Saturday, December 29, 2007
Play it Slow
With at least one missed lesson this month, and Z out of school (his semester grades were really good, whew!), and holidays, and sleeping late, and so on, I've not been starting my morning practice at 7:30 like I'm used to. Today I didn't get started until after 10:00. Now, I'm a morning person. Since I'm also a creature of habit, these late starts have really messed up my normal practice routines, and I've run out of steam after just an hour or so.
That may explain why I've become so frustrated lately that I keep making the same errors every time I play a piece. I have really focused on these "tricky" parts, over and over, but it just hasn't seemed to help much.
So today I decided to concentrate on playing everything very slooowly, thinking about each and every note and taking the time to make sure I played them all as accurately as possible. I'd been using this approach on new pieces for some time and found it to be very helpful. But for whatever reason - impatience, mostly - I would pick up the pace before I was ready, and then would pound away day after day, trying to work past the difficult passages.
So, today I sure was surprised to find myself moving smoothly through all those stumble points. Not only that, the effort to be more accurate made them sound so good!
As much as I want to increase that metronome rate, I'm going to stay slow for a while...
I know my teacher would like to see accuracy and intonation over speed - although she does expect me to gradually increase the tempos on each piece, as long as I don't sacrifice quality to get there.
If I can play everything correctly every time at a slow pace, it should eventually become possible to play them accurately at faster paces.
Good luck with the practicing. I'm taking a few weeks off. I need a playing break.
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Thursday, December 27, 2007
Here's where I am after working a bunch of hours over the past two days to disconnect and remove the old system and then unpack, assemble, run new wires, navigate setup menus, and so on for the new one. And I'm still not done. There are still a few problems with getting all the right signals to the right places. But another trip to the store for a new cable ("digital optical" - for audio signals... how weird!) should sort this one out.
This process ought to be easier, somehow... Actually the HDMI cabling concept seems to be an improvement, except most of them require you to run a special setup procedure to activate the HDMI, but these special menus aren't even logically placed in the manuals. If you don't know to look for them, you could end up spending a lot of time checking cable connections. Who writes these things anyway? Fortunately, when I was researching the system on Amazon or Best Buy I ran across a customer's review, who complained about spending hours trying to figure this all out and finally getting through to customer "service" before learning about the special HDMI setup procedures. That sure saved me a lot of grief.
Now I have to try to organize all these wires, somehow, with velcro strips.
What to do with all the old stuff? The 1985 receiver is shot as a tuner, but it has a built-in preamp for the LP turntable, which I'm not ready to part with... unless/until I get a new LP to digital converter. The old dual-deck cassette recorder is pretty useless... Still, maybe I should "archive" all this into storage until these things become valuable again. I threw away a perfectly functioning mechanical adding machine in the late 70s (who needed one after calculators became so cheap?) - now they're rare collectors' items.
We did get to watch a DVD last night (Transformers) on the new TV with all 7 speakers in full surround sound mode. Wow!
Casualties were the VCR, the gamecube, and the projector. VCR ate the test tape and the projector needs a SVideo splitter. The gamecube was coaxil cable. I couldn't be bothered including it in the mix (at least for now).
Thanks for reminding me of the "Transformers" movie...I added it to my blockbuster queue.
Just finished updating my database of movies today.
Happy New Year!
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Monday, December 24, 2007
My part: B+; I messed up a couple bars, but these errors were brief, minor and didn't stand out.
Cellocracy's part: A+; All that practicing together really paid off; our three cellos produced a remarkable sound for those familiar Christmas songs.
My part: A+; I'm really happy with how nicely it all came together. Even my open A's were clean and sweet. We could "feel" it as we were playing it.
Still, we were outclassed by a very talented young singer who floored us all with her rich yet delicate voice. I hope to hear more from her.
I've really enjoyed being immersed in music these last few weeks - not anything remotely like what gottagopractice, or pattyoboe, or Jason Heath are doing this time of year, but still a lot for me. We're taking a few weeks break before starting rehearsals for a spring concert. In the meantime, no more excuses - back to my lessons. I spent today reviewing Book 2; I had let these pieces slide for several weeks because I wanted to work on the orchestra and trio pieces. As I played through them, I noticed that on several where I'd previously had certain stumble-points (especially the shifts), I was able to move past them effortlessly. It seems that the Beethoven Minuet has finally taught me to confidently move away from First Position.
Leaving the concert last night, the snowy skies had cleared, and I was treated to this view overhead as I carefully crossed the icy parking lot with my cello, my cushion/music bag, and my music stand to the car; and then on the long drive home:
was taken last night by Dr. Scott M Lieberman in Tyler, Texas.
