Tuesday, January 30, 2007


A good lesson

I've completed a full year of lessons - 24 so far. Looking back, I can see that I have come a long, long way (even if I can't see any changes from day to day).

We started off talking about strings, bows and luthiers. I tried both of her bows. One, a carbon-fiber, felt light and easy in my hand. The other was surprisingly balanced more toward the frog. Both bows still caused that open G squeak on my g-string. She did point out that I'm still apparently using too much rosin. I only apply it twice a week (or so). I should also clean the rosin off the strings after playing. I usually do this, but I've let it go these past few days. It is an issue to bring up with the luthier next week. From all that, I've gotten curious about trying some new bows while I'm there. We talked, too, about brands and types of strings. There's a cellist who comes to Homer every summer, who has an ear for matching strings to cellos. Maybe I'll get him to look at mine next time he's here.

We worked through the various practice points in "Gavotte". We discussed ways to break down these into discrete groups, and talked about bowing and string crossings on the upbows. She pointed out some right arm/wrist and bow push/pull issues for me to pay attention to. Then we played through "Two Lonely Soldiers", "Moon over the Ruined Castle" and "Witches' Dance". My playing was a sort of clumsy at first, but then I settled down and played them through comfortably, and surprisingly good (with really positive feedback from my teacher). We worked through the remaining "issues" in these pieces. We played one or two duets from Suzuki 1, where I played the harmony parts - interesting.

Then, briefly, we went through some of the orchestra pieces. I had a few questions about fingering and bowing. I asked her to again play "Ashokan Farewell". I've been trying to work on it at home, but I can't seem to "hear" it yet. I had played through it on my old keyboard, but it helped to hear it done at a normal tempo. We sorted out some fingering issues and she suggested I spend the next few weeks playing it pizzicato for a while, and then bow it but without the slurs.

I ran out of time before I got a chance to talk about the LeClerc piece and the upcoming recital. Oh well, the less I know about it, the less I will obsess over it. There's still plenty of time for that.

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Monday, January 29, 2007


False Start

It seems as if every winter we get these warm-ups. Premature breakup. Unsatisfied, I always end up wanting more. I KNOW that spring is still three months away (up here), and that it would be dumb to think we might escape without several more snowstorms and cold snaps.

But dang it! The temperatures are in the 40s for the first time since mid-October. The roads have all melted, the snow-packed side roads and driveways are starting to slush out. Yay, slush! Right now it's raining, hard!

Warm enough to start melting the ice layer on the deck and allow the metal roof to heat up. When the ice dams along the eaves and all the accumulated snow behind them come crashing off the roof onto the deck, both the dog and the cat freak out and head for their nearest hiding spots - for hours. My pets are such chickens.

Usually there will be one or two of these warm-ups in December. But winter this year, global warming or not, has been unusually cold and snowy. I know it will get cold again, and it will snow again, but I take some slight comfort from the fact that these three or four days of premature thawing mean that spring breakup will come three or four days sooner.

Rehearsal tonight was disappointing. My fourth finger just wouldn't go to the right places, nor would my third. One slow piece starts on a downbow B dotted half note and then crosses to an upbow F# quarter note, and repeats this five or six times. I just can't seem to make this sound clean. Then, all the practice points I'd been working on all week seemed to fly out the window. Most of the pieces we're working on are relatively new, and I hadn't really gotten used to them being played by a full group, so that was a bit distracting. But I did well enough on most of the pieces that I'd practiced - just not the tougher sections I'd focused on. Most of them have several C# (g-string) or F# (c-string) notes. I've been working on my lower D-Major scale and worked on applying it to these sections, but... not yet.

I find I'm practicing about 2 1/2 hours each day, now, and spending most of that extra half hour doing practice point repetitions. I've done a lot of productive work on my new Suzuki piece. Enough, maybe to try playing some of it at tomorrow's lesson.

I ordered a cushion from GoFit.net, that Gottagopractice had discussed earlier. It came this evening. The spikey side is interesting... ;) I'll try the cushion out tomorrow morning and maybe take it to my lesson tomorrow instead of my folding stool.


This is Post #250!

I'm not going to say anything about that cushion. Nope, nothing.

Try it, you'll like it....

We had unpredicted hard freeze here in Jan. I went without running water for almost 2 weeks til I could get pump removed, welded, put back in etc. (Landlady refused to pay for it.)
But I think the worst was when dsl went out for 48 hours.
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Friday, January 26, 2007



Lately I've been having a lot of trouble staying in tune. I've also been getting some dreadful squeaks on the open g-string. I was having to alternatively loosen and tighten the fine-tuners a lot at each session (I know the pegs weren't loose). Something just wasn't right. I inspected the pegs, the tailpiece, the strings, and finally the bridge. I stood one of my dampit cards on the cello in front of the bridge to see if it was square to the cello. On the upper strings' side, the top of the bridge was tilted back (more than 90 degrees), while on the lower strings it was tilted forward (less than 90 degrees). Every once in a while I've had to adjust the tip of the bridge especially after changing strings, but this was the first time it was twisted like that. The base of the bridge was not out of place.

