Tuesday, July 31, 2007


Library Concert

Our part of the Summer Music Festival was a casual noon-time venue - we were staged in the magazine section against the back windows at the local library. First though, we had a dress rehearsal across the street at the Montessori school where we have been meeting lately. An audience of about 15 surprisingly well-behaved 4 and 5 year old students sat appreciatively in one corner of the room as we quickly played through most of our pieces and worked out some final kinks in one or two of them.

Then we carried our gear across the street and quickly reset everything as an audience of about 25 library patrons gathered to watch. We went through our playlist smoothly, doing rather well. I think we drifted apart for four or five measures in one song, but quickly got back together and finished in good order. We even successfully played the one piece that we hadn't quite succeeded with at our recital last May.

I had abandoned my Suzuki lesson plan for the last week so I could focus on this program, and by now I was pretty comfortable with most of it. I still had one or two flubs, where my mind saw the E but my fingers played the G instead - that sort of thing. At one point I lost my place for about a measure and a half - I got distracted by that E/G flub - but I firmly shut down that inner critic before it could start up one of its old routines, and I quickly saw a good opening and jumped right back in again.

Then The Cellocracy was introduced and we played our four trios. They also went well - one piece was a little rocky because we all had slightly different rhythms and really hadn't enough rehearsal time together to get used to the combined version. I suspect that only one or two of the ringers in our group even noticed anything was awry.

Then all-too-soon, it was over. Everybody lingered for just a moment afterwards - slowly putting away our instruments, congratulating one another and basking for just a minute in that wonderful glow of a successful performance.

That's what it's all about.

Tomorrow I will install all four new Jargars and go back to Suzuki once again.

Congratulations! I enjoyed reading about your performance. Did you record it?

I think it's great that you were able to recover during a performance. That is definitely a great skill to have, just like cats with their "I meant to do that" attitude. One lesson that I learned from my high school days (quite a while ago!!) when I was the organist for my church was that 99.9% of the people listening can't tell if you mess up, especially if you don't give any sign that you did. That has carried me through many flubs (the one that I was always terrified of doing but thank goodness never did was miscount which verse of the hymn I was on).
Ahhh the "glow of a successful performance" ... Yes. I know exactly what you mean. Congratulations once again.
Good for you, Guanaco! It's good to have that 'jumping back in' skill.
Oops, didn't mean to echo Cellogeek so closely. Great minds think alike, or something like that :)
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Sunday, July 29, 2007



I've spent the last few days expanding our "yard" by about half an acre. I'm trying to clear most of the foliage around the house to limit our exposure to forest fires; but mostly to remove some of the hiding places for those #$&%^@* mosquitoes. The biggest challenge are the alder and willow shrubs. These things are amazing. They're dozens of years old with trunks two or three inches in diameter, but only two or three feet tall. Each winter the moose nibble off all their new growth, and every spring these trees try once again to grow tall enough to escape the moose pruning. Once in a while, one or two do succeed and quickly become tall trees.

But clearing these shrubs sure is challenging, with all their offshoots and massive root structures. I'm also trimming all the branches off the lower eight feet of some of the spruce and pine trees (I planted a hundred lodgepole pine seedlings about 20 years ago - randomly scattering them out in the woods. Now they're all 15 to 20 feet tall and ready for some pruning). I've used all my tools on this project, including a new gas-operated weedwhacker (with a blade attachment). After all that I cleared out the undergrowth - mostly just fireweed and tall grass - raked it up and hauled it all away.

We've had quite a warm spell this weekend. It got to 78F this afternoon! Maybe not a record but probably close. Our houses just aren't designed for these temperatures. A normal summer day usually reaches the mid-60s. Not just our houses, but our bodies also get so used to our cooler temperatures that 78F also takes its toll. I'd forgotten what it was like.

With all the yardwork, my wrists and hands are pretty sore - especially at the base of my thumbs. This has affected my cello practicing (or is that practising, Rallentando(?) - "practice" is the noun and "practise" the verb??)

