San Jose,CA 95117, United States


Random topics and thoughts having to do with my musical life.

Pandemic - Coming Out of It - 10/12/2023

Oh my, we had no idea how this would all come out, or how long it would take. I have been busy just scrambling to understand what would restart, when it would restart, and how it would work. Disneyland, with a mask, has been my sanity and escape from reality. The last orchestra that I had been playing with will have their first concert in two weeks. We had played the dress rehearsal and cancelled the concert. California Pops had a mostly senior audience. Santa Cruz started back reasonably soon, at first with strings only and mask. After the winds joined they had to test for COVID daily. Each concert that I played had someone test positive during the set and generate email to all of us. Nothing else they could do, it was just in the air. I left the middle school last year. I now have a larger number of private students and I am coaching strings at Piedmont Hills High and Prospect High.

As a great side effect I can now teach online. I have been able to keep working with two students as they have gone off to college.

Pandemic - Time for a Web Site Update - 8/29/2020

The new website has much of the old information, but it is fresh and new.

I built my original website sometime around 2006. It was a chance to keep my coding skills a little current. It has started to look dated. No time like the present to make an upgrade.

Pictures were not so much in vouge fifteen years ago. Many images this time. Not only did I have to brush off my coding skills, but skills in editing images. Yes, anyone in high tech has outdated skills in five years. Anyhow, took many, many hours, but had a great time doing it. Solving the problem that makes no sense is so rewarding.

Pandemic - Changes taking place - 4/24/2020

All performance have dried up with no known restart date. The middle school is closed and now doing online learning. Online learning is certainly not ideal for music. It is taking much creativity on the part of the primary teacher to maintain their skills. I take care of the repairs and answer random questions online. People are often dropping instruments on my porch.

The biggest change has been with my private students. I am fortunate to not have lost any due to the economic situation, but I fully expect that as time goes on I will. So many people are affected in a negative way financially. I count my blessings. All teaching has moved to Skype. It happened with less than 24 hours notice. It is going very well. I have learned to adapt for the video and sound being out of sync, and the sometimes bad signal. It has also taken creativity to get the music to the students. I am using either Dropbox or email. This is one time when it would be easier if I just followed a book page by page, by on demand assignments are so much better for the students and what I believe in.

This also gives me new time to find new music for students to choose from. My favorite music store is Groth Music in Bloomington, Minnesota. I have two visits worth of music to get online.

As a musician this has been good for me. It has forced me to listen more carefully to intonation and articulation. It has also made me realize that teaching online is a very realistically possibility. A new found skill, something every musician needs.

Playing 1776 - 2/5/2014

I have always enjoyed playing shows.  Somehow my life has returned to that in the last year or so.  I am playing a show now that is very interesting.  The first time I played 1776 was in 1976 for the bicentennial.  This production is very different.  The cast is all women, yes playing men's roles.  The orchestra has been reduced to only six players.  Violin/Viola, woodwinds, bass, percussion and two keyboards.  Playing two instruments for one show isn't very common for a string player and is very interesting.  Third time for me, but not common.  The changes are quick and the brain can get very confused.  It does keep the brain engaged though.  There are 18 performances, which is more than I can usually tolerate without boredom.  So far, 8 performances down and I am still loving it.  We are on stage, but not visible.  We are in a black curtained room with live mics, so being quite is a necessity while not playing.  At least this means I can wear comfortable clothes and no shoes.

One of my favorite moments was the second rehearsal when I was playing something very odd sounding.  When queried I responded 'clef problem.'  The response was 'Gretchen, you are holding a violin.'  For those not in the know, the joke is that the violin only reads one clef, clef problems only happen on viola.

Keep Your Instrument Clean! - 3/7/12

Please make sure that you have a cloth to clean your instrument.  This should be something soft.  I generally use flannel because I can obtain it cheaply, but shops sell clothes especially for this purpose.  Rosin is sticky and is it normal for it to come off on the strings and the instrument.  If you are not seeing it on your strings, and probably your instrument, chances are that you do not have enough rosin on your bow. 

Each time after you are done playing you should use  a soft cloth to wipe any rosin off of the instrument.  Rosin is sticky and will build up to the point that you can not do the cleaning job alone if you do not keep after it.  This would mean a trip to the violin shop and paying to have it cleaned.  Caked on rosin can also affect the sound of the instrument, and not in a positive way.

Lastly, clean the cloth regularly.  The rosin comes off on the cloth and eventually builds up so that you are not effectively cleaning the violin.  Having a couple of clothes makes sense,  One in the case and one in the wash.

What to listen to and watch at a concert - 10/26/09

What can you listen for at the symphony? Even if you are not familiar with the music there are many things that you can listen for or watch for during the concert. Of course, you can just listen too.

As a string player you can learn a lot by watching the players in the orchestra. If this is a non-professional orchestra spend more of your time watching the front of the section. In a professional orchestra all players of the same instrument are basically equal in skills. In a non-professional orchestra the front of the section is sometimes more skilled.

Things to watch in the bow hand:

  • How much bow are they using? Is it always the same?
  • Do all players bows go the same way?
  • Does the bow speed change?
  • Does the bow always stay on the string?
  • Are there any tremolo?
  • Are any notes pizzicato?
  • Are notes slurred?
  • Is the right wrist flexible?

Things to watch in the left hand:

  • What part of the finger is used?
  • How high do the fingers lift? Does speed make a difference?
  • How often do they shift? Does everyone shift at the same time?
  • Things to listen for:

  • When do the violins or violas have the melody?
  • Are the notes legato (smooth) or staccato (spaces)?
  • Who has the melody? Does it pass around?
  • Is there more than one melody?
  • What does the accompaniment sound like? Who has it?
  • What different tone colors can you hear? Sweet, agitated, flowing, etc.
  • Watching the conductor:

  • Can you tell how he shows the speed of the beat?
  • Can you see how he tells the players to come in? Usually only after they haven’t played for a bit.
  • How do he show loud and soft?
  • If you know in time that you are going to the concert get a recording of the main pieces. iTunes has reasonably priced copies of most everything. Every concert is more enjoyable if the music is somewhat familiar. If you can listen before the concert listen for the melodies that reoccur. Are they always played by the same instruments, or are they passed around? How many movements does the work have?

    Pegs that Misbehave - 10/2/09

    Pegs can not work smoothly for a variety of reasons.  Most of the time the surface is just too slippery or too gummy.  This can be solved at home with peg dope or peg drops.  These can be purchased at any violin store, mail order or local.  To use peg dope or peg drops.

    1. Remove the string so that the peg comes out. 
    2. Put a small amount of lubricant on it it.  Three swipes over the length of the peg is plenty with peg dope. 
    3. Put the peg back in and run it around a few times, then wipe it off.
    4. Reapply the lubricant, reinsert the peg, and reinstall the string.

    If this doesn't help it is likely that the peg no longer fits in the hole correctly.  This has to be corrected by a violin shop.  The hole in the peg box will be reamed to fit the peg.  Over many years the pegs will have to be replaced.  at that time the holes will be filled and recreated.