Merry Christmas, and Happy Music-Making in the New Year!
My busy Christmas schedule is done, and I just spent an hour playing the 2nd page of the Saint-Saens concerto slowly, inspired by a Christmas present from Emily Wright. It was soooo much fun, at least partly because it is not an assignment and no one has any expectations of me.
That is an amazing moon.
Merry Christmas, Guanaco.
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Friday, December 21, 2007
Sunday, our orchestra will play a Christmas concert at a local church. Cellocracy (with one substitution) will also play five carols. Some of these pieces really sound nice with three cellos, and we've rehearsed them so much, we sound pretty good.
Z and his mother gave me an IPod (a blue 8-GB Nano) for my birthday last week ("it's time you joined the 21st century, Dad"). I'm going to be busy ripping some of my CD collection - especially my cello music. But now I am going to have to look for an LP-to-digital converter. I recently downloaded the new version of Audacity (v. 1.3.4 beta), which is recommended for cleaning up some of the pops and hisses when recording those old records. One of these days I'm going to have to figure out how to use it so I can start recording myself...
I do listen to some current "popular" music - my portal for all that is World Cafe - I usually like most of what David Dye plays there. But I still long to hear my older music - not the stuff that shows up on those 60s/70s "Golden Hits" radio stations (some of that is just so overplayed...) Instead I long for the "B" sides; those cuts from the rest of the albums that have stayed with me for more than 40 years, now. Hearing just a few bars - or even reading a few lines of lyrics - is usually enough to bring back the whole tune. Every once in a while my music-memory and my cello fingers come together and I'm able to start picking my way through some of the melodies.
You may have noticed that I haven't griped about my cello's sound for quite some time. That's because it sounds so good; even with the temperature and humidity changes; even with the occasional reappearance of the wolf (and that "refracted" wolf that sometimes shows up around C). Maybe it's the strings, maybe the new bow, or maybe it's just that I don't get so worked up about quality anymore (that, or my playing has made a step-change improvement). Whatever the case, I've begun to monitor more closely my bowing hand, my left hand shapes, and my various arm angles, and so on.
But that said, it's not an unimportant phase. There's a lot of useful stuff to learn, and it keeps us engaged until we get hooked on the sound and it's too late to stop <g>.
The two DJ's who do the afternoon show on TakilmaFM use Audacity to simply record their show at home and email it to the station!
Too bad it is not available for Mac.
Will anyone record your show Sunday?
Best wishes for the holidays.
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5 hrs., 41 min., 24 sec.
It officially occurs at 9:08 pm Alaska Standard Time
Sunrise at 10:12 am; Sunset at 3:53 pm
Moonrise at 1:29 pm; Moonset at 10:04 am (20 hrs., 35 min.)
Today's high temperature: 15F
Tonight's low temperature: -10F
Snow accumulation: 1 inch
Until just a few days ago we'd been experiencing considerably warmer temperatures than normal, with no snow.
The night skies have been fantastic!
Mars has been in opposition (also at its closest approach to the earth), and until the waxing moon this week it was large and bright in the skies for up to 20 hours each day (following the winter-moon's path).
Last week's meteor shower was quite a show.
The best news is that the days now start getting longer.
Tuesday, December 18, 2007
'Cello - a poem
the way he carries it in
that he carries a thing:
the way he favors
his left hand (which touches
its strings) as if it were a wing
that touched God; the way
his knees cling to its sides
as if it were love. It is
his cross, to love
a mermaid whose hair
can sing, his cross
to bear, a wooden box,
half hourglass, half
resonant air, to know
what is not woman, not thing
and, with the audience
mute as landscapes,
to let it scream.
Ramon C. Sunico
Originally published in
Literary Review, Spring 2000
Copyright 2000, Fairleigh Dickinson University
Sunday, December 16, 2007
The humidity indicator card that came with my dampits is a perfect tool for checking to see if the bridge is square to the face of the cello. The tailpiece face of the bridge should be exactly perpendicular to the cello, (the fingerboard face of the bridge is beveled). The side of the card against the face of the bridge shows that the A/D half of the bridge is almost exactly perpendicular...
At the G/C part of the bridge, there is a noticeable gap along the upper edge of the card, showing that this part at least, is somewhat out of square. I'll have to (carefully) pull the top of the bridge towards the tailpiece. (Notice that my humidity is in the "Danger" zone, despite a room humidifier adding gallons of water into the air each day.)
Rechecking with the card shows the bridge is now properly aligned. I also rechecked the A/D half to make sure it didn't slip during this procedure (it was OK).
