Thursday, March 30, 2006

 

Sweet sounds from my cello, today


Each day sure can be different! Today I got the nicest sounds from my cello, especially the D and G strings, and even A sounded nice! Yesterday it was OK and I felt good about my playing, but today was just wonderful! My cello actually sounded like a real cello! I could hear ringing tones on almost all the notes I played! Even E (on D string) and B (on G string) sounded nice. I know at least some of it was that my fingers were automatically finding the right places (now, when they don't my ears immediately notice).

Why was it different today from the other days? Ambient conditions have been about the same the past week, so I don't think that was a factor - unless it took a week for the cello to optimize to the ambients(?) The only setup I did differently today was using less rosin on the bow (there sure is a lot of confusing information out there about rosin use!)

I played two and a half hours today - the longest run I've been able to manage without tiring. I put a lot of time in on chords at the beginning. Several days of slow playing "The Happy Farmer" and the "Minuet #2" paid off - I played them both largely error-free (still at a reduced tempo). I'm especially happy with my fingering/bowing coordination with those first measures of the Minuet. Finally! It felt so good, I kept playng it over and over just to enjoy the how smooth it sounded.

Then I played against the Rodney Farrar Fat Notes CD, for the first time. I used a mini-boombox with headphones, set the playback on repeat, and played the CD at full volume. Whew! I have a lot to do to get that right. My problem is that I had trouble keeping up with the tempo (I'd even lose the rhythm, once in a while); and it was hard to hear the CD over my own playing. But, I do think I can eventually get it right before the recital in 6 weeks - especially if I work on it daily. I started the new piece, Mary-Zuki Blues, and played it through several times. Not hard, mostly just repetitive - the problem for me is that the score is so confusing, it's hard to tell from the score what is happening next. I'd sure like to be able to see the whole thing laid out with all the parts combined. I'll try to lay it out using Finale Notepad, but I think it has too many limitations.

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Monday, March 27, 2006

 

Fifth Lesson


Nice drive to Homer, with clear skies and a bright sun. The snow-covered volcanoes across the inlet were sharply outlined against the blue sky. Cresting the hill just before dropping down into Homer revealed a spectacular view of the deep blue bay with all the white mountains surrounding it. It never ceases to amaze me; each time I wonder why I didn't drop everything and move there years ago. Imagine looking out my window every morning onto that vista... If someone could somehow "package" that view, they'd become a billionaire in no time. Simply remarkable, every time I see it!

We setup in the same small room at the church that we'd used before. I still had to sit on some bibles... (I think I'll go ahead and pick up one of those folding stools from Walmart next time I go to the big city).

The recital is scheduled for May 14, with a practice session or two - yet to be specified - before then. We worked through the pieces to be done in the recital - several are included in Rodney Yarrow's Fat Notes CD. We played several of these against the CD. My teacher told me to play at home with the CD on headphones, and to work at it until I can keep up with the recording. We also played several of the Suzuki pieces - especially the last four in the book. While I played better than I had before - she commented that my improvement was significant and that it was obvious that I am practicing regularly.

I have to stop trying to play everything through at tempo - at least until I've sorted out all of the difficult parts. For each tricky section, I need to break it down to the basic elements and play them slowly - very slowly - not trying to make music but just to get the fingering and bowing right. Then play it over and over up to 20 times each session - slowly - until I finally imprint the fingering and bowing patterns. Then I can gradually pick up speed. She also suggested using multi-syllable words instead of counting using the old 1-and-2-and: try "jel - lo" or "ice - cream", etc. It can't hurt to try it... I'm not doing very well counting in my head.

She also discouraged me from using the metronome for these new pieces - not to worry about the overall tempo yet. Instead imprint the timing and patterns then come back and work on the tempo.

On the hooked bowing for "The Happy Farmer", draw the bow out on the initial dotted quarter note "like a smile", pause and arc the bow to the right string, and then do a rapid eighth note (using only an inch or two of the remainder of the bow). Do this slowly, just those notes, until I've gotten that imprinted. Same with the Minuet #2, take the first two measures and play them v-e-r-y slowly, resetting the bow and then the fingers before making the next note. Do this over and over and over again, slowly.

