Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Home again

I arrived home to Cape Cod this afternoon, after a good overnight visit with my inlaws in Connecticut, and a stop in Rhode Island to see my son.

My patient cello was still almost in tune. I played mostly flute, a little cello, tonight in flute choir. It is good to be home. Tomorrow, I will practice.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007


This is for my daughter, who thinks I should have more pictures in my blog.

I am happy to be in Pennsylvania. I grew up here, though in a different region (outside of Philadelphia).

I hope to travel through the rest of Pennsylvania today, a tidbit of New York and arrive in Connecticut, where my husband's family lives.

Somewhere in Pennsylvania

I drove about 410 miles today, arriving in Clearfield, PA. All went well, and it is not lonely. I am in touch with family via cell phone, and I have a rental car with a GPS system that has proved to be a fine traveling companion. It tells me when to turn, how long (in miles and minutes) until the next exit, and warns me well in advance of turns and exits. It is a patient and accurate navigator. If I choose not to take an exit (I have programmed this trip in segments, so pass endpoints without turning off), it gently tells me to take the next exit and turn around. When I take an unexpectd turn (for a rest stop, for instance), it will announce that it is recalculating the trip. Unlike a human, who might make a more emotional to a missed or unexpected turn!

I was joking with my brother that the GPS system was the spirit of mom, though mom would definitely not have enjoyed a long car trip. Perhaps spirits do not get carsick.

The GPS system has removed all anxiety about getting lost, missing exits, etc. I am amazed at how precise it is. Such a comfort!

I am in "coal country." It seems a little rustic, except for all the chain motels and fast food restaurants. I went to a quaint little restaurant for dinner with old-fashioned prices (about $7.50 for a turkey dinner), complete with quaint country knicknaks for sale, including some quaint little wooden cats. Made in China.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Going Home

My mother died this morning at 7:45, surrounded by family, in the warm and loving environment of the Hospice of Cincinnati.

Even though my mother was 98 years old, even though her health has been declining over the past year, even though she was barely aware of her surroundings when I arrived in Cincinnati ten days ago, I was not really expecting this. My mother has had a rich, long life, and we just thought it would go on forever.

There is much I could write about my mother. She has been so supportive of me in so many ways, including my cello playing, even though (or perhaps because) she never really heard me play. The hospice had CDs by the Adagio Trio (harp, flute, and cello), which we played for her almost constantly, the five days she spent there. It was especially meaningful for me, to have that lovely and serene music fill the room.

I am driving home tomorrow, in part because I am not up for another airplane trip, in part because I am bringing home several of my mother's paintings (by her niece), and in part to have a little decompression time before returning to the "real world."

Thanks to all those who have been so supportive and comforting.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

"From the Top" radio concert

My sister and I attended a fun concert in beautiful Music Hall, in Cincinnati tonight. It was a taping for the National Public Radio show, "From the Top." The show features young people who play classical music. Through interviews with the kids and humor, they present classical music, and the kids who play it, as cool. My sister's daughter was one of the cool kids--she sang in the choir.

One of the performers was a 17-year old cellist. He had recently recovered from a nearly two-year bout with tendinitis. During the time he was unable to play the cello, so took up the harmonica. I actually liked his blues harmonica playing better than his cello playing. On the cello, he played "Prayer" by Ernest Bloch. He also works with autistic kids--a very well-rounded young man.

The harmonica--another solution to practicing without a cello.

A very enjoyable evening, and evidence of the power of music. This show airs April 21, if you are interested in listening to it.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

If I worked for Suzuki... (part 1)

I like the Suzuki method. It seems to work for me. I generally like the pieces. I supplement the Suzuki method with lots of other music and etudes, but I sometimes wonder why the Suzuki folks don't increase their product line. Well, I tend to buy a lot of music and related items, and perhaps others might. Here are some of my thoughts.

1. Information on the composers and works included in the Suzuki books. Some of the pieces are excerpts from longer works, and it would be nice to have more understanding of the pieces.
2. Learing CDs with music played at speeds closer to the student's learning and performance speeds. (this seems to be available for violin)

3. More and better ensemble music, not just the same pieces with all the melody in part 1, or with 2nd and 3rd parts that are more difficult.

4. An adult-beginner oriented guide, perhaps with practice tips, memorizing tips, chamber music ideas, setting goals, etc.

