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News and commentary about learning, playing and teaching the violin. weekend vote: Do you look at the score?

Fri, 23 Jun 2017 17:23:30 GMT

By Laurie Niles: In an article earlier this week, violinist Nicholas Kitchen shared the system he has devised so that his entire quartet (the Borromeo Quartet) can read straight from the score of any given quartet they are playing. That means that at all times, they can see all four parts: violins, viola and cello. He said that this has absolutely revolutionized the way they work together, in a very positive way. They like it so much that now they always read straight from the score, whether in rehearsal or performance. Is it necessary to look at the whole score of something you are playing, to see what the piano is doing or what other members of the chamber group or orchestra are doing? To be very honest, no. You can get by without doing that, and I certainly have. But is it a far richer experience? Will you have a better sense of the music? Will you work better with a pianist or with a group, if you know what the other musicians are playing and have thought about why? Certainly.
You might be thinking, "Look, I'm a beginner. What score?" In many cases, it's simply the piano part, and it can be very enlightening to see the harmonies and other voices -- even if it's hard to process at first, the more you look, the more you will start to see. If you are more advanced and playing a concerto, you might start with a piano part. But if you want to get more in-depth, you can try going to IMSLP and downloading the orchestra part. A few examples of what you can find: Seitz Concerto No. 5; the Accolay Concerto;the Bruch Concerto and hundreds more. Scroll down on this page and find a huge list of student concertos. If you are studying something for a recital, competition or to be part of a concert repertoire, well just go buy the score, or download it in a way that you can mark it up and keep it. If you are new to score-reading, University of Texas violin professor Brian Lewis recommends beginning with Mozart Concertos: get the Dover score (or follow the score on IMSLP), then while listening, follow the solo part, then violin parts, other treble-clef instruments, then expand from there. Please participate in the vote and share your experiences and thoughts about using a score and how you get to know the other parts in a piece you are playing. src="" frameborder="0" height="310" scrolling="auto" width="450"> You might also like:

For the Record, Op. 24: Kenji Bunch's 'The Snow Queen' ballet; Rachel Barton Pine's Paganini; Dragon Quartet

Thu, 22 Jun 2017 21:06:39 GMT

By Laurie Niles: Welcome to "For the Record,"'s weekly roundup of new releases of recordings by violinists, violists, cellists and other classical musicians. We hope it helps you keep track of your favorite artists, as well as find some new ones to add to your listening! The Snow Queen Orchestra Next Kenji Bunch, composer
Disney took a lot of liberties in "Frozen," its retelling of the Hans Christian Anderson tale, "The Snow Queen," but the Eugene Ballet Company aimed to stay true to the story when it created its own ballet, which was premiered in April of this year. This is a recording of the original, 100-minute score by Portland composer and violist Kenji Bunch. In Anderson's story, childhood friends Gerda, a girl, and Kay, a boy, are separated when Kay is blinded to the good of the world by shards of a frozen mirror made by Satan. Kay is taken to the Ice Palace of the Snow Queen, and with help from various other characters, Gerda rescues him there. "Helping to tell this hauntingly beautiful but entirely wordless story for close to two hours was, simply put, the largest undertaking of my career to date, by a longshot," Bunch said.
width="560" height="315" src="" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen> Bel Canto Paganini Rachel Barton Pine
Rachel Barton Pine's newest recording includes Nicolò Paganini's 24 Caprices as well as his "Duet for One," Op. 6; "Caprice d'adieu" Op. 68; and a work by Rachel Barton Pine called "Introduction, Theme and Variations on "God Defend New Zealand," inspired by Paganini. It also includes a booklet with program notes written by Pine. Read more in our Interview with Rachel Barton Pine and enter to win a CD (through June 25) on
width="560" height="315" src="" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen> Schubert Quartet No.14; Dvorák Quartet No.12 Dragon Quartet Ning Feng, violin Wang Xiaomao, violin Zheng Wenxiao, viola Qin Liwei, cello
The Dragon Quartet, led by celebrated Chinese violinist Ning Feng, presents their début recording featuring Schubert's "Death and the Maiden" and Dvorák's "American" Quartet.
If you have a new recording you would like us to consider for inclusion in our Thursday "For the Record" feature, please e-mail Editor Laurie Niles. Be sure to include the name of your album, a link to it and a short description of what it includes. You might also like:

