Wednesday, May 23, 2007


Carving a cello in 1094 photos

Jasmine Davis, from Gosforth, Australia, recently completed a six month project to craft a cello. She photographed each step of the process in exquisite detail and published them here: Cello Gallery.

I am impressed with the amount of patience and persistence, using simple - often homemade - tools that she needed to do this. The finished product is quite pretty. I would love to hear how it sounds.

Cool gallery. It made me wonder about the purpose of purfling, and while googling I came across another 'making a cello' page here.
Purfling sure seems to be one of the most exacting tasks, doesn't it? The whole process is so fascinating to me. I spent a couple hours scrolling through all those photos (Jasmine is quite a photographer as well as a luthier.)

A sister of David Wiebe, the luthier in that other gallery, is a pianist and violist who lives nearby. She is the prime sponsor and motivator of classical music in our area. She says her brother's instruments are "sold out" many years before they are even made.
Hey! G-man! Buddy! Pal...

Okay, here's the deal. Yes I want to help mod whilest you are away, but I changed my email address on my account and I didn't get the confirmation email to un-inactiveify my account. Any suggestions!? Email me @

Thanks Guanaco for your comments on my cello and gallery. If you want sound samples you can download them here:

It was quite a task building the cello but very rewarding. It has exceeded ever expectation that I wished for and it was such an experience that I have already started building my second one.

Thanks again for your comments and link.

Jasmine Davis
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Tuesday, May 22, 2007


We're gearing up

This is my 300th post!

We're gearing up for our journey out to the real world next week (scheduled destinations, so far, include Seattle, San Francisco, and San Diego). It seems the closer it gets the more minor details pop up that need sorting out.

This week I started trying to setup roaming service for the cell phone, internet, and satellite TV. First though, I had to wait through the detailed, long-winded advertisements that now lead off these companies' telephone answering systems. Before offering any options, they made me sit through three to five minutes of commercials for various upgrades, packages, or general BS about their company. Then I was finally able to begin navigating their option mazes. Why is it that the service I need isn't really offered, and none of the listed options is even close? Why is it that the phone company has the worst telephone answering system, with the most levels and the longest waits?

Our trusty motorhome has been checked out, serviced, cleaned, and lubed. Last summer I spent more than a week working through a lengthy list of minor repairs, alterations, and upgrades that had accumulated over the years. This week we had all the seals on the roof stripped off and replaced. An extremely expensive project, but apparently common enough for Alaska. The sealant materials just don't last through several winters. Now the motorhome is good-as-new and ready to roll.

Still, what a money pit! Other people get caught up with boats, snowmobiles, ATVs, summer-homes, motorcycles, airplanes, etc. Several years ago we began to sink all or our spare cash into a motorhome. Still, we feel it's worth it. In reality, this sort of calculation has no simple answer. Economically, it doesn't make any sense to have a motorhome. Obviously it would be much cheaper to just stay home. It would be cheaper just to fly the red-eye out to visit our grandchildren once a year.

The thing is, I detest flying. I loathe all the airline companies and the entire ordeal of flying. I got spoiled a long time ago; when you could go to the airport, briefly wait in line to check in, and then stroll to the gate about half an hour before boarding. After a short wait in the boarding area with family and friends, you could walk onto the plane and reasonably expect to take off more-or-less on time and arrive more-or-less on schedule, along with all your luggage. The food was plentiful, if not necessarily tasty (unless you were lucky and upgraded to First Class - with wide seats, lots of legroom, free drinks, hot towels - ah the good old days.) I was fortunate to be able to travel more than million miles that way.

But then it all changed. I'm guessing a lot of it was generated by outside management consultants whose lavish fees came straight out of the pockets of the employees and stockholders as they convinced the airlines to "reduce" seat pitch to squeeze in a few more rows, "consolidate" routes, "optimize" schedules, "downsize" crews, "defer" maintenance, cut meal costs, etc. Aside from the security issues (which I don't begrudge at all), the rest of the process has become so dang annoying. I hate their lack of accountability; their arrogance; their lies and denials. My once-favorite airline which "schedules" dozens of daily flights to this area, began to cancel one or two flights each day - always just at the last minute. It was OBVIOUS that their only reason is to save money by cramming all the stranded passengers onto the unsold seats on flights later that day. Missed connections? Tough luck.

I've gotten to where I'd much rather drive five days down to Seattle than go through the hassles, aggravations and uncertainties involved with flying there. We really like sleeping in our own bed, not having to live out of suitcases, making our own meals, using our own furniture. There's no better way to travel. Z used to call our motorhome trips "turtling".

