I think by now we’re all too familiar with the phrase “comfort food”.  Different for everyone, it ranges from chicken and dumplings to (here’s my favorite) apple dumpling with vanilla ice cream.   It’s that food that makes you feel good.  Either nostalgic for the past or relieving the stress of the current day.  We’ve all been there.

Lately I’ve been dealing with stress of family members.  There are several problems and I’m dealing with everything as best as I can.  But when it comes to practicing my cello, I find that I’m having a very difficult time focusing.  In fact, it’s an effort to work on the music that’s required:  orchestra and quartet.  And believe me, I do need to work on this music.  That Brahms passage from the Tragic Overture is still haunting me.

So what I’ve been doing is turning to “comfort music”.  It’s music that is not stressful.  Does not require fast passages.  There are no moment in the music where 4 measures before the “hard stuff” I start thinking, “uh oh, it’s coming up…it’s coming up”.  It’s music that is relaxing, non-stressful, and brings me to a better place.  Everyone needs some music like this.  It may be something as familiar as “Amazing Grace” 

https://cellosheetmusic.net/title/amazing-grace/

Or it may be something you aren’t (yet) familiar with, but is very soothing.  Here’s “Meditation” by Frank Bridge

http://ks4.imslp.info/files/imglnks/usimg/9/9e/IMSLP363951-PMLP70802-Bridge_Mandozzi_4_Pieces_cello_-_Partitur.pdf

I hope you try to find your own “comfort music” when you’re feeling overwhelmed or under pressure.  It’s a great… (what else?)  comfort.

 

 

 

   The problem with getting new orchestra music is that I tend to want to listen to the piece before I start learning it, or along with learning it, so that I have a feel for the music.  Actually so I can try to put some musicality into the learning process while I’m struggling with notes, shifts, extensions.  You know, the usual parts of celloing.   However, while I am getting the concept of the music, I am also getting the tempo.  And when that tempo is say, q=130 (Brahms “Tragic Overture), I want to play it at that tempo.  Of course, not right away!  I’d like to start at around 110.  OK, when that doesn’t work, 100.  

Unfortunately, that doesn’t always work either:

This is one of the parts that just doesn’t work for me at 130,120 or even 100.  But what does help, for me, is to isolate this section, one of the “challenges” of the piece, as I have here.  Only looking at these 4 measures.  Then, once I’ve worked throught all those extentsions and shifts to make it playable for me, find my metronome and turn it on a LOW number.  NOT 100.  More like 70.  And even then I don’t play all 4 measures.  I work on the first group of 4 notes.  Then I may work on the middle group of 4, working my way to the last 4 notes before I put it all together.  Slowly.  It’s tedious, for sure, but here’s what we all know deep down:  If you can’t play it slowly, you can’t play it fast.  

That is, if you intend to play the correct notes!

Happy Celloing!

I feel like I’ve been away for a while, but I haven’t really been anywhere.  The site got a facelift, which was crazy for me.  After all, my life is mainly…cello.  Playing, thinking, reading, listening to…cello.  Which brings me to today’s thought.  That although I’m listening more than I used to, I’m not reacting well.

I was at my lesson yesterday, playing a lovely piece by Frank Bridge (you can get his 4 short pieces on IMSLP: http://ks4.imslp.info/files/imglnks/usimg/9/9e/IMSLP363951-PMLP70802-Bridge_Mandozzi_4_Pieces_cello_-_Partitur.pdf

In the middle of “Country Dance”,  you play an open G, then 4th position G on the A string and B flat on the D string.  

I was not playing it well and when my (sweet) teacher pointed out a better way to play it, I said, yes I knew that didn’t sound right.  And this is the point.  I KNEW it wasn’t right, but I didn’t take a minute to make it sound better.  Just trying different things for 2 minutes would probably have improved that note.  It’s not tricky, but I wasn’t invested enought to improve that sound.  Or maybe I was just being lazy.  In any event, I’m going to make an effort to not just listen and determine that something isn’t right.  I’m really going to take the next step to try different things to make it better.

