Tuesday, June 30, 2009


500th Post

It seems that number 500 ought to be something deep and thoughtful relating to cellos and to blogging, so I want to work on this for a few days rather than dash something off in one evening.

First, something about blogging cellists: I still try to keep up with this world, even though I myself don't blog nearly as much as I used to. I am still following about 235+/- blogs and comment feeds on a daily basis via my Google Feed Reader. The 188 "active" cellobloggers are linked in my sidebar, along with links to another 92 "dormant" celloblogs. I've noticed a trend among us bloggers that seems to repeat itself over and over. The typical celloblogger (myself included) starts out enthusiastically describing their cur...
[A few days later]

I guess this is why I don't blog that much anymore... any inspiration quickly gets bogged down in details about word choice, sentence structure and a variety of editing issues, and soon fizzles out like the one above did the other night. At 500 posts I'm not really finding much satisfaction anymore from regular blogging. Rather than try to sort out why (which I've attempted to several times); I'm going to just accept that for now.

But on the other hand, this milestone has found me considering whether or not I'm getting what I expected when I first started out playing the cello...

And the answer is 100% YES! Well, not exactly what I expected, but certainly I'm getting all the satisfaction I could have hoped for after 3 years, 7 months, and 2 days of playing the cello.

I'm currently working on the Marcello Sonata in E minor from Suzuki Book 4. Although I find the Allegro relatively easy to play, I'm not doing it at anywhere near the intended tempo, but I do see myself getting there, eventually. And it has been a lot of fun learning it and gradually increasing the speed. Also, after two weeks of tapping out the complicated rhythms in the Adagio, and another two weeks working out the complicated fingerings and shifts - just pizzicato, I finally started playing it with the bow - very slowly - this weekend. And it went really well!

Tonight at our Cellocracy rehearsal (just the two of us this week), we picked up a new book of duets (by Sebastian Lee) and played through the first four rather quickly. What particularly struck me was how I was able to listen to both parts even as I was trying to find my own notes. On one of them I realized one part was all in half-position and was able to adapt to it without a whole lot of effort. We ended tonight's session feeling rather pleased with ourselves.

As I reflect on my journey so far down this long, rocky, dusty road, I'm feeling quite confident (for a change) and rather surprised at where I am [except for those dang double-stops - not a whole lot of progress there, yet].

So, after 3 years, 7 months and 2 days of playing the cello and trying to describe that experience in these past 500 posts, I find myself looking forward to tomorrow's practice session, if not so much to trying to compose another blog entry.

Congratulations, both on your 500th post and your cello progress.

One thing I like about blog readers is that one can keep track pf intermittent bloggers (like me).

All best,

Navel-gazing. It's a term a blogging beginning violinist used when I was just beginning to blog, in the last post she made before flaming out of the blogging world altogether. It's what we do as beginning cellists, too, that drives us to want to record our impressions.

And then we enter the world of repetition, where it becomes difficult to write anything "new" because it seems like we are doing the same thing day after day. I'm glad you are still writing intermittent entries, because you can see that with a little time between, the "nothing new" becomes "quite different."

I think the stage after that is the pattern discovery stage, but I could be wrong. Looking forward to another 500 entries, even if they are sporadic.
I have really enjoyed reading your blog. Thank you.

It's been really nice to read other cellist's blogs to find out that others face similar challenges.

Congratulations on your progress. I've noted many times how you've written about being able to do something easily that a year ago was really hard. I think that aha moment of realizing that your skill really has increased is so satisfying.
As one friend once told me, "what's to write about when it's the same old, same old". R tells me good repetition is key -- writing about practicing the same thing 8,000 times does not make an interesting read :) Rome was not built in a day, but every brick laid consistently does add up. We just get impatient sometimes. Having a journal or WIP screen capture does show the progress over time that we cannot see daily or even weekly.
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Sunday, June 21, 2009




"Matilda" is our new 10-month old Airedale. I think she'll fit in quite nicely.

She cocks her head back and forth as I run through my first few scales each morning, eventually falling asleep beside my chair.
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Friday, June 19, 2009


Customer Service Hell

Something has gone wrong with customer service in our country...