Usually, we try to drive on the two-lane "blue highways", avoiding the interstates if at all possible. Way too many trucks driving way too fast. Besides, they're all the same. You fall into a rut of passing and/or being passed. The scenery becomes a blur because of all the traffic. The anonymous exits with their mini cities of three or four gas stations with integrated convenience stores, two or three fast food joints, and one or two motels that try to catch your attention as you scream by at 75 mph by advertising their exit numbers twenty to thirty miles ahead of time. These blue highways have taken us through many fascinating towns off the beaten path: Austin and Eureka, Nevada; Alpine, Texas; Cloudcroft and Ruidoso, New Mexico; Show Low, Arizona; Moab, Utah; Prineville and Cave Junction, Oregon; Thermopolis, Wyoming; and so many more small towns scattered across the western states.

We like to travel rather aimlessly. We meander; often not planning our next day's route (or sometimes even direction) until we've settled in at a campground the night before. One year, just after we got to Great Falls, Montana, we flipped a coin to decide whether to head southeast or southwest. That year we ended up in Key West. We've driven to Florida twice, south Texas twice, and California and Arizona several times. Two years ago, we spent some time in my old college town, New Orleans, just a few weeks before it was destroyed by Katrina. I fear we wouldn't recognize it now.

We've worked out a comfortable driving routine when we're on-the-go: leaving the RV Park/campground quite early and having the road to ourselves for the first few hours; a brief stop at a rest area for breakfast, and onward until lunch at another rest area or park. We usually stop for the day in mid-afternoon. Arriving at the campgrounds early usually get us a good spot, and we can relax for the rest of the day, sometimes taking a walk or sight-seeing in the area, and then just vegging out in our shell.

Last year we didn't go "outside"; instead we took a couple short in-state trips. After a few "discussions", Z has agreed to "participate" in this trip. Not that he has a choice, but like any teenager, he could probably make things tedious for us if he wanted to. Fortunately, he's a generally good-natured kid and we were able to talk this out. On our side, we've agreed to try to stay in WiFi-enabled campgrounds whenever possible. This year we're also taking our dog, cat, and guinea pig. We brought our guinea pig (Floyd's predecessor) a few times before, but we always left the dog with my brother, and the cat is relatively new. Three critters and an overgrown kid in one confined space for the next six weeks....hmm. I suspect this will be our last long trip in the motorhome until Z goes to college... By then we'll have finally paid it off, but I guess we'll have to start putting that money toward his college costs, instead.

Also different from our previous trips is me wanting to set aside time to practice my cello. I am regretfully leaving my acoustic at home, but I'm bringing my Yamaha silent electric cello. I'm still trying to figure out where to stash all my music accessories - cushion, stand, metronome, music books, spare strings, etc. My goal is to be able to play through the first two pieces in Suzuki 3 (slowly, at least), and to be ready for our orchestra's summer concert at the end of July - if we get home in time. That means that somehow I've got to keep up a daily practice routine, maybe not two and a half hours, but still, something every day if possible.

This week, I started working on two new pieces in Suzuki 3, Berceuse by Shubert, and Gavotte by Lully. I've been spending time just tapping out the rhythms, bumping into the tricky segments and then concentrating on them. Then, I'll play pizzicato - very slowly - measure by measure. I started bowing the Berceuse yesterday. It will be quite a while before I'll do any bowing on the Gavotte.

I also started playing scales and arpeggios into third and fourth positions. I'm not having that much trouble finding fourth position - I was expecting it to be more difficult. I'm nowhere near acceptable, yet, but my ear has improved to where I can know where and how far I'm off, and I'm able to get it right after a few more tries. I suppose it helps that I've done daily second and third position exercises for almost a year now.

Eighteen months into this, and it just gets more and more interesting.

Cute turtles! RV-ing sounds like a smart way to travel. The closest I've done is car-camping. It's nice having your own stuff and your own car once you get there, isn't it? I'm looking forward to your arrival.
The tortoises are wonderful! Very apropos for an RVing post.

How do you find switching back and forth between the electric and acoustic instruments?
It only takes a few minutes to get the "feel" of the Yamaha (it is quite a bit heavier, with a thicker neck).

While there are certainly differences in quality, one thing going for the Yamaha is that it has no wolf. My acoustic cello's wolf paces back and forth between C# and F# depending on the temperature and humidity and location of the supressor.

