Monthly Archives: December 2011

Review: Bon Iver, Homecoming Concert, December 13

Imagine. You’re an ambitious kid from a small town. This small town’s most famous export is the inventor of fraud-proof ballot paper. The arts scene is pathetic compared to the ones in Minneapolis, Chicago, or New York. Every artist you admire – every artist you love and respect and desperately want to emulate – is from a big city, went to school in a big city, found themselves in a big city. Nobody comes here because they want to. Nobody stays here and is successful. As long as I’m here, you think to yourself, I will have no chance of making what I want to have happen, happen.

Why, then, is it so difficult to say good-bye?

As you grow older, never making the break, never quite finding the courage or the cash to move away, you struggle to choose between forging a career in the arts and embracing the family and the small-town culture that raised you. You try your best to come to terms with things, and to not be ungrateful. Because there are worse places to be.

Then, suddenly, a neighbor becomes an international superstar. He’s an alumnus of the high school your mom went to. You hear breathless rumors in the press that he shops at your grocery store. Your youth symphony rehearsals were held on the same university campus he attended. The superstar’s drummer used to play at a restaurant two blocks from your house. Thirty years ago your grandparents almost bought a house on the corner of Third and Lake…an unassuming intersection that the superstar makes famous in a Grammy-nominated song. You hear these things, and you’re heartened.

Slowly but surely, you start experimenting with shedding the insecurity. You start trusting yourself a little bit more. You think, well, if he can make it…why can’t I? You feel a tentative pride. I’m from western Wisconsin, and I’m not ashamed of it. Which isn’t to say you won’t ever leave your small town…you know you will; you know you have to, someday. But you see now, with clarity, what should have been obvious all along: your provincial background shouldn’t keep you from dreaming anything. There’s a chance that you might live happily – or at least, contentedly – ever after.

This isn’t some weird fairy tale. Bizarre as it seems, it’s a true story, and it’s mine.

The superstar in question is Justin Vernon and his band Bon Iver, the genre-busting nine-member group that has fused virtuosic musicianship with elements of rock, folk, jazz, and even contemporary classical to create their own unique, wildly popular indie-rock sound. Vernon is from my hometown of Eau Claire, Wisconsin, population 65,000, but he hasn’t given a hometown show since 2008. It turns out that earning multiple Grammy nominations, collaborating with celebrities, and embarking on sold-out international tours tend to take up a person’s time.

But this fall, Bon Iver announced they were coming home. Two hometown shows, December 12 and 13 at Zorn Arena at the University of Wisconsin, Eau Claire. $15 for gallery seats.

“You have got to be kidding me,” I said to my laptop when I read the news. “You are kidding me.”


Nothing went the way it was supposed to in 2011, for better and for worse. Three of my family’s four cats died. I met some outrageously talented people whose kindnesses moved me to tears. I participated in some disillusioning family feuds. I went to several world-class concerts. I tentatively started coming out of the closet as an asexual (a process much more difficult – and much more liberating – than it sounds). I had the chance to take a violin lesson, my first in five years. I played a couple of solos with string orchestra. I spent a day in Minneapolis admiring the cultural diversity and then came back to Eau Claire and found out that someone I’ve known my whole life takes a perverse pleasure in employing unspeakable racial slurs. Back and forth – forth and back – lows and highs – highs and lows. The combination of the dreadful and the divine was disorienting.

In short, everything got turned upside-down. So maybe in a weird way it was fitting that I, the self-avowed classical freak, found myself closing out the year by waiting in line for an hour in the Wisconsin winter to get good seats for an indie rock group.

I went to the show with the two people I love best in the world. (…If I admitted that one of them was my mom, would I lose some cool points? … I would? Okay.) We got a bit chilly and loopy in line, and so we started a drinking game, substituting hugs for alcohol. Hug whenever you see beards, flannel, plaid, blaze orange, or a Recall Walker petition. This was a Bon Iver concert held in Wisconsin directly after deer hunting season, so as you can imagine, we spent more time embracing than not. Our game was interrupted when the line began moving forward, and moving forward very quickly. I’m used to the leisurely pace of ticket collection at classical concerts, where elderly volunteers slowly rip off stubs and then hand you programs. Nothing like that here. People were jogging along the corridors to secure the best seats. We spun up the concrete stairs and into the gallery, and got front row bleacher seats overlooking the stage.


