Friday, May 30, 2008
Where have all the bloggers gone?
I've been blogging regularly for two and a half years, and I've been avidly reading all the celloblogs I could find since then. At one point I had come across more than 190 active cellobloggers.
Every quarter I've been purging my sidebar list of any blogs that hadn't been updated in the previous three months. Last time I moved 24 blogs out of the active list into my Dormant list. I have reinstated one or two after a new post appeared.
This time, I fear I'll have to reassign quite a few more more. My GoogleReader statistics service told me that late last year I was receiving about 130 feeds per day. These included not only all the cellobloggers and related comments, but also several other interesting music blogs I'd come across as well as a few general information blogs.
Recently I removed some blogs (not cello-blogs) from my G-Reader because I got tired of having to click through to their main blog to read the rest of the entry. Some of these apparently didn't realize they could adjust their blog feed settings to allow full feeds instead of partial. When contacted - quite politely, BTW - some of them quickly changed their settings. A few others apparently have an ulterior motive in only providing partial feeds - they want to be included in the blog popularity contests (which counts the incoming clicks). For example there's one such list compiled every year by Musical Perceptions (who by the way, does provide full feeds for his blog). It just wasn't worth the bother of clicking through to these blog sites only to find one or two more sentences. One of the blogs I deleted was also one of the most active music blogs in the system, but it finally became just too frustrating. Heck with them!
But back to my main point. Because I pulled out these partial feeds, my feed statistics are not comparable to the December numbers I quoted earlier. Regardless, it is clear to me that many once-active bloggers have gone completely off the radar; others have declined from daily or every-other-day to one a week or less. I've even declined from an average of 15 a month down to 8 or so.
Is this all just a fad passing?
Maybe there's more to it...
When I first began blogging, I wrote for me - only. I put down what was in my head, without too much censoring. Complete freedom under an assumed complete anonymity. After several months, I started getting a few comments from other cellobloggers. I began reading their blogs and offering comments of my own. For quite some time, this was heady stuff! Great for the ego. It was a nice feeling to think someone was interested in what I had to say. Still, I retained some degree of anonymity, sort of.
Four or five months after that, my anonymity was cracked open when my teacher's daughter came across my blog - I had mentioned her name as an up-and-coming musician after a concert, and she came across my blog when she googled herself.
Uh-oh! Exposed. I recall wanting to immediately go back through my entries and delete anything too personal or potentially objectionable or controversial. (I'll admit, I did pull one or two items in the weeks that followed.) Still, to the wider world, I was still just guanaco.
Then, some months later I was contacted by an old acquaintance (offering me a job no less!) who casually asked after my cello studies. Surprised, I asked how he knew about that. He said he found my blog when he googled my name. It turns out I had listed my blog in my profile on one of the violin sites, where you are supposed to use your "real" name. Googling my name brought him to the violin group, and eventually to my blog. Of course, I immediately deleted that link from my profile. (Although the job was tempting [$$$], I turned it down - I didn't want to relocate to the middle east.)
After all this, I began to notice I was censoring myself quite a bit more than previously; as if I was trying to protect my pseudonym's reputation. I no longer wrote about politics or anything controversial. I closed off a big part of myself from my blog and limited my writings to my own experiences with my music. This was, after all, the main reason for writing my blog. But I admit, I was feeling somewhat restricted. I even briefly considered starting a second blog under a completely different name just for those other thoughts. But I realized it would take way too much time to try to keep up with two blogs.
Now, sometimes, I find it quite an effort to write anything at all. Since that first year, I think a lot about who might be reading this. Now I feel as if I've gotten to know all three or four of my regular readers. But when I try to write, I can't help but think of how you might react to what I'm saying. Not wanting to appear a fool, I am a lot more careful of what I'm "saying" and how I "say" it.
One guy who inspires me to be a little more candid is Eric Edberg. Although I do like to include some personal information from time to time, my blog is an extension of my professional practice, and I find myself censoring and gerrymandering my perspective to make it more palatable for potential students and the magazines I write for. When I think something is important to express, and don't know if I should go for it, I look at Eric's blog and am refreshed by how honest it is. I respect the hell out of that guy, maybe more for that kind of writing. :)
I made a goof like that once too. I put a link to my blog in a profile on a forum where I'd once inadvertently signed my full name to a post. When I googled my name one day I noticed the trail I'd set up.
