Sometimes things don’t go exactly as planned.   My cello choir was scheduled to play at our local hospital in a fabulous atrium area which makes a lovely venue.  Unfortunately, the weather did not cooperate and Atlanta was hit with a huge snowstorm, in effect, shutting down the city.  Ah well, we did have fun working on all the music and there’s always next time.

I was scheduled for numerous gigs with my orchestra quartet.  Unfortunately, my husband tripped, broke his leg, had to be hospitalized (not for the broken leg, but among other things had a heart attack) so, rats! I only got to play in 2 of the gigs.    And yes, my husband is doing well, although I’m still the carer because the leg is still mending.

I did not miss our three orchestra concerts.  I had worked too hard to let those pass by (and we needed all the cellos possible).  All concerts were really wonderful.  It’s hard not to be wonderful playing Christmas music with choirs including selections from the Messiah and music by John Rutter.

This is all reminiscent of a holiday season a few years back.  I had a thriving string trio and we were scheduled for a dozen gigs.  A few days before gig number one our violist slipped on the ice (this is Atlanta! someone forgot that we were not supposed to have snow and ice!) and broke her wrist.  So no violist.   A few days later our violinist’s shoulder froze and she couldn’t play either!  Much scrambling but we did find subs and made all gigs.

It all reminds me of a favorite Yiddish saying: Man plans, God laughs.

I hope you all had a wonderful holiday season filled with glorious music, and I wish you more in 2018!  Happy New Year!

 

“It’s coming on Christmas
They’re cutting down trees
They’re putting up reindeer
And singing songs of joy and peace”,  Joni Mitchell

This is the season to be jolly and playing Christmas carols and favorite holiday melodies.   It’s not only that there is a ton of available music, but also that everyone loves this music and it truly does bring joy.  It’s a bit of nostalgia mixed with warm fireplaces and creamy eggnog.

Assisted living and senior communities will welcome your duos, trios, and any other musical combination.  I’m playing 10 gigs including a cello quartet, a cello choir (13 of us!), and a mixed wind and string quartet.  Add to that two orchestra holiday concerts with “Hallelujah” and “And The Glory” and it’s a month filled with music galore.    Yes, you’ll be overworked from hauling all the accoutrements that you need, but there’s no substitute for the full heart you’ll have after bringing this music to others.  It’s not too late.  Call a friend, find some music, make some calls, and get out there!

 

You know the old adage “Slow and steady wins the race?” Well, learning to play the cello is not a race, but slow and steady is crucial.

I am returning to pieces I’ve worked on in the past but never “finished”.  I felt so good after working through Élégie that now I’m back to the third movement of the Haydn Concerto in C.  I saw several students play it at the SC Cellobration master classes and I am motivated.  As Zuill Bailey said, “It’s in C!  You can do this!”

Instead of “playing” it, I’m looking at very small sections- like 2 measures- and slowly analyzing the true choreography that it takes to play them.  Consider the following:

First ignore all the open G’s.  The first to second double stop requires a shift from a closed position to an open position, maintaining the space between 2 and 4 in the shift, and pointing 1 to play the D.   Even this was tricky for me.   I drone a G at the same time.   I go back and forth, slowly, evenly, meditatively, practicing the shift.   I want my left hand to get more comfortable with this motion and I want to make each movement in a smooth motion.   Next I take the shift from the second double stop to the third and repeat the process, taking into consideration each motion for my fingers.   And so forth!

This is all I’ll be working on at first, but it does feel like yoga cello.  Controlled, slow motions leading to the goal of enlightened cello playing!

 

 

Well, yes, you should love your cello playing, that too.  But I was actually thinking about the internet.  It is an incredible source for all things cello.

For instance, I am getting ready to play a slew of cello and piano music with my fabulously talented sister.  One of the pieces we will be playing is Fauré’s Élégie (which I’m now much better at playing).    It’s one thing to practice on your own, and quite another to play with the accompaniment.  I went looking on the internet and was happy to find a website on YouTube called Pianoescort.  There are many cello accompaniments including Élégie,  Schubert’s Serenade, The Swan, and Haydn Cello Concerto in C, to name a few.

Of course, the pieces are played at a tempo which you may not be happy with.  That’s why you convert the video to an MP3 via the program listentoyoutube.com and transfer to the Amazing Slow Downer program so you can slow it down or speed it up.

