Year in Review 2021

journal

It's year-in-review time of the year. Right now, I am under quarantine for my home trip. So I thought it's a good time to finally push some updates to this site by summarizing what's happened for me and my viola this year.

Practice!

Scales

I can't remember exactly how we started doing the scales and how the earlier practices went. I can only remember a vague idea and the existence of this section during my lessons. It was probably optional, but I would normally start on them anyway as a warm-up. Earlier on I would play a set of scales and arpeggios. And we spent some time for me to figure out / recall what are the notes in the minor keys.

We started doing the double stops scales around mid-year this year. We've started with sixths, followed by eighths, and now I'm working on thirds. The sixths weren't so bad. The eighths were much more difficult for me and I don't think I ever played them with a satisfactory output, and we kind of just moved on. With thirds (on C major), I pretty much gave up thinking when I'd get out of it and just kept trying every day for a good over four weeks. Somehow it magically checked at some point, and I managed to play them in chain bowing fairly relaxed and with a nice tone. It's a eureka moment for me and it unlocked more things. I revisited eights and they sounded much better too.

When I was starting with the viola a bit over a year ago, I could not play the Carl Flesch scales in their intended fingering and shifting at all (I could play them when I was playing the violin in high school). Around the time magic happened with my thirds, and yet without much prior practice, I could play the Carl Flesch scales with an eloquency I could never imagine. It just went up and down and flowed. Did I "remember" how to play them? Or did I just become more comfortable with playing in general? Now, this becomes a new mystery.

Etudes

I started from Kayser 4 last year in July. As of Dec 2020, I was working on Kayser 10. Within the range of this year it was from 9 onwards and I'm working on 24 at the moment. There were some jumping around (like, I've finished 25 and 28 before 24), but we played them mostly in sequence.

I am in no intention to rush any etudes book, or anything at all. I mention this as an understanding of my own progress, something I never had a chance to have a reference to. So I searched for how people normally go through these etudes, and many shared that they roughly move at an etude per week for Kayser. They mention sometimes their teachers assign more than one at a time and some others take more than a week, but they average out to one a week. I don't think that is a possible rate for me. Looking back at the data, I average to 3 weeks to an etude. Only for very countably few, I could come back with a nice tone after a week. Most will apparently need more time. As in, even if I might feel more content after one week, chances are after another week I would feel much more comfortable.

I really like how my teacher has generous standards for passing, but he'd also always comment on what else can be improved. Sometimes, those remarks get me intrigued and I'd spend a bit more time to try to nail them. If I bring it back after he passed me in a previous week, he'd throw out more comments on how much more refined it can go. Over time, I became more interested in the aspect of "how do I make this sound" because my teacher sounds so cool and I want to sound like that as well.

Repertoire

This year, I've played Romances Op.101, No.5, The Sleeping Princess by Papini, Six Studies in English Folksong and Fantasia on Greensleeves by Vaughan Williams, Album Leaves, Op.39 by Hans Sitt, and I'm playing the G Major Cello Suite by J.S. Bach, and it will likely stay until next year.

I like Hans Sitt a lot. And I found lots of joy when hearing pieces by other Czech compoesers too. Maybe I shall explore more next year.

I think I did mostly terribly for the first half of the year. Not to say that I did better later, but I started to get some ideas myself. I recall that when I used to play the violin, I didn't go by how it sounds, but rather by what feels good in action. I still notice a tendency in me doing so and that probably explains my dubious tastes. To try my best to go by hearing, I introduce some external aids like recording myself and playing back. I have mixed feelings about this but it's nevertheless an interesting experience.

Personal life & others

Concerts! And local orchestras

I've been going to quite a few concerts this year, because I so want to hear classical music live.

The first local orchestra I learned about (other than the SSO) is re:Sound Collective, as my teacher plays in it. Luckily I got the ticket to their earlier concert this year with Chloe Chua, playing Vaughan Williams and a few other English pieces. I was excited about the program because it was also my time getting interested in Vaughan Williams and was playing his Six Studies in English Folksongs. I believe the SSO's principal cellist (somehow he becomes part of the story later) was there sitting in front of me and he gave Chloe Chua standing ovation after the performance.