Our strings orchestra is playing a concert Tuesday at the library - as part of our local Summer Music Festival. The festival sponsors a noon concert every day for two weeks at different venues - usually a coffee shop or a couple restaurants. As part of that concert three cellos (the Cellocracy) will play four trios - mostly early 17th century dances, not too difficult, but they do sound nice. We just got these pieces Monday evening and planned to meet for a rehearsal Thursday, but one of us couldn't make it at the last minute. So we had to divvy up the parts as best we could without her.

That left us with just five days preparation time (whew, I'm not used to that...) I'm also weak on one of the group's pieces. So, I've abandoned my Suzuki lessons for the week and have focused all my time on the recital pieces. For each one, I spend some time playing pizzicato, slowly; then bowing it slowly, and then work it up to tempo. It's gone pretty good, until today...

My sore thumbs and wrists from all that yardwork have made it pretty difficult... Unless I play slowly. Oh well, that's the way to learn it, right?

Er, I think I'm going to log off to go rub in some lineament...

Yard Work, Hot Summer Weather, and a Cello Recital all in one week...and I thought I was a glutton for punishment. I've found putting on kitchen rubber gloves and soaking my hands in hot water help with aches.
I too was going to recommend the hot soak treatment. It's worked for me. So does rest and aspirin.

17th century dances. I'll bet that sounds really pretty with 3 cellos.
Good job on the yardwork, you burly guy you! I like your group name Cellocracy. Cute! Good luck with the performance.
Alaska sounds so beautiful. And a library! What a wonderful place to play. The marriage of music and books! What could be better?
Yes! Full marks!
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Wednesday, July 25, 2007



For Lesson #33 we worked through the trios that I'll be playing next week (!) Since we hadn't assigned the parts among ourselves yet, my teacher and I ended up playing through all three parts of each piece. I got lots of tips and pointers for each part - along with a bunch of practice areas that I need to focus on.

One piece we originally considered at rehearsal Monday, is called Canon Cancrizans by Samuel Scheidt (1587-1654). Cancrizans means crab-like or crab-wise. I guess you are supposed to play it from end to beginning on the repeats. The third cello part was a simple palindrome - the same note sequence when played in reverse order. The other two parts sort of mirrored each other with a lot of rhythmic matches when one was reversed. But the piece had confusing little arrow marks on the ends of the lines - some on one side and some on the other pointing the opposite direction. We tried playing several variations to see if we could figure out what was intended, but none of them sounded very good at all. I think we'll drop it from our playlist.

We didn't get to anything else in the lesson - I summarized what I'd been working on, and what issues I was dealing with. I told her I'd recently stopped playing the old Suzuki pieces for now, to make room for the new pieces. She suggested I include at least one of these old pieces in each day's practice, not only the ones that are still a bit troublesome, but also the easy ones - so I won't get stale. I told her I'd finally been able to play through the Lully Gavotte without any flubs (even though somewhat slowly).

She then she turned the page to the next piece in Book 3, a Minuet by L. Boccherini. I'm supposed to listen to it for the next few weeks, and spend some time counting the rhythms aloud; in other words, get the rhythms planted first. She suggested I not start on the fingerings yet. I realized immediately that this was the piece the "advanced" students played at that first class recital a year and a half ago - the one that I couldn't imagine ever being able to play! I guess I have made some progress.

A new set of Jargar strings arrived yesterday from Cellos2Go - many thanks Ellen :) I'm going to wait to put them on until after next week's concert.

Suggestion - instead of playing the entire old Suzuki piece(s) - just practice the phrases that you find the most difficult in each piece. This will save time and also keep you focused on the technical issues. Happy practicing.
That Boccherini piece is one of my "Suzuki" favorites. It's on my list to finish memorizing this summer. It's played way too fast (as most are) on the Suzuki recording.

Another piece I like in Book 3 is La Cincquantaine. I've got half of it memorized, but am still working on getting the key of A section perfectly in tune. Give a listen while you have the CD out. It's a haunting melody
Woo hoo! Go Boccherini! Go Guanaco!

