Saturday, March 25, 2006

Steve Wicen


One of my best friend’s father died. His name was Steve Wicen, and he was a very special guy. In his death, an era comes to an end. Steve and his brother Frank were cut from the same cloth; cloth that grows increasingly rare in today’s world. They were farmers in Pennsylvania. The Wicen Farm as we call it, the fields, the barns - the shooting range, will always be among my fondest memories.

I always looked forward to seeing Steve when I went to the farm. His “hello” and grin never failed. He had eyes that actually twinkled.

He and his brother were like rocks in the river of time. They were able to withstand a lot of change through sheer will and smarts. I can’t call them street smarts… I’ll call them field smarts.

Steve’s brother Frank died in a car accident – an unexpected and sudden demise. Now, four months later, Steve called it quits, succumbing to Cancer. A quick close of an era and a forced changing of the guard, obviously very sad, but in a strangely poetic way -- beautiful too. All clocks wind down and lingering is not pleasant. I think people who knew Frank and Steve are celebrating how long and with what quality their lives ticked.

Now, the farm and the legacy will go on to the next generation. My buddy Joe has large shoes to fill, but then, he is a big guy. No kidding.

I want to thank everyone who is helping with pledges to the MS walk. If you want to contribute – please, click here. It’s for a great and very necessary cause.

It’s been interesting to see who has pledged. Overall, it’s been people of fairly modest means. The wealthy people I know have by and large not donated a dime. Why is that? It’s certainly not greed or spend-thrift-ness. Are they pre-occupied?

My violin practicing is coming along at a startling rate. The majority of my technique has come back. I would have estimated that the level of playability to which I’ve returned would have taken a couple solid years of work so I am more surprised than anyone that two months into the return, I've come so far. I am still struggling with the physicality of it all. Muscles need to be reworked, joints are grumbling, my back, neck and for lack of a better place to put the pain, my lungs, are sore after I play. My left thumb still gets paralyzingly, painfully, locked up and then completely mushy, when I “open up the engine” for an extended run. Each day though seems to feel better than the last.

It has remained fun and I’m actually trying to squeeze two hours a day of study. I am not just playing “music” either. I’m actually practicing – Kreutzer etudes for anyone interested in knowing. I continue to be amazed and awed by physical memory. Exercises that I haven’t looked at for over twenty odd years have come back. My fingers remember them though I don’t. Much to my chagrin, many of the weak spots are still weak too. Areas where there were “X” marks put in by my teacher, remain --- X spots. Maybe this time around I can finally get them right.

The violin sounds better than it ever has, and I’m also able to do certain things that I couldn’t before, both tonally and technically. I credit the bow in large part. Several years ago I invested in a decent bow, and am now actually able to do things I couldn’t before. I am gaining a control over my right arm that I think I've never had. I wonder how much different certain things might have been had I a good bow all those years ago. I also bought a new, high-end case within which the violin now rests. Properly suspension’ed, metered (for humidity) and able to dispense humidity, as needed, the violin now has a better home than many people.
Sad to say.

The other amazing thing which has completely changed the playing of the violin is, (drum roll again please for the obvious recipient of the “Isn’t it amazing award”) the internet. I’ve been very impressed by how violinists have utilized the web, and a camaraderie exists that didn’t back in my day. It makes for a much less solitary existence, which is one of the banes of classical music. I’ve been able to communicate with other violinists about things ranging from wrist technique for certain up-bow staccato playing to string choice. In addition to being able to use my computer as a metronome, recording device etc., I now have the world’s music library at my fingertips. It’s been incredible to download any music I want for trivial prices. I wonder what it means for the music-publishing world? Certainly things have changed when you can own a CD containing pretty much all the major violin concertos, plus much of the favorite short repertoire for 19.00 dollars. When a Fritz Kreisler piece or the Carmen Fantasy costs $2.99 to buy, it certainly allows for experimentation. So I’m experimenting.

