Tuesday, September 25, 2007



(Poster by Emily Grossman)

I feel as if I'm neglecting my blog lately; I've only posted four times this month (well, this makes five) - compared to 12 or more in a regular month. About a month ago, I picked up several new consulting projects which have completely monopolized my time. I miss retirement.

I still practice my cello two and a half hours each morning, I attend orchestra rehearsals every Monday evening, and I attend rehearsals of our Cellocracy trio every week.

In the ether, I do manage to keep up with the more than 300 blog and comments feeds on my GoogleReader, which generate about 100 entries per day (although I admit I do just skim over some of them from time to time). I haven't looked at the ICS forums for several weeks now and I only log into CelloHeaven every few days in order to delete the spam/applicants from the memberlist, but I do check in on Cellobloggers every day or so.

I feel as if my muse has deserted me. I don't have anything to write about. My cello reports seem to have become repetitive and uninteresting - to quote my favorite TV character, Dr. House, "a parade of sad banalities." I used to have all sorts of ideas I wanted to blog about... but lately I feel as if I've just gone dry.

After a long screechy week (especially with that dang temperamental A-string and some of those upbow B's and E's), the mellow, rich tones have finally returned to my cello. Who knows why? This seems to happen on a regular basis, probably related to the seasonal changes. We have seen a 10 to 15 degree average temperature drop in the last two weeks. Humidities have also been somewhat high all month. Hmm, higher humidities, lower temperatures, screechy cello.

Several weeks ago I sped up my metronome from 104 to 112. After a frustrating week trying to adapt - I was making a lot of mistakes and felt pretty clumsy. So, I recently turned it back down to 108, which made a big difference. (That's what happens when I try to move ahead sooner than I should.)

Saturday, I ordered a trial set of bows from Cellos2Go. One of my fellow trioists also ordered some bows from her, so we're going to share. I think I'm ready for an upgrade. Yeah, maybe that'll do it!

I hear ya.
There has been a lot of talk on the ICS I&E forum about the CodaBow diamond series. Is that in your mix?
Funny isn't it! I haven't felt like writing in my blog the last few weeks!

I love House one of my fave tv programmes!
I've had no time to practice individually recently! All been orchestra and the rest of life -which of course gets in the way! I am 36 and am periodically heard to say I can't wait til retirement age! A colleague ( a teacher) due to retire in 2 years said in response to this yes but most of your life has passed as you approach retirement -which gave me a little perpsective!
Good luck with the bows.
Beautiful poster!

I felt the same way in the beginning of September. I didn't post at all in the first 2 weeks of this month. I go through periods like this in all areas of my life. Especially with cello practice. I get into the doldrums but then something will spark and I get on a high again. I have the feeling the bow trials might do it for you :)
Geez, I kinda wish I'd run out of things to blog about for a while. I've definitely not had much cello-related to say lately. Well, G, I trust your muse will return, if she's meant to.
2 1/2 hours a day of practice! I'm jealous.

I've never seen Dr. House, but "a parade of sad banalities" is a wonderful phrase. Sure blogging about practice can get repetitive, 'cause practice is repetitive. But look where it's taking you. The "sad banalities" are punctuated with (sometimes hectic) performance experiences. Most others will only dream and never do.
My own blogging was down in September, and it seemed to me that other people were not posting as much. I attributed it to the "back-to-work" orientation of September. I've been very busy with work and concerts myself. But I do enjoy reading about the "sad banalities" and frequent triumphs of your practicing, concerts, ruminations, and those of other bloggers, and do appreciate your role in assembling us in cyberspace. I trust your muse will return, with armloads of goodies.

I love the drawing of the violin in the poster.
Wow, lots of feedback today...

First things, first. I forgot the hotlink to violinist/artist who drew the poster; so here it is: Emily Grossman's blog.

"Sad Parade of Banalities" would make a great blog title for somebody...

Also, the great last sentence in Terry's comment above: "Most others will only dream and never do." That would have been a good subtitle for John Holt's book, "Never too Late".

Maybe the onset of autumn has our "muses" attending to necessities such as storing away food and ensuring adequate shelter for the long winter to come (that is, except for Terry and PFS in sunny southern California).

One of the bows my trio partner requested is a Coda Diamond, so I will get to try it out.
Blahs are perfectly understandable.... but step back for a moment & look at what you wrote:

"I still practice my cello two and a half hours each morning, I attend orchestra rehearsals every Monday evening, and I attend rehearsals of our Cellocracy trio every week."