By nine o’ clock, after the opening act (the lovely Lianne La Havas) wrapped up, the anticipation had reached a fever pitch. The electricity was just burning through the arena; it was all I could do to keep from shrieking myself hoarse with excitement…and the band hadn’t even taken the stage yet. I briefly entertained the idea of what it would be like if orchestral audiences behaved this way – screaming, stamping, hollering FUCK YEAH, MAHLER!!! WOOOO! before the conductor ascends the podium. (Sacrilegious as it sounds, I now kinda want to experience this, for, as the cool kids say on Tumblr, reasons.)

Finally the band came onstage. Justin Vernon was there, and I was there, and my mom and my best friend were there, and 3497 other people were there, and we were all there, and were all there together, and in some inexplicably moving way, the fact was sacred. It felt a bit like we were at an indie rock revival: we had a wild hipster crowd of laypeople, eight virtuosic back-up apostles, and Justin Vernon as our bearded, angelic-voiced preacher. As soon as the band launched into Perth, the crowd went berserk. Right away I was so overcome by the percussion, brass, and audience thumping my sternum that I started grinning uncontrollably and tearing up like a crazy person. What a relief to be in a venue where I could react to good music however I like and not be afraid of showing it, instead of tightening up and holding it all in, as I’m forced to do during particularly thrilling bits of Shostakovich or Sibelius.

After Perth and Minnesota, WI came the gentle guitar in the entrance to Holocene. I completely and immediately lost it. This was a song that I’ve inadvertently tied up to the memory of one of my cats. She was the closest thing I’ll have to a child for a very long time – maybe ever – and her sudden death in May was the most devastating thing I’ve ever endured. Late this summer there came an afternoon when I realized, suddenly, that it was time to fold up the blanket she slept on. To steel myself, I turned on Holocene, and I did it.

And just like that, the lyrics burned into the memory, and the memory of the loss itself –

At once I knew I was not magnificent / High above the highway aisle / Jagged vacance thick with ice / And I could see for miles miles miles.

I cried that afternoon, but less than I thought I would. Less than I would have if I hadn’t had the companionship of the song and the lyrics and the voice. Of music.

I set the folded blanket down and looked out the open window. The breeze picked up. I looked beyond the trees and far away into the empty blue sky. Somehow I’d survived the loss. I might have cracked open, but, miraculously, I hadn’t broken.

“And I could see for miles miles miles,” I sang to myself – sang to the sky – and five months later, to Bon Iver.


One of the many life lessons I’ve learned this year is that genre doesn’t matter. If music is engaging, and if it touches you, it doesn’t matter what form it comes in – whether that be an hour-long violin concerto or an indie rock song with gorgeously impenetrable lyrics. And if Bon Iver is anything, especially live, it’s engaging. From the pulsating lights, to the astonishingly virtuosic bass saxophone solos, to Vernon’s oddly endearing bobbing onstage as he plays guitar…it’s all engaging, all of it.

Eventually Vernon paused for a moment to catch his breath and talk to us. I won’t use more than a couple of quotations since I can’t remember word-for-word what he said, but I do remember the gist of his impromptu remarks, and I always will.

Since his commercial success, he said, things have been strange. Everywhere he goes, everyone tells him how special he is. “Well, I already knew that,” he said. “My parents taught me that!” The crowd giggled. And that’s, he said, the reason he knows it’s important to stay connected with one’s geographically isolated small-town roots – to keep a sense of perspective, to remember not to rely on what “important” “big-name” people say. “Even though we do like to complain about all the shit that goes on in this town…” (Audience applause.) Being from a small town reminds you that we are, in fact, all small and – in the long run, no matter how successful we are – insignificant. “We’re small,” he said, “we’re small,” and he shrugged.

