An effective practice routine incorporates a variety of things, including scales, long tones, technical exercises, sight reading, and repertoire work. However, there is one other very important habit that musicians should incorporate into their regular practice routine, no matter what their age or skill level: listening to other performers.
Why is listening to other performers such an integral part of musicianship? For one, it exposes you to a wide array of timbres, techniques, and musical ideas and interpretations. By getting familiar with the bar set by leading performers on your instrument, you’ll begin to recognize examples of widely admired and renowned standards of tone quality, technical virtuosity, and musical expression. Listening to a variety of other performances of that piece by other musicians can also give you ideas in terms of interpretation, which you can then either choose to emulate or use as a foundation for creating your own new and unique interpretation of the piece.
If you are a violinist, you have a lot of particularly emotional and sad violin music to select from. This type of powerful music can transport any listener into a different world, which, as a performer, is something you should strive to do! The connection you can make with your audience is an amazing feeling. Here are five songs to add to your iPod:
1. “Theme from Schindler’s List” – John Williams
“Schindler’s List” is a 1993 film directed by Steven Spielberg. It tells the story of Oskar Schindler, a German businessman who was responsible for saving over 1,000 Polish Jewish people during the Holocaust. It is a deeply moving story and the film touched hearts throughout the world. The music for the film was equally moving, in large part to the emotional music score written by John Williams. One of the most famous musical pieces in the film was the main theme, a piece for solo violin, which was performed by renowned violinist Itzhak Perlman. The sad violin music performed is melancholy, haunting, and extremely evocative.
2. “Adagio for Strings” – Samuel Barber
Though not just for solo violin, Barber’s “Adagio for Strings” is universally acknowledged as being one of the most moving pieces of music ever composed. It was written in 1936 and is an arrangement of the slow movement from his second string quartet. It has been featured in a number of television shows, commercials, and movies, most notably in the film “Apocalypse Now”. The Adagio is written for a string orchestra, but features the violin in more exposed sections. The music starts softly and builds very gradually – almost agonizingly – into huge sweeping climactic sections that can overwhelm the listener with emotion.
3. “Concerto, 2nd movement” – Pyotr Tchaikovsky
Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto is one of the most beloved pieces of music ever written for the instrument. This concerto is one of the greatest musical masterpieces from the Romantic Era and is at times celebratory, vibrant, and exhilarating, and other times moving and introspective. The second movement is beautifully expressive, featuring long, lyrical melodies that sound as though the sad violin music is singing a wordless lament.
4. “Aase’s Death” – Edvard Grieg
The music for “Peer Gynt”, a five-act play by the famous Norwegian dramatist Henrik Ibsen, is one of Grieg’s most famous works. The play follows the various exploits of the main character Peer Gynt, a hunter and roustabout with a penchant for telling tall tales and getting into trouble. The piece “Aase’s Death” is written for string orchestra and is a lament for Peer Gynt’s mother after her death in the third act.
5. “Ashokan Farewell” – Jay Ungar
Not all sad violin music is classical. One of the most hauntingly moving pieces for the violin is the Appalachian waltz “Ashokan Farewell”. It was composed in 1982 by Jay Ungar and is in the style of a folk ballad or Scottish lament. Though simple and sweet, staying true to the character of American folk music, the piece evokes deep emotions of saying farewell to loved ones. This sad violin music was later used in the 1990 PBS televised mini-series “The Civil War”.
Practicing your instrument and working to become a more advanced musician is a multi-faceted endeavor. Working on technique and tone are important, as are studying various aspects of music in general. Of course, listening to key pieces and performers for your instrument is invaluable as well. Combine this with a qualified teacher and regularly scheduled private lessons, and you’ll be on the fast-track for developing your skills as a violinist!
Photo by Barbara Walsh