After some trial and error I was able to square the whole bridge to the top of the cello. After all that, it did seem to sound better again.

Still, that was kind of bizarre. What's going on?

One possibility is that the bridge has gotten too flexible (maybe it has weakened with age?) It seems like a decent bridge, it came with the cello from Ifshin. I've not seen any discussion on the forums about bridges wearing out this way. I bought a spare when I bought the cello. I'll bring it along when I take the cello to the luthier in Anchorage, just in case that's the problem.

Another possibility is that the top of the cello has flexed unevenly. Several times these past few weeks temperatures have varied by 40 degrees several times, with accompanying changes in absolute humidity. I've kept the dampits regularly moist (no free water, though), and the room humidifier has been running steadily. The cello doesn't "appear" to be warped or twisted in any way.

I've been drilling my fingers on third position. It started with the "Countdown Etude" my teacher gave me last summer: [on the a-string it's 0A-4D, 0A-3D, 0A-2D, 0A-1D]. I played this over and over until it seemed normal. Several weeks ago, I started consciously thinking about what each of these alternate fingerings really represented, and I started mixing things up [0A-4D being the base and then randomly playing 0A-xD and back to base, telling myself each time "second position", "third position", etc.] Then last week, I started adding the fourth finger to the mix: [0A-4D, 0A-3D-4Eb, 0A-2D-4E, 0A-1D-4F, etc. - but randomly.] I've noticed my accuracy and speed improving fairly quickly on this new exercise.

The LeClerc duet that I've been working on has a run of notes on the g-string, starting in third position at Eb and walking down the string to the open G. I'd been struggling with that part for several months, now. But after just a few days with this new exercise, I noticed today that I'm doing pretty good with that part. Recently I started working on the second octave of the F-Major scale up to 4F on the a-string, with improving accuracy. I'm also doing better with my fourth finger extensions.


Hello! Thanks for your comment on my web site. It's interesting to read your cello experiences.

It's strange what's happening with your G string. It could be a number of things. Check that the elevation of the string is high enough so that even when it is vibrating, it does not buzz against the the fingerboard. Sometimes the problem is the nut towards the pegbox -- if it is too low, the string does not get enough clearance when it comes out of the pegbox and can rattle terribly against the fingerboard down near where you put your fingers in 1st position. But, buzzes and extraneous noises are notoriously difficult to locate and troubleshoot sometimes on string instruments.

It's probably unlikely that the instrument is "flexing" in any strange way, especially as you are keeping good care for it.

Good luck on your cello work! It's interesting to read about your discoveries!!
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Tuesday, January 23, 2007


Another blog gadget

Snap is a web-based service that you can put in your blog or webpage, which opens a Preview thumbnail window for all your blog links when you hover your cursor over the link. I ran across it on OhMyTrill (David has lots of interesting posts as a cello student at Rice). This new feature slows down the page-loading time somewhat, and once in a while there is a delay in Snap's thumbnail window before the preview actually comes up. These lags can be minimized by flagging out certain links, etc., but another way is to cut back on the number of posts loaded when the blog is opened, which I've recently done.

[If anybody actually reads this and finds that this blog takes way too much time to load, leave a comment and I'll see about adding more links to the "off" list.]

Today's cello practice was exceptional. It sounded so nice! The new strings really do bring out a mellow, dark-chocolate sound. I've wondered about this before, but why do descriptions of musical sounds seem to rely on flavors and colors (and sometimes the sense of touch)? Is the aural vocabulary that limited? Maybe this richer sound motivated my intonation. I've been trying to think about my bow hold and how I'm using the bow. Maybe that is why the sound seemed better, too.

Whatever. I played through all my pieces with hardly any trouble - even my newer ones. That feels so good. Especially when it comes after several frustrating days. I'd been blaming the humidity (an easy patsy), and I've been wondering if my bow needs rehaired... With all that confidence, I jumped into the "Gavotte" and easily worked through several of the practice points. I'm about halfway through it, but it is the easy half.

We had a full contingent at rehearsal last night. I had more trouble with our new repertoire (mostly with rhythm, tempo and counting the rests) than I did two weeks ago when a small group of us sight-read our way through them. Today, I took an extra half-hour practice time so I could work on them. My earlier good results carried on through and I felt pretty successful with these pieces as well.

