Sunday, April 29, 2007
I built a couple personalized "stations" that included the artists I had listed in my recent post about World Cafe - one with current music, and one with, shall we say, "historical" music.
Nice. Very little repetition. Lots of surprises. Interesting.
Now I have to work on transferring this to my home stereo system - the computer speakers just don't quite cut it, although with headphones it isn't so bad. Now, if I could just access Pandora in my car, I wouldn't need a radio or an iPod.
Too bad Pandora isn't very big on classical music. Still, a nice program for my non-classical moments.
Hope you're doing well and not lost in the Pandora like I am.
It is too bad it doesn't do much classical music but it's still fun!
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Friday, April 27, 2007
(and so many others before them),
in that great cello choir in the sky;
playing for the angels.
Thursday, April 26, 2007
I didn't give up
Last night I scanned through my blog archives and read several old lesson reports. By far the majority of them try to document what went on at the lesson, what I played, what tips and techniques I learned, what issues I needed to work on, and my general impressions of how I was doing. A few reports though, were like my last one - frustration, almost despair, failure; as if I were just wasting my time.
So, another low point.
But, yesterday morning I forced myself to pull the cello out of its case and tune it up as usual. Due to an appointment in town I only had an hour, so I quickly worked through an abbreviated warmup and turned to a few of the pieces that I had so painfully flubbed the day before. I focused on the weak segments and worked through them slowly and repeatedly. No breakthroughs, no new sense of accomplishment, but also, no sense of failure either. Today, I returned to my full two-hour practice routine, again concentrating on the tough parts.
With the warmer weather (finally!) and higher absolute humidities, I'm again getting frustrated at my cello's sound: raw, scratchy, sort of wolfy, some notes booming. I'm not ready to start fooling around with strings, and such, although I've been adjusting the wolf eliminator. I'm going to have to just play through it. Unfortunately, I don't have too much confidence in the luthier in Anchorage. I really didn't feel as if he cared one way or the other, and was almost dismissive of my concerns...
Meanwhile, for a change of pace, I'm going to spend a little time with my electric cello. I bought some new strings (Helicores) for it, and I'm curious to see how they sound. The nice thing about the electric is that although it lacks the warmth and timbre of the acoustic, it is a lot less susceptible to ambient conditions and there is no wolf.
Weather changes are just hard on cellists. What I find helps is to fight my tendency to tighten each time I hear a bad sound and instead try to make the bad sound worse with a lot of sloppy gooey weight into the string. Amazing how much better it sounds.
Totally understand when that happens....I even have a name for it-"chop." It's when you feel though although you've been working hard nothing seems to work anymore. It's normal...even professionals go though it once in a while. :) It used to scare me but then I realized that after the "chop" period, my technique would improve most of time. Basically it's a case of your body catching up with the new things you're learning.
Some things that have helped me: Taking a couple of days off (a rest period) and doing something non-playing. Playing through old pieces or even reading through new ones. Focusing on a different aspect of techinique. (ie bow patterns instead of left hand) And my favorite....chamber music party!
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Tuesday, April 24, 2007
I've been playing all these pieces over and over for weeks, working on the tough parts, thinking carefully about how these pieces were put together and how they were supposed to sound. I was ready for this lesson.
Is it possible that you OVER-practiced? This has happened to me at times, where I'm so intent on getting it as "perfect" as it was in my practice session, that I forget to relax and concentrate on making it sound musical. In fact, I'm already anticipating that happening to me at my lesson this week. Whenever I become "satisfied" with my sound it backfires at some point.
Donna is right that relaxing is important. It is hard to relax once you start making mistakes and feeling tense, of course. You might want to stop, take a deep breath, think about what you are going to play, and let the tension drain from your body.
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Sunday, April 22, 2007
Controlling the bow arm
This morning as I was warming up with my cello, my mind drifted off thinking about something else and I almost completely stopped paying attention to what I was doing. I must have gotten pretty distracted because all of a sudden I realized I had "let go" of my right shoulder and was just using my wrist and forearm and elbow with the bow. The tension in my shoulder had released and my neck and jaw tension was almost gone.
As I played on, I tried using a progressive tense/relax process to sort out exactly which muscles I'd been using to do what. I figured out that I have been "pushing" with my back and shoulder (with feedback to my neck and jaw) as I moved my arm to move the bow. With some further trial and error, I was able to adjust which muscles I was using, letting go of most of the action in the back/shoulder/neck/jaw muscle group while still controlling the bow with my arm, elbow and wrist. Actually, it was easier to do it than to try to describe it with words.
