Old World or New, Sacred or Profane

Monday, December 29, 2008

Cellistic New Year Resolutions

One thing I find fascinating about learning cello, and did not at all expect, is the paradoxes. Now that I've met some of them, my hope for 2009 is that I allow myself to appreciate and revel in them.

Ok, for you they might not make sense. You know far better than me what is right for you. But as these years go fleetingly by, they are becoming for me the elusive essence behind learning and practicing the cello. Otherwise, at my age, lack of talent, and station in life, why bother? So here's my list (partly inspired by, but not to be blamed on, writings in Stark Raving Cello):

- To stop trying harder; instead, to just try easier.

- To play fast slowly; to play loud gently; to play slow fleetingly; to play soft intensely; to play easy things with attentive, loving care; to play hard things undeservedly carefree.

- Instead of frustration, to allow myself unwarranted pleasure and joy in visiting and re-visiting my weak areas, with unworried faith that it'll come together, whenever I eventually allow it.

- To hear musical forests, instead of trees of notes.

- To feel more, listen more, absorb more, hear more, sing more, dream more, express more, enjoy more. Worry, doubt, fear, control, and struggle (and ok, write!) less.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

A grumpy weekend before Christmas

I was asked to play at a local zoo with a folkie quartet that a violinist and I regularly "guest" with. No pay, not even gas money, but the zoo management is always nice and appreciative, so the band keeps coming back and sometimes they augment with the "string section". When the time came, I really didn't feel like going. It was to be outside, at night, so it'd be cold (by Socal standards, that is). I had other things at home I wanted to work on. I just didn't feel the group is playing well this year. The kids pretty much ignore us (only the occasional parent seems to show interest). It's noisy. There's nothing I play that's essential, it's all various accompaniments. And I'm tired of Christmas tunes. Also, it weighed on my mind this will be the first Christmas I won't be seeing my 14-year old daughter; she stopped coming to Dad's since February, hence a string of court dates, with more to come. So I came late and was real close to just not showing up.

I sat in the back in "left field" position. Too dark to see the sheet music, and I forgot to bring some of the non-Christmas tunes, so I working on very faulty memory. Ugh, what was I doing here?

Then at some point a very severely handicapped young man in a wheelchair, pushed by perhaps his mother, appeared in front of the band. And he stayed in front of the band for quite some time, rocking to the music and doing his best to see what was going on. Hammer dulcimers can be fun to watch and they were right in the front, but he seemed to be particularly looking at me. It was hard to tell, his motor movements were uncontrolled and jerky, maybe it was just my imagination that he kept staring at me. Then his attendant wheeled him around the band to the back next to me, where he swung his arm, as if bowing back and forth on a cello. He stayed there some time, doing his best to experience what I so little appreciated.

What have I done in my life to deserve be where I was, and he where he was? Nothing! Perhaps Dickens had a point about remembering He who made the lame walk and the blind see.

Little did I know at the time that there was a message on my answering machine from a Court-ordered counselor that my daughter wants to reconcile and re-establish time with me.

I hope this season brings all of you good things as well.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Carol of the Bells for 4 cellos posted

As requested, here's the five parts to Carol of the Bells for 4 cellos: 4 parts, plus part 1 down an octave. Note: this might not be exactly the same as what Guanaco or Carol played; about a year ago I expanded it by a few measures and changed the harmony in a couple of measures. It's not enough of a difference that they should change, it would just cause confusion, but I don't think I have the original version around anymore.

So now, who else will prepare something for cello ensemble? We could have a cello blog library of arrangements.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

O Holy Night for 4 cellos

Those of you following Cellomania may have read the discussion about Carol of the Bells and O Holy Night. Below are the parts to O Holy Night. If you click on the image, the image will expand. I hope you can size it to something reasonable. If you want, let me know and I'll send you them as PDFs, or TIFFs, or JPEGs, or something).

Note that cello 4 is entirely pizzicato, the others are arco and require some very long, slow bow strokes. Cello 1 looks tough, but it can be done surprisingly easily, entirely in mid-string thumb position, just like a typical tune out of Mooney's Thumb Position Vol 1, except use pinkie (or ring finger if you extend from the thumb) for those high Es (Actually, I think it does sound a bit better if you can stay on the A string and and go in and out of thumb position as required). I had hoped to record it, and did record two tracks, but now a switch on my recorder is stuck. Maybe I can get it working before Christmas.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The Adventures of a Cello - Carlos Prieto

I'm at home this week, recovering from surgery. It went well, but there's still more of the inevitable, but boring, healing period to go. Hurray for modern medicine, laser "vaporization" (Doesn't that sound, ummm, permanent!?), and Vicodin!

