This is a diary of my love affair with the cello.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Lesson Notes 8/25/07

Lesson today - things to remember:

1. E minor scale 4 octaves - again, 3rd and 4th octave need fine tuning as intonation is off.
2. Popper #11 - Should stay in the upper middle part of bow keeping weight down at that part of bow. Keep bow down when crossing strings to cut down on unnecessary noise when crossing strings. Don't lift the bow up which creates noise.
3. Popper #3 again - boy is it hard to go from #11 and then play #3. Completely different kind of etude. If I'm tapping with my left hand to get the note, don't tap with the bow as well. Keep bow running smoothly across the notes...draw the sound out with constant smooth bow. Sixteenth notes shorter

Side note - the Popper etudes are called the "high school" of cello playing. Are they serious? If this is what high schoolers are mastering...I'm in trouble!

4. Brahms again - start playing with metronome again. My tempo is all over the place, especially speeding up when adding intensity.

Posture note: shoulders back and shoulder blades closer together. Initiate power from the lower back..slightly forward. Right shoulder should provide a heavy dead weight down the arm. Weight should redistribute through arms to bow. When playing..that weight would be on all parts of the bow - even the tip.

Finally - keep expectations in tact. Don't expect too much of myself at the moment and just keep up the practice. Wait for the posture changes to settle into a habit.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Lost Love - A take-home trial gone wrong

This is a story about a cello I fell in love with.

I had been mildly shopping around for a new cello for almost 2 years. There was nothing wrong with my Chinese made student model but I just wanted a great cello....I figured, I play on it almost everyday..why not? My close relationships to a few violin shops in town only threw more fuel to this fire.

One day, a shop showed me a restored early-1900s American cello by a not-so-well-known American maker. When they brought out the cello for me, I fell instantly in love with it. I was always a sucker for looks I suppose. This instrument was beautiful. The back and sides were made of bird's eye maple and it was one striking-looking instrument. I HAD to have it. Of course, it was kinda above my price range...details...details...

I took it home for a trial just before Christmas. My teacher played on it and loved did the cello quartet. The sound was gorgeous...with a deep and mellow tone that comes with age. One night, after playing duets with a friend, I set the American down on my stand. The house was quiet and I was sitting at my computer. All of the sudden, I heard a loud squeal that lasted a couple of seconds. It came from my dining room where both cellos were. It had been a dry winter and I figured the pegs must have slipped. I looked at the Chinese...pegs in tact. I looked at the American...pegs in tact. Hmmm. I was pretty sure the sound came from one of the two cellos so I started looking around. And then I saw what it was...

It was the American. The wood on the front of the cello had split. There was a crack about almost foot long from the bridge area down to the bottom. I was in shock. What happens when an instrument is damaged in my possession during a trial??? hmmm I put the instrument back in the case. It was too late to do anything at this point...I would have to wait until the morning.

I called the shop in the morning and told them and I would bring the cello in (figured I would save the detail about the crack when I got there hahaha). I got to the shop and the owner (whom I hadn't met) greeted me. I told him that I had the American out on loan cracked last night. I got a funny look from him before he opened up the case to take a look.

Turns out that the wood had not cracked. The front seam came apart. They never did anything to the front when they restored the cello and I guess it was old glue. Apparently, the glue is intentionally not super strong so that the instrument has some wiggle room to expand and contract. With the low humidity as of late....the seam just broke.

He said that it could be repaired by middle of next week and asked me what I wanted to do...The shop had called me earlier in the week saying that someone wanted to try it out. I said that I liked the cello and go ahead and repair it. When I got home, I guess I was distressed from what had occurred and wasn't ready to do such a big purchase a few days before I left town for the Christmas I called him back and said that I wasn't ready to move on it and that he should let the other person have a go at it. I would call him when I got back from vacation in a couple of weeks and if it was still available..I would give it another try.

