Friday, September 25, 2009


Faster, Faster

Today I played through "Pirates...", "...Marionette", and "Hungarian Dance #5" without any mistakes. I've finally gotten their fingering and rhythms sorted out. I'm not yet consistent with "...Hall of the Mountain King", but I should be there in a couple days. While my tempos really aren't "that" slow, I've got a LOT of speeding up yet to do. I'm not really sure how I'm going to do this in the few weeks remaining before the formal rehearsals start. At least I've finally learned to practice with the metronome.

I've been practicing about three hours a day, focusing on the nine concert pieces. Every third or fourth day, I try to run through my lesson pieces a few times to keep from getting too rusty.

I've scheduled a few extra extended lessons over the next month along with my stand-partner. This past week, we played through several pieces together, each of us taking a different part where needed. It's always an 'ear'-opener for me the first time I hear all the cello parts together, and for whatever reason my own playing seems to stumble a bit until I get used to my part in the bigger picture. The first full rehearsal with all the other strings, and the horns, etc. will probably be a lot worse.

This has been quite a change for me. Normally, I practice every day with no particular goal in front of me. This is not to say that I don't have my practice goals, but these are usually internal to whatever piece I'm learning - this rhythm, that fingering combination, those shifts, etc., and I work on them until they're good enough to move on. Progress is usually hard to measure.

But now, I have a distinct deadline: October 30 and October 31, along with three full rehearsals before then. I want to be able to hold my own, to be a smooth part of the group. I want to not screw up, to not play that awkward loud note when everyone else is holding a rest, to not be the one who makes it all muddy by playing off tempo or out of rhythm, to not lose my place and fumble for a re-entry in a panic. [I've done all these, BTW, at one time or another in my beginners' string orchestra, so I know what to expect.]

I've taken a different approach to learning these. Since a lot of what I'll be playing doesn't really sound like what I'm used to, I searched YouTube for videos of other orchestras playing these songs, and downloaded them to my iPod. I spent quite a bit of time listening to them and then started trying to follow along in my score. Also, I concentrated on counting the rhythms to myself [this is another area I need to work on.] It took a while, but I finally began to place the cello parts, and started to hear how my parts fit in with the whole.

As I tentatively and slowly played through each piece for the first few times, I flagged the trouble spots for separate study. I spent a lot of time on these (playing pizzicato, slowly). Each day I picked out a different area for extra attention as well as playing through the entire set - still slowly. As I got more comfortable, I started varying the tempos - trying to move ahead in any areas that weren't too hard. Some days I work on playing through at a more rapid tempo with less attention on accuracy; other days I attend to fingering and intonation - usually at slower tempos.

The challenge is to put this all together...

As if you don't have way too much cello music to play and learn, I've emailed you a new Christmas arrangement that you might have a chance to look at. It's not written in stone yet, I'd be receptive to comments and proposed changes.

It is written for 4 cellos, but could also work with any instrumentalist or vocalist on melody, and 3 cellos.
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