Sometimes it's a relief to pull out the Yamaha for a session or two. But then I start to miss the resonance and depth of sound, so I switch back.
Congrats on your 300th post! I also love traveling blue highways--I've done enough interstate to know that I hate it.
You're coming to Seattle? Great! It's an awesome place. While you're here, try checking out the classical radio station, 98.1 FM. We have one of the *best* classical stations here in the Pacific Northwest.
The Lully Gavotte is an awesome piece. I loved it when I played it last year! Have fun with that one!
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Tuesday, May 15, 2007


I am still laughing

If you've read David Sedaris, you'll really appreciate this post by Miss Doxie.

It really hit home for someone who found himself struggling to get along in a foreign language long before he was ready or able.

I read Miss Doxie on your recommendation - it's great fun! It reminds me of a French guide book (but written in 'English')I bought in an area on the Loire which has troglodyte homes. It kept us entertained for the whole holiday, but full marks to the village for a great effort!
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Saturday, May 12, 2007



Today, the Central Peninsula Youth and Community Orchestra presented our spring concert. What an experience!

I was really ready for this. I knew these pieces by heart. Just recently I realized I was finally in control of the tempos and rhythms for all these pieces. I had been practicing them mentally each morning on my treadmill (each step a quarter note or a half note, depending on the piece). I even got to where I was picturing the fingering and bowing as I walked. I was also mentally prepared to make a fumble or two, and I was sure I could recover and get back into it, if necessary.

I played lead cello (only because the other three cellists were relatively new to the group.) We were twenty string players with our conductor, and we really came together well. All that hard work showed.

I found myself in a zone, fully conscious of each note I played, yet a part of me was able to listen to the sound of the whole group. We only played five short pieces, but as we completed each one, I felt an exhilaration of accomplishment that built on itself. What a rush! On the next to last piece, as I had dreaded, I missed one or two notes, but I quickly recovered and played on. Normally that would have bothered me and I'd be obsessing about it right now, but that just didn't happen. I know what to do to better prepare for these stumbles next time. That part was so minor compared to the rest of it. The good parts more than outweighed the bad.

Our next gig is to be a brief luncheon concert in early August as part of our local summer music festival. Then we'll regroup in the fall.

Yay! I'm glad it went so well. I love performing when it goes well, it's such a rush.
Congratulations! I like what you said about finding yourself "in a zone, fully conscious of each note I played, yet a part of me was able to listen to the sound of the whole group." That's the best, when you're performing and can hear the part and the whole, in a non-everyday way.
That's fantastic! I'm so happy for you.
Congratulations! You worked hard and richly deserve that exhilaration of accomplishment!
Congrats! Well earned rejoicing in order!
Ahhh ... the ZONE. It's the best place to be. I know that feeling of exhilaration that you mentioned. It's fantastic. It compares to nothing else, and I think that's what makes it all worth while. I'm so happy for you!

BTW, I do a similar quarter note step-counting thing when I'm out walking. It's great for practicing rhythms.
Good going, congratulations! All the hard work paid off, it sounds like.
Thanks, everyone, for your continued encouragement and support. It means a lot to me.

This is exactly what I was trying to describe in my earlier post about how blogging and the blogosphere is helping me in my quest to learn the cello.
It's not a real concert for me (i.e. the "zone") unless I make at least one mistake. The real fun is continuing a rollercoaster. Congrats!

(And thanks for being so open in your blog.)
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Friday, May 11, 2007


Another Milestone

Yesterday, almost exactly one year after starting Suzuki Book 2, my teacher opened Suzuki Book 3 (!) and we talked about the first three pieces, and some of the scales and position drills at the back of the book; and third position, fourth position, half position, harmonics, minor scales, alternate fingerings! Lots of new things to start learning! I'll be starting out on most of this by myself, but she encouraged me to email her if I had any questions. She also cautioned me to take it slowly and patiently. In fact, I'm not to work on the fingerings of these three pieces until I have their rhythms solidly in my head. I'll have to listen to the CD, a lot. Then, and only then start working on the fingerings - pizzicato - until that's done. Finally, the bow.

When I first opened Book 2, I figured I should be able to breeze through it in no time at all - six or seven months, maybe. Back then, I was pretty optimistic about my capacity to learn this thing. I was in such a hurry. Then, at some point, I wised up. I realized that I had a LOT to learn, and there was no way I could fake it. Each piece in the Suzuki process is designed to teach me something, and it is important to master each new technique before trying to push on. Trying to play beyond my capabilities would only bring frustration. So, I completely stopped worrying about how far I was advancing in the book, and I just worked diligently on each piece in front of me, trusting my teacher to guide me. I assumed she wouldn't move me on to the next level until I was ready.

