Thursday, July 30, 2009


Wah Wah

Yesterday's noontime concert at the library went very well. I did flub a few spots on a couple pieces, but easily found my way back in again. But the best part was that we really nailed Ashokan Farewell - a nice but challenging arrangement with a cool cello part, which I'd been working on for a long time.

Afterward, I sent my bow to my luthier in Anchorage for a rehair - I've had it for 20 months, so it's about time, I guess. I'm supposed to get it back this weekend; I can't wait to see how it plays. This means I should probably order new strings too. But which ones? I've used Jargar G and C for a few years now, and up until recently I'd been using Larsen A & D, but recently installed my old Jargar A & D strings in response to a suggestion from the luthier. I'm not sure I can really tell the difference...

I wasn't looking forward to having to use my old bow for the next few days, but then I realized this would be a good opportunity to pull out my Yamaha electric cello and try it out with Z's effects box that I picked up for him at a garage sale a few weeks ago. It's pretty old, but works fine and has 25 different effects along with some sort of programming feature.

So, this morning I set it all up, and started in on my regular routines, stepping through each effect as I went along. That was really interesting! About half of them sounded pretty good, with half of these sounding really nice. Nice enough to explore further. It was fun playing the Marcello Sonata like Jimmy might have done. What was interesting to me was that while I was paying so much attention to the sounds from the amp, I wasn't really thinking about the various technical and things I normally concentrate on - and I was playing somewhat better than normal, more relaxed and with some feeling.

Tomorrow, electric Bach!

Stumbled upon your blog while googling. Am also learning cello (now in Suzuki Book 3) but not as hardworking as you :P

Fred ( )
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Tuesday, July 28, 2009


Not bad

I played the two Marcello Sonata movements at my lesson (#72) yesterday; it wasn't as clean as I've been playing it at home, but really not too bad, if I say so myself. Although I haven't yet reached optimum tempos, I've been increasing the metronome a notch every third day or so. It won't be long before I'm playing the Adagio at speed, but I've got a long way to go with the Allegro. My teacher really liked my intonation (except for a couple shifts to upper third position, but I'd already started working on these separately and should have them fixed in another couple days), my dynamics, and she commented on my confidence (!) with the piece. My new disciplined approach using that blasted metronome has made a world of difference.

After working on a few new scales (Eb - 2 octaves) and the third octave in G, we went through the Eb minor scale. As the hour ended she said I was ready to apply my new method to the next piece in Suzuki Book 4, the first of the two Minuets from Bach's Suite in G Major. She also suggested I start studying tenor clef, because Tchaikovsky's Chanson Triste is just around the corner.

Tomorrow our orchestra plays another noon-time concert at the local library as part of the Kenai Peninsula Orchestra's Summer Music Festival.

I'm glad to see that you are still keeping up with the practice! You are an inspiration. My Popper Etudes project stalled a while back. Sigh. I avoided learning tenor clef for a long time by just playing up a string. Works pretty well. In fact I think most cellists don't really know the notes, unless they really concentrate.
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Wednesday, July 08, 2009


Pain, tension, and extensions

My first lesson (#71) in two months, yesterday, was spent working through a recent onset of pain and tension in my left forearm. This came on gradually over the last several months, growing in intensity in recent weeks. I guessed that it was related to some new technique I've been trying, but I couldn't figure it out. This came on only during my cello practice, and usually went away a few hours later.

First, I stopped doing my daily vibrato workout, since that was the most obvious new technique involving that arm. While this did help a little, it didn't really solve my problem. I had already tried a few obvious things like verifying seat height and overall posture, adjusting my end-pin length, trying out different playing angles, and so on.

The first thing my teacher did was watch as I played a few scales, and she commented that posture-wise I was OK. So we talked about vibrato - she mentioned that my vibrato appeared to be OK (and not bad, by the way, considering I'd let it slide for several weeks, now). Then she asked what other new things I'd been practicing. I showed her my current 4th position etude set in the Percy Such position etude book. She quickly suggested that my problem might be related to how I was doing the extensions from 4th position; I was holding my forefinger in the extended position (especially if that note was going to show up again, soon). She showed me how I could relax that finger (and the whole hand and arm) after playing those awkward notes. [This will take some focused effort but already this morning I could feel some improvement.]

I was pleased to play the Marcello Sonata parts I'd been working on for the last few months. It was good! She was happy that I'd (finally) developed a focused learning style that obviously was working for me. She offered a few additional tips and we talked about how best to work on increasing tempo.