How do you think the you of 1 year ago would feel about that? Pretty envious, I'd think!
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Thursday, September 20, 2007


Cellocracy Rules!

We passed our "audition" and will be playing in next month's "Evening of Classics" benefit concert. (Essentially this means we played well enough to show that we don't suck and that with a few more rigorous practice sessions we should be able to pull it off reasonably well.) We rehearsed several nights and managed to get our act together. I brought our three pieces to my lesson yesterday afternoon, and played through them with my teacher. She pointed out a few rhythm and timing issues that we quickly worked out, and she gave me some ideas to help improve the sound (my upbows on B and E are pretty ragged). Otherwise, she commented that I was doing pretty good and had little doubt we'd do well.

Our string orchestra will also play a couple of pieces in that concert.

At last night's rehearsal we tried several variations to improve our sound - playing the tricky measures slowly, note-by-note; tuning ourselves on the half note and whole note chords; exaggerating the dynamics, and so on. We tried recording with a small voice recorder, but it was too painful to listen to the poor quality playback. Next week, I'll bring my laptop and we'll record using Audacity.

At our lesson (#37), we worked on the Lully Gavotte and the Boccherini Minuet. Apparently, (in spite of my own lack of satisfaction these last two weeks) I have made steady progress. There's still a long way to go with tempos especially on the various runs. In order to play these rapidly (and accurately) - as well as those 16th notes in Webster's Scherzo - I have to work on my staccato, and on proper use of my bowing arm (keeping the motion at the elbow and wrist, not the shoulder). I also have to work on my left hand finger placement. I'm squeezing the neck pretty hard - especially when playing the first finger - causing my other three fingers to lift up off the fingerboard to somehow help hold that first finger down. (This isn't as much an issue when I'm finally comfortable with a piece.) However, it is affecting my accuracy and my ability to play these notes rapidly. I need to focus on getting appropriate left hand/arm angles while trying to hold my 2nd, 3rd and 4th fingers as close to the string as possible without actually touching it. In the end, it all comes back once again to relaxation - intentional but unconscious relaxation...

Finally we played a few of Mooney's Position Pieces, and she told me to start working through the next group (extended second position).

Well done on the audition! Yes, that wrist/elbow thing of the right arm - not easy is it? And the left thumb grip - yes, oh yes! I know!
Hey cool ... You're playing in the same concert as Emily! I just saw the flyer on her blog.

Congratulations on the successful audition.
Wow! Playing in a trio - good luck with that! Sounds like you're really doing great!
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Wednesday, September 19, 2007


Talk like a Pirate day...


How unexpectedly whimsical!
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Thursday, September 13, 2007


What an off week this has been...

My wolf has been prowling. Humidity has jumped after our recent constant incessant rains (another reason to dislike autumn, here). Setting the eliminator to bury the E/F wolf creates a booming overtone around C#/D on the g-string. The note actually *plays* clean, but it sounds so much louder than any of the others. If I slide the eliminator a little up or down on the string to try to dampen the booming, it holds it at bay - temporarily. But, then a day or so later it shows up again somewhere else - one morning it had moved down as far as the B. At my lesson last week it was affecting my C - only on the g-string.

Has anyone else experienced this kind of unexpected result with their wolf eliminators? Any suggestions?

All week, I've struggled with fingering - not intonation, but making my fingers play whichever notes I want them to. My eye-mind/finger coordination is out of calibration, somehow.

At Monday's orchestra rehearsal, it wasn't any better, but I muddled through. Wednesday, our cello trio met to rehearse and it was really tough. Today's practice session was so frustrating, I just quit early.

Of course all this frustration makes that little devil on my left shoulder chuckle: "I told you it was too late to start playing..." "What made you think you could learn to play an instrument..." - the usual blather that bubbles up from my bottomless vat of insecurities on dreary rainy days like today.

I'll climb out of this...

Meanwhile, here's the cat showing off his snowshoes:

Love that cat photo!

Sometimes I wonder if I will every really be a "cellist," but for me (and I am older than you are!), the journey toward being a cellist is worth the effort, and I think it is for you too. Enjoy the little accomplishments and the satisfaction of, even occasionally, producing those glorious cello sounds.

