This Muse's Bane

It was revealed in a rehearsal last week that in one scene of Les Contes d'Hoffmann, I am expected to believably "play" a violin. This was complete news to me and while I was professional and upbeat about this news outwardly, inwardly I was in a mild panic.

As an actress I am capable of accomplishing many things. One of the traits upon which I pride myself is the thorough research and preparation I embark upon for the sake of realizing a character. However, in this case, I think time will be my adversary. In all cases (until now), my process has been to learn/rehearse/practice/employ the actions of my character for as long as I can before having to actually perform. Realism is an essential element enabling a character to transcend the page. Truthfully, though, I am concerned about presenting my violin "playing" to a live audience in less than two weeks. This isn't even enough time to learn practicable fingering.

Last week, Keith Lockhart gave me a five-minute lesson about violin playing, providing basic instruction about positioning, tuning, and marking bowings in a copy of the score. Today, my best friend gave me a violin lesson of sorts. She played for about ten years and while her instrument wasn't with her, her creative teaching techniques had not abandoned her. She astutely used a Guitar Hero guitar as an instructive device in lieu of an actual violin.

Lesson one: use a cereal box. My violin has no chinrest. So, to practice holding the instrument I've been instructed to carry a cereal box around, nestled between my jaw and my shoulder. I can now carry cereal and fold clothes, type or wash dishes.

Lesson two: grasp the bow properly. While Maestro Lockhart indicated maintaining a perpendicular trajectory of the bow relative to the violin is important, and the motion of the bow should be kept between the bridge and the end of the fingerboard, the brief look at the grip of the bow left me lacking. I kept sticking my pinky finger in the air during the first rehearsal as though it were high tea. Now I have my handy ballpoint pen as a practice device, and the knowledge that the bow's frog is a benchmark.

Lesson three: the thumb and fingers are separate entities. I'd been nestling the neck of the violin in the crook between the thumb and the index finger. However, this made it impossible for me to present realistic-looking vibrato. Now I know to support the instrument just next to the pad of the thumb, leaving my fingers free to tremolo, trill and vibrate.

Hopefully these lessons will enable me to avoid this:


Ben Clapton said...

Wow, I applaud you for being open and willing to learn how to do it. So many times have I seen actors play the violin, and it be just horrible, so fake. I wish you the best of luck!

Alecia said...

Thanks, Ben! I'll take all the luck I can get. (If only I'd taken up singing *and* the violin!)