Monday, March 24, 2008

 

Nostalgia


I've recorded 52 albums so far - with many, many, many more to go. It sure is nice to call up those long-dormant musical memories with a simple turn of the dial on my iPod. I like that I don't have to get up every twenty minutes to flip the record over or put on a new one. In fact, with the "shuffle" option, I don't even have to choose what to play next. Each new tune is a surprise.

I haven't listened to most of this music for more than 20 years. Sure, the "hits" from some of these albums might show up on the "oldies" radio channels... I just can't stand the rest of the junk that goes along with them. But it's the other eight or ten tracks on each album that I've missed - the songs I grew to appreciate even more than the ones the "labels" selected for inclusion in the top-40 playlists of the time.

And every note is still in my brain; every melody, every lyric. Funny how that works.

Coming home from rehearsal tonight, I set the cruise control at 55 (!) just so I could get a few extra minutes listening time with my iPod plugged into the car's sound system - with the volume turned up loud.

Comments:
You certainly make a good case for switching to the new technology.

Glad you're enjoying this blast from the past. It's amazing the way music can evoke such feelings of nostalgia.
 
This is Pam responding to your post of November 11, 2007. (I’m still wading through your rich archives all the way up to November 2007.) In 1968 I graduated from college and subsequently flew as a cabin attendant for the now defunct TWA out of JFK while living in Manhattan. Thinking I was erudite and savvy while I was really trite and banal, I ignored “The War”---never thanking one soldier for defending my freedom. Thankfully, the wonderful man I married in 1973 educated and “wisened” me up!
Now we have two soldier sons, a Lieutenant Colonel and a 25 year old Captain who share many tales of being recognized for their sacrifice. How it would wound this mother if she thought her sons were being scorned rather than appreciated. I am sorry for my neglect all those years ago. But I still have the opportunity to express my gratitude to those who serve—even if it’s only with an affectionate smile and a pat on the back.
Recently, my husband and I ate at our local fish fry place; as usual he was eyeing all the “license plate and car paraphernalia” that indicate “what sort of people the car owners are.” He sort of waited patiently for the occupants of the car with the “Purple Heart’ and ‘Happiness is being married to a Scot” license plate. Actually, he met them at the restaurant door asking, “Who’s married to the Scot?” During WWII, this 85 year old husband was a secret radar operator on a B-17 and his pert little Scottish wife with Alzheimer’s intercepted German radio transmissions. Jim and I were teary eyed on our short drive back home pondering these heroes of ‘yore. I often think what a hollowness we’ll feel when that last WWII vet departs this weary world.
Regarding cello practice----my granddaughter was excited to get a Phantom of the Opera book for the cello and practiced for a whole hour, somewhat ignoring a smashed black and blue finger. It’s not too difficult for me to eke out an hour plus, but it is most always a disjointed practice with more than one interruption.
Thanks to you and all your commenters for the input; it staves off my giving up!
 
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Friday, March 21, 2008

 

...because I have no tail to wag


"Formerly, yes, art and culture, and the Apollonian and the Dionysian and all that, seemed terribly important. But today I'm satisfied if I can turn out a good picture, I don't see problems any more, in any case not philosophical problems. If I had to tell you why I'm a painter and why I spread paint on canvas, I should say: I paint because I have no tail to wag."

Albert looked with astonishment at his father, who had not spoken to him like this in a long time. "No tail? What do you mean?"

"It's very simple. Dogs and cats and other talented animals have tails; their tails, with their thousands of flourishes, provide them with a wonderfully complete language of arabesques, not only for what they think and feel and suffer but for every mood and vibration of their being, for every infinitesimal variation in their feeling tone. We have no tails, and since the more lively among us need some such form of expression, we make ourselves paintbrushes and pianos and violins..."


[Johann Veraguth, protagonist of Hermann Hesse's 1914 novel Rosshalde]

Comments:
A superb concept.
 
Interesting... Pity we are born without tails! Mummy always praise us both for being expressive, especially with our vocabulary.
 
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Wednesday, March 19, 2008

 

This is my 400th entry!


In honor of my blog's theme, I will describe today's practice session in detail.


I've been focusing on the two hardest shifts from Humoresque.

After my warmup, I started working on "finding" the E on the A-string - alternating the open A with the E, using each finger; and trying to get it accurate every time. Then, I added in the D, playing A-D-E-D-A by alternating 0-4-1-4-0, 0-2-4-2-0, 0-1-3-1-0, and 0-1-x2-1-0. I played these in random variations over and over for ten or fifteen minutes until I was getting the same quality sound for each note regardless of the fingering. Then I played this same fingering combination for a while on each of the other three strings.