I have liked Jargars as a set on several of my cellos at various times. They're the only kind I use on my Prakticello, sounding OK very quiet unamplified, and I actually have a set downstairs waiting to go on Emma when I can't stand the tight Helicore G and C any more. Are these for the electric or your main cello?
I also like the La Cincquantaine - too bad the Suzuki CD plays these so fast.

My Jargars are for my acoustic. I'm not really unhappy with my current Larsen A, D and Dominant G, C combination - although there are days when the D seems to have a mind of its own... But I'm curious to try something new. My teacher speaks quite well of them.

I recently put Helicores on my electric - to replace whatever Yamaha sent with it. I'm reasonably happy with their sound through the headphones...
Too bad the crab canon didn't work out. It sounds interesting.

Boccherini and La Cinquantaine are two of my favorite Suzuki pieces. I found La Cinquantaine one of the harder ones to memorize; I'm not sure why.

It's hard to keep playing all the old pieces, but I am sure there is some value in it. At least my teacher says so. :-)
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Monday, July 23, 2007



Tonite at Orchestra we were three cellos and three violins. We decided to try to prepare three or four cello trios for next Tuesday's lunch concert. Although they're pretty easy, I'll be fairly busy this week working on them. We haven't worked out who takes what part yet, so we agreed each of us should learn all three parts and decide next Monday.

One of the trio pieces we looked at but set aside for now was another variation on Rameau's Tambourin. It wasn't nearly as interesting or as extensive as the duet that PFS and I have been working on for some time now. I surprised myself by playing the top part (from memory) to show them the version I knew - and I played it flawlessly(!) We decided to put this trio version aside and we'll talk later about playing the duet version in the fall.

Since we're playing several short cello trios, the conductor wondered aloud which piece she should drop from the playlist -- in unison the three cellos immediately called out: "dump Pachelbel!" She laughed and commented that an orchestra is not a democracy... and that's when we realized that for tonite, at least, this orchestra was a Cellocracy.

And we're the Cellocrats.

Yeah, Cellos Rule!

We need more cellocracies in the world!

I never knew I was a cellocrat. Wow.
Cellos Rule!

Cellocrats, vote down Pachabel - check out the YouTube rant http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JdxkVQy7QLM
Guanaco, another new cello blog!
Super Cyber Cello Chat
I forgot to thank "Laura" for coining this one.

Maybe we should consider changing the name of Cellobloggers to Cellocrats?
Hehe, on your map, I'm from Africa. Weird.

Hehe that would be cool. Cellocrats. I like that. :) *Runs around screaming Cellocrats at the top of my lungs*
Heehee, that's what I called the Cello Mafia, which has now become a widely used term in our orchestra!
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Thursday, July 19, 2007


♫ Summertime...♫

Work on the Lully Gavotte is progressing steadily. I can play it through well enough and have overcome my earlier rhythm difficulties. I still sometimes flub the first d-minor scale run but then it comes together with a few repetitions. I think my approach to learning this one has helped a lot (mainly, just following my teacher's advice - get the rhythm first, then the fingering - with pizzicato, then bowing slowly until I can gradually increase the tempo.)

Today, for the first time, I skipped playing through all the familiar Suzuki 1 and Suzuki 2 pieces that I've been playing through for the last year or so. That gave me an extra 45 minutes (not just the time but the extra physical and mental energy as well) to work on the newer pieces (including the last four in the Suzuki 2 book and the first three in the Suzuki 3 book). Even though I'm not yet satisfied with all those other pieces, it was a relief just to step away for a while. I'll come back to them every few weeks, but this should let me focus a bit better.

It's been a nice week of mostly sun (just one brief rain spell), but it has been cool and breezy. Great for mosquitoes, unfortunately. Our property sits on a creek, which was blocked by a fallen tree many years back, causing the creek to cut a new bypass channel. The old channel, which is upwind from us, by the way, is now filled with stagnant standing water - great mosquito breeding grounds - but good for the fishies, I guess.