If only this happened more often... I seem to have one "good" day for every three or four "eh" days. But my definition of "good" seems to stay just ahead of my capabilities. Oh well, these good days do come often enough to keep me motivated.

I'm going to the city in a few weeks and I hope to take my cello to the luthier for a checkup. We're coming up on our first anniversary, and it seemed like a good chance to go over the setup and see if there are any possible adjustments. Not that there's really anything wrong, although maybe he can help with the wolf. I also want him to look at my bow - maybe it's time for a rehair?

So, does anybody take their cello to their luthier for a routine checkup? If so, what do you ask them to do with it? My teacher said I should just show him what I'm concerned about, let him make an adjustment, and then try it out to see if it improved. Trouble is I'm way too intimidated by the thought of playing my cello in the middle of their busy shop for that to work.

I like the idea of taking the cello to the shop, but I'm generally terrified of string shops. Mine hasn't been back in since I bought my bow.
I've had my cello for 4 years, so I guess it's due to go in to the shop. And I know my bow needs work, since the hair seems too streteched out now. I've been putting it off, for the same reasons that you've mentioned, but intend to bring it in within the next month or so.

I too have trouble with the "sound quality" vocabulary. But then, I'm a little "iffy" on wine jargon as well (though well versed on consuming it!)
Are you going to Petr's Violin Shop? That's who I'd recommend. My dad gets his violin checked pretty often, has his soundpost adjusted, and has the bridge checked for alignment. Petr (or someone at the shop) will probably play your cello for you if you want.
You'd think string shops would be more sensitive to our plight... At least have a room somewhere for us away from the main sales floor to scratch away. I understand some of the bigger ones do.

I will be taking it to Petr's Violin Shop. I am hoping he'll try it out and easily hear the same issues I do. If not, I suppose I will tough it out and play a few bars to demonstrate them.
Yes, I have the same self-conscious tendancy. However, when I took Jacob back for an adjustment I said airily that I needed to take him home to try him in familiar surroundings. Anything other than that would not be a true test. I was congratulated by my luthier who said he wished more customers were as meticulous and discerning!!
Thanks for commenting and adding me to your blogs list =) I will definitely utilize your list to check out other blogs!
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Saturday, January 20, 2007


Corporate Training

I've been busy this past week developing a training program for Large Company X. I'm not sure why LC-X would pay me to develop this particular course, but I'm happy to take the $. The end result will, as usual, be exactly what they were looking for (actually better, of course). Still, considering these large mega-companies have large, professional training departments, I'm still a little confused about their willingness to contract it locally. Don't get me wrong, I'm pretty good at this, and I'm not complaining - I'm just a little surprised.

For too many years in one of my former lives, one of my responsibilities was employee training. As it happened, I was just in the right (wrong?) place at the right (wrong?) time, when suddenly "Corporate" decreed that employee training was now important. My boss complained about another "lightning bolt from Mount Olympus" and made me the designated fall guy to take it on (along with all my other responsibilities). With little effective guidance or support, I enlisted a few energetic and dedicated coworkers and we started building a training program from scratch. Our first priority was supervisor training - promotions were more or less haphazard, with no consideration for "people" skills. In time the government stepped in with rules and regulations that prescribed who should get what training, so we had to redirect things a bit. Also, we were fortunate to find a few good training deliverers to help out.

But for all that, I can't remember one single training session that I attended that I liked (whether or not I had a hand in preparing it). What is it about corporate training that makes it so abominable? I actually liked presenting the training more than I liked being trained. I really dreaded those week-long seminars - before, during and afterwards. I think the group "breakout sessions" were the worst... role playing, consensus building, then reporting back to the rest of the class... Gack! Or maybe it was the presenters that used slides (eventually that morphed into PowerPoint), and then READ EVERY SINGLE WORD OFF OF EVERY SLIDE, SLOWLY? As if we couldn't read them ourselves...

At least they usually had donuts.


[Thanks to Leah Rubin, for last Thursday's "Rubes".]

Icebreaker activities seem to be based on the assumption that we are idiots incapable of navigating our own relations in a training session. I like to keep to myself in the beginning and feel things out; that preference is rarely respected in a training. Oh the ickiness!
Ugh, corporate training is awful. I've been forced to attend two. The worst was going around the table at the end and having to state what you'd gained from the experience.
That, or going around the table at the beginning and having to tell what you hope to learn from the experience...

It seemed the first thing trainers wanted to do was to exercise their power over the class by forcing them do stupid abasing things. And if you didn't play their silly games, your supervisor would surely hear about it.
Thanks for the link and the comment on my blog! I hope that your cello training is going well!
Great post. As acorporate trainer I believe that proper training needs assessment and customization will reduce many of the problems you mentioned.

