Thursday, February 08, 2007

 

112 BPM


This week I added 4 bpm to my metronome setting for my work in Suzuki 1 and the first half of book 2. I've been playing at 108 bpm since mid December. What was interesting as I played this new tempo was how many of my old problem issues resurfaced again. Most went away again after just a little extra attention, but some of them will need more focused effort. I guess, as I work up to the final tempos (tempi), I'll bump into this problem over and over. Still, this marks a step. I only began using a metronome in August, before that my tempos were pretty ragged. I started at 88 bpm and have slowly added speed since then.

After reading Maricello's latest entry on her interesting new blog, Cello Centered, I started thinking again about learning new music and then working up to playing it at tempo. From the very beginning, that has been my biggest hurdle. Long before my fingers even knew where to go, I was pushing the tempo, zipping through the easy parts OK enough, and then bashing through the mistakes assuming I'd improve these after a while. Eventually, I started listening to others (my teacher foremost) telling me to play these tough parts s-l-o-w-l-y until I could play them right. Then add it back in the whole piece, s-l-o-w-l-y, until it all worked OK. And only then should I start increasing the tempo. While I still fall off the wagon once in a while and rush through pieces I have no business playing at or near their real tempo (maybe I need to go into music rehab), I usually catch myself and force myself to slow down and work on it the right way.

Now for my lame attempt at a review of last night's Winter Concert of the Sitka Summer Music Festival - sponsored by our Performing Arts Society: Pianist Doris Stevenson played Chopin's Ballade in G Minor, Op. 23 with such intensity and clear enjoyment, the audience was captivated. She also played two pieces by Shostakovich, Prelude and Fugue in A Major, Op. 87 and Prelude and Fugue in F-sharp Minor, Op. 87. I'd not heard either of these before. The F-sharp Minor piece was remarkable. Now I have to go back and re-listen to my Shosty recordings. Doris' mastery of the piano was evident and her performance was outstanding.

A fantastic evening, I could have been happy with just that, except I was eagerly anticipating Armen Ksajikian's presentation of Richard Strauss' Cello Sonata No 6, with Doris accompanying him on the piano. A big guy, his cello looked so tiny in his hands when he came out. In a nod to a snowy evening his cello wore a small knit cap over the scroll. The pegs were unusual, there were no external mechanisms; I guess he uses something like a skate key to tighten the strings. Considering that he held his cello so close to his face as he played, I could understand why he didn't want the pegs sticking out. He quickly showed that he could make it sing. The enthusiastic deep rich tones of his opening Allegro seemed to capture the attention of the audience which he then held onto throughout. I'd not heard this particular concerto before and it was such a pleasure to first hear it live. I tried to watch his bow hold and bowing techniques (made difficult because he was seated facing me with the music stand blocking my view of his bowing area.)

In the final piece, Doris, Armen and Paul Rosenthal teamed up to play Brahms' Piano Trio in C Minor, Op. 101. Sadly, although a few of us tried our best, the audience's applause did not linger long enough to earn an encore. I've complained too often about the size of audiences for these kind of performances, but on the good side, the smaller audience allowed us to experience a more relaxed, intimate concert. No stage or curtains to separate the performers from the audience; I sat less than five feet away from the cellist.

Tomorrow I take my cello to Anchorage for a checkup. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that the luthier will be able to sort out that twangy open g-string.

Comments:
I remember reading somewhere (maybe in John Holt's Never Too Late) about a musician hearing another person playing very very slowly, in a practice room, and feeling sorry for/superior to the slow player, thinking that was all he could manage. Then, the door opened to reveal a very famous and accomplished player, and the listener realized that slow practice must be a very effective technique. Can't remember who this story was about or who told it, but it has stayed with me.

Your metronome work is inspiring too!
 
Great story!
 
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