Greetings Musicians,

My website, and thus this blog, have been undergoing an update.  I was informed that my website, mainstreetstrings.com would no longer be supported by my host, so I could either leave it as it was, which would mean I could never make any changes or corrections, have a complete re-do ($3,500!) or go for their “special offer” to revamp ($299).  Since the site already had some errors, leaving it as it was  was not an option.  Leaving the only obvious solution, take the “special offer”. 

It was a relatively easy process, with the normal bumps in the road.  

For now, access to the blog can be either from mainstreetstrings.com or blog.mainstreetstrings.com.  The new posts should be coming in your email.  Since this is the first post since the update went “live”, it’s kind of my test to make sure everything is still working.

I am giving a lot of thought to tone production, as I often do.  Thinking a lot about bow speed and how it affects sound.  More on that to come.  In the meantime, please let me know if you check out the website..

Happy Celloing!Main Street Strings

I play a lot of music that has numerous accidentals in it.  Popper etudes, for example, are loaded with them .  In fact, I hardly bother with looking at the key signature as there are so many accidentals, I seem to spend lots of time just making my brain roll with the changes.

I’m working on thirds in thumb position.  They are difficult for me because while the thumb may be moving 1/2 step, the other finger on the next string may be moving 1 step.  And to complicate this, as you move up (down?) the fingerboard toward the bridge, the spacing gets smaller.  Remember, it’s all about shifting and spacing, so this concept REALLY applies.

Having a lot of trouble with this so my fabulous teacher shared a book of Matz exercises (and who wouldn’t love anything Matz?).  These really seemed to help.

Main Street Strings

In the first two measures, your left hand is slowly learning the spacing and shifts to move from one position to the next.  It works well.   Until I got to measure 3.

If you look closely you see the last 3 eighth notes: E flat-D sharp-D flat. ( E flat=D sharp, then a full step from D sharp to D flat.)  This seems out of context with the theme of the first two measures.   It seemed to be a misprint.  Until I looked at the next two lines.

Main Street StringsAgain, the same weirdness.  The first two measures slowly teach the shifts and spacing to move from one position to the next, but in the third measure you again have the strange notes of G flat-F sharp-E, and in the next line B flat-A sharp-A flat.  It makes no sense.  But a misprint over and over?  I wasn’t sure if it was an error, or if  Matz was trying to teach me some new technique, as odd as it seemed.  So  I presented this to some experts (internet cello experts) who agreed that it was a GROSS misprint, and called it “ECF”- Error Carried Forward.  My teacher had seemed pretty sure it was a misprint, but it was hard for me to believe that a misprint/mistake could continue repeatedly in the music.

Thus my blog title.  Don’t always believe what you see on the page.  Sometimes your gut instinct (and your teacher) are right.

 

I want to be sure you know about 2 events coming up for amateur musicians.

The first is the Adult Strings Weekend at the University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, AL.  It is sponsored by their Community Music School and is open to amateur adult players of all string instruments, even bass!  It’s run by Dr. Anne Witt, cellist extraordinaire, and Joe Lee, an excellent musician and our conductor.  Joe offers insights into music that you’ll hear nowhere else.  (What does “Forte” mean? Not loud, as I thought. but strong!)  And he’s a nice guy to boot!  Many have been going year after year but you won’t find a nicer, more accepting group of adult amateurs.  Take advantage of all they offer.  Mark your calendar, Aug. 24-26 and check it out at https://cms.music.ua.edu/adult-strings-weekend/

The second event is cellos only- at the South Carolina Cellobration, to be held this year at Furman University in Greenville, SC (the location rotates between SC colleges).   This is the 39th year of the event and you will be in a sea of 200 cellists of all ages and abilities.  OK, it’s mostly kids, but there are many adults there as well.   It’s a 2 day event, Sept. 21-22.  On Friday there are master classes to observe and be amazed.  A concert by the clinicians Friday night, is not to be missed.  On Saturday it’s play-all-day on stage with your new 200 friends.   It’s somewhat overwhelming, but don’t let that stop you.  You can choose your music level to play and with that many musicians don’t worry about a missed note (or measure, or phrase!).  Don’t be intimidated by the 8 year old who plays like a pro.  It’s the experience of playing with that many people who share your passion.   There is really nothing like it.