When I came back from Christmas, the American had been sold.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

On loneliness and music

After my cello lesson one day, I pulled into a gas station to fill up my car. I drive a two door convertible so the only place I can put my cello is in the front seat. This puts the cello in plain view which tends to draw a lot of questions or comments about the instrument when I am out. This one day, a guy (with an unkempt, starving artist look) got out of his car at the pump next to mine and the conversation went like this:

"Is that your cello?", He asked.
"Yes", I answered.
He stared at me in a playful way..."Do you have a boyfriend?"
"Yes", I answered

Then he started on a rant...barely intelligible, but here is what I got out of it...
"I know how it want to get fully into music and play and play...but let me tell you play music hard because you're lonely...that's why you get so feeds you when you're lonely. Then you get a boyfriend and you're not lonely anymore and your drive for music is not as strong. You'll always be chasing it...why you play. You have someone in your life and you feed your music less and less....I know how it is..I was there. Loneliness creates that music..."

I dismissed his rant as mindless banter at first but as I thought more about it I think he had a point. I fully immersed myself in my cello studies because I was lonely. At the time, I had just gotten out of a relationship and the cello filled the empty space created by that loss. I made huge progress because of it. Five years I was single...and I feel like it shows in my music. I am now in a relationship with a wonderful man. Still trying to figure out that balance between the two loves. I still want to feed my love for music, but I don't get that same high as when I was lonely and playing. I wonder whether this is what having kids is like. How do you balance it?

Friday, August 17, 2007

Lesson notes - 8/16/07

Today’s lesson was a short one. I was late and flustered. I backed out of the garage this morning and rolled into the boyfriend’s car parked in the driveway. Both cars are fine but it got me all flustered for the lesson…not the best of starts.

I started with the harmonic A minor scale, 4 octaves. First two octaves were fine…third was passable but the fourth octave was sharp and flat all over the place. I think I need to focus more on the 4th octave during practice so that it can be consistent. To top it all off, the last few notes of the A minor scale are beyond the finger board which throws any hope of control out the window.

Next was Popper #3 again. It was better this time, but I still need to work on keeping the bow smooth and in constant motion to avoid choppiness. We had a long conversation about this Popper etude and how it teaches many things. First is to master getting the chromatics in consistent half steps. After you can do this, there is another layer of learning how the notes fit in the music line. Depending where the notes lie in the series of notes in the music line, you may want to play a certain note slightly flat or slightly sharp. I’ve heard this concept a few times from a few people but I still get a bit lost regarding this concept.. I’m very much still trying to “get the note” much less fool with the note so that it is on the sharper or flatter side, depending on the music. However, something tells me that this very concept is why I love the string instrument sound so much. There is an infinite range of color for each note that the possibilities are endless. It is a close mimic of the human voice. Absolutely beautiful.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Learning as a kid

I just got back from Sandestin with my boyfriend and his 2 daughters. One of his 2 daughters is 7 and has just started taking violin lessons (I tried pushing her towards cello, but in the end- violin won out). She has had 3 lessons. I've been able to watch her progress and noticed some things that are worth sharing.

First observation - 7 year olds treat the instrument and bow as a toy!! I cringe as I watch her point and twirl her bow around like a baton! The instrument gets bashed around too. She's pretty good about putting the violin back in the case, loosening the bow etc. but I realize how young a 7 year old really is!!

Her first lesson was about how to hold the violin and bow and to draw sound from each string. Second lesson was a simple scale up the A string...then the same thing up the E string. Third lesson had her "reading" Twinkle Twinkle Little Star from Suzuki 1.

I saw a lot of her throughout the first few lessons and here are the things I saw:

1. Practice sessions are about 10 - 15mins long at best. The attention span of a 7 year old is pretty short.

2. She held the violin and bow almost perfectly right from the start...and was able to remember how to hold it. For me, when I first held a bow, I remembered how uncomfortable it was. It was really the only thing on my mind as I tried to play some notes. For her, I saw that she was actually uncomfortable as well but her main focus was playing the notes. I don't think comfort level comes into the picture at all.

3. The fact that she was out of tune didn't really faze her. She was happy if she got through what she intended to do, regardless of how it sounded. Why couldn't I be so satisfied with that when I started cello lessons? Can you imagine how fast we would progress if we didn't judge ourselves all along the way?

