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Theresa Britt's Blog

PostHeaderIcon January 22, 2011 - Kayser Etude #10

I have recently been playing Kayser Etude Number 10 (International Music Company No. 3078) to work on two very difficult techniques. With the left hand, this Kayser etude explores using chords. In the right hand, there are two different styles of arpeggiation of the chords that facilitate flexible right hand fingers.

Practice suggestions included with this piece include blocking the chord as half notes and slurring four notes. I find that the four note slurs are more difficult than the written bowing in the first three measures. With the slurring of four notes, the right hand must be flexible in order to achieve satisfactory tone on this etude. The chords should be practiced with ghost notes in order to loosen the left hand from the tension than can develop from playing chords. Chords should also be played with a release of weight after the initial note has spoken to allow time to move to the next chord. Bowing chords all down bow will give the player extra time to change chords.

I suggest the bowing be played on open strings. Various parts of the bow can be used for this, start at the frog to achieve solid finger motions and move it out toward the middle for use of more grandiose right hand finger flexibility. Keep the bow moving closer to the bridge for big sound as you crescendo and through forte passages. The figure eight pattern should utilize all "sides" of the string to allow for very smooth changes of strings.

In order to focus on tuning of chords, you should allow the left hand fingers to be picked up and placed by putting weight down (not diagonally) on the fingerboard. Pulling the finger diagonally with force the chord out of tune. Each finger of the chord should be placed at exactly the correct place on the fingerboard.

You can look to the Internet Music Library Project to find a Schirmer edition of the 36 Studies by Kayser.

 

 

PostHeaderIcon January 21, 2011 - Applebaum "Beautiful Music for Two String Instruments"

As a supplement to music reading, I like to use the Applebaum series called "Beautiful Music for two String Instruments." It is available for violin, viola, cello or bass. Any combination of instruments can be used. The books also have piano accompaniment available. The duets sound very good with the upper strings on melody and the lower strings on the harmony lines. I find the second parts especially useful for the kind of parts cellists play.

The pieces have the key signature written at top of the piece. A number of different key signatures help students practice a variety of key signatures, however, it stays away from very difficult keys for the instruments.

I did find it disappointing that there are a number of errors in the viola and cello books. I plan to contact Alfred Publishing Company to let them know. I don't know if they would be able to make corrections, but there are actually wrong notes in the newest edition of the viola and cello parts. I will post an update if I get a response.

My favorite of all the pieces is the Mazas piece at the beginning of the third book. It is significantly more complex than duets in the previous books.

 

 

 

PostHeaderIcon January 20, 2011 - Donkey Doodle by Kroll

For my series of pieces I will analyze for technique and assignment of supporting etude materials, I chose the Donkey Doodle by Kroll. The piece is a very fun piece. I like the "Hee Hawing" of the Donkey that you hear. Techniques used in the piece include:

  1. Bowing in lower half of the bow - This technique can be worked by assigning any number of etudes and playing them in the lower half.  Wohlfahrt Foundation Studies Book 1 No. 14 should be helpful with this.
  2. Bow strokes using the collé motion of the fingers - This technique can be practiced with any etude, such as the one listed above, to be practiced in the lower half.
  3. String crossings for the donkey sound effects can be practiced with Wohlfahrt Foundations Studies Book 1, Number 26. This etude works sinking the weight of the bow after a string crossing that often leaps strings. It focuses on adding weight on an up bow.
  4. Fingers "hopping" a fifth - I have not yet found a supporting etude for this, but I think that refreshing the students' memory on pieces like Minuet 3 by Bach where the third finger must hop across the fifth is important to make sure this technique is in place.
  5. Grace notes can be practiced using a few different methods. They are approached both from below and from above. Sally O'Reilly's book Fiddle Magic has an exercise called Leap Frog (Group II, Number 6). It however, does not approach the grace note from above. To practice this, maybe you could have the student play up and down a scale making every other note a grace note to the next.
  6. Sixteenth note "trills" can be practiced with the exercise called "Shivering" in O'Reilly's book (Group X, Number 1).
 

PostHeaderIcon January 19, 2011 - Organizing an Ensemble

Organizing an ensemble of students is a burdensome, but rewarding, task. Ensembles allow students to create music in a group. Making sure that students have musical involvement outside of their individual private lesson is very important to keep them motivated in playing.