The last number of the night was The Wolves (Act I and II). The second portion of the song – the second act – is a line that drips again and again with desolation: “What might have been lost – what might have been lost – what might have been lost…” It’s a tradition at Bon Iver shows for the audience to sing along with the band, beginning very quietly, then getting louder and louder and louder, culminating at the end with a primordial, gut-choking, venue-wide shriek. Vernon was about to describe the tradition to us, but then suddenly he stopped short and stepped back from the mike and said, “You all know what to do.”

Yeah. We did.

The band began the song, Vernon’s voice straining and aching through the room through the first act. Then came the quiet, agonizingly insistent refrain. Sitting up high in the gallery, those five short words meant more to me than they ever had before, and probably ever will again.

What might have been lost…

The deaths of my cats – my sweet darlings – my kids…

What might have been lost…

The resulting vulnerability that cracked me open in ways I was never, ever expecting…

What might have been lost…

Having to let go of relationships that have become untenable, for heartbreakingly stupid reasons I’ll never really understand.

What might have been lost…

People I love, people I trust, telling me that I really shouldn’t do what I want – that what I want is too much to expect, too much to hope for. That I should sit down, shut up, stay in town, settle for the status quo, and stop rocking the boat…

What might have been lost…

New faces, kind faces, dear faces, telling me the exact opposite…

What might have been lost…

Having to choose between the two paths…

What might have been lost…

The relief and agony of knowing the latter path is the inevitable one; that even more difficult good-byes lay ahead…

What might have been lost…

My own paralyzing insecurity…which maybe, in the final analysis, is the only thing holding me back.

Don’t bother me…!

Eventually I couldn’t hear my thoughts anymore. My voice became the crowd’s, and the crowd’s became mine. At the end we let out a crazy long communal cry, together.

I broke down, gutted out.


There was no encore after that. How could there be? The band took their bows. Vernon looked up at the gallery where I was sitting and waved. He couldn’t see me, but I waved back wildly with gratitude, tears staining my face.

After the show I emerged from the buzz of Zorn Arena out into the silent December night. I walked over the university footbridge to get back to the car. I glanced over the railing at the blurry lights of the city wavering in the river. I’ve lived in Eau Claire my whole life, but from this new vantage point I couldn’t recognize any of the landmarks. All I could see was their abstract, impressionistic beauty, smeared across the night, floating away in the water.



Filed under My Writing, Reviews

Song of the Lark 2011 Roundup

I’m always a sucker for a good end-of-year review. What went right, what went wrong. The highlights, the lowlights. So without further ado…

Best Decision: Starting this blog.

Best Readers: You, obviously. *obsequious smile*

Best Concert as Performer: Community Table, April 2011. It impressed upon me what’s really important about our art. It’s not about the repertoire or the competition or playing every note perfectly. It’s about passion and communication – saying things that can’t be said in words. Everything else is a bonus.

Worst Concert as Performer: Let’s just say I’m glad I was paid for playing this concert. Interpret that as you will…

Best Concert as Audience Member: This category was super-difficult. I had the immense honor of seeing the Minnesota Orchestra three times this year. Only two of the concerts got written up in reviews. But I think  my favorite was actually the one concert I never wrote about – the Ravel Inside the Classics concert in Minneapolis in March. First of all, it was repertoire I’ve loved forever, and second, it was a lot of fun to hear musicians talking about it. That weekend opened so many doors for me, intellectually, emotionally, professionally… It was everything a good concert should be, and more. Possible Honorable Mention – I have tickets to one of the music world’s most coveted concerts of 2011…the final Bon Iver homecoming concert in Eau Claire on December 13. I have a gut instinct it will be one of the musical highlights of not just the year, but my life.

Worst Concert as Audience Member: Once again, won’t say, but the problem wasn’t actually the music, it was the snotty people around me!

Biggest Musical Regret: Not being part of an orchestra. I’m in a string orchestra, and I love that, but there…are times…that…I miss the brass and woodwinds. Okay, I said it. I won’t say it again.

Favorite Repertoire: Bach g-minor adagio. I will work on that piece until the end of my days and still not get to the bottom of it. But it’s so satisfying to try.