Next I played E-G-E in fourth-position for a while (1-4-1) and then D-E-G-E-D with various fingering choices. Finally I played the D-C-G combination (2-x1-2) and ended up at D-C-G-A-G-F (2-x1-2-x3-2-x1). This is the tricky fifth-position shift in measure 36 of Humoresque. I played these slowly, over and over until the notes sounded clean and crisp. After a while I started using the appropriate bowings and rhythm - still keeping it slow until each note was just right, every time. Finally I added in the rest of the notes from measure 35. Fifteen minutes later this passage was sounding pretty good.

Then I switched to the seventh-position shift in measure 40 starting with D-C-Bb-A (x1-3-2-1), and expanding it to the full passage in measures 39 and 40. Fifteen minutes later it was still just "close" but I was getting tired.

So, after all this work I figured I should now play the entire piece. It all went good until I reached measure 36... and I stumbled. And I stumbled again at measure 40. Aargh.

But I went back and played just this segment (measures 33-40) and I nailed both those shifts accurately and cleanly!

Two hours...

After a short break I spent another half hour or so playing through my Cellocracy pieces.


Tomorrow, I go back to La Cinquantaine, which is coming along nicely. What a pretty piece! The shifts to the harmonic and back are coming along well. I've worked through the first half so far, and yesterday I started on the second half. The hardest part is playing it softly.

Comments:
Congratulations on your 400th post!

I am sure that your attention to detail in your practicing is contributing to your excellent progress. It took me much longer to buckle down and work in a disciplined way on this section. And then I was so surprised that I could actually play this section that I had labeled "impossible." Thanks for the inspiration. :-)
 
I kept trying to work "the Old Man of cello blogging" into a sentence, but I couldn't do it. I am continually amazed at your attention span. 10-15 minutes on one set of fingering variations? I just can't!
 
Guanaco, you're amazing! And truly an inspiration.
 
I'm sure you, Oh Thorough One, already practice this way, but I always work on shifts over a slur. So if I'm on the A and want to work 4th finger D into 1st finger E, I go D E, E, D, slurring 2 to a bow. The slur has a way of keeping the left hand honest because the right hand doesn't have the opportunity to obscure any nefarious activities with a pause of obtrusive bow change.

Also, doing this with a metronome cleans this up even further. I've been sort of AFK for a few weeks, and it was good to read and catch up on your blog today. Always a good read. :)
 
Good lord was that a poorly written comment. But since I can't edit it, I will leave it and just be sort of dissatisfied.
 
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Tuesday, March 18, 2008

 

Sir Arthur C. Clarke


When I was in sixth grade, my father gave me a copy of Robert Heinlein's book, "Glory Road". Although that was not his best novel, it opened a new world for me. After devouring that one, I went on to read every SciFi book I could get my hands on... including all the greats - the rest of Heinlein ("Stranger in a Strange Land" is one of my top 5 favorite books), Isaac Asimov (especially his "Foundation" series), and Arthur C. Clarke. This was many years before the movie, "2001 A Space Odyssey" (the movie was OK enough, but I loved that soundtrack).

Clarke's work was a little different from the others. My Dad used to say that Clarke wrote Science Faction, since many of his ideas were within our reach, and were usually scientifically believable. Among them was his vision of a worldwide telecommunications network using relay satellites parked in geosynchronous orbits around the planet - more than a decade before Sputnik. I always liked his idea for a space elevator - a tether into space. I think I read every SciFi novel Clarke wrote, my favorites from his prolific output include "Childhood's End", "The City and the Stars", "Fountains of Paradise", and the "Rama" series.

Although I don't read a lot of SciFi anymore, all of these guys had such a huge influence as I developed my sense of self and my somewhat offbeat sense of the cosmos. Even though I really don't think about these kind of things much anymore, I was profoundly transformed at the time by their depictions of the immensity and indefinability of the universe, and how incredibly complex and unusual it had to be. They showed me that our version of "time" and the physical dimensions are simple constructs we've made up to try to explain what we can't ever begin to really understand. For decades I moved away from God and the church only to realize finally that my own inadequate personal concept of god exists in all that immensity and uncertainty that is the universe.

