Vibrato You Could Drive a Truck Through

I often have to remind students to use vibrato sparingly and intentionally. Depending on their age I have various ways of communicating this. Recently I saw the following on Facebook:

Vibrato on every note is like putting ketchup all over the music.

I tried that on a young student yesterday but then his dad informed me that the student puts ketchup on EVERYthing.

But then someone pointed me to these excerpts from Leopold Auer’s classic book on violin teaching:

The purpose of the vibrato, the wavering effect of tone secured by rapid oscillation of a finger on the string which it stops, is to lend more expressive quality to a musical phrase, and even to a single note of a phrase. Like the portamento, the vibrato is primarily a means used to heighten effect, to embellish and beautify a singing passageor tone. Unfortunately, both singers and players of string instruments frequently abuse this effect just as they do the portamento, and by doing so they have called into being a plague of the most inartistic nature, one to which ninety out of every hundred vocal and instrumental soloists fall victim.

Some of the performers who habitually make use of the vibrato are under the impression that they are making their playing more effective, and some of them find the vibrato a very convenient device for hiding bad intonation or bad tone production. But such an artifice is worse than useless. That student is wise who listens intelligently to his own playing, admits to himself that his intonation or tone production is bad, and then undertakes to improve it. Resorting to the vibrato in an ostrich-like endeavour to conceal bad tone production and intonation from oneself and from others not only halts progress in the improvement of one’s fault, but is out and out dishonest artistically.

But the other class of violinists who habitually make use of the device—those who are convinced that an eternal vibrato is the secret of soulful playing, of piquancy in performance—are pitifully misguided in their belief. In some cases, no doubt, they are, perhaps against their own better instincts, conscientiously carrying out the instructions of unmusical teachers. But their own musical values ought to tell them how false is the notion that vibration, whether in good or bad taste, adds spice and piquancy to their playing …

With certain violinists, this undue and painful vibrato is represented by a slow and continuous oscillation of the hand and all the fingers as well, even those fingers which may be unoccupied for the time being. But this curious habit of oscillating and vibrating on each and every tone amounts to an actual physical defect, whose existence those who are cursed with it do not in most cases even suspect. The source of this physical evil generally may be traced to a group of sick or ailing nerves, hitherto undiscovered. And this belief of mine is based on the fact that I cannot otherwise account for certain pupils of mine, who in spiteof their earnest determination to the contrary, have been unable to rid themselves of this vicious habit, and have even continued to vibrate on every note, long or short, playing even the the driest scale passages and exercises in constant vibrato.

There is only one remedy which may be depended upon to counteract this ailing nervous condition, vicious habit, or lack of good taste—and that is to deny oneself the use of the vibrato altogether. Observe and follow your playing with all the mental concentration at your disposal. As soon as you notice the slightest vibration of hand or finger, stop playing, rest for a few minutes, and then begin once more, continuing to observe yourself. For weeks and months you must continually guard yourself in this fashion until you are confident that you have mastered your vibrato absolutely, that it is entirely within your control.

… As a rule I forbid my students using the vibrato at all on notes which are not sustained, and I earnestly advise them not to abuse it even in the case of sustained notes which succeed each other in a phrase.

Leopold Auer

Violin Playing as I Teach It

Lippincott, New York, 1960

pp 22-24


One day, while on tour in Styria, we reached Gratz, the capital. And there my father saw an announcement posted that Henri Viextemps was giving a concert at the Municipal Theater…

My father at once seized upon the opportunity offered by our accidentally finding the great violinist in Gratz and endeavored to have me introduced to the master. His secret hope was that Vieuxtemps, when I had played for him, would declare that I was a great genius, something which would have served to a nicety my father’s advertising plans for our tournées…