Favorite Impromptu Concert: A friend played some solo Bach for me on a warm breezy August afternoon. We were in the parlor of an 1880 house and the porch door was open and the birds were chirruping out the bay window. Those few moments were perfect. For the rest of my life, whenever I hear that piece, I will remember that moment in the parlor, and how the tears started draining down my face.

Best Remix: The Oh Long Johnson cat remix. Obviously.

Best Comment by a Conductor: “Okay, guys, let’s get out our Jewish Christmas carols!”

Worst Comment by a Conductor: From a guest conductor, and inappropriate to reproduce here.

Best Non-Classical Group And Track: Bon Iver. I love just about every one of their songs, but… The one that was the gateway drug for me was Skinny Love. Yeah, I’m a few years behind the times. Sue me.

Best Musical Movie Scene: Actually, make that seventy years behind the times. This year I discovered Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, and in particular, their dance to Night and Day. I covet Ginger’s dress, which is the single most beautiful gown I’ve ever seen.

Favorite Soundtrack: The Fountain.

Favorite SotL Blog Entry, Tagged “My Writing”: Out of the fifty I’ve posted this year, this one.

Favorite SotL Blog Entry, Tagged “Not My Writing”: This one with Marie Hall. Her personality just shines through the pages. She was fearless.

Best Lyrics: From Bon Iver’s Holocene – And at once I knew I was not magnificent / strayed above the highway aisle / jagged vacance, thick with ice / I could see for miles, miles, miles. Those words say it all, really. They celebrate the significance of insignificance. If that makes any sense. It’s my Song of the Year already.

Most Encouraging Hometown-Related Epiphany: You can be based in Eau Claire and still take on the biggest names in music.

Best Music Blog: Inside the Classics. If I can be half as entertaining and informative as the folks over there, I’ll be a very happy blogger. Honorable mention, Emily Grossman’s thirty-day blogging project at

Best Music Website:, always.

Best Music Book: I’m not exactly in the center of the music book biz (/understatement); everything I read is courtesy of the Internet or the library. But the best book of the year that I did get my hands on was Alex Ross’s collection of essays, Listen to This.

Most Blatantly Obvious String Instrument Dub: The violinist on Celtic Woman.

Cruellest Violin-Related Tweet: Sherlock co-creator, writer, and deity Mark Gatiss, tweeting an image of Sherlock’s violin from the filming of season 2, with a quote from Doyle about Sarasate. New season of the show starts January first! (Forgive my enthusiasm, but when you’re 22, and you’ve been a Holmesian for over half your life, this show becomes a pretty big deal.)

Favorite Single Line I Wrote This Year, Taken Completely Out of Context: Everything about her was predictable: her eagerness, her enthusiasm, her obsequiousness, her obsessive thirstiness for knowledge, her conviction that classical music is a sacred art and every semi-talented practitioner of it a kind of high priest.

Best Colbert Report Duet: Technically not on the Colbert Report, but Stephen’s rendition of the modern-day classic “Friday” on Jimmy Fallon’s show. It was done to raise money for arts education in public schools, which is a cause I think anyone reading this blog can get behind.

Weirdest Google Books Find: This was a very strong category; I am a magnet for vintage Google Book crazy. In the end, I can’t decide between the article about brass players going bald from 1896 or or the crazy hilarious sexuality of musical instruments article from 1921.

Favorite Bit of SotL Spam: You guys miss so much spam on my blog. So much of it is so entertaining that I almost feel like starting a separate blog for hilarious spam. But the best one came about a week or so ago, when I had one from a diarrhea prevention website that quoted Mark Twain. Not even kidding.

Favorite Tumblr: Aside from mine, of course? Cough. Actually, Facepalmmozart. About half of the entries I reblog on my Tumblr come from there.

Favorite Tumblr Post from the Song of the Lark Tumblr

I can’t choose just one, so here are five.

1) Violinist, poet, salon leader, and outspoken lesbian Natalie Clifford Barney

2) Marie Hall anticipating the rise of female conductors in 1905.

3) Portrait of Marion Osgood, writer, violinist, teacher, conductor…the list goes on and on.

4) Portrait of Leonora Jackson in a lovely Victorian room.