(more tomorrow, as it is late)I would love to hear ideas from others.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Cello-less practicing

I finally arrived in Cincinnati, a 32-hour trip. Both planes were late. All three airports were jam-packed with people. In Providence, I was told that the airport usually handled 5-6,000 people a day; that day there were over 9,000. In Philadelphia and Cincinnati, it seemed to me there were 9,000 people in each hallway. People, whole families, were sitting in the floor, camped out eating their lunches, working on their laptops in makeshift offices, making friends, sharing tales of missed connections and long delays. I expected to see chickens hopping in and around the suitcases.

But, I am here. The doctors are still trying to figure out the problem, but it looks like my mother is improving. It is good to be with my sister and her family.

I did bring my flute, so, I am not without music, but I do miss the cello. I am mentally practicing my working piece in my head, trying to remember all the bowings, though not for more than a few minutes at a time, as it stresses my poor brain. It would be nice to have a travel cello.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Cello-less in Cincinnati

Well, almost Cincinnati. My flight was cancelled, and, after a few hours at the airport, I decided to rent a hotel room, where I am enjoying a cozy evening, resting up, working, waiting for my morning flight. My mother is in the hospital, and it is frustrating not being able to get there any faster. I did consider a bus (finding air travel so wearying these days), but it was a 25-hour trip from Cape Cod, and I just couldn't stand the thought of it. This trip will probably be over 30 hours--if my two flights and the 3-hour Philadelphia layover go well.

I will miss practicing for a few days, perhaps a week, perhaps longer. I will also miss the Denise Djoric cello concert that I was so looking forward to seeing, and reviewing. Fortunately, my dear friend and fellow cellist, Barbara, has agreed to write the review. Thank you! Hope you enjoy the concert.

I had to cancel a fiddle session, miss an early music session, and forgo a day in the string shop, where I work occasionally. Fortunately, my main work is portable, if not music-related.

I am looking forward to seeing my mother and sister and being of some help in Cincinnati. Everyone I have talked to about this trip, and most of the people I have encountered along the way, have been so wonderfully supportive and helpful. It warms those cockles of my heart! Thank you!

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Cello choir, flute choir

Cello choir went well tonight. I had no trouble with that tricky part that gave me such trouble last week. There is much to be said for careful practice.

We canceled flute choir practice tomorrow because of Valentine's Day (and because a big snowstorm is predicted). I play both flute and cello in the flute choir, sometimes transposing the bass flute part for cello, sometimes using music with a written cello part. We are a small flute choir, currently only five members. We have an alto flute player, but no bass flute.

We have decided to do a St. Patrick's Day concert at the nursing home: cheerful Irish music, with potential for sing-alongs. One of our members will tell a few jokes, in his droll manner. We will bring refreshments. We're trying to make it entertaining and to encourage participation.

Monday, February 12, 2007


My teacher is planning a series of group lessons. I am looking forward to them, as I enjoy playing with others and listening to others play. One workshop will feature contemporary-style cellist Eugene Friesen, who has done several improvisation workshops for us in the past. He also usually has a concert in town, always outstanding.

Workshops are usually held in the Woods Hole community center, a rustic building perched over the water in the exceedingly picturesque town of the same name. In one workshop, a few years ago, about 16 students were arranged in a large circle from youngest to oldest (me). After a few improvisation tips, demonstrations, and examples, Eugene took one of three chairs in the center of the room. The two youngest cellists joined him and the three began to improvise together, using notes from a pentatonic scale. After a minute or so, one of the young cellists was replaced by the next one in line. The music kept going, beautifully, effortlessly, as cellists were signaled to join and leave the performance in the center of the room. Themes were introduced, copied, embellished upon. I was very impressed--and both eager and nervous about playing.

Finally, it was my turn, and I joined the group in the center. My nervousness evaporated, as the music continued, and I was part of it, sometimes following, sometimes leading. Finally, we all ended together, somewhat reluctantly on my part.

I haven't done much with improvisation since, except to occasionally improvise on my own, or, at the last fiddle session, to fiddle tunes. I am looking forward to Eugene's return visit this year!

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Practicing with a timer

I was excited about Gottagopractice's use of a timer and a stopwatch in her practicing because I tend to lack discipline in my practicing, and sometimes completely forget to include important elements. I work at home, and often work extends into the evenings. I sometimes avoid practicing on busy days because I tend to fall into a practicing trance and I lose track of time. If I could say, "today, only 30 minutes," I might get more accomplished than skipping practice altogether.