I also worry about who might be reading my blog. Will Maestro stumble upon it and recognize his antics? Will orchestra members take offense at my descriptions? and uh-oh ... what about the photos of them that I've posted?
Well, Guanaco, you might find it an effort to write sometimes, but what you write is most certainly informative, insightful, entertaining, and much appreciated by this reader.
I hardly ever write about playing my 'cello, which is a shame. I very much like reading about your 'cello activities, your practice and performances, Cellocracy, and--yes--your up and down of mood about enjoying it.
In the end the blogs that I find the most interesting are the ones written by people who care about what they're writing. As for being yourself online, I say do it as much as you can. It's refreshing! It's liberating! It's empowering!
For the sake of science I googled my name and was surprised to see it pop right up from our church's bulletin that is posted online! It doesn't connect me to my blog but still a bit surprising. And I was amazed how many people share my name.
That's interesting about the full feeds. I've collected a number of blogs that I enjoy following and couldn't figure out why they blogged such short bits. Dah!
As many of my classes and activities wind down I hope to get more focused on my cello blogging. For the most part I try to be open with my blogs but I try and not to write anything that will offend a friend or family member directly and yet I have a point that I may want to get out. I think some of my writing has "gotten" to who really needs to understand what and how I'm thinking. Writing often gives me my "aha" because I've had to struggle to get my thoughts in to words.
I hope you continue writing as you have been. I enjoy reading your blogs and following your cello progress.
Blogging--It's Good for You
The therapeutic value of blogging becomes a focus of study
By Jessica Wapner
Self-medication may be the reason the blogosphere has taken off. Scientists (and writers) have long known about the therapeutic benefits of writing about personal experiences, thoughts and feelings. But besides serving as a stress-coping mechanism, expressive writing produces many physiological benefits. Research shows that it improves memory and sleep, boosts immune cell activity and reduces viral load in AIDS patients, and even speeds healing after surgery. A study in the February issue of the Oncologist reports that cancer patients who engaged in expressive writing just before treatment felt markedly better, mentally and physically, as compared with patients who did not.
Scientists now hope to explore the neurological underpinnings at play, especially considering the explosion of blogs. According to Alice Flaherty, a neuroscientist at Harvard University and Massachusetts General Hospital, the placebo theory of suffering is one window through which to view blogging. As social creatures, humans have a range of pain-related behaviors, such as complaining, which acts as a “placebo for getting satisfied,” Flaherty says. Blogging about stressful experiences might work similarly.
Flaherty, who studies conditions such as hypergraphia (an uncontrollable urge to write) and writer’s block, also looks to disease models to explain the drive behind this mode of communication. For example, people with mania often talk too much. “We believe something in the brain’s limbic system is boosting their desire to communicate,” Flaherty explains. Located mainly in the midbrain, the limbic system controls our drives, whether they are related to food, sex, appetite, or problem solving. “You know that drives are involved [in blogging] because a lot of people do it compulsively,” Flaherty notes. Also, blogging might trigger dopamine release, similar to stimulants like music, running and looking at art.
The frontal and temporal lobes, which govern speech—no dedicated writing center is hardwired in the brain—may also figure in. For example, lesions in Wernicke’s area, located in the left temporal lobe, result in excessive speech and loss of language comprehension. People with Wernicke’s aphasia speak in gibberish and often write constantly. In light of these traits, Flaherty speculates that some activity in this area could foster the urge to blog.
Scientists’ understanding about the neurobiology underlying therapeutic writing must remain speculative for now. Attempts to image the brain before and after writing have yielded minimal information because the active regions are located so deep inside. Recent functional magnetic resonance imaging studies have shown that the brain lights up differently before, during and after writing, notes James Pennebaker, a psychologist at the University of Texas at Austin. But Pennebaker and others remain skeptical about the value of such images because they are hard to duplicate and quantify.
Most likely, writing activates a cluster of neurological pathways, and several researchers are committed to uncovering them. At the University of Arizona, psychologist and neuroscientist Richard Lane hopes to make brain-imaging techniques more relevant by using those techniques to study the neuroanatomy of emotions and their expressions. Nancy Morgan, lead author of the Oncologist study, is looking to conduct larger community-based and clinical trials of expressive writing. And Pennebaker is continuing to investigate the link between expressive writing and biological changes, such as improved sleep, that are integral to health. “I think the sleep angle is one of the more promising ones,” he says.
