March 9, 2010

Practical Advice and an Endorsement

Life has been busy and challenging--on one hand, providing food for thought worthy of writing about; and on the other hand, leaving me with too little time to do it. I hope I can say something profound in the future, or post some positive results of my latest endeavors.

But in the meantime, a quick word on the subject of pencils.

In "Memories of a Piano Hero," there is a post about marking up music--to do it or not, and if so, with which to mark it. I love marked music--absolutely love to see the handwriting of my first teacher, Julienne Slaughter embedded in my old Suzuki books. I love to see the dates when I passed things off. My last teacher, Geoffrey Trabichoff, rarely wrote in my music, but my music is filled with ideas he'd given me during lessons, including cleverly worded quotes such as, "Most people only practice what they're already good at," or "It's not hard if you can do it!" (I think Geoffrey was quoting Milstein on the last one.)

When it comes to shared music, such as music from the Philharmonic library, I hate marked-up parts. Every conductor has a different interpretation, and so any bowings or dynamics heavily marked in for one concert will be obsolete for the next concert, but impossible to erase. Poorly marked parts has been the cause of major contention and upheaval in my experience. The first run-through of Ravel's Bolero (not a hard piece), was disastrous when each member of the first violin section received messy, marked up music in which old bowings from various performances had not been erased, and new ones had not been put in. The conductor's unwillingness to give his own musicians the benefit of the doubt when they tried to explain the difficulty was one of the many catalysts that led to that conductor's dismissal. (Unfortunately, it is usually the violinist that loses his job in situations like this.)

During my years in the Philharmonic, I was fortunate to sit with Dan Perry, an extremely talented musician, and one with a lot of practical information to share. One of the very best things I got from that relationship was his recommendation of the Dixon Ticonderoga pencil. It writes cleanly, and even more importantly, erases cleanly. It's not easy to find, in spite of it's legitimate claim of being the world's best pencil. I can never find it at office supply stores, or in the pencil section at the grocery store. I've had to go online and order them directly from the manufacturer. I've got a stack to last me a while, and if you want, I'll give you one!

Which reminds me--last Saturday, I spent the entire day judging Festival. I really enjoyed hearing the up-and-coming generation of violinists. But I did not enjoy so much my hand hurting writing comments (hopefully productive)in a dull pencil hour after hour. I wish I had thought to bring my own pencils with me. But if anyone reading this is in charge of providing pencils for Festival in future years--remember, Dixon Ticonderoga!


Tawna said...

OK! Actually, my daughter's school supply list last year SPECIFIED Ticonderoga pencils. I've never used them. I only use mechanical pencils. I'll give it a shot. In fact, maybe I'll give a package of them to this teacher who despises markings in his music. Maybe I'll include a mechanical eraser, just for kicks and giggles. I had one when I took my theory class at the U, thinking I'd surely use it all up. It was nice to have. I think we bought the Ticonderogas from Office Depot. They had them in silver, with black wood, which looked really spiffy.

julie said...

hahhahah! I love that you wrote about pencils in this serious manner. Maybe Dixon Ticonderoga's problem lie in the last name. Perhaps Dixon's pencils would sell better.

Either way, pencils are so obsolete in and of themselves. I only use them when..I'm teaching! Hmm..does that mean musicians are obsolete? I was never good at the if A=B then...problems

Anonymous said...

Wow. What fantastic advice. I'm glad I stopped in to read. Had I not, I may never have had my eyes opened to the king of pencils. I love the Julienne Slaughter markings in my music too. Cherish it. Geoffrey didn't mark up my parts too much either, but I have a few of his fingering numbers that he would eventually scribble in to save time (most of them are in the Mendelssohn D minor). Love your blog Jen. Thanks.