Other suggestions include using greater pressure with my forefinger on the up bows - maybe slide my hand out just a bit to let that finger press harder - so the stick is pushed down almost to the hair. Keep up the daily workouts with the basic scales and arpeggios. Also she noticed I needed to relax and drop my right shoulder a bit when I'm playing the A string.

Next lesson in two weeks!

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Sunday, March 26, 2006

 

Spring encroaches, hesitantly


We found out that our new cat, Shadow, is actually a male! After all the effort - I downloaded lots of photos and descriptions from the internet, and even brought along some of the photos. But with absolutely no experience in gendering a cat, combined with an apparently dishonest owner (who clearly needed to get rid of the litter of kittens) and apparently only minor visible differences in very young kittens, we did not get the female that Y wanted. For myself, I could care less either way. But it sure is embarrasing... The vet says the cat is mostly a Russian Blue with polydactilism (extra toes).

I got a comment today from another cello blogger. He had done a search of blogs to see who posted a lot about cellos. It seems that we two are apparently the only bloggers who post regularly about cellos - a few cellists do apparently have blogs, but they don't really talk much about their music-making. He linked my blog on his blog's sidebar, and I updated my sidebar's link to his blog. Today, he posts an interesting question: "Why Are There So Few Cello Blogs?" It's always been weird that people I don't even know can read my blog, but now that this might also include people I'm electronically acquainted with, it has become even stranger...

After a three week hiatus, I have another cello lesson tomorrow! Yea! Although I've been playing my cello steadily - usually two hours a day - since the last lesson, it's pretty hard to "sense" each incremental change. I'm looking forward to feedback from my teacher, to find out what specific things I can work on, along with suggestions for how to approach them.

Since I've been studying major chord progressions in my self-study theory lessons, I wrote out a few of them (C Major and D Major) as arpeggios including some inversions - using Finale Notepad - to try out. It helps me incorporate the theory of these progressions, as well as doing new fingering drills that combine logically correct and harmonically pleasing notes. And it helps imprint my fingers with their exact locations on the fingerboard. I've been working with Mel Bay's Finger-Fun Exercises - primarily on the A & D Second Finger pages - each line from five to ten times, starting slow and picking up speed. This helps me learn the exact intonations (finding those the ringing sounds), as well as practice sight reading.

Lately I've been wondering if maybe I do have a wolf in my cello after all - between E and F on the D string, just slightly above E - so if I'm the slightest bit sharp on my E intonation, the wolf howls. When I do find the exact E, the cello produces a beautiful, solid tone! Some days, the whole string feels like it's howling, while other days I don't hear one anywhere. It feels like the bow isn't grabbing the string as it should and is "slipping loose" too soon, making a squeak.

Maybe this has to do with what happened to my new rosin? I was storing the rosin in a box under a south-facing window, that gets direct sunlight during the winter, but without much heat. Then, earlier this week we had a brief stretch of clear, warm days with a lot of direct sunlight on these windows - in hindsight, it probably got pretty hot inside that box. Right afterwards, I noticed that the rosin cake seemed to have shrunk - especially around the sides. I'm guessing some of the oil evaporated from the rosin. I stopped storing it there, but I'm afraid the damage is done. The drier rosin seems to make my bow squeak more - especially on the two upper strings, and lately a lot more rosin dust is left on the face of my cello. So I'm not sure if this "wolf" really isn't just the effect of that too-dry rosin. The only way to be sure is to get some new, soft, cello rosin. I'll call Ellen at Cellos2Go.com, tomorrow.

Z has signed up for the school track team this spring. That means we get to drive to town (35 miles RT) every day for a whole month to pick him up after practice! Still, we're happy to see him getting involved. We went to a high school orientation last week. Z signed up for Spanish. He should do quite well in that subject. I'm disappointed that the school continues the practice of allowing the A & B students to skip exams. Many kids will graduate without ever taking an exam! College will be a double shock. It's already a shock enough for any high school kid, but those first exams have to be something! The least the school should do is require the kids to take the exam even if not for credit. Most of them will push themselves to do well. I tried to talk to them about my concerns, but it was clear they all just accept the status quo. I suggested, to no avail, that they survey some of their alumni to see whether it really is a bonus or an unnecessary impediment to their college career.