For me, the Right Hand Rules.  After all, the sound comes from the bow, not your left hand fingers pressing on a string.   But intonation, which is arguably an important skill, does come from the left hand.

In my lesson yesterday, I was working on 4 measures that are particularly gruesome when played incorrectly and particularly fabulous when played correctly.  Unfortunately, if you’re off on one note, it’s likely to throw everything after that off and you’re now playing in an entirely different key!  Doesn’t work well if you are playing with a piano accompaniment!

My brilliant teacher sums it up with 2 words: Shifting and Spacing.  Everytime you shift, your hand position changes, getting smaller as you move down the cello towards the bridge or larger as you move back toward the neck.  The shift puts you in the correct place and then your hand has to change to the correct spacing for the position you are now in.  When you have a small shift, 1/2 note or one note, the difference isn’t as great as if you’re shifting from first position to fourth, for example.  Even greater when you’re shifting from first position to the “home base” for thumb position.     And it gets progressively smaller as you continue toward the bridge.

This realization was helpful to me in thinking about how to practice.  More than practicing finding notes (and I’m a great believer that there is no guessing in cello!), it’s really about practicing the shift and creating the correct spacing with my hand and fingers.   The notes will be there.

 
If you’re spending most of your cello time in your own personal cello space, you probably don’t get too many distractions.   You have your chair and stand ready and waiting, good lighting, a tuner and metronome nearby, and your cello just needs some rosin and tuning and you’re ready to go.

Sometimes, there are distractions.

I happen to have a cat who loves to jump on my back when I’m leaning over to mark my music.  Then he’s happily on my shoulder and licking the fingerboard.

The phone rings, your computer bings, your kids/husband/girlfriend yells. All these distractions actually become normal and you can deal with them.  It’s the unusual distractions I’m thinking about.

I was at a gig with a substitute violist.  He was fabulous.  Fabulously loud and fast.  I just wasn’t used to hearing it in my ear and found that it was distracting me.  Later that week at another gig we were playing a Disney tune and an adorable little girl was happily dancing away.  I could hardly keep my eyes on the music as she was so delightful to watch.

Unfortunately, when you’re performing, you must stay focused and you don’t have the advantage of enjoying the bystanders or becoming annoyed at the distractions.    Even when you’re feeling that you’re doing so well and the group is performing like pros- don’t give in to that feeling of savoring the moment.  You’ll lose the focus and wander off track.

Maybe when I’ve done this for 20 years I’ll be able to relish those good moments or get better at tuning out the annoying distractions, but for now it’s all about concentration and staying fixed on the job at hand.   I can enjoy my cat on my back at home later.

 

 

Wouldn’t it be great if you had a friendly pianist who would be available at your whim to play with you?  And how much better if this accompanist were a true professional and elevated your playing?

I have such a friend: my sister, who lives 600 miles away, so not a great option.  I also have a wonderful friend who I do play with often, but she’s not exactly living next door so there is some effort involved.

There are other choices.  One is Pianoescort on YouTube.  There are some recordings for cello that you can use, free of charge, but there isn’t a large selection.    Maybe you’re looking for something that isn’t available.  Let me introduce and welcome you to  PianoAccompanimentsTracks.com.  There are some recordings that are free, and others are available for a nominal charge, depending on the piece.  You can hear a sample of the music before you purchase.   But be warned, the playing is so good you’ll be wanting it and more.

I was looking for an accompaniment to Meditation by Thais.  PianoAccompanimentsTracks had a recording, but it was for violin.  I emailed them to ask what key it was in and got a speedy reply telling me it was in D.  Too bad, as I need it in G.  No problem, was the response.  And before I knew it, I had a recording that was beautifully expressive, played by a very talented pianist.  In Italy.  And now it was next to me and an inspiration to my playing.   All for $4.49.  A bargain to me.

You should check it out.  You too could be inspired!