Tuesday, August 07, 2007


Sparkling Kachemak Bay

Several days (it actually seemed like an eternity - especially in our all too brief summer) of cold gray rainy weather abruptly ended Sunday evening as a burst of strong winds suddenly blew it all away. Now those amazing blue sunny skies are back once again, with no clouds anywhere.

[This is an aerial view of Cook Inlet looking north - Anchorage is at the top right. I live near the large lake on the right side of the Inlet. Kachemak Bay is off to the lower right.]

This afternoon's drive along the coast of Cook Inlet to Homer for Lesson #34 was spectacular. Our short but intense growing season has painted most of the lower mountains across the Inlet a bright green, enhanced by the sparkling blue of the skies. The three volcanoes stand tall, with their dazzling white snowcaps, above it all. Reflecting the sky, the silty waters in Cook Inlet are milky blue, with small whitecaps from the residual winds.

[This is a view of Kachemak Bay from partway up the side of the hill in Homer.]

Coming over that final hill before descending into Kachemak bay, I knew it was another day photographers dream about - my camera, naturally, was at home. No clouds, no haze, just water, mountains, and sky. The sun in the southern half of the sky reflecting back off every small ripple and wave. The bay curves eastward past Homer then loops around to the south along the edges of the glaciated Kenai Mountain range. It opens to the west into Cook Inlet.

[This, from Yahoo Maps, shows a view of Kachemak Bay, with the Kenai Mountains along the east and south.]

Homer sits just beneath the bluff on the north side of the bay, with the premium locations higher up the side of the hill. What a scenic place! I don't know why I haven't moved there.

Cellocracy's debut at last Tuesday's library concert has earned us an invitation to play in October's Evening of Classics concert, an annual fundraiser for the Kenai Peninsula Orchestra. I think our strings orchestra will also play a few pieces. I spent some time at the beginning of my lesson talking with my teacher about various cello trios and quartets (there might even be four of us) that we could play. We're all relative beginners - our youngest member is quite a bit more advanced than the rest of us. The challenge is to find a piece that sounds good, but doesn't stray too far into the upper registers or involve too many 16th notes, or worse, 32nd notes. While I enjoy learning a new piece - I know it takes me several months just to be able to work out the tricky parts, much less to start increasing tempos. I just don't want to stress myself by taking on more than I'm ready or able to do.

So, does anyone have any suggestions?

We played through the Book 3 pieces and exercises that I've been working on. My teacher was quite complimentary about my progress. Much of our discussions centered on appropriate hand "shapes" and thumb locations as I shift back and forth and do extensions. We tested out hand shapes with the thumb pad directly against the neck compared to the side of the thumb against the neck - her point was to show me that the latter position gave my fingers more dexterity. It's going to take a while to unlearn the old way and relearn the new. She wants me to slide my thumb, keeping it opposite my second finger, whenever I do forward extensions (up to D# on the a-string, for example). Even though I can actually stretch my little finger out far enough to reach that point without moving my thumb, she still wants me to move the thumb. OK. Also some discussion about keeping the left elbow out more, especially on the lower strings.

Then we started talking through the Minuet by L. Boccherini! I will begin playing the first half, pizzicato. This piece involves doing lots of forward extensions and then doing some string crossings while extended... so I'm going to treat these passages as independent drills and practice them extensively :) But that's not all... She wants me to start listening to the next piece in the book, #4, Scherzo by C. Webster. This is a relatively simple tune done in pairs of sixteenth notes - much like some of the Etude variations in Book 1 - which, by the way, I had worked on diligently for quite some time (not recently, though); but today, my combination elbow/wrist flick just wouldn't work right. So back to those etude variations...

Hi Guanaco. I am also (or was) being instructed on moving the thumb as well. When I first started a few months back, I used a small piece of Velcro to mark the “proper” thumb position- by her suggestion. Then she told me I needed to start moving my thumb. She referred to it as the 3rd-finger thumb and 4th finger thumb. Even though the movement is only an inch or so, it was only this past week that I took the Velcro off. When I do it right, I find my 1st position, 3rd and 4th finger tones to have a somewhat better tone. Now I just need to incorporate it into the exercises and music pieces. She also gave me some “elbow advice” regarding the lower strings; to shift the elbow forward (away from the body, vertically – not like a chicken-wing). I try to remember doing this – but quite frankly its enough work for me just to move the bow and get the proper fingering. Who ever suggested that walking and chewing gum was a hard task; obviously never played the cello.

Good post – I somewhat envy your location – but not the mosquitos.
Gorgeous photos.

Ditto on the thumb. My teacher's typical comment when I miss a shift is "look where your thumb is!" Periodically I focus on "leading with the thumb," thinking of my thumb finding the new place first. Makes a difference - when I remember!

Re: cello ensembles, an easy place to start might be with the Suzuki ensemble arrangements for books 2 and 3. There are a variety of sizes (duet, trio, quartet) depending on the piece, and you and your audience will be familiar with the pieces.

There are also a couple books of Canons and Rounds which work well at early levels, and are fun to just play and warm up with. I am most familiar with Starr, but also have Bergonzi.
These are also nice because you can buy the other string books and do the same pieces with a mixed ensemble.
When my teacher shouts out "FREEZE" I know what's usually going to follow: ... "Where is thumbkin?"
What a gorgeous place to live! Glad that the weather is letting you enjoy it to its fullest.

Yes, same experience with thumb here too, and leading with the thumb, as GTGP mentioned.

Some ensemble books: Twenty Trios for Young Cellists (This has a lot of Christmas songs, so you might keep it in mind for the holiday season too);

Folk Strings for cello ensemble (some are easier than others);

Early Chamber Music for 2 and 3 Violoncellos (this is both early music and easy music);

Strictly Classics (O'Reilly), books 1 and 2. These are duets, but you could double parts.
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