Wednesday, July 30, 2008



Tuesday we played our lunch-time concert at the library. Our orchestra played six or seven pieces, and then Cellocracy played another half dozen or so. It went well enough. I'm pretty sure the audience didn't notice most of my blunders. It just wasn't my best performance; not what I know I'm capable of doing. Maybe it was the setting, maybe the audience, or more likely it was just one of those days. We've had a few humidity changes lately and my cello hasn't been behaving properly. A few stumbles and sour notes on the second or third piece led to my bow-tip starting to shake a little. Then I started thinking my open A notes were sounding sour and screechy, and I began to miss simple notes and string changes. Fortunately I settled down and played a lot better on most of the rest of the pieces.

I'm wondering if I'm not really ready to be performing with our trio, maybe we ought to spend more time just playing together and not worry so much about performance pieces. There is a lot of cello music suitable for playing as a group; music that isn't necessarily performance-worthy, but fun to play nevertheless. I am feeling pretty challenged right now by my lessons and those dang Mooney books, and I'm thinking I should ease off the performance stuff and focus my energies on my lessons for a while. I'd sure feel better about performing further down the road once I've improved my overall playing skills.

In other news, I quit my part-time consulting job this week. The small company I had been working with arbitrarily cut their hourly pay rates by 30% with no notice and an unacceptable explanation. Oh well. We're not really destitute, yet. Que será...

On the other hand, at least the sun came out yesterday, and today. The first time in weeks! It even warmed up to 70F both days.

Don't stop performing. Anxiety only increases with fewer performances. Constantly performing is the best cure. Those little mistakes become less important over time.
I agree with Marisa, practice makes perfect! In this case, I don't necessarily mean private practice, but practicing performing. Speaking of which, maybe sometime your trio can do small "practice" concerts for just a few family members or friends. That way you can get some experience performing for an audience, without worrying about them being too critical! :)

Sorry to hear about your job. Hope everything's going well for you and your family!
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Wednesday, July 23, 2008


More weather woes

As if anyone would care: our gray drizzly weather of the last 6 weeks has now given way to real rain showers, lots of rain, but now with dark gray skies. We did get a 24-hour break over the weekend when the sky cleared (ah, so blue!) and the sun was bright - I got a sunburn - even though the winds were pretty strong, keeping the temps in the high 50s. But by Monday morning the rains began. Ugh. "They" say we'll see a bit more sun this weekend...

Cello practice continues uneventfully. No breakthroughs, and little obvious progress, but I'm pushing on nevertheless. I'm working on two pieces from Mooney's "Position Pieces", two from his "Double Stops", two from Suzuki Book 3, and of course the first part of the Breval Sonata, and of course my scales. I start on the Sonata by working through my page of practice points for half an hour, then playing that part through several times. On most days I spend a few minutes working on vibrato, but since I'm not getting anywhere on that yet I can't say much about it.

I'll be playing a luncheon concert next Tuesday as part of this year's Kenai Peninsula Orchestra Summer Music Festival. Our strings orchestra will start off playing five or six pieces, then Cellocracy will play seven or eight pieces. I'm going to have to let go of some of my regular practice routines for a few days, because although I'm "up-to-speed" with almost everything, there's always a lot of room for improvement.

There's not much else going on this summer due to the cruddy weather.

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Thursday, July 17, 2008


From a different direction

I'm approaching the Breval "Sonata" in a new way. I'm currently focusing only on the exposition (the first 39 measures). Rather than just work my way through it measure-by-measure as usual, I spent a lot of time studying the piece without my cello. I wanted to flag the various technical challenges before stumbling into them with my old measure-by-measure approach. There are lots of grace notes, trills, sixteenth-note pairs, and even some 32nd notes. Interesting variations, close but not exactly the same. Also, I noticed the common rhythmic sequence - a dotted quarter note followed by five eighth notes. And of course those opening chords, some of which also show up again later. And last but not least that set of eighth-note string crossings bracketed by the triplet runs.

There aren't any new or tricky positions to worry about - in fact just one small shift so far, and except for the gymnastics involved with those eighth-note string crossings, the fingerings aren't very difficult.

I transferred each of these segments into Finale PrintMusic, so I could better compare them and focus on them. So, I started working on each of these "practice points" one at a time, not worrying about where and how they fit into the music. I spent more than a week on these alone (even avoiding the rest of my practice routines). I got to where I was able to play through most of them fairly well (except for the chords and string crossing sequences). A few days ago I finally began playing through the whole piece. Using the measure-by-measure approach I was able to put it all together in just a few days. I was pleasantly surprised how nicely it is coming along.

