Category Archives: Strings

Post Break

“It’s pretty far, but it doesn’t seem like it”  ~ Yogi Berra

For me, that quote relates to the upcoming end of the semester. If you’ve had Spring Break, I hope it was one of rest and rejuvenation; if yours is still to come, I wish the same for you!

Seven weeks left of the semester before juries. For the CSU students, there is Marriage of Figaro coming up and a final orchestra concert, plus chamber music concerts. It’s also a big chamber music time for me, with faculty recitals, plus colleagues from Montana State are coming in April, and then I go there to repeat the program. The Borromeo String Quartet is coming in mid-April for a performance and our annual High School Chamber Music Festival. It is always a high point of the year for me.

So how do we all keep our health, both mental and physical, with such a demanding schedule? We all have our methods of dealing with stress, but do we see the warning signs soon enough? For me, that means enough sleep. As musicians, we all have a lot going on, whether you are a student or a professional, and finding the balance at times like these is vital to our well-being, both in the short term as well as down the road.

Yes, then end of the semester seems pretty far, but it will be here in a hurry.

Until next time,
Margaret Miller

What Are You Doing With Your Extra Day?

leap dayIt’s a LEAP YEAR, and I have been thinking about time and time management of late. Feb. is always a very busy month, with Colorado All State Orchestra on campus for three days, and then the whirlwind that is audition season for the next academic year. I am very pleased with the quality of viola applicants, next year looks to be really exciting.

But back to the time issue. What am I doing with my extra day? The big item is playing a very interesting work for flute, viola, and piano by a Soviet woman composer on my colleague, Dr. Grape’s, recital tonight. I always enjoy discovering new repertoire, and this is a keeper. I also have a rehearsal for a concert on Saturday with the CSU Concert Orchestra, playing Trauermusik of Paul Hindemith, one of my favorites.

So it is like any other day, but I hope I can get ahead on some projects, and start practicing for several concerts in April.

How are you spending your extra day? I hope it is a productive one for all of you!

Until next time,
Margaret Miller

Margaret Miller pictured with Viola Alumni at the 2016 CMEA Conference

On to the next event…

Margaret Miller and viola alumni web

Margaret Miller and viola alumni at CMEA.

The annual Colorado Music Educators Association Conference is always a wonderful, busy week of interesting sessions, seeing old friends and meeting new ones, hearing terrific orchestras from around the state, all in the beautiful setting of the Broadmoor Hotel in Colorado Springs. I had three sessions, one for Tri-M, the high school music honor society, and two with a colleague that involved viola sections and chamber music. Additionally, the University Symphony Orchestra performed a unique concert of American composers.

So now it is on to the rest of the semester. All-State Orchestra is coming up Valentine’s Day weekend, then it’s time for auditions.

Somewhere in all of that is practicing!  There is quite a bit of chamber music on my plate this semester, so I had better get going!

Until next time,
Margaret Miller

Student pictured walking a bike

Recharged and Ready

Bike CampusHappy New Year to you all! I hope the holidays were a time of rest and recharging before the spring semester. Classes at CSU start tomorrow, and it is going to be a wild ride: presentations at the Colo. and Wyo. Music Educators Conferences, classes, and teaching. That’s just between now and the end of the month!

Many of you are preparing for auditions; I remember the stress and the excitement very well. Remember that you have worked hard to get where you are right now, so enjoy the experience. You will learn something about yourself with every audition and performing experience you have. It’s okay to be nervous, just remember to breathe and remember why you love playing your instrument.

Short and sweet today, more in Feb. As always, feel free to contact me if you have any comments or questions.

~ Margaret Miller

Margaret Miller Playing Viola Promotional Photo

The race to the finish…

I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving break! The end of the semester is coming up very quickly here, two more weeks of lessons, coachings, concerts, and classes, and then it will be time for finals. Looking back, the start of the semester in Aug. seems so long ago, and the fall break seemed a long way off. Now here we are, almost at the finish line.

It has been a good semester, there has been a lot of hard work going on, which is good to see. I have one more concert to prepare for, with Front Range Chamber Players, so I can’t be a slacker right now.

One more posting at the start of finals week. How do you handle the end of a semester? Let me know.

~ Margaret Miller

Yo Yo Ma promotional photo

Quality, Not Quantity

Yo Yo Ma

Cellist, Yo Yo Ma

“Mastering music is more than learning technical skills. Practicing is about quality, not quantity. Some days I practice for hours; other days it will be just a few minutes.” ~ Yo Yo Ma

We are approaching that stage of the semester where the urgency of practice time takes on a whole new meaning. There are five weeks left in the semester before juries, and everyone is feeling it, including me. There is a faculty chamber music concert on Nov. 16 (playing in three works), plus, at the end of that week, I am playing with the ProMusica Colorado Chamber Orchestra, which I very much enjoy.

