Wednesday, January 28, 2009

 

Mold!


Monday when I was carrying my cello to my seat at orchestra, I noticed a 4-inch diameter sooty black stain on the back at the base. At first it looked like some sort of burn??? Or worse, the wood was rotten!?!?!?

Fortunately, I was able to rub most of it off with a cloth. I suspected it was some sort of mold, but I couldn't be sure. I was worried that it was caused by the dampits that I've been using a little obsessively these last few months due to the extreme low humidities. When I got home I inspected the interior of the cello and it appeared clean and dry - whew! no mold inside. Treatment with cello polish cleaned off all the residue, and the finish underneath the stain was just fine.

I realized it had to be coming from the case. There was a damp spot in the dark blue lining of the case that corresponded to the spot on the cello. The back of the case has a foam padding beneath the liner. I'm guessing that the extra moisture I'd been putting into the case via the extra-wet dampits was condensing into the foam pad and collecting at its base; and over time a mold had begun to grow on the liner against the back of the cello.

I left the the case open in front of a heater overnight to dry it out. The next morning I saturated the area with carpet cleaner and blotted it with a paper towel (which picked up some color) and then vacuumed up the residue after it dried. So, once again I've started squeezing the "free" water out of the dampits before putting them into the cello.

I've been asking myself since that night how this could have gone that far without me seeing it. I guess I just don't inspect the cello on any regular basis.

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Sunday, January 25, 2009

 

iPhone Cello Tuner App


If I had an iPhone, I'd probably consider this tuner from App Shopper:

Comments:
thanks for the app sugestion
 
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Saturday, January 24, 2009

 

Redirection


My previous post maybe should have been called "Adding Directions".

Yesterday when I began to practice, I realized I did not want to abandon the Breval piece after all, nor the double-stops. I've invested way too much time in them over these past several months to simply set them aside. But, in the meantime I added some Bartok duets... And, I started working on the Trill Drills in the back of Suzuki Book 3. Now what?

What I decided to do instead was to work on all these things but to spend a lot less time on each item. Here's today's practice session:

1. warmup - long bows on open strings
2. scales - majors and minors using several variations of fingering and bowing
3. vibrato exercises (I've reached 192 bpm)
4. "Suzuki Book 2" - Judas Maccabeus using vibrato on all notes (I've just begun this one)
5. "Suzuki Book 3" - trill drills
6. "Percy Such: Position Etudes" - Six Studies in Third Position; play first four sets, then finger the fifth set
7. "Mooney Double Stops" - only one "tune" at a time
8. "Suzuki Book 3" - Beethoven's Minuet in G or La Cinquantaine
9. "Suzuki Book 4" - Breval Sonata; just one "passage" a day (8 to 10 measures)
10. "Bartok Duets" - first three pieces, playing both parts [these are fun!]
11. Cellocracy pieces - two or three items

Hmm, on reflection this seems somewhat ambitious, but I've tried to spend no more than ten or fifteen minutes on each item; and then move on. The last two days' practices lasted 2-1/2 hours; but I'm not complaining.

I am trying to narrow my focus to shorter segments in each piece, and attack just one or two "issues" per item per day. Maybe it's the change-up, but I've found myself anticipating my practice sessions more and feeling more invigorated afterwards.

Right after I started practicing this morning, we experienced a 5.7 earthquake centered about 75 miles Southwest of here. It lasted longer than normal, but it was not enough to knock things off shelves, or anything. It did cause the dog to bark a a couple times in surprise... Cellists would be proud to hear that my first reaction was to wrap myself around my cello in case something did fall.


I'm not sure what to think about the Yo-Yo Vanilli (or should that be Celli-Vanilli?) affair. I've never had to deal with playing outdoors in the cold, much less for the President; and I certainly have no right to judge anybody, much less Yo-Yo Ma or Itzhak Perlman. But still I guess I'm a little disappointed for some reason...

Comments:
Ambitious is the word, but I'm glad you found a way to get going again. I'm still working on it.

I think the air-bowing issue is much ado about nothing. They recorded the piece ahead of time due to the expected adverse conditions. It had to be amplified in that outside performance for millions, anyway. I think people are shocked because they don't realize what a common practice this is, and the media needs flames to fan.
 
I don't have a problem with the whole pre-recorded thing. After all, there is no way their instruments would have stayed in tune in 20-degree weather! It would have sounded terrible!

The thing is, they still performed the piece. It was just... not performed at the same time we all thought it was.
 
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Wednesday, January 21, 2009

 

Changing direction


After a month (where I diligently practiced, I swear... I only missed one day) I finally had another lesson (#64). I started off grousing a bit about not getting anywhere with the Breval Sonata; after working on it every day this last month, I've been feeling as if I've just run out of steam. I'd gotten to where I was dreading sitting down with it each day; I didn't know what else to do with it. Of course, I know that each time I practice I improve in some way, but...

