*Transcription is done automatically so may contain errors
VO: It’s a cold day in January and you’re on your way to work. You probably tired, stressed and late then again, it’s Friday. So you’re looking forward to the weekend. As you walk into the Metro station, you hear the sounds of a violin.
God, it’s busker, don’t make eye contact and some classical song. Anyway, they might do better if they played something catchy like Taylor Swift. You don’t have cash anyway. You’d probably just buy booze. If you did this, just get to the train and get this day over with. Would you feel it different if you knew that busker was one of the world’s greatest violinists playing on a $4 million Stradivarius?
Yes. You’d probably stop and appreciate the performance that just the night before would have cost you hundreds of dollars. It’s not your fault. You didn’t know, and you wouldn’t be alone more than a thousand people walked past him that day. He wasn’t playing catchy songs or asking for attention. It was simply to see if music was standing apart from context and it didn’t over the course of 43 minutes.
He made $32. The experiment was orchestrated by journalists, gene Weingarten, who would go on to win a Pulitzer prize for the article he wrote on it. I’m not opening with this because it’s some grand reflection on humanity. The average person won’t know the difference between very good and brilliant.
Especially when it’s a song you’ve never heard from someone you don’t know when you’ve got somewhere to be I’m opening with it because this little experiment is probably how, Joshua Bell and it shouldn’t be
My name is Lowell Brillante and this is prodigy
You’re familiar with the term busking. It just means a street performer. Last week, I said, this episode would be on gaming, but some things came up and I had to push it back. This episode is with someone very special that I’ve been trying to book for months and it finally worked out. His name is Joshua Bell, and he’s the definition of a prodigy.
He debuted with the Philadelphia orchestra at 14 and at 17 made his first appearance at Carnegie hall. He performed the cellos for the film. The red violin won a Grammy, received the Avery Fisher prize and is performed with virtually every major orchestra in the world. There’s a lot more achievements, but it’s just too many to list.
This is my conversation with Joshua Bell.
Lowell: I was reading about you and your mother was a therapist and your father was a psychologist and they’re both new Yorkers and they moved to Bloomington Indiana and started a farm where you were born.
Can you tell me a little bit about some of your earliest memories?
Joshua: They moved there because my father actually took a job at the Kinsey Institute for sex research of all places and also professor at Indiana university. But yeah, they were new Yorkers and didn’t know what to expect in middle America.
And they were music lovers as well and were pleasantly surprised when they arrived in Bloomington and it happens to. Have the largest music school in the country and lots of concerts and cultural life. I grew up there. I was born the year that they arrived in Indiana. So I’m really from Indiana.
And I grew up in a musical household. So my mother played the piano. My father had a violin. He was self-taught
Lowell: when Joshua was four he’s young, rubber bands around the knobs on his dresser, drawers and experimented with the different pitches they’d make when stretched.
Joshua: my parents, I think, took that as a clue.
Like we better get them an instrument, a real instrument right away and got me a 16th size violin at the age of four. And yeah, I was lucky to start playing the violin very early. So I grew up in a musical family, but not a family of hardcore music professionals. So there was never a lot of pressure on me to become a musician, but they wanted me to have music in my life, I guess
Lowell: like your family would come together and everyone sorta played an instrument.
I can remember the word you used, but like some sort of like family musical time.
Joshua: We used to call it a music house in the 19th century, there was a salon or musical soiree, but we call it a music house. So it’s usually around the holidays when extended family would come cousins and things from Toronto and other places, all my cousins played instruments.
So we’d had to play together or take turns, getting up. Playing for each other. And usually I enjoyed it. Not always, sometimes my mother said, come on, bring down your violin and, let everyone hear what you’ve been practicing. But generally it was a very joyous way to be together through music.
And that’s what I grew up with.
Lowell: your first experiences with the instrument? Like how did you take right to it? Or was it something that you learned to love?
Joshua: Since, as long as I can remember, I loved any kind of puzzle trying to figure things out, word in puzzles or logic puzzles.
And for me, the violin was this amazing puzzle. It’s a bunch of dots on a page and that turns into music. There’s something also very mathematically appealing about music and the way the harmony works. And I think that was early on, that was the appeal, the emotional elements of expressing myself.
I’m not sure when that came into play. That was a bit later.
Lowell: If you’ve never seen Joshua play, the emotion that comes through is captivating. He is connected to the violin and completely absorbed in the music.