As for the wolf, I would check with my teacher or string shop. It could be the change of season that is causing the changes.
It seems to me you and your cello are in sync. and are both reacting to the changing seasons. Look upon it as a good omen! You'll both settle down sooner or later and make beautiful music together.
And never ever say you are too old for anything!
a very practical cello teacher once gave me this hint - which works perfectly for my "e" wolf. Get a piece of press-stick (blu tack? I'm not sure what they call it where you are - you know the stuff you use to hang posters and stuff on the wall, it's gummy and usually white or blue), experiment with blobs or rolled out bits, and put it where you'd put the wolf eliminator. The advantages over the wolf eliminator are numerous
* it's cheap
* you can adjust the weight easily by adding or subtracting the amount you stick on
* you don't get the "rattle" from the eliminator
* it's dead easy to adjust up and down and move
* if you have a sympathetic wolf note (I have one on my G string, and occasionally an echo on my D string) you just grab another piece!

Hope it works for you!
Wow, is that one of those special 6-toed cats? Those are some snowshoes.

Here's hoping you and your pack of wolves find some peace & harmony this week.
I hope your cello playing is on an upward swing. I think playing and progress is cyclical and that you're still making progress during those awful frustrating weeks even though it doesn't feel like it.

Those are some impressive snowshoes! Your cat must have to shake those feet pretty hard when walking around in the snow!
It's funny isn't it how challenging everything can be sometimes!
Have you read John Holt's book - never too late - I'm guessing you probably have -I'm mid read at the moment! It's just lovely about his musical and cello journey. I'd read his books about childrens education etc! Very interesting !
Yup, a polydactyl - he originally had 25 toes (now 24). All those extra digits make him pretty clumsy.

My cello and I are doing better, now. We just kept at it, and eventually got past whatever was blocking us. Thanks for all the support and encouragement.
My cello is wolfy beyond belief. I have two suggestions that may help, as they have relieved a lot of the gnarl on my own axe. A short term fix is to squeeze the cello with your knees on the offending note. It causes the top to flex, thus confusing the properties of the wood enough to mar the frequency cancellation. That one came to me via Andrew Cook. The other is a shop-centered fix, which involves the placement of a weight on the face of the instrument at precisely the place where the note exits the body. The improvement in timbre with this method compared to the wolf eliminator is meaningful. The note doesn't mute or pop or zing. It may require additional vibrato, but I have found great success with this, and the adhesive that was used has not been a detriment to the varnish at all.
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Monday, September 10, 2007


Autumn lasts only two weeks

Orchestra rehearsal tonight... we'll be playing several pieces that we'd been working on since last winter, along with several new ones. We have at least two performances scheduled for the fall. The first is the "Evening of Classics" concert fundraiser for the Kenai Peninsula Orchestra in early October. For our part, we'll probably play two or three pieces. Then our Cellocracy trio will play (assuming we pass our audition). In early December we'll play a couple pieces as part of the KPO's annual Christmas concert.

I pulled out one of those new pieces to work on this week, which requires going into 4th position six or seven times and 2nd position a few times. This is the first piece our group has done that requires shifting for the cellos (some have required a few extensions). Although I just began working on 4th position a few months ago, I think I'll be ready.

The biggest trouble is our lack of constancy. Several of our members show up only sporadically - sometimes some of them do have a legitimate excuse. I guess we need them bad enough to have to welcome them back in each time. Still, it makes it hard to rehearse (at least for me) when we can't hear the entire sound, and then all of a sudden at our dress rehearsal with a full complement plus a few ringers, our sound is so different. Still, I'm glad to be playing music, and I'll take what I can get.

Cellocracy has rehearsed twice in the last few weeks, and we'll meet again Wednesday. I've worked on our three pieces quite a bit on my own; I've played them so many times that I'm starting to find nuances in bowing and articulation that I had not been able to pay attention to before. My staccato has come a long way, since our three cello trios use it a lot. I'm still not comfortable yet, the staccato notes on the A string don't sound quite as solid as on the rest of the strings.

It is interesting to watch our sound beginning to coalesce and to find us responding to each other's playing. I think we'll do well at our next "audition".

The season's change has begun. Aaargh!

Several cool mornings last week followed by a couple days of rain this weekend seemed to trigger it. This morning the aspens were showing their new colors. Their leaves turn from their summer lime-green to an intense, brighter-than-sunlight, yellow. It's as if they absorbed too much sun during the long summer days and now they try to give some of that light back. This change happens overnight; although not all of the trees change at the same time; some will wait a week or so before they give in. The willows and birch turn a brownish yellow; we hardly see any red or orange leaves. Although we do get some red from the dead fireweed and some orange from the grasses as they die out. After two such weeks Autumn is all over, the trees are bare and we await the snows.

