Meet The Players: Roberto Diaz

And the GRAMMY goes to… a viola concerto! Last night’s GRAMMY awards for best contemporary classical composition went to Jennifer Higdon’s “Viola Concerto”, played by Roberto Diaz. You can learn more about Higdon’s wonderful new music here, but since this blog is about the viola, let’s talk more about the viola player who recorded Higdon’s viola concerto.

This is not Roberto Diaz’ first trip to the GRAMMYs. His 2006 recording of viola transcriptions by William Primrose previously earned him a nomination. In addition to performing and recording, he is the current dean of the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, where he also teaches viola.

Born in Santiago, Chile, Diaz moved to the US with his family in 1966. In addition to teaching at Curtis, he has served as principal viola of the Philadelphia Orchestra, principal viola of National Symphony Orchestra, and section player of the Boston Symphony and Minnesota Orchestras.

 

Roberto_Diaz_-_3_-_PC_Alisa_Garin

Roberto Diaz, viola

Born: Santiago, Chile, 1966

Lives in: Philadelphia, PA, USA

Website

Recordings

Watch on YouTube

“As musicians, we never feel that we stop learning.” – Roberto Diaz

Watch Roberto Diaz perform the Walton Viola Concerto

Fun Fact: One of three siblings born to musical parents, Roberto Diaz often plays in the Diaz String Trio, alongside one of his brothers.

Advertisements

ViOlympics: What Music Students Can Learn from Olympic Athletes

 

ViOlympics_ What Music Students Can Learn from Olympic Athletes

I love the Winter Olympic Games. The athletes and events are a fun diversion during the cold, dark months of winter and it’s inspiring to watch the drive, artistry and focus of the world’s best athletes. This semester, my students are participating in the “ViOlympics” (violin/viola olympics) as we look forward to the PyeongChang Olympic Games. Every week, each student must practice at least 6 days and complete other special challenges, such as bow exercises, listening, ear training, or music theory worksheets. I’ll be posting the challenge chart on my TpT page later this week for any teachers who might want to use it. As I created this new practice challenge, I started thinking about the parallels between excelling at a sport and excelling at a musical instrument. What follows are just a few observations.

In both sports and music, players must practice diligently every day in order to improve. While some sports have “rest days” when athletes don’t practice their sport, or do other exercises, instrumentalists must practice every day to develop their muscle memory so that the fingers will remember the correct notes, rhythms, and articulation. Both sports and music require a similar daily discipline. A feature article in Women’s Running magazine reveals one Olympic figure skater’s daily routine: “While her off-ice training varies day to day, she consistently trains for two to three hours on the ice every Monday through Friday. ”

Similarly, one of the all-time greatest violinists, Jascha Heifetz also knew the value of daily practice:

The discipline of practice every day is essential. When I skip a day, I notice a difference in my playing. After two days, the critics notice, and after three days, so does the audience.  – Jascha Heifetz

Athletes and musicians alike start playing at a young age, almost always during the elementary school years. Due in no small part to the prevalence of the Suzuki Method, many students now being music study around age 4. A cursory reading of Olympic athlete bios shows that an early start is also important in many sports, specifically choreographed sports such as gymnastics or ice skating, where it is not unusual to begin classes at age 3. That’s not to say that one can’t reach a high level of achievement when starting at a later age, but it seems that earlier study provides real advantages. Continue reading “ViOlympics: What Music Students Can Learn from Olympic Athletes”

Fun Exercises to Teach Finger Action

Violin: Fun exercises to teach finger action on the violin or viola.

In the beginning stages of playing the violin or viola, there are many things to consider: the posture, bow hold, and bowing motion for starters. But for beginners, simply placing the fingers in the correct shape on the fingerboard and using an appropriate amount of force vs. relaxation of the finger can be a challenge. Even more advanced students must work on improving finger action, for example, in using the fingers to articulate a series of notes under a slur. I like to use the following exercises to teach finger action.

The Ants Go Marching

In the pre-twinkle stage, I will draw the finger numbers on the tip of each left hand finger and we will sing “The Ants Go Marching” while doing “finger pops”. In finger pops, the finger and thumb make a circle, with the finger on its tip. This both helps to strengthen the arch shape of the fingers, and also reinforces the finger numbers, since we pop the first finger when singing “the ants go marching 1 by 1”, pop the second finger when singing “the ants go marching 2 by 2”, etc. Continue reading “Fun Exercises to Teach Finger Action”

Staying On Time With 30-minute Lessons

picture of violin and fall leaves

My “New Year’s” Resolution

For many teachers, September feels more the like the “new year” than January 1st. I love all the school supply sales and the sense of new beginnings. This time of the year, I like to also take time to reflect on how I can improve and streamline my teaching. My goal this year is very simple: to stay on time. This seems like a no-brainer, just end each lesson on time. But on days where I have 8 students back-to-back with no break, it can be a bit more difficult to start and end everyone on time. Throw into the mix students who are slow to put instruments away or parents with all those important beginning-of-semester questions and you can see why staying on time can be a challenge.

 

Creating a Game Plan

To make sure I stay on schedule, I wanted to get a more clear idea of how I wanted to structure each lesson, especially those shorter 30 minute lessons. I sketched out a pie chart in my bullet journal of how an ideal 30 minute lesson would go, assuming the student is playing twinkles or above in Book 1. Just an aside: I normally ask my Book 2 students to move up to a 45-minute lesson to accommodate more note reading and technique work, so the chart below would look a bit different for a more advanced student with a too-short lesson time. Continue reading “Staying On Time With 30-minute Lessons”

Summer Institute Magic: My ASI Experience

My American Suzuki Institute Experience

It’s back-to-school time here in St. Louis, and I’m busy getting ready for the new year, but before things get too crazy, I want to share my experience at the American Suzuki Institute in Stevens Point Wisconsin. I spent the last two weeks of July this year in Stevens Point, taking some viola teacher training. I’ve been to other institutes in the past and always enjoyed the experience, but I have to say that ASI is the largest and most organized that I’ve attended. Continue reading “Summer Institute Magic: My ASI Experience”

The Joy of Scales: 7 Reasons All Students Should Practice Scales

7 Reasons All String Students Should Practice Scales.

I have a confession to make: I love scales! There is nothing I like better than starting the day off right with a cup of coffee and some slow, mindful scale practice. I know that both students and professionals have differing opinions on scales, but love them or hate them, scales are an essential part of string technique. Here’s why I think they are so important. 

 

7 Reasons All String Students Should Practice Scales

 

They Improve the Left Hand Frame

Scales are “multiple vitamins” for the left hand. Practicing scales strengthens the left hand frame, and reinforces the exact placement of half and whole steps used throughout western classical music.

 

They’re “Easy Wins”

When trying to form a new habit or improve in a certain area, productivity experts emphasize the importance of “easy wins”. Success breeds success and scales are short and sweet enough to give students an immediate sense of accomplishment, which gets the ball rolling on greater challenges.

Continue reading “The Joy of Scales: 7 Reasons All Students Should Practice Scales”