Friday, November 07, 2008


Not muddling through

So, I've decided not to join the Redoubt Chamber Orchestra, at least not right now. Although everyone has been very generous with their encouragement, I know I am just not ready... maybe next year.

I sat in on a second rehearsal last night. After more than a week of fairly intense practice (an extra hour or more a day - above and beyond my normal two-hour practice sessions) I was barely able to play a scant few parts of three or four of the ten pieces they've scheduled for their Christmas concert. Even if I did nothing else but work on these pieces for the next six weeks, I'm pretty sure I still would not be ready.

One problem I have with most of these pieces is their screaming-hot tempos (not to mention various unfamiliar keys and new fingering patterns). Now, I've been diligently working on the Breval Sonata (out of Suzuki Book 4) - every day - since early July, and I still cannot play it at any reasonable tempo. Of course I know there's a big difference between the Breval piece and these Christmas carols. But in the Sonata, the cello does play the melody... while with these orchestral arrangements, I'm often not really able to tell what or where the melody even is (especially as I'm trying to learn them at home). It's even worse with those wretched Christmas medleys (I really hate those). I suppose if I could hear these pieces in their entirety enough times, I'd eventually be able to figure out how my part fits in with the whole. But there's only four more rehearsals before the Christmas concert, and we've not yet been able to play through all ten pieces in one session.

I do realize there's a lot to be gained from playing in an orchestra like this, and that it would be an important part of my music learning process. And I'm sure that if I muddled along with this group, I might eventually pick up enough to get by or at least to more-or-less convincingly fake it. But I didn't start learning the cello in order to muddle along and just "get by". I want to do better than that. I believe that after another year of rigorous study and practice - including working on my position etudes and continuing with the Suzuki and Mooney repertoire, as well as sticking with my string-orchestra and with the cello group - that I'd be ready to join this group.

I've self-analyzed my learning process enough (that's one of the main themes of this blog, after all) to understand how I am best able to learn a new piece or a new technique. The one method that does not seem to work for me (at least right now) is to throw a bunch of new music on my stand (much of it in unfamiliar keys with unusual fingerings and new rhythmic patterns) and then sight-read it at screaming fast tempos (most, if not all, of the rest of the group has played these pieces many times before) and then go home and expect to be able to learn them all in six weeks with only four more group rehearsals.

Nope, that's not really going to do anything except frustrate the heck out of me. It's not that I'm not up to the challenge - heck, learning the cello at my age is already a challenge - it's more realizing what does and doesn't work for me, and recognizing where my abilities are right now, and where I'm wanting to go with all this. I do want to play with this group and I am looking forward to the time when I am ready to.

Equally important is the issue of time... Right now I spend two-plus hours a day practicing at home (three hours daily this past week or so). Once every other week I drive to Homer for lessons (a four-hour trip). Two evenings a week I drive to town for string-orchestra and cello group rehearsals (at least another two and a half hours each night). Then every other week I stay over after orchestra for music theory class.

There's only so much time... Z will be graduating and leaving home in less than two years. Time has sped by so fast these past years and he's grown up so quickly. I really want to be able to spend as much time with him as possible before he's gone. I can barely justify taking out two nights a week for my music... There will be plenty of time to add other obligations to my schedule after he's gone to college.

In the meantime, my cello studies continue. Now that I'm working on the Percy Such position etude book, I'm able to see slow and steady progress as I add a few new lines every few days. I often feel like I'm hitting the wall on the various Suzuki pieces, but then I'll realize I've crossed one minor hurdle and am tangling with a new one (I guess that's progress). The Mooney Double Stops book is really challenging, but when I stopped treating these as simple tunes (which ought to be easy to play, right?) and started thinking about the sounds, combinations, phrasing and fingering (and so on), I finally started making progress.

Good for you for respecting your (current) limits. I think I'd want to be able to keep up with at least seventy or eighty percent of the music to make it worthwhile to sit with an orchestra.
It would be nice if they could scare up even one advanced cellist to lead the section. That can make all the difference in the world when you are beginning to play at that level - because you never actually feel ready.
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