Saturday, March 31, 2007
What it's all about
This morning, while doing my final practice session, I realized I was just not ready to play all those rapid 1/8-1/16-1/16 groupings in "Bile Em Cabbage". Not at the tempo we played in Thursday's rehearsal. Not yet. Both yesterday and today in practice, my arm/wrist/hand cooperation lasted only about a third of the way through the piece before I stumbled. I had three choices, bluff it, bail out, or just play the 1/8 notes staccato and skip the 1/16th notes. I tried that a few times and it worked.
Once I decided to step back that little bit, all the self-imposed pressure, the anxieties, the dread of making a mistake - it all evaporated, just like that. I started looking forward to it.
I arrived early enough to get setup, tuned, and warmed up; I quietly played my pizzicato scales as the rest of the group tricked in. Before we started I warned my stand partner that I'd be playing it differently than him so he wouldn't get off-track. And it went well. I was relaxed and focused. The next piece went well, so did the next, and all the rest.
I had this feeling of being part of the music. It's hard to describe, but I got this powerful, distinct sense of "intention" as I played the notes, the feeling that I was actively drawing the sounds out of my cello. Much different than in practice. It was more direct, more focused. As if my mind was right there at that connection between the bow and the string. Wow! As each successive piece was comparatively easier than the one before, I began to get a stronger sense of control as we went along.
Whew. So that's what it's like!
Now about the Japanese translation:
The CelloBloggers site got a request for an invitation to join from a Japanese blogger, whose blog is Virtue Luck Temple. In an exchange of notes with him, I learned that there are at least 124 active cellobloggers in Japan who blog in kanji. He directed me to Mr. Goshu's Cello site which has a list of all the Japanese blog links. Using the website translator BabelFish, I've spent too much time scouring through a few of these sites. The translations aren't perfect - it translates the Japanese kanji for "playing" the cello, to "repelling" the cello. As long as you can overlook some of these unusual terms and odd syntax and occasional untranslated words, it can be quite interesting.
So, I built a translator feature using Yahoo Pipes, which picks up the feed from our new member's blog, translates it into English, and then outputs it as an RSS to Bloglines, which sends it to our CelloBloggers home page. For some reason, this same feed doesn't work into Google Reader. It leaves Yahoo Pipes in English, but then arrives in Google Reader in a bizarre clump of English and Japanese. I suspect this is due to the use of Yahoo's BableFish instead of Google's translator. That Yahoo pipes feature sure is something! It is all done graphically. You drag and drop the various features you want onto the screen and then connect them together with pipes. Strange. Powerful. I have a lot to learn.
Anyway, after chatting with the guy from Japan, he mentioned that he tried translating my blog into kanji and it was "readable". So, for fun I thought I'd post that translation here.
And thank you for refering to my blog.
But please don't take too much time for Japanese. I feel a bit sorry about that.
On such a common topic as playing the cello, I think it's easier for bloggers of both (or any) language can communicate by help of BabelFish.
Your decision to step back and remove some of the self-imposed pressure is advice I will take to heart as I prepare for our concert at the end of the month. It's always so good to read what you have to say.
I was chuckling aloud as I read about the 124 active cellobloggers in Japan. Right. Just what I need. MORE blogs. And now ... the pressure of translation?
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My last post, translated to Japanese
私はチェロのグループの中で遊ぶことを愛する。それはとても良く聞こえる! 本当にこのより頻繁にすることは素晴らしい(私は私のオーケストラの唯一のチェロまだである、従って私は決してその感じをそこに経験することを得ない) 。
この週私はそれらの6 つの演奏会の部分に焦点を合わせる私のオーケストラの部分すべておよび私のレッスン部分を取っておいた。それらの4 つは準備ができている。私はそれらの他の2 を完成されて得る2 つのより多くの日を持っている。
今 日の午後のリハーサルまで1 日中導いて、私は自分自身を私を幾度も苦しめた、私は私のチェロが付いているその段階で皆だったが置かれ、静かにスケール(pizzicato) をし始めたら着き、セットアップする、すべて立ち去ったすべてのそれらの心配について重点を置くことを見つけ。
Thursday, March 29, 2007
Class rehearsal today
As before, I got distracted listening to the blended cello sounds, and I occasionally lost my way. I know where I went wrong, though, and I think I'll be able to sort that out by Saturday. Tempo, timing, rhythm... same issues.