It's a crazy week on the Kenai Peninsula. An unexpectedly strong run of red salmon has entered Cook Inlet, headed for all our rivers and streams. The commercial fishing (1) - both the set-net sites lining all the beaches and the offshore fishing fleet - are working overtime trying to get their share before all the fish reach the rivers; and have to work they way through the throngs of personal-use (meat harvesting) dipnetters (2) - mostly local and from Anchorage - at the mouth of the rivers; and then past the fleets of guided "sport" fishing boats (3) - packed with mostly out-of-state tourists paying $75 to $100 for a half day's fishing in the lower river; before reaching the crowds of shoreline (combat) fishermen (4) - locals and tourists alike - as they approach their destinations in the far inland streams and creeks. Anyone not directly involved in at least one of these four types of fisheries is probably working 16-hour shifts at one of the several canneries.

Except for me, that is. While I appreciate a good barbecued red salmon steak as much as anybody else, I just don't have any use for the crowds and intensity involved with any of these options. Way back when we first moved to Alaska, I too joined the mobs along the riverbanks up near Cooper Landing trying to "properly catch" (i.e., not to snag) a few of the millions of fish swimming by. A group of us would drive the 50 miles up into the Kenai Mountains after work and stand elbow-to-elbow with hundreds of others to catch our daily bag limit (3 or 4 each) before midnight, and then right after midnight (lots of daylight this time of year) we'd catch the next day's bag limit before stumbling back into work that morning. What a zoo of tangled lines, frayed tempers, and sheer madness! It all ended for me when a guy nearby pulled a knife and started slashing everybody's lines because his got tangled up and he lost his "fish on", and then he threatened to slash some throats as well. I laid down my meager rod and reel on the riverbank and left - never to return. Now we just cage a few fish from my brother-in-law who has a setnet site.

Hmmm... what else is going on? Well, our orchestra rehearsal Monday had three cellos and only three violins - a little lopsided. We talked about working up a cello trio piece (maybe even a piece for 4 cellos) for our fall recital. That would be fun - I think I'd be playing the second part. Oh, I also have a "real" job again. Yesterday I signed a contract to become a permanent (part-time) employee for the consulting group I've been casually affiliated with for the past few years. Now with a steady income maybe we can start looking for a new car.

Congrats on the steady income. My Suzuki teacher friend just asked me if I was interested in playing in their Christmas concert. Hoo boy.
You are so much more dedicated than I am. I really need to practice more.
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Tuesday, July 17, 2007


More on Goshu

Blake has put up some YouTube videos on his blog Shake It and Bake It of an animated version of the story of Goshu the Cellist, which I had summarized several months ago, here.

Thanks, Blake.

Gr this didn't work the first time...

Anyway, what I said was that I love Goshu and he looks just like a cellist friend of mine. :D
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Friday, July 13, 2007


Z gets a guitar!

I was completely taken aback earlier this summer when Z approached me about learning the guitar. He'd always seemed uninterested in music generally (although for a while in elementary school he'd talked once or twice about learning the trumpet, but backed out when we offered to sign him up for lessons). In the last year or so, he'd begun listening to the various pop groups that appeal to 14/15 year-olds. His ex-iPod (R.I.P.) was clearly a catalyst for that.

When I took up the cello, he was initially curious about it, but since he is usually at school or asleep when I practice, he hasn't had that much direct exposure to my own pathetic attempts to make music. Once or twice he'd claimed that he didn't really "like" the cello that much (ouch). A few times this summer he has shown up while I was practicing and commented that I was "getting pretty good" at a few pieces.

So, I questioned him pretty closely about wanting to learn guitar; frankly discussing the challenges and the commitment that would be needed. While not wanting to discourage him, I also wanted him to understand that it was going to take a lot of effort, persistence, and some frustration; that there'd be some dark days when it felt like he'd never get good and he'd feel totally inept (I was speaking from recent experience), but that these would be followed by really good days when he'd realize he'd actually "gotten" it and was ready to move onto the next level. He responded thoughtfully, letting me know that he realized it would not be easy but that he was willing to work at.

As it happened we were quite far (in time and distance) from home, so I told him we'd continue to talk about it see about lessons, etc. after we got home.