4. She was anxious to display what she could do...even after the first lesson. Now here is the main thing that separates us adults from kids. I never had a performance urge when I started. I was very self conscious about how I sounded. For her, she ran into the room after the first lesson and said "Showtime!"...indicating she was going to play for us.

5. And finally - kids don't remember to practice. The parent has to remind them and then at the same time, sit with them through the practice to keep their attention on it. Even though she loves her violin and wants to practice, it doesn't come to her mind.

Anyway...just some observations. It hasn't been that long since I started the cello so it gave me a chance to compare her start with mine.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Lesson notes

I just got back from my cello lesson today. I had practiced Schroeder #29 all week with a metronome set to subdivided 16ths. Finally got it at the lesson today (I had tried it last week and it was pathetic!). I played my first Popper etude (#3). Surprisingly went a lot better than I thought it would. It's such a pretty etude...a bit of a tongue twister for the ear though. I think there are more accidentals in this piece than non-accidentals.

Moved on to the Brahms E Minor Sonata. Although I've played through this whole piece...and even tried it with a pianist friend of mine...we barely get through 8 measures. Focused a lot on tone and color, big big shifts crossing strings without lifting bow off the string, fingers off the string quicker to avoid unnecessary noise, breathe breathe breathe. I got home from the lesson and got a call an hour later from my teacher. He wanted to tell me that he felt that the sonata was coming along, to keep at it and that it will sound really great soon.

That felt good!

Thursday, August 2, 2007

A cello rock band - how sexy!

Last night, I went to see a New York band called Rasputina. I've had them on my radar to check out for a while...but missed them when they were in town 2 years ago. The band consists of 2 female cellists (both on vocals) and a drummer. They came out in Victorian costumes...feathers and all. How cool is that?? The music was great (think Dead Can Dance, Portishead, PJ Harvey mix) and both cellists impressed me with the range of sounds they could create for that kind of music. LOTS of spiccato bowings and endless double stops...resulting in a need for a rehair the next day I'm sure!! I was also pretty impressed with them doing all this and singing at the same time. I'm just not that coordinated!!

I've been playing in a string quartet now for 3 years. It's my favorite kind of ensemble. Sometimes I feel so lucky to have met 3 other people who can put up with me (as well as my technical limitations) on a regular basis. My personal playing improved greatly after joining this group but the big high for me was when we started some coaching sessions and improved as a group. What an experience! I also discovered a huge love for string quartet literature.

That said, I've also experimented with playing pop music. The tough part for me is to "jam". Pop musicians get together and they just start playing...whereas I'm still looking around for some music to read. It's a leap that I haven't quite made but would like to do more of in the future. Has anyone done this? I think I'm a classical stiff - how do I loosen up and jam? I've gotten many invitations from band people to come and "play" with them. Like me, I think bands LOVE the idea of a cellist in the group. Unfortunately I've turned a lot of them down. My confidence is not too high when it comes to improvising and it makes the whole experience very uncomfortable for me. I guess if I just tried it more often, it would become easier.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

New blog, new learnings

I was procrastinating at work one day when I came across a few blogs by people who started learning the cello as an adult. It got me thinking that I could create my own. I never thought I would do a blog because I don't usually have much of a "voice" to document but I realized that this could be a good way to track my "journey". Also - maybe I could attract some people who are "in the know" who can add some input as well. How cool would that be??

I started cello lessons at 29 (I'm 35 now)...It's been quite an experience - not all of it cello related! Anyone who has read the book - "Never Too Late" by John Holt will know what I mean. If you haven't read it - you should pick up a copy. The book is by a man who started learning the cello at 40, detailing his learning process. Learning an instrument as an adult is an interesting topic in itself, but the book covers so much more than that! I found this book at a time when I was very frustrated with my cello "education". The ideas in the book changed my life, giving me some much needed relief to the frustration I felt in learning this instrument I loved so much. Sorry to get so deep - but as we get older, there are fewer and fewer life-changing things. I was very excited to have one dropped in my lap when I needed it most!