This week I set aside all my orchestra pieces and my lesson pieces, focusing on those six recital pieces. Four of them are ready. I've got two more days to get those other two perfected.
All day leading up to this afternoon's rehearsal, I found myself stressing about all those anxieties that have plagued me time and again, but once I sat on that stage with my cello and started quietly playing scales (pizzicato), while everyone else was arriving and setting up, it all went away.
I have to play extra loud so you all can hear me!!
While that was not the original reason I started blogging, this sharing of experiences and comments with other bloggers really has been inspiring. Not only because of the very supportive direct feedback; but reading other musicians - of all levels and instruments - describe their doubts, their anxieties, and their satisfactions about their performances encourages me to keep going with it.
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Tuesday, March 27, 2007
My teacher's group recital is on Saturday
At today's lesson (#28), we worked through all the pieces for the recital. We never got to my latest study pieces. My primary issue (as usual) is being able to sort out my part while hearing the other parts for the first time. But after playing through each piece once or twice, I am able to fit my part into the whole.
We spent some time going over intervals and tuning issues (I just can't leave it alone). Also, we went over some of my shifting. When I do keep the appropriate finger on the string and slide it along - shifting the "proper" way - I am pretty accurate; but when I don't hold my shifting finger down and just throw myself at the approximate location on the fingerboard, I don't do very well. Gee, makes sense, doesn't it? Of course I know how to do it properly, but for whatever reason, I've developed the bad habits of doing it the other way. Something else to watch.
Speaking of watching. I've noticed lately that sometimes (just sometimes) on several of the pieces I'm playing that I can step out of my obsessive concentration on making sure I play the right note with the right bowing, and think about my bow hold, where the bow is on the string, what is my left hand/finger angle or arm angle, etc., without losing my place or missing a note.
Now for my running commentary on the weather - our streak continues. Yesterday it clouded over for only the second time since late January but no snow. This morning it was still -5 F and it only warmed up to 23F in spite of the BRIGHT sun. Sunset tonight was at 8:40, and now at 9:30 the western sky is still pink on the horizon. Our average temperatures are still holding at least 20 degrees below normal. This is global warming?
We're all assuming that this will abruptly end with a major low pressure cell bringing on our normal clouds and snow/rain - along with temperatures warm enough to melt all the crusted snow on the ground. Hopefully the annual breakup mess will be brief.
Have fun on Sunday.
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Saturday, March 24, 2007
3 degrees F (still);
The sun is shining bright in the eastern sky;
The sky is clear blue;
AND SOMEHOW IT IS SNOWING!
Tuesday, March 20, 2007
Reading too many blogs
So, when I finally do settle down to practice, it's too late to get everything done before Z is awake and hanging around, "hinting" that he wants the computer (where I play). It's my own fault, though. We don't want him sleeping through the entire spring break, so Y has been waking him relatively early - 9 am. Today he showed up as I was working on my newest and toughest pieces. I don't even think about it when he and Y are in other rooms while I'm practicing on weekends, but if they come into the room where I am playing, I start doubting myself and end up stopping.
This week, I've been really pleased with my cello's sound. I started working on intervals last week, which made me start thinking about the different tunings. Until now, I've tuned each string to its piano frequency - equal temperament. But I've been curious about tuning to fifths, so my teacher suggested I look at Violin Masterclass. I started experimenting with this "other" tuning. I'm not sure I have it right yet, but: I tuned A to exactly 220.0, and then tuned each adjacent string exactly one-fifth lower using the calculated frequencies; e.g. 2/3 of 220 Hz is 146.67 Hz (instead of the equal tempered 146.8 Hz). This is too subtle of a difference for my uneducated ear. I'm still confused, though; I read somewhere that the human ear can only distinguish sounds 1 Hz apart, so what's the big deal? Yet, can hear that my strings are flat or sharp by even three or four tenths of a Hertz. Now I'm wondering if I should be trying to educate my ear another way. I saw a link today in gweipo for EarMaster, an ear-training program. Maybe I should consider it.
Well, anyway, I started playing double-stopped intervals on all the strings. It has already helped me with my bowing - just trying to bow each string with equal emphasis. I can't yet say if it has helped my intonation, but I sure am more keenly aware when I do miss a note. Handel's Bourree has been coming along nicely, but I've still got a long way to go with Ashokan Farewell.
