Half steps and Whole steps

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Music has always played a role in my life. From my dad’s guitar in the background , to the innocent days of The Backstreet Boys and Britney Spears, I was raised with a passion for music. At age three I got my first guitar. It was a Christmas present from my dad who has attempted many times to teach me to play. It just didn’t take. I needed something of my own.

I had a musical breakthrough in the fifth grade. I borrowed a ¾ size violin from the school district and joined the orchestra. It started out as my thirty minute escape from reading class, but when I picked up the violin for the first time I played clear notes. My dad was impressed by the sounds I made, and I wanted to learn more. At the end of the year my teacher was happy with my progress and told my parents that I should continue to play in middle school. I loved playing so much and was so excited to advance. Since I rented the violin for the school year, I had to give it back, which meant I had to get my own. Violins are very expensive, especially good ones, so this posed a problem. My dad suggested I trade in my little guitar to help us out. So I packed up my old guitar and traded it in for my own violin. Having my own violin opened my eyes to a whole new world of opportunity.

In middle school I got a list of private teachers from my school teacher, and he recommended some he knew. He said that I had great potential and that a private teachers would help me advance my studies. I started calling a few of the teachers on the list and found one I liked. When she answered the phone I was immediately interested because I was greeted with an accent that I had never heard before. I introduced myself and explained to her that I was interested in taking lessons. She agreed to be my teacher. I couldn’t pronounce her name which had me nervous for our first lesson. Svetla was from Sophia, Bulgaria. She was a few inches short of five foot, and spoke only simple English. I could barely understand her thick accent, but she was very stern and trained me relentlessly in European violin technique, and how to hold the violin, how to hold the bow correctly, where to put the bow on the strings, and even how to get the best tone out of a bow stroke. Lessons were difficult and tedious, but I lived to impress her. She was so hard on me, never letting the simplest mistakes slip, but when it all fell in place and I played something perfect she would light up with a pleased grin. Needless to say I worked very hard to get that smile out of her. She taught me dedication and the love of a challenge. After one year she moved away. I was sad, but I kept playing and began lessons with the teacher she recommended.

Jill was a very different kind of teacher. Svetla knew Jill from Missouri State, where they were stand partners in the Missouri State Orchestra. She was an upbeat, bright college student who made the violin sing with her expressive tone. Jill’s lessons were so much different than Svetla’s. The were so much fun and full of activities that made it more interesting to learn. I felt really confident with my playing because I knew so much already from my past lessons. After all of the techniques I learned from Svetla, I found I could play the violin with greater accuracy and tone, but I could also bring the expression and feeling into the music that I learned from Jill.

Last year I competed in the MSHSAA state solo and ensemble festival and received a one rating on my solo. This is a very big accomplishment. In order to participate in this festival all solos and ensembles have to receive a one rating at the district festival, which is a difficult step to complete. Musicians lucky enough to get at one at districts then have to play their piece at state and be judged by a music professor selected from colleges all over the U.S. It’s very difficult to get a one rating because the judges are only allowed to give out a limited number of them during the festival. I was very pleased, as were my family and Jill. I thought I would never get there. When I started playing the piece I performed, I was very frustrated, and believed it was too difficult. I did not even want to participate in the district festival because I was so afraid to disappoint my parents and teachers.

Despite my efforts to squeeze out of the competition I learned the music and grew to love it. I felt so connected to the piece and loved playing it. With that passion and emotion in my playing, it gained the heart it was missing. My teacher was very impressed with the way I interpreted the music and gave it my own style. The judge that rated my solo at districts specifically commented on this strength and gave me the unexpected score that led me to state. I knew state was a very big deal and was very intimidated. When I arrived at the campus of the University of Missouri, where the contest was held, I felt unprepared and my confidence grew weak. I just wanted to go home. I had several hours to practice and warm up, in which I managed to completely psych myself out. I was so terrified when I walked into the room where I performed that when I introduced myself I forgot the name of my piece. I felt helpless. My heart was pounding and I was sweating bullets, but when I heard the melody of my music start with the piano introduction I felt in place, and relived. I knew it so well and it felt so natural to play the first note at my entrance. As I hit the notes that I usually struggled with I realized that I really deserved to be there. I was capable of receiving a one rating, and I finished my song with a smile on my face. I got so caught up in my music and thoughts that I didn’t even notice that my pianist had stopped playing in the middle of the piece and started improvising because he had lost the last three pages of his music. When I got my score I was so proud and knew that I had earned it. I felt accomplished. That has been the highlight in my musical career and has given me confidence and pride for my playing.

Over the years, I have progressed from a strict mechanical form to a more polished style, which has opened a road for me to express myself more freely through the music I play. I have recognized that although it didn’t look like it at first, the many small pieces I’ve put together have made a whole. Since I have learned to express myself in music, its easier to express myself in the other things I do. Music will be a never ending process in my life because the possibilities of musical development are infinite. I believe that music should be viewed like life, that I should seek continuous improvement that requires commitment and just plain hard work.





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