A few days after we got home Z reminded me that he was still interested in the guitar. I asked him if he had any preferences - he said he wanted to learn acoustic classical along with music theory(!). The music teacher at his school offers private guitar lessons, and we finally reached him the other day. He only teaches classical guitar, and was quite willing to take Z on as a student.

So, today we went to one of the local music stores and picked out a basic student acoustic classical guitar. He's been noodling on it all afternoon. His first lesson is Monday.

Wow, good for you! And for Z of course.
Classical guitar! Sounds wonderful. And it will sound so nice with the cello. All good wishes to Z.

I bought my kids guitars a couple of years ago. My son plays acoustic, after Jack Johnson; my daughter's languishes in the closet. Oh, yeah, I bought one for me too. It stays mostly in the closet. My husband had a classical guitar, but one of the kids lost it....
Classical and theory. "High Five" to Z!

Guanaco, you will have a good time observing and listening to Z's journey. Is he going to blog about it? Keep us all posted on his progress.
My younger son plays his acoustic guitar beautifully. No lessons, though he has done a 2 year course in music technology and grade 7 piano. It sounds wonderful late at night..quiet, enigmatic, wistful. I love to hear him. I hope Z. finds it answers things in his soul as, I feel, my son has.
Wow, maybe you both will get to play Boccherini someday!
Hey that's great, Guanaco. I'll bet you're relieved to have him show an interest in something other than computer games.
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Tuesday, July 10, 2007


Back at it

In the two months since the last lesson, I'd skipped practicing about 15 days while on vacation. But I've worked steadily the last ten days since returning home and feel that I've made some solid progress. Last week (after many weeks of pizzicato), I began bowing the newest piece, the Lully Gavotte. I'd also been working diligently on the d-minor scales and the various C-Major and c-minor tonalization sets.

Lesson #32 today
We warmed up with several scales including G into 4th position (my shifts were relaxed and pretty accurate).

She suggested some bowing exercises designed to loosen my grip a bit and to allow more flex in my fingers/wrist in the up-bow and down-bow motions.

Then we started with the Gavotte, playing rather slowly. I pointed out where my main hang-up has been (see yesterday's post) and sure enough, that was my only real stumble. Was I surprised! I figured I'd blow it at several points; as usual. But for whatever reason, I wasn't at all nervous or distracted (and my fingers were quite obedient), which of course made for a pretty good session. I imagine my teacher also appreciates it when I'm relaxed and able to focus.

Then we played through two other newer pieces: Suzuki's Moon Over the Ruined Castle (third position version) and Schubert's Berceuse. And, again, I did rather well.

We also played through the d-minor scales, and the tonalizations from the front of the book. Whew, I'm sure glad I'd been working on these. That led to a discussion about shifts and extensions and which ought to be used when.

Finally, we want back through several pieces at the end of Suzuki 2. While I still bump into certain "issues" on these, we talked about some ways to work around/through them.

Obviously I have much to do to bring all of these up to par and up to tempo, but I'm feeling pretty confident, today.

Last night I rejoined the local orchestra. We have a lunch-concert scheduled for the end of the month, so there's a lot to do, but the pieces aren't too difficult - many are replays from last season's concerts. There are three cellos!

How good to feel things are progressing. Well done! It just shows what determination can achieve, doesn't it?
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Monday, July 09, 2007


Reality check

The dog is out cold, her front paws paddling in her sleep - she's probably dreaming of chasing a moose.

The guinea pig is standing against his cage begging for another carrot (he's had his morning ration, but that won't stop him... )

The crazy cat is sitting in his latest box, a strawberry carton, systematically biting chunks of cardboard off the sides. Aaack. It's worse than fingernails on a chalkboard.

I was practicing my D-minor scales, in preparation for moving onto the Lully Gavotte. I've been stuck on the rhythms in measure 20 - a half-note trill that slurs into a dotted quarter note and then ends with a staccato eighth note - then into measure 21 - starting on another eighth note followed by an eighth rest, and a dotted quarter that turns into a run of eighth notes up and down the D-minor scale. I just can't seem to get these two measures' rhythms into my head, yet. The rest of the piece is coming along nicely. I'm not having much trouble with those 3rd position shifts....