Thank you, Sir Clarke. May your continued journey across time and space be as fascinating as your brief 90 years here on earth were.

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Thursday, March 13, 2008

 

Show Tunes


Cello1 picked up a book of cello duet show tunes from a music store in Anchorage, and Tuesday at our Cellocracy rehearsal we randomly chose three that we liked and started to play through them. One was somewhat challenging, another would surely be doable after some effort, while the third was fairly easy. Something magical came over us as we played through that last one - we played it flawlessly all the way through, fully in sync with each other. The further we got, the better it sounded. As we reached the point where the two parts merged for 8 measures, we were in a fine groove. When it ended, we sat quietly for a moment, savoring it. Then we switched parts and played it again, this time at tempo, again flawlessly. How cool was that?!

We've been playing together for eight or nine months, and we'd gotten so used to having to patiently work our way through each new piece many, many times before ever getting any sense of how it was supposed to sound, much less being able to play it together. I'm always reminded of the confusion and chaos described by John Holt in his book "Never Too Late" when he joined a new quartet and had to sight-read his way through several new pieces that the others had been working on for some time. I'm not very good at sight reading, and immediately stumble at the first tricky rhythm or unusual fingering; then I lose my place and have to fake my way through the rest. I prefer to take the new pieces home and work through these parts several times before I can be comfortable playing them in any group setting.

This was the first time that we were able to play something new so well together right away. It felt great! I actually felt like I was finally a cellist...

Comments:
It's moments like these that make all that hard work worth it. I'm doing a vicarious happy dance for you. Whoot!
 
I love those moments... although it sounds like it was significantly more than a moment! They validate so much.

Whenever I ave them, though, they're usually followed buy a crashing failure during the next piece! Hubris, I suppose. Not that I crow about the in-the-grooveness; I think life just wants to remind me that the peaks can only really be appreciated by contrasting them with the lows...
 
Wonderful, wonderful. Love those "creation" moments.
 
Congratulations, cellist! May those moments multiply!
 
That is awesome! I am standing up applauding for Cellocracy!
 
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Monday, March 10, 2008

 

I LOVE DST!


I got home tonight at 8:00 after rehearsal, as the sun was setting...

I've read a lot of gripes today about DST, but for me that extra hour in the evening - even in mid summer when the sun sets at 11:15 instead of 10:15 - is so fine. No more SAD until next winter.

Comments:
I'd like DST too except I get up for work at 6 am. What used to be a pleasant awake-at-dawn experience has turned into a fight against the it's-still-dark-out knock down drag out.

But that will be fixed in a few weeks. But right now the adjustment is a huge pain!
 
I had a feeling that you were going to like the change. It came a bit soon this year for me, but once I adjust I like DST. It's too bad we can't just stay on it year round, but I know that this would make it too dark in the AM in some locations.
 
I still have to wake up at 5:30 am (to get Z off to the school bus); and sunrise now doesn't come until 8:30... But it's worth it to get that extra hour in the evening. Anyway, at a gain of 5 minutes of daylight each day, we'll see that morning hour back in just a few weeks.
 
I don't mind DST myself, I just hate the change over, it's a pain with small children. I'd love to just stay on it year round. It did make rehearsal easier tonight though. I hate going at 7 p.m. when it's already dark and know I have to spend 3 more hours there before I can go home and crawl into bed.
 
I have been reading your old blogs for about a month now; I was going to wait to post until I had caught up to the present, but it's taking too long! I started at 57 and have been at it for 5 years. I'm loving all the tips I get from you and your "commenters." If in the beginning I'd had any idea how difficult a venture this was going to be, I probably would not have "ventured." The best is---even if I stop progressing, I have infected two granddaughters; one is an 11 year old who plays duets with me! Thanks to you and your blogging friends for all the input. Pam
 
Hi Pam!

Welcome to my blog and thanks for your kind comments. I've often wondered if I would have started this venture if I had known how difficult it was going to be and how long it would take to get any real sense of accomplishment or progress.

Maybe I should be glad I didn't know; in which case am I doing a disservice to other late starters by diligently documenting all those challenges?
 
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Wednesday, March 05, 2008

 

Onward


Although I couldn't produce a clean fifth-position G-A-G-F run or the seventh-position C-B-A run while playing the Humoresque in today's lesson (#47), I was able to come up with a reasonable approximation. It turns out I've been practicing these passages somewhat faster than they're supposed to be. Slowing that down is going to help.