I came across this chair somewhere today. Disturbing.
1) I learned to hear the beats by playing unison double stops, open D with 4th position D on the G string, for instance. Do some experimenting until you have a sensation of feeling the pulsations with your eardrums.
2) Tune the A string comparing with tuner. The beats are more subtle when tuning against the A440-ish note than against A220.
3) Check the A string tuning with the gauge. If off, don't just tune to the needle. Repeat step 2 until step 3 is where you want it.
4) Tune each pair of strings as double stops. Use either the lower string peg or the fine tuner while continuously playing the notes (not back and forth.) Tune the lower string down until it's definitely flat, then bring it up slowly while both listening and feeling the sound. Start by going past what you think is right until it is definitely too sharp. You will start hearing how the sound "opens up" when the lower note is a perfect fifth.
5) Check the lower note tuning against the gauge. Repeat step 4 as many times as necessary to get step 5 where you want it.
Initially this takes some time, but training your ears to tune this way is worth it. The whole instrument comes alive when it's well in tune.
Yup ... reading too many blogs. But still more productive than watching TV.
Tuning by ear in perfect fifths can be problematic for string players because the result of tuning justly (by the 2/3 calculation) does not fit the equal temperament system. If each string is tuned to 2/3 the frequency of the upper string, starting with A at 220 Hz, then the result will be a C string which is too flat compared to the piano, and which most people will think is too flat compared to the cello open A. That's why most string players consciously or subconsciously tighten their open fifths, like on the piano. The result is usually very close to what you'd get using a tuner on your metronome.
Its true that the human ear can only distinguish sounds 1 Hz apart, but only at high frequencies! Due to the logarithmic nature of sound perception, 1 Hz is a big difference at lower frequencies, such as the open strings of a cello. In terms of frequencies, each pitch one octave up is twice as big as the one below it, so as you compare intervals in higher octaves, you get bigger numbers. (The difference between C2 and G2 on the piano is about 33 Hz, and between C5 and G5 is about 261 Hz, so a difference of 1 Hz matters more at the lower octave.) Its more accurate to speak in terms of cents, which are the same for intervals in any octave.
An example: The open C string tuned by just (2/3) perfect fifths is 65.1851 Hz. The equal tempered pitch on the piano is 65.4064 Hz. The difference is only 0.2213 in Hz, so no big deal, right? Wrong! In cents, that difference is 5.87, which is actually pretty big.
I've read that the average person can hear a difference of 5 cents. I'm sure that trained listeners and musicians can hear smaller differences. I've found that I can hear differences lat least as small as 2.5 cents, which is the highest resolution I get on my electronic tuner.
So, for most purposes, I'd say that you should tune by ear using the fifths, but try and get the fifths to be as tight as possible while still sounding good. Then compare the open strings to the piano and see if you're happy. Of course, if this takes too long I say just tune with the electronic tuner and practice more.
Hope that helps!
I can always tell when my cello is "off" by two or three "cents". But since I've been tuning to equal temperament until now, if I start tuning to fifths, I'm going to have to retrain my ear.
My recent experimentation with intervals has been helpful in starting to appreciate these subtle differences.
You got the theory down, so now it's a matter of practice, practice, practice.
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Sunday, March 18, 2007
Still very cold and very dry
My dampits are kept well-moistened, the room humidifier runs full-time, and my cello seems to be holding up well through this extended near-absolute dryness. It doesn't sound as nasal or squeaky as in the past cold-spells. That or I've become accustomed to the sound and compensate for it somehow. Who knows? No doubt when the weather finally does warm up and start raining, I'll probably be complaining about the effects on my cello then (not to mention the rain).
I'm working hard on the playlist for our upcoming students' recital. We're not doing the traditional Suzuki "countdown", rather a sampling of several pieces in the first three books. Each of us plays what we know. I expect that I'll do well enough; with the experience of playing in the orchestra I no longer get so distracted when I hear other instruments. But moreso than in my orchestra, I don't want to miss a single note or lose a single beat. I'm practicing slowly, this week, returning once again to all those old tricky parts, replaying them into well into mindlessness. Next week, I'll bring them back up to tempo.
