Wednesday, October 31, 2007
More about bows
My lesson (#40) today focused on shifting - we worked a lot on the 5th position shift in the Beethoven Minuet; also the slide back down through 4th position to 1st. I realized my fingernails were too long to do this properly, so as soon as I got home I grabbed the clippers and fixed that. I'd only played through this pizzicato until now, but today I started bowing it. Then, we worked on the bow-pulsing sections. This led to a discussion about upcoming skills that I would soon be learning... so much more to learn. This piece is going to take a while. After that we played through some c-minor scales.
And we talked again about vibrato. She suggested I fit in just a few minutes each day practicing sliding my hand up and down on the strings, focusing on using the whole arm. OK...
I commented that I felt I didn't have enough time each day to adequately work on the latest piece. That led to a discussion about planning out each practice session. I'm spending too much time on warmups and scales, and reviewing the older pieces. I should cut this back at least by half, and only review one piece each in Book 1 and Book 2. Then review all of the pieces in Book 3 and finally attend to the two newest ones. Then I should work on the latest parts in Mooney's Position Pieces.
In a way, it was a relief to hear that. I have to admit, I've gotten a little bored with the first half of my practice sessions and was having to push myself to do it. Yet I felt I had to do it for some reason. My teacher suggested I set a few goals for each warmup session - work on accuracy, work on speed, or work on intonation, etc. I shouldn't expect to get it perfect, so just play them for a few moments as planned and then move on.
The bow decision is tough. You'll find that you'll like one for a stretch, and then you'll prefer the other. And then later maybe the first. As you continue to grow you may develop a firm preference, but you can't really predict which it will be now. If they're reasonably priced bows I'd go for both, too. I have a small stable, and it's nice to be able to pick the bow that sounds the best on any given day. And it's exciting when you "grow into" one and discover potential you would have never known you had if you had chosen the other. And BTW, expect to do this again in a few years. The bows you like at this stage will seem dead to you when you get to the more advanced repertoire.
Unfortunately that magazine isn't readily available, but your teacher might be able to help you locate a copy.
I agree with GGP on the bows; if possible, go for both. Also, another suggestion (which you may have already done, but I didn't even think of last year when I was bow shopping): try various bowing techniques, and try the bow in the different "lanes," especially closer to the bridge. When I was trying bows last year I focused almost entirely on one passage that I was having difficulty with in the Breval Sonata - probably not the smartest approach.
Each of the trial bows is right at the upper edge of my price range, so unfortunately, I will have to send one back. I'm fairly confident though, that I could be satisfied with either one.
Thanks for the tip, cd, I'll look for that article.
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Monday, October 29, 2007
I'm finding myself looking forward to those long drives in my car so I can turn up the stereo and immerse myself in sound.
Thursday, October 25, 2007
The cat is offended, of course, by these new intrusions on his peace and domination of the household. We are trying to limit the amount of time he stares into their cage...
When I finally did catch one, he was squirming so much it took quite a while to make a good *ahem* inspection. The chase was repeated three more times as we examined and classified each of the babies. Then to be sure we had to catch and check each parent.
Whew, by the time we finished we were exhausted - mostly from laughing at the chaos. We think that we got two females.
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Tuesday, October 23, 2007
Kicking the habit
My methodical approach - focusing on all the shifts first, and secondarily fingering it pizzicato - seems to be working. I haven't started bowing it yet, although I am watching all the slurs and hooked connections as I pluck each note. The fact that this tune is so familiar seems to be helpful - I already know how it's supposed to sound, which makes it easier to tell when my fingers don't quite reach their proper locations.
What's surprising is that these shifts are already starting to fall into place.
I enjoy starting pieces like this, watching them come together and slowly beginning to feel that indescribable sensation of accomplishment / power / control...
The Scherzo is also falling into place. Every few days, I've added 5 to 10 bpm to the metronome (set at one beat per pair of sixteenths - for now).
I just noticed that this is my 350th post.
You've made fantastic progress in 2 years.
I just looked at the Marcello Sonato - all I can see is a lot of black dots.
How can you stray from the blogger template? Like, you have a big image at the top of your page, and some people have insane amounts of art on their page...do I need to get into html, or is it simpler than that?
Ok, gonna go watch the cats meowing again.
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A pet hippopotamus!