Whatever the underlying causes may be, people coping with cancer diagnoses and other serious conditions are increasingly seeking—and finding—solace in the blogosphere. “Blogging undoubtedly affords similar benefits” to expressive writing, says Morgan, who wants to incorporate writing programs into supportive care for cancer patients.
Some hospitals have started hosting patient-authored blogs on their Web sites as clinicians begin to recognize the therapeutic value. Unlike a bedside journal, blogging offers the added benefit of receptive readers in similar situations, Morgan explains: “Individuals are connecting to one another and witnessing each other’s expressions—the basis for forming a community.”
The whole anonymity thing online is pretty interesting. I try to refer to people by initial only, although I've noticed I've referred to people by their names before. I'm sure if any of my friends came across my blog, they'd identify me right away- even if I use acronyms and stuff, they'd be sure to spot my wacky writing style. ;)
Well, I know my summer resolution will be to keep my blog updated!
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Tuesday, May 27, 2008
Even as we work our way through these new pieces measure-by-measure we are able to hear each others' parts right away, making it easier to guide ourselves through the tricky parts. Memory should be ready sooner - maybe for our summer noontime concert.
In the middle of one of these pieces, all of a sudden Cello1's A-string started buzzing in a strange way - whenever she bowed an open A there was a chirping sound (a few octaves higher - but still an A). We isolated it to the area around the fine-tuner. I suspect the string itself - it's quite old and some of the wrapping around the string at the ball-end was loose. A new string would probably solve it, along with some attention to the fine-tuner when it's changed out. It was odd, though, about that chirping being a harmonic of A...
Next week we'll meet again with our coach.
I'm guessing that chirping sound was made by this little nub of wire. Still, it's interesting that it only vibrated on the open A. However, I wouldn't be surprised if it doesn't degrade - even fall apart fairly quickly.
Looks like Cello1 needs a new A string.
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Sunday, May 25, 2008
At least I was able to convince myself that it was important to keep at it. So, on Saturday I once again reluctantly set up my music stand and stool, fully expecting to have to slog on through another frustrating session. This time, I didn't try to play my usual set; instead I isolated the tricky parts and slowed them down, way down; playing each note by itself, then each group, then each measure, and so on. And, it worked. I was so motivated I kept on playing long after my normal stopping time. Yeah! And today was another good one.... Strange how that works.
Now this wasn't any sort of breakthrough; no step change in abilities or anything. But it is nice to get beyond all those perceived inadequacies for a while, at least.
So I'm writing all this down just to remind myself the next time this happens.
Sunday, May 18, 2008
Playing in a crowd
Half an hour before showtime there were a couple hundred people milling around in the lobby waiting for the doors to open. In the face of all that, Cellocracy went on first. We quickly realized that there was no point in worrying much about dynamics. If we wanted anyone to hear us beyond ten feet we were going to have to pull out all the stops. Even then... In a way that was OK, it freed us from the usual jitters - who'd have noticed any mistakes? So, being more relaxed, we played better. Our fifteen minute set went without a hitch. We all felt really good about it.
I had worked pretty hard all week on the bowing and dynamics on the one Rudolf Matz piece that I'd stumbled through at our last outing. I play first cello on this one, so I have been hyper-conscious of my sound. Both my partners had suggested that I was the only one who thought there was a problem... :) Nevertheless, you always know.... don't you? And last night it went great - no flubs, no sour notes, a good clean tempo, all the bowings were right. Only the dynamics were off - but I purposefully let that go due to the background noise level.
After our fifteen-minutes were up we joined the orchestra and played another fifteen. Then we went inside to watch the show (the first half included all the beginning dancers - some as young as 3 - that was fun!) We reconvened in the lobby to play for two intermissions, and then packed up and left.
One of the best pieces in the dance recital was an extended choreographed set from the play, "Cats". I've always liked that theme (4G-8D, 4F-8E, 4D-8B, 4C-8A, 4B-8G, 4A-8F#, 2G). It turns out that one of our books has a duet for cellos of the song "Memory", which ends with that theme. I played it through this morning and found it was certainly within our reach. Hopefully we'll be able to add this crowd-pleaser to our repertoire...
Cello1 told us last night that she won a spot in a summer arts program overseas (in part because she is a cellist). She'll be leaving at the end of June and won't return until after our next scheduled concert at the end of July. Fortunately our orchestra conductor has been learning the cello and has agreed to take her place while she's gone. Who knows, this might yet turn into a quartet...
Cello-cle Cats are not too big;
Cello-cle Cats do back-up and soli,
They know how to play a gavotte and a jig.
