Thursday, November 29, 2007


Celloviolacracy? or, Being Nice to Violists.

Aren't violas really just miniature cellos, without endpins? [I guess you could say the opposite - that cellos are just giant violas, with endpins... but this is a cello blog after all.]

For our portion of our Christmas presentation in mid-December, Cellocracy has been working on a dozen or so assorted carols arranged for trios. Then the violist in our orchestra asked if she could join us to play a few quartets. We located several arrangements for four cellos and started working out parts for the viola.

I came across a post in the Cello Chat forum by Terry (known there as Chiddler), where he offered copies of his recent arrangement for four cellos, Carol of the Bells. I emailed him for a copy, mentioning that we were going to play it with three cellos and a viola. He kindly revised one part for the viola before sending it to me. I passed it around a few weeks ago and we all began working on our separate parts. The cellos tried it out a few times at our last few Cellocracy rehearsals, and we knew it was going to be good. But last night, with the viola finally able to join us, we finally got to play it as intended... in a word: WOW! Nice job Terry! After half a dozen run-throughs, it suddenly all came together. As we finished, we all sat there for a few moments savoring it. Again, thanks so much, Terry, from all of us.

Normally, with all our busy schedules, we usually can't find more than an hour or so to rehearse together. But last night, as we finished playing through the quartets, we realized we'd gone way past two hours. Although only a few pieces we play are in any way challenging technically, putting it all together is where the magic seems to come in. We come from all sorts of backgrounds and experience levels, but we seem to work quite well together. We'd divided up the pieces evenly, and whoever has the top part on a particular piece takes charge for its rehearsal.

I sure look forward to these evenings of relaxed music-making - this is exactly what I'd hoped would eventually happen when I first started playing the cello. I sure hope we can keep it up after Christmas.

At lesson #42 yesterday, we spent most of the hour on the Beethoven Minuet in G, working through it the way I normally practice it at home - first just pizzicato, then with the bow, and finally going back to the shifts and slurs. Since I tend to obsessively play scales each morning, my teacher suggested that this would be a good place to throw in bowing variations as I work through a scale - pick out some of the phrases from whatever piece I'm working on and apply that bowing pattern to that scale.

I've made quite a bit of progress since the last lesson, and (aside from the usual lesson jitters) I played through it fairly well. Good enough, it appears - because she then turned to the next piece, #6 in Suzuki 3, by Bach, a Gavotte in C Minor. We talked about its teaching points - the "lower" second position - and then spent some time practicing them. She played it through once, and we talked about how the piece was put together and the various moods in each section. This piece only uses quarter and eighth notes, and only a few slurs across shifts. Today, when I started it pizzicato, that first part came together pretty easily.

Aren't violas really just miniature cellos, without endpins?

According to my two and a half year old son, even violins are baby cellos. :)

Actually, he plays my knockabout viola like a cello. And somewhere on the Web I found a vague fleeting reference to very little cellists using a viola adapted as a cello by the addition of an endpin.

Sounds like you have a winning combination! And to have a violist ask you if they could play -- a dream come true for most quartets! Usually the problem is finding a violist in the first place.
Ooooo, I'm so excited that it worked out!

You wrote, "putting it all together is where the magic seems to come in." Indeed! That's why I was determined to learn enough music theory back to arrange in my high school days. Groups of us can make so much more magic than anyone of us, alone.
My cello teacher taught her very young children to play the cello using a viola, played as you would play a cello. The viola now hangs on the wall of her cello teaching studio, in cello position, of course.

I definitely agree with Terry, about how groups of us can make more magic than any one of us alone (except maybe for the Bach suites). :-)
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