A few days before the procedure, my wife bought me a gift, a book with an included CD: The Adventures of a Cello by Carlos Prieto. The subject cello is a 1720 Stradivarius, the Piatti, known in the 19th century when it was in Ireland as the "Red Cello", and known to airline frequent flyer programs as Chelo Prieto.

I don't think I would have spent the money on such a book on my own, if I had heard of it. Ancient, mind-boggingly expensive instruments, while wonderful things I'm sure, don't especially intrigue me. It's just not the sort of thing that's meaningful to a novice player like me. I'm more interested in the evolution of ideas, the accomplishments of people, why things are the way they are. Well, that's really what the book is about anyway. The cello is mostly a literary device to tie many anecdotes and facts together. A gimmick, but a sensible gimmick to introduce cello history and make some dense material easier to absorb.

There's a review by Aaron Green over at classicalmusic.about.com which complains that "Only one third of the three hundred+ page book was devoted to the adventures of Prieto's cello. The rest was a well written history of cello making and its music.", as if that were a bad thing. I don't think that's fair. Seems to me, it's not a cello that has adventures, but rather owners, players, composers, and audiences.

So from the outset, it should be understood that the book is not single-minded; it serves multiple purposes (Take a look at the Table of Contents). The book introduces the reader who may know little about the instrument to its construction and history. It relates interesting anecdotes. It places into context the significant composers for the cello and their works, both past and present. It describes Senor Prieto's career, sharing his personal experiences with composers, performers, and the many folks he's met along the way. It promotes the cello. Lastly, but I think of most importance to the author, it promotes the classical cello music of Ibero-America, that is, Spain, Portugal, and Latin America.

Sometimes the long series of composers, and pieces, and concerts, and premieres, and concert halls get difficult to wade through. That means it's time to put it down and pick it up later. This is not a novel that one can just read from beginning to end. But since it's well indexed, I can easily find sections I want to read again and absorb better.

The Spanish language version came out in 1999, but the English version refers to events up to 2005 as the past, and at least one event in 2005 and another in 2006 as the future.

I have come away from the book and CD more aware that contemporary classical music must be alive and well in Ibero-America, driven by creative composers and appreciative audiences. That's not to say that Prieto and others with whom he works do not have a great deal of appreciation for the music and musician's of other nationalities. Quite the opposite. But they do take much pride in the accomplishments of the Spanish/Portuguese language artists. Particularly in the area of 20th/21st century classical, it seems from the book that they have taken the ball and run with it.

Now, anybody that knows me knows contemporary classical is not a major interest of mine. I'm just not that sophisticated. I have to say, though, the music on the CD is quite accessible, even for a bumpkin like me. The CD has 18 tracks with cello performed by Carlos Prieto. I don't feel any of the tracks are too atonal or dissonant or weird for my taste. Of the 18, I especially liked:

- The two tracks from the Bach's sixth Cello Suite. Since they are unaccompanied, you get to clearly hear the tone of the instrument. Yep, I'm impressed.

- The two tracks from Astor Piazolla, Milonga and Le grand tango. There's a lot to Le grand tango, I'm going to have to play that track quite a few times to more fully appreciate it.

- Cancion en el puerto by Joaquin Guitierrez Heras. I dunno, it's just soooo purrrty.

- "Presto with swing" from Eugenio Toussaint's Cello Concerto no. 2. Ok, I admit it, this is my favorite track of the bunch. Driving rhythms and jazz chords. Gershwin-ish/Bernstein-esque. Yeah, I can't help it, I'm just an unabashed Americano-phile.

So now I have a little more knowledge of 20th/21st century classical music. One person that I now want to learn more about, albeit unintended by the author, is Nadia Boulanger. Y'know, one bit of knowledge prepares the way for another.

Uh oh, I better go lie down before I catch heck from the Missus.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

A Question for Adult Cello Students

Last Saturday my wife and I put in some volunteer time for the Southern California Dulcimer Heritage's annual Harvest Festival. It has various workshops and concerts for mountain and hammer dulcimers, but also has room for other instruments. One of the workshop leaders was Mintze Wu, a fine professional, classically-trained violinist (graduate of Cleveland Institute of Music), a former member of the Azmari Quartet and on the Northern Kentucky University faculty. But now she's making quite a name for herself on the dark-side -- as a fiddler.