See my post from 6/4/17 “Get Some Accompaniment” for more detail on this, or write to me.

What really throws me is when I’m looking at a new piece, whether at home or sight reading in orchestra, happily playing along with quarter notes, maybe a dotted quarter and an eighth.   All of a sudden, there’s a measure with a rhythm that is different from what I’ve been doing (what was that composer thinking?).  I know we’re “the metronome” and I’m supposed to keep the beat going, but sometimes I get a surprise.

It happened to me in orchestra this week.  Merrily playing along with uncomplicated rhythms and then I see this:

OK, I was fine with the first measure but I was stopped at #41.  I do have a few methods of dealing with this.  On the fly, not so great.  I think I stumbled over the first 2 beats and just played the last 2, which isn’t the worst case.  But when I got home, I took a better look.

One of the things I do is add notes, then take them away.   So I’d play 4 eighth notes for the first 2 beats, then the last 2 quarter notes.  I ignore the tie.  Then I play the first 2 notes correctly, remembering to count it as One-ee-and-a (my go-to method for 1/16 notes).  The first note gets the “One-ee-and” and the second note gets the “a”.  (As an alternative to this, I could just play 4 sixteenth notes, then eliminate the second and third of the sixteenth notes.)  I play this a few times still ignoring the tie and playing the next two eighth notes and 2 quarter notes.

FInally I add the tie.  Just omit the first eighth note of the 2 that I was playing.  Now I have it.   I play the measure about a zillion times because I’m old and it takes a lot of repetition for my body to remember.  I like the “add notes and take away” method.  It works well.

The nice thing in this piece is that I get this pattern 3 more times so once I’ve figured it out, it’s good throughout.  And one more thing:  keep counting.  It always helps.

 

As cellos, we are often the metronome, setting the beat and keeping everyone else honest with a steady beat, neither increasing tempo at FF or slowing down at PP.   We are the champions of steady.

Sometimes, however, even we are befuddled.  When we see odd time signatures, or changing time signatures, we can be thrown off balance a little.  Just a little, as we ARE cellos.

Here’s an example:

This is from “Celebration” written by Beth Bultman, director of SCOR camps (stringcamp.com).  Notice time signatures of  12/8, 10/8, 9/8, 10/8, 6/8, 10/8.  It changes more but this gives you the idea.   Enough to confuse anyone.

Here’s something I learned at SCOR, thanks to Kyle Bultman.  ALL TIME SIGNATURES are made up of either 2 or 3 beats, of some combination thereof.  That’s it.  It’s really that simple.  So the 12/8 measure is 4 groups of dotted quarter notes, or 3-1/8 notes.

  • 10/8 is two quarters:  2-1/8 notes and 3-1/8 notes.
  • 9/8 is 3 groups of 3-1/8 notes
  • 6/8 is two groups of 3-1/8 notes

I’m playing a piece in orchestra which is 7/8, so I think of it as 2-2-3 when it’s quarter note, quarter note and 3-1/8 notes.  It’s easier that way and it’s really hard to count to 7 every measure, let alone 12 or 10 when the time signatures are constantly changing.  If it’s a fast tempo, counting to 7 is thrown out the window.  The good thing about a piece like “Celebration” or the one I’m playing in orchestra is that an eighth note is always an eighth note,  in that it isn’t slowing or speeding up (although that can happen- but a conversation for a different blog!)

Break it down and keep it simple.  A fundamental cello rule.

I do show my age by using old song titles.  If you don’t know this song, all I can say is… sorry.

I’m back to those dreadful double stops in thirds and sixths.  Don’t worry if you aren’t playing them yet.  You will.   Anyway, I got back to the point where I isolated two chords by covering up the notes before and after with my large “post-its” to prevent me from playing further.   It was a shift in thumb position.  Not that any of that matters.  The point to all this is that I have to repeat the shift many more times than I even think about.  And after taking a break to write this blog, I’ll go back and keep practicing that same shift.  Unlike our 8 or 14 or 20 year old cellists, I have to do those repetitions many many more times.  As an older amateur, I don’t have the stuff that makes my muscles “remember” very quickly.   So often I go into my lesson and my teacher reminds me of something I have written in my notes but failed to execute.  I always say (and rightly so) “I guess I didn’t practice that enough”.   So for my lesson this week, I’m only working on three measures.  They may be the toughest three measures in this etude, but I’m planning to practice them in very short sections.  Two chords at a time.   Then add a chord so there are three.  Then play the same 3 chords forward and backward and forward and backward…  again and again.