Here are the basic steps to organizing your students in an ensemble:

  1. Decide upon a purpose for the ensemble. Is this ensemble just to play together, or will a performance occur at the end of the set of rehearsals? If it is just for educational purposes, maybe you should question whether or not a performance could benefit the ensemble even more. My vote is that the group will always be working toward a performance in the future. Each ensemble experience should be planned around this fact.
  2. Decide upon the level of the students. Will the class be for  your Twinklers or for your Symphonic ensemble? Each requires a high level of commitment from the director, but larger scale ensembles require additional preparation time before the lessons.
  3. Find a location. This can sometimes be the hardest part as an independent Suzuki teacher. Consider pairing with another teacher or forming an organization to host your group classes. Churches and other organizations that generally donate facilities generally prefer working with established organizations. Sometimes your location may need to change depending on where you are hosting them. Be flexible, but make sure your groups needs are met. If you are using a church that is donating space, consider giving a donation to the church for the use of the facility and to further music programs there.
  4. Establish a schedule. Regular schedules are helpful in getting people to events. Your ensemble class may have low attendance to begin, but eventually, people will get used to a regularly scheduled event and make time for it. After you make your schedule, do as the postal service does and always deliver. Cancellations make participants doubt whether you really have what it takes to be a good director.
  5. Communicate. In today's world, an e-mail newsletter goes a long way. Don't forget about putting a hard copy of the schedule in your participants' hands. The refrigerator is still the go to place to put schedules, so give them a hard copy to stick to the "fridge."
  6. Plan your class or ensemble. Well planned meetings are best. If you don't make time to plan what will happen during the class, you may not be able to come up with ideas in the heat of the moment. Make necessary copies and keep your paperwork organized.
  7. Keep it real. Make achievable goals for your group. Don't expect too much, too soon. Start with baby steps, then maybe one day you can attack that symphonic literature.
 

PostHeaderIcon January 18, 2011 - First Postion Scales in All Keys

Playing scales on your violin is like eating your vegetables. I guess you could get by with having fewer scales, but in order to really have strength and a well-nourished technique, you have to play scales and arpeggios. For years, I have been searching for first position violin scales that train the ear and the left hand for different key signatures.

In my opinion, Flesch violin scales are too advanced for students learning basic fingerboard geography. One octave, one string scales or three octave scales should be saved for a later date. Besides. Initionally, students need some help playing in the keys with copious amounts of flats or sharps in the lower positions.

The first exercises in the Hrimaly scales have recently taken my interest, but I don't like how they go above and below the scale. When training students to play scales, going above and below the scale just confuses the ear.

Then I found Sevcik's Opus. 1, Exercise No. 12. Thank you, Sevcik, for being the completest you were. Here, in this line of my blog in 2011, I thank you for all of the work you did for violin pedagogy. Exercise No. 12 starts in C Major, moves to the melodic relative minor, then proceeds to go through every key in the circle of fifths. These scales stay in first position, so almost every student can play some of the scales. The chords are somewhat challenging, but could be simplified if necessary depending on the student. These scales work for a variety of reasons. I really enjoy the fact that they teach the melodic minor. Two octaves are played if they can be done in first position.

 

PostHeaderIcon January 17, 2011 - Markings for Bow Lifts

As I have been teaching more and more from Suzuki Volumes 1 and 2 for Violin, I realize some incongruities with symbols used for the bow lift. As a former wind player, I am well aware that a breath mark is used at the end of phrases. Recent Suzuki volumes do not use the comma (above the staff) to symbolize a breath, but instead, to symbolize a luftpause where the music takes a slight breath. I understand this use, but prefer to still use the comma to be used as a bow lift. I painstakingly write in a comma and the words "lift" and "set" in Song of the Wind, Long Long Ago, Allegro, and Gossec Gavotte. It's somewhat confusing when we get to a piece that uses the comma to denote a pause and not a lift. I think teachers should place the marking inside parenthesis (') to denote that it is intended to be a pause for students.

This wikipedia article, titled "Breath mark" reinforces my interpretation of the symbol to mean a bow lift.