5) A picture of Irma Saenger-Sethe and a quotation from the Bach d-minor partita.

Best Lesson I’ve Learned: Do what you want to do as an artist. Trust your gut. If you’re good at what you do, and you have potential, then seize that potential, and don’t make excuses. Don’t let anyone keep you from doing what you want to do. If  people keeping you hostage emotionally, and you decide to keep quiet about it to not upset them… You’ve lost. You’re either going to do what you want to do and have them be angry with you, or you’re not going to do what you want to do, and then you’ll get angry with them, and then they’ll get angry back. Both alternatives are painful. Incredibly painful. But the first one less so.

Thinking toward 2012…

Best Bet for Best Concert of 2012: Minnesota Orchestra and Ehnes in Brahms concerto in January 2012. Or the premiere of Judd Greenstein’s new Microcommission work for the Orchestra in March. But who knows…it may turn out that the best concert will actually be the one I have no idea is happening yet. Now that is an exciting thought.

Crazy Musical Goal That I Feel Insecure About And Will Continue To Waffle About Over The Next Several Months: Auditioning for a local orchestra.

Secret Musical Goal That I Feel More Confident About: To become semi-fluent in alto clef. Yes, I’ll admit it: I’m seventy-five percent sure I’m going to rent a viola next year. Edith Lynwood Winn said every violinist should be able to play viola, and I definitely think there’s some truth to that. I can’t imagine it will ever become my first instrument, though. I enjoy viola jokes too much. (And more seriously, I’m a very high-strung tension-prone double-jointed small person, and it remains to be seen how well I’ll take to a bigger instrument.) But in any case, I do hope to do this, and blog about the experience.

What You Can Expect From This Blog In 2012: I don’t even know what to expect on this blog in 2012! But safe to say it’ll probably include a lot more discussion about female violinists and, more broadly, the history of women in classical music, period. Because there just is not enough information out there about the wonderful women who made it possible for me and all the other ladies out there to partake in this beautiful art form.

I love this blog and I love my readers. Really and truly. Thank you for coming back again and again, and as always, if you have any questions or comments, please let me know. A happy holiday season to you and yours.

Love, Emily

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Filed under Lists, My Writing

Interview with Maud Powell, Violin Mastery, 1919

Here is an interview with Maud Powell from the 1919 book Violin Mastery by Frederick Herman Martens. Powell is one of the more inspirational women in a field chockablock with inspirational women. She was born in a tiny town in the Midwest; became an internationally renowned performer with one of the biggest repertoires around; premiered the Tchaikovsky, Dvorak, and Sibelius concertos in this country; and championed the work of black, female, and American composers. Sadly, there are twenty-four violinists interviewed in this book, and Powell is the only woman. On the bright side, it’s a fantastic interview that touches on violin technique, Powell’s struggles with prejudice, and her championing of American composers.

For more information on Maud Powell and her legacy, head on over to the Maud Powell Society website. If you want to hear a lovely collection of late Victorian and Edwardian violin pieces with connections to Powell, take a listen to Rachel Barton Pine’s Tribute to Maud Powell.


Powell is often alluded to as our representative “American woman violinist” which, while true in a narrower sense, is not altogether just in a broader way. It would be decidedly more fair to consider her a representative American violinist, without stressing the term “woman”; for as regards Art in its higher sense, the artist comes first, sex being incidental, and Maud Powell is first and foremost – an artist. And her infinite capacity for taking pains, her willingness to work hard have had no small part in the position she has made for herself, and the success she has achieved.


“Too many Americans who take up the violin professionally,” Maud Powell told the writer, “do not realize that the mastery of the instrument is a life study, that without hard, concentrated work they cannot reach the higher levels of their art. Then, too, they are too often inclined to think that if they have a good tone and technic that this is all they need. They forget that the musical instinct must be cultivated; they do not attach enough importance to musical surroundings: to hearing and understanding music of every kind, not only that written for the violin. They do not realize the value of ensemble work and its influence as an educational factor of the greatest artistic value. I remember when I was a girl of eight, my mother used to play the Mozart violin sonatas with me; I heard all the music I possibly could hear; I was taught harmony and musical form in direct connection with my practical work, so that theory was a living thing to me and no abstraction. In my home town I played in an orchestra of twenty pieces – Oh, no, not a ‘ladies orchestra’ – the other members were men grown! I played chamber music as well as solos whenever the opportunity offered, at home and in public. In fact music was part of my life.

