Thursday, October 18, 2007



Today (#39) was one of my best lessons so far.

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.

Fantastic. It's always nice to "feel" the progress that one is actually making.
That Beethoven minuet is difficult; too difficult for that spot in the books, if you ask me: the downshift on the 16ths, the asymetric bowing, the slurred staccato...

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.
Glad you didn't skip the minuet, though I agree with Terry about the order of the pieces. And it seems like almost a cliche for a bad performance (it is the "think piece" in the musical, The Music Man; the children play it badly, but the parents beam with pride). But I was bound and determined to make that piece sound like music, and I was happy with the result. I am sure you will be too.
I'm happy that you're making progess - I agree with Marisa - it's a really good feeling. To me it's like athletic performance or personal bests - it's such a good feeling when it happens; it makes the work to get there feel worthwhile.
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