Upon discovering an unusual frame welding failure on one of my vehicles - probably caused by driving too many miles (and/or maybe driving a little too fast) on our unbelievably inadequate roads - I called the supposedly top notch specialty repair shop in Anchorage last Friday and described my problem to their seemingly knowledgeable service writer in great detail - I even emailed several pictures:
SW1: "Well, it's a bit unusual, but... Sure, we ought to be able to do that, no problem. I'll book you with M..., he's the expert in that area. Bring it in next Wednesday. If you get here by 7:00 he'll be able to start on yours first."
me: "OK, Wednesday June 17th at 7:00 am, right?"
SW1: "Right, just ask for M..."

So, I dragged myself out of bed at 3:30 Wednesday morning and drove 160 miles to Anchorage, stopping only once for some unannounced highway construction in the mountains. Arriving promptly at 7:00 I was the first customer on the lot. I spoke to the service writer on duty:

me: "I'm here to see M... about my vehicle."
SW2: "M... is off until Friday."
me: "What?!! I called last Friday and was given an appointment for 7:00 this morning, to see M...!"
SW2: "M... is off until Friday."
me: "Can I speak to the boss? I drove an awful long way only to find out that M... isn't even here today."
SW2: "M... is the boss, he won't be back until Friday."
me: "Can anyone else help me with this?"
SW2: "Umm, I don't know. That's up to M... to decide, but he won't be back until Friday."
me: "Do you even have me written on your appointment calendar?"
SW2: "I don't see your name here."
me: "I guess I'll have to leave my vehicle on your lot; would you give this note for M... for Friday morning?"
SW2: "Sure, no problem."

8:00 am, today (Friday)
me: "Hi M..., I'm [me], and I left a note for you with your service writer, about my vehicle. Have you had a chance to look at it?"
M...: "I don't see any note around here... what's this about?"
[aargh] Eventually I was able to explain my situation, and I asked if he'd look at it and give me an estimate.
M...: "OK, sure, no problem. I'll take a look at it this morning and call you back... around 11."

2:30 pm
me: "I'm [me], and I'm calling about my vehicle?"
M...: "Who? What vehicle?"
M...: "Oh, yeah... err, I haven't had a chance to look at it yet, but I'll get right on it and call you back in an hour."

4:30 pm
me: "Can I speak with M...?"
SW3: "He's gone home, he'll be back Tuesday."
me: "?!?!?!? Did he leave any note for me?"
SW3: "I don't see any note, but let me ask around..."

4:45 pm
SW3: "M... said to tell you we'll get to it Wednesday morning."

If this were my first such experience with uncaring customer service, I'd probably just laugh it off as a comedy of errors. But it's not. This has become the norm. Worse yet, the more unusual the repair, the less they seem to care about customer satisfaction: if I don't like it, try to find someone else even qualified, much less willing to do it instead.

How frustrating. But maybe it's more of a supply and demand problem in Alaska? I've also had car repair work done recenly, and had diametrically opposite experiences - in two different cities.
Think about this - you're not allowed to mention the name of the firm or the people involved lest they embroil you in a nuisance lawsuit. Of course, it's not libel or slander because its true.

But, what's wrong with customer service? The firms have too much power, or you'd be able to speak out more openly.

ps. now I know why I haven't seen you on celloheaven too much lately!
That's awful! I recently moved and have had to deal with a lot of companies at once to sign up new services. Customer service has no meaning anymore.
The Saga Continues

2:30 pm Tuesday
me: "May I speak with M...?"
SW4: "M... is out today."
me: "AARGH"
SW4 "?"
me: "When do you expect him to be back?"
SW4: "Tomorrow... I think?"
GGP, perhaps you are right; that this is more of an issue related to a specialized expertise in a relatively small, remote market.

I really want to believe that there are people in all those customer service departments across the country who do care, or are at least concerned enough about keeping their jobs that they at least try to provide good service.
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Thursday, June 11, 2009


More on musicality

I've been pondering this issue for some time, now. After three and a half years learning to play the cello, with thousands of hours of practice, and steady progress through my lesson books, I guess I just haven't been able to imagine myself to be a musician.... not yet. That's probably why I don't feel very musical... yet.