I don't think this use in the Suzuki books are by any means grounds to seek further revisions, I however, would just like to make my belief known in these areas so my students (and parents) never become confused about what should be done in their music. Truly, they should learn that when you have a down bow followed by a down bow, you might need to lift, but I feel it should be made clear to students in the beginning when a lift should be made in order to train this necessary function of string playing. Maybe the void of bow lifts in the Suzuki Volumes is meant to be filled by the teacher's own handwriting. If there was a marking, I would emphasize it. Suzuki volumes should be heavily marked in order for parent and student to know exactly what should happen.

In other musical manuscripts, including Samuel Applebaum's "Beautiful Music for Two String Instruments," I have seen the symbol for a caesura used to denote a bow lift. I find this use to be completely incorrect and tell my students that. This does not mean the music is not still playable, but the symbol used is incorrect. I think it should be the responsibility of the publisher to correct symbols used in their publications to express the most commonly interpreted meanings.

Another great example of a musical symbol being used incorrectly is in the book "Introducing the Positions" by Harvey Whistler. Instead of the carat (^) marking between notes, Whistler uses the bracket marking that most musicians interpret as whole step for his half steps in the book. Who is to blame for these inconsistencies? I guess we will never know. I just do my best to educate my students the choices they should make for notation. After all, part of my job as the teacher is to show them how to question the world around them when necessary.

 

PostHeaderIcon January 16, 2011 - Note Reading Sequence

reading is a very important skill to develop once students have facility in both hands on their instrument. I feel it should not be delayed as long as some teachers wait due to the fact that students become dependent upon sounding songs out to their own detriment as players. The following is my own reading sequence I have developed for teaching pitch reading. My sequence for developing rhythm reading is separate for pitch reading.

  1. Penny Charts - I use a penny chart with the clef, five lines and two leger lines above and below the staff. Students learn the name of the clef and count the five lines and four spaces from bottom to top. They name the staff. Leger lines are explained later. On the second lesson of the staff students learn where open strings D and A are placed on the staff. On a third lesson, they learn how you alternate lines as spaces as you go up the musical alphabet. On a fourth lesson, students are able to tell the letters of the D Major Scale on the penny chart. If I am feeling adventuresome, I have students move the penny around to Lightly Row or Twinke or D Major Thirds. On future lessons, they learn where G and E strings are on the staff (G and C for viola and cello).
  2. I Can Read Music - After a few lessons with the Penny Charts, I move to the book "I Can Read Music" by Joanne Martin. The series separates pitch reading from rhythm reading. I use the left sides from the beginning and try to go all the way through the book with each student. It becomes time consuming to do all of the exercises if students are doing a good job, but it is still important.
  3. Essential Elements 2000 - This book hits all of the bases of music reading. It covers most basic music symbols and terms including pizzicato, arco, ties, slurs, hooked bows, DC al Fine, dynamics and tempo markings. I use this book just in case there is something I have forgotten.
  4. Christmas Kaleidoscope - For any student who is becoming fluent at reading music, getting this book as a Christmas gift jump starts them to reading more quickly. Parents will be in awe of how well their children are reading at the end of the holiday season.
  5. Beautiful Music for Two String Instruments - Once students have a basic understanding, these duets give them an opportunity to read short pieces in both melody and harmony parts. The bass lines are very good for beginning cellos.
  6. Wohlffart Foundation Studies (violin or viola) - These etudes reinforce reading skills. It is impossible to get through this book and have difficulty reading by the end of it.
 

PostHeaderIcon January 15, 2011 - Finger patterns

The use of finger patterns to teach string instruments has been very beneficial to string students for a number of years. Recently, I acquired a copy of "Bornorff's Finger Patterns" for violin. The book was published by Carl Fischer in 1948. Apparently, the book was also available for viola, cello and bass. Bornorff used five finger patterns. I would like to see the cello book to see how they corresponded with finger patterns I have been taught for cello.

I have adapted my own finger patterns for teaching, based on the Bornorff model. Although I don't use the precise method of teaching the finger patterns in the Bornorff book, I do use finger patterns to help students locate the half step between fingers.These can be used on all strings. Below are listed the patterns for violin and viola. (The ^ symbol indicates a half step between fingers. No symbol indicates a whole step between fingers.)

