Saturday, October 17, 2009
Mr. Suleiman hails from Germany but currently lives in L.A. where he teaches at USC. He tours worldwide (primarily in developing countries) between class sessions. He was quite willing to hold a Master class today for just us four cellists (the entire cello section of our community strings orchestra), ranging in age from 10 to 58, and experience from 7 weeks to 6 years (not in that same order). We met this morning at Cello3's house along with a few family members along with two local music teachers. Alexander was very personable and easygoing with us and we were all quite soon relaxed and comfortable.
Not surprisingly I entered this with great trepidation, as I'm usually too uptight to play well in this kind of setting. I got up quite early today and spent a few hours practicing our pieces before the class, then I arrived early and we spent another hour or so rehearsing our duets together. [What is it that makes us want to play perfectly for a teacher? If we could play perfectly why would we need the teacher?]
He started out working with our youngest member and patiently and carefully brought her through a few technical issues. He was kind and supportive as she capably incorporated each suggestion. After an hour or so, he worked with her mother, who had just started learning the cello. Within a few minutes he had helped her make significant improvements in bow control and sound. Then we took a break for lunch and chatted with him about his recent tour through the mid-east and eastern Europe and about his views about music "pedagogy" - primarily the importance of matching teaching techniques to the student's particular skills and abilities rather than a "one-size-fits-all" approach. He told us about his appointment as director of the Arts Academy in Bremen, Germany to develop a program to train promising artists from developing countries.
Cello3 and I then played one of our duets, the infamous LeClerc piece (which turned out to be Le Tambourin by Jean-Phillipe Rameau, arranged for two cellos by Jean LeClerc). We'd recently spent a few of our weekly sessions working out the fingering and timing, but really didn't have it ready for any sort of performance yet. However we both like playing it and were looking forward to Alexander's input. His first comment to me was that I should try to relax my overly technical - and tense - approach and infuse some passion and feeling (how quickly he sized me up!) So he suggested we ease off on the staccato and for now the trills, and then speed it up - a lot! After several tries (along with some suggestions on fingering and shifts) we ended up playing it lightning fast - way beyond anything we'd ever considered before. I re-met my old stumble points, but mostly worked through them. Then we talked about articulation and intonation. By the end of 45 minutes it sounded quite different from where we'd started. Gone were the slow, slightly spooky, but rather plodding cadences; in their place was a light, airy "crowd-pleaser" with plenty of room for interpretation and ornamentation. We then spent worked on one of our Matz duets, which focused on technical issues.
Finally we all played one of the pieces we're preparing for the community strings orchestra part of the KPO Halloween concert. That was fun!
After four hours, we were all exhausted but feeling pretty good about the day. Alexander turned down our offers to pay for the class, suggesting we donate the "tuition" to the Performing Arts Society, which hosted their visit to our area. He and Patricia Hoy are staying over through Monday so they can play for two local schools.
Now, back to practicing for the KPO concert in two weeks...
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