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Tuesday, January 16, 2007


"My hands felt just like two balloons"

That describes the start of Lesson 23 today. [I've always liked Pink Floyd's "Comfortably Numb"; it's one of their best. One day I want to play it on my cello.]

My left fingers just wouldn't go where I told them to. That meant a lot of unexpected sharps and flats. I suspect the stiffness comes from driving the 70 miles to Homer. So, we stopped playing for a bit and reviewed the new orchestra pieces. She played the "Ashokan Farewell" cello part (the cellos actually get the melody for about 6 measures). It helps to hear it played out - now I know how I'm eventually supposed to make it sound. She commented that several pieces will challenge me to work on counting and a few new rhythms.

Then we picked up "The Two Grenadiers", working through it in great detail. By now, my fingers were responding better (not as good as at home, of course, but whatever). It was useful to hear her play the various 'practice parts' while I watched her fingering and bowing. I've gotten much better on this one, but I tend to rush any eighth-note groups. She gave me several pointers to work on. Then we turned to "Witches' Dance" for another detailed analysis. I did much better on this one than I'd hoped I would.

Then, rather than go back and play some of the old pieces, we turned to the LeClerc piece and played it as a duet. I played it well enough that we actually sounded pretty good! She's thinking about having a small group of her students play the piece at our recital at the end of March, rather than as a duet. This might include a viola, so my recent efforts to transcribe it won't have been wasted.

Finally, she asked if I was ready to take on "Gavotte", by F. J. Gossec (No. 11 in Suzuki Book 2). It's so fun starting a new piece. We spent a little time with the easy parts and then talked at length about how to take on the 'practice points'. No shifting, but a lot of bow work. It's going to be interesting.

I also brought my electrocello today and set it up so my teacher could play it for a while. It sounded a whole lot better than I've been able to make it do. We played around a bit with the reverb and also with the gain settings on the amplifier. One day, I'll make it sound as good as she did today.

On another note, I put on some new strings Sunday: Larsen a and d and Pirastro g and c. What an improvement! The cello sounds so much more open and resonant. Thanks to Ellen G at Cellos2Go for the suggestions. My teacher immediately noticed the difference, commenting that it appears I'd found a good match.

We had a brief warming spell, where temps went up into the high 20s for a few days, then overnight they dropped back to -10. For a while this morning, my cello really complained about the sudden change. It sounded as if the notes were being clipped or pinched. I thought I'd made a mistake with the new strings, but after a half hour of scratching through some scales (it was hard listening) the cello began to open up and I started to feel the richness of the new strings.

I forgot to add last night, that I asked about when vibrato comes up in Suzuki. She told me that it's left to the teacher to introduce it when the student is ready. Then she proceeded to give me a brief introduction and some preliminary exercises to start doing! I'm not to expect a lot yet, but just do the exercises without trying to actually do vibrato.

[Isn't this shot of a Shuttle Launch (taken from space) a neat picture? I lifted it from SendThinker who credits his buddy justin.]

You have my praise and respect for driving 70 miles for your lesson. That's certainly dedication.

Isn't Ellen great ... she set me up with my cello at her shop in Schenectady a few years ago. It was such a fun place to visit. Did you mean that you put the new strings on your electocello, or your acoustic?
The acoustic.

I've been trying to find a good set of strings for a while. It's a bit harder working long-distance, but Ellen sure makes it worthwhile. I described my cello and bridge setup, the strings I was using and my questions about the sound, etc. and she seemed to know what brands might work on my cello.

What's really great is her policy that if I didn't like these new strings, I could send them back and she'd replace them!
Which Pirastro? Permanents? That's what I keep coming back to, though I'm trying hard to like the popular Spirocore tungstens. I also like the Permanents with Evah a and d.
These are Flexocores, replacing Evah c and g strings. I really like how the new c-string opens up the bottom range of my cello.

The Evahs just didn't do much for my cello. I'd be reluctant to try the a and d. Anyway, my new Larsen a and d are a good fit.
Ah. I don't like the Evah g and c, either. Too tight, which sounds like what you describe. On my cellos the a and d have a similar warm sound to the Larsens but last longer.

I also used Flexocores for a long time. Not so powerful, but very warm. I like using the whole set, but if the a is too thin-sounding adding just the Larsen a, while keeping the Flexocore d.

(I love experimenting with cello strings, but promised my last cello teacher I would only change mine once a year, unless the sound was desperately bad ~g~.)
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Sunday, January 14, 2007


If you've decided to learn to play

"If you've decided to learn to play the violin, viola, cello, or bass you probably already know that you've set yourself a daunting challenge. Still, it bears repeating: No other instruments require as much patience before a musician can hope to make even reasonably satisfying sounds. No teacher, whatever his or her method or teaching ability, can give a beginning player quick results."
["practical musician" Excerpted from Strings magazine, January 2003, No.107; and I lifted it from the blog,
Am I not who I think I am?]