My teacher introduced his teacher to me before the concert. Jiri Heger used to be principal violist of SSO and taught at the YST Conservatory of Music. It was a curious experience that I later was reading his fingerings of Hans Sitt. I really spent a lot of time reading those pages full of marks, they were more interesting than the other version we have, especially the expression markings. Some of them he changed in a completely different direction like a p to an f or vice versa. But then when I play I also ended up playing my own version (some instances of my dubious taste). I really need to revisit them one day.

The SSO. For the brief duration when Singapore was bold enough to open up, I spammed my free weekends and weekday nights with whatever concerts that interest me. And SSO is really prolific with that. Let me record some of them here.

Mahler's Piano Quintet and 'The Trout'. It was my first time in VCH, I remember choosing the seat to hope to see and hear the viola, but I got completely distracted by the double bass. Whenever the double bass plays, it fills the entire concert hall with sounds that touch my skin. The booklet I keep from this concert also got my boyfriend first notice the SSO's principal cello, Ng Pei-Sian, who subsequently became his favorite cellist (more stories about this later) and stuff.

I went for a flute concert, and got myself unlock an achievement from the SSO app listen to a piece composed by a living composer. SSO's principal flute Jin Ta is also a composer. The most impressive piece for me, however, was the encore where he played a 彝族情歌 (Love Song from the Yi's?) that he re-arranged for flute and double bass with a jazzy breeze.

Then later this year, I found out about this concert of which the program almost entirely features the viola? Myself, my SO, a cellist friend and her husband went together. This is the second time my boyfriend sees the cellist and remarks that he actually looks a bit modest this time and yet still grabs all the chances he can to express the love and pride on his cello.

Because the story now evolves between my boyfriend and his adimiration of the SSO's principal cello, let me mention this astonishing chamber music concert organized by More than Music Series, and that I went with the same crew. That Schumann's Piano Quintet left an impression oh man, they executed the racing scales with such excitement, that the audience decided to clap after every movement and gave them standing ovation in the end. Anyway, it was during this concert that my cellist friend told my boyfriend that the SSO's principal cellist has a twin brother who also plays the cello. So we went search for the twin brothers and confirmed they are indeed two persons. The episode creates room for imagination of rubbish like he can have his brother play in place of him and that could be why he's appearing in so many concerts.

Finally before I left Singapore for my home trip, myself and my boyfriend went on a staycation that began with a closed rehearsal of Kam Ning playing the Mendelssohn violin concerto with the SSO, and a Mendelssohn symphony. My boyfriend gets to see his favorite cellist again. It's really visible that Ng Pei-Sian loves his instrument and craft, and is noticeably prolific in the local concerts scene. Jokes aside I do notice a similarity in people around me who show an overflowing love of what they're doing. They're the most interesting and I wish I have traces of that as well.

Play for other people

This year, I've found a few occasions where I played for other people. They were very inspiring moments. I wish I could do more in the future.

Around mid-year, I was saddened by knowing that my grandpa's health has worsened. He had two major surgeries which coincided with the time I was playing Hans Sitt, of which the fifth movement well aligned with the mood. I had a friend visit one day, who experienced lost of father at an early age, and he went quiet when I played the piece. Sometimes music can share emotions more powerfully than words.

More delightful cases are when I play for my boyfriend, who, according to his own words, have negative talent in music. I don't believe that at all. He sharply finds his affection in vocals and he's been populating my dictionary in operas by constantly humming opera pieces not so in tune, and I had to fix them by either singing them back or playing on my viola. Eventually, I decided that I'd properly read the Queen of the Night Aria and play the laughters when I caught him slack at work. It doesn't feel right on the viola, sounding more like a stern father than a witchy mother. But I need to imagine the fingering in order to sing that part in tune myself, which my boyfriend finds amusing that I need the fingerboard to find the pitches.

At other times, my boyfriend like to conduct or dance to the music I am playing. Those are the moments when I find it really important that I keep the rhythm steady because I wouldn't want to disturb a dancer 😬.

That's all. If you read till this point, thank you for getting to know my part of this year. I hope you don't find it too boring.