Joshua: But I think at first I gravitated towards the puzzle and that really kept me. Going, I enjoy learning a new pieces and diving into and trying to figure it out. And how does that work with my fingers and my first teacher, she likes that I caught on very quickly. And so she pushed me through repertoire and pieces that were probably, she shouldn’t have, they were well beyond what I should have been doing at that early age.
But in a way that kind of kept me interested. Didn’t know in terms of whether I was talented or better than others, it may sound end up sounding like I’m being cocky. But I do remember it. It’s actually one of my early memory of nursery school when I was four years old, just started the violin. And I remember another kid came in and brought his violin in for show and tell and played for everyone.
And that was like the first time I realized, then I might be a little bit better than he was. I was so out of tune. I was like looking at everybody and saying, Don’t you notice this is out of tune. It was innocent, but I didn’t know where I fit in, and I realized that maybe I was a little bit better than most at that age.
Lowell: If this sounds cocky, it’s really not. Here’s a clip of bell playing. He looks like he’s around 10 years old at the time.
Joshua: as it turns out I had developed a perfect pitch is what we call it. My mother would play notes on the piano and I say, that’s a, that’s see that’s. And that’s something that when you start playing music early, I think that gets cemented early in your brain. I took two around there quickly. And I was lucky to have parents that encouraged me to play because you need that too.
Some of my colleagues have told me that they liked music, but their parents didn’t think music was a good profession, even me and I can’t imagine being in that situation when you
Lowell: were seeking your third teacher, just shingled, he wanted to, make sure that your parents weren’t forcing it on you.
Joshua: He was this renowned professor at Indiana. He was in the seventies. I was 12 and he was someone people came from all around the world to study with. And he didn’t have any young students, pre college students at that time. He had them before and had actually some misgivings and reservations about that whole dynamic of a child.
With a cushy parents putting a lot of pressure on the child and then next to the child burning out and giving up music for good, because this is complex relationships there. And then he was wary about taking on another students. So he did sit them down and try to just find out what their motivations were.
And I think he was pleased when he just saw their genuine enthusiasm for music and the fact that they didn’t expect me to become, even become a musician, that they just wanted me to have the best teacher possible. And he took me on as a student and that was. So necessary for me at that time, I had very good teachers up until then, but I had reached a point where I needed that next level.
They could see like videos on YouTube of me when I was 11. And then one year later, after a year of studying with him, you can see in Mark and difference in the way I approach music, because he was able to take me to that next level. And then within a couple of years, by chance to play with the Philadelphia orchestra and my career started really at the age of 14.
And a lot of that is really due to having that right teacher at the right point in my development. And what was that
Lowell: big break that you had? I started
Joshua: at the age of 13, I started entering some competitions. There, there were these competitions out there. You could win $500 or a thousand dollars.
It’s just, of course, 1981 is worth a little more than it is now. It sounded like a lot to me back then as a, as an eighth grader. And I started doing well, I won a couple of these things and then. Entered. My first sort of national competition was sponsored by 17 magazine and general motors. It was called the 17 magazine concerto competition for high schoolers around the country.
And I was a freshman. I was actually the youngest for the competition in Rochester, New York. And I flew out there with my dad. I had made it to the top 12 violinist in the round. And when I won that, I got the chance to. Played with the Philadelphia orchestra and Ricardo Muti, the great Maestro. And that was really my big break because as it turns out, I played with them that fall and a manager who became my manager for years after that, he came to hear me and heard about me from.
One of the judges in the competition. He came to the concert, followed me around for a year and courted me to sign with him as an agent. And then I did that and soon after recording contracts and it snowballed from there, but really it was that opportunity that started at all. And that was very fortunate.
When you were a kid,
Lowell: you would hit the tennis ball against the garage door, which I used to do that too. Really? Oh yeah. My garage door had windows on it, so occasionally, I would break one of those windows, my parents didn’t mind too much. Oh yeah. But you were in a tournament when you were 10 and the goal, it was a tennis tournament, but it wasn’t like playing the game.
It was to hit the ball into the corner and. Yeah, you got all the way to nationals. I think you placed fourth and it just seems like you displayed this sort of rage to master that they sometimes call it where anything that you engage in, you take very seriously and want to Excel at. It didn’t work
Joshua: in golf, unfortunately of my existence.