Now, I check to see if the bridge remains properly aligned to the strings. (Actually, this step ought to be done first). The "fingerboard" side of the feet should line up with the center point of upper notch in the "f-holes". If it's not aligned it will make intonation more difficult and it might be harder to tune to perfect 5ths. Mine has only shifted once, when I first changed strings (teaching me to do them one at a time and bring each new string almost up to full tension before doing the next one). Today, the alignment is perfect.
And the alignment is also perfect at the other "f-hole".
Now, if I could only apply this same basic geometry to my bow placement and arm/hand/finger angles....
I wonder if the f-hole notches don't vary from cello to cello, or at least maker to maker, though. Based on the varnish, my bridge has not moved, but the inside notch points to the middle of the foot, and if I align a card across both notches the line isn't parallel to the bridge, and the edge of the card extends to the tailpiece side of the bridge. Sounds like a good thing to ask the maker, since I can.
What's more important, though, is establishing the correct string length [or "stop"] between the nut and the bridge [on modern cellos, this distance should be 27.36" or 695mm]. It may be that the final bridge placement by the luthier might have to be slightly in front of or behind this "line" between the outer notches in order to ensure proper string lengths.
What is most important, though, is that the front of the bridge's feet should be perfectly parallel to that line between the outer notches.
Dealers must think I'm a little nuts, as I measure the instruments before I even try them. It's worth it, though. I'm convinced that limiting my instruments to the shorter string length is a major component of my ability to play pain-free now.
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Thursday, December 13, 2007
At yesterday's lesson (#43), my teacher did something different. She had me play the various pieces alone - without her playing accompaniment. Surprisingly it helped me a lot, since that's what I'm used to hearing when I practice at home. Usually, I lose focus by comparing my intonation with hers, or from listening to the combinations of sounds. I also tend to rely on her for timing. Yesterday, I was on my own. I still didn't play as well as I do at home, but not that bad.
We reviewed my tough spots from several of the more recent pieces, testing out various ways to practice them.
Then we turned to the Gavotte in C Minor. I'd been playing it pizzicato since the last lesson... but I'd finally started bowing it a few days ago. So I played it through pizzicato, slowly, stopping to go over the various tricky parts. Then I played some of it with my bow. While I still had a few missteps, in general, it came out rather well. After some ego-boosting complements, we then turned to the next piece, Bach's Minuet #3 (#7 in Suzuki Book 3). Since it will be at least a month before my next lesson, she commented I should start working on it after a few more weeks of focus on the Gavotte. This piece takes the basic Minuet from Book 2 and adds a part in C-minor. We talked about which of the listed fingering alternatives to use; in most cases I'll use the revised fingerings from the latest edition, but in a few cases she suggested I try the earlier fingerings.
Finally we talked about scales. I admitted to spending up to 45 minutes a day on them (her comment: "Scales are good!"). For the last month or so, I've been working on octave scales from each open string up to third-finger, fifth position. To start preparing for the next piece (#8), she suggested I also begin working on the third octave of the C-Major scale up to 7th position.
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Tuesday, December 11, 2007
And then there were two
This was the one our cello trio, Cellocracy, has been rehearsing for since mid-October, and one of us won't be able to make the other two gigs. All that effort for nothing... Oh well, I sure got to know a bunch of carols.
Maybe next year...
Sounds like you all have Saturday free. I vote for finding someplace that will let you play, and spreading some holiday cheer instead of just filing things away. It will be a much more interesting memory.
This happened to my flute/cello choir this year. We lost a long-standing gig at a library holiday party because they wanted more space for people (and, honestly, the people talk so much at this gathering that they can barely hear our background music). We easily found a nursing home to play at where people will actually listen and maybe even sing along.
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Sunday, December 09, 2007
I'm excited to be a part of all that music, even if most of it will be Christmas music.
[Aren't these two pathetic? Here they are suffering through their first bath.]
Enjoy all that music!
Poor pigs. I can live without the squealing, thanks. <g>
Have fun at those concerts!
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Friday, December 07, 2007
Anyway, when I started trying to figure out how to fit the seven(!) new speakers into my living room, it became clear that I've got waaaaay too much junk laying around - mostly knick-knacks, some going back more than 35 years. I used to feel an attachment to these things, and I've displayed them on shelves, mantles, windowsills, on top of speakers, the TV, and on every other horizontal surface. A lot of these are geodes, chunks of petrified wood, fossilized shells and such that we'd collected in our explorations of Patagonia. Add to that are things like bottles of ash I'd collected from various volcanic eruptions, certain "geological" gifts from my kids (they know I like rocks), a piece of the Berlin Wall, a small meteorite, a fossilized shark tooth, etc. Then there's my collection of elephant carvings. More recently we'd accumulated a bunch of art-class and shop-class projects. And so on, and so on... Y calls all this stuff "my" dust collectors and we've had endless "discussions" about this since forever.