At yesterday's lesson (#54) I played it through well enough. My rhythm and timing weren't that good (as usual), but the notes came out more-or-less at the right times, in their proper sequences and with passably good intonation. I showed my teacher my practice points worksheet and we talked a lot about each of them, focusing on the trills, grace notes, and the like. We also worked on the chords and crossings. I've got a long way to go to get past that small dragging screech across the D string... but it's coming along. Another challenge for me is the 4-2 trill. The 4-3 trills and 2-1 trills, etc. aren't that difficult, but my third finger seems to get in the way on the 4-2 trill.

Practice! Practice! Practice!

I've also been working on the Mooney Double Stops book. Again, my fourth finger seems to be an issue, but it's getting better, too. These exercises are sure helping to play using my fingertips. My teacher wants me to finish the Mooney Position Pieces book. I can't understand my resistance to those pieces. They're not that difficult - but they just don't seem to click with me. I can play these through dozens and dozens of times, yet when I pick one again up after a few weeks, I stumble through it as if it were the first or second try.

At our next lesson I'm supposed to play through the "Allegro Moderato" in one sitting, with my teacher playing the duet part. Whew. That's going to be hard to prepare for since I have a concert to get ready for in less than two weeks... both our orchestra and Cellocracy.

Still cloudy, still drizzling, still cold... not much of a summer.

A practice worksheet sounds like a great idea. Somehow, taking them out of the context of the page seems like it would be easier to work on. There would be less temptation to continue on to the bits that don't need as much work, and less intimidation via the 'whole bunch of black on the page' phenomenon. Thanks for the tip!
The practice worksheet sounds great to me too.

Don't forget about the string crossing exercise in that same Suzuki book. It's on page 12. (Etude for Changing Strings) I remember that being a help to me when I was working on the Breval. Ahh ... but I must say, you're working much more diligently than I did on the Breval. However, I'm going to apply that worksheet tip to Chanson Triste.
Those string crossings are annoying, that's for sure. My teacher has me practising my bow hold flexibility with a pencil whilst I'm at work to help with it. It's hard to explain, but it involves holding a pencil like the bow, and then bringing it up into the palm of your hand and down again, imitating the way you change the height of the bow to get to different strings. Having more fine control over that makes that passage much, much easier for me.
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Sunday, July 13, 2008



Kids! Sheesh!
Ah, Wilderness!
lol, nice weather
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Wednesday, July 09, 2008


No summer for us this year, apparently

It's cold and gray, again today. The temperatures linger in the mid-50s, with slight drizzles, day after day after day. The flowers are all stunted, the gardens are a lost hope. We did get two days this last weekend when the thermometer broke 60, although the sun was mostly hidden behind the clouds. I'd planned to powerwash the house and repaint it this summer, but now I'm not sure it will get done.

I've been busy teaching Z to drive. The easy part - learning the mechanics of driving and getting used to the "feel" of the wheel - is behind us. The hard part - developing that sense of judgment, learning to "read" the road and other drivers, and a readiness to react to the unexpected - is ahead of us. That, and parallel parking. We will still have to do some night driving and quite a bit of winter driving (there are so many different types of conditions - snow/ice/slush/rain-on-ice/etc. - that he'll have to learn to deal with) before he can get his own license.

I think i'm facing the dilemma of whether i should learn to drive for the summer vacation.
Oh my gosh! I'll trade you! You can have Texas weather. I want Alaska weather.
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Thursday, July 03, 2008


Breval's Sonata in C Major

Yeah! Another milestone: "Sonata in C Major", by Jean Baptiste Breval.

When I started learning the cello, I bought the first four volumes of the Suzuki method books and the accompanying CDs. I only glanced briefly at the music in Book 4 (not really believing that one day I would actually begin to play any of it) before putting it away, while I slowly progressed through the first three books. Finally, I pulled it out a few weeks ago and added it to my stack of books that I carried to my lessons. We opened it briefly to look at the E major scale, then set it aside while I worked on polishing the final three or four pieces in Book 3.

What followed was a chaotic month of missed practices, frequent interruptions during the few practice sessions I managed to get in, generally sloppy playing, memory lapses where I completely forgot long-studied fingerings and bowings, and days where I just had to put the cello away in frustration. I was beginning to believe that I would never get these darn pieces. I started to think I had topped out and would never be able to move on.