Next lesson comes in two weeks...

We are enjoying one of the nicest summers in years. May was sunny and warm, June had about a week of rain, which mercifully ended and it's been hot and sunny ever since. The only drawback is that some bureaucrat in the state fire-fighting group decided to let a recent lightning-caused wildfire burn itself out. Unfortunately, this fire didn't go out; it grew into a serious blaze that has now blanketed our once-blue skies with smoke; the late evening sun is now an orange ball hanging in the haze. Now we need a few days [only a few, please] days of rain to clean this up.

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Saturday, July 04, 2009


I used to support Sarah Palin,

Now, I'm not so sure. When John McCain pulled her into the national arena last summer, I was pleasantly surprised. I thought at the time that she was a refreshing new face and would do a great job taking on the elitist mentality that pervades national politics. In my blog entry for August 31, 2008, I described her dramatic rise to the governor's office in Juneau a few years earlier.

My big concern back then was whether she was ready to take on all the BS that comes with running for vice president: "The obvious question, magnified somewhat by John McCain's age, is whether she is ready to be president. Sarah Palin is a quick study. She's smart enough to attract smart people. She's smart enough to listen to them and learn from them. She's savvy enough to cut through the BS and smug self-importance that seems so prevalent in Washington." Further: "If she goes out there [at the VP debate] as simply who she is, Sarah Palin, not as some packaged, handled, media personality, molded to appeal to whatever focus group, then she'll knock the socks off of Joe Biden." Also: "I believe she'll stand up to the national good-ol'-boy networks, especially if they try to make her compromise her own principals. I believe she will always be controversial and will make a lot of enemies on the right and on the left as she gains more and more admirers like me."

I concluded my post with this: "...American voters should not make the mistake of underestimating this woman..."

But now, after her bizarre resignation just short of 3/4 the way through her first term, makes me wonder if, in fact, I overestimated her.

In her defense, no one, public or private, has ever had to face as many incredibly vile and vicious attacks on all fronts solely because they aspired to be vice president (and now maybe president). Eight months after the election, she's still being targeted practically every day in the national media with insults, innuendos, sneers, and insinuations. [Frankly, if I were Todd Palin, I'd have gladly gone on Letterman's show in order to get a shot at punching his lights out for what he said about their daughter.]

It could be that the recent Vanity Fair article was just the last straw. [This hatred seems even more vituperative because she somehow doesn't "deserve" to be the first woman president: first of all, she doesn't fit the uber-feminist mold; she didn't burn her bra in those women's libber demonstrations back in the day; she didn't graduate from a liberal east coast college; she won't kowtow to the political/media aristocracy; she doesn't have a "presence" in national politics; she was even a beauty contestant for chrissakes; but most damningly, she opposes abortion on demand. In other words, she's an outsider and has no business horning in.]

There's little doubt that she intends to remain a public figure on the national stage; possibly to run for president in 2012 or 2016. But the way the Alaska statutes are currently written, as governor, she'd be hamstrung at every turn by the extremely vague ethics rules that require full-fledged investigations for each and every citizen complaint. Most of the complaints filed against her have been filed by the same person one after another and have eventually been proven invalid, but at no small cost to the state to investigate them and to Palin to defend herself, over and over again. [One of the few valid complaints led to Palin reimbursing the state a total of $8,000 in travel costs for her husband and children - this, while Nancy Pelosi took a taxpayer-funded $57,000 vacation in Italy on her way to Iraq.]

I wonder, too, about how her family feels about it all, after spending the last year under a harsh spotlight. I can't imagine how I'd put up with it: every email, memo, and letter that I'd ever written and every comment made to my barber, grocer or dentist being dredged up and analyzed on the Sunday talk shows week after week. Then the vile treatment of her children, with the media even paying off her daughter's "in-laws" to dish whatever dirt they can dream up. Then there's the profound challenge of having to raise her special-needs son.

I'm wondering why she chose to make this stunning announcement on a Friday afternoon before a long national holiday? Did she expect this bombshell to slide by unnoticed? Or, contrarily, did she realize that in such a slow news-cycle, this announcement would get maximum attention?

Personally, I don't think she'll get very far in the primary battle if she tries for 2012. The incessant campaign of hatred, fueled in part by some of her own party's insiders, has succeeded in making her appear less capable than she really is. [I can only guess that this game of revenge by republican campaign insiders is intended to knock her out before she even runs, removing a major roadblock for their own particular candidates long before the primary battles begin.]