Here's a YouTube clip:
Z and I are ready to move to S. Africa...
Saturday, October 20, 2007
Tambourin, Leclerc - Duo violoncello
With all the pieces to learn for orchestra and our trio, I put it aside and more or less forgot about it.
Then today I checked the referrals in my counter tracker, as I often do to see where the hits to my blog come from, and found that we had popped up in a Google-Mexico search for "Tambourin Jean LeClerc".
Among the search results was this YouTube video of a couple of Brazilian guys playing this particular duet. They appear to be playing the same version that I've been tinkering with.
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Thursday, October 18, 2007
We started with a D-Major scale - although my wolf had been strong during practice this morning, I only had to make just one minor adjustment of the Bice eliminator after playing the scale to tame it. After that, my cello sounded good - great, actually. I felt relaxed and almost confident for a change. Several days ago I had finally cracked the rhythmic pulse needed for Webster's "Scherzo" (essentially flicking my right wrist to bow the sixteenth-note pairs) and knew I could at least play it properly - if still much slower than the presto tempo called for in the score.
So we plunged right in, playing smoothly through the entire piece. I didn't have to stop anywhere and I hit most of the shifts spot on. She said my right arm technique was fine (for now - there's still room for improvement, but that I was doing OK at this point). Then we played through the Boccherini "Minuet", and again I did quite well. We spent a little time reviewing a few of the tricky transitions, but again she commented that I had made really good progress. Then back another page to the Lully "Gavotte", and again success.
Whew, I was on a roll. For whatever reason my usual classroom cludginess was missing today, and I felt pretty confident about my playing - even after those inevitable mistakes.
So, she suggested I was ready to move on. The next piece in the book is #5, Beethoven's "Minuet in G". She suggested that I could skip this one if I wanted, since it is so overplayed. Many of her adult students over the years have apparently opted to bypass it. But I told her I wanted to go ahead and work on it. It's obviously in the book for a reason. Wow, there's a shift of one sort or another every third or fourth measure - from half position (new), to upper third position (new), and then all the way up to fifth position (also new)!
It also has several new bowing techniques. At our last lesson I told my teacher about the Long Bow drills that I'd found on Blake's blog (I do them daily - I'm finally up to 16 beats per bow). When we talked about this new piece, she commented that all that bowing practice ought to come in pretty handy.
I'm going to approach this on three fronts: start each day just practicing the bowing techniques on open strings; then put the bow down and work on each shift (pizzicato) - just the shifts; and finally play pizzicato through all the notes, in rhythm if possible, but slow enough to do all the shifts properly.
Finally, we pulled out Mooney's Position Pieces and she recommended I start working on the sections covering "half" and "upper third" positions, coming back later to pick up what I'd skipped.
I noticed last night at trio rehearsal that my one remaining trial bow had developed a very noticeable twist at the tip to the right. My teacher also commented on it when I pulled it out today. Ellen G had mentioned that this might happen after I'd seen the first hint of a twist last week, and she'd asked me to play it for a while to see what developed. Too bad; the bow still sounds nice and still plays well, though. I'm looking forward to the next set of trial bows.
A couple of years later now I recently returned to it as a review. Much better, but still not great. I have a CD of Casals playing "Transcriptions and Encores" with that minuet on it. I figure if Casals recorded it professionally, then it must have enough substance to it to be serious music.
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Monday, October 15, 2007
A Christmas gig
I'm glad to have something to work towards these next two months. Besides being a good musical alternative from the daily practice routines, it also gives me a chance to play more with others.
The Larsen A string I put on the other day seemed to help smooth out the sound on the upper end.
I read an interesting discussion about wolves on Cello Chat - from back in July. I've tried to follow these threads as they pop up from time to time, but I'd missed this one. Several posters described their wolves as I've come to know mine - often a booming sound that seems to move around from note to note and even from string to string for no apparent reason (I'm almost convinced that this is due to changes in temperature and humidity). They talked about having to make frequent adjustments to their Bice wolf eliminators to combat it. I had started to think that my cello was flawed, or that I was using the wrong strings, or that I was just unable to understand or adequately explain what was going on to my teacher and the luthier. Just knowing that my experiences with my wolf aren't unique has helped me accept it and begin to think about how to
I want to thank everyone who offered such thoughtful and informative comments to my recent posts. What a support group we've become! From novices to professionals, from beginner students to expert teachers; regardless of experience or abilities, we all share a passion for our cellos - one that drives us and challenges us and at times frustrates us, but one that sometimes transports us. Sharing that passion through our blogs and comments is bringing us together in new and interesting ways. Again, thanks.
