Saturday, March 31, 2007

Well, maybe Paris

You Belong in Paris

You enjoy all that life has to offer, and you can appreciate the fine tastes and sites of Paris.
You're the perfect person to wander the streets of Paris aimlessly, enjoying architecture and a crepe.
What European City Do You Belong In?

Well, if I were to travel, it might be to Paris. Eventually. This year, maybe somewhere a little more easily accessible. I'm still pondering this.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Sixty is the New Sexy

Sixty is the New Sexy, at least if you're a Hollywood star, according to CNN and USA Today. According to Suzanne Somers, 60 is the new 30.

I mention this on the next to the last day of March because, on an undisclosed date in April, I will become, er, sexy. Or perhaps two svelte 30-year-olds.

I'd better get myself to the gym; though a celebratory trip to Paris sounds more appropriate.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Early Music cello trial night

I brought my trial cello to early music group tonight to get friends' opinions of it. They thought it had more sound, more resonance, and better dynamic range than my cello. It sounded particularly good with the harpsichord. This might be because, on most pieces we play, the cello part is the same as the left-hand harpsichord. So, when I know we are together, I play with more confidence.

The early music group plays mostly Baroque music (Bach, Handel, Corelli, Telemann, Vivaldi, Marais), but except for the harpsichord, we do not use period instruments. I enjoy the music, but I have no desire to play viola da gamba or recorder. Well, I'd like to try a gamba someday, but I don't want to stretch my musical inclinations any further than they already are.

Most of the people in the early music group play multiple instruments, which makes it more interesting. We can switch around and play different parts depending on the music and the attendance. Tonight we had flute, violin, cello, and harpsichord. The harpsichord player had been using an electronic keyboard, but tonight had moved his large harpsichord into the living room. What a wonderful improvement over the keyboard! And it sounded so good with the trial cello.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

My old cello

Today my old cello sounds better than the new one I am trying. There must be something about the 119 years of being played that gives it depth and resonance. Though it looks lovely in the photo, it has many cracks, chips, and areas of wear.

It is not a valuable cello. It is an anonymous German student cello, and I got it for a song. My husband saw the ad in the local paper, "cello, $600." At the time I was renting a mediocre cello worth about $2000, and I said, "Forget it. A $600 cello is not going to be worth playing."

Nevertheless, my husband arranged for the cello owner to come to the house and show me the cello. I spent two hours with her, examining the cello, learning about it. I was struck by the beauty of the G on the D string. The cello is battered and worn. It has a hairline crack in the neck. But it has a wonderful tone that I have not found in new instruments costing thousands of dollars more. The woman selling the cello had had it for about 2 years, but hadn't really learned to play it. She, like me, is a flutist. Now she was getting married and needed cash, not a large silent instrument.

I remained a little suspicious of the low cost, wondering if it was going to fall apart in my hands as soon as I gave her the money. Finally, I decided to buy it. At the same time, the woman, probably impatient with my indecision, said, "how about $500?" "Fine!," I said, and the cello was mine.

My cello is not worth much money because of the way it looks. Cellos are appraised on qualities other than their sound: materials, workmanship, maker, provenance, age, etc. I won't be trading this cello in should I buy a new one because I wouldn't get much for it. It will be useful to have a spare cello for cello camp, when a friend drops by, or should my as-yet-unborn grandchildren take an interest in the instrument.

I am looking for a better-sounding cello, not a better-looking one, though I have to admit I would enjoy having a more beautiful instrument. A cellist friend suggested I look into having the old cello repaired and refinished. It is possible that someone could do that and retain the tone, but I have also heard that refinishing would ruin it. Definitely something I should look into though.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Lovely Day at the String Shop

I worked this afternoon at the string shop, and in between customers, I tried out three new cellos. I love my old cello (made in 1888). I bought it almost 7 years ago, from a woman (a fellow flute-player) who had an ad in the local paper. It is scratched and blemished, but has a good tone. However, it doesn't always sound as good as it might, and it is not always me.