We went over several options for practicing shifting to the exact finger positions every time without fail. I've been "chasing" these notes by putting my fingers at my best "guess" of the right location and then trying to make little adjustments after hearing the notes. We talked about some exercises I could do to improve that initial precision, targeting the G in the first set and the A-harmonic for the second one. I have to pay attention to my hand and my arm, not just my fingers.

I realized as we were discussing this, that I don't really have a good mental image of the physical relationships between the second position-fourth finger (E) and the G, the A and eventually the C. Even though I can play the exact G with my fourth finger in fourth position, I don't yet have a "sense" of where that same note is when I want to play it with my second finger in fifth position. And so on. This will all come with repetition and training muscle memory. I've added some new routines to my warmups.

I managed to play the rest of Humoresque fairly well. After that we played through some of the upper third position Mooney pieces.

Then we turned the page to the next piece (#9) in Suzuki Book 3, Jean Gabriel-Marie's La Cinquantaine (The Golden Wedding). An interesting piece... no new positions, but lots of shifts back and forth. I've been listening to the CD a bit and I like it. This is going to be fun to learn. My teacher suggested I try learning this one with the bow, rather than pizzicato first. But work on one measure at a time. Once I'm comfortable with that measure, add it to the one(s) before and play the set up to the completed measure. Most importantly, TAKE IT SLOW!

Also, my orchestra rehearsal and Cellocracy group this week went pretty good. My focused work last week paid off. Still some way to go before I'd consider myself ready to play these in public, but I think I'll be ready when it's time...

Comments:
Your post just inspired me to be a bit more meticulous in my shifting practice.

You'll really enjoy playing La Cinquantaine. It's been one of my favorites so far because it seems so "cellistic."
 
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Sunday, March 02, 2008

 

We'll see


After several days of extended focused practicing on the Orchestra pieces, the Cellocracy pieces, Humoresque, and several new Mooney pieces, I'll find out this week what progress, if any, I've made. It *feels* better... Lately, I've been concentrating on the second-to-fifth and third-to-seventh shifts in the Humoresque, and they're playing more naturally, and sounding pretty good too.

The current Mooney pieces focus on the upper-third shifts. Am I the only one who finds Mooney's pieces harder to learn than Suzuki's? Maybe it's because the "tunes" themselves aren't as "natural". But in time, with lots of repetitions, they eventually start to become more comfortable. My teacher says I should look at these as etudes and not worry so much about the "song".

------

As the days get longer and the sun climbs a little higher in the sky each day, we begin to think that the long winter might actually come to an end; but then another gray day with more light snow quickly reminds us that we still have to wait another six weeks - until mid-April at least - before the last traces of the winter snowpack are finally melted and the ground has fully thawed. And another month after that before actual green-up. The long daylight hours do help with the SAD issues, though. And, if we're lucky, the sub-zero days are behind us. The higher sun angles are also helping to melt the ice from the roads, making driving a bit more tolerable.

------

So far, I've converted 29 albums to mp3 and loaded them into my iPod. Another 10 to 15 albums have been placed in my what- was- I- thinking- when- I- bought- that- one pile, which I probably won't transfer. So, only another couple hundred to go. My brother has three or four hundred more albums, of which I expect I'll eventually want to record at least half.

These recordings sound really good. Cakewalk does a nice job of basic cleanup and conversion. If there's anything dicey in the quality, I bring it into Audacity, which provides much better active feedback for the slight adjustments I want to make.

Cakewalk records in .wmv format, which I then process and convert to mp3 to import into iTunes. Each album takes up about 500 MB as .wmv files. That same album converted to .mp3 takes up only about 50 to 60 MB. Obviously something is getting lost in the process.

I've decided to go ahead and store the 200 GB of recorded LP albums in .wmv format on a portable hard drive. Five or ten years from now the iPod *as we know it* will probably have joined the 8" floppy disks, the 5.25" floppy disks, and the 3.5" floppy disks in the computer museums. The latest [implanted?] music players will be using some new *.XYZ format. And of course trying to up-convert all those old .mp3 tunes will not recapture all that missing data, leaving us with a lot of unusable music. What better way to keep everybody buying music but to keep changing the formats? For a while they'll be a black market in iPod parts, but... So,

Now, I'm going to want a bigger iPod rather than load/unload various playlists.

Comments:
OY
In 1984, I got my first "answering machine". One day I got home and there was a message from you:

"What is this new Yuppie thing?"

Now look at your post-yuppie things!

OY
 
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