Old World or New, Sacred or Profane

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?