Also, there is one definitive cure for a wolf, but it involves an acetylene torch and a few months of regret....
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Friday, October 12, 2007
I'm at a point in my life where I shouldn't really have to do anything I don't want to. At least I no longer have to get up and drive all those miles to a job I detest. I really don't have to answer to anyone (except the tax man, of course), anymore.
After a lifetime of subservience in one fashion or another - to bosses, corporations, creditors, advertisers, "the man", and so on - I don't think I've been able to fully let go of that sense of obligation (or maybe it's guilt). I still get up every morning at 5:30 to slog away on the treadmill before getting Z off to school. In fact I wore out my old treadmill and had to buy a new one last week. I still have to try to control what I eat (not too successful with this one).
But my real subservience is to that cello. Why do I subject myself to this daily humiliation of trying to do something so impossibly difficult, and doing it so badly that it sometimes even hurts to listen?
I suppose I'm getting better, of course, but this process of improving involves listening daily to that screech on those upbow Es and Fs, or that howl when I get close to that wolf, or those flubbed shifts, or those fingers that refuse to go where I tell them to or to land in their proper sequence - even after weeks of slow repetitive practice.
I came off the concert last weekend feeling somewhat adequate, if not completely pleased with my performance. More than once since that night though, I've wondered what made me think I was ready to sit down in front of 275 of our most avid local musical aficionados - and show them just how poorly I play the cello. In reality we didn't do that badly for a trio that included two novices, but I *know* where I messed up...
I've still got more than 8,500 hours of practice to go before I reach that magical 10,000 hour goal, another 12 years. I suppose that somewhere along the way, I'll cross some threshold and at least begin to appreciate my own sound.
What's puzzling is that I've never really done anything before where I felt so inadequate - incompetent, really.
In school, I knew I was fully capable of making A's, and if/when I didn't it was due to laziness, not incompetence. Same thing with work. All those years, I always felt more than competent - quite confident actually - to do whatever I was doing. Of course there were scary moments, such as when I had to give a presentation to a crowd of more than 100 experts in my field and persuade them to support my cause (whatever it was at the time). But even that was nothing compared to this...
Oh, yeah, there was also that first day I walked into the offices of that Argentine oil company to start my new assignment as one of their local managers, when I didn't know a word of their language. Obviously, I had to learn Spanish pretty darn quickly. But even then, I was confident that I could pull it off. (Just as I did begin to succeed in that challenge, the price of oil dropped so low that our joint-venture project was canceled, and I had to come home.)
Back to the present, though...
It's just another temporary low point - I know - as before. Earlier this week, I was feeling pretty good about my cello's sound. I was playing through my pieces pretty smoothly. I was isolating and practicing the tough parts and making progress.
Then this morning our first snow fell; only an inch, but.... I detest winter, so this was not a good day.
When I sat down to play, all that satisfaction from earlier this week was gone. **cringing, even now, remembering the power of that elusive wolf** Nevertheless, I slogged away, playing slowly and trying to focus on the issues, trying to overlook the quality of the sound. I did have some success working on the Scherzo...
Afterwards, I took off the Jargar A and replaced it with the Larsen A that I had used briefly this summer. It's not supposed to be as bright as the Jargar, and I'm hoping it will be play a little easier tomorrow.
Despite the negativity today, I do know how fine that cello can sound. I also know that there are days (not enough) when I can make it sing and I know that all the masochism and humiliation are worth it. Someday these good days will outnumber the bad ones.
You might be surprised just how many really talented musicians I know that have no self-esteem. It seems silly to a lot of people since I've reached a relatively high level after 14 years, the last 4 of which I've done nothing but cello, but I still feel incompetent. Every lesson leaves humbled, especially since my current teacher was principal in a major orchestra when he was 23. So you aren't alone. :)
I have never worked so hard at something and still feel so inadequate. It's humbling but I've come to think that maybe the things I've tried in life weren't that hard. I had expectations when I started...and generally, they were met if I tried to live up to them.
With the cello - no. I am a slave this thing!