Comments:
Hey, I'm a cello-blogger as well! Although I write in Dutch and I also write about a lot of other stuff than cello-related things. And I know of at least one other Dutch blogger who writes the occasional cello post.
 
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Sunday, March 19, 2006

 

A bit later



I've been taking time off from the daily grind of having to think up something for this blog. Supposedly to refresh my mind with all sorts of new ideas... It didn't work. I'm still at a loss for ideas. Maybe I'm not the man of letters I'd always assumed I was. Held back by the pressures of a daily job, etc.; unable to free my hidden talents...

So about my cello playing then. I've been working steadily at the same pieces for the last two and a half weeks, now. Each day, the same material. I vary the order of pieces, and sometimes I'll even (gasp) skip one or two, just because I've gotten so bored with them - even though I know I can improve on my intonation and bowing, etc. I'd say I was in a rut, but I've been making steady progress with the newer pieces. Today, I played the Schuman piece, "The Happy Farmer" through without error, and I've worked through most of the Bach "Minuet #2". I still don't have the key licks down right, yet, but I can play through them at a reduced tempo largely error free. I've worked through the rest of the piece, including the new 4th Finger Extension (to G#) pretty much cleanly. I feel it coming together. In a few more weeks, I should be able to play it through at tempo and error free. The Etude and Rigadoon are going quite well. I'm working on quality, now, with them.

Still the repertoire is SO BORING, I run through it in about an hour or so and then what? Lately I've returned to the Mel Bay Finger Exercises for the last 30 to 45 minutes of my playing - focusing on the 2nd finger workouts on A and D strings. It is really helping me find the right ringing in the notes, and training my fingers. Today, I spent about 15 minutes doing some free range playing, just to see if anything new came out - Red River Valley, and a simple tune I recognized but don't remember the name.

After waiting two weeks for the new ($395) bow, it finally arrived last Wednesday. Nice. I could feel the difference just in the balance and bounce. It may or may not play better - I'm not a good enough player to be able to really tell the difference (I think it sounded better). I decided to keep the better of the two bows that came with the new cello; for when I do have to send the good one off for rehairing. I'll then be able to continue playing at the somewhat the same level. I sent the cheaper one back to Ifshin.

I really love the sound from my cello, although I still struggle a little with the A string, mostly the open A and B. From C up it sounds pretty good. On A & B it sounds nasal and whiney, no matter what I try. I called Cellos2Go and talked with the owner about various strings. She suggested I consider Crowns (relatively inexpensive and she thought they might be a little less harsh) for the A & D. I really like the sound from D, so I might just use the A, and keep the D as a backup. I also ordered a new music set (Fat Notes, by Rodney Yarrow) book and CD. My teacher uses it and suggested I might want to consider it. Yeah, new possibilities for my sessions. I'll talk with her about which ones I should start with and try not to get ahead of my Suzuki work. I also don't want to put aside Suzuki, but it sure would be nice to be working a few more pieces...

I've spent a bit more time on the ICS chat room, meeting several people from all over the world. Interesting. Some are beginners - adult and student, some are professionals, etc. A wide mix. Many are regulars who are quite familiar with one another. I've gotten to "know" a few rather interesting people. It's still hard to relax and loosen up. Even though I'll probably never meet these people directly, it's hard to go ahead and be myself. Once in a while I'll lose those inhibitions and have fun, but then someone new comes on and I'll feel awkward and self-intimidated once again. But I've had several hours of good fun, too.

Comments:
Hi there--

I found your blog through its link to my videos. Great work--I'm looking forward to reading the previous 100 posts! I've put a link to your blog in the new "cello links" area of my blog's sidebar.

All best,

Eric
 
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Monday, March 13, 2006

 

I've decided to stop posting daily


After 100+ daily posts, I've actually run out of things to say. I've documented my thoughts about learning the cello, I've documented every day of my progress, I've ranted about several current events issues, I've described some of the day-to-day activities of my family. Lately, though, I've gotten to where I sort of dread thinking up what to say - it's like a punishment. I will try to update regularly - at least weekly, but this is the end of my obsession to post something every da

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Sunday, March 12, 2006

 

Chat Room


I logged onto the chat room on the Internet Cello Society's Cello Chat forum, for the first time a week or so ago and I've been back three or four times since then. It seems like the same people hang out there. It's kind of wierd, talking to complete strangers. At times I feel as if I've got nothing to add and then I feel as if I'm just eavesdropping and really shouldn't be there. Other times, I'd like to say more, but then I feel as if I'm dominating the conversation. It's sort of difficult keeping up, especially if there are a lot of different conversations going on at the same time. Then for a while, nobody talks and it begins to feel weird... Several times the same people were on, the largest group was 8, the smallest was 2.

Today, after playing for an hour and a half - with satisfying results - I went ahead and installed the new Dominant A string in place of the Spirocore. It sounded different - a little brighter but also somewhat fuller and richer; but all in all only a subtle difference. Then I went through some more 2nd finger exercises (this time on the D string) in the Mel Bay Finger Fun workbook.

I wrote a long email to a cello teacher from Finland, who asked for adults' experiences learning to play the cello. Why did we start? What changes to self-image, and self-satisfaction? etc. I wrote him a short book...

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Saturday, March 11, 2006

 

Quiet, boring day



Since Z was gone to a friend's cabin for the weekend, we just hung around doing nothing. The @#$%^&* internet was down most of the day - it only came back up about an hour ago. So after playing my cello this morning, I spent the afternoon listening to Yo-Yo Ma and then Rasputina while I finished the latest library book. It was a bit unusual, the misadventures of a clueless middle aged Chinese student of French and Psychology, who was trying to get his supposed girlfriend out of jail. Really strange, but enjoyable.

Tonite I finally saw "Y Tu Mama, Tambien", a highly regarded low-budget Mexican movie, in subtitles. It was really good...

I felt really good about my cello today. I feel like I'm getting smoother sounds from some of the pieces. I felt like I was hitting the notes more cleanly, too. Even though I have a new Dominant A string, I'm going to hold off on installing it for a while to see if the Spirocore A continues to sound better (it did sound better today than yesterday). Rigadoon went great! So did the Etude. Even The Happy Farmer went well - still not yet up to tempo. I'm advancing on the Bach(!) Minuet 2, step by step. After a while, I switched over to Mel Bay's Finger Fun Workbook and worked on the "A string, 2nd Finger" page.

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Friday, March 10, 2006

 

A new water heater


Twelve years ago I installed a "tankless" water heater that ran on fuel oil. Since we were using fuel oil to run the heaters, it seemed like a good idea - it should be cheaper to run than an electric heater. The best part was that we always had hot water whenever we needed it. We could take long showers fill the Jacuzzi., whatever, without having to wait for the water to heat up again. It has been acting up lately, shutting down in the middle of a bath, etc. This morning it wouldn't start at all. So we went and bought a new one. Of course every one of the connections was in a different location, so it took all day to install it.

Y didn't get a chance to shower this morning, so the weight was pretty heavy on me to get the new one installed - that meant I didn't get to play my cello this morning. Finally, this evening, I managed to find a couple hours to play "off the book". Since I had missed yesterday's playing, I felt a bit rusty. But after a while I got it smoothed out and played a while in the dark.

We've been enjoying watching the kitten run up and attack the dog. She still doesn't quite understand that we don't like her attacking us the same way, but now that she's gotten over her fear of the dog, she treats it like a big toy to play with - regardless of whether the dog is interested or not.

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Thursday, March 09, 2006

 

Returned the rental cello


I took the rented cello back to the strings store and got a two month reimbursement. I don't feel very comfortable in that store, for some reason. They seem too busy and I felt (my insecurity talking here) as if they were in too much of a hurry to process me and push me out. I did talk to them a few minutes with them about alternative A strings. The guy I talked to claimed he'd never heard of the Jay-Haide cellos(!) He recommended I try a Thomastik Dominant (synthetic core) A string. I figured it was worth a test run. It will probably take a little while to get used to it - since they apparently stretch - especially at first.

I didn't get to play today :( since we had to drive to Anchorage. It was a good drive, with hardly any traffic. It was a clear, sunny day, -10 at home when we left, but +25 by the time we got to Anchorage. We made our usual rounds - WalMart, Costco, a few sewing stores, Lowes, I-Hop. Then home.

I got stopped by a Trooper on the way home - I was supposedly driving 71 in a 55 zone (I thought I was driving more like 68). This is a 25 mile stretch with very few curves, in reasonably good condition, with no sideroads, nor any sights for rubberneckers to slow down and look at. EVERYBODY drives 65 along here since the Seward highway, just 15 miles back, is a 65 mph road. It doesn't make sense that the "powers-that-be" haven't rebranded at least this stretch to 65. I guess they need it so the Troopers can make their quotas. For whatever reason, the guy who stopped me only gave me a lecture but didn't write me up for what he said would have been a $150 ticket! Yea! The gods were smiling on me today...

I'm still waiting for my new bow from Ifshin Violins. I assumed they'd be sending it out 2nd day air, but apparently not. I guess I'll call them tomorrow to get a tracking number.

That's it for today... I'm burned out.

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Wednesday, March 08, 2006

 

Progress


I felt energized about my progress on the Bach Minuet #2 today. I played through it slowly but completely, with hardly any problems. It will take a while to get the new 4th finger extension move to work smoothly (I sort of played through that part quickly, not worrying yet about accuracy). It will take a while to play that initial melodic phrase smoothly, since it involves three strings over 9 notes... but I clearly felt like I made real progress today... Same with the Schuman piece. Progress! Also, I worked very carefully on repeating all the key fingering steps, afterwards. And, I played Rigadoon cleanly!

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Tuesday, March 07, 2006

 

100 Posts!


That means I've played my cello for 100 days! Cool!

Z finally got his braces off today, after two long years (for this last round). I have to hand it to him; he never complained, griped, or whined about them - not once. Once or twice they did ache a bit after an adjustment, but instead of whining, he'd ask for a Tylenol. It sure made a difference in his facial appearance - now his jaw is even and regular, and his teeth are straight and even. Tomorrow he gets his retainer. Getting him to wear that on a regular basis may yet be a problem.

I worked long and hard today on the Bach Minuet #2, and the Schuman piece, but I have a long way to go before either one even sounds close to that CD. The good news is that I am finally sensing some progress... I am able to run through Rigadoon and the Etude without any errors. Now, I'm working on improving the sound in those and all the other pieces...

I've avoided doing much griping lately about political things, but I've got to say something about this teacher in Colorado who compared Bush to Hitler. Tonite, he's shaved his head (to better fit in with his "crowd"), and is quickly backpeddling - everything he was saying was intended to stimulate discussion and make his class think! Bull! Was anybody surprised that Matt Lauer pitched him a bunch of softballs on the Today show - after all, he's saying what al-NBC seems to believe?

Here's a guy whose let his position as a cool, popular teacher go to his head. He gets up and preens in front of his classroom and apparently likes to hear himself talk. Not only was what he was saying way off the mark in normal situations, but to rant and rave like this in front of a room full of impressionable high school sophomores (half of whom are probably so infatuated with him they'd do whatever he asked in order to get approval) is just wrong! I really doubt many of his students have the courage to tell him he's out of line. Kudos to the one who did!

With HS teachers running amok like this, is it any surprise that the UW Student Council voted against putting up a monument on their Seattle campus honoring WWII Ace Fighter Pilot and Medal of Honor winner, Pappy Boyington - because he was a killer! What has gone wrong with our HS curriculum? They've become so PC that our war heros are now being condemned for being killers rather than honored for the sacrifice, the sweat, the gut wrenchin fear that they lived with on a daily basis for years, when their only goal was to stay alive. What a croc!

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Monday, March 06, 2006

 

Another good day with my new cello,


but then any day is a good day, when I play my cello...

I played for 2-1/2 hours in two sessions this morning, over in my bedroom. I'm not sure whether I like playing there or the living room better. It is different, with different sounds. Over there, it sounds bigger, somehow. With the door closed I'm more or less cut off from the rest of the house, and I feel less inhibited about playing a lot louder.

I did all sorts of warmups bowing double notes, scales, intervals, and then I moved through the first 3/4 of the book, playing most of the pieces in three keys. I'm getting the intonations better and better. Now I'm working on how they sound, trying to use cleaner bowings.

After a break I went back and worked on the last four pieces. I started each one out very, very slowly until I could play through it cleanly. Then, and only then did I pick up the pace a bit. I'm focusing now on the Minuet #2, doing it a little differently this time. I played the A parts slowly and picked up the pace some for the easier B and C parts. Then I started working on the second half, just playing it slowly - trying to imprint the new fingering and rhythm on my muscles. One part requires extending the fourth finger up one semitone to G#. The first finger stays on E (rolling a bit to its side), while the third moves to G and the second up to F# - the thumb moves with the second finger. I worked on just trying to find the new position using my third finger on G as a marker. This is going to take some work.. I still have a long way to go on the whole piece, but maybe by my next class - in 3 weeks - I'll be able to play it through for S.

I seem to be developing the bad habit of not reading along in the score as I play. Not only does this make me get lost more often - usually on the newer pieces - although I am memorizing it better; but I am actually more concerned that I am failing to properly develop and coordinate my music reading skills as I advance in the type of music I am playing. I've read about concerns that Suzuki students are not able to read music very well - this may be why. And yet, it gets harder to look at the music when you know it so well after playing it over and over again. Hmm, maybe this is a good topic for Cellists by Night...

I called my strings salesman, J, and thanked him and everyone else at Ifshin Violins of Berkeley for my new cello. I told him that it had arrived frozen after bouncing around all day in the back of the UPS delivery truck at -20F. Also, I told him that before opening the box and taking it out of the case, I let it thaw slowly for several hours - doing what little I could at that point to stop it from cracking due to a sudden temperature change.

I told him my teacher was quite impressed with its appearance as well as its sound. I told him I was very happy with its sound and with its feel and that I am looking forward to making beautiful music with it. I told him I am keeping it. He said he'd pass my comments along to the luthier, Haide Lin.

I then said that I was surprised that the upgraded bow I had ordered the previous Friday wasn't included; instead I got the original bow. J put that other guy on the line, and he apologized and promised to send out the new one today, and that I could return the other one in the same case.

Cello Chat has been having a discussion about rosin types, where several people commented they had switched from a rosin for violins to a rosin for cellos. Ifshin included cello rosin with the cello, but I hadn't tried it yet. I will tomorrow...

I plowed the driveway today, yesterday's snow was wet but it cleaned up quite easily. The longer days and brighter sun melted a lot of this latest snow off the roof and deck, but I still had to shovel around the cars. Spring is still five weeks off...

Comments:
I agree. Any day is a good day when I get to play the uke. I should be cleaning up the house or doing something useful, but I get lost in the music for hours. I love it. :)
 
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Sunday, March 05, 2006

 

A silk cloak for my cello


Today, Y made a silk case for my cello out of burgundy silky nylon. It fits over the neck like a Tee shirt with drawstrings to pull it closed at the neck and the bottom. It sure looks rich! She also made a slipcover out of black velvet for one of my bows. The other bow will get a case from a dark green velvet.

I decided to upgrade my bow. I'll call the strings store in California tomorrow and tell them I'm keeping the cello, for sure, and then talk about bows in general. I may just return the $225 one, keep the $65 one, and then look at bows in Anchorage when I return the rental later this week.

I played about 2-1/2 hours today, in two sessions. Of course I played through Rigadoon without any trouble - I told my teacher it would happen that way (she laughed - I guess it's pretty common). I worked pretty hard on the four latest pieces - including the second half of the Bach Minuet #2. I tried playing some of the songs in pizzicato and also worked on intervals. It was a good day. I tried to use my mental posture checklist several times and it seems to help...

I bought a humidifier today for the living room. I'd heard so many horror stories about cellos coming apart at the seams in dry climates... The dampits seem to work pretty well inside the case, but I don't always have the case closed.

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Saturday, March 04, 2006

 

Another lesson


Number 4. She was running somewhat late so I quietly setup my new cello while she finished the other lesson. As soon as the kid started packing up she asked to try it out. Wow, did it sound good! She ran through several appeggios and the like in several registers. She seemed surprised not to find any wolf - but said "there might be one just above G# on the D string". She suggested that the cello might have been "designed" with its wolf-tone outside the normal tones.