“No student who looks on music primarily as a thing apart in his existence, as a bread-winning tool, as a craft rather than an art, can ever mount to the high places. So often girls [who sometimes lack the practical vision of boys], although having studied but a few years, come to me and say: ‘My one ambition is to become a great virtuoso on the violin! I want to begin to study the great concertos!” And I have to tell them that their first ambition should be to become musicians – to study, to know, to understand music before they venture on its interpretation. Virtuosity without musicianship will not carry one far these days. In many cases these students come from small inland towns, far from any music center, and have a wrong attitude of mind. They crave the glamor of footlights, flowers and applause, not realizing that music is a speech, an idiom, which they must master in order to interpret the works of the great composers.


“Of course, all artistic playing represents essentially the mental control of technical means. But to acquire the latter in the right way, while at the same time developing the former, calls for the best of teachers. The problem of the teacher is to prevent his pupils from being too imitative – all students are natural imitators – and furthering the quality of musical imagination in them. Pupils generally have something of the teacher’s tone – Auer pupils have the Auer tone, Joachim pupils have a Joachim tone, an excellent thing. But as each pupil has an individuality of his own, he should never sink it altogether in that of his teacher. It is this imitative trend which often makes it hard to judge a young player’s work. I was very fortunate in my teachers. William Lewis of Chicago gave me a splendid start. Then I studied in turn with Schradieck in Leipsic – Schradieck himself was a pupil of Ferdinand David and of Léonard – Joachim in Berlin, and Charles Dancla in Paris. I might say that I owe most, in a way, to William Lewis, a born fiddler. Of my three European masters Dancla was unquestionably the greatest as a teacher – of course I am speaking for myself. It was no doubt an advantage, a decided advantage for me in my artistic development, which was slow – a family trait – to enjoy the broadening experience of three entirely different styles of teaching, and to be able to assimilate the best of each. Yet Joachim was a far greater violinist than teacher. His method was a cramping one, owing to his insistence on pouring all his pupils into the same mold, so to speak, of forming them all on the Joachim lathe. But Dancla was inspiring. He taught me De Bériot‘s wonderful method of attack; he showed me how to develop purity of style. Dancla’s method of teaching gave his pupils a technical equipment which carried bowing right along, ‘neck and neck’ with the finger work of the left hand, while the Germans are apt to stress finger development at the expense of the bow. And without ever neglecting technical means, Dancla always put the purely musical before the purely virtuoso side of playing. And this is always a sign of a good teacher. He was unsparing in taking pains and very fair.

“I remember that I was passed first in a class of eighty-four at an examination, after only three private lessons in which to prepare the concerto movement to be played. I was surprised and asked him while Mlle. — who, it seemed to me, had played better than I, had not passed. ‘Ah,’ he said, ‘Mlle. — studied that movement for six months; and in comparison, you, with only three lessons, play it better!’ Dancla switched me right over in his teaching from German to French methods, and taught me how to become an artist, just as I had learned in Germany to become a musician. The French school has taste, elegance, imagination; the German is more conservative, serious, and has, perhaps, more depth.


“Perhaps it is because I belong to an older school, or it may be because I laid stress on techic because of its necessity as a means of expression – at any rate I worked hard at it. Naturally, one should never practice any technical difficulty too long at a stretch. Young players sometimes forget this. I know that staccato playing was not easy for me at one time. I believe a real staccato is inborn; a knack. I used to grumble about it to Joachim and he told me once that musically staccato did not have much value. His own, by the way, was very labored and heavy. He admitted that he had none. Wieniawski had such a wonderful staccato that one finds much of it in his music. When I first began to play his D minor concerto I simply made up my mind to get a staccato. It came in time, by sheer force of will. After that I had no trouble. An artistic staccato should, like the trill, be plastic and under control; for different schools of composition demand different styles of treatment of such details.