Here are some things my teacher have said that has helped:
1) Keep expectations in check. As you improve, so will your ear so even though you have made great strides, you may not hear it because you expecting so much more.
2) This stuff takes HOURS. When we hear musicians, we rarely hear about the number of hours they have devoted to creating the music.
3) This stuff is not about daily improvements. You will make strides in months, sometimes years.
We are behind the cello because we have a love for the instrument and the sound. Keep that in mind!!
Sorry for the long comment but I have just started to seeing some light after feeling weeks of frustration with my practice as well....hope this helps you a bit.
PS - You know where you messed up in your performance but I bet you the audience did not. You gave them good music! End of story :)
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Wednesday, October 10, 2007
Fall has come and gone. It seemed much more colorful than normal this year; the leaves changed colors much slower than we're used to, and perhaps because of this we saw more oranges, golds, and even a few reds before it all went brown and then fell. Until this weekend the temperatures had been warmer than usual, with no overnight hard frosts - I can remember frosts as early as mid-August. Instead we had to rely on the declining daylight to trigger everything. With the recent sunny weather and all the trips for rehearsals and lessons last few weeks I got to watch the whole process as I was putting all those miles on my car.
Oh, yeah, the bow trials: I mentioned the other day that I had found a small crack in the white bone plate at the tip. I'm 90% sure I didn't cause it, but I talked at length with Ellen about it. She wasn't too concerned, pointing out that it would be easily replaced at the next rehairing. She was more concerned that there was some change occurring in the bow itself because it was getting regular use instead of sitting on a shelf. She asked if I minded holding onto it and playing it for a while to see if anything else would happen to it. Also, since I preferred it over the others, I could use it to compare against the next three bows she was going to send.
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Monday, October 08, 2007
The ambitious program included fifteen different performances. First our Central Peninsula Youth and Community Orchestra played "Palladio" (the tune from that diamond commercial). We'd been working on this piece for over a year; and Saturday night was my best effort yet! My teacher had shown me a new bowing technique for this piece earlier that week and by Saturday I'd mastered it enough to see a major improvement.
After a brief interlude in the green room (where I had to retune my g-string) Cellocracy returned to the stage for our debut. It was pretty scary stepping out to face that large crowd, but coming off our earlier performance with our orchestra we were still riding on the crest, so we quickly smiled at one another for courage and plunged in.
Our three baroque dances were simple enough, taking just less than four minutes to play through them all. I had the top part for the first dance, and I stumbled slightly on the first few measures - that caused me to tense up momentarily and I broke out into a sweat across my forehead (of all places). But by the third or fourth measure we found our footing and glided smoothly through the rest of that piece and easily played the other two. Not bad, not bad at all. The crowd liked it well enough, but I have little memory of any applause or anything. I was just relieved to have survived it intact and could only think about getting off that stage.
The rest of the evening was a rare treat of top-notch performances, notably by Emily Grossman, Erin Southwick, Kent Peterson, Molly Watkins, and Natasha Vaissenberg. And of course, Maria Allison. Maria is our artist extraordinaire, who is the life-force behind the local music scene. She accompanies most of the soloists, coaches most of the groups (thanks from Cellocracy, Maria), and organizes and coordinates all of these performances. Besides playing the piano, she fills in with our orchestra on violin and plays viola in the Redoubt Chamber Orchestra and the Kenai Peninsula Orchestra. A remarkable person.
Sunday morning, I took out my cello and easily played those three dances - flawlessly - from memory. Then I decided to take a day off from that nagging metronome and I just played my Suzuki repertoire at whatever speed felt right. It was a good way to end the week.
Today, our orchestra began to work on a half dozen new pieces. Many of these use second and fourth position shifts... most are doable, with some effort.
My bow trials ended abruptly this evening. After a lot of thought, I had more or less settled on one of the three. It plays nicely and sounds really good - clean and crisp. But I was using it at our rehearsal tonight and I noticed a small crack in the white plastic face at the tip, next to the hole where the hair comes out. I also saw a slight twist up at the tip when looking down the hair from the frog end.
I also got to try out one of the new Coda Diamonds (one of our trioists is also test driving several bows). It was OK, but it didn't play as good as one of her Coda Classics, IMHO.
Anyway, I've decided to send all three of mine back tomorrow. I'll talk to Ellen to see if she has anything else.