Meanwhile the stereo system was buried in CDs and CD cases, and the computer table held several dozen CD games that Z no longer played.
I've always been a "collector", who couldn't throw something away if I could imagine some future beneficial use for it (you should see my workshop!). But, seven speakers! Something had to give.
Yesterday, something did give, and I realized I had to put all (well, most) of this into storage. Finally! Y was ecstatic. We went to town and bought a bunch of sturdy clear plastic 15-quart storage containers with snap-on lids. (I got 16 - all they had in stock of that particular size and style, knowing it wouldn't be enough).
After two intense days, I've got stacks of containers, neatly labeled, and ready to go into storage. All those CD's are now logged into my database and filed away in the 400-disc changer (I'm storing their empty cases in a box). The old computer games are boxed and stored. All the geodes, petrified wood and fossils (with a few exceptions) are put away. Most of the knick-knacks and my other "pretties" are now gone. :(
I feel lighter, somehow. But the room sure seems empty. Tomorrow, I'll tackle the bowls where I keep my keys and wallet, which have also accumulated piles of small items. Then the "junk" drawer in Y's display cabinet [I used to question why she was allowed to display her heirloom crystal and china sets, but soon realized that I'd not win that argument. She did, after all, allow me to have the small drawer on top].
By mutual agreement, I have to wait till Christmas day to install the Home Theater System, and Y has to wait till Christmas to put up her new thread cabinet and open all those sacks of fine fabrics she bought today - on sale, of course. By then, I'll have room plans drawn out on AutoCAD, with vectors and angles and distances all worked out, and setting up the speakers will be a piece of cake [sure...]
Add knickknacks such as you mentioned -- fossilized this and that, rocks from this and that -- including a small chunk of granite from the demolished masoleum of a famous soviet leader from Bulgaria (My husband's version of the Berlin Wall), little figurines from China, Turkey, and other trips abroad.
An article in the Economist mentioned that collectors tended to be intelligent -- it should have also mentioned that they also enjoyed collecting dust!
Mind you, I'm as guilty as my husband for saving things -- even though I limit my souvenirs to things that fit in the palm of your hand like a trilobyte, shard of ostrich egg, tin soldier depicting a Turk and the rape of the good Christian woman, etc.
We did finally box up all the toy stuffed dinosaurs a few years ago.
I'm pretty sure we won't be declutterizing that room anytime soon.
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Wednesday, December 05, 2007
So I started looking for definitions and examples of persistence. For some reason, I thought I remembered from my college physics that one of the quarks was named "persistence". It turns out I was wrong, and their names ("flavors") are actually 'up', 'down', 'charm', 'strange' (my favorite quark), 'top', and 'bottom'. Whew, quarks and leptons. The Wikipedia descriptions of these particles and their properties quickly twisted my brain into a knot, and I realized I was in way over my head. As it turns out, I could not find any special use of the term persistence in particle physics, other than its standard usage.
Anyway, that's what diverted me onto yesterday's rant about cosmologists mucking around with "my" universe. I say they should just leave it and all those other possible universes alone.
Now, back to persistence. I selected a bunch of quotations that seemed relevant, so I'm posting them here:
Energy and persistence conquer all things. — Benjamin Franklin
Arriving at one point is the starting point to another. — John Dewey
Success is the ability to go from failure to failure without losing your enthusiasm. — Winston Churchill
Failure is the path of least persistence. — unknown
Patience and perseverance have a magical effect before which difficulties disappear and obstacles vanish. — John Quincy Adams
The heights by great men reached and kept / Were not attained by sudden flight, / But they, while their companions slept, / Were toiling upward in the night. — Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Home run hitters strike out a lot. — Reggie Jackson
What Is Persistence? Persistence is the ability to maintain action regardless of your feelings. You press on even when you feel like quitting. When you work on any big goal, your motivation will wax and wane like waves hitting the shore. Sometimes you’ll feel motivated; sometimes you won’t. But it’s not your motivation that will produce results — it’s your action. Persistence allows you to keep taking action even when you don’t feel motivated to do so, and therefore you keep accumulating results. Persistence will ultimately provide its own motivation. If you simply keep taking action, you’ll eventually get results, and results can be very motivating. — Steve Pavlina
Somehow, something is lacking here, but I don't quite have it figured out yet. So, I'll probably come back to this later on.