I took only a few of Gottagopractice's good ideas. For today (a non-deadline work day), I decided:

3 min., warmups
15 min., scales
15 min., exercises
30 min., current Suzuki piece
30 min., 3 others pieces for my upcoming recital
15 min., cello choir pieces
15 min., fiddle music

Since I only have a stopwatch, not a timer that rings, I went over time in all the 15 minute categories and ended up playing 2.5 hours. I also play in two other ensembles (early music and flute choir), but did not include music for those groups tonight. That will have to rotate with the cello choir and fiddle music. 15 min. isn't much for these groups, but better than ignoring them entirely, as sometimes happens.

I am feeling more organized. I will try to keep doing this, even on the days when I only have a few minutes to practice. Thanks, GGP.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Practicing progress

I am happy to report that I have had a very good practice week. Often, at this point in the week, I am thinking, "Oh, no, my lesson is on Monday, and I haven't really practiced yet." Then, I spend the weekend trying to catch up. This week, I decided to take my own advice, and practice every day for 1-2 hours, including all that good slow practice. I am still concentrating mostly on pieces, with only minimal time for scales and exercises, but it is progress.

Friday, February 9, 2007

Baby Einstein plays the cello, sort of

President Bush has been criticized for honoring Julie Aigner-Clark, founder of Baby Einstein, in his State of the Union Address, essentially giving her product, educational videos for babies, free advertising and presidential approval.

Baby Einstein (and products like it) is considerd by many to be a wrong-headed approach to education; at worst, a contributing risk factor for autism by promoting passive tv-watching over active engagement; at best, simply a video baby sitter to keep the kids amused while mom makes dinner. Anxious parents, eager to give their children educational advantages, are a ready market for such products.

A suit was brought against Baby Einstein by Commercial Free Childhood last May for deceptive advertising. According to CFC, tv viewing will not make you smarter, but may in fact be harmful to children, interfering with cognitive development, language development and regular sleep patterns. The American Academy of Pediatrics advises that children under 2 not watch television at all.

The name Baby Einstein implies that the videos will increase your child’s intelligence. An odd choice of names, since, of course, Einstein himself was not considered brilliant as a baby himself. He didn’t talk until he was three, and not fluently until he was 9.

Twenty years ago, when our children were babies, there were similar products on the market. Even then, these videos and educational television for young children, in general, were criticized, in books like The Hurried Child (Elkind).

I haven’t seen any of the videos or listened to any of the CDs, but would have to say that the content of the Meet the Orchestra CD/DVD sounds fine. It introduces the various sections of the orchestra and works which feature those instruments. However, any parent can introduce their children to classical music (and jazz, folk music, etc.) by playing CDs, turning on the radio, providing music-making toys, and/or taking them to concerts and similar events. Or playing his/her cello for them.

My big complaint about the product is about the illustration on the cover of the CD/DVD. Look at that duck’s bow hold! Not to mention the inefficent use of the left hand and total lack of a cello chair.

Thursday, February 8, 2007

“But I played it perfectly at home!”

In cello choir class the other night, after we both bumbled through a tricky passage, the woman who was playing first with me turned to me and said: “I practiced this part! I played it perfectly at home! I really worked on it.” I stopped her by saying, “I did too, and I marked all the fingering, but now when I look at those numbers they mean nothing to me.” She, too, had worked out the fingering. Then I admitted I only worked on it in one or two practice session, over the last two weeks—and so did she. We both finally did get it right, but it was a struggle.

This is something one should learn early on in practicing, that, to “set” a passage, you have to slow it down and play it over and over again, even after you get it right. The brain remembers all those times you flubbed it. Another woman had trouble because she kept slowing down when she got to her tricky passage. This is another reason to play the whole piece slowly in practice, rather than to try to play it up to speed immediately. I’m working on this!

The cello choir is one of several adult cello choirs at the local conservatory. The more advanced choir has eight players; ours, an intermediate level group, has five. There are one or two less advanced groups with 3 to 5 players. There is also a string orchestra (which I joined for a time) and a community orchestra, both of which have numerous cellists.

It is amazing to me that in this small area there are so many adult cellists, all of whom absolutely love the cello. I think it is largely due to the cello choir teacher, the teacher of most of the other cello choir students, who welcomes adult students with endless patience and gentle support. My own teacher has group classes only rarely, and far fewer adult students, so the cello choir classes are a great way for me to play with other cellists.