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Wednesday, May 14, 2008
We met this evening to choose our pieces and then played through them. Our repertoire now consists of seven pieces, the three that we played last October, the three we performed just a few weeks ago, and one that we've worked up since then. We've got two or three more pieces that we're still working on, but we're nowhere near ready to perform them.
As we went through the oldest pieces this evening, we realized how far we've come a as group. They really sounded pretty good - nice coordination, nice tone quality, and that shared feeling of accomplishment as we're playing them.
If you're interested in cello trios, check out this group in Sacramento - Cello Sound.
I enjoyed the cello music on the Cello Sound link too. I liked the voice-over comments too: "Cello Sound needs no electricity and can fit almost anywhere." :-)
Have you looked at the 3 cello stuff offered at Cellogeek's (the male one) free sheet music page? 'Dance of the Knock Kneed Fairy' looks like a hoot.
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Friday, May 09, 2008
Then, yesterday afternoon as I waited to pick up Z from his guitar lesson I watched a pair of seagulls working on a plastic baggie containing half a sandwich left behind in the parking lot at school. They bickered over who got to approach it first, and then as one grabbed the bag and tossed it back and forth, the other one watched from a safe/respectful distance. When the sandwich finally fell out of the bag, they squabbled over the pieces, each trying to swallow as much as possible. When a car or person approached, they'd fly off in a huff for a few moments before cautiously circling the area to land and continue their eating frenzy. Finally all that was left was a small scrap of lettuce - both of them tasted it several times but then spit it back out.
Z and I have always enjoyed watching seagulls. When we lived in Argentina, our house had an immense (8x12) picture window that looked out onto our remote little beach in the far-off South Atlantic. The huge tides washed the beach twice a day before retreating out as much as half a mile at extreme low tides. Between the high tides, hundreds of seagulls would gather on the hard-packed sand to sort through the detritus left behind.
On rainy, cold, or windy weekends, we'd spend hours sitting together at our window gazing out at the ocean. When the gulls wandered into our view we'd watch "Seagull-TV", observing their little societies and their complex interactions. We'd identify the bosses - usually a gang - that would quickly arrive and take control of any new or interesting discovery. The others would grudgingly move off a short distance, occasionally attempting to dart in and grab a bite - only to be repulsed in a flurry of feathers and wing flaps by one or more of the bullies. Then there were the outcasts, who flew around a lot and made a lot of noise, but seldom dared approach any of the group on foot; but they always stayed nearby.
On nice days (those rare days when the winds didn't howl) we'd go out onto the beach and try to sit on the sand near a group of gulls. At first they'd scatter off somewhere else, but after a time - as long as we kept still - they'd gradually make their way back to whatever treasure they'd been investigating nearby, and then the entertainment would begin. We'd assign them nicknames based on their appearance or quirks in their actions. We got pretty good at predicting their behavior: which ones would back off in a confrontation, which ones would fly off first if a larger bird appeared or a person would stroll by, and which ones would fly off last - or even stand their ground.
Our favorite for many months was "Pegleg" a one-legged gull. He was neither dominant nor submissive; amazingly he was just another gull, accepted in the group despite his obvious impairment. We could easily spot him in a crowd because he hopped up and down, while the others scooted along with their strange gait - their bodies waddling back and forth with each step, while their heads and eyes seemed to stay quite even and level. If you watched only their faces, you'd think they were somehow floating over the sand towards you. Their faces straight-on have this odd triangular shape - the eyes forming the top corners and the tip of their beak the lower angle. After a while we got to where we thought we could recognize differences between them. We'd ascribe certain personalities to the more comical of them and dream up stories about their lives and their activities.
These gaviotas were not the only species parading up and down our beach, only the most common, and also the noisiest and the most aggressive. Another favorite of ours was a flock of sandpipers that often worked their way along the water's edge - dancing along the breaking waves and darting into the receding water for tidbits. There were many other exotic seabirds on our beach, some possibly native only to the region, that we'd watch even though we couldn't identify them. Once we saw a penguin waddle up onto the beach, obviously lost and tired. He eventually wound up in settling our front yard to rest until we called a local rescue group which took it to the penguin reserve a few hundred kilometers up the coast.
My tyrannical boss in Argentina used to contemptuously dismiss the engineers in our group as a flock of gaviotas for the way they perched on the corners of their desks in their large common work area, sipping from their ever-present gourds of mate, and gossiping as they whiled away the afternoons instead of actually doing anything productive.