I love that game. And that game fits into my personal line perfectly because you need that focus and hasn’t yet clicked. But in most things and basically in all things, I do take them seriously and approach them in a similar way, whether it was puzzles as a kid or. Tennis and same with basketball which I do now quite a lot for my leisure, I just go out and shoot baskets for it’s mental therapy and, but even when I do it now, I set goals in my mind.
I want to be able to hit 20 free throws in a row without missing. And I’m not going home until I do it. It’s a little bit obsessive, there’s probably a. You might call it OCD. I don’t know. But it’s a necessary thing. Certainly in music, you have to keep telling yourself to keep repeating until you get it right.
So I certainly had that with tenants at the age of 10 and it was this weird competition, which actually, I think quarter of a million kids entered into this around the country was like a little craze at the time. It’s sponsored by Mr. Peanut. The goal was not to beat someone. It was just to spend 30 balls and five of each stroke, and you’d have to hit it to the corners of the court.
And it’s the closer to the corner. There was a target, you would get more points. So I practiced this. Then I managed to get for it in the country at the age of 10 and flew to Boston with my mother, for the finals and got to meet Martina Navratilova. Who’s just starting out and has always been noted by those around me, whether it’s throwing a piece of paper into a.
Trash basket, before a concert, in my dressing room, I set myself a challenge. It relaxes me as well, but I’ll put the trash can in the very corner of the, somewhere in the room. And I’ll say, I’m not going to go on stage until I can bounce it off this wall and that wall and get into the big basket.
It’s silly. But I have that kind of. Obsessive personality. But it does help in music for sure. I’ve found that’s helped me
Lowell: actually talking to Sean yesterday and I was, I was like, Oh, does he maybe have any diagnosable conditions? Cause you know, you’re just not because just cause that pervasive th I think it’s really helpful when you’re trying to master something.
So that’s, and he told me about Little app game that you guys, that they had put together and sent you the link and the next morning they got up and you had the high score. And I just thought that was a really funny story.
Joshua: Let’s not get started on video games, my whole childhood, the years of development from 13 to 18, where not only dominated by playing music and studying which doesn’t, pingo this great opportunity, but also skipping out the back door of the music school.
After my mother dropped me off to practice and spending four hours straight. At the local arcade where they actually had an ongoing contest and they would post your name on a board. Who had the highest score on each machine. And of course this drove me crazy and I would want to get the high.
At one point I had four or five machines, the highest score in the arcade at once. In fact, there was a funny story of when I started to get a little bit of recognition for playing the violin and a kid came up to me once you’re famous. And I said no, I’m assuming. Meant about the music.
And he says, yeah, your name is on all the arcade game and the rack. And that was the name of the place. Yeah, video games was another area where I wasted so much time managing because of this obsession of mine.
Lowell: Joshua graduates, high school, and is about to make his debut at Carnegie hall. We’ll get into that.
After a quick break, we’ll come back to prodigy. You can find all this stuff mentioned in this [email protected] All right. Back to my conversation with Joshua Bell. So you’re 17 years old. What was that like? And I guess what did you imagine the future would hold?
Joshua: Yeah I graduated from high school a couple of years early, and I had parents that were allowed me to move out of the house to the age of 16, with some roommates at the university.
Thinking about that now it says I have a 13 year old boy. The idea of that in three years is unthinkable, but at the time it seemed right. And I went to new York’s and next year for my first Carnegie hall concert and then European tour. And certainly very exciting. I realized that New York was a place I wanted to go be in.
Found it so invigorating for a career. I didn’t really know what was going to come my way. I just knew I loved performing. I was a shy kid, always. I was not big on getting in front of the class and giving talks, speeches or presentations. I was and meeting new people. I was on the shier side, but performing in front of a public for some reason that suited me and and I felt comfortable doing that.
And thank goodness because I do a lot of that and had to do a lot of that. And it was really where I felt at home. With a instrument under my chin and expressing myself in music. I felt very able to open myself emotionally in front of an audience and express myself and not feel uncomfortable, but I didn’t know what to expect with career, but it just went where it took me led to other things.
And eventually I found myself making a career of music, which is
Lowell: yeah. And just watching you play, you could see the emotion that comes through. It’s amazing. I got a chance to watch the film, the red violin, the other night, which I thought was great. And it was inspired by Stradivarius violin and your violin at the time was used in the filming.