So true. I tell people you sound awful for the first two years, then it starts to get a little better. We're to be commended for sticking it out, aren't we?
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Cabeza de Vaca

Several years ago PBS presented a four or five part series on the Conquistadores. All of the programs were quite interesting and well-done.

From the advantage of history, it is easy to condemn their attitudes and many of their deeds; but they were who they were, fully a product of their times. If these guys hadn't done it someone else surely would have; that was Europe in the 16th century. Without a doubt, some of the Conquistadores were exceedingly greedy and ruthlessly cruel. This was coupled with the fact that their civilization could not see the native populations in the Americas as equal. Indeed, since they barely treated their own poverty-stricken peasants in Europe as human, how could they consider the "godless' American natives to be any different?

Nevertheless, one of those Conquistadores, Cabeza de Vaca, stands out for his bravery, courage, stamina, determination, and eventual championing of the native cause. His story starts off in typical fashion. Born in Spain in 1490, like many of his fellow members of the privileged classes, he joined the military in hopes of making his fortune in the new world. The wild tales of unlimited gold and riches drew them by the thousands (not unlike the California and Alaska Gold Rushes three hundred and some years later).

Arriving in Cuba, he joined an expedition destined for Central Florida in 1528 - in search of fame and fortune (land and gold). Ill-equipped and weighted down by the ridiculous heavy armor unsuited for the heat and humidity of the tropical jungles of the Florida coast, a party of 600 men naively sailed up the gulf coast and promptly encountered trouble. Hurricanes, shipwrecks, treachery, hostile locals, an unforgiving climate, no food, foul water, disease - everything that could go wrong, did.

Abandoned by their leader, the remnants of the original 300 member ground party, now led by de Vaca, built log rafts and hoped to sail to Cuba. Instead, storms destroyed most of the rafts and pushed the rest to the north and west. de Vaca and about 80 members of the original crew washed up on beaches on the Texas coast near Galveston Island, where some were captured and enslaved by the local tribes; all the others apparently drowned or were killed. For the next several years de Vaca lived in abject servitude, while he slowly gained their trust and respect as a faith healer. In time he escaped from his captors and reconnected with three other survivors. They began a four-year journey across the southern part of Texas and then Mexico. Traveling up to 30 miles a day, barefoot and naked, they eventually reached the west coast in 1536.

This part of the trek is remarkable not only for the hardship and perseverance, but also because of the responses by the various local tribes they encountered. Because of their powers of healing, the natives celebrated their arrival - often hundreds of followers would accompany them from one village to the next, providing them with food and water in exchange for their "laying on of the hands". Eventually, as they neared the west coast they were "found" by a group of spanish slavers out on a raid, who escorted them to "civilization". It took two more years before de Vaca was able to finally return to Spain and make his report to the King.

Whatever credibility he earned by his remarkable ordeal of survival was offset however, by his outspoken advocacy for the rights of the indigenous population, going so far as to demand that they be treated with dignity and respect. He arrived back in Spain too late to be put in charge of a follow-up expedition to the North American continent, which was instead assigned to Hernando DeSoto. In time though, the discouraged de Vaca was made governor of Paraguay. In short order, his views towards the natives antagonized the other European settlers and they imprisoned him on charges of corruption and sent him back to Spain for trial. He was pardoned by the King and became a judge in Seville until his death in 1556.

Cabeza deVaca's report to the Spain's King Charles V, "La Relacion", describes the journey and survival of...
"four out of a land-force of 300 men--who by wits, stamina and luck found their way back to civilization after eight harrowing years and roughly 6,000 miles over mostly unknown reaches of North America. They were the first Europeans to see and live to report the interior of Florida, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and northernmost Mexico; the 'possum and the buffalo; the Mississippi and the Pecos Rivers; pine-nut mash and mesquite-bean flour; and a long string of Indian Stone Age tribes... He had learned to love the land as beautiful and the Indians as surpassingly handsome, strong, and intelligent. In the midst of his sufferings, he caught a vision of the brotherhood of man. He wanted to bring the Indians civilization and Christianity and to establish a humane order among them. He had found that he could cure their sicknesses, communicate Christian teachings, and compose their tribal hostilities, leaving the lands he passed through in peace." [From the preface to his 1961 translation by Cyclone Covey.]
Online translations (by different authors in different eras) of his fascinating account of that eight-year journey in the report to King Charles V of Spain, "La Relacion", are available at Ibiblio, Texas State University, and PBS.

Many years after reading and re-reading about their unimaginable hardship, destitution, loss, and then faith, perseverance, and courage to survive while crossing an unexplored continent, I am still surprised that de Vaca's story is not commonly known.