I had a great time trying out the cellos and getting in some much-needed practicing. I ended up taking up a lovely red Heinrich Gill cello out on trial. It has a full, rich sound, and capable of very nice dynamics. Made in 2007, it is not what I expected I would like. I thought only the old cellos could sound so full and rich. I definitely want to try more over the next weeks or months--no need to rush into a decision.

Perhaps this will motivate me to practice more this week.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Cello arm

Napping after an exhausting day, before an evening rehearsal, I had a disturbing dream about my right arm. It had lost all structure and was reduced to a thin, limp nylon cord (like a fat guitar string).

I was terrified, wondering if I had contracted a dread disease like MS (I recently read Teri Garr’s autobiography about her career and her battle with MS). As I wondered how I would be able to play the cello with this insubstantial arm, I noticed that I still had a little hand with tiny fingers at the endof my nylon cord arm. As I wriggled my tiny fingers, my hand and arm began to plump up again, like air filling a balloon, and my arm was normal by the time I forced myself awake.

My arm felt strong through rehearsal, but I was worried that the dream was some sort of warning about problems to come. A supportive friend offered a more creative interpretation. She said that I had been through a lot lately and was not practicing as much as I wanted to, and that the resolution of the problem (the plumping up of my arm) within the dream was an excellent sign, a symbol of the healing, centering role of the cello in my life, and my power to make this dream a reality.

I’ll go with that.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Almost normal again

It's been very hard to get back to practicing the last few weeks, due to work deadline demands, but today I managed not only to practice, but to actually get to the fitness club and work out. But, I still have one huge project, already late, and another smaller one after that, almost late.

I took yesterday off, sort of, to speak at a professional conference and to attend a concert that I am reviewing for the local paper. It did take time to prepare my presentation, and it will take time to write the review, time away from work. But one of the conference attendees came up to me afterward to talk--he is working on a similar project to the one I talked about. Of course the topic of music came up, and he mentioned that he is also a flutist and writes program notes for concerts conducted by his son's orchestra. He promised to research the obscure composers on my concert program (which I had with me at the conference) and send me information. What a nice connection!

Later last night, after the concert, I stopped in at a local restaurant where my son's jazz band was playing, and reflected on one of the differences between classical music and jazz. At the classical concert, you can't clap between movements, only at the end of pieces. You cannot make any noise, except at designated times. At the jazz bar, people just talk right through the performances, in ever-louder voices, to make themselves heard over the music and the other voices. It is not my favorite environment. My son's jazz band is exquisite, very professional though the players are 18-20 years old, but I must go home early to protect my ears.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Blogging cello

When I took my cello out of its case at my last lesson, there was a loud rattle, as if the soundpost had fallen. My teacher and I looked apprehensive. Then she discovered that a pencil had fallen through an f-hole and was rattling around inside. I haven't been able to get it out yet. I am assuming my cello needs the pencil to start its own blog.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Playing in "Public"

I work occasionally at a string instrument store and was there the other day when a man came in to try out some bows. An adult violin student, he was self-conscious about playing in the "public" environment of the shop. I reassured him, gave him a cozy spot to play in our back room (more like a hallway, only visually separate from the main room), and selected four bows for him to try out while I attended to other customers.

He did well, playing for memory many pieces from Suzuki books 1 and 2, and I smiled when one of the customers in the main room (a beginning fiddler) applauded him, even though it meant he would realize that we could hear him quite well.

Earlier, when I was alone in the shop, I was tuning and playing the cellos, and I quickly stopped when a customer came in--not just to help the customer, but because I, too, am self-conscious. You just never know whether the listener is a professional player, a rank amateur, or the parent of a five-year-old virtuoso who can play better than you can.

But, it really shouldn't matter, should it? Maybe on the concert stage, but not when we are trying out bows. Or cellos.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Playing at church

I played flute at church this morning, not mine, but another one where a friend plays the organ. I play with her perhaps a half-dozen times a year, sometimes flute, sometimes cello, sometimes both. I like this church, not for the sermons, but for their grateful acceptance of my musical offerings.

