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March, 2004 - Nr. 3

 

The Editor
Rachel Seilern
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The Road to Perfection

 

Rachel A.I. Seilern

 Saturdays were not complete if I didnít spend the afternoon at Annieís house. Our favourite activity was dressing up in the lovely articles of clothing that Annieís mother had collected for us. Then my little friend and I, all dolled-up with "spinney" calico skirts secured right under our arms, would prance downstairs to see if Annieís father would allow the two divine little ladies to play his violins he repaired. Screech, scratch, meow! What fun to remember how my life with the violin began!

Rachel & Anny on their road to perfection

My first teacher, Bluegrass fiddler Jan Hanko helped me buy my first violin for $350.00. Jan was incredibly passionate about the Bluegrass music he discovered in his homeland of the Czech Republic. His entire youth of classical training combined with some gypsy passion in his blood and a keen love for that high lonesome sound made him a fiery fiddler like no other. He taught us our first tunes Liberty and Soldiers joy and showed us Cajun shuffle bowing and how to imitate birds and even donkeys. He said violin playing had to be fun and my pigtails had to be swinginí! But poor Jan! I, being a timid girl who generally avoided taking chances (such as "Ad Libing"), was not able to respond to Janís creative energy. I regret this now, but I guess I wasnít mature enough to express myself that way. It is a special thing to be able to play whatever comes to oneís mind and not to be insecure about it. Because I was, I eventually craved a more conservative, ridged education. I imagined that to bloom within the confinements of disciplined learning would work well with my nature. I started classical violin lessons when I was 10.

(I must tell you, though, that after all this time a yearning for folk music is beginning to surface, as I will always be a country girl at heartÖbut my folk music adventures Iíll have to save for another time!)

Annie would have made a great fiddler on her own, but we needed to do everything together, of course! For the next 6 years we studied with a kind Estonian lady who gently instilled a classical foundation in me. Learning proper hand positions, how to place my fingers on the fingerboard that has no frets to tell me where they belong, and how to draw a clean bow so that I wouldnít sound like a screeching cat were some of the first things to master. These difficulties often last right up to the highest levels of violin playing. There is so much involved---much more than meets the eye!

During these years my mother was the force, which kept me working diligently. Itís not easy for children to take responsibility for their own progress and practise with dedication. Itís in the years when the work gets harder and practising a couple of hours daily is essential, that children quit if it isnít for an adult who has the energy to keep urging them on! I remember having to practise violin at the cottage while all the other children were splashing about in the lake on Styrofoam water skis!! How torturously slow that hour ticked by. It seems I must not have been convinced that "the lake wasnít going to go away"! It is interesting to note how much more lasting are the results of my dedication, or even the memories of wonderful times at the cottage than the memory of exactly how much of the morning I spent attached to my violin at the cottage during the summer of nineteen-ninety-whatever!! (Although it may look bleakÖthere is hope, you young students!) My mother always said that when Iím older Iíd be happy I didnít give up. Iím glad I didnít because I know what she was talking about, now that Iím twenty.

People have asked me if Iíve ever had the desire to break my violin when times were rough. No. To me the thought of my violin in little splinters is comparable to seeing a relative on the operation channel. I couldnít stomach the thought! Difficult times came and went, but my violin and I were grown onto each other. I donít think I even realized giving up was an option (until later.) And besides, all my friends and cousins were learning to play an instrument. Peer pressure can be very good and helpful when the going activity is good! Strangely enough, in a sort of impulse, I decided I needed to move on to another level of education. (Often Iíve wonderedÖ"What was I thinking???") My aunt Ingrid found a music school close to home with strict Russian musicians teaching there. Just in time for my grade 8 exam. Because I didnít know how to tell my sweet, aunt-like former teacher that I was moving on, I took lessons from her and my new teacher, Olga, both not knowing about the other! Gosh, how I suddenly improved! They both couldnít imagine. I was delighted to receive my results announcing, "First class honours with distinction"!

Olga. Sheís the lady who has played a huge role my life. If I ever write my autobiography, a large chapter will be devoted to her. She taught me so much more than just music. The very first thing I learnt is that a teacher teaches the way she herself was taught. I could not have withstood the intensity of high-level music university teaching with communist Russian methods and standards, if I didnít have the undying support of my parents, aunt and friends like Annie. It took me at least two years to learn that her way of teaching was not meant as a personal attack but as super passionate concern for me and my education. I was to use her endless knowledge (that came at me at brain-busting speeds) for my improvement and ignore the shouting, huffing and the foot stomping that accompanied it. I didnít think I was going to live through the couple months of preparing for my grade 9 exam. The repertoire was so challenging and my teacher demanded from me what I was sure did not exist within me. I could relate to athletes as far as energy, exertion and focus is concerned. My brain stem was aching; I felt I was not able to give any more of myself. To make matters worse, according to Olga, it was necessary to practise being nervous by performing a concert of all my pieces as part of my exam preparations! At this point I was ready to give up altogether. (Grade "eight and eleven-twelfths" was beginning to look like a fine place to finish!) With a seemingly impossible mountain of music to be performed, I knew my mind could easily go blank and I pictured myself standing there on the stage frozen with terror with my mind a-whirl in musical chaos. Of course the more I wallowed in such unconstructive fruits of my busy imagination, the more I felt I was drowning in a stormy sea. But 5-8 hours of practise everyday began giving me more confidence in my ability. I began to notice how music from the Romantic period was an excellent medium for venting frustration! All that emotional energy could be safely funnelled into improving musical passion! What a blessing! (I mustnít forget Annieís bursting in to my lonely practise to give me a little candy or announce tea-time helped keep me sane!) Finally reassurance came as I learned to consider the very worst scenarios (which seriously even included going limp and dropping my violin onto the stage) and I realized that even then nothing is really lost! No matter what happens, my family will still love me and what could or should be more important than that? I think, once I learned to rise above those fears (by having patience with myself), it is as if I, in an ascending airplane, have persevered through the closterphobic and turbulent clouds and now I fly free in the limitless blue. The storm is below me. Iím sure I can handle nearly anything now! That is a rewarding feeling!

Two years have gone by and I have just passed my grade 10 RCM exam with good marks. Honestly I canít quite picture where this road will lead me, but I will follow it over five more hills of music harmony, history and analysis courses and a final teachers exam, which will bring me to a lookout spot. There my Guide will show me what lies ahead.

Rachel A.I. Seilern

 

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