Behind all this is my sense of not measuring up to my own idealized sense of what I want to be able to do; for example: to be able to sit down with my cello in any setting along with a variety of instruments, and play any sort of tune with little effort, even improvising a little now and then... Well, something like that anyway.

In both orchestra and my trio, I am able to learn new parts only after a lot of intensive practice on my own. Lately I've noticed this is getting easier. Then, as we play through new pieces together, I am finally starting to be able to hear the other parts sooner, as I play mine. It used to take quite a few run-throughs before I could begin to feel as if I were fitting in. So, some progress on that front...

A few weeks ago I started working on the Adagio from the Marcello Sonata from "Suzuki 4". I spent the first week just tapping out the rhythms while the metronome ticked away beside me. One morning I realized I was mentally "tapping" out the rhythms to the steady "beat" of my footsteps on the treadmill. That meant I was ready to start plucking the notes, one phrase at a time - and always with the metronome. This piece is chocked full of shifts back and forth all over the fingerboard. Not long ago I'd probably have complained here about how hard it is to learn all those shifts. Now, though, I just see them as a series of interesting challenges, ones I know I can do - especially with those new study methods. I'm already about half-way through the piece and I've run through most of the shifts that are also used in the second half of the piece. Today I started including these notes in my treadmill workout.

I guess maybe I ought to be feeling somewhat closer to my musical goals after all...

[Sheez, for the second dang time, I accidentally clicked the "Report Abuse" button at the bottom of my Google Doc preview page as I was working on this entry. Why is this button placed so prominently in the bottom right corner of the preview page? Why would anyone even want to report their own document? What I actually intended to do was return to the composing/editing screen... but for some strange reason, there is no button for that - just that blue-underlined text; located right beside the button. So, I guess once I actually publish this in my blog it's going to be tagged somewhere as an objectionable post?]

Hi. Love your blog. I've been studying cello for 6 years and share the same thoughts. I work at so many technical issues and STILL don't sound like YoYo! Sometimes I just close my eyes and play and pretend. Maybe that's the musicality.
Maybe musicality is like "art". We can't define it but we know it when we hear it. Certainly we can hear very different versions of the same piece, and both can have great musicality, but nothing else in common.

For me, musicality has a naturalness about it. It is not forced, not stiff, not awkward. And it has some sort of overall vision, such that the elements go together, rather than detract from each other. Other than that, it seems limited only by imagination.
Hey Guanaco, I'm struggling with some of the same Suzuki pieces and technical issues you're working on, and I found myself curious all over again about how you started and how you've managed to assemble a musical life (playing in ensembles, taking that theory class, finding a teacher) where you live. It's an inspiration. But now I've read everything on this page -- where do I find the oldest posts? There must be a tab/link somewhere but I can't find it. I thought I'd read some of your older posts when I first discovered your blog but my memory is fuzzy. Keep up the great work --and if you find yourself at a plateau, I think there's a kind of intermediate-level doldrums that affect adult amateurs. (I hit Suzuki Book Five and realized with frustration I was never even remotely happy with how I played Book Four -- or maybe Book Three!) But with your discipline and hours of practice, you'll fight your way out of it sooner than I have.

P.S. Based on your repeated mentions of it, I'm going to buy Mooney's Double Stops book this week. (I really appreciate Mooney's other books.)
One of the most fun lessons I had was when my teacher pulled out a list of words, and had me pick a word, and then play the music to fit the word (like sad, jubilant, happy, etc.). It was really fun to play the same piece but differently to fit the word. It was a great lesson in musicality.

The other thing that I struggle with on a daily basis is just having enough technique to be able to produce the sounds I hear in my head...I do a lot of practicing 'hearing' the music in my head, but my ability to produce the sound I want has been the issue. I guess that's what we're all after in our cello journeys. :-)
You've been learning real music. You perform in public with Cellocracy and other groups. People ask you to play.

After 40 years I'm still weak on anything much above 4th position and thumb positions terrify me -- even though I've used them in performance. Successfully! There is probably more 'cello literature that I can't play than I can.

Yet, I enjoy playing in musicals and doing continuo in early-music. And others are happy to listen to me do it. I still don't sound like Yo-Yo Ma, I never will, and I don't particularly want to. I'm happy with the sound I can make my 'cello produce.

I think you're much closer to being a "real musician" than you care to admit.
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