But what a difference! I felt more in control of the sound itself, not just which notes I played, but also how they sounded. As I continued to play, I felt the tension begin to creep back in, so I stopped, redid all the relaxation steps again and played on. This happened several times throughout the session. It is hard to continuously focus on just one aspect of playing technique.
Even better, I also noticed that with so much of my attention being focused on the right arm muscle controls, my left hand pretty much did what it was supposed to do, effortlessly - and with a relaxed thumb! I played through several pieces almost without thinking about my regular trouble spots and found that I didn't stumble on them this time.
Now, the challenge is to remain conscious of these muscle control thoughts, but without thinking about it anymore. It's all about control.
Playing technique aside, I am quite pleased with the quality of my sound of my cello. The strings I'm using are really nice (Dominants on the lowers and Larsens on the uppers). They seem to be a good match. Currently, after a lot of trial and error, I've ended up with a 7-gram Bice eliminator on the g-string. Although this produces a slight "booming" sound around the Bb, I've been able to work around it by sliding the eliminator a bit toward the tailpiece. Yesterday, I checked the angle of my bridge to the cello's face and found it to be quite warped. It wasn't too difficult to restore it to its proper position, and it re-tuned quite easily. So now, I'm wondering if this warping is due to quality of the wood.
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Friday, April 20, 2007
Now, all of a sudden, Mooney's Position Pieces presents some songs that use diamond-shaped notes. Harmonics! I've done some experimenting with harmonics for some time, so I knew how to play them - more or less. Although producing pure, clean sounds is a challenge.
But my hard-won see/feel/hear connection no longer works, here. While these diamond-notes are still fingered the same, they no longer sound the same. Until now, I've used the score to help memorize the sound of the piece as I memorize the fingering. But with harmonics, the locations of the diamond notes on the staff no longer matches their relative sounds - at least using my non-harmonic frame of reference. This has added a new wrinkle to my memorizing process. Even though I "know" that the harmonic for the "G" (on the d-string) is higher than the harmonic at the "A" (on the d-string) it still surprises me when I play it from the score and the relative interval is opposite to what I "expected" to hear.
I do like the "new" sounds.
But what else am I going to have to unlearn?
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Tuesday, April 17, 2007
The other day I was scanning the Cellos2Go online catalogue and saw a few cello books by Editio Budapest, so I sent an email to Ellen G asking if she'd look in their tables of contents to see if this piece was listed. She's so cool; I really like buying from her. She replied back that the LeClerc duet was titled "Tambourin". Finally! Problem solved! I searched for more information about music with that title, and found out that this piece was originally composed for the harpsichord by Jean-Phillipe Rameau (1683-1764). It was published in 1724 in his Second Book of Parts for the Harpsichord. Here's a copy of that score. You can also listen to a clip of the harpsichord version by scrolling down to Sample #8 in this Amazon link. Apparently LeClerc just arranged it as a cello duet at some point after that. Maybe that explains why I never could find out much about him.
I still like the piece better played slower as a cello duet, but then I'm biased.
[Picture credit: routesamericaines.blogspirit.com]
Sunday, April 15, 2007
I used to think that kids should be totally shielded from any violence; the less they were exposed, the less likely they'd become violent adults. When our oldest boys were toddlers, we tried to shield them from all sorts of violence; they weren't allowed to play with toy guns, nor toy knives, nor even toy bows and arrows. In fact we threw out our TV when our oldest son was born. That lasted about 8 years. Then one dreary November - as we dreaded another long dark winter - we caved in and bought a new TV and a VCR (it would just be for renting movies). But, a month later - in the darkest, coldest part of the winter - I was up on the roof trying to plant and aim an antenna towards Anchorage (just to watch the news, of course - and PBS). It wasn't that long before all our resolve to limit our TV fell by the wayside, and we soon found ourselves watching whatever was on. A few years later we installed a 10-foot C-band dish and went global. Now we have Dish Network with a DVR, so we watch whatever we want whenever. Adult situations, violence, gore, all the worst of it. Regrettably, Z has been exposed to most of it.
