Friday, April 13, 2007

Recital, Workshop, and Concert with Eugene Friesen

Yesterday was a great cello day.

Eugene Friesen, a friend of my teacher's, came for his annual visit to our group class, which included 22 students, mostly kids, ranging in age from about 5 to high school age. I was one of 3 adult students who attended. We were arranged in a circle in an old and picturesque community center on the waterfront. Our little recital went fine: 4 tunes from Suzuki Book 1, and a group piece by the high school girls. I always enjoy playing with large groups of celli.

Eugene is a wonderful contemporary cellist who also teaches at Berklee School of Music in Boston. He plays all genres of music and encourages students to experiment, to improvise, to find music that is their own. He taught us a few techniques for improvising using pentatonic scales. For instance, using pentatonic A minor: one student, or the class, plays a pizzicato accompaniment: With right hand, pizz open C, with left hand pizz open A, then open G with right hand, followed by open D with left hand. Another student improvises, using only the notes in the A minor pentatonic scale: A, C, D, E, G. Very easy, and it sounds great, encouraging one to think that improvisation is indeed possible.

After the workshop, Eugene performed in a recently restored historic mansion (now arts center). His theme was similar, that the cello is a wonderful instrument and can be used to play all genres of music. He played Bach, fiddle music, blues, whale sounds, rock, and one-person jazz band. He played in a squirrel mask and in a Pablo Casals mask, impersonating each believably.

I learned a couple of things relevant for my fiddling group performances: many types of accompaniment are appropriate, it is ok to improvise on limited musical theory knowledge, and it is possible to play standing up. Eugene played standing for much of our workshop. At the concert, he took out a long canvas strap, and belted his cello to his waist, saying, to the many kids present, "Never do this." He put a rattle-type noisemaker on one foot, a tambourine around his neck, and a stovepipe hat, which turned out to house a cymbal, on his head. He hit the cymbol and the tambourine with his bow, stamped his foot to produce a rattle sound, and played the rollicking jazz on the cello strapped to his waist. Very amusing.

One of the fiddlers in my group was there and I joked about strapping my cello to my waist. He thought it might be better for us all to wear the cymbal hats. I can imagine, everyone wearing a cymbal hat, the bows flying, except perhaps for the expensive ones, as people hit the hats of their fellow fiddlers, in time to the fiddle tunes.

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