Friday, October 21, 2011

"Beautiful Days"

The way Beethoven expresses his feelings: "I love you"
The way Debussy expresses the same feeling: "It's a beautiful day"

This is how this weekend’s guest conductor, Louis LangrĂ©e, explained the way Impressionist composers convey their feelings to audiences. His audience was one drawn by Free Fall Baltimore, which allowed many to attend a working rehearsal of two masterpieces each of Mozart and Debussy that are part of a beautiful program that also features a masterful violin soloist James Ehnes. There are two concerts remaining, Friday and Saturday evening. Don't miss this treat for the ears!

Bolt for the BSO Update

Last Saturday, Bolt for the BSO came to a rousing end in the form of the Baltimore Running Festival, which we all lovingly call the Baltimore Marathon. Many musicians, administrators and Board members, as well as our Music Director, Marin Alsop (together with her son), ran an array of races from 5K's to the full marathon. Some ran as veterans of these events, many more ran for the very fist time.

It turned out to be a glorious day, with full sunshine backed by azure-blue skies and just enough of a breeze to make sweating a negligible side-effect. Some 25,000 runners from all states of the Union and 24 different countries participated in this incredible display of humans working together for the common cause: to exercise, to lose weight, to achieve and surpass personal records, and, primarily (for most of us, one can hope), to have fun.

BSO's "Bolters" had an additional goal - to, in a way, justify and thank all of the generous donors who helped us get, as of today, very close to our goal of raising at least $50,000 for our beloved orchestra. The good news is that there's still time, until November 1, for you to pick and sponsor a runner and therefore contribute in this inspired and oh-so-well run and organized effort by Cynthia Renn, our Governing Member Extraordinaire (and many others) to help this incredible arts organization continue contributing its talents to the city and state it's in, at the highest level of excellence. You can do so by going to this link:, or, if you really like my blog, here's my personal Bolt fundraising page:

Here are a few of my impressions from the race:

-Favorite moment (other than the obvious one of crossing the finish line): The start of the race, after a heart-felt rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner, with thousands cheering and confetti flying.

-Favorite sign alongside the race: "WORST PARADE EVER". Made me laugh so hard that I lost my pace for a few seconds.

-Favorite scene: Coming down the hill from Harford Rd. and seeing the first few hundred racers already circling the deep-blue waters of picturesque Lake Montebello, leading a long snake of runners that stretched for miles.

-Favorite not-so-legal, yet so Baltimore-like scene: A couple, set up with a small table in front one of the colorful row-houses in Charles Village, handing out beer in open cups to runners, as a Baltimore Policeman stands, ignoring them, a few feet away

-Favorite revelation: That the waters of the above lake were such a deep blue color because of the wind which, as we circled the lake and noticed whitecaps forming, hit us dead-on and followed us to the finish line, probably slowing down each runner's time by a few precious seconds.

-Favorite way to take advantage of a captive audience: Several musicians (bands) set up along the way, of which the one somewhere on Howard St. takes the cake for the least inspiring singing/playing. Made me run faster, just when I was starting to loose energy!

-Favorite effort at getting their sign noticed: A guy from Occupy Baltimore, near Patterson Park, running on the side of the course in the opposite direction of hundreds of participants , holding a 99% sign.

-Favorite side-effect of the race: The many policeman manning the intersections in the impoverished parts of town, allowing some of our fellow citizens to feel safe enough this one time in a year to come out on their stoops, many in their pajamas, and heartily cheer on (and for some, sing and dance) the strangers that would otherwise be too scared to even drive through their neighborhoods. Touching and inspiring.

And now, I think I bought myself some bragging rights:

  • Half-Marathon time 1:51:59 (about 8.5 minute miles), significantly better than last year's 1:57:something, which was my first ever race, after I had just started running that summer.
  • 120th in my age category
  • 1,200 overall (of about 11,000 half-marathon runners).

Not too bad for a second violinist :)

Friday, October 14, 2011


(This is the first response to the BOLT donation challenge I wrote about below.)

–an amount of teaching given at one time
–a period of learning or teaching
–a passage from the Bible read aloud during a church service
–to learn one's lesson
–to teach someone a lesson

So many meanings, yet they all really mean one thing. I especially like the last one. Even with its oh-so-obvious meaning in the music world, it still carries that admonishing connotation that I never want to convey when I am, indeed, “teaching someone a lesson.”

So, the word itself essentially means that there is some kind of learning process happening during a usually pre-assigned period of time (hey, maybe I should send that meaning to Webster's, I think it's pretty good?). If one looks at it that way, the implication is that there's a teacher (coach, trainer, etc.) doing the teaching, and a student (apprentice, sports player, etc.) doing the learning. However, anyone that's devoted any time to teaching (in my case, over 20 years) knows that it is much more of a two-way street.
In music, this couldn't be more accentuated (excuse the pun). A musician (student) spends countless hours being instructed (taught) on so many different levels: holding the instrument properly, having the correct body posture, specific (and countless) technical exercises; but all that work ties into the “product” they are creating: the glorious music that's supposed to come out of their instrument. And therein lies the catch.

It's hard enough for a teacher to put into words what he/she knows at that point in their career (hopefully) so well, especially with regards to purely technical aspects of playing: the tricks to playing with a straight bow, control of a good spiccato (a bouncing stroke), the various widths and speeds of an expressive vibrato. Even those concepts require a lot of “translating” from what comes so naturally and what our teachers so capably put into words for us so many years ago. The real challenge comes when a teacher is confronted, whether with a new student or for the first time altogether, with having to convey a meaning of a musical phrase, a direction of a certain musical idea, or a style of music from many centuries ago. That's the real challenge in teaching.

Even after so many years in the profession, I still find it stimulating to exchange ideas with my students about what all those symbols on the page are trying to convey, to get them to discover for themselves how to use all those techniques we worked so hard on in order to make sounds that move and, yes, entertain, the listener. And that's a lesson that teaches both the student and the teacher.

-Ivan Stefanovic