Sunday, August 06, 2006


DeVere Quartet

Friday night the DeVere Quartet and friends gave a concert in Soldotna. As I predicted, less than 70 people attended, but we were in for a treat. Eric Gustafson, of the quartet, started off with an interesting viola solo by Miklos Rozst, and then joined with Hakan Tayga-Hromek on cello for a Duo for Viola and Cello by Walter Piston. Then, in an interesting - and at times challenging - combination of cello, viola, violin, clarinet, flute, and piano, we were treated to a performance of "Chamber Symphony for Six Players" by Ellen Taappe Zwilich. Mark Robinson conducted Gustafson, Tayga-Hromek, Bill Hurley of the DeVere Quartet on violin, Maria Allison on piano, Mark Wolbers on clarinet, and Laura Koenig from University of Alaska Anchorage, on flute. I really enjoyed the varying harmonies and dissonances between combinations of the instruments as the piece flowed back and forth around the room. Finally, the Quartet with Anita Gustafson on lead violin, played "English Suite No. 1" by Bach. This interesting piece, written for the clavier, was arranged for strings by Eric Gustafson. For an encore, they played the Ashokan Farewell. The evening in total, was so delightful, I turned off my cello CD in my car and headed home listening to the echoes from the concert in my head.

Lesson 14

I've been on this fascinating journey for 8 months, now.

Saturday, we started off with the C scale - I was playing my first finger flat on all the strings. I had adjusted my endpin rather long, and maybe was overcompensating. As well, this may be due to stiffness in my shoulders and hands after the 75 minute drive. Then we moved onto the second position pieces. I think I played the Mooney pieces, "Fanfare" and "Skating", OK, although I still need to work on a few sections. Also the "Elephant Waltz" which offers an interesting string change from second to fourth finger. I'll begin working on "The Tired Tortoise" and "The Whale's Song". She gave me some suggestions how to practice these parts... take it slow, stop to make the shifts. Don't speed up until I have it right, and only then do it gradually. It might actually take several practice sessions to bring these segments up to appropriate speed with the rest of the piece.

I always feel as if I should immediately play a piece as if it's a concert performance, so I try to play it rapidly long before I'm ready (capable). On the other hand, when I am performing a piece - for my teacher for example - I will stop in the middle if I miss a note and either start it over or give up. When I am performing, I need to push past these mistakes and keep on playing. I couldn't stop in the middle of a piece if I were on stage, so I need to learn not to dwell on the mistakes and just play on. In this light, she suggested I read "The Inner Game of Music", by Barry Green and Timothy Galway.

I worry so much about intonation (that's why I usually stop in the middle of a piece) but I don't seem to be that put out by my rhythm and tempo problems.

When I am learning a piece - before actually "performing" it, I should be working through it in parts. Playing slowly - using pizzicato as needed - first learn the notes and the rhythm. Then identify the "challenging" sections (both fingering and bowing - and rhythm) and work on them. Try playing in steps: set the fingers, set the bow, play the note, stop, repeat. Do this over and over, slowly. Don't try to push to speed until I have it right at slow tempos. Gradually add them back into the piece, playing the whole thing slowly and evenly until I have it right. Only then, start bringing it up to speed.

I described that in my daily practices I've been playing all the Mooney second position "target practices" and Suzuki "position etudes" on each string 10 times each, which take up to half an hour to run through. I told her I was thinking about cutting back a bit, and doing these as part of my initial warmup session when I normally play scales and arpeggios. She agreed it would be fine, suggesting I need only do three of four repeats of each segment, at this point in time.

We played through the two Bach Minuets in Suzuki 2. I'm getting them fairly well, and it was clear what sections needed work. I still have to play out the longer notes to full value. She suggested I'm ready to start working on the Handel piece, "Chorus from 'Judas Maccabaeus'".

Finally, we talked about my daily practices. I explained that I run out of time (and energy after about 2 hours) to get through the warmup, the Suzuki 1 pieces, the 2nd position drills, the fiddle tunes, and the newer pieces in Suzuki 2. I've started playing the Suzuki 1 pieces by alternating odd number pieces on odd days, and the even numbered ones on even days. This still seems to overwhelm my time. I'm wondering when I can let some of these older pieces slide - how often should I be playing them to keep in shape?

Since I've put aside the Bach 2 Minuet in frustration (those challenging 9 notes), she suggested I go for two weeks without trying it (no cheating) and then we'll start with it at our next lesson. Maybe, I'll be surprised....

Brown Bear!