Finger Pattern 1: 0  1  2^3  4 (Major)

Finger Pattern 2: 0  1^2  3  4 (Minor)

Finger Pattern 3: 0  1  2  3^4 (High 3)

Finger Pattern 4: 0  1  2  3  4 (Whole Tone)

Finger Pattern 5: 0^1  2  3  4 (Lowered pattern 4)

Finger Pattern 6: 0^1  2  3^4 (Lowered pattern 3)

Finger Pattern 7: 0^1  2^3  4 (Lowered pattern 1)

Finger Pattern 8: 0^1^2  3  4 (Lowered Pattern 2)

Once my students are familiar with the idea of finger patterns (and possibly only the first four) , I have them do an exercise I like to call walking. It goes through each finger pattern with quarter notes both up and down to gain finger dexterity.

Walking: 0 1 2 3 | 4 3 2 1 | 0 1 2 3 | 4 3 2 1 | 0 1 2 3 | 4 3 2 1 | 0 1 2 1 | 0 -  0 - ||

Running: The same as walking except tempo is doubled.

 

PostHeaderIcon January 14, 2011 - Wolf Tones

In September, I got a cello so that I could get better at cello and teach students to play. After having a new bridge fitted and better strings put on my cello, there is a very pronounced wolf tone on the F# on the D string and on the F# on the G string.

Until having this problem on my own, I had never really even known what a wolf tone sounded like. It is a very shrill beating in the sound. On my particular instrument, it makes the bow bounce as I am playing the note. If you're not familiar with the sound, click here for an audio sample.

There are a few options for fixing wolf tones. The cheapest way is to squeeze the cello with your knees to reduce the resonance during that particular tone. Unfortunately, if the note is played too quickly, you may forget to squeeze. I guess it would eventually become a technique that would become natural.

Another option is to get a wolf tone eliminator. Unfortunately, many of them simply mute the sound of the instrument. This seems undesirable, however, the tone is so bad that I would like to investigate a wolf tone eliminator because the sound is very harsh on the ears. I will keep you posted about what I find.

 

 

PostHeaderIcon January 13, 2011 - I Can Read Alto Clef

As a violinist, nothing is more beneficial than being able to play and teach viola when asked. Unfortunately, it's not as easy as you might think. Here is the process I recommend to assist you in getting better sound from your viola.

1. Plays several songs that you already know for memory on your violin on the viola. This will allow you to become accustomed to the larger spacing between the notes and hopefully assist you in pulling tone from the instrument. I find getting a clear and crisp sound especially hard on the viola. Once you have some good sounds coming out of the instrument, you can work on reading.

2. Resist using "tricks" to help you play the viola. It doesn't work. You just have to know the clef and how to play the notes on the instrument. I would suggest working through a book such as Essential Elements or I Can Read Music, then go on to more advanced literature like the Suzuki Books 1 and 2. These present enough reading challenge for a violinist new to alto clef.

3. Work through an etude book that you don't know as well. If you are playing Kayser or Kreutzer on the violin, don't use those. Pick something simple like Foundation Studies by Wohlfahrt. It's not going to hurt you to play through some etudes you are less familiar with. Eventually move on to something like "Introducing the Positions" by Whistler so you can read in position and get to know half position.

4. Pick a few repertoire pieces that you have always wanted to play but are usually played on viola. (Haven't you always wanted to play that Bach Prelude?)

5. Play viola in a quartet or ensemble to really test your skills. Try not to sight read, you'll probably find this difficult.

 

PostHeaderIcon January 12, 2011 - On Violin Set Up

As I have been coming out of a terribly painful period where I had neck and shoulder pain, I have noticed that my setup is no longer correct for my body.I have been standing taller now that the pain in my neck and shoulder are gone. (This pain was caused by food allergies causing an arthritic condition.) I hope to continue to get better as I eliminate foods that cause this reaction.

I found an interesting video from Hilary Hahn discussing her ideas about shoulder rests and chin rest. I think she is wise not to recommend any one item. Each individual needs something completely different. And as your body changes and grows and ages, you need to take a look at what equipment you are using to make sure you stay comfortable and set up in a way that benefits you. Click here for Hahn's video.

Recently, I have added extra height to my shoulder rest by attaching a hard sponge to the bottom of it. The chin rest I have also has longer legs available from the maker. I will try to order some of those to extend the rest without having to add padding.