I attended her workshop. Wu showed how to take a simple, rather sing-songy tune (Road to Lisdoonvarna) and with some imaginative bowing and ornamentation, make it --WOW!-- very nice, indeed. I was the only cellist, and very welcomed by Ms. Wu. With some fingering adjustments I was able to get by about as well as the violinists (sometimes I've been over my head at these things). Wu made us individually play back what she teached, which put us on the spot, so I know other students had mixed results in getting it right as well, including one competent classically-trained violinist.

I also attended an organized jam workshop. I was somewhat fussed over by the leaders, who were delighted to have a cello in the mix. I was asked to start a tune and when I played the first few notes, I heard at least one gasp, presumably of delight ;-), emanate from the group.

My question is this: Given the almost embarrassingly welcoming treatment we can receive, and how one can easily play 1-5 bass parts until ready for more, why aren't there more adult student cellists venturing out to Old-time, Celtic, and other casual "traditional music" events? I know the cello students exist. Is it a matter of interest? -- adult students took up cello because they want to perform Classical, and that's that? Is it fear of playing without the trusty music stand and paper? Too much uncertainty and lack of structure? Is it lack of preparation and encouragement by the teachers? Fear of a lack of ear training or music theory? Too easy? Too hard to lug around that big case? Unfamiliarity with what cello sounds like in those genres?

In a nutshell, why don't cello students do like other instruments? It ain't 'cause we ain't got frets; violin and string bass (and some banjos) also ain't got frets.

By the way, we know cello and dulcimer played duets together in colonial Annapolis at least as far back as November 1752, so there is a tradition for this kind of thing in America, albeit sometimes appears to be forgotten.

Any thoughts on the subject?

Monday, September 08, 2008

Cello Chords

Jim asked me to re-post my cello chord diagram from a year or two back (The server it had been sitting on is no longer). Here it is. Pretty simplistic, but a start for strumming accompaniments or boom-chuck patterns, and you can use the same chord shape, moved up or down the fingerboard, for other chord names.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

I sure do like Copland!

On my way into work today I heard a Copland piece in it's entirety on the radio. There's not much 20th century so-called "classical" music that I can tolerate. Give me 20th century jazz, R&B, pop, rock, show tunes, dixieland, disco, anything over contemporary classical. Hmmpf! Classical? Not to my mind.

Ah, but Copland? Wonderful! He takes his time. He carefully builds and he gracefully recedes; 25 minutes that combine to make a whole piece. He blends and he separates. He's not afraid to be simple, and when he's complex he still makes sense. Enjoyable dissonance; dissonance that makes sense; that bright, straightforward, no-nonsense sound. I think I can see why he never wrote a cello concerto. I question whether it would have been accepted by the cellists of the time.

I can't remember who, but some famed musician of Copland's era said something like, "In Europe they clamor for more American music, but that's not what they mean. What they really mean is they want more COPLAND!"

I guess my taste is hopelessly unsophisticated. Yeah, even if I had talent, I could never be a classical musician; too simple-minded; too schmaltzy; too working-class. But in Copland we proletariat can find a 20th century composer for the common man.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Another "note"worthy blog

Readers of Cellists By Night might remember that a couple of months ago I mentioned I enjoyed listening to morning disk jockey Dennis Bartel at the local classical radio station, KUSC (Yes, we are members).

I like his subtle wit and the way he makes transitions. From his comments, he clearly has an excellent in background classical music, but even more importantly, he has a solid background in all kinds of things. And he's a down-to-earth plain-spoken guy, not at all pretentious, unlike a certain other syndicated classical DJ I can think of.

Well, he has a blog: www.kusc.org/bartel. I recommend reading The Child is Father to the Papa (No douby y'all can guess who that's about). It goes to the heart of what makes a person, any type of person, great. And it just goes to show, aren't all the truly great musicians also autodidacts?

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Goodbye to Cello?