Meanwhile I'm making really good progress on my newest piece, Handel's Bourree. Also, even though it appears that our orchestra has set aside Ashokan Farewell for now, I've continued to work on it daily. It's quite a bit more difficult for me than my latest Suzuki pieces. I've been working on it for more than two months, but I've got a long way to go before... Maybe, if the orchestra takes it up for our winter concert, I'll actually be able to play it...
Cellobloggers is now open to new members. If you blog and play the cello, stop by and ask for an invitation.
Wednesday, March 14, 2007
Tuesday, March 13, 2007
I'm supposed to be working
But I WILL keep my mornings free for my cello!
This morning I decided to slow down my metronome practice speed back to 104 bpm. I realized I've been over-reaching myself, and I just wasn't ready to be playing all those pieces at 112. Rather than just keep flailing away trying for speed, I realized I should be spend some time (for now) trying for more quality at a speed I could more-or-less handle.
It felt good to play things a little slower for a change - without guilt. I felt like I was back in control and could start to pay some attention to my bowing and posture, etc.
I started off today's lesson asking about warm-up routines for my daily practices. Seems I've generally been doing the right things, but maybe playing too fast too soon and for too long a stretch. My teacher suggested I start out doing my scales slower (using the metronome) and watching the tuner to make sure I'm accurate every time. Then gradually pick up the speed. But not so many repetitions, maybe. Then I should play some intervals, slowly and carefully, listening to the double-stops to get a feeling for the right sounds. We tried some of these for a while. Then I should play a variety of the Suzuki pieces, including the Etudes, but try playing them with different bowings, or staccato, or slurred, etc. Also I could be playing the Mooney Position Pieces.
We then turned to Handel's Bourree. I started working on this piece two weeks ago, but only using pizzicato. Finally yesterday, I felt comfortable enough with the fingering and rhythm to start using my bow. That slowed me down a bit, but I was pleasantly surprised that I didn't stumble across my usual rhythm issues. We spent most of the lesson working on this piece. Next we worked on some of the tough sections in the Gavotte for quite a while.
Finally, we went over several of the pieces on the play-list for our group recital at the end of the month. Most of it should be no problem, but I do have some areas that need a bit of work. Three more weeks, yikes!
The CelloBloggers site on Ning is taking shape. Our list of blogging cellists is now up to 94!
Sunday, March 11, 2007
Thursday morning our water system was out (also the battery on my plowing truck was dead, Y lost her keys shoveling snow, and so on). After half a day of troubleshooting, cussing, phone calls, etc., it turns out that the water line apparently froze sometime overnight, and the pump control box failed after trying to start the pump against the blocked line. First I had to replace the control system (thankfully I didn't have to pull the pump from the well at -5C). Then I called out a welder to zap the waterline and melt the ice block to bring us back into the 21st century.
How tenuous that link to the modern world really is! Just knowing that there's no running water is so frustrating. No shower, no dishes, no laundry, no flushing. We get so used to just opening a tap, that we forget how much is actually involved in getting it there in the first place. Except for drilling the well, I installed the whole system in 1976 myself, and then completely rebuilt it in 1994, so I am very familiar with all the minor details. But how easy it is to lose sight of all that. To just enjoy the results with no further consideration of the mechanics of it all.
Electricity, heat, and the waste system are other basic facets of the modern world that we once lacked here, but now take for granted. I installed all of these as well, so I can still deal with them if the need arises. Thankfully, that hasn't been a big part of my home maintenance responsibilities.
I didn't forget the telephone (internet) or the satellite TV systems. Important as they are to our enjoyment of life, we actually don't take these for granted. We had no phone for our first eight years here, and we had to drive 5 miles up the highway to the nearest pay phone. When the installation crew finally came down our road we celebrated, but really it was no big deal. We'd done well enough without it.
Except for the internet. For a few weeks in 1984, I dialed into Compuserve, but it cost more than $20 per hour since I had to use a long distance number. Needless to say we didn't do a whole lot more online back then. But in the late 80's and early 90s, B found a way to get into the nascent internet system using the local library's link to the state's interlibrary system. Somehow (patiently, bit-by-bit) he managed to download one of the early versions of Linux, and became one of the original Linux geeks (he still is).