Yes, sometimes we just have to take what we can get in order to play with a group. It's really worth it though, for the emotional experience as well as the learning experience.

How fortunate that the aspens brighten your landscape with some additional "sunlight" now. I think Emily has a photo up of the fireweed.
Emily's pic shows the end of the fireweed. In mid-July, a bright pink bloom opens near the base of these plants, and throughout August, the blooms "climb" up the stalks. By September, the flower petals are gone and we're left with those bright red stems. Here's a pic (third picture down) that I posted earlier of Mt. Redoubt with field of fireweed in mid-bloom in the foreground.
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Friday, September 07, 2007


A Threshold, of sorts...

This morning when I picked up my cello to play, the initial feel of the strings under my fingers triggered a brief, unexpected, intense sensation of pleasure satisfaction happiness contentment. I was totally keen on spending the next two hours playing my cello (indeed, today's session ran well past two and a half hours).

I think I've crossed some sort of threshold:

Now, about my shoulder issues:

The first thing I raised with my teacher at Wednesday's lesson (#36) was my complete frustration trying to bow from my elbow, while keeping my shoulder relaxed. I really have tried to focus on this during practice the past two weeks. Terry's recent post on his blog, Folk Cello, brought out an interesting discussion about keeping the bowing shoulder down and relaxed. I think I understand all this. But knowing ain't doing...

So my teacher suggested we place a chair beside the wall, and I sat with my upper right arm lightly pressed against the wall. That seemed to help a lot; I was able to bow using just my elbow and wrist. Now, I'll have to figure out a way to do this at home since my practice area doesn't have any empty floor space next to a wall.

As an opening warmup, we played a D-minor scale through two octaves, up and down. My teacher commented that my second finger notes are usually spot on going up the scale, but are often slightly sharp coming back down. We've talked about this before and it's something I have to keep high on my list of things to watch.

Then we played through the Schubert Berceuse, the Lully Gavotte, the two Moon Over the Ruined Castle variations, and the Boccherini Minuet. For whatever reason, I wasn't able to play these pieces as well as I'd hoped, but my teacher complemented me on my progress on all these pieces. We spent most of our time on the Minuet, talking about the various tricky areas, and trying out suggested techniques.

Finally, we turned to the Scherzo by Webster. While I continue to work on the "elbow" bowing, I should keep drilling on the two Book 1 etudes using 16th note pairs. Meanwhile, I'll start playing it pizzicato (substituting eighth notes for each pair of sixteenths). This one is marked "Presto". Wow! Intimidating. But, I'll get it eventually, I think.

What I've learned from my cesar therapist, who'se specialized in musicicians, is to pull the shoulderblade down and inwards, towards your backbone while bowing, especially while doing down bows. This may seem strange since your arm is going out, but it forces you not to use your shoulder but your elbow instead.
Anonymous is me.
Wow, I thought I was the only person who felt uncomfortable if the endpin wasn't *just so*!

I know it's impossible to avoid using your upper arm a little when you bow, but what my teacher always focused on is "closing the window", or bringing it back into your body on the up-bows.

Wow, that Scherzo is awesome. Somehow I never got around to actually playing it, but the finished product is pretty impressive. Good luck with that, and keep up the good work!
I too have more trouble with the decending scales, especially on the upper octaves on the A string. Is that because it's easier to shift upwards than back down? I always seem to be more accurate on moving my hand forward. (the aid of gravity?)

All of these problems and issues take so much time to solve, but even the smallest bit of success on something makes it all worthwhile.

I like Musicgal's bowing imagery of "closing the window."
Oh, that's so sweet how the strings bring a feeling of contentment. You've bonded with your cello!
wonderful! It's great to feel that sense of accomplishment and feel like you're making progress.
Wow, you really played through a lot of music in your lesson. Sometimes, it seems we spend an entire hour on six measures in my lesson. :-)

Sounds like you are making great progress, and, as PFS said, bonding well. What a great feeling!
That's the feeling that makes me play. There's nothing like picking up the instrument after a break, even if it's only a day, and feeling like you've been missing a part of yourself the whole time.

As for relaxing the right shoulder, I find that leaning out to the right just a bit with the body helps as you approach the tip of the bow. The reason we want to lift up our shoulder is to compensate for the lack of arm weight at the tip. Leaning out with the body helps to keep the feeling of weight in the bow. Bear in mind that I'm no teacher, but it works for me.
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