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The Strolling Violinist


Many violinists are looking for ways to expand their performance opportunities. One often-overlooked way to do so is to seek work as a solo entertainer. If you live in a large metropolitan area, there are probably many people who want live music for their affairs but have limited budgets, and the soloist is the answer. People often choose the violin because of its age old association with romance. No other instrument tugs at the heartstrings quite like a violin. The possibilities for employment are boundless! Receptions, barbecues, house warmings, store openings, and other private parties are all excellent venues for performing.

Solo strolling violin. The very thought of this type of gig is enough to make many violinists run for cover. Everyone knows that the violin is not a solo instrument. Or is it? I used to think not, but for the past five years I've been singing a different tune. The violin is an incredibly versatile solo vehicle. And you don't necessarily have to play Bach unaccompanied partitas. To be successful, you must be able to draw inspiration and melodies from a diverse cross section of musical genres. Remember that you won't necessarily like everything you play; your job at the party, reception, or event is to provide musical ambiance that will enhance the social interaction of a group of people. Sometimes a tune you consider a cliche will impress people the most. That's show biz. Go with it!

Sheet Music

Download a solo violin arrangement of "O Sole Mio"

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Strolling violinists have the unique opportunity to perform one-on-one. In one sense, the strolling player is an ambassador of the violin. Perhaps the audience member nearest the musician has never seen or heard a violin at close range. This presents a rare challenge. And playing solo to any audience is challenging because you don't have other musicians to rely on. This means that you'll have less competition for solo jobs and you can command higher fees. Can you pull it off? With the right preparation, state of mind, and repertoire, you'll have
no problem.

The most important and obvious consideration is your overall sound. I use two instruments. One is a powerful, brilliant-sounding modern Italian violin, which I use for chamber music and strolling ensemble work. My other fiddle has a smaller, mellower tone, which Would be drowned our in an orchestra but is perfect for solo strolling jobs. The fact that the instrument is worth under $1,000 saves me from excessive worry about accidents. I don't use my best. bow for strolling work either. Over the years I've broken too mane good bows in unusual circumstances.

What about repertoire? I've been fortunate in that my clients have to a large degree helped me decide on repertoire with their requests. Whenever I get a request for a selection I don't know, I make a special effort to find and memorize the piece. This process has helped me to learn dozens of runes.

One of the most important aspects of a good solo repertoire is variety. The singing quality of the violin makes it a good instrument with which to interpret popular songs, both old and new. I use my classical violin repertoire as well, but I've found that most of my audiences have preferred hearing melodies in a more condensed form. It helps to he a musical chameleon. Start by preparing five or six examples of every style of music your audience might request. Cover everything from classical violin themes to ethnic music to contemporary jazz and pop music. Show tunes can also work well, and don't forget Irish and American fiddle tunes. If this sounds like a lot of work, don't be dismayed. Just keep in mind that you'll be filling a musical niche that can serve you well for years to cone.

I have chosen two pieces you can start with: an arrangement of the Italian folk song "0 Sole Mio," and an original tune, "Soliloquy." "O Sole Mio" sounds much harder than it is it never hurts to have a few tunes like that in your repertoire. "Soliloquy" should be played with lots of rubato throughout. I use no vibrato in the beginning and gradually bring in vibrato, keeping it slow.

How can a solo violinist make a popular tune come to life? One way is to employ contrasting musical elements within the same piece: fast flourishes and slow, stately legato passages. Or play the melody straight and then play the sense theme Wits tmbe(lishments. You can outline the harmonic, chordal structure on the low strings and then jump up to the higher register for some melodic phrasing. Use pizzicato and tremolo. I like to use silence between some of my phrases to add a sense of anticipation to my sound. I also like to vary my use of vibrato. Sometimes I use none; other times I use a lot. When trying to achieve a contemporary jazz-like sound, I'll use a very slow vibrato. For some Brazilian tunes, I'll use none. Jazz phrasing can be suggested b.e approaching a melody note using two grace notes: one directly above, and the other below the chosen note. Think of using contrasting dynamics as well. Finally, changing tone centers will add interest to a rune. Try modulating up a half step. whole step, or perfect fourth. Because you're playing solo, you have complete freedom to change keys at will!

I find the vocal performances of Bobby McFerron an excellent source of ideas and inspiration. His performances work because of his great musicianship and his ability to vary his style from song to song. I also listen to synthesizers and electric guitar-type sounds. Like it or not, we exist in a pop culture, and for many people, music means primarily amplified or digitally produced sounds. Our job is to communicate musically with these people.

Taking requests is the best way to communicate with your audience. If you can read body language, you can determine who among your audience wants to make a request. Even an occasional glance can be your invitation to solicit a request. It is appropriate to accept gratuities in this situation; make sure you give people ample time to tip you. Sometimes people will be so busy socializing that you will not want to interrupt. At times like these, you're on your own regarding what kind of music to play. The more kinds of violin or fiddle music you can play, the easier it will be to win the attention of your audience.

The overall effect you will have on your clients be determined by how you sound and how you look. Oftentimes looking good will translate into more work. It's not possible to get top dollar for your services if you don't consider every detail of your appearance.

So iron your best clothes, put your promo material together, and get on the phone. A good way to start is by calling entertainment agencies and telling them you specialize in solo violin performance. Once you start working alone as a strolling violinist, you'll realize that violin is indeed an excellent solo instrument.

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