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

Monday, June 30, 2008

Chamber Music Weekend

I just got back from a chamber music 'workshop'. 100 or so people attend (1/3 of them are kids, 1/3 high school, 1/3 are adults) and we sightread in various chamber ensembles all weekend. Each day, there is about 9 hrs of playing time. The coordinators put you in different groups in 1.5 hr rotations as well as 2 hrs of orchestra rehearsal. When you sign up for the weekend, you are pretty much committed to the entire thing because if you skip a session, you mess up the intended chamber group for that time slot (piano quartet, string quartet, quintet, etc.) It all ends with a participant concert on Saturday night.

Here are some things I learned this weekend:

1) I have progressed in my cello playing and sight reading. This is big! Sometimes I get frustrated practicing day in and day out with seemingly very little improvement. Since I started going to these kinds of events a couple of years ago, I am able to view my progression in terms of years instead of days or weeks. It's a good feeling. I was even considered 'advanced' in some of the groups...An adult beginner cellist came up to me after a session and told me how she enjoyed having me play next to her because it kept her on track. This compliment was quite amusing to me as I have spent years getting lost sight reading 2 measures into a piece!!

2) The constant nagging by my teacher on relaxation of my shoulders and bow arm is starting to set in. I notice when I am tense and can correct it when it happens. The benefit? I can play for 9 hours without muscle pain. Wow!! Didn't think that was possible. wasn't possible with the way I was trying to play before.

3) I have learned to deal with my intonation mistakes in playing. I think the main reason for this is that I have seen so many GOOD cellists make mistakes when they are playing (on stage or in practice). It just goes with the territory of playing a string instrument. You just have to not let it get to you and move on to the next note. If you obsess over it like I used to, you ruin everything beyond the mistake that you can probably play quite well.

4) The ability to laugh at mistakes. In the rehearsal room prior to performance, I saw three 10 year old violinists standing together to practice the piece they were going to perform. One of the players completely botched her solo in one section...the other violinist laughed out loud and soon all three were laughing. While all of this was happening...they kept playing and all was well. I wished I could have recorded this. This should be required viewing for all adult beginners.

5) Somehow in the past couple of years, I have learned to control my nerves during a performance. It used to be that my hand would shake uncontrollably which made playing with a bow practically impossible. This time, however, I was almost detached from my performance which allowed me to focus on keeping relaxed and projecting the sound I desired. Interesting...not sure what I did to keep the nerves in check. Probably has a lot to do with #4.

6) My adult brain works slower than a high school kid's brain. I'm not as quick as I used to be...nor do I retain as much as I used to. I just have to accept it.

I stand at a the base of a huge mountain. I look up at the top of the mountain and start to climb. As I climb, the top of the mountain gets further and further away. This is what learning the cello feels like to me. However, it's hard to feel progress if you're looking up all the time. The biggest thing I learned this weekend is that sometimes you need to look down to see how far you've climbed....I noticed that I've actually climbed quite a ways. I spent the weekend picnicking on a spot up that mountain and the view....was quite nice!

Saturday, June 7, 2008

My four month break from lessons

Due to a lot of things going on in the first half of the year (mainly business/career) and the fact that I had felt like I had hit a wall in my lesons, I decided to suspend my lessons for a couple of months. The couple of months turned into four months and I just started back up again a month ago.

Although I took a break from lessons, I didn't take a break from playing. I still practiced from time to time and still played in a string quartet. With no lesson to work towards, my practice sessions became focused on relaxing my bow arm and bow hold, basically all the things that used to be stressed my lessons, and improving my tone. When I went back to my lessons, I was much more relaxed as it had been the primary focus during my time off.

This was such a nice thing and I would suggest it for anyone who feels like they've hit a wall in their lessons. I've taken many breaks during the seven years I've been studying the cello....some longer than others. I need mental breaks...and this break really helped me from feeling burnt out. After a month of lessons, I feel as I have made a dramatic improvement in my tone. I don't think I would have had this kind of improvement had I not taken the break. I'd still be obsessively trying to bust down that wall I was up against.

It's amazing what can happen when you take a moment to breathe before trying again.