This has been building up a couple of months. My wife and I bought a bank-owned fixer-upper to move closer to where my daughter will be attending high school. Well, it's turned out to be more of a fixer-upper than we had imagined. We have to sink far more time and money into it than we expected. Mold is much more extensive than we were told by the inspector (kitchen is now completely torn out), poor original construction (crazy wiring, no attic access...), and even more poorly done modifications to the house by former owners. What's more, the 13-year-old we moved to be closer to, now is punishing me by refusing to come to Dad's anymore over my support of my wife regarding the snotty way my daughter talked to her. So my ex is taking big advantage of this to egg on and reward the daughter for staying away from Dad, use the opportunity to stop working, go back to court, get a change in custody, and up the child support and attorney fees to maximum she can get (We've only been to court 60-70 times since the kid was born; she's a paralegal).

I don't know how I'm going to get through the next few months. I'm can't motivate myself for, and concentrate on cello playing. So I terminated my cello lessons, and I may even end up having to sell my cello. I've informed the folks that I play with that I'll play at an event that I committed myself to next week, but that's it.

I expect I'll continue to occasionally monitor some of my favorite cello blogs. Maybe some months down the road things will start to come around, and I can relax again. But for now, every day presents too many problems I just can't solve.

Monday, June 02, 2008


The subject of Starker's Organized Method of String Playing came up on Cello Chat about a week ago. I don't have access to the thread right now, but it might still be on the first page. Most of the posts dealt with the hazards of Do-It-Yourself. No one can understand the great mysteries behind the book without a teacher that apprenticed under Grand Master Janos or with one of his duly ordained disciples. My teacher's not in that exclusive club, she went to USC.

But I'm sorry, I don't find the goals of the book all that mysterious and inaccessible. It's sets of simple double-stop mechanical finger exercises, following a mechanical, non-musical sort of chromatic progression: first one finger stays put and the other two finger progress chromatically, then the first finger progresses one half-step and the two other fingers start over in the progression. Sort of like gears in a clock.

To complete the exercise though all the permutations of a single position, in tune, requires really good hand/arm position, finger independence, and very little unnecessary tension. Benefits: precise intonation; endurance from efficient, non-tense finger dropping; and knowledge of what notes are available in what position.

However, (1) I don't have the endurance to play a whole set well without tension. Also, (2) I have difficulty identifying and maintaining good intonation in a chromatic, atonal situation, and, (3) I get bored, and (4) I don't really absorb what notes I'm playing in such a mechanistic exercise, anyway. So, during the past couple of years I've made simplified versions that center around a key. It helps me listen and hopefully make musical sense out of the intervals. And if, at one time, I only play those that fit within a specific key, then rest, I can get though it without over-stressing and tightening up my fingers.

My previous post showed what I'm talking about (click here to see). On it I identify the a key and chord progression that the exercise intends to suggest. I see it didn't garner any interest on Cello Chat. Instead, I killed the thread. I seem to have a knack at that.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

A home-made exercise

This little home-made exercise is posted here for a discussion elsewhere, unless you'd like to comment here.

Monday, May 19, 2008

105 degrees F, so I'm told

Whew, was it hot yesterday out on Paramount Ranch, site of the 48th annual Topanga Banjo-Fiddle contest. The quest for shade was, umm, indeed "paramount".

Our time to play was 11:00 AM, not the hottest part of the day but late enough.

I played ok, for me, which is to say not well enough to win, show, or place. But as we all say, it's the experience that counts. Right now, perhaps still tired and recovering, I'm wondering if that universally-treasured experience is always all it's cracked up to be.

There were some fantastic players there. People who think these players of fiddles, banjos, guitars, mandolins, and myriads of other instruments are just slouches that wouldn't be able to hack it in the classical world just haven't heard what some of these musicians can do. Sure, there are throngs of just-begunners and mobs of intermediate wanna-bes (like Yours, Truly). There's also quite a number of amazing performers, many of whom don't compete, they're just there for the fun.

At least three cellists competed in the "Other Instruments" category, in addition to finger-picked guitar (Finger-picked guitar is considered a separate instrument), harmonica, flute, dulcimer, and I forget what else. I was able to observe only one of the other two cellists and yep, he was better'n me (but even he didn't win). And, he made a smarter choice of what to play -- my choice was just too near the limits of my ability. Fool, fool, fool!

Y'know, though, what I'd really like to do for next time, whether it be next year or several years from now? Compete in the accompaniment category. I think that's where cello shines, but it's also something I like to do. Now, where am I going to find somebody crazy enough to (1) compete in the whithering heat of the day-long festival against some true virtuosos, and (2) let the likes of me provide accompaniment? Send any takers my way.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Teacher's advice for Sunday's performance...

