John Berger

Romance in F Major by Beethoven – Violin Solo

When one of our violin students asked for advice about audition pieces for a university music course, I suggested Beethoven’s Romance in F Major (Op. 50). She became, as I had years before, entranced with its soaring melodies, mesmerized by the unmistakable sense of rightness of the phrases and harmonies, and awed by the perfection of Beethoven’s creation.

Photo by Annie Spratt

Romance in F Major flows along at the slower tempo of Adagio Cantabile. As you know, slow pieces are not necessarily easier. They require confidence, calm nerves and a steady bow. Nonetheless, knowing her deep love of the Romance I suggested she play it first at the audition, despite having spent a lot of time working up a dazzling quicker work. Afterwards, hearing that the panel didn’t ask to hear another piece, I knew the audition was successful.

In my opinion, of the two Romances Beethoven wrote for violin and orchestra, No. 1 in G Major and No. 2 in F Major, the second is more appealing for a student solo by virtue of the beautiful melody lines. They resound in your head and follow you into your dreams at night.

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Sicilienne attributed to Maria von Paradis – Violin Solo

Violinists around the world love the Sicilienne in E Flat, a short solo for violin or cello, perfect to calm a concert audience after a fiery concerto. Sicilienne was attributed to the blind Austrian composer-musician Maria Theresia von Paradis, when in fact it comes from Carl Maria von Weber’s violin sonata Op. 10 No. 1 – a pity in some ways, since  Maria von Paradis’s story is wonderfully fascinating.

Dancing flamingos

Photo courtesy of Simon Matzinger

Sicilienne is popular with audiences too. Cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason played it at the Royal Wedding on May 19, 2018 and as you can see from the videos below, Sicilienne has found a place as an attractive stand alone solo and concert encore. Members can now download and print the score from the TSV Gold main scores page.

The Main Points

Tempo

It’s fascinating to hear how differently musicians perform the tempo of Sicilienne. As with Mozart’s Sonata in E Minor, the speed affects everything, profoundly influencing our experience of the music, especially when we feel pushed along too quickly or held back unnecessarily. After teaching this piece for many years my preferred tempo is on the slower side, using glissando on some of the shifts, for example in bars 19-20. Read More →

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Sonata for Violin and Piano in E Minor, K. 304 – W.A. Mozart

Mozart composed the Sonata for Violin and Piano in E minor, K.304 in 1778 while he was in Paris, during the same period when his mother, Anna Maria Mozart, died. The mood and intensity of this piece clearly reflects the emotions of this time of his life. The sonata is the only instrumental work he wrote whose home key is E minor.

Memorial plaque to Mozart's Mother

Sonata in E minor is a relatively easy recital piece for students at Suzuki Volume 7 level and beyond, and provides an especially good opportunity for advanced piano students to partner them in performance.

Both instruments play the opening theme in unison, to continue in a heartfelt expressive partnership of poignant beauty and drama, returning often to darker and softer emotional colours. The sonata is another of Mozart’s creative wonders, with his unique colours of light and dark, matchless melodic invention within a harmonic landscape that is somehow both seamless and unexpected.

TSV Gold members can now download and print the scores from the Gold Resources page.

The Main Study Points

Tempo

Due to the Allegro marking, we’re tempted to begin the first movement too quickly, which I think can lessen some of its dramatic power. In measure 8, for example, the strong contrast between the rather plaintive voice of the opening theme and the ascending staccato line following sounds better at a slightly slower tempo. Try it and see what you think.

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Meditation by Massenet – Violin Solo

Within French composer Jules Massenet’s opera “Thaïs” is the beautiful Meditation, a short intermezzo melody soon adopted by violinists everywhere as an attractive concert encore. The violin floats in above the gentler sounds of the harp and is joined by the rising glow of the orchestra strings, lifting and transporting us upward to the passionate emotions beyond. Welcome to the new TSV Violin Solo Series!

Jules Massenet

Jules Massenet

Meditation is a real gift for violin students on their journeys to the heights, a technically easy short violin solo of about six minutes with unlimited possibilities for personal interpretation and creative expression. Because of its lasting popularity, there are numerous performances by famous violinists available, providing some wonderful examples to admire and emulate.

TSV Gold members can now download the score from the solos section on the Scores Main Page.

Some points of interest for study

  • Research and practise the technical difficulties.

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Group Class Success – Teaching the Points

In this post on Group Class Success Series we look at the second teaching session, which focuses on violin pieces and points within the levels. For violin programs based on Suzuki’s principles, Session Two is the mainstay of group work, violin workshops and summer schools.

Photo courtesy of Michel Catalisano

In many areas of violin studies, especially for achieving big advances in playing style, tone control, performance presentation and musicality, these classes are more effective than one-to-one lessons. Students learn skills about the quality of their playing and sound from watching and studying with other players, and the persuasive social proof principle comes into effect, creating the sense and conviction, if the others can do it, I can too!

How to choose the main study point

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TSV Gold – A new membership level

Some changes have happened at Teach Suzuki Violin. This month we launched a new low cost membership level called TSV Gold, expanding the reach of the website and making all resources accessible and downloadable for new Gold level members at any time. (Although some content will remain free, many of the existing resources, posts and articles transition into TSV Gold.)

How to Join:

Currently registered Public Members and new subscribers are invited join the new TSV Gold membership level for $7/month or a yearly subscription of $77.

Click on this Gold Button to choose your option

TSV Gold Membership

TSV Gold members receive:

  • Resources, Videos and Learning Materials on Teach Suzuki Violin – Unlimited access
  • Motivation and Practice Habits Course – At no extra cost, your Gold subscription will include access to the self-directed Motivation and Practice Habits Course
  • Scores – TSV Gold members are also entitled to free downloads of any score published on the Teach Suzuki Violin Store

Members who have already purchased the Motivation and Practice Habits Course are offered the opportunity to become TSV Gold Members for $25 for the first year.
Click here to email.

TSV Gold membership subscription is $7/month or a yearly subscription for $77.

By signing up, you’ll support Teach Suzuki Violin to continue helping teachers, parents, students and violin players around the world teaching and studying violin, creating musical talent and researching the art of learning.

Click on this Gold Button to choose your option

TSV Gold Membership

What’s coming in 2018 at Teach Suzuki Violin

The Successful Group Class

Early this year the focus will be on Group Class and the powerful drivers of student progress and success.

TSV Violin Solo Series

Teach Suzuki Violin is publishing a new series of exciting classic violin solo pieces with real audience appeal, suitable for various levels.

Photo courtesy of Jordan Mixson

These downloadable scores include how-to tips for study and performance.

Thank you!

A big thank you to all of our members and subscribers for your ongoing interest and support. We welcome your suggestions, stories and questions.

And special thanks go to all the members who responded to the recent newsletter asking for feedback about TSV Gold. We appreciate your kind and thoughtful answers!


Founded by John Berger in 2013, Teach Suzuki Violin is committed to children’s happiness and educational success through the art of violin teaching and playing.

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Japanese Learning Style

Revisiting Japan at the end of last year after a break of 8 years provided the perspective to see the broader picture of its recent times. The country we came to know and love is going through some conspicuous changes. The sadness of the Fukushima Tsunami tragedy still resonates quietly below the cheerful stoicism of public affairs. Tokyo shopping crowds are denser than ever and the economic powerhouse rumbles on relentlessly, while a drift of young people from rural and regional areas to the already overcrowded cities hints at subtle shifts in Japanese society.

View of Tokyo from Shinjuku Tower

View of Tokyo from Shinjuku Tower

As has been happening for many years in practically all western countries, the influence of major corporations and the multinational chains is reaching more deeply than ever into everyday life, especially noticeable in the decline of small makers, craftspeople and cottage industries. Even many traditional Japanese items and goods are now manufactured in countries with cheap labour.

Although the unrestrained expansion of private capital causes visible losses in local industry and artisan skills, the effect on community organisations, education and the arts is less obvious.

At this time of the year in Matsumoto the Suzuki Method Building felt subdued and quiet, dwarfed by the enormous new Matsumoto Performing Arts Center.

Is the robust Japanese learning style we admire so much in danger of softening and losing direction? Are the family and local community, at the heart of education, being distracted by surging consumerism and the demands of the commercial world?

In the beautiful Kiso Valley we saw our first signs of the reversal and rebuttal of these trends. We stayed in a little guest house converted from an old silk making house, lovingly refurbished by a young couple who had recently turned away from the corporate world. They were fired up with a vision of renewal in rural communities and working hard to bring it about.

Walking in the stunning autumn scenery of the mountain trails, the local residents we met and conversed with on our walks greeted and welcomed us with genuine good will and interest.

Tourism has brought discomforting changes to the lives and economies of these history-rich rustic villages, yet the spirit of friendly hospitality is as strong and fresh as ever.

On the Nakasendo Trail

On the Nakasendo Trail

Confirmation also came later as we visited the Hakuba ski region.

With snow gently falling outside our hotel window, we watched several fascinating stories on local television featuring the dynamic rebirth of handmade artisan crafts and traditional organic farming practices. Despite seemingly overwhelming odds, a revival is well under way.

Stone Sculptures

Stone Sculptures

 

Glass Artist Kasai

Glass Artist Kasai

People who come to Japan to work or study quickly realise the value and power of Japanese learning style and ethic.

Qualities such as the single minded focus of perfect practice, the close attention to the finest details, the will to endure until success is attained, the tradition of ingenuity, an unselfish consideration for the welfare of other students and the strength of harmonious collaboration make the Japanese way of learning a powerful means of achieving the right kind of progress and achievement in any field of activity.

Japanese learning is alive and well.

Happy New Year!

John

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Twinkle Twinkle Little Star – Revisited

Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, The Alphabet Song and Baa Baa Black Sheep are all derivations of the 18th century French children’s melody “Ah! vous dirai-je, maman” – which W.A. Mozart used as the theme for his Twelve Variations.

Shinichi Suzuki, recognising the potential of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star’s structure for learning the first skills on the violin, chose the melody for the first piece to start teaching young children to play.

Why was Twinkle was such a good choice?

The violin skills that can be learned from this song come down to rhythm, bowing, string crossings, fingering and good intonation, a pretty good list for such a simple piece!

Get Rhythm

Girl dancing

Photo courtesy of Hanna Morris

Concentrating on the open E string, students learn to bow five key musical rhythms before starting on fingered notes. The focus on the physical side of violin playing in these crucial first stages creates a robust foundation for building other skills.

Suzuki’s early emphasis on rhythmic development contrasts with methods which start with longer bow strokes with slower and simpler rhythms.

Starting with the rhythms and and achieving a good level of fluency kick-starts rapid progress through the pieces, mainly because mastery of the bow arm is the primary means of producing and controlling tone.

In principle every art form works this way: physical proficiency is the key prerequisite for developing refined artistic expression.

Just how well should the rhythms be played before it’s time to start on the notes?

This question relates to every skill and sets the pattern for future learning.

Starting with the iconic first rhythm, variously named Ta-ka-Ta-ka-Ta-Ka, Busy-Busy-Stop, Stop and so on – the words and syllables reflect détaché and staccato qualities in the rhythm – and learning the others one or two at time at lessons, students should aim to get up to the tempo of the Suzuki Violin recording by the time all the Twinkle variations are completed.

Don’t be daunted by this speed goal. Practiced correctly, even very young students manage to do it.

The musical qualities of the rhythms emerge from the physical skills, which are the result of repeated practice. The arm motion should be smooth, strong and automatic.

See Five Easy Rhythms

Bowing and Scraping

Suzuki’s tone, tone, tone mantra may seem premature when applied to beginners, yet I am always amazed at young children’s astute perceptions about sound quality. They comment about their tone with disarming frankness. “That was totally yukky!” said 3 year old Lily one day, after playing a slightly scratchy rhythm, as we all laughed in agreement.

A good tone teaching strategy is to pose simple questions or to create choices.

The teacher, for example, plays a segment twice and asks, “Which sounds better, No. 1 or 2?” – gradually reducing the contrast between the two.

Another good approach is “What’s wrong with the sound of my playing?” and “How can I make it sound better?” These simple queries can lead to hilarious replies, providing good opportunities for light-hearted teaching points.

Photo courtesy of Uriel Soberanes

Clever Crossings

The violin has four very different strings, yet good players are able to produce seamless streams of melody which sound as if they are playing on a single string. It comes down to exquisite tone control and superb string crossing. Introducing quick, economical and clean string crossing in the lead-up to learning Twinkle begins building this pivotal skill.

Photo by Jiunn Kang Too

See Seamless String Crossing

Finely Formed Fingers

Although every person’s hands and fingers differ in length, width, shape and flexibility, the optimum form for the neck and fingerboard is essentially the same for all players. Getting it right from the beginning enables quick, accurate fingering and sets up the hand and fingers for great vibrato, shifting and elegant, stress free playing.

Placing 1st, 2nd and 3rd correctly on A string at B, C# and D (with tiny fingers, 4th comes a little later) for Twinkle, helps to create and maintain the best shape for the left hand.

See The Violinist’s Left Hand.

Intonation for the In Tune Nation

Like good tone quality, learning to play the violin with accurate intonation commences in the earliest stages, because it stems from listening, discriminating and adjusting against an inner gold standard of pitch. Training the link between finger and pitch starts from the day fingered notes begin – and the listening habit should continue for a lifetime.

The Twinkle melody starts with a perfect fifth, the most fundamental and natural interval in music after the octave. As long as the violin is accurately tuned, this cardinal harmony establishes a clear foundation for F# and the other fingered notes to be played in tune.

Children’s hearing is spectacularly sensitive and acute, especially up to the age of about eight, when the sense of good intonation should be well established.

Ingrained poor intonation can be repaired with careful guidance. I saw a striking example in St. Petersburg, unambiguously clear despite my lack of Russian, where the teacher patiently corrected a 10 year old violinist in subtle pitch details over a long lesson, singing intervals to illustrate her points and tirelessly refining the student’s understanding of intonation.

Greater Glider, Victoria – a great listener!

See How to Teach Good Intonation.

One Skill at a Time

Unavoidably, students have to work on several areas during any stage of their studies, nonetheless practice must be singularly focused on one skill at a time for a long enough periods to make real progress. In this way instrumental abilities are built up sequentially, each on secure foundations with a minimum of backtracking. Twinkle is the perfect piece for building these beautiful abilities – one by one.

Practice sessions that attempt to cover all bases slow things down and waste time.

Two of our most conscientious students accidentally fell into this mistake. Their diligent parents unwittingly created a practice regime clogged with too many bits and pieces and no clear headway was made in the most important physical skills. By the time we woke up to what was happening, habits were laid down requiring some laborious repairs. All was well in the end, but it wasn’t easy or particularly enjoyable.

The idea of extended practice on one skill is out of favour in some education circles. Part of the teacher’s job is to inspire confidence in their students about their ability to learn. Seeing the sense of achievement they experience is one of the great joys of teaching,

It doesn’t mean being a pontificating perfectionist or a discipline dragon, just sticking at it, a smile on your face and a joke or two to lighten the load!

Cheers,

John

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In Search of Beautiful Music Scores

Some time ago I told the story of coming across a lovely edition of J.S. Bach’s Violin Concerto in A minor in the back room of a little music shop during a visit to Spain. Immediately attracted by the quality and clarity of the score, I noticed that the bowing, fingering and phrasing slurs coincided pleasingly with my own ideas. It was a a work of real beauty and made reading a delight.

Casa Beethoven

In the Hand of the Composer

Some original music written in the composer’s own hand – known as autographs – are works of great artistic beauty. J.S. Bach’s are a great example. Others, like Beethoven’s manuscripts, are almost indecipherable, littered with numerous revisions and corrections, which nonetheless provide music scholars with intriguing insights into the mind of the composer.

J.S. Bach autograph

J.S. Bach autograph

Beethoven Ode to Joy

From Ludwig van Beethoven’s Ode to Joy (Symphony No. 9)

Musical scores are a musician’s primary source of study material. The language-like symbols of musical notation are recognized in most parts of the world. With a bit of experience, it’s possible to read them mentally – like a book, hearing the music inside your head.

Constantly in search of beautiful music scores during many years of playing and teaching violin, I’ve accumulated a mountain of printed music, rivaling my ex-professor’s friend’s vast book library, except – in contrast to his neatly ordered bookshelves – my scores languish uncategorized in boxes.

In truth I’ve collected more scores than I could ever use. (And my bookish friend rarely re-reads from his collection.) The heavy boxes dutifully accompanied us each time we moved house, yet the whole lot could easily be stored on my laptop computer’s hard drive – or in the cloud. In fact, a great deal of them are already there.

Digital Scores

Digital scores are very useful for teaching and travel, and my case, are somewhat easier to find. You can quickly email a piece to a student, print off a dozen or so copies for an upcoming concert and take the music you’re studying on holiday without lugging around great sheaves of paper. You can also keep copies at home and on a cloud server.

Admittedly, as with digital books, the screen lacks the allure of paper manuscripts and I haven’t yet had the heart to throw out any into the garden compost. They are like old friends with whom I’ve had long and deep conversations.

On the positive side, digital scores have the potential to save trees and physical storage space. (Actually, I wonder if they really do save trees, considering how easy it is to print off those extra copies.)

The fine art of music publishing still retains some of the traditional practices originating in the 16th century, when scores were engraved by hand on metal plates for printing. With the arrival of software programs such as Sibelius and Finale, the old ways began to decline and it became possible to create and print good looking scores from the computer – and hear the results without having to book an orchestra to test out your latest masterpiece.Finale

Sibelius

Understandably, a fair amount of skill is involved. Mastering these complex programs requires an experienced musician’s knowledge of notation and a relatively long lead time to acquire sufficient fluency in setting out and shaping the music into a good looking score. Thereafter it’s relatively easy to customize the music with elements such as fingerings, bowing, slurs and other directions.

I’ve enjoyed working with Finale for a couple of decades or so and the scores available on the Resources page were created with this program – which brings me to an important announcement.

Launching the Teach Suzuki Violin Store

In appreciation of the interest and support we’ve received from members and visitors to Teach Suzuki Violin, we are launching a new online store for scores and other violin study resources. Many are free and some special editions can be purchased at a low cost to download.

The Teach Suzuki Violin Store is at this link: https://teachsuzukiviolinstore.com or click on the image below.

Teach Suzuki Violin Store

Talking about Scores

While there are universally accepted standards and conventions for good musical scores, the hallmarks of beautiful scores, like those of great musical performances, are to some extent in the eyes (or ears) of discerning beholders. The quality of beauty is easier to recognize than to define or explain!

The Features of Good Scores

Clarity and Readability – good scores have clean, intelligent layouts that make reading easier, with sufficient spacing, uncrowded measures and musically logical pages.

Form and Style – the typeface and symbols (especially noteheads) are shapely, elegant and the right size.

Interpretation – the slurs and expressions clearly communicate musical (and bowing) shapes, dynamics, tone colours and dramatic elements.

Accuracy and authenticity – the score faithfully follows the composer’s original scores, edits and intentions. (Unless you can communicate directly with the composer, this is not always easy to determine. The musical world is rife, often hilariously so, with controversies and questions of who, what, when and most notoriously, authenticity. Did Anna Magdalena write Bach’s cello suites?)

Standards – the score uses universally recognised syntax, symbols, layout.

Consistency – the score consistently maintains symbols and conventions throughout, such as order of articulations and fingerings.

Please take a moment to visit the Teach Suzuki Violin Store.

Cheers,

John

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Good Beginnings – Getting things right from the start

A good beginning is everything. Getting things right from the start is what good beginnings are all about.” We often hear these words, but what do they really mean in practice?

group class

If you think about it, good beginnings never really end, because each new skill we begin learning at any point in our progress needs to be correct. In other words, it needs to take us where we want to go, musically speaking.

Nonetheless, the beginning stages are especially formative, crucial for creating patterns, expectations and ways of learning which develop and retain their own momentum. Ideally, they can set up a student on a permanent wave of progress.

1. Listening

First of all, parent and student need to become familiar with the music from recordings, treating it as a type of language that needs to be internalized from daily repeated listening – before starting lessons.

Quite naturally, handling the beautiful little violin itself is an irresistible attraction in the beginning, so it shouldn’t arrive too early before lessons are due to commence. The child has seen the other young players and heard the siren song of the violin’s alluring voice. Now, holding their heart’s desire, they want to play too, and will try to imitate them, teaching themselves without the teacher’s expert guidance.

Volume 1 Suzuki violin

2. Watching

Second, it means observing classes during the lead up to first lessons, creating healthy expectations of how to participate, contribute and work with others in the studio and the group.

From these good beginnings students form the idea of how to make quick progress, of what constitutes a normal practice routine, and that performing in public is natural and enjoyable.

observing classes

3. Parents take the lead

And third, it means there’s a parent who learns, practises and establishes the basic skills ahead of their child to gain expertise for home practice. I devote the first 10 or 15 minutes of the weekly lesson to them during the early stages, and their studies continue at least until the Twinkles variations and theme are mastered.

parents

Getting the basic skills right from the beginning

Learning the violin playing skills correctly at the start is vital for maintaining unlimited progress and avoiding laborious remedial work, but it doesn’t mean holding things up until each skill is deemed absolutely perfect.

In addition to detailed observation, teachers determine if a beginner’s basics are in good order by quickly checking them in the lesson before moving on to new material. The parent must carry this on at home since practically all practice is done out of the teacher’s presence.

Correctly learned skills grow into beautiful abilities through home practice.

We learn a lot from our mistakes, yet it would be a mistake to make it into a learning system. Getting things right from the beginning can itself become a habit. I realised this rather surprising fact while assessing a large number of individual pre-graduation performances, where irrespective of level, some players always made similar little stumbles. It was no reflection on their capacity to learn. Not only did they expect and anticipate these little mistakes, they had become a habit.

I also noticed that several students had acquired a habit of playing with no stumbles at all. Clearly, I surmised, there was reason to assume no-mistake playing could just as easily become habitual.

Although the idea was initially met with skepticism by some of the other teachers, a few months of experimentation and focus proved it was true. By changing the focus of practice, children can easily learn to play without mistakes.

The Basic Skills

Despite the variety of opinions among teachers, players and violin schools regarding the nuances of what is good technique and what is not, the fundamentals are universally recognised.

A healthy, balanced stance (to allow free movement and relaxation while playing);

Holding the violin comfortably on the shoulder, with the head turned along the violin, chin positioned correctly (to play without strain);

A bow hold with correct hand shape and placement of thumb and fingers (to enable exquisite control and flexibility);

Correct movement of the bowing arm (for control, speed, relaxation, free use of whole bow);

Good left hand shape, with straight wrist, correct thumb position – without tension in the space between thumb and palm (to facilitate quick accurate fingering, easy shifting, vibrato;

Fingers over the fingerboard in optimum shape and position;

Correct basic bow strokes (e.g. detache, legato and staccato);

Economical string crossing (for seamless melodies and phrases);

Accurate intonation

As every teacher who has ever taken on a student with intonation issues knows, learning to listen and play in tune from the beginning is crucial. Correcting ingrained poor intonation is hard work, ultimately a labour of love.

I am continually amazed and fascinated by very young children’s ability to discern accurate pitch, although in view of their capacity to pick up the nuances and subtleties of spoken language, I shouldn’t be surprised.

left hand

Lots of listening to great music, either live or recorded, does the trick. Children’s hearing sensitivity is truly awesome and not very difficult to cultivate for precise intonation. The trouble is that we can easily underestimate their capacity for playing in tune in view of their growing finger dexterity and the limitations of small violins. Fingers will soon follow their ear’s guidance if we draw attention to it right from the beginning.

Awareness of Good Tone

Along with intonation, distinguishing good tone comes with children’s natural language package. A simple question such as, “Is this a nice sound,” will usually draw forth surprisingly discerning opinions from three year olds.

And finally, it’s important to realise you can’t do everything at once and in the long run there are no short cuts. Learning and mastering skills in the right order, climbing the mountain one step at a time, enjoying the view from each level is the way.

Cheers,

John

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