“Octaves – the unison, not broken – I did not find difficult; but though they are supposed to add volume of tone they sound hideous to me. I have used them in certain passages of my arrangement of ‘Deep River,’ but when I heard them played, promised myself I would never repeat the experiment. Wilhelmj has committed even a worse crime in taste by putting six long bars of Schubert’s lovely Ave Maria in octaves. Of course they represent skill; but I think they are only justified in show pieces. Harmonics I always found easy; though whether they ring out as they should always depends more or less on atmospheric conditions, the strings and the amount of rosin on the bow. On the concert stage if the player stands in a draught the harmonics are sometimes husky.


“The old days of virtuoso ‘tricks’ have passed – I should like to hope forever. Not that some of the old type virtuosos were not fine players. Remenyi played beautifully. So did Ole Bull. I remember one favorite trick of the latter’s, for instance, which would hardly pass muster to-day. I have seen him draw out a long pp, the audience listening breathlessly, while he drew his bow way beyond the string, and then looked innocently at the point of the bow, as though wondering where the tone had vanished. It invariably brought down the house.

“Yet an artist must be a virtuoso in the modern sense to do his full duty. And here in America that duty is to help those who are groping for something higher and better musically; to help without rebuffing them. When I first began my career as a concert violinist I did pioneer work for the cause of the American woman violinist, going on with the work begun by Mme. Camilla Urso. A strong prejudice then existed against women fiddlers, which even yet has not altogether been overcome. The very fact that a Western manager recently told Mr. Turner with surprise that he ‘had made a success of a woman artist’ proves it. When I first began to play here in concert this prejudice was much stronger. Yet I kept on and secured engagements to play with orchestra at a time when they were difficult to obtain. Theodore Thomas liked my playing (he said I had brains), and it was with his orchestra that I introduced the concertos of Saint-Saëns (C min.), Lalo (F min.), and others, to American audiences.

“The fact that I realized that my sex was against me in a way led me to be startlingly authoritative and convincing in the masculine manner when I first played. This is a mistake no woman violinist should make. And from the moment that James Huneker wrote that I ‘was not developing the feminine side of my work,’ I determined to be just myself, and play as the spirit moved me, with no further thought of sex or sex distinctions which, in Art, after all, are secondary. I never realized this more forcibly than once, when, sitting as a judge, I listened to the competitive playing of a number of young professional violinists and pianists. The individual performers, unseen by the judges, played in turn behind a screen. And in three cases my fellow judges and myself guessed wrongly with regard to the sex of the players. When we thought we had heard a young man play it happened to be a young woman, and vice versa.

“To return to the question of concert-work. You must not think that I have played only foreign music in public. I have always believed in American composers and in American composition, and as an American have tried to do justice as an interpreting artist to the music of my native land. Aside from the violin concertos by Harry Rowe Shelly and Henry Holden Huss, I have played any number of shorter original compositions by such representative American composers as Arthur Foote, Mrs. H.H.A. Beach, Victor Herbert, John Philip Sousa, Arthur Bird, Edwin Grasse, Marion Bauer, Cecil Burleigh, Harry Gilbert, A. Walter Kramer, Grace White, Charles Wakefield Cadman and others. Then, too, I have presented transcriptions by Arthur Hartmann, Francis Macmillan and Sol Marcosson, as well as some of my own. Transcriptions are wrong, theoretically; yet some songs, like Rimsky-Korsakov’s ‘Song of India’ and some piano pieces, like the Dvořák Humoresque, are so obviously effective on the violin that a transcription justifies itself. My latest temptative in that direction is my ‘Four American Folk Songs,’ a simple setting of four well-known airs with connecting cadenzas – no variations, no special development! I used them first as encores, but my audiences seemed to like them so well that I have played them on all my recent programs.


“The very first thing in playing in public is to free oneself of all distrust in one’s own powers. To do this, nothing must be left to chance. One should not have to give a thought to strings, bow, etc. All should be in proper condition. Above all the violinist should play with an accompanist who is used to accompanying him. It seems superfluous to emphasize that one’s program numbers must have been mastered in every detail. Only then can one defy nervousness, turning excess of emotion into inspiration.

