Wednesday, February 27, 2008
I confess. I have not been practicing these on a regular basis, usually only the day before and the day of the rehearsals. I feel guilty each day as I put away my cello, knowing I should have spent some time on them. Yet...
So today, I forced myself to stop my warmup/scales after a half-hour and to stop working on the Suzuki material after 45 minutes. That left me at least 45 minutes to go through my orchestra material. Today, I went through everything, playing pizzicato slowly, and going back to mark the remaining trouble spots. Tomorrow I'll focus on the remaining trouble spots, and most of the old trouble spots. I've found that these issues sometimes resurface when I'm tired or when I get flustered for whatever reason, so it helps to refresh them on a regular basis. Friday, I'll play all these pieces with my bow, slowly. Saturday, I'll work on bowing the trouble spots. Sunday and Monday, I'll work on playing everything at full tempo. Monday's rehearsal should reveal the remaining weak spots, which I'll readdress on next week. [I'm writing all this down here in lieu of a practice log, mostly to document for myself what I intend to do.]
I really hate to back off my Suzuki/Mooney work, because I have been making steady progress there. Still, I have to be able to hold up my end in these two groups, and my recent neglect has become painful.
Last night a fourth cellist came to our Cellocracy rehearsal! That means we should be able to add some quartets to our repertoire. She already has commitment for the day of our upcoming concert, and won't be here this summer for our summer concert either. But it sure is nice to hear four cellos together...
I've been listening recently to Robert Plant and Alison Krauss' 2007 album, Raising Sand. What a fascinating and surprisingly pleasing collaboration! Apparently, T-Bone Burnett came up with the idea of pairing them together and then persuaded them both to give it a shot. David Dye recently presented an interesting interview with them on "World Cafe". My only regret is that Plant turned down a reunion tour with Led Zeppelin in favor of touring with Alison ;) [not that I'd ever get a chance to see Led Zeppelin live, but I was sort of hoping that a tour would rekindle the spark and they'd come out with some more of their signature style of rock].
I made a change that I think will make life easier for you. Give it a try and let me know if I tweaked the right setting.
Off to throw the cello in the car and drive for an hour to a gig. In rush hour traffic and pouring rain. Good thing we love it so much, eh?
Links to this post:
Saturday, February 23, 2008
It sure takes a lot of time
But then, a few days later, I picked up several of my own records from the pile. I've always been rather careful with them, replacing my needle often, never leaving loose albums laying around, always storing them vertically in their cases, using a velvet-covered dust cleaner before playing, etc. They did appear to be in better shape.
Still, I decided that since this was for *keeps*, I should wash each LP before recording it. A search of the internet [wow, there are some real hard-core vinyl enthusiasts out there! *oops, that's probably going to draw some interesting google searches*] led to a homemade cleaning solution of 3 parts water, 1 part isopropyl alchohol, and a squirt of Simple Green soap concentrate. I used a soft paint brush to apply the solution and then rinsed the record clean with warm water - avoiding getting the center label too wet in the process. Finally, I patted it dry with a paper towel.
After this laborious process, I recorded a couple albums, and amazingly, the resulting MP3s came out really nice - as good as any I had on my computer already. The waveforms were clean, and Cakewalk easily removed the few slight background noises.
From start to finish it takes about an hour per record (not counting the actual recording time), which means I'll be lucky to record more than four or five albums a day. This is going to take a long time. Most of this is the final conversion to MP3s, which appears to take a lot of CPU capacity. I decided not to burn these files to CDs - who needs it? Most of the time I'm only able to listen to this kind of music when I'm in my car - which has an iPod connection (and a great sound system).
The nice part about having all these tracks as MP3s is that I can easily call up any song, album, or artist, and within a few clicks, it's playing. Also, while I'm converting the files, I can delete those tracks from the albums that I never liked.
Eventually, I'm probably going to start burning my CDs into MP3s as well.
Since you're going through so much trouble to get the audio quality the best possible from your LPs to the computer, you might as well go the extra mile and use lossless, IMHO. If you're worried about storage space, worry not since storage is cheap these days. My whole collection takes up only 100 GB as FLAC files (ripped with Exact Audio Copy). I take comfort in knowing that those files are exact copies of each track in my collection, so I will never have to rip those CD albums again, despite what new technology comes along.
Links to this post:
Now, a car that lets you leave your cello case at home
Who knew? Think any cellists will run out and buy this car, now?
