Thursday, November 30, 2006


Thinking out loud...

It was so cold for so long, that it was almost a relief the other day when it finally warmed up and snowed - just a couple of inches. The papers were threatening that it was going to warm up and rain on top of all the ice - yck.

When it suddenly warms up after a hard freeze like we just had and then it rains, everything quickly glazes over with a growing layer of bumpy ice droplets - each raindrop freezing before it can flow out flat; and depending on how much rain falls, the drops pile on thicker and thicker. Of course all of us expert winter drivers think we can continue to scream along in our large four-wheel drives at 65+ mph on the icy roads, but it turns out that too many of us aren't as skilled as we think. The auto repair shops do well this time of year. Some years the temps then go on up into the 40s for a day or so and it rains more and freezes onto the cold roads... more work for the wreckers.

Sometimes it quickly gets cold again and another layer of snow falls on top of the ice. Now the real fun begins. Walking on the snow-dusted glazed-ice is unbelievably treacherous. Even though you know it's going to be real slippery, you still don't believe it will be that bad. Eventually, you're going to take at least one splat - unless you stop to strap on ice grips. But that's too much hassle for only a brief venture out into the elements to dash to the car; so you try to shuffle along without lifting your feet, taking very small steps from one relatively secure balancing point to the next.. "only twenty more steps to my car, I'll make it".

This time, the prognosticators were lying again, and it got cold again - back to zero. But it's supposed to warm up this weekend - with snow again. Oh boy! Another three weeks of increasing darkness before the turnaround... With time appearing to pass at an ever faster rate as I get older, at least the winters seem shorter now - unfortunately so do the summers.

These temperature and humidity swings do havoc to my poor cello. The humidifier puts out a gallon or so a day, and I refresh my two dampits daily after practice. No matter, when it gets this cold it dries out and the sound gets "tight", a little nasal. This past weekend, when it finally did warm up some and snow, the cello immediately played mellower, deeper, richer. At orchestra, everyone had to work hard to tune their violins and violas and cellos because of the suddenly higher humidity, but I felt like we all sounded better.

I had to skip a day's practice this week, even as it was once again getting colder and colder. Today, my d-string was so uncooperative that I soon quit in disgust and almost put it away. But after a break I started up again. For some reason, that wolf reappeared, lurking around the edges of the first few notes on the d-string. Each time I tried to muzzle it by sliding the eliminator up and down the string, it would slink over to a different note. Not as bad as before, but I'm beginning to think I should have kept a heavier eliminator for days like this. Somehow, I'm going to have to get used to these humidity swings. Part of the problem is that I listen too much for the quality of each note, at the expense of appreciating the rhythms and even the relationships between the notes.

You have probably guessed by now that I wasn't very satisfied with my practice today. Maybe I deserved it for skipping yesterday's practice and for cutting Tuesday's short. Still, I did notice that my "tough segments" seem to be improving steadily, even if the quality of the sound kept me on edge. The note groupings are starting to flow together like they're supposed to. I am rigorously avoiding trying to play them at anywhere near the proper tempo, yet, until I can first play them right, slowly.

Doing those slow repetitions today made me realize I am not very good at instructing my right hand on bow actions. On the other hand ;-) I seem to be gaining more control over which fingers to play when and how to direct them (more-or-less) to the proper spots on the strings. But when I want to tell my left-side hand/wrist/arm to quickly lift the bow up while crossing from the d-string to the a-string, it's as if I don't yet have the right neural pathways mapped out for sending out the right instructions to fully direct the bow's action on the string. Just starting to think about it has helped a bit.

Now that I look at it, most of my tough segments are "tough" not because of fingering as much as because I'm not able to control the bowing. So, another adjustment in my practicing regimen. It helps to read other cellists' descriptions of how they practice and how they break it down into focused steps.

"Part of the problem is that I listen too much for the quality of each note, at the expense of appreciating the rhythms and even the relationships between the notes."

Wow, me too. I think that's why my playing always sounds so slow to me when I record it and play it back.

I never considered that humidity affected the sound of the instrument. I notice the strings expand and contract enough to go out of tune with temp changes though. Interesting.

And yup, it's all about the bowing, usually.

Sorry I won't be helping you out with any descriptions of my focused practicing steps. I've been thinking about GGP's challenge to post our scale routines. Mine is so un-routine, it's almost comical.
i wish it snows. i haven't seen any snow this year!

actually i always feel that my cello sounds bettetr when its drier. maybe when i say "drier" it means "a little wet" in Alaska.
Hi Vito! When the temperatures here fall below zero F, "dry" means literally no moisture in the air at all. That's torture for a wooden cello (and, consequently, for my ears). I assume too much moisture in the air would be just as bad, but that's never a problem for us.

We got almost a foot of snow yesterday... lots of shoveling to do.

PFS, I too am reluctant to describe my scale routines, they are so haphazard compared to GGP's. Each variation in my practice routine is struggle enough, so a formal scale routine is just going to have to wait...
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