I feel guilty for not having been more restrictive, but surprisingly, Z ignores TV most of the time. He seldom watches anything. He does listen to the news once in a while and will watch a few nature documentaries (and of course he[we] like[s] Heroes, My Name is Earl and The Office), but given the choice, he'd rather turn on Cartoon Network's Adult Swim for background noise while he's playing his computer games. Oh yeah, he also loves Robot Chicken. As for me, I've watched so much TV in my life that I now find most of it boring and insipid. Far too often, I've figured out who's the perpetrator within the first ten or fifteen minutes of those hour-long cop shows. And I detest reality shows and the soap/dramas. Nowadays, TV mostly serves as background noise while I'm using my computer.
So much for non-violence. So much for protecting my kids from the evils that exist in the world. Still, computer games go way beyond the real world, don't they? But maybe there isn't that great a difference between what goes on in World of Warcraft and the random suicide bombings in marketplaces in Iraq or the cynical attempts to starve entire populations in Africa?
Clearly, these "video games" provide lot of mental stimulation and teach problem-solving skills; a lot of strategizing and team-building is needed to succeed and advance. But, surely, if a kid only experiences the violence (and lack of consequences) in these games from an early age, with little exposure to any countering influences - especially from his parents - won't his "reality" become warped, just a little? I'd guess there's an age of extreme vulnerability, where the developing mind is most open to these things. Much the same as a young child is able to learn a foreign language by assimilation. [Interesting that our school system waits until a child is way beyond that stage before they offer any foreign language classes].
If I really wanted I guess I could make an equal argument that my excessive blogging and blog-reading is rotting what's left of my brain. Enough complaining about the evil that lurks in our computers. Z is a good kid, and I'm intensely proud of him.
I found my 7 month old son on the carpet one day, he was crawling around with my cordless mouse pretending it was a car. By the time he was nearly a year he managed to take his dad's golf clubs, and crawl with them and a golf ball he'd stolen from the bag and crawl, pause hit, and then crawl to where the ball had gone. By the time he could walk he was picking up twigs and bits of wood and pretending they were guns. And this is a child growing up in southern spain, no kindergarten, closely supervised playdates with a full time mom. No TV except for the tamest of disney DVD's and certainly no guns, swords or anything else. not even a water pistol.
We've had to accept that there is testosterone and to try and channel it into things like judo and sport.
Apparently there is a link between watching too much violence on TV and violence, but I'm not sure if that takes the family background into account. I'm sure there is a higher chance of a child being influenced by violence if the dad wallops him or his mum when things go wrong than if the home is otherwise peaceful ....
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Thursday, April 12, 2007
Is it just Z or do all kids get so engrossed with these online games that they don't think of anything else? He's pretty good at them - probably typical of any 14 year old. But if we don't constantly intercede, he wouldn't eat, sleep, bathe, or even talk again. If he could physically get inside the game, he probably would - never to return. I'm going to show my age, here, but the movie, Tron, comes to mind...
We have specific rules and expectations [a detailed online schedule, TV options, chores, reading time, bed time, and homework time], and he's usually pretty good about conforming to them. The computer is in our living room (it's also my office during the day), so we can monitor his activities; and no TV in his bedroom. But it isn't easy. At one point I even had to set a "rule" that if I had to remind him again of these rules, he'd have to log off for a full weekend day - that was actually pretty effective.
Somehow though, Z still manages to make pretty good grades - he's in the top 10% of his 9th grade class. We do set high expectations, but we constantly have to push. Fortunately his school posts grades online so we can monitor his progress on a regular basis and catch problems before it's too late to do anything about them. When Z's grades started to slip a few months ago, we immediately cut his online time, significantly. It worked. He buckled down, amped up his homework time, started studying at home more, and brought his grades back up. Not as good as we'd really like to see, but he really did make a sincere effort. So this current quarter we relaxed the online time restriction a little - not nearly as much as before that "crisis" but enough to reward him and give him a little incentive: Better grades means more online time.
But, for all that I feel a little as if I've failed him somehow. As if we've been too permissive. Of course, every generation of parents worries that their kids' brains are being rotted (?) by whatever's popular at the time. I suppose parents in the 70s worried because their kids were hooked on Pong. Mine sure worried that rock music would rot my brain - actually it did.
I know some parents who don't let their kids use the computer for anything except homework - no computer games and absolutely no internet (which means no email accounts, either). Nor do they watch TV. These kids make straight A's, study music, volunteer in the community, do sports, and so on. My kid just plays on the internet; we have to drag him to anything that might actually broaden his mind - concerts or plays for example. These parents are so dedicated and so intense. In some ways I envy them. In hindsight, I wish we had home-schooled Z from the beginning. I suppose we could start now, but it would be a real uphill battle at this point.