I also have had some nice communication with several violinists. In searching for opinions about strings, I actually did a search for my specific violin – year and make. Since all decent violins, not being factory made, have their own voice, it can be a long and expensive process to find the best strings for a violin. Even then, it’s a matter of personal choice, playing needs, etc. In doing my search, I was hoping to get a jump on this and low and behold, as close as a sibling to my violin was found. I emailed the young lady and was quite pleased to quickly get a great reply. She, Amy Fetherolf, is quite an accomplished player and it was interesting to share some history with her. It seems that many classical roads lead back to Philadelphia. I wish her all the best, and for you managers who might be reading, I understand she is looking for good representation.

Also – and once again, here is fan boy writing. Though being in the movie business lessens the awe of celebrities, certain people still do it for me.

When I was ten or so, my violin teacher gave my father and I third row tickets to see a taped concert of the Philadelphia Orchestra and a violinist whom he thought was absolutely spectacular. He wanted me to see her play. I was quite struck, when she came out on stage – a beautiful, confident violinist who knocked the Sibelius violin concerto out of the park. Her name, Dylana Jenson and she was and remains, one of the great contemporary violinists. Imagine my excitement when I found a message on a violin forum written by her. For the heck of it, I wrote her a “fan email”, and she was great in writing back. In the email she also mentioned that her sister was a movie director. For you fans of animation, her sister is Vicky Jensen, director of such minor animated movies as Shrek, and Shark Tale.

Had enough with the violin yet?

Well, there’s more -

Went to a screening of Music from the Inside Out last night. It’s a documentary about the Philadelphia Orchestra, and should hopefully get a bit of notice this year. Overall, it was a good movie, though it sidestepped most of the hard-core aspects of classical music. There was one moment of insight when concert master David Kim, talks about his journey into the orchestra. In watching this section of the movie, the one pervading though that ran through my head was -- My God, I dodged a bullet.
For anyone who is surprised and thinks that was an unexpected plot twist in my violin-playing essay – forget not, that while the violin is a beautiful instrument, it is also a demanding, cruel, unforgiving tool. The competition to play is staggering, and unless it is a calling that the player feels, it is not a path that travels well.

I saw very few of the old faces from when I performed with them, though I saw Michael Ludwig, a guy who trounced me in one violin competition. Though his name was listed in the end credits, I did not see my old violin teacher, Morris Shulik. The movie was made at the end of his career with the orchestra and unfortunately, his life – so I didn’t know whether to expect seeing him or not.

I do recommend the movie. It’s worthy and you can’t help but feel good walking out of the theater.

The weather goes from nice to nicer. Nights are still chilly enough for hot-tubbing, which is always pleasurable, but the days are now warm enough that I spend them writing outside in shorts and a t-shirt. Or no shirt, which I did two days ago, promptly giving myself a serious reddening of the skin.
Not that it’s really ever not the season in Southern California, but the nights now are ever better for BBQ’s.

Finally, I was absolutely amazed that not one, but two people identified the music on the violin stand correctly. I was alluding to a different piece of music and had I known that the eagle eyes of some observant people would identify the music, I would have put the proper music up.

So… for some useless fun.

Points for anyone who can tell me:

  1. What piece was I alluding two posts ago?

  2. What piece is this following tricky part from?
Here's a hint: While it may look easy, it's incredibly difficult to play.

3. Based on this photo, what violin do I play, and what bow do I use? (no cheating if you already know)

Back to the movies...

It looks like The Ghosts of Edendale is finally getting released in the U.K. Though the rights were purchased two odd years ago by Anchor Bay, they've taken their time setting a release date. Finally, if you live in England, you'll be able to see the movie.

We are in negotiations for a re-release of The Last Broadcast. Hopefully it will be out for Hallowen of 2006. I will keep you informed of this.

Now – off to work, where I must figure out how the protagonist (Eddie) is going to finally get the villain (Gunnar) and save the day for all.