Sounds like it would make a great movie, doesn't it?

And yeah, surprising this isn't taught in school. Or not surprising after all.
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Friday, January 12, 2007


Crabman is an accomplished cellist!

AKA, Darnell, Crabman is living under an assumed identity, possibly under the federal witness protection program. Last night, in his mini-episode "My Name is Darnell" we learned that in his former life he was an "accomplished cellist". (Funny, that is the exact same expression I get when I hear my extended C#s and G#s.)

What a show! Along with "The Office", "My Name is Earl" is one of the best comedies on (US) television. Earl started off on top, as far as I'm concerned - I've enjoyed every episode. Office took a few more episodes to evolve into a topnotch, witty, sly comedy of awkward moments.

Another TV bright spot is "Heroes".

If only the rest of TV tried even half as hard.

Have you seen the Showtime series "Weeds"?
I am presently viewing dvd's of it. Great!
When I had TV for 9 months, My Name is Earl and The Office were the best. I didn't have Showtime.
If you haven't seen Weeds, you must rent the DVD!
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Tuesday, January 09, 2007


Moose Cat

Only three other people showed up for last night's rehearsal. Not too surprising, I guess, it was -26F last night... way too cold to go out unless you absolutely had to. I went anyway. It was fun. There were three violins including the conductor, along with my cello. We sight-read a bunch of new pieces that we'll be working on this season, and then we played through several others that we'd been working on last fall. Although several of the pieces were quite challenging - one is the Ashokan Farewell, it was really fun to push myself. Maybe it was because it was so informal, I felt relaxed and confident, and at times I was able to listen to the whole sound. The hour and a half flew by all too quickly. It's the first time I felt as if I generally held my own in one of these sessions, without having to do a lot of restarts.

After so much attention these past few weeks to the Pachelbel Rant on YouTube (I'm not even going to bother linking it), the conductor pulled out - you guessed it - Pachelbel's Kanon. We'll be playing this in our May concert. Good thing I've been working on my lower D-Major scale recently. Being the lone cello, I'm supposed to play my eight " special" notes louder than normal, with confidence!

This morning, a young moose was browsing along the base of the house beneath the deck, nibbling on the exposed grass (usually they awkwardly kneel down with their front legs to get at the grass). All of a sudden, something apparently spooked the moose, making it leap to its feet and turn to run off, instead it banged right into the deck post - hard - shaking the whole house, before stumbling out into the snow in the yard. The cat, who normally sits in the sewing room window in the mornings - right where the moose had been kneeling - must have seen and heard the commotion: eyes wide, ears pinned back, he fled in a panic, running - no, flying - up the stairs across the living room and up into the loft where he dove under the easy chair for the rest of the day. Right now, I suspect he is no longer quite as curious about the outdoors. (The moose was OK; it bedded down with its mother next to the workshop for most of the day - too cold to do much else, I guess.)

Here's a cat actually meeting a moose (this was taken in Anchorage, I think).


Wow, that moose has some hefty shoulders! I've never seen a moose in the wild. Around here it's just deer, bunnies, raccoons, possums, and skunks.

I can't believe you get to play P's Canon! I actually think it would be fun to keep playing the same 8 notes. The first couple times, anyway.
... wish it looked and felt a little more like winter here, instead of this bizarre "spring in January" thing. (but not wishing for 26 below!)

We played Pachelbel's Canon for our Holiday Concert this past December. I found it relaxing to play something where I could remain in first position.

Ashokan Farewell has been one of my favorites since 1990 when I first heard it on Ken Burns Civil War series. At first I thought it was written just for that, but later found out that it was originally written for Ungar's fiddle camp in Ashokan, NY.
Will you play it in 1st position? Or will you go for some big honkin' drunk-as-a-skunk vibrato on those Ds and Gs?
I'd think I'd have to be drunk to even attempt vibrato! So I guess it's first position for me...

(When does vibrato normally come up in the Suzuki series?)
I'm in Suzuki book 4 now, and I haven't seen any mention of vibrato yet. My teacher is giving me some exersices for it.
We played AF as a cello quartet at my SummerKeys week this past summer. Carrickp, whom you may recognize from Cello Chat, brought the arrangement in his extensive library. Very pretty tune, which I heard for the first time there. I got elected to play the first part, which spent a fair amount of time in thumb position, but only as high as C above mid-string A harmonic, as I recall. We elected to perform it all pizzicato - it sounded better that way ~g~.
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Sunday, January 07, 2007


I'm getting close;

I can feel it. Each day I've been playing the three or four tough parts first, starting them slowly and coming up to speed after several repeats. Then I play through the whole piece. Finally - every so often - it has come out right! Nice. I started the Bach "Minuet No. 2" in March - almost ten months ago :0 I have to admit I had begun to worry that I'd never get it - those dang string crossings! Even that opening run came out perfectly (technically, at least). YES!! FINALLY!!!

