My Quarantine Activities


I had a lot of time for music during my quarantine, it's all the things that made my quarantine not so bad. I had lots of thoughts that I want to write down as well. However, ever since I reached home, together with a lot of end-of-the-year work to do, I have to leave this journal as is. It is not very refined nor very interesting. Maybe it's not a good idea to read this.

Watching the Berlin Phil on their Digital Concert Hall

On day 1 of my quarantine, late at night when the time was no longer neighbor-friendly to practice, I found out I had this app on my iPad and went for a 7-day trial. The Internet wasn't so good so I had to download the content before I could smoothly watch them, which is partially why I watched Tabea Zimmermann's 2010 recording of the Bartók Viola Concerto like 5 times. Over the next few days I found a new world, and watched many great concerts such as Claudio Abbado's 2002 recording of Dvořák 9.

Berliner Philharmoniker's Digital Concert Hall - opening screen

I continued to watch all sorts of content from the digital concert hall. They have a "films" tab, where the Berlin Phil shares documentary films about their musicians, interviews, and history of their orchestra.

One story is about how they grew their tradition to vote for their chief conductors. It first happened after the death of von Karajan. Then when it came to Abbado's departure, they came up with a more formal process to find the next chief conductor, and they went various rounds of discussions to make the process sound. That almost felt like building am empire and composing a constitution.

I am particularly touched by the interviews and films I watched about Abbado, as well as his music. Coming from a musical family, he has more than a lifetime worth of music to share. His gentle and respectful manner was refreshing as he inherited a suffering orchestra from its prior tyranny. There was a scene when he was being interviewed as a young musician, and his charisma of persistance and elegance was already revealing. His work with the youth makes me remember the teachers and musicians I have encountered as I grew up, and feel more grateful towards them. His music brings me to tears.

Spending a lot of time with my instrument

I had a lot of time to play. It's shocking to learn how much extra time I get from the confinement. The quarantine hotel doesn't allow ordering delivery, so I didn't even have to spend time browsing through delivery app to decide what to order. Life saver for someone who can't make decisions.

Out of the many random things I played there was 送别, an American song from the mid-19th century that a Chinese scholar set to a poem. It's a very popular song in China. Even nowadays a lot of people know it and can hum it. I've turned that into an exercise for thirds by harmonizing it. It was an interesting exploration exploring different ranges and deciding on fingering too.

I also spent some time preparing the very question I expect to be asked: can play The Butterfly Lovers or not? For those of you who do not grow up from China -- this is the piece you will be asked to play when your family friends learned that you play the violin: Come play The Butterfly Lovers for us to see see. So, when I arrived home and started practicing, after a few lines of conversations my dad asked me, "那,能拉梁祝吗?" I KNEW IT. So I played the main theme again ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

But my instrument doesn't like the climate

When I moved hotel, I took a taxi when the instrument sat in the car boot. It's normal night temperature of Shanghai's autumn. And when I arrived at the new hotel, the instrument was wildly out of tune.

It then continued to go out-of-tune like six times a day. The room isn't cold, therefore I am suspecting it is probably too dry. It scared me for a good three days when I couldn't find a quick rescue. Eventually my mom suggested that I find all the containers I can and put water in them, let water evaporate to increase the room's moisture. I think that's a genius idea. I also avoided leaving the instrument case open when I am not playing and putting the instrument under direct sunlight. It chilled down after a couple of days.

Reading Lionel Tertis' autobiography, My Viola and I

Lionel Tertis' autobiography, My Viola and I

Okay I bought the book upon seeing the title's resonance with mine. But he has more eloquency and humor. He he sees himself as a propagandist of the viola as a solo instrument, and he has a sense of ease on his achievements.

From his anecdotes I learned that Vaughan Williams is pretty funny too. When he talked about his retirement due to a health condition that impared his bow arm, he shared Vaughan Williams' comments (for their entertainment values, not to blow his own trumpet, as he also remarks):

Dr Vaughan Williams referred to the news of Tertis's retirement, due to his alleged inability to play spiccato. ‘I don't even know what spiccato is,’ he added. He spoke of the letter he had written to Tertis, promising that all those who tried to write works for him would guarantee to include no spiccato bowing. He said that although one had to respect the decision of so great an artist, he was sure that Tertis's second best was good enough for us.