108 Days of Telemann

I’m in a lot of online violin and viola groups. It all started for me back in 2006 with violinist.com, a website edited by violinist and journalist Laurie Niles, devoted to the idea that “you can’t say enough about the violin.” When I joined, it was already an ambitious project, but still relatively small. If you hung around on the site for a while you soon got to know most of the regular posters. I started blogging there in the fall of 2006 when I started playing the violin again after a long break and added the viola.

Since then the internet has exploded as a medium for meeting other musicians online. There has been a YouTube symphony orchestra. Violin lessons via Skype are commonplace, and Facebook groups abound, where players of all ages and skill levels share videos and support. I have found myself a member and sometime moderator of a number of these groups, and I have met great friends there. In fact, when I moved to the SF Bay Area a couple of years ago, I found out about all the groups I play with now IRL, online. I wouldn’t have imagined any of this back the first time I was playing the violin, as a child and teen.

In fact at this point I am in what would probably be described as an embarrassment of Facebook-group riches. I’m not sure I can even remember all their names. (I’m a moderator for one of them, so I remember that one, at least.) I see many of the same friends in multiple groups too: some are violin- or viola-centric, some are for adult starters and re-starters, one is focused on the Alexander Technique. Then I got added to the “100-Day Practice Challenge.” A little overwhelmed, I hid the notifications and was thinking about just signing out of the group. And then I went to orchestra rehearsal.

One of the orchestras I play with, the South Bay Philharmonic, is an all-volunteer group that I found out about when a friend from violinist.com, Gene Huang, let me know about it on my blog when I announced I was moving. I looked it up then and found that they rehearsed around the corner from my new house. It took several months before I became a regular member, but once I did I was hooked. The SBP evolved out of the Hewlett-Packard Orchestra, and there are still some H-P employees playing with the group, but it is now independent. Scientists and tech nerds are heavily represented among the musicians, so I fit in well!

Playing in the SBP viola section

An aspect of the SBP that especially appeals to me is the “open mic” portion of the concerts, shorter pieces played by small chamber groups, and full chamber music concerts. I’ve played in several of these, most recently a performance of the Schubert Cello Quintet. Gene Huang, who is the concertmaster of the SBP, has performed the entire Mendelssohn violin concerto with the orchestra, and our principal cellist, Harris Karsch, performed the Popper Hungarian Rhapsody with orchestra last spring. The concert we are currently preparing features tubist John Whitecar playing the first movement of the Gregson tuba concerto, and there were rumors of a bassoon concerto on the spring concert.

Watching my friends perform solo repertoire with the SBP got me to thinking: could I do this too? I have never performed a concerto for anyone but a private teacher in the past. Several years ago I came close when I played the concertmaster solo of  Tchiakovksy’s “Mozartiana” suite with the Arlington Philharmonic. I’m a violist in the SBP, and there are fewer of these types of solos for viola, and fewer concertos. (Our conductor likes to joke about this fact). There is one, though, that is decently well known: the Telemann viola concerto in G. Here is one of my favorite recordings: Yuri Bashmet playing it on a modern instrument with modern tuning.

I have played it in various situations over the past several years as I was learning the viola. It’s quite charming to listen to and not that technically difficult, either for soloist or orchestra. I played it through once with an informal chamber group I read music with on weekends, and it went okay. So when the SBP’s outgoing music director asked for suggestions moving forward, I stepped up and volunteered. The process was made easier when I thought the actual performance would be a ways in the future: when we had exhausted the repertoire the director picked out before he retired and moved to Texas.

Then came the fateful orchestra rehearsal. The bassoonist who was going to perform this spring had a conflict with a paying gig with another orchestra. She wanted to postpone. Could I do the Telemann sooner? Um . . . sure?

I went home and counted the days until the concert (which will be on May 11 2018): it was 108. Suddenly the 100-day practice challenge took on a whole different meaning. That evening, I made my first post.


17 thoughts on “108 Days of Telemann”

  1. Happen to pass by. Sound like a really nice project! I’ve just started to self learn violin here. Do you happen to know any nice groups around east bay area to practice together or so? Thanks!!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. It was interesting what you said about never having imagined any of this when you first began to play. What a different world we live in now, eh? As stressful as this must be for you, you are very equal to the challenge, girlfriend! Good luck!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes. My kids’ childhoods have been quite different from mine, and in some ways that makes me sad. But in music I think the technological changes have been almost all good. High quality instruments are more affordable. Everyone has tuners and metronomes at their fingertips. Recordings and repertoire are also very accessible so you can hear great players playing almost anything you want to learn. And students who might be geographically isolated can still find good teachers, colleagues, and a sense of community.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. The SBP makes high quality videos of their performances and puts them on YouTube. I linked to a couple of previous ones above: Gene’s Mendelssohn concerto and Harris’ Popper Hungarian Rhapsody. So I am anticipating there will be a similar video of the Telemann eventually. Another opportunity for a blog 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  4. We heard the first movement of the Telemann concerto at my church today, and somehow Maureen Kennedy had not heard it or didn’t remember it. Definitely let her know you will be playing it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s surprising! The second movement was one of the first pieces I learned when I started playing the viola, along with some Bach suite transcriptions and Wohlfahrt etudes. The other movements aren’t played as often, but the first movement is maybe my favorite! I’m also going to play it, 2 movements at a time, in church next month.


  5. As another member of that Facebook group I must tell you how much I have loved watching you work on this. It’s a really beautiful concerto and I learn so much watching how others work on things to get to their own goals and objectives. I am confident you will do an amazing job with it. Wish I could attend the performance and here you play it then. Enjoyed the video you posted here too. Inspiring and beautiful music.

    Liked by 1 person

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