You performed all the solo parts. These violins, the history of them actually turned out to be really interesting to me. A Stradivarius is a stringed instrument made by members of the Italian family Stradivari during the 17th and 18th century, particularly by Antonio Stradivari, his golden period was from 1700 to 1725.
And instruments made during that time are the most coveted,
Joshua: various violin is incredibly special. I got my first experience with one when I was 12 years old. My teacher chose. Kimberly had a Stradivarius, which was made in 1683, a very early one as the most sweetest sound of any instrument. I think I’ve ever played on.
Occasionally Gingold would give it to me as a 12 year old saying, just playing a few notes on this and it would totally inspire me because of the overtones. It’s just a complexity of sound, very hard to define, but you know it when you have it. So first of all, let me just put it out there that anyone who’s read any article about that says that it’s been proven that there’s no difference between a modern violin and a Stradivarius that it’s all in the heads of those who are playing it, that’s completely wrong.
There is something very. Hard to define and special that inspires the player. That’s very hard to quantify it. So anyways, so does the Stradivarius has this complexity of sound also in projection of sound in a concert hall when you play in a big concert hall, like Carnegie hall, there’s a lot of distance between you and the last row.
And there’s something about a strata that even when you play stop. The sound spins in a way that it reaches the back of the hall in a way that other instruments have a harder time doing so it’s many things. And then of course, on top of it, the value, the monetary value is so high because there’s so few of them there are only a few, a few hundred in existence and they, many of them are behind glass.
The museum. There are a lot of collectors out there and I was very lucky to get in the market early in my career at the age of 19. I bought a odd Stradivarius that didn’t have the original scroll. Some other things that didn’t make it the most expensive one, but it was what I could afford.
And I was still the price of a house, but that would allow me to then trade in for the Tom Taylor Stradivarius. And I used that for the red violin film. And then a couple of years later, in 2001, I purchased the violin that I have now to give some ex Huberman Stradivarius made in 17, 13. But I was only able to do that because of being in the market and trading up my instruments, appreciating and value because there’s no way I could afford.
A $20 million violin now with some of the strands are going for in the market. So it’s just kinda crazy, but they’re still cheaper than Vangala paintings.
Lowell: Yeah. If you compare it to that shirt, I was curious what is the major difference between the Tom Taylor that you had and the Gibson that you have now?
Joshua: violin, every strategy even is different in character. Although there are similar characteristics between them, but the Tom Taylor was from a later period. That sound of those instruments are a bit more like the coronaries, which was the other violin maker. At that time that was coming into fashion.
You might say a little deeper, richer like a Viola like sound. And the Tom Taylor had a bit of that, that the Hoover mom, which I bought is from what they call the golden period, which I feel is the best. Balanced between the brilliance and sweetness and the power on the lower end of the instrument.
So it’s a matter of taste though. But I found this one to me, much more powerful. I didn’t have to work as hard to play on over an orchestra because often I’m playing with 80 piece orchestra and you have to hear me above the orchestra and having a violin that really projects makes a big difference.
I like to call it a little room on because Hoover was the great one of the great violinist of the 20th century. So I’m very proud to be touching an instrument that used to play.
Lowell: Joshua owns the Gibson X Huberman Stradivarius, which was made in 1713 during Stradivari’s golden period. The name Gibson comes from one of its early owners, George Alfred Gibson.
It was later acquired by Bronislaw Huberman. And during this time it was stolen twice. The first time was from his hotel room and was returned immediately. The second time was while Huberman was performing in Carnegie hall with his other violin, the Stradivarius was still unwell backstage in his dressing room.
And Huberman never saw it again. The thief was Julian Altman who went on to become a violinist with the national symphony orchestra and performed at the stolen instrument many times, 50 years after the theft, Julian Altman admitted it to his wife on
Joshua: his death bed. Someday. I think a movie is, should be made just the stories of these two characters, Superman and Ultima and the violin.
I think it could be an interesting story, but we’ll see.
Lowell: Yeah, absolutely. It’s just the story behind the violence is so interesting. And I guess now you’re a part of that one, so that’s really cool.
Joshua: That’s what the red violin played on that. That idea because the red violence film followed this violin over a period of 300 years, whenever you pick up a violin like the Stratton and I, every day I get to pick it up.
It’s incredible. This 300 year old Relic, and I use it as a tool. I can’t think of any other profession where you do that with something 300 years old, where it’s literally a useful tool and not just something to admire. But I do this every day and I think of all the people that played on it, and I know about Huberman and Gibson, who’s one in the 19th century.