Today, I played the prelude and three hymns. One of the hymns had a flute descant, which I enjoyed playing in rehearsal, except for one measure, which had an awkward, and in my opinion, unattractive, run. I have to admit I forgot to practice for this event. We rehearsed briefly before the service, but I still had a problem with the measure.

When we played it, I managed to fumble not only the troublesome measure, but also the one before and after it. Nevertheless, the organist beamed at me when we were done, saying, "great job!" I mention this not to justify non-practicing, but simply to say sometimes (maybe often) no one notices when you blunder.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Corned beef and corned beef and cabbage

I made two pots of corned beef and cabbage today for our church's Celtic Diversity Dinner this evening. Celtic Diversity Dinner is our celebration of cultural diversity, including St. Patrick's Day, gay/lesbian rights, civil rights, and tolerance in general. It became the Diversity Dinner probably at the same time the Christmas concerts in the schools became holiday concerts and started featuring songs from all December holidays except Christmas. Gradually Christmas has crept back into our school holiday concerts, and St. Patrick's Day has crept back into the Diversity Dinner. This was the first year we served corned beef and cabbage, and those in the kitchen decided it would be the last. Back to beef stew next year. Much easier to prepare and serve, though still lots of vegetables to cut up.

The Gay Men's Chorus sang, and a group called Beggar's Description (concertina, violin, drum, hurdy-gurdy, crumhorn) performed. I should have stayed to help lead the crowd in an Irish sing-along, but was tired, and have work to do (many project deadlines), so we headed home early. It was a nice event, though.

I have yet another corned beef in the fridge, ready to cook tomorrow. Perhaps the aroma will rekindle the mood here at home, while I practice for our upcoming St. Patrick's day concert at the nursing home. For a couple of minutes. Mostly I'll be working.

Thursday, March 8, 2007

My Lesson

My lesson was Monday, but it has been a busy week. My lessons are always good. Not necessarily because I have practiced effectively, but because my teacher always finds some bit of progress I have made and celebrates it.

I hadn't practiced for about three weeks, except for the imagined bowing I did when I was in Cincinnati, without either sheet music or CD. I had the piece sort of memorized, in that I knew the bowing, but couldn't automatically bow correctly, in three different areas of the piece where the bowing is just slightly different. So, I worked, with my imaginary cello, on making those bowings more automatic. Briefly, though, because it hurt my head.

So, the bottom line is that the imagined bowing exercise did actually help reinforce the proper bowing, and the bowing was cause for celebration this time. I will try to continue with the mental practicing, in hopes of being able to do it without the brain stress.

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Technorati, for blog searches and tools

Those interested in searching for other blogging cellists or blogs about any other topic might want to check out Technorati. Technorati is a highly rated blog search engine and also provides information about your blog, such as how many links there are to your blog from other blogs. You can "claim" your blog to provide additional information.

You can check out blogs by popularity. Most of the top blogs have to do with technology news. Technorati also has many blog tools, none of which I have had a chance to explore yet, but some look useful.

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Cellists on the Cape

We're having a good season of diverse cello performances here.

In January, Lynn Harrell was scheduled to appear with the Cape Symphony Orchestra. He rehearsed with the CSO on Friday night for the Saturday evening and Sunday afternoon performances. Saturday morning he suddenly had to return home to be with his wife during a difficult childbirth, leaving the orchestra without a soloist. Orchestra members, staff, and friends scrambled to find another cellist to play Schumann's Cello Concerto in a minor. Sebastian Baverstam, a 17-year-old cellist from outside Boston, came to the rescue. He had performed this concerto only twice before, most recently when he was 15. He arrived an hour before the performance was to begin. With no time to rehearse with the orchestra, he played beautifully, from memory. Everyone gave him rave reviews. I was, unfortunately, out of town. My teacher told me the story; ever encouraging, she said this was a good lesson in why I should strive to keep all my pieces in memory. Well, I doubt I'll be soloing with an orchestra any time soon, but it's still good advice.

In February Denise Djokic played Saint-Saens's Cello Concerto No. 1 in Falmouth with Simon Sinfonietta, charming everyone, according to the Cape Cod Times, with her passionate and technically solid playing. Again, I missed this concert, out of town again.

