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

Monday, March 30, 2009

Last week

Had my lesson this past weekend. I told D that I was having an "I hate cello" week. He said he doesn't ever have those. I corrected myself and said that I was having an "I hate ME on the cello" week. I think this bug must be going around - I seem to remember reading a few "down in the dumps" posts last week. To those who had that kind of week - you'll be happy to hear that my teacher (cello player extraordinaire) said that he has had plenty of those weeks. Nice to know that it happens to accomplished cellists as well.

I'm still kind of in it actually. Rising pollen level is making me sick and allergy pills make me a bit nauseous. I opened up an old etude, Popper #2, to procrastinate on practice. I discovered that this is not a good piece to play when you are feeling nauseous.

I hope "I hate me on the cello" week ends soon. I really need to get the Bach Prelude ready for public consumption. Right now..it is not even ready for self consumption.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Another performance

In an effort to not fall into a lull after spending months preparing the Haydn for a master class, I volunteered to play solo for a church service sometime in April or May. The people were really laid back and let me decide what I wanted to play. So I reached into my bag of "pieces I've been working on forever but still haven't gotten right" and decided on the Prelude to the Bach Cello Suite 3.

I remember when I first started it over 2 years ago. Learning the notes to the piece was never hard for me...in fact, I think I had it memorized within a month. The hard part for me was getting through the piece without pain. Yes, pain was what I had to overcome and here's some things I did to get the pain out of my playing.

First, my bow grip was seriously flawed. I was gripping the life out of the bow with my thumb. To keep the bow even and balanced while doing this, I had to engage my pinky to help keep the bow balanced. These two things made my right hand really sore halfway through the piece. Until recently, the bow has never been comfortable in my hand. One etude that has really helped with this is Popper etude #1. It's really a wrist etude but you can't really pull it off without having a good bow hold. My bow grip is not perfect but it's come a long way in the past two years. The proof? No more hand pain! So..if you're struggling with getting a comfortable bow grip, Popper #1 helped me a lot.

My body was tense. I was using muscles that really shouldn't be used when playing. Like - the jaw muscle? I clenched my jaw and my shoulders were tense while I played so I had to use other muscles to force the sound out. No wonder I was tired halfway through the Prelude! I realized that playing with tension is something a lot of cellists struggle with. I've had many teachers in the past but my current teacher is the only person to make this my primary focus when playing. This is such an important part of cello playing that I'm baffled that it took 6 years before someone mentioned tension to me. This is not to say that I now play with no tension. Unfortunately, 2 years of correction doesn't quite purge out 6 years of playing with tension but I'm much more aware of it now and can try to stop it when it happens. I've come a long way with it. The proof? I can play through the Prelude many times in practice with no pain. Feels nice!

Of course...being able to get through the entire piece without pain is only a baby step forward. The things I now have to overcome are much more elusive...phrasing, evenness and giving each note the full value of importance. Oh...the Bach Cello Suites...it's such a mountain to climb! You know a piece of music is complex when you can work on it for a few years and still be engaged.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Happy happy happy

I'm so insanely happy today. I feel so grateful for so many things. Since this is a cello blog - I'd like to give a shout out to my cello. How lucky am I to have found something that can instantly shut out the noise of emails, text messages, TV, internet, Facebook, blogs, news, etc.

A few hours on the cello makes my world peaceful again.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

It's beautiful but I can't enjoy it

I've been working on the Prelude to the Bach Suite 3 on and off for a couple of years now. The Bach suites are so beautiful but when I start to really work on them...the beauty of the pieces become secondary. What I mean by that is that while I am playing it, I am so focused on playing it beautifully that my enjoyment of the piece gets put on the shelf.

I used to dream about the day when I can really play something beautiful and how great that would feel to create such beautiful music. I guess I envisioned an emotional enjoyment very much like being a listener in the audience but that it would be even better because I would be the one creating that beauty. As I think about this further...it isn't like that at all. My teacher has talked a lot about not becoming emotionally tied to the music...that the enjoyment of the music belongs to the audience. As a player, you have to be somewhat detached from the piece so that you can deliver it with the correct intention.

As a listener, I used to enjoy the major change in the color halfway through the prelude of the 3rd suite. As a player, that same enjoyment isn't there anymore. I told D during the last lesson..."...this part this soooo beautiful but I can't enjoy it because I'm too focused on trying to keep it all even. Arghhh!" He said...."It'll be a few years before you enjoy that section..."

What I've realized is that my consumption of the music I play is different than being a listener...It isn't satisfying in the way I thought it would be. The enjoyment has shifted to an enjoyment that comes from being able to play the way I want it to sound....rather than enjoying the music produced by me. Maybe it'll change as I get better but it's so much less romantic this way!



Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The Master Class

I've had so many thoughts I'd like to post about my experience in a master class but have been too busy to sit down and write. I'm forcing myself to throw down the points I do remember before it all becomes a distant memory!

First of all, Emily was great! She braved crazy weather across the country to give us all such a great experience. Her master class was the inaugural meeting of the Atlanta Cello Project, started by my friend Ann. It is a group of cello enthusiasts in Atlanta..currently at 30+ members. The master class drew 15+ people even though we had a snow storm that day!

Without a lot of thought (and hopefully not too redundant), here are some observations from my experience in preparing for the master class:

1. I played the Haydn C, first mvt. I thought I had been working on this (on and off) for a year but in looking back at my blog..it's actually been 1.5 years! ha! It did get exponentially better in the weeks leading up to the class though. I'd say I really really worked on it in preparation for the master class for about 2 months.

2. Having this goal changed my practices. It forced me to work on the parts of this piece that were hard for me. I didn't have the luxury of ignoring them anymore. Runs that I thought were impossible had to become a possibility so I focused my practices on making the impossible possible. The other downside of brushing over problem areas for so long is that you actually train your ear to ignore the problem areas. My teacher pointed that out in many places. As if I didn't have enough to work on, I also had to re-train my ear to the hear the right thing.

3. The impossible did start becoming possible! It was interesting. Before, I couldn't fathom how I could ever play the harder parts with any consistency. If you work on it enough...it will come.

4. Positions that seemed physically impossible became possible as well. There were a few thumb position double stops that I just accepted as positions that my hand just does not do. Guess what? If you practice the position enough times...it does become 'not uncomfortable'. I learned to accept that uncomfortable positions can be comfortable with enough practice.

5. I have to start practicing with a metronome all the time. I did this in the month leading up to the master class but I still clipped my rhythms when I performed. If I started practicing with a metronome from the start - I wouldn't have had to un-practice the rhythm problems. Sounds easy enough but so hard to do. Why did I think that a month of practice with the metronome would undo the 1+ year of practicing it without?

6. Fix problem areas from the start instead of practicing the wrong way only to un-practice it later and repractice it the right way. I am doing this more in my practices. Un-practicing is SO boring so it is a pretty good motivator.

7. The best part? My lessons became more productive too. I had a goal...and because of that, my teacher had a goal. Lessons became focused as well.

I learned a lot from the experience and look forward to more opportunities like this!
I also enjoyed meeting Emily...after years of chatting with her via blog comments...it was nice to chat live.

Happy practicing!