Although I have tried many different chin rests, I find that the middle mount chin rest seems to work the best for me. I still get a mark on my neck. Hahn mentions a way of carving down the chin rest in the offensive spot on the rest, but I do not yet feel comfortable doing this. I plan on investigating this more if it continues to bother me. There are some things that you add to the top of your chin rest like the the Impressionist. Click here for a video showing what he product does. I am afraid that I would have to get a new case if I used this item. I might recommend it for a student who is experience pain from the chin rest, but I guess, for now, I will just put up with the mark.

With my viola, I have found that using no chin rest at all and adding height to the shoulder rest by adding a hard sponge has worked very nicely. Try several options with your setup to find the most comfortable position that allows you to shift and move on the instrument easily.

 

PostHeaderIcon January 11, 2011 - Bocherini Quintet

Today, I was asked by a person contacting me about performance at a wedding event if I knew the piece at the end of Master and Commander.

The piece has a very nice strummed pizzicato part that I prefer to do with the violin on the shoulder. There is a very nice recording on YouTube by the Carmina Quartet. The version from the movie, Master and Commander is actually performed by YoYo Ma on cello. The version from the movie is much more subdued that the Carmina Quartet version.

Here is a link to a very nice treble clef duet that can be played by two violins.This is a very approachable piece, especially if the pizzicato section is practiced with precise movement of the chords. And don't let the ricochet chords scare you. They're harmless once you get that arm moving!

Here is a link to the original Quintet by Bocherini available at IMSLP. You will need to have a pretty good quintet to perform this version, but it's always nice to perform original music.

 

PostHeaderIcon January 10, 2011 - Practicing Difficult Slurred Sections

In an effort to keep learning something new about the violin, I worked on a triplet section of the first movement of Mendelssohn that will need lots more work. I like to take things slow with separate bowings until I can play them very cleanly. At that point, I will add in the written bowings.

 

PostHeaderIcon January 9, 2011 - Huber Concertino

On January 9, I worked on my course work for "String Methods and Etudes" this semester. I have really enjoyed organizing etude materials. I think I have begun to understand the project my teacher has selected for me. It is much different that my recent Suzuki training and I think it might be quite challenging to select etude materials to support repertoire for young players.

The Huber Concertino in the Barbara Barber "Solos for Young Violinists" book 1 has a lot of challenges for the young player. It uses all three basic finger patterns in first position. Although there is no shifting necessary, some can be added if desired. The use of accidentals in the first section and the key signature of B-flat major in one section requires the student to have a master of lowered first finger. To support this, I selected Wolfahrt Foundation Studies No. 10 because of the key signature.  In the second section of the Huber, there are various string crossing weight issues and bow distribution that can be practiced using Wolfahrt Foundation Study No. 6. Finally, some of the crisp articulations needed for the sixteenth note sections of the Huber can be practiced using Wolfahrt Foundation Study No. 30. Because none of the Wolfahrt studies include double stops, I thought I could supplement from Josephine Trott Melodious Double Stops #2 for the student to practice double stopping for this piece.

 

PostHeaderIcon January 8, 2011 - Mendelssohn Concerto

Right around Christmas 2009, I received a copy of the Mendelssohn violin concerto with my teacher's bowings and fingers marked. What a wonderful Christmas present it was! It has always been a dream of mine that I get to perform a piece of that scope. Due to the fact that I may have to give up the violin at some point if I continue to have issues with pain, I wanted to get a jump start on that piece. My teacher agreed that the time was right. I have been working on the first three pages extensively, but made an effort to learn later pages at this point. I hope to be able to perform, at least for a masterclass, at some point in the summer when I attend the International Music Academy in Pilsen.

On a side note, I am glad I have finally memorized how to spell Mendelssohn.

 

PostHeaderIcon January 7, 2011 - Suzuki Teacher Training Audition

I have already taken the Suzuki Teacher Training for Books 1 through 4 on violin. In order to pass the basic audition for the Suzuki Association, you must submit a video of you performing the third movement of the Vivaldi concerto in A minor and one of the Seitz concertos from Book 4. I have posted a portion of my audition tape to YouTube.

The intermediate level audition for training through book 8 requires you to play the entire Bach A minor concerto for violin. The comprehensive audition that allows you to take any can be your choice of the Mozart Violin Concerto No. 4 or 5. I plan on learning the Bach A minor and also the Mozart Concerto No. 5 at some point in the future. It is difficult to say which I will prepare for the audition. I think it is beneficial to take your time with the Suzuki auditions and prepare the piece to the highest level you can.