... paraphrased and set to a certain well-known melody by Charlie Chaplin:

Smile tho' your bow is shaking,
Smile tho' the notes are breaking,
When pitch goes way up too high,
You'll get by.

If you smile
Through your fear and stage fright,
Smile and arms will be less uptight,
You'll hear the phrases shin-ing through for you.

Light up your face with gladness,
Hide ev-'ry trace of sadness,
Al -'tho every glitch may tempt you to quit,

That's the time,
You must keep on grinning,
Smile, each note's a new beginning,
They'll find that piece is still worth-while,

If you just smile.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Contest time on Sunday

Well, the weeks have gone by and next Sunday is the Topanga Banjo and Fiddle Contest (Yikes, expected temperatures may exceed 100 degrees F!). I will compete in the "Other Instruments" category with two accomplices. Are we prepared? Not as well as I would like, but we have worked quite a bit on it. Too many personal problems and work/home issues going on for me to have done much more. This morning's practice felt pretty good, though.

I didn't get out to Emily's, either, but I have had a number of lessons on it with my teacher, including one with the full group a few weeks ago, and another with the full group tonight.

What happens happens. My number 1 concern is keeping a steady, solid, dance-able rhythm going without speeding up. Whenever I drop concentration, the tempo creeps up and the pulse and articulation suffer. If we can just keep the tempo steady and manageable and together, I'll be happy.

Of course I'm not likely to win, that hardly matters, but the preparation work has certainly made a noticeable difference in my playing. It's given me a better appreciation of how the problem with my left hand is actually in my right arm.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

5-String Conversion, Part Last

"Ok, so what about the peg?", you say. Did I install another hole and peg? Well, I did drill a hole, but no peg. I threaded the D-string through a small hole, using a small washer that I bummed from my wife's supply of little hardware leftovers to prevent the string ball from slipping through the hole:

Actually, I did this all a few months ago and thought, "Great, all I have to do is tune this puppy up and I've got myself a home-mode 5-string, Laszlo Varga style (Anybody know how he made his 5-string? I know he used a 3.4 size cello for it, but that's about all I know about it).

Well, just as I was approaching pitch on all five strings, just within a quarter of a tone across the board, the neck snapped off. Bummer. The neck came off cleanly at the glue point except that the little tab coming up out of the cello back was sheared off. That is the structural main strength point. The glue under most of the neck has no mechanical advantage, it's that meek little tab on the back that does the real work of keeping it all together.

So I glued the neck back on with hide glue I found on the Internet, using a candle warmer to keep the glue hot. Then I attached a splint made from doorskin and three little screws, again raiding my wife's hardware leftovers. The split I attached with regular carpenters wood glue underneath. That stuff is much stronger than wood when it cures. Hopefully, that splint will never, ever part from the back tab.

So there it is: A project no doubt worthy of a spot on the Red Green Show. I think I can expect a congratulatory call from ol' Red Green any day now.

5-String Conversion Pictures, Part 2

This pic shows the nut on the E-string side. It's hard to get the precision one needs. If there were a next time, I'd want to find a better way of making the nut grooves than using a serrated kitchen knife and a ruler.

And this pic shows the nut on the C string side. Yes, the E and and C strings are at the very edges of the nut and fingerboard. Wider would be better.

Still a couple of pics to go.

D-I-Y 5-string Conversion Pictures, part 1

Now before we get into this, understand that the first attempt snapped the neck off the cello. I fixed the neck, more on that later, but I don't suggest advise doing this sort of a thing with anything but a junker (See, junkers really are good for sump'n!).

Here's pictures of my for-fun conversion of an inexpensive laminate cello to a 5-string. The key (so to speak) of the whole thing a guitar tuning machine installed in the middle of the tailpiece. I got the tuning machine from a guitar repairman at a local "Guitars-R-Us", who gave it to me on the condition I bring the completed travesty for him to see:

And here's a picture of the tuning machine from underneath. Because the underside of the tailpiece is curved and irregular I used a free sample of kitchen counter laminate on the underside to provide a flat surface for the guitar tuning machine. I used rubber washers on the topside and bottomside of the tailpiece to stabilize it the tuning machine so it wouldn't rotate:

Here's a view of the bridge (same bridge as for 4 strings). I filed all new grooves for the new spacings. You can see the old grooves:

More pics to come.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

D-I-Y 5-string conversion. Gottagogottit

Yes, as Gottagopractice figured out on my previous post, I have converted my old laminate cello to a 5-string: CGDAE. She noticed the lack of vibrato on the E. What I think is also telling is the sympathetic vibration of the E string when playing As and Es on other strings. It's more noticeable between the notes. I made the recordings with Audacity and the sympathetic vibration is much more pronounced in the original recording format. The export to MP3 makes those subtleties harder to hear.