So now, we can't imagine living without the telephone. With two landlines connected to half a dozen phone extensions, a fax machine, and our 1 Mbs DSL modem, and 2 cell phones, we are probably fairly typical phone customers.
And TV. When we first moved to Alaska, three network channels were taped in Seattle, and the tapes were shipped by barge to Anchorage for rebroadcast 3-weeks later (yay, christmas commercials into mid-January!) If the shipping got screwed up, they'd just repeat the previous week(s). Eventually they started overnighting the tapes by plane and finally via satellite. After 15 years of fuzzy TV reception with crappy antennas (I spent a fortune on worthless boosters over the years), we finally put in a 10-foot diameter C-band satellite dish in 1991, so we've been linked to the outside "world" for a long, long time. In 1999, we converted to the Dish Network system and continue to access almost all the possible channels. Now with a DVR, we can record whatever and watch it at will, sans commercials.
Knowing that any of these systems can break down at any time, we still take them all for granted. But every time something does go awry, I get that familiar hollow sensation in the pit of my stomach as my comfortable world turns inside out, and I once again realize how much we have come to rely on technology to stave off the cold, the dark and to satisfy our need to be in touch.
Then there's my cello.
I know what you mean about the awful feeling when one of the essential 'systems' goes out. I'd add a working car to your list of essentials.
Glad you got your watter back.
How could I forget the car? Wishful thinking? Having commuted 75 miles daily for almost 30 years, I'm happy these days not to be driving that much anymore.
You are right, though. In spite of the common perceptions, we don't all ride around on dog sleds or snowmobiles. That day, I needed a car to plow the snow, to pick up the mail (new CDs!), for the two(!) trips to town for the necessary water system parts, and to drive out to the road to pick up Z at the bus stop, since a mama and baby moose have been lurking around.
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Monday, March 05, 2007
A pink shade of blue
This time of year the sun sets at 6:45 or so (by next Monday it will be setting at about 8:00 after the time change), but the sky darkens so slowly, especially when it's clear. The high pressure cell remains stalled over the state, bringing us into a third week of spotless blue daytime skies and intense black, star-filled night skies. So although it has been 15 to 20 degrees colder than normal at least it isn't snowing and there are NO CLOUDS AT ALL!
As we approach the equinox, the sun actually rises in the true east and actually sets due west. At our location along Cook Inlet, that means the sun is currently dropping down more-or-less behind Mt. Redoubt, our dominating volcano (see my header for a daytime shot of Mt. Redoubt). This time of year is our only "normal" sunrise/sunset cycle (also for a brief period in September).
So at 7:30, driving home from orchestra rehearsal, the eastern sky is already black, the waning moon hasn't yet risen, and several bright stars are visible. Overhead, the sky morphs from black to dark, dark blue and then gradually fades to lighter shades of blue as I look further and further west. The light has faded enough that the dark trees contrast black against the white snow. The only colors at all are the fading blues overhead.
For a change, there is no traffic on the highway for most of my 17 mile trip home from town. So I get to enjoy this vista all by myself, with no oncoming bright headlights to ruin this late twilight. I drive slowly.
About five miles from home I crest the final hill which reveals the entire southern half of the sky. I pull over for a moment and douse my own headlights. To the east, the snow-covered Kenai Mountain range is white-bright against the black sky all the way along the horizon to the south. Overhead and looking to the south I can see the entire spectrum of black to blue to light blue skies. But my eyes are drawn to the west.
The western horizon is dominated by the Cook Inlet mountains, which are but one segment of a series of overlapping mountain ranges that extend from Fairbanks all the way out to the furthest tip of the Aleutian Islands. The Kenai Peninsula sits on the edge of the Pacific Plate that is moving westward and sub-ducting beneath the rigid tectonic plates to the west. The dividing (read: fault) line in our area is Cook Inlet. The Cook Inlet mountain range, on the opposite side of this fault is uplifting above this subduction zone. The edge of the Pacific Plate sliding under the western plate melts in the magma and some of it pushes back up to the surface through a whole lot of volcanoes along the western side of the fault lines...
Our western skyline is dominated by three prominent volcanoes, Mt. Spurr to the northwest, Mt. Redoubt to the west, and Mt. Iliamna to the southwest. On a good day from the right vantage point, the tip of Mt. Augustine is also visible far to the south. The gaps between these 10,000 foot cone-shaped peaks are filled in with glacier topped mountains ranging from 3,000 to 5,000 feet.