My teacher suggested I just put the Breval piece aside for now and pulled out several books to look over. One is a set of Bartok duets arranged for two cellos. These pieces are all attainable after some work. It's going to be interesting to have something different to do for a change.

I also expressed concern about my lack of progress in the Mooney Double Stops book. She suggested I could set it aside as well, but I think I'll continue working on it with a lot less expectations. At least I have been successfully working through the Percy Such position etude book.

My vibrato apparently looks pretty good. I don't need to worry about increasing the "speed", for now. Instead I'm going to go back into Book 2 and start playing some of those pieces using an exaggerated vibrato with a goal of controlling my left hand actions separately from my right hand.

My teacher said she's thinking about putting together a cello ensemble this spring for her students. Not a Suzuki countdown, it would consist of some group pieces, and various solos, duets and trios. Possibly our Cellocracy group can play one of our Matz trios, since she now teaches all three of us. Two of us have been working on the now-famous Rameau duet, "Tambourin", apparently arranged for cellos by Jean LeClerc, and she suggested we might play that as well.


I sure enjoyed watching Yo-Yo Ma at yesterday's inauguration. I've since run across a few complaints about the fact that the piece was composed/arranged/conglomerated by John Williams, but it was a perfect piece for the occasion and for an audience of some 40 million people. As always, Yo-Yo was in his element, clearly enjoying the piece, the setting, and the occasion - even if it was 20 F. I noticed the pianist wore fingerless gloves while the clarinetist, Yo-Yo and Itzhak Perlman all played with bare hands. They must have been surrounded by space heaters....

Comments:
I noticed the gloveless fingers as well. There's a video on YouTube with Yo Yo Ma playing with fingerless gloves so I guess he was comfortable enough at 20 degrees.

Have you memorized the Breval or still playing from the score?
 
I have memorized the piece, but when I go to play it, my hands don't seem to always do what my memory tells them to do (actually it's no different when I play it off the score). Maybe it's my OCD showing up here, but if I miss a note or get a bowing wrong, I tend to get too wrapped up in that mistake and end up losing my place. My teacher tells me that I need to just play on, but that's not easy for me.

I have been able to play on when I'm playing with a group such as my trio or orchestra, but not when I'm just playing alone (or with my teacher).
 
I have played with fingerless gloves a bunch, especially when weddings and casuals were my bread and butter.

I am a fan of letting a piece percolate a bit, too. Sometimes when we work on something for too long it just gets weird on us and becomes something it's not. Make a lateral move to a piece that presents you with some of the same issues in a different context. Then, in a few months, take out the infernal Breval and see what's happened in the hiatus. I love those Bartok duets, especially their names. I think there's one called Braul, and my younger students look at me and ask, "Wanna brawl?" The answer is always yes. How can you say no to an 8 year old who wants to brawl over Bartok? My advanced adults and I also play them to work on atypical phrasing and ensemble playing. Excellent.

Learn to keep going, above all. You know me, blah blah. Work on what's hard. When you make even the smallest progress the reward will give you that tingle you only get from truly new learning. I'm rooting for you on this one!

:)
 
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Sunday, January 18, 2009

 

Digital Vinyl


I'm finished! After more than a year, I've finally converted 362 vinyl LPs to MP3 files for my iPod. Each album side was first recorded as a single WAV file, which I archived on a portable 500 GB hard drive. Then, using Cakewalk's Pyro 5 software, I removed some of the residual noise and converted each WAV file into separate MP3 files for each song. All these MP3s are also archived onto the external hard drive in case my iPod or this computer crashes. This has been a major project, taking at least an hour per record (including recording, processing and data entry). But it has been worth it.

So my iPod now contains 4656 songs, mostly stuff from the 60s and 70s, although I have also collected some of current music - usually groups I hear on WXPN's World Cafe radio show. This takes up 20 GB - about 1/8 of my iPod's capacity.

I mostly listen to my iPod while driving. Local radio is so bad I'd stopped listening a long time ago - that's what motivated me to buy an iPod in the first place. (The exception is the two-hours when our NPR outlet broadcasts World Cafe.) The iPod plugs directly into the sound system of one car, and I use a cassette adapter that relays the iPod through the tape deck in another car. I tried an FM transmitter with the iPod, but it carried too much static.

My next project is to record all of my CDs. I have 360 of my own, and my brother has at least 200 more. This should take a lot less time, since the CD's are already digital I won't be making WAV files, nor will I have to do any cleanup.

Comments:
Congratulations. Our LP's sit here collecting dust. My husband's two record players collect dust and sit next to the TV. I doubt they even work anymore. Since hubby has about 3,000 CD's it's no wonder he doesn't feel like converting the LP's.
 