On the day and hour set we drew near the hotel in which the Vieuxtemps were occupying a fine apartment. Entering, we were received very cordially by Vieuxtemps himself, and very coldly by his wife, who played the accompaniments at his concerts. After a few polite words regarding my studies had been exchanged, I was permitted to take out my violin—a poor enough instrument—and play. Mme. Vieuxtemps sat down at the piano looking decidely bored. I myself, nervous by nature, trembling with emotion, began to play the “Fantasie Caprice.” I do not recall how I played it, but it seems to me that I put my whole soul into every tone, though poorly supported by an insufficiently developed technique. Vieuxtemps encouraged me with an amiable smile. Then, at the very moment when I was in the midst of a cantabile phrase which I was playing all too sentimentally, Mme. Vieuxtemps leaped from the piano stool, and began to walk precipitately around the room. She bent down to the ground, looked here, looked there, beneath the furniture, under the bureau and the piano, as though she were hunting for something she had lost and could not find in spite of all the trouble she took. Brusquely interrupted by her strange action, I stood with wide-open mouth, with no suspicion of what all this might mean. I felt as though I had been cast down from illuminated heights by a fiery explosion rising from the abyss. Vieuxtemps, himself astonished, followed his wife’s progress about the room with a surprised air, and asked her what she was looking for so nervously under the furniture. “One or more cats must be hidden in this room,” said she, “miaowing in every key!” She was alluding to my over-sentimental glissando in the cantabile phrase. I was so overcome by the shock that I lost consciousness, and my father was obliged to hold me in his arms lest I fall. Vieuxtemps turned the whole affair into a joke, patted me on the cheek, and consoled me by saying that later on everything would go better. I was then no more than fourteen.

The interview was at an end, and my father and I left the hotel with tears in our eyes, discouraged, unhappy, and crushed to earth. From that day on I hated all glissandos and vibratos, and to this very minute I can recall the anguish of my interview with Vieuxtemps.

Leopold Auer

My Long Life in Music

Frederick A. Stokes Co., New York, 1923

pp 32-35

MS Society Historic New Bern Ride 2012 Fund Raising Letter

Dear Friends,

This is the last year I’ll be asking you for money for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society Historic New Bern Bicycle Tour. Did that get your attention? If you’re reading this letter you probably know that I’ve been raising money for the NMSS for the last 5 years through this unique method of “I ride my bicycle 150 to 200 miles over 2 days, you donate money to the MS Society”. Why do we do this? Well, I love riding my bicycle long distances through beautiful countryside AND I’ve lost several good friends to this terrible disease we call multiple sclerosis and have several friends living with the disease right now and through this bicycle tour have met dozens of other people living with the disease and praying for a cure. I don’t have money to donate myself to this organization which has helped so many people in Eastern North Carolina who have the disease so I do what I can to help raise money. If you’re reading this now it is probably because you’ve donated to my ride in the past and, as I’ve discovered, it’s probably because you’ve lost a friend or loved one to MS or know someone currently living with MS. Over the last 5 years almost every person who has donated has told me of someone close to them with MS.

 So that’s the game we’ve been playing. When I started doing this I had no idea I could ride a bike 100 miles in a day. I’d never come close to doing that before. And I had never asked anyone for money for any kind of cause and really did not expect to succeed at that, either. But I discovered physical strengths I didn’t know I had and, most importantly, discovered the generosity of my friends. The first year I raised almost $2000. It’s been a little less than that in the following years but always over $1000 thanks to you and many others.

 So why will this be my last year? Well, I’ll be 60 next year and feel a need for some change. I think it’s time to find other ways to “make good” in the world – maybe something on a more one-to-one basis. And I’m acutely aware of the concept of “donor burn-out” and want to head that off at the pass. I know everyone is bombarded with requests for help from all kinds of worthy causes and also most people I know are struggling financially themselves. I know I’ll keep riding and doing the small group fund raising rides. We did one this morning where there is a small entry fee that goes directly to the organization so I do the riding and the paying myself.

 So, if you can help, great. If not, that’s fine. No amount is too small and here’s the drill:

1.) Easiest: Go to my personal page on the MS Society website and click the “donate” link.

2.) Or mail a check made out to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society to my address: 2512 Mount Sinai Rd, Chapel Hill, NC 27514. Do NOT make the check to me!

We ride out of New Bern September 8th and 9th. We’ll be doing at least 75 miles each day and hopefully 100 on at least one of them. It’s exhilarating, exhausting, fun (well, mostly fun) and challenging. I can accept donations up until October 1st. And, yes, Karen is riding again this year!


Robbie Link

Disable Touchpad “Tap to Click”

I hate “tap to click” on a laptop touchpad. In many installations it seems to be enabled by default. Some have a control panel for the mouse/touchpad set-up but in my current installation of Lubuntu 12.04 on my laptop there is no control panel setting. This article gives instructions for changing settings. However, it may not be clear from reading it that you will edit or create a new file called ~/.config/lxsession/Lubuntu/autostart and add the value @synclient MaxTapTime=0 to it and then reboot to have the new setting take effect. That one will disable “tap to click”. There are many other settings you can alter.