Nicholas Kitchen Examines the Extended Expressive Language in Beethoven's Manuscripts

Wed, 21 Jun 2017 05:43:13 GMT

By Laurie Niles: Chances are, if you are looking at the modern sheet music version of a piece by Ludwig van Beethoven, you are not seeing the whole story. That's because Beethoven had an enhanced system of musical notation that was far more detailed than what we see in a typical score today. "His attention to detail is inspiring, meaningful ad worth paying attention to," said violinist Nicholas Kitchen in a lecture he gave at the 2017 Starling-DeLay Symposium on Violin Studies at The Juilliard School called, "From the Hand of Beethoven: a new world of expressive marks from the manuscripts." Kitchen is a founding member and first violinist of the Borromeo String Quartet and teaches at the New England Conservatory of Music. He began to notice -- and then unravel -- the mystery of Beethoven's system of extended markings when he gained the ability to read directly from Beethoven's manuscripts. Nicholas Kitchen. Photo by Kitchen always remembered the advise of his teacher Szymon Goldberg, who told him to seek out the full score of any given piece he was playing. But it had always proved rather impractical to actually read, rehearse or perform from those scores. During quartet rehearsals, for example, the thick, heavy score typically sat somewhere in the corner of the room, there to settle arguments or to consult with when things went awry. During performances -- well, could you imagine turning that many pages? But then several advances in modern technology suddenly made score-reading a lot more do-able. Specifically, the advent of IMLSP allowed everyone access to scores and manuscripts online; while advances in computer software allowed people to read those scores straight from a computer screen, iPad or even smart phone. In 2007, Kitchen designed a homemade USB pedal to help with the frequent page turns involved in reading a full score on the computer. When he could turn the page with a tap of the foot, "that was an 'aha' moment." Suddenly, he could play entire pieces, reading straight from the score, with no logistical problems. He made pedals for his students and colleagues. "Our quartet gradually realized that this was such a stimulating way to work," Kitchen said. "When you use the score on a regular basis (instead of just for emergencies), it has a totally different effect on how you communicate ideas. You don't waste any time." Nothing is a surprise -- if there is a gesture across all four instruments, everyone can see it coming. "It starts to be more of a communal effort, where everybody looks at everything. This really was not possible before." His quartet, the Borromeo String Quartet, now reads straight from their laptops, for both rehearsals and performances. Borromeo String Quartet. Photo by Richard Bowditch What's more, at this point nearly everyone can do this. "Getting a little pedal to turn the pages is no longer a big deal," he said. There are several options for pedals, including Airturn, PageFlip Butterfly and PageFlip Cicada. ForScore can help you read your music on your iPad, and Acrobat Professional can create PDFs of your music. Once everyone was reading the score, Kitchen decided to up the ante: how about reading straight from the composer's manuscript? IMSLP (which stands for the International Music Score Library Project) has grown to the point where "right now, from your phone, you can download hundreds of Beethoven manuscripts, Schubert manuscripts and more. It's really changed the world," Kitchen said. "I realized I could actually read off of Beethoven's manuscripts," and so he did. And the more he read, the more he noticed a system of specific markings -- applied consistently -- that Beethoven used in the last 26 years of his life. For example, take Beethoven's "Spring" Sonata for Piano and Violin, Op. 24, No. 5. In the video below, Kitchen performs the exposition (on the 1730 "Goldberg-Baron Vitta" Guarneri del Gesù that he plays) with pianist Evan Solomon, reading straight from the manuscript. Look for subt[...]