This week, however, we were teacherless, as our teacher had another commitment. We did just fine on our own—there is much we students can learn from each other and from being left on our own to figure things out for ourselves every now and then.

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Stringfever Bolero

A friend sent this amusing cello quartet.

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Elvis and Mom

Music blared, lights flashed, nursing home attendants dressed in poodle skirts and jauntily tied scarves cheered and yelled, and an aging, pockmarked Elvis in a bejeweled jumpsuit bounded through the doorway and up to the front of the nursing home chapel filled with elderly ladies with walkers and wheelchairs and immobile expressions. He grabbed a microphone, and intoned: “Hi, I’m Johnny Cash.”

I remain puzzled as to whether he was acknowledging his greater physical similarity to Johnny Cash than to Elvis, whether someone had put on the wrong theme music and he was making a joke, or whether he had just forgotten which dead singer he was portraying at this nursing home. Possibly I was hallucinating. I choose to think he was making some subtle joke. He quickly returned to the task of being Elvis, and, with a “Thank you very much,” launched into “Return to Sender” to celebrate what would have been Elvis’ 72 birthday.

It had been somewhat of a struggle to get my mother to the concert. I was visiting for her birthday, and she was complaining of feeling exhausted all the time, just wanting to sleep. I thought it would be good for her to partake of some of the activities offered by the nursing home, and I really wanted to see Elvis. She finally gave in and we found a spot in the very last row.

Elvis started moving about the room, crooning to individual women. One elderly man was dancing. The nursing home attendants were beside themselves with glee, and I thought how nice that Elvis is connecting directly with the residents. (I play, in various ensembles, in nursing homes, and it took us a while to figure out that talking to the residents before, after, and during our performance as important as actually playing for them.)

But, then, when Elvis got to my mother, I suddenly felt outraged that this man-in-an-Elvis-suit might flirt with her for a laugh, even a loving, laughing-with-you sort of a laugh. He didn’t. He shook her hand and shook mine. Very respectful and proper. My mother said later, “Who does that old geezer think he is, trying to be sexy?”

She did enjoy her root beer float, and agreed that it was good to get out of her room on occasion.

By the end of our visit, she was feeling stronger and more energetic than she had in some time, and, in the weeks since our visit, she has gone to other events. But, recently she said that these activities were boring. "Would you play Bingo?," she asked me. Ah. . . no. Fortunately, she enjoys reading, but I wish there were more entertaining activities that would entice her out of her room, as it is (generally) good to connect with other people.

I live quite a distance from my mother, but I am going to try to do more performances at local nursing homes, and try to figure out ways to involve the residents. I would love to hear from others who play in nursing homes.

Sunday, February 4, 2007

Cat in a Fiddle Case

One of our two cats, snoozing on my fiddle, which is balanced on a chair in front of the digital piano. Resting on the keys are two native American flutes. The music on the piano is easy Christmas music from around the world. There is a conductor's baton and a container of guitar-shaped paper clips from the Hard Rock Cafe. The photographs are of our children, and Andre Previn, who autographed the photo to the kids as follows: "It is awful to practice, but we all have to do it. Good Luck!"

The kids are excellent musicians, despite the fact that they don't practice much. I, on the other hand, need to practice (and also enjoy it). I read in the New Yorker that string bass player Edgar Meyer does not practice at all, but also that in a survey done of musical achievement, that the single most important factor in a musician's success was not talent or teacher, but rather amount of time spent practicing. The truth probably lies somewhere in the middle. Most people improve through practicing. Some are really gifted. And Edgar Meyer must practice a little!

The cats seem to enjoy music, in that they hang out with me when I practice, but you never catch them swaying to the beat, or letting an emotional tear fall at a particularly good (or bad) passage. I wonder if they hear the music at all or if they are just waiting for me to go to the kitchen to get us all a snack.

Thursday, February 1, 2007

Denise Djokic, again

Folk Lore, by Denise Djokic.
This is a wonderful CD.

She plays with strength, passion and sensitivity, making it sound effortless. I am equally impressed with David Jalbert, the pianist. Together, they are delightful.

Folk Lore includes folk-style classical music by Vaughn Williams, Stravinksy, Schumann, Janacek, and Cassado.

I am looking forward to her concert here; she will play Saint-Saens, Cello Concerto No. 1.