So far this week I've seen three cellos in various TV shows: in "Brothers and Sisters" (yuck - but Y likes it, so it's on in the background while I surf) a cello is the sole instrument used in a wedding; in "Heroes" (I'm a fan) when Kristen Bell (aka Veronica Mars!!), enters her father's study to snoop, there's a cello and a music stand in the corner; and in "Life" (I like this one too) the husband of the killer-of-the-week is an eccentric theoretical physics professor, who plays the cello. What's going on?
So what's your favorite quark?
I'm sure familiar with persistent snow - what falls here in December stays on the ground until April.
Aack! Emily, I forgot about quark's spin (isn't it also known as color?) My head started spinning as I tried to understand how something could have a spin of 1.5 ...
Welcome, Ellen, to my blog. Aside from the positive feedback from my teacher, most of my reinforcement comes from our weekly orchestra - and more recently from our weekly cello trio + viola rehearsals. These are also great incentives to keep on practicing.
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Tuesday, December 04, 2007
Move over AlGore...
Talk about mankind having a negative effect on the environment! Here's a recent story from Britain's online daily newspaper, the Telegraph, which makes the case that mankind may be "shortening the universe's life" because... (get this)... we are studying the universe too closely!
It all goes back to Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle, which says (in a very abbreviated layman's version), that you cannot measure something precisely - such as the exact location of an electron in an atom at any specific moment in time - without affecting what you are measuring. In this example, when you try to accurately locate that electron, you actually affect where it is at that particular moment. As Firesign Theater so aptly put it, way back when: "How can you be in two places at once when you're not anywhere at all?"
I've always been intrigued by this theory, and I've often tried to apply it to some of the random thoughts passing through my head. I even used it once here (a sure stretch, but I doubt Heisenberg would complain) trying to explain why I wasn't able to measure my progress in learning the cello.
Heisenberg's theory applies to quantum mechanics, which originated as a way to understand the smallest of systems - on the scale of subatomic particles. A fundamental concept of quantum mechanics is that these subatomic particles can exist in a multitude of quantum states (i.e. dimensions, or realities) at the same time. Now, according to Heisenberg, one of the quirks [forgive me, I couldn't resist] of quantum theory is that when we measure a quantum system we essentially force it into a single quantum state. In other words, we take away the overall uncertainty (or possibility) of all those other potential states by the very act of measuring it.
This can be illustrated by the story of Schrodinger's cat: "His cat is in a box, and the question is asked - is it dead or alive?" According to Heisenberg's theory, there are at least two possible realities - one where the cat is alive and another where it is dead. In quantum theory, both these realities exist at the same time... that is, until you look inside the box. Once you've discovered it was indeed alive (as hoped), you've established its precise state of being, but in doing so, you've now canceled the other possible reality - that whole possible universe where the cat was dead and all the ramifications that would have resulted no longer have any chance of existing.
In recent years, cosmologists have started to try to apply this quantum theory to the universe as a whole... So now along comes a pair of American scientists who have extrapolated Heisenberg's principle to this new concept. What's different from the old quantum mechanics is that we are inside the system we are studying (whereas, in particle physics, while we might all contain the same gluons, and muons, and so forth, these particles mostly exist outside of our selves). These guys have hypothesized that because we're inside the system we're measuring, according to Heisenberg, our study of our system doesn't so much change the system, instead we are defining which of all possible states it (we) can exist in and by elimination, which systems we can no longer exist in.
By devising and studying a quantum theory of the universe, we have now begun to affect the system we are studying. In other words, now that we're studying the universe using quantum theory, we are taking away certain uncertainties and forcing it into a quantum state that fits our studies of it. This is wild!
Cosmologists believe they've discovered and observed "dark energy", an anti-gravity force which is contributing to the expansion of the universe, which will ultimately cause its end. According to these guys, the very fact that we have now observed dark energy has "defined a universe" that is more likely to end. It gets worse... as our cosmologists continue to theorize and measure the universe, they are systematically removing all the other possibilities that always existed before now.
So in their opinion, if we had not used quantum theory to study the universe, the possible quantum states that the universe could exist in would still be limitless, and "life, the universe and everything" would have turned out differently. Too late now. Who knew?
I have to go play my cello....
Curiously, I just came across a reference to Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle in a very light novel I am reading by Claire Cook (Multiple Choice, in which a 40-ish woman goes back to college and takes "Quantum Physics and You.") I am not sure it has any bearing on the outcome of the novel.
(I am reading this book because I wrote my nanowrimo novel in a style similar to Claire Cook's, and I am trying to decide whether there is hope for it. I would have preferred an Isabel Allende or Barbara Kingsolver style, but this is what happens when you try to write a novel in a month.)
Anyway, I enjoyed your post!
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