The Week in Reviews, Op. 186: Gil Shaham, Joshua Bell, Vadim Gluzman

Mon, 19 Jun 2017 21:00:09 GMT

By Laurie Niles: In an effort to promote the coverage of live violin performance, each week presents links to reviews of notable concerts and recitals around the world. Gil Shaham performed the Beethoven with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra.
  • The Baltimore Sun: "He drew a veritable feast of tone coloring from his violin, along with abundant subtleties of phrasing. There was something at once spontaneous and deeply considered about Shaham’s interpretation, which included wonderful rhythmic freedom."
Gil Shaham. Photo by Luke Ratray.
Joshua Bell performed Lalo's "Symphonie espagnole" with the San Francisco Symphony.
  • The San Francisco Chronicle: "This is actually one of Bell’s particular strengths — his ability to transform a piece that might seem merely pretty or charming and reveal its unsuspected depths without sacrificing anything in the way of tonal allure. He dispatched Lalo’s silky melodic phrases and delicate passage work with the suave charisma of a boulevardier, while still giving the score plenty of heft."
Vadim Gluzman performed the Tchaikovsky with the Grant Park Orchestra.
  • Chicago Tribune: "...there was not a hair out of place in his poised, athletic reading."
Pekka Kuusisto performed the Sibelius with the London Chamber Orchestra.
  • The Arts Desk: (As an encore honoring the victims of the Grenfell Tower fire,) "he gave us...his own apparently improvised reflections on a Finnish children's song, 'The Guardian Angel.' Where did it come from? Out of an ether created by a tissue of sounds and harmonics, I know not how exactly, brought into unison focus with the sweetest whistling. Such magic can only be experienced, not described."
William Preucil performed Mozart's Violin Concerto No. 5 with the Mainly Mozart Festival Orchestra.
  • The San Diego Union-Tribune: "Preucil played with clarity and elegant smoothness of tone, without ever quite starting the concerto’s motor. Lacking energy and forward motion, the work’s limpid simplicity soon lost its ability to hold attention."
Ilana Setapen performed the Barber with the Milwaukee Symphony.
  • Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: "Setapen’s delivery of the Barber concerto mixed a relaxed command of technical aspects with a lyrical sound and wonderfully expressive playing."
Please support music in your community by attending a concert or recital whenever you can!

Interview with Rachel Barton Pine: Paganini 24 Caprices

Mon, 19 Jun 2017 07:02:20 GMT

By Laurie Niles: For Rachel Barton Pine, Nicolò Paganini's 24 Caprices are not just a set of virtuoso works that exist in their own universe, but they are very much grounded in the operatic style of the composer's time and place. It's one reason why she called her latest album Bel Canto Paganini, named for the "beautiful singing" style popularized in Italy by opera composers such as Bellini and Rossini. In addition to the Caprices, she's included Paganini's "Nel Cor"; "Duet for One," Op. 6; "Caprice d'adieu" Op. 68; and a work written by Pine herself, called "Introduction, Theme and Variations on "God Defend New Zealand," inspired by Paganini. Pine started listening to Paganini's caprices when she was six and played her first -- No. 24 -- at age 10. She has played the entire set in a single concert several times, including performances at the National Gallery in Washington D.C. and at the Ravinia Festival. Pine has long sought "to look past the technical element and find the music within each caprice," she said, speaking to me from Chicago earlier this spring. Certain harmonies in the caprices "are far more adventurous than his concertos or his accompanied virtuoso pieces," she said. And when it comes to melody, she has even sought the advice of a few Italian opera coaches, to tap into that operatic element. We spoke about each caprice -- its challenges, its place in history, its story. Looking at his original music, Pine has concluded that many details which seem at first to be technical throw-downs are actually musically-inspired aspects of a thoughtful performance plan. They reveal Paganini not to be a show-off, but to be an artist. With all the study she's done, she plans to one day release her own edition of the Caprices. Until then, a word about editions for us violinists: Pine warns us to be particularly wary of the International Edition. "It's rife with errors, not only bowings that have been changed, without acknowledgement, from what Paganini indicated, but tons of wrong notes! Wrong accidentals and everything you can think of, which is pretty bad," she said. Instead, she recommends getting at least one urtext edition, and then a variety of other editions to help with fingerings. "The Barenreiter is actually great, as far as a clean copy, but depending on where you are in your journey with the violin, it might not be so practical to have no fingering suggestions, for something that wicked!" she said. "So the best thing to do is to have an urtext in front of you, to know what Paganini's dynamics were, or lack thereof, and what the original bowings were, and make sure you have all the correct notes. And then have one or more edited editions on hand, to find what fingerings work for you. Unfortunately Paganini's manuscript is pretty scribbly -- so you really need a printed edition of some sort." On to our discussion of each caprice! Caprice No. 1 "It's one of the shortest Caprices, but like many of them, it definitely pays homage to Paganini's predecessors, particularly Locatelli. That type of arpeggiation was not new to Paganini; it was something that had already been going on, but Paganini took it a step further." "I use a transitional bow for this recording, and that's something I came to pretty late. I've owned an early Tourte for many years, since the time that I got my original-condition, Baroque Gagliano violin. I've used it with the Gagliano for classical repertoire at A=430, but I've never paired it with my modernized violin (the 1742 ‘ex-Bazzini ex-Soldat’ Guarneri del Gesu, a violin from the same maker and same year as Paganini’s famed ‘Il Cannone’). It just somehow never occurred to me." "Transitional bows" are rather rare -- they were made for a brief period of time, between the era of Baroque bows and the era of modern bows, ushered in by the bowmaker François Tourte. That time, even though it was short, did happen to coincide with Paganini's time (1782-1840). "I thoug[...] weekend vote: Have you played a community outreach concert in the last year?

