100 Days of Quartet
Jan 31, 2020 - I'm working on a new piece for the LMP. It's a quartet by French violinist Rodolphe Kreutzer who, in contrast to other LMP composers, I've actually heard of. He wrote a collection of violin etudes my violin teacher had me working on many moons ago. I didn't know he wrote chamber music, and I was surprised not to find any recordings of it. His etudes are pretty standard violin pedagogy so I just assumed his other work wouldn't be obscure.
(Sidebar: There are also two different "Kreutzer Sonatas" that one can find recordings of, neither of which was written by Kreutzer. One was written by Beethoven and dedicated to Kreutzer, who was a contemporary, and a much later one was written by Czech composer Leos Janacek. Beethoven's sonata was originally written for another violinist named George Bridgetower, but the two had a drunken falling out after the premiere and Beethoven rededicated it to Kreutzer. Kreutzer never played it (allegedly because he hated it). Leo Tolstoy wrote a novella featuring the piece called, appropriately, "The Kreutzer Sonata" which in turn inspired Janacek to write his own Kreutzer Sonata.)
The quartet has some nastiness in all four instruments at various points, particularly in the second movement, a theme and variations where all four instruments solo at some point. Movement one has some really tough quick sections with lots of string crossings in the first and second violin.
I found the quartet shortly before Christmas and had been toying with it in sort of a desultory way, stalling on working on it in earnest, intimidated by the blank canvas in front of me. I always find it hard to get started on a new piece, especially a quartet which is daunting even aside from the technical challenges, as I have to learn the likely 12 minute piece four times on three different instruments. So I was essentially stuck in neutral, having chosen a piece but lacking the motivation to really start it.
Then on January 10th, I saw world renowned violinist Hillary Hahn's Instagram post for Day 10 of 100 days of practice.
The hashtag #100DaysOfPractice started in 2017 when Hahn embarked on a project to commit to practicing 100 days in a row and posting a short video each day of her sessions on her instagram. It struck a chord with the musician community and people all over the world started undertaking their own 100 days. Now there's more than 500,000 posts with the hashtag.
To quote Hahn: "To participate in #100daysofpractice, all you need to do is... participate, however it's comfortable for you. Short practice is good. Long practice is good...... There are no pass or fail grades."
Since the 10th I've been seeing people using that hashtag pop up on my instagram, mostly violin players, mostly virtuoso types.
And now, also me.
Though I decided to start my own 100 days, I'm not planning on posting anything with the hashtag as of now. I am keeping a practice diary where I track how long I practice, take notes on how I did and what I need to focus on. The commitment and plan are going to be the novelties over the duration as I practice almost every day anyway. My goal is to learn all four parts of the entire quartet in 100 days. Ideally I'll have it recorded too, but I'll take "ready to record" as success.
So far, day 22 as of this writing, I'm averaging a little over 2.5 hours a day. It's probably both the amount of practice and the intensely focused nature of it, isolating difficult parts, being diligent about playing to the metronome, but i feel like I'm progressing on the piece faster than on the earlier LMP pieces. I suppose there's also the chance that the previous pieces elevated my overall skill level so I'm tackling this new one faster.
There's another aspect to the 100 days project, beyond the purely technical, that I anticipate that I will struggle with and in fact am indeed currently struggling with.
To quote Hahn, again. "When we are in the practice room, we're our only company, our only voice, our only critic, our only advocate. Sometimes those roles collide. When they do, let's choose the kinder option"
"The 100 days is going to be about meeting ourselves where we are. It's not a challenge to practice 100 days in a row. It's an acknowledgment that for 100 days, we in this community of practicers are going to be on the same mission: to find our sweet spot of practicing calmly and steadily, with kindness, self-compassion, and patience."
I have always played my instruments with a certain degree of anger, probably provoked by my titanic self-doubt. Patience and self-compassion are definitely outside the bounds of my normal mode. But I'm hoping to train those muscles--just as surely as I'll be training my fingers--and weather the inevitable backslides and regressions with more grace than I'm generally prone to give myself.