She said she was very impressed with it, that it had a really nice sound. When I told her I had an option to return it, she immediately said "keep it!" She told me it has Jargar steel core strings, "forte" on the lower and "softer" on the uppers. She suggested I might eventually consider gut strings for the lower two, but to keep the uppers. I said I didn't like the A string, but was willing to see if it will break in (the A did sound much better when she played it). If not, I'll just have to buy another brand and try it out until I find what works best on this cello. She just bought a full set of Pisastres ($120). It sounded much brighter, more dynamic than when I last heard it.

She played my cello with her bow first, then mine. My bow didn't produce anywhere near the quality of sound her bow did. I didn't realize how much difference the bow makes. I'm thinking I might go ahead and ask the strings store in California to send me a higher model (in exchange for the $65 backup bow).

We started by playing several of the pieces in the early repertoire that will be played in the upcoming recital. It's tentatively planned for Sunday, May 14 - Mother's Day. The recital will include her students, her husband's, and those of a friend who also teaches violin. Only a handful of cellos, with a viola thrown into our group. We'll play four pieces - and maybe a fifth one.

I played OK on several of today's selections, but on Rigadoon (which I got down pretty good this morning at home) I kept losing my place. Nerves - she said that the better I get with the piece, the easier it will be to play. She pointed out that the Suzuki method differs from the others in that you work on the same pieces until you get very good at them. We will even come back to several of them in later books. Other systems tend to move along quickly, which means that while you end up able to play a lot of pieces you never quite get that good at it.

She liked my bow hold! I told her I struggled to find it and showed her the pictures that I copied and hung on my music stand. My left arm position was pretty good, but still needs a little work. I do need to work on my left hand position over the fingerboard. My pinkie should be held curved above the string - I was reaching out with it, so it was extended straight. The way to fix that was to move the wrist parallel to the forearm, and keep the forearm up.

We talked about making a mental checklist to regularly try to run through while playing - left fingers curled and thumb relaxed, wrist straight, forearm elevated, left shoulder relaxed, jaw relaxed, right shoulder relaxed, bow arm relaxed and pivoting at the elbow, wrist straight, fingers loose while curled over the bow, thumb curled into the frog.

I've got a new exercise to work on that will help me learn to better "feel" the intervals. Spend some time playing fifths, then fourths, and thirds (varying rhythms and tempos - and intervals). At first on neighboring strings bowing both together - double-stopped - (harmonically), and then separately (melodically), using a variety of bowing techniques (e.g., two notes in each direction). Then, eventually I'll play melodic intervals all over the map.

Now I'm starting the extended fourth finger on the second half of the Bach Minuet #2. This involves holding the forefinger in place while sliding the rest of the hand - including the thumb - one semitone out toward the bridge (up the scale). The third finger moves to the harmonic (usually the fourth finger's normal place), and the fourth finger automatically drops into the new note, a half step up. But don't move the forefinger - that would make it a shift, and we're not ready to start shifting, yet...

She cancelled our lesson for the 13th, and it appears I'll have to wait until the 27th for the next one (three weeks). I should be "pretty good" on several more pieces by then. My goal is to play the Bach Minuet #2 clean-through!

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Friday, March 03, 2006

 

Continuing to enjoy my new cello






What a nice sound it makes! I am making pure, positive tones that seems to make the cello almost purr on most of the notes - the difference is quite striking with the third finger (E on C-string, B on G-string, F# on D-string, and C# on A-string). I haven't found any wolf-tones yet. Supposedly "every cello has a wolf" but I read one person's comment that his Jay-Haide surprisingly had no wolf on it.

I played two hours and stopped only when my hands got too tired to move anymore. I sure wish I could build up my stamina... Today, for the first time, I played the entire Rigadoon piece flawlessly at the proper tempo. I think I've gotten the bow hold mostly correct, and when I think about it, my left arm seems to be close to the right elevation and angle.

I played around with some of the higher tones today. I've been resisting trying to find them on the scratchy plywood box, but this cello sounds so sweet that I've been drawn to experiment with the higher parts of the fingerboard. It will take years of practice to be able to hit these notes cleanly every time, but I'll sure appreciate them when they do come.

Looks like I've picked up a subcontract with my friend R, who has her own consulting business and has tossed a bit of work my way off and on these past two years. She called today to tell me that she met with a big client who wants someone to put together a major report that summarizes the past two years of field studies. Lots of money has been spent so far and they want a top quality job. R convinced them we (meaning me, primarily - she's too busy) were just right for the job. That's going to mean a lot of $. And I mostly get to work from home...

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Thursday, March 02, 2006

 

I love my new cello


It is so fine! The whole instrument hums with a rich, warm, throaty voice when I play it. I especially like the D and G strings, and C is much better than the rental was, but I'll need to get used to the A string. They say it can take a week or so of regular playing to "break in" a new string. The action (the height of the strings above the fingerboard) is much smaller at the nut, so I don't have to use near as much finger pressure to stop a note. In fact, I think I'll be able to play without the rubber fingertip cot that I've been using. It seems so much easier to play; I felt like I was getting the right notes in the right rhythm with fewer errors.

Afterwards, I closely inspected the whole cello with my magnifyer goggles, examining every seam and fitting. I noticed that the little cylindrical "ball" on the end of the A string, which fits into the notch on the fine tuner on the tailpiece, was off-center; so I loosened the string and reset it. But I didn't get a chance to try it out. I wanted to play for many hours, but I had a lot of other things to get done today.

My teacher called and we rescheduled my class for this Saturday at noon. I told her about my new cello and said I was hoping she'd like it as much as I do. I described my sensations so far, and she said it was not uncommon for a student to play better when their instrument sounded better. She said they always encourage their students to get the best cello they can afford for that very reason.

We stopped at a fabric store in town today and bought several yards of a dark burgundy nylon/silk material. Y is going to make a slipcover for my cello. When I come up with a name (currently, I'm thinking about Arthur, Ellwood, or Anya), she'll embroider that onto the cover. It will slide down over the neck like a tee-shirt with a slip cord to pull the bottom closed around the endpin. We also got a piece of dark green velvet and some black velvet to make slipcovers for each of the bows. I don't expect that this will protect them from physical damage, but they'll help keep everything cleaner and at a more consistent humidity. And it will also keep the rosin dust from spreading all over the case.

I can't wait to play again tomorrow. I feel like I made a lot of progress today on my four newest pieces. Still a long way to go, but I'm getting there. I even started picking out the final piece in the book (Bach's Minuet in C). Tomorrow I'm going to take some pics and post them on Cello Heaven.

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Wednesday, March 01, 2006

 

It's here! : )


After waiting ALL day for the UPS truck to come, it finally showed up at about 5:00. Laying on the cold floor in the back was a large cardboard box, with a "This End Up" label on the side (that end wasn't up), and "Fragile" written all over it. One corner of the box had been ripped and taped over. My heart sank when I saw that, so I took several photos, just in case. But when I opened the box, the cello case inside was intact and appeared to have been well packed.

I slowly opened the case to find my new cello laying there with no apparent damage or problems. It made me so happy to see it sitting there, almost smiling at me! The two dampits inside the cello were frozen, so I put them in warm water for a while and then put them back inside the cello and closed the case for several hours to let it acclimate to the room temperature/humidity levels in the house. The second guy at the strings store was supposed to have upgraded the bow but he didn't. At first I was unhappy, but then I was OK with the one I have. I'm nowhere near good enough yet to worry about a higher grade bow.

After a few hours I took it out of the case and carefully tuned it up (tightening each string a little bit at a time, one after the other, until they all reached their proper tunings). Then I played a few scales. WOW! What a difference! I couldn't believe how much smoother it sounded - cleaner, warmer, richer. The D and A strings were pure, with none of the screeching and buzzing that the old one had. Every note sounded so much better...

The buzzing on my rented cello was so annoying today, that I had to stop playing after an hour and a half. It was so distracting that I couldn't concentrate. I looked all over it, but I couldn't pin down the source...

I did find a good place to keep the case in my living room. I'll have to move a bookcase a few inches to make a slot for it against the wall. I'll also take some more detailed photos.

I can't wait to start making music with my new cello, tomorrow!

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