I'm way too close to my daily practicing to be able to "measure" my progress. Maybe I should have recorded myself; maybe I should be doing so now.... Clearly my teacher, hearing me play only twice a month, has been able to monitor my progress. By no means am I finished with Book 2; I've still got hours and hours of practice, slowly picking up the tempo, working on the now all-too-familiar tough segments. I still work in Book 1 every day, and in Mooney's Position Pieces.

This was my last lesson (#31) until late July. We're leaving in two weeks on an extended driving trip down the West Coast - stopping to see our older sons (and our grandchildren) in Seattle and San Francisco and then on down to San Diego. After that, who knows? We haven't yet made any firm plans beyond those first two stops.

I'll be bringing my Yamaha cello. It will be hard to leave my acoustic behind, but... I'm worried about it drying out and cracking. After talking with several people, I've decided to store it in its case in my bedroom closet (on the coolest corner of the house) with a 5 gallon bucket of water. I'm also bringing the small amp, and I really want to try to set aside enough time to practice, although there will be lots of competing distractions...

I am looking forward to your blogging whilst on the move. It will require self-discipline and love of the cello to keep practising, but I think you have those in abundance! Happy holiday!
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Sunday, May 06, 2007


Celloblogging, Part 2

I honestly had no idea what I was getting into when I decided to pick up the cello at age 55. Of course I knew it would not be easy - that's why I had failed with the piano, the clarinet, and the violin. Still, I hadn't really understood how hard it would be has been is to really buckle down and do the work necessary to learn this powerful yet stubborn instrument. Little did I know that, 18 months into the process, I would still find myself stumbling over small fingering or bowing difficulties in old, familiar pieces - that I have played daily for months and months.

From the beginning, I note the date that my teacher "allows" me to start each new piece, as a way to track my progress. So, today, for the first time I played The Two Grenadiers, from Suzuki Book 2, without any errors. I started working on this piece on October 24 - just over six months ago. I finally got that one pesky rhythm segment (tricky for me, anyway) that comes about halfway through. I had isolated it many times and drilled it over and over, and each time I felt as if I had "gotten" it, but when I put it back into the whole piece, I'd blow it once again. Today, finally, it was different. To celebrate, I played the entire piece again - flawlessly again, and then again one more time just to make sure this wasn't some anomaly.


Still, what are the odds that I can do this again Tuesday at my next lesson? I know my a-rhythmic issues get in the way of my playing. Long after I know the notes, and can play totally from memory, I often find myself stumbling on simple rhythms.

So. The narrative above illustrates what I've tried to use this blog for - to document my cello learning progress; to try to put words to what I was doing, what I was struggling with, what I was frustrated with, what I was successful with. To somehow make tangible the intangible.

The engineer in me originally wanted to create a bunch of charts and diagrams, to try to find some logical measurement systems to track things. I considered keeping a logbook to document the number of hours I practiced - much as I had to do when I was 13 and failing to learn the clarinet (I did learn how to forge my mother's signature on my weekly practice record). Some of my previous blogs dealt with measurement issues, inviting an interesting series of comments - which I really appreciated. I finally worked some of that obsession out of my system, concluding that this type of intangible really couldn't be measured - that the more I tried to measure it, the further away I got from really understanding it - Heisenberg again.

In my first 100 days of blogging I wrote 100 blog entries. Almost always writing about my cello - what I was doing, which pieces I was playing, which artists I was listening to, which particular technical issues I was working on, which techniques I had picked up at my lessons. I also wrote a lot about my cello's sounds. Even knowing my technique was/is the major factor in sound quality, I still spent a lot of time trying out various strings, fussing about bow hair, and chasing that dang wolf (and his little brother). All that is archived here.

I also found myself using this blog as a place to explore other things going on in my head, and in my life. Some early posts included a lot of ranting about politics and social issues going on. I soon tired of that, even now, I get an awkward feeling when I go back and read some of that. It doesn't really fit with what I wanted this blog to be about. Leave the ranting to the 'experts', to those who want to antagonize each other. There was plenty of that stuff in the various forums and chat rooms. There are more than enough things going on in the world to fill a million blog entries without getting into things like that.

But I also used the blog to sort out my feelings about learning things as an adult - like how I had to suddenly learn Spanish at 47. That led me to write about our life's side trip, when we suddenly moved to Patagonia for a year and a half.

I wondered about things I wish my parents had told me about their lives, their ambitions, their dreams, their frustrations. Things they never spoke to us kids about (and never recorded for posterity). It seemed that their generation was not comfortable with this - that only "people of letters" wrote diaries. They are gone, now, and all that is lost to time. I will never know what my father thought about the gut wrenching terror of flying in bombers in the Pacific theater for three and a half long years, how he dealt with his fears, the loss of friends and companions, the dread, that surrender to fate. Other than a few vague memorabilia, I don't even know where he was stationed, which battles he took part in. How close had he come to being shot down...