As the quote says, practicing is about quality, not quantity, which is why I chose this quote. Yes, we do have to plan our practicing to make sure every scale, etude, and solo repertoire gets its full attention. But when I am pressed for time, I practice my scale/arpeggios for the day, and after that, I will work on a tricky passage or a lyrical passage. To me, that still counts as practicing, even when it isn’t the full amount of time I would like. On those days, it is vitally important for me to remember that I still have to practice in a relaxed, focused way.

What are your practice tricks for those days when time is short? I would love to hear from you!

Until next time,
Margaret Miller

Yogi Berra quote pictured

It ain’t over till it’s over

494c04974932c3994a05bc5be218e849Today’s post begins with a quote from Yogi Berra: “Baseball is ninety percent mental and the other half is physical”. Berra, who played for the New York Yankees, died recently at the age of 90. He was known for his humorous quotes; check out for more.

Why this quote? Because as musicians, we can substitute the word “practice” for “baseball”. Most of what we do in the practice room involves that 90%; how we plan our practice sessions; how we work out problems; how we improve our intonation/articulation/technical issues, etc.

But that isn’t everything about practicing. Why do we play our instruments? Because we love the MUSIC. Practicing also includes your thoughts about what you want the music to say, how you want to communicate it to your audience. Save time to be in “performance mode” to complement being in “picky mode”. The practice room is where you find out about yourself as a musician. Be patient, knowing that you will grow and change as a person and a musician.

As Yogi Berra also said: “It ain’t over till it’s over.”

Guest Artist Turtle Island pictured during a Master Class

What’s next?

Turtle Island String Quartet gives a master class at CSU. Photo courtesy of Lara Mitofsky Neuss.

Turtle Island String Quartet gives a master class at CSU. Photo courtesy of Lara Mitofsky Neuss.


My recital went pretty well – thanks to my colleague Tim Burns for such a wonderful collaboration. I’m already thinking about next year’s program. Stay tuned!

So what do you do in the week following a recital or concert? Do you take some time off, do you get caught up on other projects? I’d love to hear from you! As for me, it’s both. I did practice this week, but mostly technical items, such as scales, arpeggios, and reviewing several etudes.

Turtle Island String Quartet was at CSU last Thursday and Friday. David Balakrishnan, one of the founding members, gave a great improv class for the strings students, and the TISQ was fantastic Friday night. I really admire the freedom that jazzers have when they perform, it’s thought-provoking and inspiring.

But now it’s the next stack of music, this time for the faculty chamber music concert in Nov…so, that’s what’s next.

Organ Recital Hall pictured

Down to the wire…

Down to the wire…

Translation: my recital is on Sept. 28, and I am still in tinkering mode. I always try to be in “performance mode” several weeks ahead of a concert, but occasionally I discover that something needs to be changed. It might be a fingering, it might be a bowing, it might be an adjustment in phrasing. It keeps life interesting, but I really must decide what I am doing!

Dr. Tim Burns is my piano partner, and he is wonderful to work with. Finding a great musician and collaborator is so important for recitals, and I have been very lucky to play with several wonderful people over the years.

How do you get ready for recitals? I would love to hear from you!

The three works on the program were composed by violists, and for violists: Rebecca Clarke, John Harbison and Paul Coletti. If you are in Ft. Collins, I hope you will be able to come, the concert is in the Organ Recital Hall of the University Center for the Arts at 7:30 p.m.

More in October!
~ Prof. Miller

Tim Burns promotional photo

String Area Blog #2: So far, so good

Thanks to those who sent comments on the first post – much appreciated!

As you might imagine, the first few weeks of a new school year can be quite overwhelming. As I mentioned last time, how we manage our time is critical to our success as musicians. For me, that means having my planner handy at all times, but remembering that I need to be flexible. As the saying goes: “Life happens when you are busy making other plans.” Right now that means getting the viola studio settled and in a practice routine, figuring out repertoire for recitals and juries, and having a sectional for the first orchestra concert on Sept. 24 and 25. Oh, yes, and practicing for my recital on Sept. 28. Come if you can, it will be a wonderful evening of music for solo viola, and viola and piano with my colleague Dr. Tim Burns (pictured).

Until next time…Margaret Miller