I don't feel as if I've not been a good parent. From the moment of his birth I've made an effort to spend as much time with him as possible, talking, reading, reading, reading, playing with toys, chauffeuring him and his friends, going to all the soccer/baseball/basketball practices and games, playing horsey, even just sitting together. We are still very close, although he is slowly drawing away - as would be expected from any teenager.
Z's older brothers (now almost 30 and 31) are quite successful in their careers and seem well-adjusted, so we feel we were reasonably adequate as parents to them. And, we let them play computer games - the 80s versions - Space Quest, King's Quest, etc. In fact, in junior high school, B found a way to get into the inter-library system and through that into the internet even before Algore invented it. He patiently downloaded an early version of Linux over our 3K modem (it took weeks). Now he's one of the founding Linux geeks. So, maybe I shouldn't be so worried.
But I still can't get past the notion that so much online warrior role-playing is rotting his brain.
Deciding the right balance with games can be difficult, let alone achieving it once you've decided. ;) It sounds like together, you have that part pretty much sorted, which is impressive. For myself, I try to use this question as a guide: "At the end of the day/week/month, what will I wish that I *had* done?"
I don't know how much you know about the game, but one of the big appeals of WoW is how open ended the game is. You can complete quests together or in a small group, test your skill against other players (Player Vs Player, or PvP), gather materials to sell crafted goods, attempt to manipulate the commodity market, or organize up to 40 people to complete a 'raid' quest together.
You can do most of these things entirely by yourself or in a guild with ten to hundreds of other players. Either way, the game is structured so that you'll be interacting with other players. Banding with strangers to fight players on the other 'side', to get a quest done, negotiating to buy and sell goods and services, organizing within the good to achieve some larger long term goal, taking part in decisions about how the guild resources should be pooled and directed, and resolving disputes. All of this while you've got a name on your character that you can't change, which means that your reputation is permanent. Your skill in the game, but more importantly, how you treat or deal with people, along with your skill in the game is reflected in which guilds will let you join, who will group with you, and the general reaction of other players.
Although I don't have a kid, I think how I felt about them playing would depend a lot on *how* they played, and what they did in the game.
Whew, that was a novel!
Thanks for taking the time to read my long-winded post and for your thoughtful answer. I do like the "community" idea of this game (versus Guild Wars for example) and I like that the character has to live with the consequences of his actions.
He does stop and tell me (and show me) what's going on in the game and sometimes asks for help in solving some of th quests. Nevertheless, I'll continue to be wary.
When I was a youth/teen I wiled away the hours reading anything and everything I could get my hands on. Kids need to be free to explore the world in their own way, IMO. But I'm child-free so there's plenty I don't know about it.
I also read everything I could get my hands on as a kid, but that didn't protect my brain from the wickedness of Rock and Roll.
The lecturer i'm doing a psychology course with reckons that kids brains are evolving way way faster than schooling can keep up with and that game playing and adhd type behaviour is actually very adaptive to the needs of the modern world in fact.
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Wednesday, April 11, 2007
Another lesson (#29)
At first my left thumb cramped up - I'd never had this happen before. It massaged out pretty quickly while we talked about string choices and bow holds. My G-string, in particular has been acting up, squeaking on the open G. She tried several approaches and recommended using a lighter touch on the bow, since the Dominant string seems to be so responsive. Even though the C-string is also a Dominant, it doesn't act that way at all.
We worked through the Bourree. I started playing too quickly and messed up right away. But I restarted at a slower pace and did fairly well. I've not had much problem playing this one. I started learning it the right way - pizzicato for the first two weeks, and gradually coming up to speed. My main issue on this one is accurate rhythm and counting, and of course playing it over and over. I've already got it memorized, but I've been forcing myself to play it from the score anyway. On The Two Grenadiers, I again fumbled once or twice on the start, but eventually I did fairly well. There's still one particular measure that is giving me problems, but otherwise the only issue is accurate rhythm and counting. The Gavotte has a longer way to go. I've memorized it and can play it without the score, but since it is such a fast tempo I've been trying to push it too soon. The string crossings are pretty sloppy and we talked a lot about how to practice these. Also, I need to work on stopping those staccato notes cleanly, and abruptly.
The main theme from the lesson - a familiar theme - is that I have to pay much more attention to rhythm. Counting aloud while playing - slowly... The metronome has helped considerably, but I find I often just ignore it - especially when I'm still not comfortable yet with all the notes and the flow of the piece.