Maybe some of that goes back to the stoicism of their generation. Maybe some goes to the awkwardness of writing with a pen on paper, compared to the freedom of editing as you type on a PC. Maybe with a handful of kids, a mortgage and a busy job he just didn't have the time or inclination to write it down.

As I blogged on, I realized that I really wanted to leave something more behind, for my kids and grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Even if they never take the time to read any of it, it should be available - at least for scanning and searching.

For the first 99 entries, I never got any comments. I hadn't even thought about comments. That wasn't part of what I was doing at the time. Then that first comment evoked a strange reaction in me - surprise, then just a little bit of pride - someone is reading me (actually I think he stumbled across me via the Next Blog button), but then apprehension - I hadn't really planned on anyone else reading this. I had come to think of it as a diary of sorts - holy crap, what all had I written? I spent some time going back through my archives, making a few edits.

A week or so later, I "met" Eric Edberg via a comment, and then I met Anne-Lise. After another month or so Erin, and Terry, and Pink Fluffy Slippers, and Gottagopractice. By the 150th post I was starting to get comments on most entries. In turn I was reading their blogs and tentatively offering a few comments on theirs. For several months I was checking all their blogs daily for updates. Then I found Google Reader, which updates automatically whenever anyone posts a blog entry or a comment (in some cases). Currently, I've got more than 250 blogs and comment feeds on my G-Reader list - at least 2/3 are cello related.

Then I got 'outed'. My cello teacher's daughter found my blog (I had posted a review of her piano performance and she found it through Google). A few weeks later my soon-to-be orchestra conductor found my blog and sent me a note inviting me to join. All of a sudden I was no longer anonymous. Things were different and I'd have to start censoring myself from then on. I had to consider that some people reading this now knew who I was, right?

So, maybe I do censor myself, now. Maybe the transition from being completely anonymous and unread to being known (to some) and read (by a handful of others) has changed how I write and what I write. Clearly, now, I am conscious as I write that others are sometimes reading this. I has got to be affecting what I write. But it doesn't really bother me. I don't feel constrained by that. I don't feel any less able to write what I want.

I started compiling a list of links to other cellists who blog, and "introducing myself" via the comments. Others found my blog from links on other blogs. This is growing into quite an intricate web of cellobloggers. The list now has 116 124 cellobloggers on it. There is also a link to another 124 Japanese cellobloggers.

This process of choosing words to try to sort out my experiences as a novice student of the cello has helped keep me focused on what I'm doing, and why I'm doing it. It carried me past countless roadblocks and low points that otherwise might have persuaded me to pack it in. My blog became some kind of self-fulfilling motivation to plod onward, despite the seeming lack of progress, the muscle tensions, the untameable screetches, the sore and fumbling fingers, the errant bowings.

As the cellobloggers network began to grow, I discovered an unexpected support network that I could never have imagined. Just reading the blogs of other adult cello students is motivation in itself. Even better is the sharing of kind and thoughtful comments with each other - expressing support and encouragement, celebrating one another's successes, commiserating for the hard days, and exchanging tips and techniques; reinforcing one another as we jointly pursue this fascinating challenge. I find so much inspiration and motivation from this group.

In this hectic world, where music students seldom even see one another unless their lessons are back to back, and orchestra rehearsals often end in a mad scramble to the parking lot, there isn't a lot of opportunity to sit down with other students and talk about our cellos. Especially adult students. Now, the internet has a few forums for cellists, like CelloChat and CelloHeaven. CC is interesting, for sure, but it's too big a group for me to post in; too large and varied, with too many conflicting opinions and disagreements. Celloheaven is much less negative, but it seems to cater to much younger players.

The blogosphere is no less public than these forums, but I find that comments are quite friendly and courteous. There are seldom any disagreeable comments (provided you use your spam protection). If people don't like what they read in a blog, they can simply stop reading it.

By writing it down, documenting it in this public way, I have somehow managed to become more committed to following through and practicing on.

