While making great progress on my Suzuki lessons and my current Book Four Vivaldi Concerto movement, I do practice other things most days. For a while now, my primary side-pursuit has been Ashokan Farewell, the Jay Ungar composed tune that found ubiquity with its inclusion in the Ken Burns documentary The Civil War. I continue to make progress on that piece too – a great one for me to work up at this phase of my learning because there is a section of sustained whole-note double stops and a finale that includes a shift up to third position, two skills that I need as much practice with as I can get.
On Saturday night, Michael and I were sitting watching a series on Netflix set at Christmastime, and it included a soundtrack of carols. At some point, our mutual favorite – Oh Holy Night – came around, and Michael asked me to play it. I said I didn’t want to just then, that I wasn’t warmed up, that it was hard, that I would be terrible at it. Blah blah blah. A while back, Michael pointed out a tendency I have that makes my performances weaker. He noted that when playing for others, I tend to play music I’m not as familiar with, songs I haven’t been working with as deeply as other tunes I play nearly every day. He says that means I don’t put my best foot forward, musically speaking. He understood my reluctance in that moment to playing, but commented that if I want to sound good at the family Christmas concert this year I should drag out my Christmas music and play it more often.
Ironically, Oh Holy Night was the first Christmas tune I started working on. When I began playing the violin again, in November almost four years ago, I had yet to begin reading music. As Christmas approached I wanted to play it, and all I knew to do was to pick out the tune on my violin by ear, diligently recording the finger positions so I could begin to practice the song. I don’t remember (nor would I have been able to say) what key I was working in. Happily, by the next Christmas, I was reading music, so I downloaded real sheet music versus working from my finger position sketch – I found an arrangement in G Major, and I’ve used that version ever since.
Yesterday, I dragged out the Oh Holy Night sheet music from the bottom of my music basket and started playing. Before long, no doubt due to the primacy of third position in the Vivaldi Concerto that is my current Suzuki repertoire obsession, I discovered that the arrangement of Oh Holy Night I have is quite well-suited to third position fingering. But, to Michael’s point about putting my best foot forward, it’s undeniable that my best foot is not playing in third position! It’s also true that at this point in my development on the violin I will have some difficulty ignoring my knowledge that, technically speaking, the shift up is better suited to parts of the piece.
Whatever positions I end up using, as I work it up I hope the neighbors don’t too much mind a little Christmas in July.
Thanks for reading.
We all look forward to hearing you play and look forward to the next rendition of this favorite as well!