Good Habits

I came across this video made by Jordana Greenberg, violinist of the group Harpeth Rising.* At first, I had a good laugh just like everyone else who has seen it. But on second look (who can resist watching it more than once?) I noticed that not only was Jordana capable of playing a part of the Sibelius violin concerto with a parrot on her head (and who knew what else he could do up there besides participate in the music?) but she could also laugh at the same time! The concerto she was playing is one of the more difficult ones in the violin repertoire and Jordana made it look easy. With a parrot on her head. Laughing.

So I showed this video (thanks to my trusty internet-connected cell phone) to all my students. Why? Here are a few reasons and some of the conclusions my students drew from it:

    1. She must have been standing up straight and quite still in order to have a parrot sit on her head and not dig his claws into her scalp. Okay, score one for good posture – after all, you never know when a parrot might land on your head and you have to be ready.
    2. She must have memorized that piece really well to be able to play and laugh at the same time. So if you want to make sure you know your recital piece really well, go borrow a talkative parrot and put it on your head while you play.
    3. They say that “Music has charms to soothe a savage breast.” ** Well Jordana must have been playing pretty well, according to the parrot. So if you want to find out how well you are playing your recital piece go perform it for an appropriate animal – and not one who loves you anyway. Jordana reports that this bird, which her parents had adopted a year earlier, either bit or ignored her until she recently started practicing her violin in their home.
    4. She must be able to concentrate really hard if she can play with so much interference. Yes, you can see the concentration on her face in certain passages. What’s a noisy audience or a cell phone ringing during your performance if you can pass the acid test of a sing-a-long parrot on your head?

My students were all impressed and delighted with this video. But the real reason I showed it to them was that it confirms what I tell them every single day: playing well is a combination of really good habits. You need them to play anything well, but playing well, as Jordana did, under somewhat adverse conditions – your very own music critic with claws, perhaps not paper trained, sitting on your head (which, now that I think of it, must be the way a lot of performing musicians feel when they know there is a famous – or infamous – critic in the audience) is the real proof that years of hard work have made your physical and musical technical playing become a part of you, just like walking or good table manners. Inspiration can then express itself through this automatic technique, AKA, good habits.

Every time I hear people say that great musicians are just the product of talent but not also of grinding, grueling hard work, I would like to scream. I tell my students that no one, absolutely NO ONE is born with a violin in his or her hands. Some people learn faster than others and some seem to have more natural ability, but the work is still there. Yehudi Menuhin practiced 4 hours a day from the time he was 5 years old. Viktoria Mullova said she spent many hours as a child perfecting imperceptible bow changes. I am sure most other great classical musicians can tell similar stories. Still, I don’t care how many violinists you look at, they all have the same technical traits in common which means only one thing: they spent a lot of time learning good mental, physical and emotional habits which enable them to give us the wonderful music we are blessed to receive – as well as making them able to play a difficult concerto with a cackling parrot on their heads!

Post Author: Eloise Hellyer

*With thanks to Jordana Greenberg (and Pepper) for kind permission to use this video.

**William Congreve, “The Mourning Bride,” Act. 1, Scene 1. Registered & Protected  MSSU-D6QY-TKLN-JYT7

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5 February 2016

3 thoughts on “Good Habits

  1. Virgil T. Morant

    A piano teacher of mine many years ago had me engage in ordinary conversation with her while I played things that she reckoned I should have known well enough to perform habitually. It was a good exercise.

    I believe someone being born with a violin on his hands would make an excellent first chapter in a science fiction or fantasy story. Someone should do something with that idea.

    1. Eloise Hellyer Post author

      That’s an old Suzuki tactic, too, to ask children to talk while they are playing which isn’t an easy thing to do. Also that no one is born with a violin (or whatever) in his hands, is an Italian saying. It’s quite apt and more poetic than saying that no one is born knowing how to play the violin. Thanks for your comment.

  2. gipsika

    Funny, that is so true. There are two kinds of violinsts and those who practice hardest, win. I’m not saying that talent doesn’t play into it. But talent alone is useless. It takes commitment and hard work too.


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