An update

I know that a non-zero number of people read this blog, and I’m also aware that I haven’t written anything in about two months. Since I intend to keep the blog alive, here is an update for you! Moreover, as I am generally introverted and not talkative, I find it easier and much more natural to express myself in writing anyway.

How is the focal dystonia?

Improving a lot, actually. Unfortunately I do not get time to practice during the week, as I am busy with my studies in maths and physics. I do have two violin students who I teach on the weekends, and I notice that I’m getting more confident about playing and demonstrating during the lessons. The basic action of the fingers onto the fingerboard and coordination in general is definitely a dramatic improvement from last year. However, I’m not yet able to execute vibrato in any consistent way. To be more precise, I could do it if I forced it, but that would defeat the whole purpose of rebuilding a natural and stress-free technique, which is my long-term goal.

Some time ago, I made the decision to try to play without the aid of the shoulder rest. I figured that since I had to rebuild my left hand technique entirely, I may as well start from the very beginning. It was, not surprisingly, difficult at first, and I wasn’t sure if it would pay off. Fortunately, I am now quite comfortable playing scales and even arpeggios with this new setup. Shifting in particular is still not easy, but I’m getting better at it. It is quite a different feeling, as you might expect. The violin is no longer propped up by the shoulder rest, and suddenly it feels as though everything is a bit ‘slippery’. I had played with a shoulder rest for many years, and a natural compensating reaction is to affix the violin by clamping it between the shoulder and the chin. This tends to bring up the left shoulder unnecessarily, which leads to other problems. Rather, one should try to find a way to let the violin, left hand, and shoulder work together in a more dynamic system. In doing this, you will find that you have to be a bit more flexible, by which I mean you should not be disturbed that the violin is no longer at a fixed point, but can instead move around. The left hand and arm should then feel free to make small adjustments constantly, depending on what you need to play. This requires you to be more efficient with the left hand, each motion must be prepared and well-organised — well, this should always be the case, but (from the perspective of a player used to the shoulder rest) perhaps more than usual! With some determination and careful practice, this can result in a much more flexible way of moving up and down the fingerboard. At least, this is certainly my feeling, judging from the results of my own practice.

How is it going, studying science at USyd?

It is going very well, but I certainly don’t pretend it is easy. I am taking two courses in maths (Introduction to Partial Differential Equations, and Algebra) and two courses in physics (the topics this semester are Quantum Physics, Electromagnetic Properties of Matter, Cosmology, and Special Relativity). All four courses are fascinating, and challenging in different ways. Physics I find particularly difficult, primarily because I never took physics as a subject in high school. Actually, while we’re on this point of discussion, the subjects I took for the HSC (higher school certificate) were “4-unit” Maths (which is the most advanced level in NSW), French, Music, and English (which is compulsory, naturally). As you see, I was always very interested in maths (and I’ve written briefly about maths before on this blog), but none of the natural sciences are in that list. I’m not entirely sure why I was suddenly compelled to take up physics after deciding to return to Uni two years ago, but I only know that it was a good decision! You can criticise the HSC syllabus as much as you like, and it certainly has many shortcomings, but even so, if I had studied physics in high school I would have at least gained some basic intuition, a basic ‘feeling’ for the key concepts and theories, which could then be developed into a more comprehensive and precise knowledge at Uni. Lecturers will occasionally say “Now I’m sure you learnt in high school that…”, and I’ll be sitting there thinking “Uh, nope”. No matter though, the initial intimidation of being presented with many new concepts at once is outweighed by my desire to learn and understand. In this situation, you cannot help but become more resourceful, and more independent in your learning.

In high school, we had the luxury of learning things slowly. The exact opposite is true at Uni, we are expected to cover so much material in such a short period of time, and I often feel paradoxically that I have learnt a great deal yet also hardly anything at all.

Are you composing anything?

To my regret, no. But then, I’m always composing, in the sense that I’m always thinking about music (which is not always a good thing, especially when I really need to be thinking about maths). For many months now, I have been planning to write a piano trio, and I am eager to write things down during the upcoming summer holidays. The ideas have been forming gradually, and even though I haven’t committed anything to paper yet, I already have quite a clear idea how to proceed. And yes, I always try to write on paper first, it forces me to think very hard about the music I want to write, and not to rely on the instant playback on the Sibelius (a notation software, for those readers who may not be aware). It is already the end of week 8 of the university semester, so there’s not too long to go before the summer break!


To end this post, I want to thank everyone who has interacted with this blog in any way, even if it’s just a ‘like’ on Facebook or Twitter. It’s nice to know that someone has taken a minute or two to read your words. Thanks especially to my friends and colleagues who have given encouragement to me in person, and who have wished me well in recovering from focal dystonia as well as in my studies. A little kindness goes a long way.

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