Fortunately, it seldom takes anywhere near this long to get to this point on a new piece.

I've been working on all the scales that I can reach. This past week, I started playing the second octave of the F-Major scale. It came surprisingly easily. I had expected to have to spend weeks working on the third position shifts, but the Countdown Etude my teacher started me on last summer has paid off. My first finger finds the D pretty easily, and my third and fourth fingers seem to fall right where they're supposed to. I've also been working on the third position on the g-string, because the LeClerc piece (I sure wish I knew its name) has a sequence of eighth-note slurred pairs running from Eb down to G.

At least for part of my practice sessions, I'm trying real hard to not obsess about intonation, trying instead to attend to the rhythms; but it's way too soon to see if it is doing any good.

Tomorrow we restart orchestra after three weeks off. We'll be doing a concert in May. That with my teacher's recital at the end of March will keep me busy. Yeah, lots to fret about.

Since I might be half of a viola/cello duet doing the LeClerc piece, I've been trying to transpose it for the viola. I'm using Finale PrintMusic (I broke down and bought it a few weeks ago, I wanted more flexibility than Finale's free Notepad). In the setup wizard, I selected viola as the first instrument, and it opened up with the Tenor Alto Clef (oh well, I knew it would come up sooner or later). To transpose it, I just raised the cello melody part an octave for the viola, while keeping the cello harmony where it was. The playback sounded OK. Then I swapped it and gave the cello the melody and the viola the harmony. That also sounds pretty good.

So how do people normally decide who does melody and who does harmony when they agree to do a duet? Also, is there some rule that says you have to stay in your part all the way through? Why couldn't the cello and viola switch parts - on the repeats, for example?

Let me know how you like Finale Print Music. I've been thinking about ordering it. For about 6 or 7 years I used something called Midisoft Desktop Sheet Music for arranging little ditties for my piano students, but over the years it became less and less reliable so I never installed it on my Dell laptop. I really miss having something like that.
That's odd. PrintMusic gave you a tenor clef for the viola part? Are you sure that wasn't an alto clef (centered around the middle line)? Or did you mean that the second cello part ended up in tenor clef (centered around the fourth line up)? You may have inadvertently created a harmony part, since tenor and alto (viola) clef are a third apart.
You are right, GTGP, PrintMusic actually set up the Alto Clef (centered on the middle line) for the viola, which is what I used for transposing the melody cello part.

Cellodonna, if you haven't already downloaded it, you should consider trying out Notepad first (it's free). The PrintMusic version by Finale offers quite a bit more flexibility, but it still has a few limitations. I find that working with Notepad or PrintMusic helps me "get closer" to the music than simply playing it by reading it from the books.
OY! I asked Bruce if he attenede your concert. He said he wasn't invited.
Ed Asner interview mannana. Shw begins 3:45 yur time.
Can't quite get used to this new comment display format. I keep waiting for the pop-up. Uh, what was I going to say? Oh yeah, that crazy Bach sure loves the string crossings, doesn't he? I guess we should be grateful he's really making sure we get full use out of our instruments.

I have Finale SongWriter and it's just chock full-o-bugs. I finally learned how to avoid many of them by not trying certain things, but by now I've probably forgotten. I really regretted buying it. Dreadful quality product.
SongWriter falls between Finale's free version of NotePad and PrintMusic. Too bad you found so many bugs. You should demand an upgrade... :) I found their telephone contact people to be very polite and helpful.

I haven't run into any bugs with PrintMusic (yet), although if you're not careful, there do seem to be some non-reversible options that make a lot of changes. I have to add, too, that I find their help function somewhat lacking.

Still, like all programs, the more I use it, the easier it gets.
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Thursday, January 04, 2007


Bezos the Rocketman

So this is what he's done with all that money I've sent to Amazon over the years! Go Jeff Bezos!

Still, this video, courtesy of BBC, looks like it was clipped (and then colorized) from one of those 1960s era Buck Rogers TV episodes...

OY. Could not view the video even tho Safari preferences have Java and Javascript enabled.
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Tuesday, January 02, 2007


Lesson 22

I haven't had a lesson in almost a month. But I'd been working diligently on my own. I hope it showed. I thought I did well today; much less awkwardness.

