Monday, August 28, 2006


Using the whole bow

At Thursday's lesson, we reviewed the Suzuki 1 pieces. It had been almost 3 weeks since the last lesson, and I'd worked diligently on the newer second position pieces, although I had not neglected the Suzuki 1 stuff (I alternated playing the odd and even numbered pieces each day). I had still been working on them seriously, not just playing them through each time. I've played these pieces so many times, I know them by heart. Or so I thought...

Just like in our early lessons last winter, I tripped and stumbled over the simplest parts, forgetting notes, missing them altogether... I was quite embarrassed. That only made it worse. I thought I'd been doing so well (intonation issues aside). I was surprised, too, since I thought I'd gotten over any nervousness with my teacher. Maybe it was the different setting. I can't really come up with a good reason for it.

After a while, I did relax a bit, and things went better; but I still made so many stupid mistakes that I never make at home. I felt so lame telling my teacher that I really can play these pieces better; like I was trotting out the old "dog ate my homework" excuse.

We worked on bowing techniques, maintaining proper angles between the bow and the fingerboard, and the bow and the string; keeping the bow halfway between the fingerboard and the bridge. Also, we worked on using the whole bow - that's why we were doing the Suzuki 1 pieces - supposedly I knew them well enough that I wouldn't have to stumble over the notes. Egads! In my practice sessions since then, I've focused on these particular bowing issues and have not worried that much about intonation.

Eventually, we turned to the Bach Minuet #2 (piece #15 in Book 1). At my last lesson, I told her I felt like I'd hit a wall on this one, so she suggested I put it aside until the next lesson. When we picked it up, I did rather well on it (a few surprising misses - in some of the more familiar areas), but all in all... OK. We talked about which parts were good (I like that approach), then we worked slowly on some of the more complicated areas.

She then suggested we work through the Bach Minuet in C (piece #14 in Book 1). We had skipped over it several months ago - she told me she thought it belonged somewhere in Book 2. She complimented my sight-reading. :) Then, we talked about some of its "issues". I have since played it quite satisfactorily in my practice sessions. Since my next lesson would not be for another 3 weeks, she suggested picking up the next piece in Book 2, #6, "Hunter's Chorus" by von Weber. I actually started to object, saying I feared I was pushing too fast, but she pointed out that 3 weeks is a long stretch, and it might not hurt to "start" working on it, line by line, very slowly.

Next session, we'll work on the second position pieces.

I told her I'd been thinking about joining the Kenai Community Orchestra. She thought it would be a great idea! I wondered if I was jumping the gun, but she said I shouldn't find the pieces very hard - the cello parts are mostly first position. The experience should help me with timing, counting, and especially with performing in front of others. OK, I will give it a try - in two weeks. Now I have something new to get worked up about.

I understand exactly where you are coming from with nervousness at lessons! I've always been exactly the same way. And not just about music either. I get really flustered with driving when my husband is in the car, because I feel like he'll be critical of my driving. Then I make all sorts of little errors that I never make on my own. I think the only way to get past it is exposure though! You simply must work through it. Also, why not record yourself practicing and give your teacher the tape to review between lessons? It might take some pressure off you and it might give her some insight into thinks to work on during the lessons.

I really love reading your blog! Thanks so much for pointing it out to me.
My first teacher, who himself was a student of "Zambo" of the LA Phil, used to say his own teacher (Zambo) would say, "Yeah, I know what you mean -- I teach better at home by myself, too!"

So everybody runs into this this problem. In the past year it's turned around a bit. I feel I play better at my teacher's than I do at home (Different teacher, but I it's not the teacher's fault). It might be because I know what she's looking for and I make a more concentrated effort to do the little things that I know she expects. If something blows up, that's not so imprortant, that's just "beginner-ness." What is important to her is the little crescendo here, the full bow there, the bringing out of this note, the backing off of that note, the more vibrato here, the less vibrato there. It sounds off-putting and too much detail, but when you get into the little nuances, you forget about how hard it's supposed to be.
Wow, Terry, a student of a student of the notorious Zambo! His humor and irreverance bring such a welcome and often needed relief to the CelloChat forum. A person could write an interesting article about him, just from his postings and anecdotes like yours...

I've been reading "Cello Story" by Dimitry Markevitch, in which he offers a "family tree" of students of the noted 18th century French Cellist, Jean-Pierre DuPort - which eventually leads to Popper, Piatigorsky, and Feuermann. Who knows, maybe one day your connection to the great Zambo will be similarly documented?
I feel my "grandparents" by current teacher are more impressive: the legendary Gabor Rejto, and Danny Rothmuller who's been long-time Associate Principal at the LA Phil.

But that's not so unusual. I had my current teacher and Nicholas Anderson at my home for dinner a couple of months ago and they got into talking about well-known cellists. I was amazed at how many people they knew, met, or knew about, in common. Cello is such a small world. All in all, there's not many great cellists, but far fewer great cello teachers, and everybody is separated from anybody else by just a few individuals, even if we don't know it.

Your "ancestors" are certainly impressive. Btw, which Nick showed up for dinner?


Which Nick? All of them. While he's not as eccentric in person as some of his writings suggest, he can be a crack-up.

By the way, when he was out here he visited the widow of Gregor Piatigorsky. He got his copy of her book signed by her. I gather it was an interesting and moving meeting.
I'm so curious to hear how you feel about the community orchestra - I'm glad your teacher was supportive. Most of my pieces for my community orchestra are in first position, you'll have no trouble.

I get so tense at the beginning of my lessons as well, my teacher doesn't seem to care. As he comes to me, I think I'm going to try practising a bit before he arrives to get some of it over with. Of course, when he's in front of me my bow seems to stop moving!

Ah well, they all seem to understand.
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