And, but I think there was hundreds of years before. What kind of stories? The Tom Taylor Island before apparently was saved from a fire it was in the house and the great violinist Joseph, you asked him who was the best friend of Brahms wrote is by Lincoln court. Apparently. Ran into the house and took the violin before the house could burn down.
You have to save the violet. These are the kind of stories you get. If you look into their past and many of them will never know.
Lowell: Yeah. Super interesting. I saw that your kids are all playing different instruments in that debt documentary, the recent one. And I was like really impressed by their skill level as well.
And I’m just curious what it was like to be mentoring your own kids to play instruments as well.
Joshua: It’s interesting to see. Cause we live through that again. You don’t have to see them starting new pieces that I remember from my childhood, my son Samuel plays the violin. So he’s going through some of the pieces that I remember as a kid.
So it’s fun for me and yeah, they each play in different instruments, cello, violin, and piano. I wanted them to have music for sure in their lives. I haven’t put a huge amount of pressure. And my guess is that they may not become musicians professionally, but. But I just think music is something that every child should have something I advocate in general in schools as something that really is very important to me.
I think the world would be a lot better place. If every child has music in their lives, it stimulates their brain in countless ways and makes them learn how to play together. And it’s teaches comradery. It teaches language, it teaches mathematics skills, so many things. And So I really believe in that they don’t practice a lot.
They have school, they have other things, and they’re not, perhaps not as obsessive about it as I was, but they’re their own people and they have other interests and we’ll see where it takes them.
Lowell: From the Washington post experiment, which is how I found you. I was just curious what was your takeaway from the whole thing?
Joshua: The Washington post, it’s funny that a experiment which really didn’t think was anything more than a fun little thing to do on we, weekend or it was during the week. I can’t remember, but it was a journalist gene Weingarten. Well-known journalist and he had this idea, like he wanted to explore context and music.
And what does it mean? The connection between audience? And he said, what would happen if, when you’re in Washington, DC playing at the Kennedy center and people are paying money to go here, you play. But what if you were just to play in Cognito and the subway, wouldn’t you, would there be a connection between the audience?
Would they stop. I told him right away. I said, I don’t think much is going to happen during rush hour. We’re going to work. I don’t think it’s going to do a whole lot. And he had this idea. Maybe they’ll just all, it’ll all just stop and then crowd around and listen to you, you playing and there’ll be this magical experience.
And as it turns out, it played out a little more like I had predicted, but I didn’t expect was that it would get this sort of following. He ended up getting a Pulitzer prize for a really interesting article that he turned it into something. Much more interesting than I could have imagined. He followed the people who walked by ask them whether they even noticed.
And the fact that very few people stopped listening. Although there were some, and I did make $39 in the 40 minutes. I get letters all the time from kids saying they, they open their case and play in front of Macy’s or whatever. And they made three times the amount I made in 40 minutes. But I was not a kid.
And I was also playing in a place where. Part of this experiment was that I play in a place where it’s not known as a musical venue. There are some places in the New York subways where people are expected to crowd around and watch like a venue. This was not like that. Joshua
Lowell: isn’t simply making excuses here.
There’s a whole psychology to busking in a different location at a different time. Joshua would have attracted a large crowd. We’ll be right back after a quick break. Welcome back to prodigy. You’re listening to my conversation with Joshua Bell.
Joshua: What it showed to me and was interesting for me as a performer, just to maybe value even more, that, that amazing connection that happens when the audience is giving their a hundred percent attention sitting there, listening, hanging on every note you’re doing.
And there’s, there is a kind of magical connection between audience and performer. Same in the theater, it’s a little bit like that, if you’re going to start. Doing Shakespeare. Soliloquy is in the middle of rush hour and people are running by. It’s not going to mean much either.
And, but there’s this, there is something very special about that atmosphere and classical music in general or jazz or music that requires it. This is music that really requires a participation in the listener. Follow it in a way and let your mind work simply it’s not passive music. It’s not background music never was meant to be.
And that’s, it’s always funny for me to hear a Beethoven symphony. Playing in the background at a restaurant at low volume, it’s like nothing to do with what the music was meant to be. You’re supposed to be paying attention to it as if you listen to a Shakespeare play and being invalid by the volume and the intensity of the music.