While I thought I preferred a dark cello (and I'm told my other cello is particularly dark), I find I do rather enjoy the brightness that the E string gives most of the notes on this cello.

Yes, I'm using the original nut, fingerboard, and bridge, with the strings squeezed together more and extending to the side more.

Pictures to come, but maybe not for a few days.

BTW, the cello broke in the attempt and required an unorthodox fix. All will be revealed.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

D-I-Y Cello Modification

I have an incredibly inexpensive (read downright cheap-skate), laminate CLO (cello-like object) that I started on, that I got off Ebay five years ago.

Well, I took it to the garage and subjected it to an unauthorized field change. An authentic luthier would be appalled, but then, at the price I paid for it, who cares? It's going to take some time to get used to it, but it is a kick to play.

I made a couple of quick recordings. See if you can guess how it's different from a regular cello... Yeah, yeah, I know, besides the fact that the cello's tone sounds like crap.... Yeah, yeah, besides the fact that the player is dreadful.... Something else.

A C scale

Si Bheag Si Mhor

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

The ABC's of Tune Finding

Sandro's comment reminds me that some of you learning to read standard notation, with your noses deep into Suzuki, Schroeder, Essential Elements, or your orchestra repertoire, might not know there is another notation method worth knowing. Or, at least knowing of: ABC.

ABC is a method of notating music as plain text. No special fonts, or special software. Any simple text editor will do. Or, for that matter: paper and pencil.

It's not a totally new idea. In the 19th century, the Shakers notated the songs that they composed or received from divine inspiration (about 400 of them) as note letter names, with a method of indicating note length values, dotted rhythms, and the like. ABC is something like that, but with considerably more features.

See John Chamber's ABC Music Notation for a tutorial on ABC.

One of the really good things about ABC is that it makes it easy to share written music over the Internet. And you don't really have to learn ABC to use it. John Chambers has made available to the public computer programs that convert ABC into standard notation or MIDI files.

And there's a whole lot of folk tunes in ABC out there across the Internet universe.

So, Chambers also has a web page that will (1) search for ABC files by name or partial name, or by a sequence of notes, (2) produce a listing of the matches, (3) convert the ABC file to standard notation as a gif, postscript, or pdf, and (4) also convert the file to a MIDI, so you can hear what it sounds like.

It's absolutely great for looking up tunes that you want to learn. See JC's ABC Tune Match at trillian.mit.edu.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Enter a Contest? Why not?

Perhaps foolishly, I've sent in my application for the 2008 Topanga Banjo & Fiddle Contest, to compete in the "Other Instrument" category. The date is May 18th.

I've attended the contest a number of years before as a spectator. I've heard some of the competitors, including some of the "Other Instrument" players, so I have an idea of the typical competition. Yeah, I'm going to have to be well prepared. And I'm going to play in front of hundreds of people. Yikes! (Of course, picnicking--beer-drinking--frisbee-throwing--sunshine-worshipping people are different from coat-and-tie---concert-going--indoor people, but still... Peoples is peoples!)

I've got a couple of friends to agree to accompany me. One on guitar (or maybe bodhran), the other on hammer dulcimer.

What to play? My original choice was a waltz called Leona Tuttle (the definitive Larry Unger version contains a delightful viola solo). Now I'm considering playing the set Seylan Baxter plays in a video at celloharp.com. They're not too terribly difficult anymore.

Still, whatever I select I'll want to do a good deal of polishing, so I'll be dragging it in to my teacher. I'll also want to take another trip cross town for Emily input in a month or so. You game, Emily?

Sunday, February 24, 2008

3rd recital in front of LA Phil member

No, it's not a folkie thing this time.

Last night I played in a student recital at my teacher's home. I was in shift 1 with six other students, starting at 5:00. Shift 2 started at 6:30. I played the Bach Arioso (from Cantata 165) and part 1 in the Gabrielli Canon a Due.