"My next project is to record all of my CDs. .... This should take a lot less time, since the CD's are already digital"

Ah, famous last words! Personally I couldn't stand the way iTunes fills out the CD & track info, so changing that was a huge chunk of time... and now I've changed my mind as to how I should've done it.

Are you planning on recording in lossless format? I did in order to best preserve my collection 'cause I've noticed my oldest CDs are starting to deteriorate, but it's a space-hog on the iPod.

-schreechy from CChat
 
I decided to rip the CDs using Windows Media Player instead of iTunes. WMP imports the music info from an online CD identification service. This worked great for all my non-classical CDs. For the classical stuff on the other hand, this system made a lot of mistakes, which required quite a bit of manual input (with a lot of cut and paste).
 
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Wednesday, January 14, 2009

 

A blog entry not completely about the weather


Here are Horace and Henry tolerating my daily cello practice.


In spite of good intentions, I have to report that it is currently 42F outside (77 degrees warmer than just four days ago). It appears our cold spell has drifted south into the north-central US. Enjoy it GTGP! :)

The fierce (and extremely unusual) southeast winds have blown all the snow off the trees and quickly melted the snow and ice buildup on the driveway and deck. We don't usually see this kind of midwinter thaw, but I don't mind; all the less to have to melt off in April.

My teacher has canceled our cello lesson twice this month already. So without any new lesson issues to report, I've struggled to come up with anything to write about here. I'm still working on the Breval Sonata; but I'm getting a little frustrated with it. I just don't feel as if I'm making any progress. I've also spent time focusing on a couple pieces in Book 3. At least I am seeing good progress in the Position Etude book, so I don't feel completely stymied. I'm also continuing my vibrato drills, with slow, steady progress.

Our string orchestra has reconvened for the winter/spring season; unfortunately with even fewer players than the fall. Our cello group (a trio again, for now) has selected four new pieces to learn, including another nice piece by Rudolf Matz. We're tackling tougher and tougher pieces, so I guess that's a sign of progress.

Comments:
Don't have anything brilliant to say - just stopped by to see the place. Interesting to see that practice will plateau at more advanced levels too. It's not just us rank beginners.
 
I can't believe how cold it gets up there. And here I've been complaining about single digits. We've warmed up some, but we're trapped in a temperature inversion down here in the valley. I think I'd prefer the colder temps.

What do you do for vibrato drills anyway? I've got a couple students ready for vibrato and I need some new ideas.
 
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Sunday, January 11, 2009

 

Warming up, a little


These poor critters somehow survive -35 F; I sure don't understand how. This particular mother and her baby have hung around the house for most of the winter, so far.

But the cold has finally lifted, for now. Whew! This morning just after the large bright moon set in the northwest, heavy gray clouds filled the sky covering the rising sun and bringing temperatures up to just above 0 F.

I already miss the clear blue skies.

Comments:
Did you hear about the baby moose that crashed through someone's basement window? Happy ending for all, but that must have been one hell of a sound!
 
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Saturday, January 03, 2009

 

Quadrantids


I woke up this morning at 5:30, checked that the water was still flowing, let the dog out of Z's room, started the coffee, and put on my long down coat, insulated boots, gloves and hat. Then I turned off all the house lights and went outside to look at the Quadrantid meteor shower.

The western US and Canada were supposed to be able to see the best shower activity in their northern skies starting a few hours after midnight. By 5:30 am, although that activity had already peaked an hour or so earlier, since there was no moon and the skies were clear, I decided it was worth a try.

It was -30 F out there; so it was obvious I wouldn't be staying out very long - especially with the dog who wouldn't stay quietly inside if I went out without her, but also wasn't going to stay out very long either. I walked quickly away from the house into an open area and looked out into the sky.

I posted just a day or so ago about those gazillions of stars shining out there - especially when it's so cold and dry. I can almost hear a crackling static coming from the stars. Wow, even without the meteors this is such a profound experience.

After a minute the first streak from overhead toward the east, arcing about 1/4 of the sky. Then the next from the north arcing to the southeast. Then another, and another. Then a flash without a trail - that one must have been coming straight at us. I looked to the west and saw a streak going across half the sky from east to west. These guys were streaming in all directions. We must be hitting this swarm head-on.

After ten minutes, my face and neck had gotten pretty cold (I forgot to put on a scarf, dang it), and the dog was sighing rather pointedly, so I forced myself to go back inside.

Celestial events like these always remind me of the vastness of the cosmos; and of our true insignificance in the larger scheme despite our arrogant assumptions of importance. Maybe if we all took the time to look outward more often, we'd all find a little more humility and experience a better sense of kinship with everything else that shares this tiny spec of rock that is endlessly spinning a circle around our small star as we each journey along our all-too-brief paths across this unimaginably large and complex universe.

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