Then, earlier this week things seemed to settle down. I got back into my normal practice routine (with an early start each morning and shutting off the phone). At one point on Tuesday I realized I had played through several of my once-difficult sections for the first time without even thinking about the troublesome shift or unexpected bow change. I realized I was doing certain shifts with a relaxed accuracy for the first time - again, without even thinking about them.

Yesterday's lesson, #53, was a welcome return to "normalcy". I felt relaxed and quite a bit more confident than the last few times, and I was able to play through the Book 3 pieces with general ease. Of course there is always room for improvement, and we discussed various refinements after each piece. Finally, my teacher asked if I was ready to move onto Book 4. I wasn't sure I was ready, as I still had a lot of doubts about my abilities with the latest pieces in Book 3. But, she assured me I was doing just fine with them, although I should not even consider setting them aside; instead I should continue working on them every day. I've learned the appropriate shifts and bowings and am doing them relatively trouble-free, and my overall sound continues to get better.

So, she said she thought I was ready to begin Book 4. OK. We opened it up to the Breval "Sonata"and talked about the overall format, the technique challenges, (the opening chords, the triplets, and the eighth-note string crossings). I am to work on each issue by itself - and avoid putting them all together until I have "reasonably" mastered each one. Oh, also I should spend a lot more time listening to the recordings...

I picked up a copy of "The Soloist" by Steve Lopez. He tells about coming across a homeless vagrant, Nathaniel Ayers, playing a ragged violin on a street corner in downtown L.A., and begins to write about him in his newspaper column at the L.A. Times. It turns out he studied the double-bass at Julliard in the early 1970s before losing himself and eventually winding up in the streets with all his possessions in a shopping cart. Lopez obtains some new violins and a cello for him to use. The cello seems to be the key to gradually drawing Nathaniel into a safer more stable environment. He even begins studying with the principal cellist at the L.A. Philharmonic. I'm about 2/3 the way through and hope to finish it tomorrow.

An engrossing story that is well-told. I strongly recommend it to anyone, especially musicians and especially cellists. I understand a movie is in the works with Jamie Foxx and Robert Downey, Jr.

I'm working on the Breval sonata too! It's a lovely piece. I'm looking forward to reading about your progress with it. I've been working hard on making the eighth notes and the triplets even, and holding vibrato through the longer notes. oh, and those trills...
Congrats on getting to Book 4! I love the Breval Sonata, it's such a great piece to play (and teach.) I need to start practicing again, I've gotten out of a regular habit after I kind of burned out in April, but I miss it.

And thanks for the book recommendation. I need some more musician books for my 888 list and this one sounds fascinating.
I love the Breval sonata; it's such a cheerful little piece. It's the first full-length piece I worked on and presented in a recital, too. Before that everything was an extract or a Suzuki-type arrangement. I still bring it out now and then. Enjoy!
Ah the Bréval, I'm working on it too. Those string crossings on the quavers aren't fun are they? It's a rewarding piece to learn though.
Breval Sonata was my first sonata, delightful music to play. I still do it sometimes just for fun.

That book looks interesting. I don't know if I can find it in the bookstores here.
I remember how excited I was to learn the Breval. Having started at an earlier age than you, I think I was in 7th grade, and it was my first "big" piece. A real sonata!

For what it's worth, I find it very helpful to raise my upper arm to the A-string level while playing the G-string notes in the string crossing passage. And young students, anyway, often find the switch to triplets tricky at first. Just walking around saying "1-2, 1-2, -2, 1-2, 1-2-3, 1-2-3, 1-2-3, 1-2-3, etc., using each step to feel the underlying pulse, is very helpful.

All best,

hi! I really wish i can get a copy of "The Soloist" too!!! I've heard of that piece of news on the paper. hmmm. Wish you can send the book over to Singapore! Enjoy the book (:


I'm from turkey,a 20 year old girl who is both a university student and a amateur cello student since 8 months.I see your blog when i'm searching the C major Sonata,Breval's. Yesterday my cello teacher shows it to me and she asked that 'would you want to start to work on Breval' I feel that i'm not ready because its too early for fact,im still feel like that.but of course it will take many days and i have time:) So,what i just want to say is,I dont know who you are,who old you are,do you still continue to practicing cello etc. but say hello from turkey as a one of the cellomaniac in the world!
take care!

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