That’s really what classical music is about is that experience of the listener and the participation of the listener, as well as the player. You
Lowell: didn’t think it would be that big a thing, and then he won a Pulitzer prize for it. So
Joshua: there you go. We didn’t have the social media likes back then in 2000. Seven when I, but I guess I got a, like from you. Yeah. And the fact that you know who I am and here we are talking. So yeah. So I thought it would be something that would die away. It would just be a momentary little article in the paper and it’s spread on YouTube and Seemed to somehow inspire.
I’ve got, I can’t tell you really how many emails I’ve gotten from priests and rabbis. And self-help people that say they use the story as they extrapolate from it. Things that I may not even be in there, but they use it in ways to talk about the context and meaning of the connection of human beings, in various ways.
And so it really resonated with people in different ways. So I got a little tired of that being. My thing, like people will say, Oh yeah, I’ve heard of it. You’re the guy from the subway.
I’m sure. I don’t want that to be only legacy.
Lowell: It definitely gave me an interest in classical music that I didn’t have before, after watching you play and stuff like that. So I definitely think it was, overall a good thing, but I would love to have seen them have you play again in an area that was like more, a different time and a different place to see how the
Joshua: differences were.
Funny enough. I did come back three years later of a Christmas time. I came back to the Metro station at the unions union station, the main station in Washington. And this time they advertise it or they just made a mention that I was going to be in the station and it was really fun because I came and I brought some music students.
So I also wanted to use the opportunity to celebrate. Like young people playing music. And so I brought some music students, we played a little of all the involved at the station and actually we got something like 3000 people showed up just to. Crowd around and watch. And that was, and it was really fun.
Kind of follow up. Oh,
Lowell: Oh, I’m gonna look that up. I just have a few more questions, for some people on the violinist subreddit if they had questions for you and they had a few, violin and music composing specific questions, but who’s your favorite composer and why?
Joshua: It’s very hard to say my favorite composer.
It depends on. First of all what I’m playing often this using my favorite join a pandemic it’s been bought for many reasons. Bob wrote for the violin, the sixth Sonata and partied for solo violin, which is very unusual to have this incredibly complex works for just the instrument alone. And during the pandemic, I’ve been basically alone.
I can’t play chamber music with my friends and I’ve been. Delving into this Spock, which is the, it’s the Bible of the violin repertoire. It’s the Holy grail or the old Testament you might say, it’s what precedes everything and cuts the music in a way. And it’s music. Unlike anything else I find it’s hits you on a meta level, on a level that’s beyond just basic human emotions.
It touches into the universe in a way that it sounds a little corny, but it shows you the truth of humanity or the universe. It’s such a beautiful way that the beauty of his music you could play. At a funeral or you could plan a wedding because it expresses a a beauty that’s beyond good or better or sadness or happiness.
So it’s very something very special. Then you have Beethoven, which is a very human existence. And he, for me is. His nine symphonies is the greatest achievement that any man has done. It’s in the top few things I could think of that ever been done by a human being. And I love this music and I’ve gotten to direct with the Academy of St.
Martin, the fields, my orchestra, or a music director. I’ve done eight of the night’s symphony so far. And then the famous ninth is the only one that I haven’t done yet. So that’s something on my bucket list. And then there’s, Schubert’s Mozart’s so it depends on the mood. The greatest songwriter of all time, who’s Pran super.
He wrote the most beautiful songs for the voice and of course, profilin and orchestra symphonies as well. But as far as pure melody, beautiful melodies, tuber, most people who are not in music would know him for sure, from his famous Ave, Maria, which is one of the most beautiful melodies, but It’s hard to choose.
Lowell: Oh sure. Oh, that’s a great answer. And passed about hand size is hand size important for violin?
Joshua: The hand size this doesn’t have anything to do with Donald Trump, does it? Cause I don’t think he doesn’t play the violin. Sorry, I couldn’t, we couldn’t resist. No, actually I’ve seen the entire gamut.
They used to say the panini hugging you need is the legendary figure from the early 19th century. That was perhaps the greatest violence that ever lived will never, you don’t have any recordings from that time. He wrote this most difficult music for the violin. Clearly, if he was able to play it, he must’ve been incredible, but apparently he had a disease of a hand.
I forget what it’s called that made his fingers very long. And spinely some sort of bone disease, but which apparently helps him able to stretch extreme distances. Maybe that’s legend. We don’t know exactly. I think fin fingers are generally helpful because. When you get up high in the violin register the distance between notes is so infinitesimally small, that if you have very big fingers and you can get in your way, but there are people that get around it just beautifully with big fingers.
