Thursday, April 30, 2009
I've made a lot of progress with the Breval Sonata - Rondo. Since last lesson I've increased the tempo several "notches", and we played it today at my current pace; then we reviewed a few minor issues. I've only got a handful of measures left to sort out. Then all that's left is continuing to increase the tempo. My teacher commented that one of her primary goals is to teach her students how to learn on their own... and it appears she has [finally] succeeded in my case.
We set-up a two-month practice plan:
- Start studying the next piece in 'Suzuki 4', the Marcello Sonata[!] (it's important to apply my recent "revelation" about how to learn new pieces - take it slow and steady without the bow, working a few measures at a time, until I have the rhythms and fingerings all sorted out);
- Begin listening to the Bach Minuet in G on the Suzuki CD (as well as some of the solo recordings);
- Start familiarizing myself with Tenor Clef... Tchaikovsky's Chanson Triste is just around the corner;
- I just began working on the fourth-position etudes in the 'Percy Such Position Studies' book, and should press on;
- Mooney's 'Double Stops' - um, well, keep at it; and for filler
- Continue optimizing various 'Suzuki Book 3' pieces.
This is going to keep me busy.
Some local news of interest this week; Zuill Bailey will take over as director of the Sitka Summer Music Festival when founder Paul Rosenthal "retires" in
We found out this week that our own local summer music festival (the Kenai Peninsula Orchestra Summer Music Festival) will include having our string orchestra and Cellocracy play two noon-time concerts this year.
My newly rebridged cello is sounding great!
Mt. Redoubt has quieted down lately. I didn't see any plume for the first time in months as I drove to my lesson in Homer today. Maybe that's all over... till the next time, anyway.
I haven't written a lot about my music theory classes. We're just about finished with our second round. What a remarkable experience! For the past several weeks, we've been arranging assorted melodies to be played by string quartets, and then we've been playing them together in class - fortunately we have two violins, a viola and two cellos to make this work. On a few occasions other instruments, including a flute, a french horn, and a guitar, have sat in with us to produce some interesting music. Not only are we learning about music, we're also playing what we're learning. I'm hoping we'll be able to restart this again in the fall.
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Thursday, April 23, 2009
Wednesday, April 22, 2009
When I grow up
Saturday, April 18, 2009
Overall, the cello is in excellent condition - no cracks, no open seams, no apparent physical problems. The scoop on the fingerboard is OK... a little too far up on the neck near the nut. This won't be a problem until I start playing more in the upper ranges. He commented that I should plan to have it replaned, eventually.
The bridge, however, was warped and quite flexible - especially at the top. This made it behave like a spring, absorbing part of the sound that ought to be transferred into the cello. I asked him to replace it with a spare bridge that came with my new cello. He quickly measured it, cut it to size, planed it, and fit it into place. He reset the soundpost just a little closer to the fingerboard and slightly further inboard, with its bevels properly aligned.
Upon restringing and retuning, the cello played well and sounded nice - in his shop. I haven't tried it out at home, yet. He commented I might find it a bit bright in the upper strings; if so, I could consider alternative strings. The curve of the new bridge is a little different - flatter, better matching the curve of the fingerboard. I might have to get used to bowing the G and C strings a little more carefully.
It was an interesting visit. I got to try out a cello he recently completed (#52), which cost about twice what I paid for mine - really nice; a deep resonance. He also showed me his latest cello under construction (#53), with a one-piece poplar back.
The rest of our first trip to the big city in more than six months was quite interesting (and far more expensive than the luthier). We saw "Spamalot" with John O'Hurley. Z and I have long been fans of Monty Python's Holy Grail. Z can quote entire scenes. Shopping at all the big stores took up the rest of our time and money.
I'll report tomorrow how my revitalized cello plays at home.
hee hee. word verification is "capooli" .
My rebridged cello sounds wonderful, with more power and projection. I suspect I'll be replacing my bridge much more frequently than before.
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Friday, April 03, 2009
A fool for a customer
My A-string has been sounding "pinched" lately and I noticed the string was practically buried in the parchment tab on the bridge. So, in a classic example of picking the worst possible time to do something about it, I decided to replace the parchment tab before our spring recital tomorrow [my orchestra and Cellocracy will be playing].
Replacing the tab is not really a complicated task, I've done it before:
- Loosen the A-string enough to slide it out of the notch and ease it off of the bridge;
- Scrape off the old parchment using an Exacto-knife;
- Soak a new parchment tab in water until it is soft, then fold it into the approximate shape of the bridge top;
- Apply a small amount of white glue and press it into place over the A-notch on the bridge;
- Clamp it with a small clip until the parchment and glue are dry;
- Restring the A-string; and tune it up.