As usual, I was the only grown-up (Go team CBN!). And yet again, that LA Phil member whose 7 year-old or so youngster is a student was right up there in the audience -- in tuxedo because he had a gig afterward (His kidlet is really coming along). But this time I felt much better than the prior two times. Except for just a little bit of clumsiness in a couple of spots, the pieces came out as well as when I've practiced them, so I'm rather pleased.

I'd like to think I'm learning what body parts become less mobile when I'm nervous and learning to mobilize them more, but maybe I'm just getting used to the idea of him around.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Shift practice

Another topic at the Emily lesson was shift practice.

The Bach Arioso, which I'll play at a student recital on Saturday, has a number of shifts up into the transitional positions. I was not consistent with my thumb, which limited the consistency of the shifts. For the shifts to 6th position, I don't need to lift the thumb up and over (If I was quickly on the way to higher positions, such as in a three octave scale, then maybe I would lift the thumb by then for speed). If I put the thumb in a consistent place and angle, whatever that is for me, then that helps the entire shift consistency.

Another thing I did was straightening and stiffening out the unused second finger, throwing the other fingers off. That's something my regular teacher corrects me regarding my pinkie. We hadn't gotten to the other fingers yet, but the principal applies. Nothing to be gained by tensing out unused fingers.

To practice the shifts, first make sure you know what the pitches should be. Then, in single down bows, practice the shift, sliding from one to the other, and back on the up bow (with thumb and unused fingers also traveling to/from consistent positions.)

Then, practice the shifts with a clear break in-between (No slide) -- just the first pitch---break---the second pitch. Do not correct by fudging, instead, observe whether the tendency is to be high, or low, and make it right the next time. It's really hard to resist just sliding it into place after the break.

Ok, so did following all that stuff Emily told me make my shifts now super accurate and instantly better? Uhhhh..., no. You might even say they took a bit of a hit, they got considerably worse for a couple of days following the lesson, what with all that to think about. Bad? No, good! It's like the guy I quoted said regarding talent. Sometimes change means working through an apparent set back in order to get to the permanent improvement (See? There was a reason for that previous post). All the stuff made sense to me, so I had to just work with through it. Now, I feel shifts are at least as good as they were, maybe better already, but I expect them to be considerably better yet, perhaps within a few days.

We'll see how it goes Saturday!

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Regarding those with talent...

I will eventually get back to describing the Emily lesson, and respond to the recent comments. Soon. But it's been a hectic and difficult weekend (read weekend with 13-year old daughter). In the meantime, I'd like to re-post somebody else's post I came across on a hammer dulcimer mailing list. It gets into something I'd like to eventually discuss sometime regarding embouchures ("Embouchures are related cello?" I hear you cry)?

Regarding those with talent...

Talent will only get someone so far. I have seen, not just in music but in
all areas, folks who have talent and who naturally get some things, but who
are unable to learn the things which will then take them beyond that first
flush of ease.

I recently took a class where the teacher talked about how he was asked to
change his fundamental movement. He had been involved in the activity for
more than a decade, and could do things much faster and effectively using
his current technique. He resisted using the new technique for quite a
while, and when he did change, he took forever to accomplish anything.

However... in a year's time, he was able to then move beyond his former
limits, and now admits that the new technique is fundamentally sounder than
what he had done initially with "talent."

My own son at some point was asked to change his embouchure, and it was slow
going after having played his instrument for so long. However, he eventually
got the hang of the new mouth shape, and can do things which he couldn't do
with talent.

Talent is great. Willingness to practice, to learn and to change count far
more, and will take one much farther.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

In Praise of Simplistic, Silly Exercises

Well, my slow vibrato wobbles (see previous post) were better today than yesterday. As a consequence, my vibrato on the Bach Arioso, which I'll play at a student recital on the 23rd, was noticeably slower and more expressive (Eat your heart out, Dean Martin!).

Y'know, it's easy to dismiss exercises like that simply as demonstrations for children -- try it out once, then fahgittaboutit. Ditto for cello hugs, circles, ski jumps, knock-knocks, bridge touches, spiders, one-finger scales, and various other exercises; many which were invented or codified by Margaret Rowell.

Maybe some things can be classified simply as one-time demos, but it seems to me, many are worth repeating -- often. Maybe I should do many of them more often than I do.

When I started cello, it seemed to me playing cello was more complicated than I could possibly understand. Now, I'm feeling it's simpler can possibly understand. The issues are not learning new, more complex behaviors, but rather dropping interfering behaviors. Getting down to the basic, pure, simple, expressive act that creates the desired sound. There is a beauty in the simple, free, easy, heartfelt act that is somehow carried and communicated by the sound.

Vibrato with Emily

Gottago asked, so I have an excuse to tell.

Emily feels my vibrato tends to be too fast. Yeah, true, I sort of wind up and let 'er rip, Boioioioioioinnng, just leaving it boing on automatic pilot.

Emily had me do a chromatic scale (Duport-style: 3 fingers-to-3 fingers) with very slow, very wide vibrato cycles. I guess it was about 30 or 40 cycles a minute, if I remember right.

The important thing is to keep the motion always constant at the same boringly slow speed; neither speed up nor go into turn-signal mode. That's when you just flip from one side to another, pausing on a side: High...Low...High...Low... Not good, that's cheating. Ya gotta keep it in constant slow motion like a sine wave. Requires patience, it's so tempting to just flip-flop or speed up to get that bounce.

With a metronome, one can then take that slow vibrato pulse and double it, triple it, and quadruple it.

Another point is to maintain good forearm motion. Emily said I had good forearm motion, so that wasn't an issue. But at home, I found my forearm motion is not so good on the 4th finger. At the lesson, we didn't do 4th finger with the exercise, that I can remember. You know me, always finding some way to not do exactly as I'm told ;-). So now I'm trying to incorporate 4th finger in the exercise to see if I can cultivate the same motion I can get on the other fingers.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

My lesson with Emily

Last night after work I drove cross-town (LA) and had a lesson from Emily Wright, cello blogger and teacher in residence here in our cello blogosphere.

I took much away from it. Mostly we worked on shifting, but also some vibrato, breathing, and process. Now much to work on to absorb it. Emily wrote down the major points, which I reviewed at practice today.

And you you can probably guess what I found out at practice today: It sure is harder to have the patience to go slow when the coach is not around. But still, I'm convinced practice at glacial speed is what I need more of. I heretofore resolve to thoroughly embrace shifting and vibrato practice at glacially slow, terminally dull, mind-numbingly boring tempos (Oh yes, and all the while to BREATHE!). Y'know, how often is it that our teachers tell us to go faster? Pretty darn rare, so there's no need to hurry, anyway.

The lesson was well worth the trip and effort; I feel re-energized in certain areas. Thank you Emily, hope to see you again soon!

Monday, February 04, 2008

Folkworks: 2005 The Year of the Cello

I read Maricello's recent post concerning playing in a band. I guess I'm pretty lucky. I'll be performing this weekend on washtub bass, cello, and recorder, at a local sandwich shop with a couple of others who play hammer dulcimer and guitar (We wish we could find the right fiddler to join us).

Given the comments that followed Maricello's post, I thought now might be a good time to post a link to the Jul/Aug 2005 issue of FolkWorks magazine. Scroll down to Larry Wine's article on the "Acoustic Renaissance" in which he declared 2005 The Year of the Cello. Not that I'm saying it's too late now, just that cello-awareness has been building even in non-cello folk players. Also note the featured Klezmer band, Warsaw Village Band, has a cellist.

However, I don't think that the typical way cello is taught is conducive to getting an adult ready to play in a band. That may change some in upcoming years.

But I'm not a good one to express and explain that point of view since I came into the game with a pretty solid idea of how I could fit into a folk-ish band, and I had the washtub, and experience on trombone, such as in Dixieland music, to fall back on. For those of you that would like to play in a small group something other than pre-printed classic chamber music, what do you wish a teacher would teach you?

Monday, January 07, 2008

New Years Camp last week

Wife, daughter, and myself had a great time at the annual New Years Camp conducted by the California Traditional Music Society, in Malibu CA. I hope I made a some sort of tiny contribution toward bringing cello awareness back into the traditional music fold.

No, that's not us. That's a photo of the Swannaonna String Band, taken in 1895. I saw it at New Years Camp, but we weren't all that much different. More women. More casually dressed. Nicer buildings. More vegetation. Anybody know the name of the cellist?

I saw some old photos of Klezmer bands with cello, too, that I hope to find online.

I was surprised that non-cellists are starting to know the names of some of the cellists in the field. One woman who plays in the San Francisico Scottish Fiddlers club told me years ago they were no cellists; now, because of the popularity of Natalie Haas and Rushad Eggleston, they have more cellists wanting to join than violinists.