Lowell: How do you structure your practice?
Joshua: Practicing is a skill and learning how to practice is really important. I practice with my children now, and then I can see, see the mistakes they make and how they practice. That’s just the mistake they made while they’re practicing.
I tell them it’s really important that you go into a practice with a goal, and not just play through your pieces or whatever. But you have some kind of goal. It doesn’t mean that you have to practice a long time. It’s more important than you have. Quality practice. The generable firm, I think is that when you finish, you’re practicing, you’re better at what you’re doing than you were before you started.
That sounds very logical, but it doesn’t, if you don’t do it, so maybe you take a pill age of music and say, I’m going to master this from here to here, and I’m going to. And repetition and slow practice playing under tempo. Sometimes it’s, I use tricks like taking metronome and if it’s a hard technical passage, I’ll take a metronome at 60 and I’ll play it and I’ll do it five times in a row without making an obvious mistake.
And then I can click it up to 62 and then I keep going until finally I find myself doing it proper tempo. And you don’t even realize you’ve been getting faster and faster because it’s such slowing criminals know it’s the little tricks like that. But focusing on one thing, even our musical things, like what do I want to, I take a phrase and what I really want to stay with this.
Even if it was a piece I’ve done for 30 years. I like to look at it fresh in the cracks. Okay. I’ve been doing it this way, but is it really the right way to do it? It’s like an actor who’s been, doing hamlets and saying to be, or not to be, he looking at it again. I was thinking, do I really want to say it that way?
Or maybe I want to say, to be, or not to be, and thinking, how was you saying it in the most profound way it’s going to work? And the same with musical phrases you want to, you can want to keep exploring those things. But that’s done in the practice room. Practice room is like a playground, figuring out new ways of doing things.
And then when you get on stage, you put that all behind you and it should be so well in your fingers that you can just concentrate on telling the story of music and the technical aspects you’ve worked on that already. And you don’t have to think. And that’s, so that’s what practicing.
Lowell: I just wanted to see, if there’s anything you wanted to talk about that you’re working on now or, anything fundraising, anything like that, that you wanted to
Joshua: during this pandemic it’s been, I’ve had now 10 months of not really, basically not performing in public.
It’s been interesting and finding ways to connect with audiences from home. So I’ve been doing some concerts at home. On the intranet, which has been an interesting experience. And my friends and family can tune in. And I recently started working with a company called mandolin mandolin.com and they’re presenting concerts of all kinds of concerts.
So I’m going to start doing a series from my home through mandolin. And I think it’s really a wonderful piece. I think it’s going to change the way we consume music going forward, even after the epidemic is over. I think people are now getting used to enjoying music at home on their big screen, or, from the comfort of home and it’s not going to replace live music.
And I, I certainly hope not, but interested in setting up these musical soirees that I grew up with bringing friends in eventually and doing house concerts that can be. Huge around the world through the miracle of the internet. That’s something I’m interested in going
Lowell: forward. Yeah. Wow. That sounds amazing.
Sounds like a good reason to upgrade my speaker system, but yeah, no, I’ll definitely direct people to that. And I really appreciate your time. It was a wonderful conversation and just a really interesting subject for me. So thank you.
Joshua: Thank you. It’s nice talking with you. Thanks for including me.
Lowell: Joshua was recently featured in a documentary called Joshua Bell at home with music. You can find it on PBS and they’ll post a link on the website. If you haven’t seen the film, the red violin, I definitely recommend it. It even has Samuel L. Jackson, and you can find Joshua Bell on Twitter and [email protected]
So this is the end of the first season of prodigy. I’m going to keep publishing episodes every week. They’ll just be a bit more relaxed and conversational while I gear up for season two. Thank you all so much for listening. I’ve gotten a bunch of really good feedback from people on how I can improve, which has been a huge help to me.
If you want to chat, have feedback or an episode idea, or think you’d be a good person to interview. You can find a bunch of ways to reach [email protected] and don’t forget to subscribe because I’ll be back next week. With another episode of prodigy, prodigy was created and produced by me, Lowell Berlanti.
The executive producer is my good friend and mentor Tyler clang. For more podcasts from iHeartRadio, visit the iHeartRadio app, Apple podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts.