Thursday, May 04, 2006


A good buy on used Cello CDs

Title Wave Books, in Anchorage, has a great selection of second-hand classical music CDs, priced at about half the list-price. This past Saturday I searched through their bins for cello music. I ended up with two handfuls, and regrettably had to put back more than half of them. Tough decision.

I ended up buying:
1) a 2CD set of Pablo Casals (!) playing the Bach Cello Suites (recorded in 1930);
2) a 2CD set of Pierre Fournier playing the Bach Cello Suites (recorded in 1960);
3) Pierre Fournier playing Saint Saens' Cello Concerto (and The Swan), Schubert's Arpeggione, and Tchaikovsky's Variations;
4) Jacqueline duPre playing Dvorak's Concerto in B minor, and Haydn's Concerto in C;
5) Jacqueline duPre playing Chopin's Cello Sonata in G minor, and Franck's Sonata in A.

Already, I've listened to Casals' Bach pieces, duPre's Dvorak Concerto, and Fournier's Saint Saens piece. Since I already had CDs of Yo-Yo Ma's Bach Suites, and Fournier's version of Dvorak, I am recognizing considerable differences between these famous cellists's renderings. I've nowhere near the "ear" necessary to make any substantial comments on these differences - some I like a lot, others are just different.

The best part of driving the 75 miles to my lessons every two weeks is that I get to surround myself with music. My old Subaru has a wonderful stereo system that fills me with the sound. I've always liked it better than my home system, and I used to preview new music in my car on the way to work, transferring it to the home system after I'd listened several times. Hmm... Maybe this is why I do so poorly at the rehearsals and my lessons - after filling my head with so much good music for an hour or so on the way down, I become far too self conscious of my own quality when I try to play. Then to compound my feelings of inadequacy, right afterwards, I once again immerse myself in great music on the way home.

Also, while in Anchorage, I bought a lightweight folding metal stool from WalMart for $11.45. When I got home I cut about 3" off each leg, lowering the stool to 21", which is just about the right height for me and my cello. I took it to the rehearsal. It worked great! Although it didn't help my playing (as if), at least I was more comfortable in my agony. I might have been a little better this time, but only marginally. I just don't get it. At home, I can play these pieces backwards, forwards, fast, slow, pizzicato, loud, soft, whatever. But as soon as we sit down together I "lose" my place on the fingerboard, I forget my bowing, I lose my place in the pieces... I don't think it's nervousness or jitters, but maybe... Once I can't locate my fourth-finger on the string - the rest is downhill. I KNOW that I'm off, and since my cello sounds so rich, I'm worried I overpower ther rest of the room, and then its over.... On the other hand, I sure can tell those rare moments when I doi hit the right note! It sounds so sweet!

The other day, I read a thread on Cello Chat talking about tuning systems. Someone mentioned they play against a drone, which helps them with their intonation. Tuners that play drone sounds apparently only play a single note. I remembered running across a website about Cello Drones . Their drone sounds (one for each key) are compositions of three octaves and two fifths, so they are quite a bit more complex and rich sounding. For each major key, I downloaded 30 second mp3 samples that I can play on Windows Media Player using the replay.

I started off running the D drone on the computer and then playing the open D string and then the D scale, and some D arpeggios (and later the same routine with G and C). I "feel" as if I can get a sweeter sound with the drone accompaniment; as if I can find the right spots for almost all the notes in that scale. Then I started playing through each of the pieces using the appropriate drone for its key. Maybe it's just wishful thinking, but I felt as if I sounded better... I'll have to talk with my teacher about this at my next lesson Monday. (I'm hoping she'll approve...)

I am getting pretty far along already with the first piece in Suzuki 2 (the variation on Long Long Ago). I'm playing it with pizzicato, then bowing the rhythm on open strings, and finally together, slowly...

Even though at any single moment in time, I can look at my playing and feel so inadequate, when I look back at where I was five months ago, I have come quite a ways. EVERYBODY says that practice and patience over time is the only way to get better. Even some of the most experienced cellists in the business comment about how they feel so inadequate sometimes and feel as if they've got so much yet to learn! Yikes! If I'm never going to be able to feel good about my playing, why am I doing this?

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