These instructions are specifically for Lubuntu but the directory structure can be changed to match your particular installation.

A Must Read

Recently Emily White, an intern at NPR All Songs Considered and GM of what appears to be her college radio station, wrote a post on the NPR blog in which she acknowledged that while she had 11,000 songs in her music library, she’s only paid for 15 CDs in her life. Our intention is not to embarrass or shame her. We believe young people like Emily White who are fully engaged in the music scene are the artist’s biggest allies. We also believe–for reasons we’ll get into–that she has been been badly misinformed by the Free Culture movement. We only ask the opportunity to present a countervailing viewpoint.

Dropbox Opens in Chromium in Lubuntu with LXDE Desktop

Irritating behavior – trying to open the Dropbox folder from the tray icon lists the files in the browser rather than file manager. 

This answer worked for me on Lubuntu 12.04.

Install libfile-mimeinfo-perl from the repository

Run (in terminal) mimeopen -d ~/Desktop (any folder can be used)

mimeopen should prompt you to pick something to open it with. For me, PCManFM was the first option. Select the option that lists PCManFM.

Open Dropbox from the system tray. It should now open in PCManFM.

How Do You Get to Carnegie Hall?

Carnegie Hall Program ExcerptMy sister sent this recently. When my parents split up when we were younger many family memorabilia “disappeared”. Lately things have been “reappearing”. I thought this was forever lost. This was one of three nights playing at Carnegie with a stellar list of soloists.

The Closet Soloist (Diva Wannabe)

As a bassist I spend most of my musical life as an accompanist. It’s a special skill and one I quite enjoy – doing everything I can to make other musicians sound good. In a jazz setting I frequently get to “solo” – to improvise melodies while others accompany me – but most of the time it’s laying down the harmonic foundation and playing with the right nuance and subtlety to allow the “real” soloists (vocalists, violinists, saxophonists, etc.) to shine through. It has been said that every bassist is a closet cellist – that instrument that imitates the sound and range of the human voice more than any other. And it is true, I have dabbled in cello playing ever since I fell in love with Elinor, a cellist in Junior High orchestra who was a year behind me in school. Playing solo Bach on the cello is gratifying but not something I would do in public. There are so, so many who can do it much better. But in recent years playing for English country dances (where I get to play the tune) and other folk and classical settings has satisfied some of my need to spin melodies while others toil around the harmonies. 

Yes, I know of and have played many of the various bass concerti, sonatas, and the like. But it’s just not the same. And, to tell the truth, it’s just plain too much work. Give me an instrument that plays naturally in the singing range without having to go to extremes. Enter the viola da gamba. About 25 years ago UNC professor Brent Wissick introduced me to the bass viol by way of the violone which I had started playing with The Society for Performance on Original Instruments (later known as Ensemble Courant). Here was a bass instrument that could play the foundation role in a continuo band, be an equal partner to any vocalist, or being the searing, soaring soloist in an intricate Marais composition. And it has frets. It’s incredibly easy to learn to play and devilishly hard to master. But there aren’t 7 million (grossly exaggerated guess – I mean, how many people DO play the cello worldwide?) other folks out there doing the same thing so I sometimes get my moment in the spotlight.

So a couple of times a year or so I get to be the soloist or one of the soloists on viol and this weekend is one of them. I’ll be playing a Buxtehude Sonata for viola da gamba and violin with Baroque violinist Andrew Bonner and accompanied by harpsichordist Beverly Biggs in a Baroque and Beyond concert at the Chapel of the Cross church in Chapel Hill. Ironically, Andrew was a nerdy young violin student in my Intermediate Orchestras at the Duke University Precollegiate String School many years ago (I won’t say how many!) and is now making his way as one of the many young, talented professionals in our area.

I’m planning on enjoying my diva moment! 

What to Take to the Gig?

I’m always amazed by the violinists who break a string at a rehearsal or concert and they don’t have an extra one in their case. What were they thinking? You never broke a string before? Just came across this article which is more geared toward folks playing electric instruments but it’s a good starting place for thinking about what you should have handy. Essential Items for the Gigging Bassist: A Gig Survival Checklist.

Adding to the list:

  • Hole punch
  • Tape
  • Binders
  • Pencils
  • Dark Chocolate