For some time after the sun sets behind Mt. Redoubt, the skies just above the mountains stay brightly lit. The eastern faces of these mountains across the water turn black in their own shadows. The mountain tops are outlined with dazzling bright yellow line from the reflection of the setting sun off their snow caps. The skies immediately above this yellow line fade to a layer of reddish-orange, which then fades to a bright pink. This pink gradually morphs into a bright light blue which extends on through the spectrum to dark blue overhead and finally to black.
Somehow the colder it is, the more intense these colors.
It's not often I get the chance to see this. You have to be there at the right time of year, and most importantly, the skies have to be clear. I wish I could capture these colors against those mountains with a camera, but not yet.
Oh, yeah, rehearsal was great tonight. My cello really sounded nice. My intonation was pretty good for a change. My timing was OK most of the time, but, er, I've still got some work to do on a few pieces.
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Saturday, March 03, 2007
Gottagopractice and I have been looking for a way to build a cello bloggers' network where we could link our blogs, comments, pix, books, recordings, discussions about music, etc. We looked at Ning, but it doesn't seem to offer all the features we wanted. We really weren't looking for just another forum. Google Reader offers a good blog sharing feature that we've both adopted, but G-Reader doesn't let you share the comments directly. In the end, you still have to go back to each blog entry to follow the comments.
Until co.mments.com. Gtgp found this today and forwarded it to me. If you notice, in my sidebar, I've added a feature that shows the various individual blog post/comments that I am tracking. Also, if you click on the comment line beneath any of my entries, you'll see a link that lets you track my comments (I guess you have to sign up with their site to make that work.)
But even better, the combined tracking list from co.mments.com is now being fed to my Google Reader as a single feed. It's not perfect, but it does let me see what comments are being added to the specific blog posts that I'm tracking. Better, the GReader feeds include a link that you can use to add additional comments!
The idea of a blogging cellists' community is getting closer...
It's kind of fun - a little like poking around a house you are thinking of buying, and imagining how it will look with your furniture in it.
Once/if we get this setup and debugged, you should find it pretty easy to log into and be able to see the whole cello blogging community in one place.
Gtgp is doing most of the Ning setup :) and she's getting closer.
However, it *does* work if I open the post-a-comment page and use the bookmarklet there. Still think it must have something to do with that cool thing you do with your collapsible comments. FWIW.
Instead, I now feed the Co.mment Tracker to my Google Reader. There I have it set up to share the co.mments feed back to this blog's sidebar in a separate G-Reader box.
If anyone is interested, the Ning project is moving along. Check it out: Cello Bloggers.
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Thursday, March 01, 2007
Satisfactory, steady progress on Ashokan Farewell. I was able to play through the entire piece (pizz) at a reasonable approximation of the correct rhythm. My fingers are starting to go where they are supposed to, more often than not. I think this is the toughest piece I've taken on so far. It's not really that hard (!), but it has several slurred eighth note runs across several strings. Today, as I was working on it, I had one of those moments when I realized how far I've come with the cello. A year ago, I would have looked at this piece and not understood even the simplest part of it. Now, as I look at any individual segment, I can "hear" it in my head and then be "almost happy" with the results when I play it. Today as I played though it, I suddenly remembered that this piece had been one of my primary motivations way back when I was much younger and was trying to become a fiddler; and now, finally, I'm actually playing it. (Well, almost. But soon...)
Finally, this afternoon, after three weeks (!) my bow is back, sporting new hair. I can't wait to try it out tomorrow.
This latest cold, dry spell is now entering a third week as a massive high pressure cell sits over the state (no doubt the reason for all the climatic havoc in the rest of the country). Overnight temps fall well below zero, with the bright blue sunny days warming up to 15F or so. These super low humidities haven't made my cello sound so tight and nasally as it did last time. Maybe the Dominant strings have something to do with it. I am keeping my dampits wet and my room humidifier running full time. The forecast calls for a little snow on Monday and then more cold dry weather for a few more weeks. Believe it or not, I had lunch today with someone who complained about the weather! Whatever.
This "new" method really does seem to be helping me, much more than the tapping ever did.
There is a cello version of Ashokan Farewell that you might enjoy listening to on the Adagio Trio CD, Stillpoint.
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