with music as a middle-schooler. From All-State Orchestras across the states of Virginia (where I spent my middle school years) and Georgia (where I spent my high school years), to a performing arts high school where I met many friends and colleagues in the arts, to summers at Interlochen Arts Camp, to Michigan State University for my undergraduate education. Being such a versatile instrument, the bass has also lead me to expand and explore many genres of music including (but never limited to) classical, jazz, rock, singer-songwriter, and folk. Most importantly to me, through music and bass playing I’ve met a countless number of people from all different walks of life. Some of them have become lifelong friends, like my four band-mates in Doug Mains & the City Folk, Doug, Josh, Rob, and Kelly. I’m so grateful to be a part of this team of musicians. We’ve traveled many miles together throughout the country and have shared so many meaningful experiences, some high, some low, but always together as a little indie-folk music family.

I owe much to my mom and to my middle school orchestra teacher for putting a double bass in my hands all those years ago. Where would life have taken me without that defining moment? I don’t even want to consider.









Suzuki from a Pop Musician’s Perspective

  
  
  
Beginner Violin

Our latest blog is from Nerissa Nields, a Suzuki mom of two and folk singer in the band The Nields. Nerissa discusses the importance of process in the Suzuki method: her kids' teacher, Emily Greene, considers the violin almost a "by-product" of the method.  

My niece, with her band, has recorded her first single, which she wrote, sings lead on and plays bass on. It’s a rocking song called “Speak Up!” and my kids just got their mitts on a CD of it.

"Speak up, stand up/Don’t let anyone tell you what to do… " sings my 6-year-old daughter, along to her beloved cousin’s vocal. Her little brother mimes playing the descending bass line on air guitar. We’ve listened to the song four times in a row. I am blown away by the confidence, the mastery, the reedy sweetness of the eleven-year-old voice. And, to make matters even more delightful, the song is about music itself, and the deliciousness of coming into one’s identity as a young musician:

"In music there are no lines to cross/In your own song you are always the boss."

Ah, the freedom of the pop musician. Tom and I just came from a Suzuki parent class, a two-hour affair held for all parents of Suzuki kids of all instruments. I felt tearful – in a good way – by the end of it. Other parents shared their reasons for taking on what is the equivalent of a college class (and we’re talking about just the parents’ role here!):

- "It gives my son confidence and something he can be proud of."
- "It teaches my daughter that if you practice something, you will get better."
- "If I am there to guide them, it keeps them from laying down the wrong neural pathways."
- "This is an opportunity to give my child the ability to master something."
- "She whistles the themes of the music all day long!"

Interestingly, none of the parents said, "Because I want my child to be the next Joshua Bell." Everyone present was more interested in process than product. In fact, the teacher (Emily Greene) even referred to playing the violin as a by-product of the method. The real fruits are compassion, frustration tolerance, self-control, appreciation of beauty, self-esteem and a closer parent-child relationship.

Even though I, like my niece, have relished the freedom I have had as a folk/pop/rock musician to be the "boss" of my own songs and my own music practice, I am all for Suzuki, especially the fruits listed above. And the above are the reasons I show up day after day to the practice sheet our teacher makes, and insist Lila pick up her fiddle and play her repetitions of "Allegro" and "Witches’ Dance," even when she responds by becoming boneless and falling onto the floor.

We parents also went around and shared what is hardest for us about Suzuki. Most said the conflicts arising around practice. I added that for me the biggest fear is the thought that plays in my head when Lila doesn’t want to practice and I am making her: I am destroying her love for music! And: how will she become the boss of her own musicality? (Most specifically, will she have the courage to compose?)

Why do I have these thoughts? Because sometimes I hear from other rock musicians that they were forced to take music lessons when they were kids and they hated "that classical sh*t."(Of course, they went on to become professional drummers… ) Or because my father said he hated having to practice his cello growing up (of course he plays guitar now, all the time, whenever he can get his hands on it, and no one makes him… ). Or that my daughter herself says, "I’m sick of practicing!" (But if I tell her she can quit, she immediately goes running for her instrument.)

Music is hard. There’s no getting around the fact that in order to play half decently one has to put in some hours. And most musicians have some kind of internal struggle with practicing. (Some don’t. My friend Pete Kennedy told me he still practices 3-5 hours a day, and I can’t imagine he "makes" himself do this. His guitar seems like an appendage of himself.) But anything worth having a lifelong relationship with takes time and perseverance and has hard spots. Somehow we (I) get the idea that music should be all pleasure. Nothing is all pleasure. Everything that matters in life takes work: getting to see a great view from the top of a mountain. Having an incredible relationship with another person. Writing a beautiful poem. Painting a picture. Creating a garden from a patch of weeds. 

At the outset of lessons, neither parent nor child counted on the struggles that can often come between them during practices. First lessons often start after children have seen other children performing – or perhaps playing games in group class. The parent-child duo takes up an instrument with beautiful images of working together happily to produce delightful sounds. There’s usually a honeymoon period, but before long, parents begin to realize that the work of practicing resembles gardening with your bare hands more than arranging fresh flowers in a vase. (And don’t be fooled: even the parents who appear that have practices as graceful as an ikebana also run into a thorn now and then.)

An important truth from gardeners can help parents who practice with theirchildren: you can’t tug on a play to make it grow. You have to trust the process. But there’s nothing wrong with fertilizing, watering, and generally caring for a plant. That’s what gardeners do. Parents need to do it as well. In the process of tending beautiful flowers and nutritious vegetables, gardeners also encounter weeds. And pests. They also get some dirt under their fingers. In their own way, so will parents. (from “Building Violin Skills,” Ed Sprunger)

This beautiful quotation from the Suzuki teacher, violinist and psychotherapist Ed Sprunger hit me where I lived yesterday when Emily read this to us. As a writer and a teacher of writing, I realized the universality of this thought. You can’t tug on your writing, either. You can’t tug on your relationship. You are not the creator, and as a certain president recently said, no one is really self-made. We all need each other.

You have to leave space for the serendipitous, like your 11-year-old-budding-rock-star niece lighting a fire under your 4-year-old pre-Twinkler. For as soon as he’d finished listening to his cousin’s single (5 times in a row), Johnny, who just had his first lesson last Thursday, grabbed his tiny 1/16th size violin and started playing her pop song’s rhythm on the E string. We waited until the next day to inform him that, as a pre-Twinkler, he can’t actually touch the violin yet (this produces tears, but it also builds a powerful desire). So now, the violin’s hanging on the wall, next to his sister’s; under my guitar.

































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