“Acoustics play a greater part in the success of a public concert than most people realize. In some halls they are very good, as in the case of the Cleveland Hippodrome, an enormous place which holds forty-three hundred people. Here the acoustics are perfect, and the artist has those wonderful silences through which his slightest tones carry clearly and sweetly. I have played not only solos, but chamber music in this hall, and was always sorry to stop playing. In most halls the acoustic conditions are best in the evening.

“Then there is the matter of the violin. I first used a Joseph Guarnerius, a deeper toned instrument than the Jean Baptista Guadagnini I have now played for a number of years. The Guarnerius has a tone that seems to come more from within the instrument; but all in all I have found my Guadagnini, with its glassy clearness, its brilliant and limpid tone-quality, better adapted to American concert halls. If I had a Strad in the same condition as my Guadagnini the instrument would be priceless. I regretted giving up my Guarnerius, but I could not play the two violins interchangeably; for they were absolutely different in size and tone-production, shape, etc. Then my hand is so small that I ought to use the instrument best adapted to it, and to use the same instrument always. Why do I use no chin-rest? I use no chin-rest on my Guadagnini simply because I cannot find one to fit my chin. One should use a chin-rest to prevent perspiration from marring the varnish. My Rocca violin is an interesting instance of wood worn in ridges by the stubble on a man’s chin.

“Strings? Well, I use a wire E string. I began to use it twelve years ago one humid, foggy summer in Connecticut. I had had such trouble with strings snapping that I cried: ‘Give me anything but a gut string.’ The climate practically makes metal strings a necessity, though some kind person once said that I bought wire strings because they were cheap! If wire strings had been thought of when Theodore Thomas began his career, he might never have been a conductor, for he told me he gave up the violin because of the E string. And most people will admit that hearing a wire E you cannot tell it from a gut E. Of course, it is unpleasant on the open strings, but then the open strings never do sound well. And in the highest registers the tone does not spin out long enough because of the tremendous tension: one has to use more bow. And it cuts the hairs: there is a little surface nap on the bow-hairs which a wire string wears right out. I had to have my four bows rehaired three times last season – an average of every three months. But all said and done it has been a God-send to the violinist who plays in public. On the wire A one cannot get the harmonics; and the aluminum D is objectionable in some violins, though in others not at all.

“The main thing – no matter what strings are used – is for the artist to get his audience into the concert hall, and give it a program which is properly balanced. Theodore Thomas first advised me to include in my programs short, simple things that my listeners could ‘get hold of’ – nothing inartistic, but something selected from their standpoint, not from mine, and played as artistically as possible. Yet there must also be something that is beyond them, collectively. Something that they may need to hear a number of times to appreciate. This enables the artist to maintain his dignity and has a certain psychological effect in that his audience holds him in greater respect. At big conservatories where music study is the most important thing, and in large cities, where the general level of music culture is high, a big solid program may be given, where it would be inappropriate in other places.

“Yet I remember having many recalls at El Paso, Texas, once, after playing the first movement of the Sibelius concerto. It is one of those compositions which if played too literally leaves an audience quite cold; it must be rendered temperamentally, the big climaxing effects built up, its Northern spirit brought out, though I admit that even then it is not altogether easy to grasp.


“Violin mastery or mastery of any instrument, for that matter, is the technical power to say exactly what you want to say in exactly the way you want to say it. It is technical equipment that stands are the service of your musical will – a faithful and competent servant that comes at your musical bidding. If your spirit soars ‘to parts unknown,’ your well trained servant ‘technic’ is ever at your elbow to prevent irksome details from hampering your progress. Mastery of your instrument makes mastery of your Art a joy instead of a burden. Technic should always be the handmaid of the spirit.

“And I believe that one result of the war will be to bring us a greater self-knowledge, to the violinist as well as to every other artist, a broader appreciation of what he can do to increase and elevate appreciation for music in general and his Art in particular. And with these I am sure a new impetus will be given to the development of a musical culture truly American in thought and expression.”

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