Without the downward pressure of the A-string, I apparently braced with a little too much force and pulled the base of the bridge back toward me: suddenly everything collapsed with a loud bang - followed by the sound of the soundpost gently rolling back and forth inside the cello case....... :(
Most fortunately there was no physical damage. This Jay-Haide cello is already antiqued (a l'ancienne) with lots of nicks and scratches, so one or two extra nicks wouldn't even be noticeable. The bridge was OK, the carbon-fiber tailpiece was OK (and the fine tuners didn't gouge the face of the cello), the strings were OK but slack. The big problem was the soundpost. What to do?
I'm no luthier, nor do I have one of those special soundpost setting tools; even if I did, I had no idea where exactly the soundpost was supposed to sit. I knew that in general it should stand somewhere near the A-D foot of the bridge. There was no mark on the inside of the case to show where the soundpost had previously been. It had never been adjusted since I bought the cello just over 3 years ago.
The nearest luthiers (there are two) are in Anchorage, 160 miles away. Even if I had scrambled everything together, by the time I got there, they'd would have closed for the weekend. I was on my own; it would be up to me to make this cello playable in time for tomorrow's recital. In my shop I found a pair of laboratory tongs, that looked to be the right size and shape to fit through the f-hole, grab onto the post and maybe manipulate it into place. But where to set it?
"Tipbook: Cello" was no help - all it said was that this had to be done by a skilled luthier (thanks, guys, I think I want my money back). "Comprehensive Instrument Care" was no help either. Then I remembered that unusual booklet I bought a few years ago, titled "The Health of the Violin and the Viola and the Cello: practical advice on the acquisition, maintenance, adjustment and conservation of bowed instruments" by Lucien Greilsamer. Written in French in 1910, it was translated into English by Henry Stroebel in 1991. This has a wealth of technical information and measurements about all these instruments as well as an interesting discussion about buying old instruments. Here's what Greilsamer says about the soundpost (p. 17):
After discussing the theoretical adjustments, he presents the following principle of adjustment:
Armed with this practical information, I slipped the tongs inside, grabbed the soundpost and maneuvered it out through the larger round hole at the bottom of the f-hole. The soundpost is beveled the same direction on both ends, and it had a gouge in the face from the first luthier's soundpost setting tool. The gouge was on the shorter side of the post (as defined by the beveled ends), which made it easy to see how it was supposed to be oriented inside the box. I used a ruler to guesstimate the center-line of the bridge foot and to find the center-point for the post, 7-8 mm behind it. Then I reinserted the post into the box and managed to stand it up, oriented in the proper direction. I removed the endpin to look at the post through that hole to check if it was perpendicular. More than a few adjustments finally made it perpendicular and left it more-or-less in the proper place. And, best of all, it "stay[ed] in this position without any force".
Then I reinstalled the bridge with its new parchment tab in place, and restrung it, carefully tightened the strings in order, each one a little at a time. As I was doing this I had to readjust the bridge a few times to keep it perpendicular to the face of the cello. Finally, it was all back together. After tuning, I hesitantly tried it out...
O..K..., well it sounds a little brighter, especially the D-string. A is OK, and C and G sound just fine. I ran a few scales to make sure it was playable for tomorrow and then put it away. Now, I'm going to have to schedule a visit to one of the luthiers in Anchorage in the next few weeks to get this adjustment fine-tuned by an expert. Until then, I'll have to live with it, because there's no way I'm going to risk making any more adjustments myself.
What a relief to have it all back together so I can play it tomorrow in the recital!
Thanks for the detailed account, just in case any of us need to do the same one day. :-)
I couldn't resist tinkering with my setup again, since I have to wait another 10 days before seeing the luthier.
The upper strings were sounding fuzzy - as if they were being muffled somehow. I noticed the bridge was positioned a bit forward (toward the fingerboard) than it had been before this all started. Remembering Greilsamer's comment about moving the soundpost closer to the bridge to brighten the A & D strings; today, I again loosened the strings and moved my bridge about 2-3 mm back (toward the tailpiece and closer to the soundpost).
I could hear the improvement immediately.
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Thursday, April 02, 2009
A Most Satisfying Lesson
We started right in working on my newest piece (the Breval Sonata in C Major - Rondo grazioso). I explained my new approach - slow and deliberate from the start using the metronome; learning rhythms first.
So we started playing it... [now, here's where I usually complain about how badly I flubbed it - especially on the first run-through. BUT NOT THIS TIME!] Sure, I had a few minor problems, but managed for the most part to keep on going. I've only worked on the first half, so we stopped there and went back to go over a few issues, but there weren't that many, for a change. Then we started sight reading through the second half, and I managed quite well there too. Now, I think I'm ready to start working on it.
Finally, I talked about how those darn Mooney "Double Stop" pieces intimidate me. She had several suggestions that I'm looking forward to trying out, tomorrow.
It is such a relief to be able to show progress after so many frustrating months being stuck on that first Breval movement!
Y'know, that Breval Sonata, although easy by professional standards, is real music and a real accomplishment.
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