Hope you find a great bow soon. Sometimes it takes a while.
Caveat from the voice of experience: don't mop a sweaty brow with fingers of left hand; shifting will come to an abrubt halt. :)
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Wednesday, October 03, 2007
Cellocracy has one more rehearsal Friday, at the church. It has been interesting watching how far we've come together. Tonight we were discussing such minutia as whether we should add a small pause at this repeat, and should we slow down the tempo just a little bit after that measure... We identified two or three minor timing issues which we carefully dissected, played out slowly, and then reassembled for a clean play-through. Then we spent some time discussing possible dynamic alterations in case the church hall swallows our sound. We're modestly confident.
I got three trial bows in the mail on Monday. The scientist in me started out with a detailed chart listing all the visible attributes of each one (this one is arched more near the tip than these two, etc.). Then I weighed each one (79g, 81g, and 82.5g) and found their balance points. I carefully rosined each one using the same number of strokes, etc. Using a pencil as a thickness gauge, I tightened each one to the same point.
Then I began my warmup routine... I played each scale through two or three times with each bow, alternating the order of bows. I played the long bow open strings routine (see Blake Oliver's blog entry Mastering the Long Bow - more on this, later) alternating bows. Then I played through several of the Suzuki Book 1 pieces one time per each bow, and several Suzuki Book 2 pieces, and so on. After each segment, I paused to write down a rating of which bow felt and sounded better on that particular piece, and why. After a few hours, I had already realized that one of the three stood out significantly from the other two. Accordingly, today's session was much less structured, I just switched bows every ten or fifteen minutes.
At first, I included my own bow in the rotation, but then I stopped using it, because it came in last every time.
Tonight I brought them to the Cellocracy rehearsal and traded off with another trioist, who was doing a bow trial of various Coda bows - the new Diamond bow hadn't yet arrived. One of her Codas was better than the other, but didn't come close to my current favorite. I will spend a few more days in my "formal" trial and then let her borrow them for a few days. Next week I'll send two of them back to Cellos2Go and ask Ellen to send me two new ones.
I've been doing Blake's long bow exercises every day for almost two weeks, now. I'm still working on 12-beats-per-bow, but I have noticed an improvement in my ability to sustain an even clean sound along the entire length of the bow. This has also helped me focus on the contact point and on the angle across the strings.
At today's lesson, we talked a lot about the bows - my teacher also liked the same bow I did. She commented that one of them (the more expensive one) seemed to lack springiness. We also talked about a-strings. After I complained about the quality of my open A, she tried my cello using several of the bows including her own, and agreed that my a-string sounded pretty bright. Something else to work on...
We played through the cello trios, and she pointed out a few timing issues to work on. Finally we spent a lot of time on the Gavotte and Minuet in Book 3. We worked on several "issues" - a string crossing from the g-string to the a-string combined with a shift to second position, and a d-minor scale run, etc. Then we turned to the Scherzo... *sigh* this is a tough one. She told me that next time we'll focus on this. As I expressed my frustration, she suggested that I remember what I was stressing/obsessing about just a year ago, and how far I've come since then... That helped.
These past few weeks I've spent all my "free" time on a couple consulting projects that have been challenging and interesting. My only gripe, I guess, is that it has left me with no time to blog. The money is nice, though.
By the way, keep your eye open for an update on 'Not really a blogging cellist'. He hasn't posted since April, but I have only just discovered him and sent a message asking where he is.I really enjoyed the few blogs he did. Very useful. He apparently felt there were enough of us out there who were better at it than he was. I beg to differ!
Which leads me to wonder, how do they come up with prices for bows?
It's exciting that your cellocracy group is coming together so nicely. Will you be able to put up any recordings?
I really enjoy reading your blog. I find myself celebrating with you, groaning with you, and totally relating to the struggles and triumphs you write about!
Ditto what cellogeek said above about celebrating and groaning. In response to some of my complaints about my progress this week my teacher was talking about the fact that as we improve and continue with our studies our standards become higher and so we become even harder on ourselves. I guess we should all keep that in mind.
Lots of good wishes for Saturday!
I have the same cello as you (Haide Ruggeri) and use a Larsen Solo A and D, Spirocore Tungsten G and C and it sounds great. Maybe a string change will help your bright A...
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