Wednesday, December 20, 2006


These are the Dark Times...

As we approach the winter solstice (yay! the sun will indeed come back around once again), an all-too-brief period of optimism sets in - just knowing that the days will once again start getting longer temporarily helps stave off the dark moods that lurk in the shadows this time of year. Even though I've been through this at least 35 times, it never gets easier. This is neither the time nor the place for a sun worshipper like me.

It's the engineer in me, I guess, but I find myself zeroing in on the rate of change rather than the actual hours of daylight... "by next week we'll be gaining 55 seconds a day...", not "by next week the daylight will last 5 hours and 45 minutes..." Even though I KNOW that the days will start getting longer immediately, the rate of gain will be infinitesimally slow for the next month or so. We really won't notice much improvement until mid-January, when the rate of change begins to become noticeable - up to 3 minutes or so a day. By the spring equinox, we'll be gaining about 6 minutes a day. Then the rate slows down again as we swing into the long summer days.

By the way, wasn't it Arthur C. Clarke who proposed installing giant mirrors in space to reflect more light onto the northland? What happened to that idea? Oh, yeah, the funding got earmarked by Alaska's own Ted Stevens into bridges to nowhere...

Still, for all that, WINTER IS ONLY JUST BEGINNING! We'll be reaching 14 hours of daylight before the snow accumulation has melted away. That's probably the hardest time. We'll be past the equinox, daylight savings time will have come back, and still we'll be looking out our windows at nine-thirty in the evening at the last shadows from the sunset on the dirty snow still sitting on the ground.

April's the time of year when we run across those odd items that have disappeared under the snow over the long winter: Z's left-hand glove that vanished in January; the 5/16" wrench that slipped out of my frozen fingers when I was pulling the battery out of the old Suburban so I could warm it up overnight before plowing the driveway in late December; the red flag marker that indicated where the right edge of the plow was, which fell off and got packed into a berm; the pieces of junk mail that got away when Y slipped and fell on the ice dusted with snow in November; the massive chew bone that the UPS driver gave to Maggie in February (she always takes them out and buries them); the frozen souveniers deposited all winter along the driveway's snow-walls by the neighbor's dog who was too lazy (or arrogant) to head through the deep snow into the woods to do his business (we can only hope that Maggie returns the favor); and while I'm at it - all the moose droppings; the lid from the margarine container that I'd filled with diesel and gasoline to help light the slash piles from last fall's tree clearing; my crowbar that I used to lever the last fallen tree off the moose-path; the dead stalks in our garden reminding us of how lazy we got about weeding by the end of the season; the brown lawn that didn't quite get going last summer. Yes, all these fond memories of winter that come back to haunt us in April.

Still, it's not all bad. Like last year I have my cello to pass the long hours trying to make pleasant music. Although, unlike last year, this year I'm actually getting caught up in the music itself. Looking back on it now, those first few months with the cello sure took a lot of optimism to get through. I noticed today that I was starting to put some expression into my bow on some of my older pieces. This morning's session started off very rewarding, with deep rich tones and relatively error-free fingerings. But then I stopped to take a break - I actually didn't want to but I thought "everyone says I'm supposed to..." After the break, the magic was all but gone. My fingers started getting in the way again... Still, that first 1-1/2 hours are what keeps me going.

I've changed my warmups somewhat - focusing on longer bowings, trying to get an even sound out of the full bow in both directions; paying detailed attention to planes, pivot points and angles; mentally and visually following all the muscles that I'm using to make each stroke; and watching the arm opening and closing, and noting wrist and hand "postures". While still "watching" my bow arm I work on my scales and basic extensions and shifts. These first forty-five minutes go fast. Finally, I have to reach over and turn on the metronome to get me to change direction and start working on the pieces themselves.

The other day I played the whole time with my electrocello. It was different. Good. I liked how all my pieces sounded. I didn't really find any difficulties that I don't already experience with my acoustic. I've not used the reverb much. I figure I have a long way to go before the reverb function will actually be an honest embellishment, and not a coverup. Now, I've started thinking about amps. I don't need a stage amp, just a small one for my practice room. I'm a total greenhorn in this area, and I'm open to suggestions...

By the way, check out this novel approach to online radio, called Musicovery - it lets you choose your era and genres and then proposes a "path" for your customized listening pleasure. I tend to hang out on the "dark side" musically where I've found some interesting offerings - (with lots of old Van Morrison). Give it a try.

Who wanted to put giant mirrors in space? What? (Now THAT would look weird - imagine aliens finally come to Earth and they see these huge mirrors. lol.) Although I have to agree, that would probably be more useful than bridges that lead to nowhere... *grins*
Aww, cool, you have an electric cello. I'm jealous. (Kidding, kidding) I'd like to give a suggestion, but I know zip minus one about electric cellos. Except that they cost too much and I'm not getting one. Grr.
P.S. You spend 45 minutes on warmup? 45?! Wow...I spend like thirty seconds doing the C major scale and jump right into my pieces...does it help?
Hi Starskimmer!

I'm way too inexperienced to know if a 45-minute "warmup" really makes a difference, but it does help me loosen up and work out all the kinks in my shoulders, arms, fingers, etc. I try to concentrate on intonation and shifts, as well as work on several scales. I do think it has helped for me to steadily repeat these again and again.
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