I just spent the weekend with a girlfriend who thinks of herself as social but can not imagine writing blogs about personal feelings for just anyone to read. I guess one has to be comfortable with one's thoughts to keep a public diary. Perhaps bloggers are really reporters just stating facts from a personal viewpoint. Perhaps bloggers have a strong sense of self-censorship before putting anything down in writing.
Thanks for posting this thoughtful two-part discussion on blogging and cello playing/learning. I recognize much of what you write about in me, except that I told friends and family about it from the beginning to make sure I wouldn't say anything I would regret! I kept a private music diary for a year or so, and still occasionally make entries in it, but I do like the idea of communicating with others via bloggery.
This is a great post! I really enjoyed reading it, though you did scare me with the thought of people discovering my blog!
Great post(s). It was a blog, by an amateur viola player in Holland, that inspired me to take cello lessons as an adult, and gave me the dream of someday playing in an orchestra. Much to my surprise, I'm actually playing in an orchestra now.

However, my cello endeavors were for the longest time more a source of self-deprecating stories of failure and frustration on my own blog than anything else. That didn't change until I got the chance to interact and swap stories with other adult cellists. Two I met in real life, but as you mention it is not so easy - you only see one or two people at the most at your lessons, and orchestral interaction is also limited. It wasn't until I discovered your blog, and through you this large group of supportive other cello bloggers (this sounds so weird to me to type) that I began to take seriously the possibility of actually making further progress with the instrument, and increased my practice time and improved my practice methods. I still suck, but I've got a practice spot set up in the cellar where I can play as loud as I want, and I figure with time the increased practice hours will eventually pay off. So, thanks to you and everyone else.
For years I enjoyed keeping diaries and journals and even began a handwritten cello journal and practice log 5 years ago when I started my cello adventures in my mid-fifties. Then I found your blog. And then came the realization that I too could have a blog. Wow ... a journal with the added dimension of sharing experiences, feelings, and progress. All that ... and the anticipation of comments too. How could I resist? I sing my praises to you and to blogging. (although I may change my tune if our pops conductor discovers my blog!)
Great post, Guanaco. You've made me feel good about blogging. It's an adventure and a journey of discovery, isn't it?
On the "you never know who is reading" aspect, I have been writing detailed blog entries about the Anchorage Symphony, their rehearsals and performances, and their conductor, all discreet and with the understanding that it is published material available to everyone. A few weeks ago, though, I found out that both the public relations director and the executive director of the Anchorage Symphony have been reading my blog! It's a good reminder that it is pretty hard to be anonymous, but do we really want to be?
I guess you're never as anonymous as you'd like to believe. A friend I'd not talked to in seven or eight years called me today (with a possible job, no less). He'd tracked me down through Google, which had also linked him to this blog (that surprised me).

I guess as bloggers, we are reporters, aren't we (except that we get to interject opinions and rants and whatever)?

It is very gratifying to get comments on what I write, Thanks...
I am so glad you left a comment on my blog, so that I could trace you back here and read your wonderful thoughts on playing the cello as an adult. It's always interesting to see why others chose to start learning an instrument, particularly as an adult, and also why people chose to start blogging.

I get a lot of my support online from reading blogs of other musicians. And it's interesting in turn to see that I influence others, as I've discovered after concerts when people come up to me and say, "Hi, I read your blog".

I'll be bookmarking you, and am looking forward to exploring your blogroll! Thanks again.
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Saturday, May 05, 2007


On blogging and learning the cello - Part 1

Approximately 18 months ago I abruptly changed the direction that my "declining" years were apparently headed, and allowed myself to succumb to two passions that had always lingered on my wish-list. On the barest of whims, I suddenly rented a cello - after not touching any musical instrument for more than 25 years. That day, I also started this blog.

For as long as I can remember I'd been beating myself up with guilt and remorse because I was wasting my opportunity to learn an instrument. All along, I never had any pretensions that I would become a professional musician, nor even that good of an amateur. But I've always wanted to just be able to make beautiful music, both by myself and along with others. I had pretty much convinced myself that it was indeed "too late". At various times in my first 30+ years, I'd experimented with learning the piano, the clarinet, and the violin. For a variety of reasons, these attempts fizzled. After a painful end to my violin career, I essentially set aside my musical ambitions and focused my energies on other things - a reasonably successful and rewarding career as another wally in the working world.

I'd also always considered myself a frustrated writer. When I was young and idealistic, I imagined that one day I'd write a novel, and in spare moments I tried my hand at writing stories, articles, etc., but without success. In my early years, I filled notebooks with story ideas, drafts, etc. But writing by hand was always cumbersome; I was too hesitant to actually put pen to paper, dreading having to rewrite it all after editing (and I edit - a lot - as I write). When I bought my first computer in 1984, I immediately discovered the "release" of keyboarding, the liberation of those backspace and delete keys, the freedom of being able to edit without rewriting. I found that by getting my thoughts down on paper faster - thinking through both hands - I could keep up with my creative process and was much more satisfied with the results.

