Old World or New, Sacred or Profane

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Accompaniment examples with chop

As I proposed in the previous post, here's a few examples accompaniment examples. Of course there can be many others, and many variations just on these, as well as patterns without chop (Which I think should be the usual).

I've put them in two categories: One set appropriate for a reel, polka, or other duple meter tune, and another set for jigs and some hornpipes (if done with a triplet meter).

Friday, July 27, 2007

Chop – Bowing down & up, as well as left & right

In response to mycatmarti, here’s what I know about chop – that percussive chk sound that some cellists put into their playing at times. The effect is somewhat similar to the slap that old-time/bluegrass bassists sometimes do. Notable practitioners of the technique include Rushad Eggleston, Natalie Haas, and Dr. Renata Bratt.

In the DVD “Chops and Grooves,” Eggleston joins fiddlers Darol Anger and Casey Dreissen in demonstrating the technique. Dr. Bratt describes the technique some in her Book/CDs “The Fiddling Cellist,” and gives more examples in “Celtic Grooves for Two Cellos” which includes some of the patterns Natalie Haas plays.

Chops are not played alone, but together with normal notes as part of a rhythmic pattern called a “groove”. I will attempt to explain how the technique is performed, but direct observation and instruction with someone already adept at the technique is far better. To begin, I’ll describe four types of chop:

The hard chop is executed by bringing the bow straight down hard, just an inch or so from the frog and close to the bridge, striking the strings (usually the C and G strings) from above at an angle and skidding to a stop. The skid into the string across the windings produces a chk sound. This is the most common chop.

A soft chop can executed in much the same way but by bringing the bow with less force, and further from the bridge.

Another chop, the up-bow chop, is a yet softer sound. It can be executed by scraping the bow back up off the string, usually immediately after a hard chop. The result of a hard chop followed by an up-bow chop is a chk-a sound.

Yet another type of chop is the ghost chop. The ghost chop makes no sound, but that’s ok. It’s just a light bounce off the strings as a place-keeper, to physically maintain a constantly flowing rhythm in the hand. As Rushad puts it, "Feel the boogie."

I think the most important thing to point out about the chop is that a little goes a long way. Too much gets annoying real fast.

Here an audio example with chop from a CD by Dr. Bratt, with Rushad and guitarist Jim Lewis: a pleasant rendition of that good ol’ standard, Cripple Creek. Notice how well they integrate chop into the normal notes.

Chop is relatively new, the exact technique for executing chop has not been codified, so there’s considerable variation in the way the motion is executed. Rushad uses a lot of finger motion, extending his fingers down quite straight in order to strike the strings. Natalie, on the other hand, uses her her whole arm to bring the bow down, with virtually no finger action that I can see.

From observations at a New Directions Cello Festival workshop lead by Natalie with assistance from Dr. Bratt, the problem most beginners have with executing chop is that the bow bounces off the string instead of sinking into it. If the bow bounces off the string, there’s no chk sound.

Why the bounce? I've found that the bow bounces when the the wrist is too tense. If the wrist is tight, like a stretched rubber band, well sure, the bow/hand/arm combination just bounces right off. To sink into the string on a chop requires a wrist that gives; one that acts like a shock absorber rather than a spring.

Those who ride horses Western-style will understand exactly what I mean. Especially at the trot, a beginner's butt bounces unmercifully against the saddle: SMACK– SMACK – SMACK… Ouch!!! Why? Because the rider’s calves are tight. Beginner’s legs act like rubber bands, propelling frightened, hapless novices up into the air with each horse stride. And what goes up, must come down. Hard. The competent rider bounces very little because his calves stretch but stay relaxed, acting like slack, compliant shock absorbers, ever yielding to the horse’s motion. So too, with the chop. The wrist must yield; in just the right way.

I find I cannot chop well with finger extension alone, as Rushad seems to do. I need a whole arm approach. Something like the motion of slapping one's thigh with the heel of the hand.

Watch Natalie in this YouTube video (The chop pattern starts about one third into the video): Fraser and Haas. I’ll think you’ll come to the same conclusion I do. Note that, unlike Rushad, she strikes the string far from the bridge. Her petite, light bow arm and hand come down so easily and effectively her C string usually clacks against the fingerboard. Powerful --- but no bounce.

If there's interest, I'll post some groove patterns in music notation.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Who's who in Folk Cello

At times I'm amazed at the number of people that play cello at some level. And so many that are really very good! Many are college trained to some degree. And many that play professionally or semi-professionally at one level or another. And there will be no shortage in the foreseeable future: so many children study cello!

Yet, it seems to me, in the folk-related genres there really are very few widely-known cellists. I have some ideas on why this is so; some of those thoughts may be considered fighting words if expressed within some circles, but I'll float some of them in a future post.

Ok, so who, exactly, is out there, playing/recording at a professional level in a folk-related genres? Well, here's some names, listed in categories of my own choosing. Perhaps readers will want to add a few (names and/or categories):

The Classicists: Those whose playing is generally consistent with mainstream classically-oriented cello.

- Abby Newton Performing since 1973. Contributed to over 70 recordings. Largely Celtic repertoire. Currently with violinist David Greenberg and harpist Kim Robertson playing "Baroque-folk."

- Nancy Blake Performing since 1974. Married to well-known fiddler/mandolinist Norman Blake. Also plays guitar and other instruments. Largely Americanna repertoire.

- Barry Phillips Performing since 1980's. Cellist/arranger/producer working with a loosely affiliated group of folk musicians centered around Santa Cruz, CA. Repertoire has spanned many traditions and countries of origin.

- Yo-Yo Ma In addition to so many unique projects - Americanna with Mark O'Connor & Edgar Meyer, and with Alison Krause; Central Asian with the Silk Road Project.

The Young Groovers: Those who emphasize driving rhythms and rock-influenced groove patterns.

- Rushad Eggleston Also a singer/songwriter. Works with some very well-known multi-genre fiddlers. Includes some jazz, blues, and other more modern idioms.

- Natalie Haas Plays with Alasdair Frasier, typically as a twosome, Mark O'Connor, and others. Repertoire is largely 18th/19th century Scottish, with some 20th century compositions consistent with that style, but modernized by her high-energy bass/rhythm grooves.

Up and coming college student: Ariel Friedman. Plays/records with her sister Mia, and with Hanneke Cassel.

The Folk Singers: Those who are predominately folk-style singer/songwriters.

- Lindsay Mac Folk/pop singer/songwriter with jazz & rock elements. Her songs are often stories, sometimes autobiographical.

- Caroline Lavelle Sings and writes in the English/Irish tradition. Also has performed with Loreena McKennitt and with the Chieftains in what she describes as Chamber-Folk.

- Ben Sollee Appalachian-influenced singer/songwriter. Also performs in a quartet with banjoists Abigail Washburn and Bela Fleack, and fiddler Casey Dreissen.

The Educators: Those who are primarily educators. At present, I have only entry.

- Renata Bratt President of the International Association for Jazz Education String Caucus, chair of the 2007 American String Teachers Association Alternative String Styles Steering Committee and vice-president of the Kuumbwa Jazz Center Board in Santa Cruz. Writes articles, books, records CD, and conducts workshops for students and teachers. Researches and teaches techniques commonly employed by folk-oriented cellists, but omitted from classically-oriented cello pedagogy.

The One-and-Only's: Those in a category all by themselves.

Sean Grissom, the "Cajun Cellist". Fiddle tunes and music similar to fiddle tunes, strongly influenced by Cajun-style fiddling. Features double shuffles, blues notes, and slides.

There they are, until you give me more names to add. I have not included studio musicians that to play on some folk-related recordings, or on folk band tours, but rather have a focus in music written and traditionally played by regular, non-classically trained folk. Nor have I included players like Denise Djokic (as much as I like what she does) that play formally-composed classical music that was originally inspired by folk music.

So who else should I have included?

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Most Influential Musician of the 20th Century

Last night I excused myself early from a small group practice (they only wanted me for my washtub bass playing, anyway) so that I could run home and see a PBS documentary on legendary guitarist/recording artist Les Paul. I already had some idea of his significance in the evolution of music genres, music technology, and the recording industry, but I found out he's even more important than I had realized. He was first to figure out how to do so many things that are common place now. Plus, he's a genuine real nice guy.

At 92, he still plays in a night club in NY. Plays well, too. No, not the stunningly fast, virtuoso sort of things he astonished the world with in the 40's and 50's, but he's still classy, artistic, and a joy to listen to.

First to over-dub. First to make and play solid body guitars. If not the first to make garage-band recordings, he certainly gave the idea respectability. The Capital records he made with wife Mary Ford were recorded all over the house -- bathroom, kitchen, living room anywhere. They even went out searching for homes for just the right acoustics. Capital publicized the fact that just husband and wife, working by themselves, recorded so many No. 1 hit records just in different rooms of their home, not even bothering to drive down to the studios.

So, Most Influential Musician of the 20th Century? What about bands like the Beatles and the Rolling Stones? What did the Beatles play at their first gig? --- How High the Moon. Keith Richardson, Mick Jagger, Paul McCartney, B.B. King, and so many others idolized, were inspired by, and longed to be like Les Paul.

Even though Paul playing might usually be nominally categorized as "jazz", I think it's fair to say it was Paul's imaginative new techniques and his over-laying of guitar tracks to form a new type of all-guitar orchestra that made the guitar the dominating instrument of the 20th century, clearing the way for Rock n' Roll, Rhythm and Blues, Country-Western, and leading into what would become Heavy Metal, Punk, and other off-shoots.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Trip to Pennsylvania canceled

Father - daughter problems. I'm pretty sad about it, but, I can't fix it. She's 12 and impossible.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Farther Than the Sun

Readers of this blog back some time ago might remember that the event that put me over the edge and drove me to try to learn cello was a Chieftains concert with Caroline Lavelle sitting in on cello as something of replacement for pianist/harpist Derek Bell. The six of them were having a great time on stage.

Most folks probably never heard of her, the Chieftains "discovered" her busking, someplace in London, I believe.

Here's a video of her in Monterrey with a guest cellist of her own on YouTube (If you'r confused at first, that's because it starts out with a BMW ad)

Farther Than the Sun

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Snap went the Cello

My starter cello which served me for 3 years, and for which I paid a whopping $139 (plus $40 shipping, don't forget!), is now in two pieces. I'm sad.

I was in the last stages of proof-of-concept for my grand D-I-Y 5-string conversion scheme. I was gradually tuning the five strings up to pitch. The G string was still low. As I turned the G-string peg, the neck neatly snapped off. Foop. Oh well, for now it's a disproof-of-concept.

The break is nearly all on the glue boundary, only a little spot of wood separated. Maybe it can be glued back. But if it's glued back, can the joint be made substantially stronger? Should/can the old glue be removed?

I'm leaving on a week trip to PA soon, so it'll have to wait.