In keeping with the minor key, the sky is gray - again, with promises of rain all week.

The cat just flew by - eyes wild, ears back - resuming his never-ending quest to madly run over every possible horizontal surface in the house.

Enough sidetracking, I've still got to play through the pieces for tonight's orchestra rehearsal.

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Thursday, July 05, 2007



We sure seemed to have skedaddled away from the growing heat wave in the Southwest just in time. The whole week we were in San Diego we only used the A/C once or twice, just for a few hours. Then, Pahrump was hot enough for me at 107, I can't begin to imagine it at ten degrees hotter. By the time we'd escaped to Lewiston, ID, it was finally cool and downright balmy for us displaced Alaskans. Now, though everyone is suffering 100+ temps...Yikes.

Meanwhile the forest fires here burned to within 10 miles of our house, but were stopped last week, mercifully, by cool wet weather. Now though we're sitting here in the gray rain fending off the mosquitoes, wondering... Is there any location/climate that is just right - all the time? or at least most of the time?

I dimly recall living for a brief period in paradise many, many years ago... a small, remote hilltop town called Mandeville, in the south-central part of Jamaica. The average annual temperature was (still is, I guess) 70F; summer days sometimes reached 80F, and some winter nights dropped as low as 60F. Aaaaaah. Every day at about 3:00 it rained hard for an hour or so, then suddenly stopped, the clouds moved on, and the sun dried everything out before sunset, revealing stunning starlit nights. I'm surprised 40 million people haven't moved there. I wish I could go back. Why did I leave? Unfortunately I learned from those few years that I was not cut out to be a high school teacher...

I'm hoping to go see Hot Tuna tomorrow evening in Ninilchik. Hard to believe Jorma Kaukonen and Jack Casady are still at it. I guess it is telling that their tour schedule brings them so far into the backwaters. Still, Jefferson Airplane's Surrealistic Pillow was one of my first buys, and I bought so many more after that... Our other big concert event this summer will be BeauSoleil in mid-August.

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Monday, July 02, 2007


Bow control

My bow has been catching on the adjacent strings - especially with the g-string (hitting on the c-string). This is worse when I'm playing in upper positions. The problem seems to come and go - some days it's not really much of a problem, but other days (like today), it seems I can't find the right planes no matter what I do. It does help to slow down - a lot - and watch the bow carefully. Since I usually play with my eyes closed, I have to remind myself to look at the bow. When playing the higher positions, I am so intent on intonation that I guess I am somehow losing a part of my bow awareness.

Still, yesterday, it was no problem at all...

I am continuing to appreciate the power and sound of my acoustic cello after that long break.

Finally, today, I just couldn't resist - I started bowing the Gavotte by Lully from Suzuki Book 3. I've been plucking it for almost two months, focusing on the rhythms and intonation. I bowed very slowly, continuing to concentrate on the rhythm and tempo. It came out pretty good! For all my impatience at this learning process, it is so worth the wait.

I've found that I've had the same problem with my bow catching on adjacent strings when I do not have the endpin adjusted to be long enough, or when the endpin is placed too far from me on the floor and makes the wrong angle. Perhaps that's what's happening with you? Or not. :-)

P.S. I enjoyed coming along on your road trip vicariously. Thanks for sharing, and welcome home.
I have been experimenting with a longer endpin, placing it further out on the floor - which has flattened the angle of my cello... I'll try some variations tomorrow.

Thanks for the tip.
I have that trouble in upper positions as well... my teacher told me to bow closer to the bridge, it helps.
I start doing that when I haven't been practicing regularly (like recently). For what it's worth I'll share my teacher's advice on this point-- she said don't worry about it, it comes with practice
Lots of good advice so far... Basically I'd say the higher you get (in positions) the closer to the bridge you should bow.
I have that problem as well. Besides practice, my instructor has suggested that it is okay to *slightly* rotate the cello while playing. I also think that I tend to play with a heavy bow hand which does not help matters for me.
I really gotta commend your spirit; heck, I can't even bring myself to pick up my violin again!
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