When I first began to play the Gavotte in Suzuki 3, I couldn't help but think about both the literal and figurative gaviotas that I came to know so well in that other life on the other side of the world.
Wednesday, May 07, 2008
Through the wall
A short coffee break and a few minutes wasted commenting on a couple blogs (I know, I shouldn't be scanning my feed reader while practicing, but I do...), I then sat down to play the piece start-to-finish. I played it slowly and evenly, planning ahead for each shift, preparing for each bow change, easing through each tricky part, and finishing with that final run into fifth position with nice clean ringing tones. Yeah!
Next, I went back through the previous four or five pieces in the book and was reminded that success is fleeting. These older pieces still need a lot of polishing. I'd neglected them somewhat these last few weeks, and it shows.
I continue to struggle with the various Mooney "Position Pieces". Currently I'm working on the Third Extension group which includes a couple of pieces using that weird harmonic diamond notation. I know, they're supposed to improve intonation (you can't get the harmonic without the exact intonation), and it probably does help in that context. But what's frustrating to me is that the sound doesn't match the note - especially the relative steps from one note to the next. These harmonics don't follow that logic. So while I might be able to play the harmonic, when I look at the score and put my finger in the right place and get a note that just doesn't "fit" the previous note, I stumble. I feel as if I'm having to unlearn just a bit some of my music reading ability - that part where I hear what I see. I am getting this, but slowly.
Today, I ordered Mooney's "Double Stops" from Cellos2Go, along with replacement Larsen A & D and Jargar G & C strings.
Our cello trio had a good discussion last night about what we'd already "learned" from our first coaching session and what we hoped to get from future sessions. Our biggest problem will be simply coordinating schedules as summer activities, visitors, and vacations intervene. We warmed up with our set pieces from our last performance and then turned to one of our new pieces. We decided to play each part together several times until we all got a good sense of how each part was supposed to sound. Then we combined the parts and played the whole piece several times with a noticeable improvement.
"Our" lake finally broke up this week. Sunday the ice started to separate away from the shore. Monday evening there was just a few small patches of rotten ice way out in the center with a bunch of seagulls gathered on it. Tuesday there was clear water all the way across. Spring has officially arrived! - only about two weeks late.
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Saturday, May 03, 2008
We worked on the Bach Allegro Moderato in considerable detail. I've made progress in the past two weeks, and we went over my "tricky" parts, talking about ways to practice each one. Since I'm learning this one using the alternate fingerings for this piece, my progress is slower than normal, but I feel as if I'm gaining a little more "sense" of the fingerboard and comfort moving around in the upper positions.
We also went back through La Cinquantaine. I didn't do so well on it this time... for some reason - too conscious of those extended shifts. I also flubbed a lot of the hooked bows (among other things). This has not been a problem at home. Oh well, now I know what to focus on for a while.
Also I'm supposed to get a copy of Mooney's "Double Stops" book.
I've spent a lot of time these last few months practicing single-string scales (the open A, D, C and G scales and the C, F, Bb, and Eb scales), and those upper notes are starting to sound cleaner and more accurate. My fingers are beginning to "know" exactly where to go. Yet, when I'm playing a piece that calls for a shift to one of these upper notes, they're not coming out quite right, yet. Not until after a lot of repetitions. still, it's nice to finally hear these clean crisp notes so far up/down/out(?) on the strings - it helps that the high A resonates nicely on the G string and the high D on the C string.
My LP conversion count is up to 121. After overflowing my iPod a few weeks ago I decided to do my share of stimulating the economy by buying a 160 GB iPod. I ordered it online Friday night, it was shipped from Shanghai(?) on Saturday and arrived at my door Monday morning. So whose economy got stimulated with this latest government handout, ours or China's? And for that matter, what about all those people who complain about WalMart and the Olympics and stuff, while happily listening to their Chinese-manufactured iPods? Anyway, I "sold" my old one to Z in exchange for labor this summer - painting the house and washing the cars. He swears not to let this iPod get out of his sight even for one moment... By the time I convert all my LPs, all my brother's LPs, and all my CDs, I expect to fill almost half of it.
BTW, that double stops book is much harder than it seems at first glance. I oughta go back to it, some. I never did finish it.
I had been playing my extensions as your teacher wanted you to, but my teacher insisted I play them your "resisting" way. Maybe we ought to trade teachers? :)
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