Yesterday afternoon we spent several hours working on our land on Tustumena Lake Road, transplanting various bushes and plants to try to fill the large ugly gravel slash left in the side of our hill by the electric contractor that installed the transformer and our meter. Earlier this week I had installed an outlet box with a 50 amp motorhome outlet, burying the 70 feet of cable in conduit about 12 inches deep along the side of the dirt/gravel pad on our hilltop. We left at about 4:30 and went home. Later in the evening, since it was so nice outside - clear and sunny, we decided to take our motorhome up there for the night, to try out the power supply and watch the bright blue sky slowly darken into night - at this time of year, the light begins to fade at about 10 pm and eases into a semi-darkness over the next few hours.

When we arrived at 9:30 pm, Y got out to help me park the motorhome next to the power outlet, and came running back in to tell us that there were bear tracks all over the place. Sure enough the soft dirt that I had just raked over the trench carrying the cable from the meter to our plugin clearly showed the footprints of a rather large bear. The prints were sharply defined, because the soil beneath the surface was still a bit damp from that morning's rain. On more than 20 prints that sank at least half an inch or more into the fresh sand/dust, we could clearly see the pad of the foot, five toes, and five claw marks. These tracks covered some of our own footprints from earlier that afternoon. It appears the bear, which was quite large, came onto the pad from the north, stopped and backtracked to investigate our new plugin box, then travelled south to investigate the meter box, and then turned and headed down the hill to the east.

I sure wish we had brought our camera. By morning the tracks had dried out to near invisibility.

Wow! A big brownie walking around our place... just a few hours earlier we had walked all over the place, into the brush, etc., without a second thought! Close call.

The first time we'd seen bear tracks was when our driveway was laid down in early June. I had assumed the bear would have just moved on; but apparently it returns to scout its territory. Earlier in the afternoon we saw a moose and calf cross Tustumena Road not too far from our subdivision road. These bear tracks were only a 1/4 mile east of where that moose had been. For that matter, there's a small farm just a mile down the road with cows and horses. I wonder if the bear bothers them?

We went back today and planted a bunch of trees we'd bought at half price at a local nursery. I also cut down a few ragged cottonwoods off to the east that were half dead. Now we have to go back and install some wire fencing around each tree and bush to keep the moose from eating everything.

With a nice view of the Kenai Mountain Range to the east, and the Illiamna and Spurr volcanos to the west, we have been thinking about building a house on our hill, which capitalizes on the 360-degree vistas. We've been talking about a four-story house, with the ground floor for kitchen, dining, and utilities; the second floor for two bedrooms and a bath; the third floor for a living room; and the fourth floor with a music room, a sewing room, and roof-top deck - we'd cover/enclose part of the deck to extend its use beyond our short summers. The top two floors would have a lot of windows to take advantage of the fantastic views - above most of the trees! The building's footprint would be quite small, but it would have to have a substantial foundation and framing to support four floors. While there'd be lots of exterior walls and windows, there'd only be a small roof.

It's fun to dream...

150 posts!

My teacher is always going on at me to keep going even if I make a mistake, and to not make a face. He says no one notices one wrong note in a performance, but if you make a face they will! He gets me to keep going, and discuss what I know I did wrong afterwards. I find this helps me a lot as I get intimidated by difficult passages and even when I do know it well, I still hestitate rather than throwing myself headlong into it. I do practise it in pieces, but I try to put it together as soon as possible so I don't get hung up on it.

I know this is one of my own longstanding problems, as I had it with flute as well.

I am envious how dedicated and structured you are at your practise, I'm a bit haphazard sometimes, though I did try going through some hard bits slowly and breaking them down like you do, and it helped quite a bit. So thanks for that!
When I first sit down to practice each day, I find myself wanting to jump over all the warmups and routines (drills and etude) and play some of the fiddle tunes that have come so easily, and work on the new pieces. I really have to force myself, af first, to go through it the "right" way... But very quickly I lose sense of time, as I focus on the issues and challenges at hand - intonation, bowing, finger-hand-arm positions, etc.

Thanks for the comments and back -link in your blog! I agree that music lessons should be enjoyable to the student... it's enough of a challenge for the kids to have to focus and practice every day - with all the parental pressures to keep at it while their friends are out playing... At the least, they should be able to play music that they like - too bad more music book writers don't pick up on this and gear the etudes and drills to that concept.

As an adult learner, I recognize the purpose of the repetition and drills regardless of their "quality"; and I realize that if I want to get better, I just have to do it.

As for becoming a flute teacher, I say go for it! It ought to help you as a cello student...

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