I was deeply involved with my job at that time and channeled it all in that direction. And I became a reasonably good technical writer, which helped boost me up that corporate ladder...

After retiring, I obviously had lots of free time. For a few years I dabbled a bit with this and that - woodworking, learning AutoCAD, even some web design - also lots of internet time. But none of these had any lasting appeal. I really liked woodworking, but one day I woke up suddenly unable to use my various saws, drills, planers, and shapers (I think it was the shaper that actually did it). Just like people can suddenly develop a fear of heights, I developed an unfounded fear of power-tools. (In truth, there's more to that - I mangled my forefinger in a table saw accident 25 years ago, which is why I stopped trying to learn the violin, but that's another story.)

As I faced yet another winter, I was determined not to just vegetate through another one. I had been thinking a bit about blogging. I'd even begun to scan a few blogs, but only half-heartedly. I really didn't feel as if I had that much to say; I had no theme to build it on.

Then I saw an ad for a used viola for sale: right-time, right-place. I called and made arrangements to meet her to try it out. But then as I thought about it, I realized that the viola was just not for me (I guess you could insert your favorite viola joke here). I had always wanted to play the cello; why not go for it? So I canceled the tryout and called the strings store in Anchorage about renting a cello. The next day I drove to Anchorage and paid for a two-month rental contract along with a handful of basic lesson books.

Concurrently, I realized that I now had a theme to blog about. That night, I signed up with Blogger as Guanaco and started Cellomania.

OK, I now realize that this is turning out to be a longer topic than I had originally planned. I had intended to discuss how my blogging and my cello playing interact - I guess that's the subject of my next post.

Thanks for sharing your blogging/instrumental history. It's great that you decided to give a go at both a stringed instrument and at blogging, and I like reading your blog.

I also like all of the new template addition you've added to your blog. There's a lot you can do with Blogger if you don't mind getting your hand dirty and mucking about in code@
Looking forward to part 2. You have no idea how much of an inspiration you've been to me over the past 6 months since I've been reading your blog ... not just for cello and blogging, but also for diet, exercise, dedication and discipline. Thank you!
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A concert review

Last night, cellist Eric Wilson and pianist Patricia Hoy, who are on the faculty of the University of British Columbia in Vancouver B.C., presented a concert of "Music of the Romantic Era". The concert, sponsored by the Performing Arts Society, was sparsely attended - not very surprising, since it was a beautiful sunny spring evening, and it followed just a week after the Kenai Peninsula Orchestras big spring concert (we can only support so much 'culture' at one time in this area, I suppose). I arrived early enough to grab a front-row seat just to the right of the cellist. I tried to watch both his bowing and his fingering, but I have to admit, for much of the time I just let the music flow over me.

What a show! The program started with a dark piece by Sibelius, which gave Wilson plenty of opportunity to display his cello's range and emotion. Then a Brahms sonata. This segued nicely into a suite of Spanish dances by Manuel de Falla. Both Hoy and Wilson were in top form here. I was pleased to see the cello veer off into this new direction (for me at least). A Sonata by Richard Strauss followed and then they changed direction with two new jazz pieces by a Russian pianist, Nikolai Kapustin. This was a real treat! Jazz cello. Wow. The audience was enthusiastic, and they came back with a nice piece by Rachmaninoff.

The Performing Arts Society manages to produce five or six such programs each year, bringing a small spot of brilliant light into our area. This is the third performance that included a cellist in less than a year.

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Tuesday, May 01, 2007


Indecisions, indecisions

Our orchestra recital is fast approaching - 12 days. I've been working on the pieces pretty intensely, and have been holding my own at our rehearsals. Now there are four cellos in our group. It was so nice, Monday, to play as part of a full section; and to hear those blended cello sounds.

This weekend I attended a concert by the Kenai Peninsula Orchestra - Schubert's "Mass in G" (with the Kenai Peninsula Community Chorus and the Homer High School Choir), an interesting new work, "An Alaskan Symphony", by composer-in-residence Adrienne Albert, and Beethoven's "Concerto for Piano, Violin, Violoncello, and Orchestra, Opus 56", with Maria Allison on piano, Linda Rosenthal on violin, and Andrew Cook on cello. Cook, who is based in L.A., comes to the Kenai area every year or so for a concert like this one, or to give a solo performance or a chamber concert. I described his last appearance here. I am lousy at describing concerts, so I won't try - other than to say I was transported for two hours. I sat near the front in order to watch Andrew's performance. Although I've watched hundreds of cello videos on YouTube, I've only seen a few live performances. What a difference!

What motivation!