While I'm at it, look what Lone Oboe linked to a few days ago: FoxTrot
Yeah, Cello Hero... now that's just what I need.
Hmmm, why is it that oboe bloggers find and post so many links about cellos?
Also Cello Centered (and later Musical Assumptions) recently posted another interesting "Cello Hero" game: Berliner Philharmoniker
Wednesday, February 20, 2008
Same old practice issues
Prior to getting into that, we played through the Gavotte in C-minor, and aside from one stumble on a descending C-minor scale portion, it went quite well. I like playing this piece - a lot. My homework from this is to play just that third position extension and the shift back to first position, over and over.
Then we opened the Scherzo. For all my other successes, I've not been able to "get" this one, yet. I usually work on it three or four times a week, but I can't really say I've made a lot of progress. If I pay attention to my bowing (which still isn't right on this one), I start messing up the notes. If I concentrate on the notes, my bowing sucks. It's gone back and forth this way for months now. My teacher suggested I put in some time playing the Suzuki Book 1 Twinkle, Etude, and Perpetual Motion pieces with the fast double-16th notes, using these to work on my bowing arm [aack, even more stuff to try to fit into my schedule]. Also, she suggested I play my scales with this same bowing technique. Meanwhile, I will also work on the Scherzo at a pace just slow enough to completely lock in the right notes.
Since my progress on Humoresque was so good, she asked me if I was ready to start the next piece. But I hesitated, because I felt I have enough yet to do on my current pieces. So, she suggested instead that I work on several pieces in the upper third position section of Mooney's "Position Pieces" and we'd go over them at the next lesson.
Back on the practice timing problem, we talked about setting up a formal rotation plan - using 3x5 cards or something. That will help...
I hope you find a way to practice that works for you! Your dedication and thoughtfulness about your playing never fails to impress me.
As for shifting, I'm currently working on a piece that has a very high E-flat. Taking my teacher's advice I noted where my thumb was and other fingers to make a mental snapshot of where the note was so I could easily find it again. The rest of the notes further along in the piece didn't seem to be matching with my E-flat. I took out my tuner and checked; C-sharp! Delete my mental picture and start again. Shifts!
Links to this post:
Friday, February 15, 2008
Cakewalks through time
So after a bit of assembly (I had to use a USB cable extension, since my computer station does not sit next to the stereo system), I installed the included Cakewalk Pyro 5 software. It's a lot like Audacity, except it records everything as .wav files and then burns them to CDs. It is quite easy to use. After navigating past a few menu selections, just create a file name, set the needle on the record, and start recording. Like Audacity, the screen displays the waveform for each track. I've only had time to record a few tracks, which were pretty clean - no hisses, crackles or pops, but apparently there's an option to "clean" these type of annoyances from the recordings. An entire album side can be recorded into a single file, which can then be split into individual tracks for saving. Due to lack of storage space I'll probably convert all the .wav files to .mp3 files and delete the originals.
Since the system records at real-time speeds, it's going to take quite some time to convert 250 or so LPs. But it sure is going to be a interesting trip down memory-lane, listening to all my music from the late 60s and early 70s. Within a few bars of each "new" tune, my musical "memory" brings it all back - often accompanied by intense images of where I was, who I was with, and what I was doing when I first heard it.
And I have not yet mastered the iPod.
I decided to try the latest version of Audacity - v. 3.0, and was pleased to see an input volume control, and the noise reduction plugins are somewhat more user-friendly.
There is only so much you can do, though, to "improve" the sound.
Links to this post:
Tuesday, February 12, 2008
Help around the house
Friday, February 08, 2008
At odds with myself
I was getting more and more frustrated and even briefly considered abandoning the lesson. But with her patient encouragement I persisted. By the time we began Gavotte in C-minor, I was finally playing better.
We turned to Humoresque. Last weekend I decided I needed to put down my bow for a while to focus on all those shifts, pizzicato. Suzuki introduces upper-third position in this piece, and I was floundering around trying to find that F# with my pinkie, and later on the F with my third finger. So, we worked through these slowly, pizzicato, several times. She said that I was just stabbing in the dark trying to make those shifts. So we went over which fingers should actually make the shifts - and on which strings - before actually playing the desired note. It made a huge difference.
Now I need to just find the time to practice.