Fri, 16 Jun 2017 04:51:22 GMT

By Laurie Niles: I've heard many stories lately from readers who have donated their time to play for people in need -- for the sick, elderly, homeless, those in jail or for at-risk school children.
Just this week, University of Texas Violin Professor Brian Lewis described outreach concerts he did as a student with Juilliard's Gluck Community Service Fellowship; and member Alexander Strachen described playing for Alzheimers patients, after previously describing performing for Hospice patients. Earlier this year, Chattanooga Symphony Concertmaster Holly Mulcahy blogged about performing a concert for prison inmates. Longtime member and LA Phil violinist Vijay Gupta has been recognized for his arduous work as founder and director of Street Symphony, a program that brings live music to the mentally ill, poor, homeless and incarcerated in Los Angeles. Every performer who described such concerts also shared something in common: they found these experiences to be deeply meaningful. It's not always easy to carve out time for the basics, much less outreach performances. But playing for those in need often can be more rewarding than playing a high-profile gig, and it can help put many other things in perspective. Sometimes, it's as simple as finding something close-to-home, like playing at a relative's care facility, or at a food bank through your own church. I'd like us to share stories about doing such performances, just to get everyone thinking about this kind of work. Is it something you have done in the past? Something you do regularly? Is there something you could plan to do in the coming year? Please participate in the vote below, and then share your thoughts. src="" frameborder="0" height="310" scrolling="auto" width="450"> You might also like:

Juilliard Breaks Ground on Tianjin, China Campus

Thu, 15 Jun 2017 18:10:59 GMT

By Laurie Niles: The Juilliard School took a new step today in its expansion into China by breaking ground on and releasing designs for its new campus in Tianjin. Announced in 2015 and scheduled to open in 2019, The Tianjin Juilliard School will be Juilliard's first overseas campus. Tianjin is the fourth largest-populated city in China, located about 70 miles southeast of Beijing. In March, Alexander Brose, formerly the vice president for development at the Aspen Music Festival and School, was appointed executive director and C.E.O. of Juilliard Tianjin and violinist Wei He was selected as the school's first artistic director and dean.
Design art for The Tianjin Juilliard School. Image courtesy of Diller Scofidio + Renfro
"For more than a century, Juilliard has provided the highest caliber of performing arts education to talented young musicians, actors, and dancers," said Joseph W. Polisi, president of Juilliard and chairman of The Tianjin Juilliard School's board of directors. "We look forward to continuing this tradition of excellence in Tianjin while deepening ties between China and the United States through artistic collaboration." The Tianjin Juilliard School will grant master's degrees in orchestral performance, chamber music performance, and collaborative piano, making it the only performing arts institution in China to offer a U.S.-accredited master's degree. It will also offer pre-college and instrumental training programs, adult education courses, and public performances and exhibits. The school has been designed by New York-based architectural firm Diller Scofidio + Renfro, which completed Juilliard's New York campus renovation in 2009. The school will be set within a greenway located in the Yujiapu Pilot Free Trade Zone and will include a concert hall, recital hall, black box theatre and music library as well as teaching studios, practice rooms and classrooms.
Design art for the Main Concert Hall at The Tianjin Juilliard School. Image courtesy of Diller Scofidio + Renfro
Click here for more design images for The Tianjin Juilliard School. Founded in 1905, The Juilliard School is located at Lincoln Center in New York City. The school offers undergraduate and graduate degrees in dance, drama (acting and playwriting), and music (classical, jazz, historical performance, and vocal arts). More than 800 students from 44 states and 42 countries and regions are currently enrolled at Juilliard. You might also like:

Brian Lewis: Canons and Music for Four Violins

Wed, 14 Jun 2017 18:11:20 GMT

By Laurie Niles: Violinist and University of Texas Violin Professor Brian Lewis has some vivid memories from playing community service concerts back when he was a student at Juilliard, participating in the Gluck Community Service Fellowship: playing for amputees; for AIDS patients during the '80s; and playing a concert in a locked mental ward, where he witnessed "a woman who had not spoken in three years, who sang 'Silent Night' with us." Bringing a group to an outreach concert also means having repertoire on hand that works, even when you don't have the ideal quartet of a cello, viola and two violins. For example, sometimes you just have four violins. What repertoire can you use, that's both fun to play and fun to hear? To that end, Lewis commissioned several works written for four violins from composer Michael McLean, who is known for his excellent violin arrangements of tangos and other music. "Sometimes it's difficult to find cellos and violas," Lewis said. "This is a way we can play without having those lower instruments." Brian Lewis. Photo by The works by McLean, which are ideal performance material for intermediate to advanced students, are still in the publishing process, but Lewis gave us a sneak peek during one of his pedagogy lectures at the 2017 Starling-DeLay Symposium on Violin Studies. (See videos of both works, below.) The two works we studied are McLean's "Canon" and his "Preludio for Four Violins." A "canon" uses a single melody, played successively by several voices, and it harmonizes itself. A simple canon that many American children learn early in life is the song "Row, Row, Row Your Boat," typically belted out on buses, by campfires, etc. Of course, canons occur in advanced violin literature and classical music as well. "I like to work on canons before teaching the (canonic) fourth movement of the Franck Sonata," Lewis said. A number of composers wrote "Canonic Sonatas," including the well-known Six Canonic Sonatas by Telemann and somewhat lesser known Hindemith's Kanonische Sonatine, Op. 31 No. 3 (originally for flute). What are some of the challenges in playing a canon? Rhythm, for one. All parties must play with rhythmic accuracy for the musical puzzle to fit together properly. Another challenge is voicing. What parts of the melody should be brought out, so that the listener hears music and not just sonic confusion? One way to help students think about voicing is to go back to that old favorite: "Row, Row, Row Your Boat." Lewis used our group of teachers to show how to lead a group of students through some exercises with that tune. First, we played "Row, Row, Row Your Boat" by ear, to make sure all of us had the tune in our minds and fingers. Then we divided into two groups and played the piece in a two-part canon; then into four groups for a four-part canon. Once we'd done that, Lewis asked us to simply bring out the first part of the melody, playing "ROW ROW ROW" forte, and then dropping to piano. That way, that "ROW ROW ROW" entrance would punch out of the texture each time it occurred. To make things even more interesting (and humorous!) he next asked each of the four groups to pick a separate key. Each group then played the melody in that different key, as a canon, trying to punch out "ROW ROW ROW," so just that would emerge from the texture. Mixed results, there, with so much to concentrate on! But changing the key, however odd it sounded, did put the emphasis on bringing out the voices, as it was not going to be harmonious, no matter what! Here is a video of that process: width="560" height="315" src="" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen> On to the "Canon" by Michael McLean. Though the sheet music is not available yet, the video below follows the sheet music, so you can see it in real time. Here is the piece, as sight-read by the teac[...]

Defining 'Virtuosic': Exploring a Controversial Adjective

Tue, 13 Jun 2017 00:17:13 GMT

By Clara Fuhrman: I recently had the opportunity to attend and perform in a recital for winners of a scholarship program in my small hometown. The scholarship is only offered to those who live in the immediate area, but the recital given for the winners attracts an impressive audience every year. The personnel and program for the recital was dictated by the director of the scholarship foundation, which, in theory, made sense in order to offer an interesting variety of instruments, performers, and pieces. Since it’s a small town, there was a lot of buzz about who would play, and what, even weeks before the date of the concert. While waiting for the recital to begin, I heard a woman talking about the performance like it had already happened; “they’re wonderful! They’re just so virtuosic.”
“Virtuosic.” This word echoed through my head for the rest of the night, as I listened to a violinist, a vocalist, a trombonist, a pianist, a saxophonist, another violinist, etc. New Oxford American Dictionary defines virtuoso as “a person highly skilled in music or another artistic pursuit.” Note that there is no mention of tempo or emotion in this definition (or any others I could find). After considering this for a moment, I realized that we as a population have been generally miseducated about what “virtuosic” really means; much like how when asked what “staccato” means, many musicians will answer “short” instead of the literal definition, “separated.” Those who are generally unfamiliar with a showpiece like Zigeunerweisen or Carmen Fantasy will applaud wildly for a showy and fast performance, even if the violinist played half of the correct notes with no sensitivity or dynamic nuance. That same audience will regard a performance of a Beethoven Romance with a generally lackadaisical and polite response, even if the performance was full of beautiful tone, control, dynamic nuance, and stunning intonation. Of course, I’m speaking generally, but those who have been really moved by a slow movement of something and feel that it was not given the proper reception know what I mean. At this particular recital, I was asked to perform just the second movement from Handel’s Violin Sonata No. 4 in D Major; one of my favorite sonatas by one of my favorite composers. It was difficult (and frankly, awkward) to perform this tricky Allegro movement out of context after sitting for half an hour. However, I reminded myself why I was there, and the goal of the recital. We perform to share the gift of music with an audience, and it is our job as musicians to convey our authentic interpretation of a piece, with as much real emotion and correct technique as we know how. If a performance fits these parameters, then it is indeed “virtuosic.” It is important for this definition of the word to be understood, but it is even more important to realize that a mature performance of a work, slow or fast, is what needs to be encouraged and properly lauded.

The Week in Reviews, Op. 185: Steven Copes, Jennifer Koh, Christian Tetzlaff

Mon, 12 Jun 2017 18:51:01 GMT

By Laurie Niles: In an effort to promote the coverage of live violin performance, each week presents links to reviews of notable concerts and recitals around the world. Steven Copes premiered the Pierre Jalbert Violin Concerto with the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra.
  • Star Tribune: "SPCO concertmaster Steven Copes played the jagged, hyperactive solo part with biting attack and a superfine sense of tuning."
  • Pioneer Press: "By turns haunting and menacing in the early going, the two-movement concerto became an absorbing meditation on which Copes’ lines grew more agitated, the orchestra summoning up dark drama."
St. Paul Chamber Orchestra Concertmaster Steven Copes.
Jennifer Koh performed Iyer's "Trouble" at the Ojai Music Festival.
  • Los Angeles Times: "The show belongs to Koh, whether playing soulful melody, making the raspy scraping sound of strings into poetry, or just tossing off plain, fabulous old-fashioned virtuosity."
  • The San Diego Union-Tribune: "A thrilling showcase for Jennifer Koh, who has performed other pieces by Iyer in the past, 'Trouble' takes its title from the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s."
Christian Tetzlaff performed the Sibelius with the MET Orchestra.
  • New York Classical Review: "...soloist Christian Tetzlaff, in a spellbinding reading with conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen, showed a different interpretive side than he has in previous, more introspective appearances."
  • The New York Times: "Mr. Tetzlaff, who always plays with pure and incisive tone, also showed a volatile temperament that surprised even a longtime admirer, and Mr. Salonen only encouraged his intrepid explorations."
Pekka Kuusisto performed the Mendelssohn with the Seattle Symphony.
  • The Seattle Times: "After bewitching the Seattle Symphony audience with the subtlest and most lyrical Mendelssohn Violin Concerto this listener has ever heard, soloist Pekka Kuusisto...announced that he would perform 'a traditional song from back home,' and proceeded to sing a catchy tune while playing arpeggiated passages on his violin."
Joshua Brown performed Mozart's Rondo for Violin and Orchestra with the North Shore Chamber Music Festival.
  • Chicago Classical Review: "...his lithe playing betrays a musical maturity beyond his 17 years. A student of Almita and Roland Vamos, the young man played with great poise and a silken tone on his 1679 Guarneri (which he possesses as the youngest recipient of an instrument from the Stradivari Society of Chicago), and is clearly someone to watch in years to come."
Please support music in your community by attending a concert or recital whenever you can!