Finally, on Sunday evening, I was able to attend a cello performance: the "New Rigged Ship" at the Woods Hole Folk Music Society. Jacqueline Schwab, pianist, and Reinmar Seidler, cellist, played traditional tunes from Scotland and the Shetland Islands, and Seidler told amusing tales about the music. I was looking forward to this concert because I love Abby Newton's album of celtic music, Crossing to Scotland, so much. But, for much of the concert, I found myself trying to enjoy the music, rather than actually enjoying it. Seidler's cello playing seemed a little rough and scratchy. He was best on the slow airs, and did improve in the second half of the show. Schwab's piano accompaniment was often too much of the same chords, and sometimes the piano and cello seemed to be playing different tunes. My teacher thought the piano was too loud, forcing the cellist to try to play even louder, thus distorting his sound. I wonder if they just had a bad night. Schwab performed on Ken Burns' PBS documentaries, including "The Civil War," and both perform on Burns' upcoming documentary on World War II. I will give them another chance.

In April, one of my favorite cellists, Eugene Friesen, will not only perform, but give a workshop for cello students. He's a very innovative, imaginative contemporary cellist.

Sunday, March 4, 2007

Music in the Schools

March is Music in the Schools month, a great month full of school band and choral concerts and performances, my favorite being All Band Night, which takes place in the high school gym. The bands are arranged by grade level, the fifth and sixth grade bands take up half the gym; the junior high and high school bands take up the other half (unfortunately silently pointing out the high band drop-out rate). The jazz bands for each grade level take turns playing in the center of the gym.

As the bands play, starting with the youngest, and continuing to the most accomplished, the high school jazz band, you can hear dramatic improvements in musical performance, and it is inspiring, especially to those in the audience who also play instruments. Members of my flute choir used to sit together and watch our kids and grandkids play, marveling at their virtuosity. I went to these concerts for 9 years, starting when my son started saxophone and band in 4th grade, and ending when he led the award-winning high school jazz band, a couple of years ago.

The school system promotes All Band Night, All Choral Night, and other events, claiming that students who learn to play a musical instrument will do better in their academic work, some variant of the Mozart effect. I know this is a plea for better funding of music education in the schools, but I think the connection is unproven and unnecessary.

Why can't we study music because the study of music is rewarding in itself? We study calculus, chemistry, and Cro-magnon man in school, most of us forgetting most of what we learn. But music is a significant part of everyday life, whether we are practicing, listening to a performance, or connected to an iPod. Music is not a career for the timid, but it has such extraordinary power to move us emotionally and is such a wonderful avocation. Let’s study music and art, not because they will improve our grades, but because they bring us joy, challenge, purpose, both as children and as adults.

Friday, March 2, 2007

Christmas CD - Adagio Trio - What Child Is This?

The Adagio Trio (harp, flute, cello) provided CDs to the hospice where my mother stayed. She listened to them, and enjoyed them, during her last days. I found this video on YouTube and wanted to share it. I play flute and cello, and am tempted to try harp now....

Thursday, March 1, 2007

Billie Hutt

When I got back home with my mother's paintings, I checked the Internet for Billie Hutt, the painter (my mother's niece by marriage), intending to send her a little note. I found that she, too, had died, on February 4, 2007 at the age of 79. There is a wonderful story on the Internet about her at:

What is interesting for those of us who took up the cello as adults, middle-aged adults, and older adults (I started cello at 52), is that she started her folk painting career at the age of 55, initially to bring in some extra money when the family fell on hard times. Self-taught, she produced whimsical "Grandma Moses" type folk art, becoming a well-respected artist in New Mexico. When she was younger, she traveled a lot, meeting her husband, my cousin, in Alaska, which seemed very glamorous to me, as a child.

When I was 14, and hospitalized for scoliosis surgery in New York City, she brought me a set of watercolors. Later, in high school, I visited her family in NYC, and she bought me a tote bag from Chinatown, with Chinese characters on it. I still have the bag, and probably one or two dried out tubes of those watercolors in my collection of art supplies. I didn't see her after that, but I do wish I had known her better.