Monday, May 08, 2006


Lesson 8 and Our Final Rehearsal

The church was being remodeled, so at the last minute we setup in a small room in the basement. Although the room was crowded, the closeness helped us hear each other and the whole group better. I played A LOT better today - maybe because of the different, more intimate setting; or maybe because I have practiced the hell out of these pieces over the last week. I found my octave notes with my little finger more often than not, which let me find the rest of the notes when I needed them. Normally at home, my second finger intonation isn't that bad, but I was quite a bit sloppier in the rehearsal - I could feel the difference, and was sometimes even able to correct it.

There will be over 200 people attending - in addition to we nine cellists, there are at least 20 violinists, with a duet and a string quartet as well. Wow! At least the cellos go first, so I won't have to sit through all the other performances dreading my turn, and I might even be able to recover enough from my debacle to enjoy the rest of the program.

In my other life, I gave many hour-long presentations (sometimes followed by active question and answer sessions) to large groups of people - usually professionals, peers, sometimes hundreds of them. When I first started, I was scared s....less! But after a while, I was able to do it effortlessly, and usually off the top of my head (talking off a handfull of slides that only showed key points). I began to enjoy the challenge, and, as long as I was well prepared, I "performed" quite well.

This recital is the same thing in some ways, but also different. I probably still have some nervousness about being on display - same as when I first started my public speaking in the late 80s. But the difference is that when I gave presentations, I knew my topic better than anybody else, often I was The Expert. All I had to do to prepare was to decide what I wanted to get across, write up some key points on a few slides and then talk through them - relaxed, walking around a bit on the podium, looking around the audience, etc. The difference with this recital is that I am NOT EXPERT in the pieces; far from it, I'm only barely capable.

In the lesson, we played through the three fiddle pieces I'd been tackling. In "Hunting the Hare", I've been having trouble playing the quarter-eighth, eighth-eighth-eighth, combinations. She suggested I play the quarter notes as two hooked-bow eighth notes, so it's "paired" eighth note gets the right amount of emphasis. But this should only be done briefly, until I've gotten the rhythm - then I have to recombine them back into the appropriate quarter notes as soon as possible. She also suggested I try counting aloud as I play - using some of the mnemoics - such as "mis-sis-sip-pi" or "straw-ber-ry", etc.

In "Country Gardens" I'm also short-shrifting the dotted eighth note and putting too much on the sixteenth. She suggested I try it slowly, counting (or saying) the four-beat aloud, with the dotted eighth getting three beats and the fourth for the sixteenth. Also, work on the three or four difficult passages, separately, using pizzicato.

In "Parson's Farewell", just keep working on it. Count, play pizzicato, and then slowly, slowly, slowly.

We also played through the three rehearsal pieces, several times. At one point, after I felt I had really blown it on one piece, I told her I could do it better, and played through it again, far better. We worked on "Happy Farmer". I have to practice all the string crossings, slowly, not playing the new note until the bow was properly set on the new string (I'd been starting the new note before completing the bow change) using my elbow more to move the bow in these crossings.

Then we worked on the new piece, "Long, Long, Ago" in the new key (C Major); I played it OK and then muddled through the variation - not that badly. She was complimentary that I already had it memorized. We worked on the hooked bowing - playing slowly on the up bows, bite the bow into the string, move it enough to push out a brief sound, stop, reset the bow (when needed) and then bite into the next note as before. The idea is to leave a small pause after each note, while keeping the combined note and pause within the allotted beat. Each spicatto note should be short, quick, and momentarily intense.

We talked about using all of the assorted rhythms from this and the other pieces on the various scales. It will be nice to have something different to break the monotony.

All in all, I feel pretty good about today's playing, both in the rehearsal and the lesson.

I told her about the drones I'd found on the internet (I told her about downloading 30-second MP3 snippets and playing them on repeat with Windows Media Player - I agreed to send her the link). She showed me drones in her tuner. I asked if it was OK to play against it. She said she practiced with drones in college, and thought it helped with intonation. For now, at least, I'll use them during scales and warmups.

Concert next Sunday! I am supposed to arrive about 1:30, or so.

I really enjoyed reading your blog. I just started cello again after 30 something years and have found that it's not like driving--it doesn't "come right back!" Congratulations on your new Jay Haide, thankyou for standing up for the conservatives on the cello boards, and can you please give the story behind the giant rabbit--they don't make them that big in South Carolina! Hope your recital goes well!
Thanks for the feedback. As for the giant rabbit, I found the picture on the internet during Easter season. Apparently the guy is a rabbit breeder from Germany. I'd never seen a rabbit this large before - I'm still not 100% convinced it isn't a kid's stuffed toy.
Recital in a few hours....
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