I may need two weeks for this project.

Have you heard the term “Bilateral Transfer“?  One definition I found said, “transfer of skills learned from one side of the body to the other. Although the skill was originally learned and used on one side of the body, the other side of it has the potential to learn this same skill.” (Thank you, internet Psychology Dictionary.)
Or to bring this closer to home, have you ever noticed when you make a shift with your left hand, your right hand (and your bow) tend to shift in the same direction?   It happens without thinking about it.   It’s a natural tendency and we all do it.    Your body wants to be “in sync”.  The right side does what the left side does.   Unfortunately, this is not what we want to do when playing cello.  We may be making shifts up and down the fingerboard with our left hand but we need the bow to continue going left and right across a string without moving up and down.   This is how you will get better tone quality, which we all want.  I’m as deficient in this aspect as anyone.  Unless I ignore my left hand and focus completely on my bow hand, my bow will be shifting along with my left hand, which is NOT what I want.  One way to practice keeping your bow steady and in one “channel” on each string is to play open strings very close to the bridge- almost on it.  Watch yourself in a mirror and pay attention to the path your bow takes.   It takes deliberate practice and concentration to work on this skill, but it is definitely one that will pay off in spades, and you’ll be “rockin’ it just like Yo-Yo” before you know it!

 

I have recently found a new set of cello study books that are fabulous.  They are written by Cassia Harvey and can be found at Amazon or her website charveypublications.com.  I mentioned “Flying Fiddle Duets” in a  previous post.   It is written by her sister and is FUN FUN FUN and easy to play.

Ages ago I studied “Élégie” by Faure.  It’s a gorgeous piece and I got stuck on page 2 when the hard part came in.  Here’s what some of it looks like:

I had already purchased a help guide by another cellist to conquer this piece, to no avail.  I put it away and moved on.   Until I found “The Faure Élégie Study Book for Cello” which I discovered at Cassia Harvey’s booth at CELLOBRATION cello choir in SC.

This book puts in black and white exactly what my teacher tells me to do.  Small sections, worked in different ways, to teach your fingers what to do.  It would be great if I were consistent in my practice to really do this WITHOUT trying to actually “play” a piece.  Even when I cover up the notes before and after with my “post-its”,  I don’t always do enough of the repetitions.  Cassia’s book has me working ONE MEASURE over 2 (or more)  pages of exercises.  It’s wonderful.  I’m so excited that I’m finally going to be able to play this piece without fear of the dreaded page 2.

And this is only one of books she has for beginners, intermediates and advanced players.  Working on Bach’s Cello Suites? There’s a Cassia Harvey study book for that too.

Check out her catalog and I’ll bet you find something that will help you on your cello journey.

You’ve taken lessons.  You’ve practiced.  Now it’s time for the dreaded recital.  You don’t want to do this because you are worried that you’ll make mistakes, and people will snicker.  Essentially, crash and burn.

On the other hand, you DO want to do this.  You’ve taken lessons.  You’ve practiced.  You want to display your progress.  Deep breath.  You may make mistakes but no one will snicker.  If they’re smart, they’ll be proud for you that you’ve taken this step, while they’re still in the audience.

I have a friend who recently had his recital.  He worked hard, practiced, studied the music.   He said it went ok and proceeded to give an in depth analysis of his feelings and progress through the event, step by step.  It was all quite interesting.  He puts lots of thought into whatever he does.  What really stood out to me was when he said he had chosen a piece that was difficult and he was really working on perfecting it up to the last second.  He said “…from now on, for the sake of performance, I need to know a piece cold three months before, as opposed to “working on it” three months before.”

This makes such good sense!  The notes typically come first.  Learning the spacings,  the shifts, and the left hand positions are the starting points.  If you have a piece where you’ve already mastered the left hand work, you can really focus on making MUSIC with the right hand and the bow.  Learning to taper those last beautiful notes in the phrase.  Adding accents where appropriate.  Crescendos up the arpeggios and decrescendos down.  Really make those pianos quite different from the fortes.

It doesn’t even need to be for a recital.  It’s for fun. Take a piece where you know the left hand well and add the real beauty with the right hand.  You’ll surprise yourself.