I've been listening to an old, old album, Songs of Leonard Cohen. One piece in particular, "Stories of the Street", always makes me stop whatever I'm doing for a moment. If I'm in my car, I turn up the stereo, loud. I'd love to learn to play some rendition of this on my cello, even if it took a long time to learn it measure by measure.

Although I've enjoyed these last four years of early, early retirement, a job opened up in the area that I am uniquely qualified for. One reason I ended up retiring early, early, was that there were so few jobs in the area that I could/would do. We didn't want to leave the area for a lot of reasons, nor did I want to become a greeter at Home Depot. Fortunately, my retirement package was sufficient to let us get by with some part time consulting to supplement. But this opening was quite enticing and quite well paid... So, I brushed up my resume, wrote an email cover letter, filled out their online form, and then left it sitting on my computer all day, yesterday.

One thing retirement has done to me has been to make me indecisive. I'm not just saying wishy-washy, I mean paralyzed-undecided, walking around in a fog-undecided. A big decision has me nearly comatose as I endlessly sift through all the pluses and minuses - writing lists, casting bones, dealing out the Tarot cards, reading the tea leaves, scanning my astrological signs, even asking the magic 8-ball. This doesn't just go on between 10 pm and 6 am, but all day long. To make it worse, time slows down as I try to make up my mind.

Used to be, if I had any doubts about which way to go, I'd mentally flip a coin and simply move on. It seldom failed to turn out just fine. What happened to that carefree devil-may-care approach?

So, there's the email and the application sitting in my computer all day. I purposely found other things to do - avoidance. Then, at 3:00 Z gets home from school and immediately heads to the computer: WoW awaits. Uh-oh. Decision time. So, I took a deep breath and punched "enter" for the application and "send" for the email. Now, I was committed.

For 30 seconds I felt great! Powerful! Wise! On top again!

But, in no time at all that little horned creature on my left shoulder took over - he's related to that other inner guy that always hollers at me about my cello playing :( What an idiot! How could I have thought I was even remotely interested in returning to the rat race? working once again for "the man"? a 9-to-5er? a wage slave? that long commute again? doing meaningless, trivial tasks? enduring endless meetings? dealing with #*%& types, again? a dilbert (make that a wally)?

By bedtime, I had managed to convince myself that I had made a huge mistake and was now going to have to root against myself, hoping my application would be turned down (let's hear it for age discrimination!) As a plan B, I'd have to really mess up the interview. Failing all that, if I actually got offered the job, I'd have to make some unreasonable salary and vacation demands. My wife had to remind me that I could just say no. Needless to say, it was a long night. By morning I'd come back around a little - we'll just wait and see. Who knows? Maybe it wouldn't be so bad after all. It could be fun! The insurance sure would be nice. We could buy a new car. Take that trip to NZ. I could buy a new bow; yeah, even a new case!

Then this afternoon, I learned that my consulting work (from home!) is likely to continue to increase - to whatever degree I was interested in taking on (all the way up to full time if I wanted!) Great, so, now I can't use that excuse.

I am happy to note that one of the biggest stumbling blocks has been trying to figure out how to keep up my cello studies. I'd have to move my lessons to Saturdays (if my teacher was willing). I doubt I'd be able to maintain my 2-hour per day practice routine, but I could bring my electric to work for lunch-time practice, and find some time in the evenings...

Not an easy decision. I appreciated your advice when I was thinking about recording school. (I've decided to hold off for now.) Maybe you could break up your practice session--an hour before work and an hour after. That only works if your family won't kill you for practicing at 7am, though. :)
There's so much freedom in working for yourself and not being committed to a 9 to 5 pm. Life is short to be locked down unless you're really hungry for the money or the stimulation of being back in the business world. The fact that you delayed so long in sending your application could be your subconscious trying to tell you something.
Sadly, my treadmill takes top priority in my early morning schedule. Somehow, I'd have to fit my cello in at lunchtime and after work. But, it would still be a major priority; I've gone too far to just walk away.

As for the job, Marisa, you hit it on the head. My subconscious is apparently working overtime in this episode, I sort of wish I had listened.
Good luck whichever direction you go. I have been working freelance for 20 years, to be home with the kids, but even more for the freedom of it. I also live in an area where good jobs are few and far between, but I admit I scan the want ads regularly. Last week I dreamt I decided to take a job in Boston (a 1.5 hour commute). This is unlikely to happen, but sometimes I miss the hullaballoo of working on crucial projects with others. And the regular paychecks and health insurance!
Hey Guanaco, it's always nice to have options. Congratulations for pressing that Send button and expanding yours.
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