Still, when I voted for her for governor I expected her to serve out the entire term she was elected to (although I respected the fact that had McCain actually won the election she obviously would have had to step down from this post). But yesterday's announcement is frustrating to me. There's no doubt that her new-found notoriety made these last eight months in office a lot more difficult that they would have otherwise been. No doubt she expected this to only get worse next year, especially if she does try to play a role on the national stage. But that's just one of the many prices she should expect to pay as a governor and as a potential presidential candidate.

Walking out now just doesn't make a lot of sense to me. If she can't multi-task as a governor, how could she handle the same pressures (and worse) as president? If she expects to earn the respect (and votes) from the 2012 electorate, she's going to have to prove to the voters (and now to me) that she wouldn't just cut and run if things got tough as president. Further, we voters have a right to expect our elected presidents to be ready to handle any and all family issues, while devoting their all to the demanding needs of the country.

But, probably my biggest concern is that maybe she has fallen victim to the focus group mentality that she professed to abhor just a year ago. It began to seem as if she had started playing more to the crowd rather than telling us what SHE really wanted to say. Instead of speaking from her heart, she started giving well-crafted speeches aimed at a specific target audience. And she is continuing to play to that same crowd.

In an odd way, even in this role she can be quite useful to the party, provided she can overcome this new negative. She will attract a certain type of voter who might previously have stayed silent. Regardless of her particular politics, she'll bring these voters into the system and they might just stay around long enough to vote for the eventual party nominee, which IMHO won't be Sarah Palin.

Thanks for the POV from someone who lives in Alaska and voted for Ms. Palin.
I'm sure a lot of people are still yearning for elected officials who are just plain competent, and reasonable, boring, and not driven by ideology. There was a time, it seems to me, back in my Pennsylvania days, when most of the competent but boring, non-ideological types were in the Republican party, and the Democrats were the wild-eyed ideologues. No more, it seems, so I felt deserted by the GOP and jumped ship some time ago.

Ms. Palin's failure to complete her term, according to news reports, to "unite the country along conservative lines" does not at all fit into my old-time, understanding of what Conservative means.
Thanks so much for your blog. Wow! I'm still reading through, but here's why it's been so helpful for me: I'm taking up the cello at age 40 after a long absence from music. I played piano and clarinet as a kid, but have always loved the cello. I live in Kenai, and have found your comments about weather/trips to Anch. to visit Petr's/travel to Homer for lessons very helpful in envisioning what's in store for me. I'll be renting a cello from Anch soon. I know the rentals are not great instruments, but since I still sound like I'm skinning live cats, it will be OK. Any input or advice?
I find the label of elitist, and particularly, "cosmopolitan' as a particularly pernicious form of anti-intellectualism.

Historically, "anti-elitist" movements have not been good for the arts, which we presumably both support. Shostakovich in particular was badly hurt by such criticism in the late 40s. Both on the right and left, people's careers have been ruined for having this label pinned on them.

Using the label elitist as meaning 'a well educated opponent' no longer has objective meaning in political discourse. Overuse serves only to make the speaker look jealous and spiteful.

If you want a pro-life president, I might suggest that your chances are much improved if you actually look among the elites for one.
My use of the word "elitist" has nothing to do with intellectualism, education, or being "cosmopolitan" - far from it, in fact. The elitist mentality that I find so objectionable is the idea that only a small closed group of "insiders" is capable or deserving of governing us unwashed masses. This "aristocracy" is as inbred and corrupt as the one that brought Europe to its knees at the beginning of the 20th century.

This group jealously protects itself and viciously savages any outsiders that dare to step up. Entry into this group is not attained by intellect (far from it), nor merit, nor education, but by birth, wealth, and/or political connection, or in rare instances where you have the appropriate charisma AND you can "fit in".

I find little reason to think that Sarah Palin represents any such anti-intellectual "movement". But at the same time, the recent news has been filled with so much rabid hatred against her, I have to wonder if there isn't some sort of perverse counter movement afoot...

[BTW, I have never been a single-issue voter. I always vote for the candidate that I believe is best equipped to actually govern rather than the one who thinks he/she can simple pander for my vote. In fact, often my vote has gone to a candidate who took strong (and IMHO, sometimes even foolish) positions that were diametrically opposed to my own beliefs. I have voted in every election in my precint since I turned 21 (a year before the age was lowered to 18), supporting an eclectic mix of propositions, bond issues, and candidates from all the major and minor parties as well as more than a few "independent" candidates.]
Rock on. You are daring in a way that I am not able to be.
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