Finally, we turned to Rick Mooney's "Position Pieces" and played a few there. I've worked on these for the last two weeks. But, as before, my starts were rotten and I'd have to restart more than once before being able to play them through. Still, I thought I did pretty good, considering these were quite new. Finally, we turned to a new one and talked over how to analyze a new piece, how to break it down into small sections and find the rhythms and consider the bowings and then the fingerings; to analyze and review the shifts, to review any string changes, to identify chord progressions, and so on. A good discussion for me; helps me to think about he music in a different way.
Then, she showed me a few pieces that are played totally with harmonics. That was fun.
This morning I removed the wolf eliminator that the luthier in Anchorage had put on in February. It was his own design, a Sacagewa dollar with clips soldered to the back so it could be fitted over both the D and G-strings. Although it was an improvement over the single Bice eliminator I'd previously used on my G-string, I started to suspect it wasn't doing enough to tame both the wolf at the E, and it was somehow just transferring the problems onto the G-string somehow. I replaced it with two Bice eliminators,a 7 gram on the G-string and a 5-gram on the D-string. It sounds pretty good! Most (but maybe not all) of the G-string issues seemed to have gone away for now.
A new cellist showed up a Monday's orchestra rehearsal. She's an adult late starter, with only a few months experience. There's a chance another beginner will show up next week...
My teacher suggested exactly the same thing several times. But I sing so badly that even I can't stand to hear it.
Finally, she suggested I at least start counting the rhythms aloud to the metronome. We'll see.
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Tuesday, April 10, 2007
Emails from the Future
Whatever, just in case whoever is sending me these emails from 2032 Googles themselves and finds this post: Please stop spamming me. I don't open your emails. I don't read them. I never click on ANY of your bogus links. So find something else to do with these new-found precious time-waves. Send us the cure for diabetes or cancer, or at least send us a weather report from 2032 so we can figure out whether or not global warming is just the latest media hype (remember the Population Bomb, or Y2K?), or maybe tell us whether or not there's some solution to the increasing madness in the middle east.
Friday, April 06, 2007
What if this weren't a rhetorical question?
I've always had an eclectic taste in "popular" music, from Jefferson Airplane to Simon & Garfunkel, Van Morrison, the Doors, Moody Blues, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, Neil Young, Patti Smith, Laurie Anderson, Ricky Lee Jones, The Cranberries, The Cocteau Twins, and of course Emmylou :) My vinyl collection is full of the odd and unusual along with many of the standards from that era. (One day I've got to convert all of these to digital). My CD collection is much less extensive - higher prices, less time to listen, and less music that really appealed to me. Somewhere in the 70s, the bizarre and inexplicable popularity of disco music almost drove me away from the record stores. I nearly stopped listening to the radio altogether.
I'd be lost without World Cafe. How refreshing it is! What's eerie is that I've heard all of the above groups at least once in just the last month or so on World Cafe. Currently, I'm enjoying Ray Lamontagne, Madeliene Peyroux, The Decemberists, Let's Go Sailing, The Shins, Patty Griffin, Coldplay, Jonatha Brooke. Where else could you hear this odd mix of music, often with live performances and interviews? Just for fun, he tosses in Kris Kristofferson, Fairport Convention (!), Muddy Waters, Richard Thompson...
I like how Ray LaMontagne features a strong string section, with the cello so prominent. It seems as if the cello is starting to show up more and more in this type of music. A mi me gusta mucho eso.
In the past year and a half, I've been buying and listening to cello music more than anything else, except of course, for World Cafe. Lately, I've begun to notice that as I've slowly improved my own abilities to make music, as I begin to get past the struggle of just finding the proper fingerings and can start to pay attention to the connections and the spaces between the notes I'm playing, the more I am able to appreciate all of the rest of the music that I used to just "hear". It has opened a whole new world for me - not only the new and innovative, but all the stuff in my collections, too.
The two-month long subzero cold snap finally broke this past weekend. Today the temps reached the mid 40s, and the winter's accumulation of snow and ice is now melting FAST!
Thank goodness "World Cafe" is picked up by my local public radio station. That keeps me donating year after year. Sometimes I listen to XPN on the internet...
David, it's so weird to hear that Laurie Anderson is being taught as a subject in music history - egad.
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Tuesday, April 03, 2007
The Musical Curing of Mice
This story is so much a part of Japanese culture that today, "cello hiki" - one who plays the cello - is also called "goshu".
[Thanks to Yoshioka for the links.]
EDIT: Here is a link to a detailed synopsis of this story, also a Wikipedia article.