 

 

PostHeaderIcon January 6, 2011 - Parent Training Sessions

On January 6, 2011, I conquered one of my biggest fears as a Suzuki teacher. I had a parent training session. To my chagrin, only one parent attended, however, it taught me a lot about teaching and how to communicate. I plan on having many more of these short and informative training sessions. As a first year Suzuki teacher in a new location, I was not able to establish this kind of training from the very beginning. Out of desperation and a need to communicate, I decided to schedule small session in my own home. The sessions that followed the first were attended by more parents, and I was able to get to know parents on a level I had not been able to before. To any Suzuki teacher is is timid about parent training, have to schedule meetings and plan what you say. Is it going to hurt your studio to have parents who are better informed about Dr. Suzuki, your philosophies of education, or your methods of teaching? The answer is no. The more you work with your families, the easier time you will have as a teacher.

 

PostHeaderIcon January 5, 2011 - Four Octave Scales

In an effort to be a better violinist, I have recently turned my attention to playing and reading into the stratosphere. Although I have played many three octave scales in my time, I had never attempted four octave scales. The idea seemed scary and foreign to me. It sounded like some kind of torture. On January 5, 2011, I tackled the basics of a scale in four octaves. I decided to go for good old G major. The ironic thing was, it wasn't as hard as I thought it should be. Tuning and tone in the upper octave are a challenge. Having to bow near the bridge and keep the fingers in just the right spots will take some practice, but I would like to recommend a four octave scale to anyone who has played the three octave for some time. It's not going to hurt you just to try it.

 

PostHeaderIcon January 4, 2011 - Rachel Barton Pine

Rachel Barton Pine is a name I have heard in recent years, but I had never really been taken by her playing until I heard tracks from her album entitled, "American Virtuosa: A Tribute to Maud Powell." The pieces I have heard from this album are quite meticulously performed. Further research into the pieces and made me very curious about not only Powell, but also Pine as an admirer. Both of these women are great role models for young female violinists. The very interesting thing about Rachel Barton Pine is that she performs both classical and metal music. I find this juxtaposition charming. I prefer listening to her classical works, but I have a lot of respect for performers who play various styles of music. Great work, Rachel Barton Pine! For more information, visit http://classical.rachelbartonpine.com/index.php.

 

PostHeaderIcon January 3, 2011 - Kato Havas

Kato Havas is a Romanian born violin and viola teacher. Recently, my friend Kent Rylander gave me a book entitled Stage Fright that was passed along to him from a violinist. The author of the book is Havas. In the book, she discusses the idea that country Gypsy violinists in Romania never had stage fright like classically trained performers. In order to release stage fright, Havas believes that one should release the tension related to playing the violin. Not only will the release of tension cause more facility of technique, it will also allow the player to get rid of common stage fright. Havas shares several anecdotes in the book regarding her childhood as a performer and prodigy.

 

PostHeaderIcon January 2, 2011 - Maud Powell

Maud Powell was an American violinist who lived from 1867 to 1920. A native of Illinois, Powell began studies of piano at age five. At age 7, she began studies of the violin and was performing Mozart concertos publicly by the ages of 9. She studied violin with William Lewis, Henry Schradieck, and Charles Dancla. She was an avid performer throughout her life. She was also very interested in Pedagogy. She composed several Cadenzas, including one for the Brahms concerto. Her arrangements are available in print from the Maud Powell Society. Artist and performer Rachel Barton Pine has recently made a recording entitled American Virtuosa: A Tribute to Maud Powell. The arrangements are very elegant. I would like to order these, but the cost seems prohibitive at this time. I hope that one day they will more widely be available.

 

PostHeaderIcon January 1, 2011 - Tomas Albinoni

As a new year's resolution, I have made it a goal to learn something new about the violin each day.

Today, I thought I would look into the compositions of Tomas Albinoni. He was an Italian Baroque composer who lived from 1671-1751. Albinoni was not like many composers of his era. He was independently wealthy, so he did not need to rely on his music to support himself. Many string players perform a piece by him called Adagio in G minor. The music is common to wedding albums. The edition I have is written for string quartet and is quite challenging for the first violin. 

 
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