In response to her opening question (did I have any issues to talk about?) I jumped right into the Two Grenadiers piece, specifically my problems with some of the rhythms. As before, I have difficulties with the dotted-quarter spicatto-eighth note combinations. This isn't new; but eventually I managed to work out these same combinations in Happy Farmer and Judas Maccabaeus. It just seems to take a while for me to sort it out in context with the whole piece. (It's funny, though - I'm not having much trouble at all with the dotted-eighth spicatto-sixteenth note combinations in that same piece.) We talked a lot about rhythm and the importance of getting it sorted out at the beginning of a new piece. While I do use the metronome extensively, I still haven't been able to count in my head as I'm playing.

I came away with some exercises to try out (involving counting and rhythms). When I practice a piece I should work on just one issue at a time. It seems that no matter how much I want to fix something, I end up worrying too much about intonation at the expense of everything else. Somehow, I'm supposed to try to let go of the intonation and focus on rhythm (for example). To start with I'm going to break down these parts into just their rhythms on open strings, and play them this way until it feels right. Only then can I bring back the notes and worry about intonation.

We then worked on Witches' Dance, the Bach Musette, and Judas Maccabaeus - same general issues, although I am much further along with these pieces. I have to force myself to watch the music while I'm playing, even if I have it 'perfectly' memorized.

Finally she pulled out the harmony parts for Suzuki 1, and I played the harmonies while she played the melodies on a couple pieces. That was challenging - I'm 'hearing' the melodies that I know so well, while I'm trying to play something different. After a few false starts it seemed to come together. At our next lesson, we'll continue with these. I'm going to record them and then play along with the melody parts.

My teacher has scheduled a recital for the end of March. She asked me if I was interested in playing the LeClerc duet at the recital. One of her other students is a violist, who she thinks is ready to play it as well. We'll have to figure out how to transcribe it for viola and then blend the two parts. I'm looking forward to it... I think.

Jason Heath's Double Bass Blog always seems to find something new and different. This time he presents an innovative do-it-yourself paint-your-own music site, called Visual Acoustics. You select your own instruments and volumes, then use your mouse to "create" your own music. So far, after a half-hour or so, all I've been able to produce is some Yanni-like stuff, but with practice I think I can improve. Wait a minute... that sounds familiar; haven't I said that before? Whatever; sigh... another way to waste time on the internet.

Playing on just open strings confuses the heck out of me. Probably means it's something I need to learn.

Boy you're sure getting lots of use out of that LeClerc piece! A violist duet sounds fun. Would the voilist play melody?
I also find it hard to play rhythmically on open strings. That's probably why my teacher is pushing me on this - to get past my obsessive focus on intonation.

I'm not sure how we'll divvy up the LeClerc piece. I don't see why we can't arrange it so we swap back and forth at appropriate points - it only seems fair..?

All this is just preparation, of course, for our internet duet for next Halloween, right?
What about just clapping or tapping the rhythm to get a feel for it? I find that helps me when I get stuck.
I have tried that, but when I then add the bowing and fingering, that all seems to evaporate. I think I must have "Intonation-OCD". :)
Thanks for mentioning my post. I'm glad you're liking my blog! I just discovered your blog and really enjoy it. I'm adding it to my blogroll for my readers, and I'll be sure to check in regularly.
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Monday, January 01, 2007


Picking up the pace

Today I added 4 beats per minute to my metronome setting, bringing it up to 108 bpm (my metronome says this is the borderline between Andante and Moderato) and then played the entire Suzuki 1 and first half of Suzuki 2 at this new tempo. (Yeah, I know, some of the pieces are in cut time, so I'm still a long way off on these, but it is a step in the right direction). I started playing with the metronome in mid-September, struggling to play through these pieces at 88 bpm. I actually liked playing the Bach Minuet #2 today, after so many, many months of struggle. Maybe it's just wishful thinking, but I feel as if I'm really finally playing some of these pieces correctly - possibly even with some feeling.

My cello has been sounding really nice - I haven't had a "bad-sound" day for quite some time. I wonder if it knows about the electrocello and feels as if it has to compete? I seem to have finally found the right size and place (7 grams, about halfway between the bridge and tailpiece on the g-string) for the wolf eliminator. After a lot of tweaking, I was able to "hide" the annoying booming effect somewhere between D and C#, and there is no more screeching on E or F. I haven't had to make any adjustments to it for several weeks. I play the electrocello every third day with the amp. I try not to spend too much time playing with the reverb or the gain control.

You may notice some changes to this blog. I've spent far too much time this past weekend tinkering with the template. The background was the biggest challenge; I found the necessary template edits at Beta Blogger for Dummies. The drop-down comments feature [click on one of the comment links at the bottom of any post to see what I mean] is something that I wish Blogger had included as a standard feature. At least Blogger provided the hack through its own help section.

Thanks for posting your discoveries. Google Reader has already saved me tons of time. And I really like the new comments. I feel like little Leia, following my big brother around Blogger.
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