Each of those imaginary frets have notes that match an open string. If, after a few years, I've practiced many times finding the magical frets, I might know very well only where just 5 frets are on the cello, but I can accurately find any note up to mid-string thumb position.
So F# has 2nd finger on D string A (or A string E).
Ok, I'll stop being weird now.
As for shifting, it really helped me to take the 'scientific' approach like Ms. Emily recommended - I wrote about the shifting exercise I was doing for weeks in this post - it really helped me develop a feel how far to shift for all sorts of combinations of notes. Good practicing!
I guess we just need to forgive ourselves and let it go. Next time will be better.
Links to this post:
Thursday, February 07, 2008
What an evening!
Khachaturian's Sonata-Fantaisie for Solo Cello played by Mark Kosower;
Rachmaninoff's Selected Preludes for Piano, Op.23 played by Jee-Won Oh Kosower;
Tchaikovsky's Piano Trio in A Minor, Op.50 played by Mark Kosower, Jee-Won Oh Kosower, and Paul Rosenthal on violin.
Almost too much...
I sat in the front row - only a few feet away from the musicians. It was like being inside the music. I'm still listening to the echoes in my head.
I can't even begin to find the words to describe this interesting combination of pieces. I was really impressed with Kosower's presentation of Khachaturian's cello solo. The Tchaikovsky trio was just wonderful!
Once again, thanks to Paul Rosenthal for again bringing a pair of fantastic performers to our frozen land (it was -30F yesterday morning) year after year. He must have some magical power of persuasion: "how about coming all the way to Soldotna, Alaska in its coldest month to put on a concert for only 75 people?"
I like your description that "It was like being inside the music." That's sort of how I feel when I play with my orchestra.
In my orchestra I usually don't feel like I'm "inside" the music, yet. Instead, I feel like I'm part of the noise. Once in a while, though, it does turn into music, if only for a moment.
I've not heard the Khachaturian, I'll have to look that up. Thanks!
I am not going to review the Paul and Linda concert though; I am turning it over to two violinist friends with whom I play because I have to cover another concert, and it turns out that the other person (Larry Zarella, folksinger) returned to the Cape after living for 16 years in Alaska.
Interesting Alaska connections! I wish I could go to the Rosenthal concert, but like the idea of having a "couple" of violinists to review a "couple" of violinists.
Links to this post:
Sunday, February 03, 2008
On this latest one, Dvorak's Humoresque, I'm working on rehearsing the shifts - first pizzicato, then with the bow. Here's where the time really disappears, and those other "intrusions" finally show up. The past few days, I've found myself "thinking/hearing" those fingerings, while driving or just before falling asleep. I haven't quite reached the point where I can actually play them smoothly without hesitating or stumbling.
That means I haven't been getting to any of the Orchestra pieces very often, nor to my trio pieces. Usually, by the weekend, I've begun to feel guilty and consciously set aside some time for them, so that by Monday evening's rehearsal I'm not too rusty when we start to play. One thing getting in the way is that we still haven't settled on our concert repertoire. The conductor gave us parts for a whole lot of pieces, but acknowledged that we will probably only play half of them, or so. It's hard to justify spending a lot of time learning the cello parts for a lot of pieces we won't be playing. Our spring concert is less than 8 weeks away...
So why am I so hung on those scales? It seems as if I need to work through each scale several times in order to loosen up my fingers and fine-tune my intonation. If I try to skip this step altogether, I then have problems with speed and accuracy. Somehow I've just got to cut back on that opening warmup. I really don't want to cut back on those reviews of the older pieces.
As we head into the third week of below zero temperatures, it's hard to take any comfort in the fact that we've gained two hours of daylight already. At least we're seeing starry skies at night and bright sunny days (when there isn't an ice-fog blanketing everything). But it's too dang cold to go out much.
We've been car-shopping for the last few weeks. Although we have several vehicles sitting in the driveway, only one of them starts when it's this cold, and it's now eight years old. Living this far out of town, we decided we need something a little more reliable, and it has to be AWD. We're looking at all the "crossovers" - such as Ford's Escape and Edge, Chevy's Equinox, Buick's Enclave, Mazda's CX-7 and CX-9, Nissan's Murano, Honda's CR-V, and Subaru's Outback, Forester and Tribeca. Currently, I'm partial to the CX-7, but I'm doing my best to stay open-minded about them all. We tried out a few at our local dealers this weekend, and Tuesday we'll go back to Anchorage to test drive several more.
Links to this post: