Friday, October 31, 2008

 

Uncomfortably Numb


Last night I sat in along with Cellocracy's Cello3 for an hour-long rehearsal with the Redoubt Chamber Orchestra [that's Mt. Redoubt in my masthead]. This group consists mostly of local area members of the Kenai Peninsula Orchestra, which normally draws about half its players from this area and the rest from the Homer area - more than 90 miles away. The RCO appears to be casual and informal. They don't get together very often - usually in the fall to prepare for a christmas concert. Out of 25 or so players last night, only seven were strings (including we two novice cellists).

Whoa, what a ride that was! No slow rolling here, we jumped right in at full tempo on all the pieces (I think). It wasn't long before those jumbled minuscule notes began to look to me like rows of ants that began to move around as I floundered along. On a few of the pieces the trombone part (and a good trombonist) sometimes mirrored the cello line, letting me at least hear what was going on and see what I ought to have played. Some of the pieces we whipped through were carols with a few familiar phrases, and I was able to hit a few notes once in a while...

I spent several hours yesterday morning before the rehearsal trying to review some of the pieces, and realized the fingerings were going to be a bit more complicated than what I was used to. I was able to figure out what fingerings I "ought" to use, but it's not something that comes readily to me at this stage without a lot more preparation and practice. So even though I'd gone ahead and marked the fingerings on some of the pieces, it didn't help much at the time.

I recall John Holt telling about joining groups of players who were far more experienced than he. He described feeling overwhelmed and totally incapacitated, at first; but then found himself able to finally come up to speed (more or less). Well, maybe that last part will come for me sooner or later.

Today, I slowly went through some of the pieces that we covered last night and felt a faint glimmer of hope.

Still, there are some pieces I simply won't be able to play at my current level. I'm trying to decide how to handle these. Of course I could devote some of my limited practice time for the next several months attempting to learn them - and end up playing them poorly at best. On the other hand, I could better use that time to really learn the pieces that I think I'll be able to play at least passably well. In that case, how do I handle those pieces I decide to "neglect benignly"? Air-bow the whole piece? Or should I spend enough time on these to at least learn the "first notes" of each measure?

What do I do about that loud voice in my head that's telling me I'm in way over my head, and to back off for now? My plan had been to try to join this group sometime in my fifth year (more than a year and a half from now). Even then I'd expected it to be quite a challenge. The timing was theirs, however... their only cellist left for college this fall and they needed a balance. So they approached us to see if we'd sign on. Of course everyone is saying "not to worry", "it's only for fun", "you'll pick it up soon enough". But... we cellists are the only "beginner/intermediate" players in the group - by a mile. And some of those pieces we covered last night had cello solo parts!!

Meanwhile, I'll talk with my teacher next week to see if she has any suggestions.

Comments:
I have the same feeling currently in my chinese class. It's a stop gap until my teacher gets back from maternity leave. The rest of the group are about 2 years ahead of me.
They're very kindly, but I get the feeling they're inwardly rolling their eyes everytime I try to speak.
It doesn't make me feel good about myself and it's not terribly motivational.
I'm only sticking it out since I have one more lesson left otherwise I would have quit.

I was also once the worst player in an orchestra. But I was at the back of a group of 8 very competent and kindly fellow cellists. If I couldn't do it, I faked it for the audience and they made up for it.
My teacher did all my fingering for me during the lessons, but then my lessons couldn't progress at the cost of the orchestral work.
Orchestral playing is a fabulous thing to to, and can be very motivating.
But it sounds like you're between a rock and a hard place.

I've discussed this item with my ex-cello teacher (can't afford lessons for me and the kids) and he says one of the fundamental problems with amateur groups is that they pick stuff that is way too hard for them. They need to hit the middle/low road and cater for the common denominator which would result in a far better group all around.
Just some thoughts, but no solution.
 
Hi qweipo! It will be interesting to see what my teacher has to say.

I fully understand your feelings about your chinese class - ten years ago I was "seconded" to a company in Argentina where only spanish was spoken (with some occasional broken english). I was frantically taking lessons and trying to come up to speed so I could be effective in my job. The sink-or-swim approach and the desire to keep my job sure was a good motivator to learn. I'm not sure how well I'd have done otherwise.

As for this orchestra group - as best I could tell, no-one else seems to have any difficulty with the repertoire. I'd sure hate to be the cause of their common denominator dropping...
 
Two of my granddaughters (a cellist and a violist) and this cello playing grandma just watched your Sarah voting in Wasilla. We were privileged to be among her gathering of 7,000 supporters in our Henderson, NV Pavillion (where we regularly attend our Henderson Symphony). Pam
 
Oh I could just march right up there and give you a 3 hour class on getting faster and the art of the Orchestral Fakeando (technical term, my friend). Maybe after the Haydn video series I'll address that.

One thing to keep in mind is that we are all at some point in over our heads. Parenting provides a particularly vivid illustration of this. Yet, we can't quit, and because we barrel through due to love, obligation, and genuine concern, we grow as people and contribute to the world in a substantive way. Sure, you can walk away from the cello (or at least give it a dark thought)...cello is optional. But just because you are more keenly aware of how over you head you are doesn't mean you're in a bad place in your progress. You're looking at the road head: how about considering the path you have already blazed? You are more than halfway there if you know your notes and can play roughly in time. You have, what, 25% to go until you are "advanced"? And what then? As you advance, each step is harder, more subtle, and leaden with difficulty. Let's say I only have 2% to go before I am as good as Yo Yo Ma or Isserlis. I'll never get there, because that 2% is a lifetime's work. But I'll enjoy spending the next 50 years on .04% of progress. And a newsflash: a lot of really good orchestral players are giving it everything they have each performance, just to stay on time and in tune. Persist, and focus on this day. Looking months in advance only makes you hold your bow funny and freak out in upper positions. Am I right? :)
 
That Emily sure has some perspective.
 
:D
 
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