Wednesday, March 7, 2007

The quest for perfection

How many times have you practiced a piece perfectly, only to lose it on stage? This morning on WBEZ-FM public radio, Nathan Gunn, the famous baritone, said that a conductor helped him think differently about his disappointment with a less than "perfect" performance. The conductor said that the purpose of practice is perfection, but the purpose of performance is communication with the audience. Think about it!

The Triada Music Festival

Summer camp is a great opportunity for music students to strengthen skills and make new friends. Many offer scholarships.

Last summer, the girls of SugarStrings attended the Triada Music Festival ( in Ludlow, Vermont, for a month of rigorous instruction, practice, performance (solo and chamber), master classes, and making new friends. Thanks to the rigor of the curriculum and the amazing instructors and performers, the girls made great strides in their skills and performance.

Cellist Mara McClain, one of the founders of Triada, offers the following thoughts about the Triada experience. Think about it as you're deciding on the right camp for your student. (Application deadline: April 1, 2007)
Triada Music Festival was founded in 2006 by Marko Dreher, Avi Friedlander, and myself. As young musicians starting out in our professional lives we desperately wanted to be able to spread our energy, enthusiasm and love of playing to young students. We wanted to create a supportive and educational environment for our own students and invite others to join us. With the help of our guest faculty and artists, our hope is to motivate them to succeed to even higher levels than they have already achieved. More importantly, we encourage them to not lose sight of the joy that comes from collaborating with their peers in chamber groups as well as the hard work they do in their own personal practice.

The importance and benefit of participating in a summer music festival is immeasurable. It is very difficult to recreate the intensity of study and focus a festival can inspire. The school year is filled with homework, after school activities and many other distractions. In the beautiful setting of Okemo Mountain, Vermont, we invite our 30 students, of all ages, to be inspired by their surroundings, their peers and their teachers.

Along with our resident faculty, the following world class guest faculty and guest perfomers will join us throughout the summer to provide chamber and solo recitals, master classes, chamber coachings, and private lessons. These guest teachers, orchestral musicians and chamber musicians are from some of the finest conservatories, universities, and symphonies in the world:
~Roland and Almita Vamos, violin professors, Northwestern University
~Hans Jensen, cello professor, Northwestern University
~Kenneth Olsen, assistant principal cellist, Chicago Symphony
~Deb Fayroin, former cellist, Detroit Symphony
~Benjamin Peled, violinist, Royal Concerctgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam
~David Bowlin, violin teaching assistant to Ronald Copes of the Juliard School
~Duo Diorama -- pianist Winston Choi, acting professor, Oberlin Conservatory, and violinist Minghuan Xu
~Dr. Laura Talbot, violin professor, Oklahoma State University
~Dr. Nick Curry, cello professor, University of South Dakota
~Dovid Friedlander, associate concertmaster, North Carolina Symphony
~Dmitry Kustonovich, violist, Fort Worth Symphony

Faculty and guests are integrated into the daily lives of the students both musically and socially. The interaction between the students and teachers during lessons and master classes as well as at meal times and during school outings is highly effective in creating the tight knit, supportive family atmosphere we strive to create.

To apply, students must submit an application by April 1, 2007. Scholarship assistance is available, but is limited. Go to for details.

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Myrtle who?

Our friend and harpist extraordinaire, Rashida Naomi Black, has launched a new site for musicians called the Myrtle Hart Society ( MHS is "an Internet-based music research and educational resource committed to illuminating the historical and contemporary accomplishments of classical musicians of color."

So who's Myrtle Hart?

Born into a family of musicians in 1878, Myrtle Hart was possibly the only African American musician to play the harp during that time. At the age of 15, Myrtle was asked to perform in the British Exhibit at Chicago's World Fair in 1893. A local paper said she was "the only Black to play harp." Today's black harpists owe much to the legacy of this amazing woman.

Help with chords

Even the best musicians need help with chords from time to time. If you don't know all your chords, check out these handy sites:
DanMan's Picture Chords

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Importance of fingering

When I studied piano as a child, I never understood why my teacher, Mr. Barnes, would spend so much time writing down the fingering I should use on my pieces and technical exercises. I mean, what was the big deal? Why couldn't you just read the notes and then play 'em?

Mr. Barnes would painstakingly write down the little numbers over the notes then tell me to get off the piano bench so he could test it out. He might change a sequence or two, and then he'd test it again.

In this way, he'd work out the fingering that I would use to learn my pieces. Sometimes, in subsequent lessons, he made adjustments to fingering if he saw that I was having difficulties. Every once in awhile he'd let me keep fingering that I intuitively figured out on my own.

Little did I realize how important fingering is to a musician's ability to perform and memorize a piece well. If you've ever tried to change the fingering of a passage that you already memorized, you might have experienced confusion and forgetfulness. Why? Because fingering and muscle memory and confidence all work together. When you change one aspect of the formula, you risk forgetting the notes.

There's a science and art to working out fingering, especially as pieces become more and more difficult. Whether you're playing a flute, a violin, or piano, fingering is fundamental. Your fingers are doing so many things at once that the last thing you need to worry about is what finger to use on what note. Remember the Bugs Bunny cartoon where he plays the piano so fast that his fingers get all tied up in knots? Probably the result of bad fingering!

Well-thought out fingering will help you learn the swampy measures. There's something about playing a difficult passage the same way, with the same fingering, over and over that nails the notes in your muscle memory.

So the next time your teacher spends a lot of time on this, be patient. It will help your playing in the long run.

Friday, February 23, 2007


Have you ever wanted to compose music? Check out Finale NotePad® 2007, free music notation software. I've used it to arrange music and got hooked!

Saturday, February 17, 2007

More than one way to bow a string!

Loved him! Violinist Daniel Bernard Roumain (DBR & The Mission) with Ayanna, Adé, and Mira after his concert at the Pick-Staiger Concert Hall, Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois. DBR makes his violin sing rock, hip hop, jazz, funk, and everything in between.
SugarStrings is an all-girl, classical music trio comprised of 3 first cousins. Whenever SugarStrings performs, inevitably, we mothers are asked about their training routine, their instruments, choice of music, hours of practice, and more. This blog is our attempt to create a community of parents, teachers, and students who love music and want to improve their skills. My sisters, Laura and Janice, and I (Donna Marie) manage this website. We'll provide tips from master teachers and students alike. Please share your thoughts and tips and ideas for stories.