In praise of Hillary Hahn

Brain Dropping #139

         I just made a new friend – Alexander Glazunov’s Violin Concerto.  I never heard it before I got it on You Tube with the remarkable young violinist Hillary Hahn.  May I prescribe it for a touch of the Mid-Winter blues?   Glazunov  was a student of Rimsky-Korsakov and is best known for his “Seasons” and the  “Saxophone Concerto.”
             This performance is wonderfully filmed with striking close-ups of Ms. Hahn’s fingering.  This always blows me away – how does she know where to place her fingers on the fretless fingerboard?   For me, compared to the guitar, the violin is like being set adrift on a limitless sea of possibility.  My guitar has  brass frets that demarcate a forgiving zone so you don’t have to be that precise in striking the note as you press down and the string engages the fret. You can be a little sloppy and get away with it. But the fretless fingerboard is unforgiving – a millimeter off and the note is sharp or flat.  And here is Hillary Hahn, in Glazunov’s scherzo movement, zipping up and down the fingerboard with precision and at lightening speed with an expression on her face of fretless calm – even serenity.
             I know that’s why you must begin very early on in learning the fiddle so that you develop what is commonly called “muscle memory.”   I read a more scientific explanation of this seemingly preternatural ability called “myelination.”  “Myelination is the process by which a fatty layer, called myelin, accumulates around nerve cells (neurons).  Myelin enables nerve cells to transmit information faster and allows more complex brain processes.  Myelination begins in infancy and continues into adulthood.  During the tween years, myelination particularly occurs in the frontal lobe and facilitates cognitive development..”  
                There was an account of the training of very young Russian tennis players that relates to “muscle memory” or “myelination.”  It was an attempt to explain why the Russians were so dominant on the professional tennis circuit.  It was observed that students as young as four or five were given rackets, but no balls, and went through the proper motions for their ground strokes.  In the constant repetitions, it was theorized, the “muscle memory” or “myelination” was, so to speak “set in concrete.”
            I don’t to understand the science, but it seems to me in Hillary Hahn’s case – prodigious talent helps.

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