Friday, June 29, 2007

It's My Cello Anniversary!

It was eight years ago today that I rented a cello for my daughter and me to share, as we started cello lessons together, she giving me the courage that I don't think I would have had on my own, to start the cello at 52. She stopped after two years (at 12), but I continue to to believe.

I don't usually tell people how long I have been playing. It took me months before I added that information to my blog. Why? Because I think I should be really good by now. Eight years is a significant chunk of time.

I actually thought I was pretty good until I recorded myself a month or two ago. But that recording has also jolted me into concentrating on intonation and expression. The new cello has helped a lot too. And the people I play with, especially in the early music group, have been very helpful and supportive. My brother (banjo) and his business partner Doris (fiddle), who called yesterday, have been wonderful from a distance. We played fiddle and bluegrass music to each other over the phone. My teacher is terrific, ever patient and encouraging. I do need more discipline to follow-through on all the advice she gives me though.

So, all in all, I am making progress, though far less than I would have wanted, by this point. When I started, I thought I would be playing competently in a couple of years. I am glad I didn't realize what was involved, or I might not have started. The [endless] journey continues to be uniquely satisfying.

Street Musicians Beware!

Apparently the police have cracked down on street musicians in Philadelphia. A classical flutist is fighting back though, claiming it is his right to play a musical instrument on the streets of Philadelphia. I'm not sure that is one of our rights, or that this is a free speech issue. In our town, I believe you have to have permission from the town. One person's music is another person's noise. But, I am biased in favor of classical flutists--and playing music outside. flutist_singer_charged_in_philadelphia/

Flutist, singer charged in Philadelphia

PHILADELPHIA --It's all in the ears of the beholder.

A classical flutist who was handcuffed amid a crackdown on street music in a genteel neighborhood has sued the city.

Felix Wilkins' arrest in March came a day after police charged another man for singing in Rittenhouse Square. Both were charged with disorderly conduct.

A judge dismissed Wilkins' case last month, but this week the musician filed suit.

Wilkins claimed that he was taken to a police station and detained for merely "assert(ing) his right to play a musical instrument on the public streets of Philadelphia."

The singer, 20-year-old Anthony Riley, is due in court next week.

The arrests came as police cracked down on street musicians and performers amid complaints from residents.

City Solicitor Romulo Diaz, responding to an outcry on free speech grounds, hopes to forge a compromise between the parties. Diaz declined to comment on the lawsuit.

© Copyright 2007 Associated Press.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Early Music Music for Labor Day

I play flute and cello with an early music group. It is not a strict period instruments group, just a group that enjoys playing Baroque music. We have a harpichord and recorders, but no viola da gambas. The cello works fine for me, as I am pretty flexible about instrumentation, and not interested in learning the gamba.

We have varying membership, and several of us play multiple instruments, so we have a variety of music suitable for harpsichord, violins, flutes, recorders, viola, and cellos. I personally like music for two treble instruments, a cello, and harpsichord, which seems to work well most of the time, even with some doubling on treble parts and/or cello parts.

We have selected some pieces for a performance on Labor Day weekend, when we expect to have two flutists, a violinist, a harpsichord player, and me on cello. The cello parts are not particularly difficult, though some will require some work. I want to concentrate on intonation, articulation, and playing well as an ensemble.

Pieces en Trio (1692), by Marin Marais, for two treble recorders, cello and harpsichord (Dolmetsch Recorder Series).

Trio Sonata for two flutes and basso continuo, by G. P. Telemann, 2 flutes, cello, harpsichord (Fentone Music). This comes with a playalong CD.

Trio Sonata for two flutes and basso continuo, by J. M. Hotteterre, 2 flutes, cello, harpsichord (Fenton Music). This comes with a playalong CD.

Sonata No. 9 in F Major (Golden Sonata), by Henry Purcell, for 2 violins, cello, harpsichord. (International Music). When I first started the cello, I bought a stack of beginning/intermediate cello music from a seller on eBay. This was in that stack, and I am glad to finally have a group interested in playing it.

Sonata No. 1 in F Major, by Benedetto Marcello, for 2 flutes, violin, cello, and, perhaps, harpsichord. (This was my favorite piece for the flute when I was in high school. I have arranged it for 2 flutes, violin, and cello.)

Sonata in E-Flat Major (1031), by J. S. Bach, transcribed for 2 flutes, cello, and harpsichord. This is Bach's flute sonata no. 2, arranged for 2 flutes. (Leaf Publications)

Sonata Op. 34 No. 2, by Joseph Bodin de Bosimortier, arranged for Flute, 2 oboes, and piano. (Falls House Press). We haven't played this yet either, but it was appealing to me because it has 3 treble parts. I can play the left-hand piano part on cello.

Quartette No. 4 in G Major, by G. P. Telemann, for 2 flutes, 2 cellos, and harpsichord. (Barenreiter) This one appealed to me because of the two cello parts; however the second cello part is very simple. Our other cellist is not able to make the performance, but since the second cello does not add much, we could still play this. There are six quartets (quintets really) in this series, so maybe some of the others are better for 2 cellos.

Partia 2, by G. P. Telemann, for flute, cello, and harpsichord. There are six partias, each with numerous arias. I picked a pleasant one in G major, though we have not yet played through them all.

This is way too much music for our event, so we will probably drop half of it, or play it elsewhere. But, for now, we are enjoying working on it, and trying hard not to add any more to the mix.

And now for something completely different

Taking a break from music for a moment, I joined a local weekly kayak group for a morning in the sun. Usually 8 or 9 kayakers attend, but on this beautiful warm day, there were 21. We were pretty spread out, though, so it never seemed crowded. We glided down a serene and unspoiled river and saw a large white heron, an egret, a swan, cormorants, and a multitude of of ducks and song birds. Reluctant to take my camera out of its plastic bag in my pocket, I did not get any bird photos, except for the osprey nest along the shore. The ospreys were not happy that we were there and kept up a constant chatter, perhaps to drive us away.

This was my first time kayaking with this group (mostly retired people from my church), and people were happy to give me advice on paddle efficiently. Pushing is more effective than pulling. Paddle to the side, rather than dipping down into the water. Hold your hands shoulder width apart on the paddles. Of course the next person might have a different theory. (Sometimes like the next cello teacher.)

There are lots of kayaking items to acquire: padded gloves (bicycle gloves), dry bags, whistles, compasses, etc.

In any case, it was great to be outside, and I have a vibrant pink sunburn to remind me of the adventure.

Monday, June 25, 2007

More on the Arts Festival

This was my "instrument petting zoo" tent at the arts fair, before anyone arrived. In the distance on the right is one of the arts/crafts tents, and off to the left, you can see Main Street. We were right across the street from Liam's, an Irish restaurant/pub, featuring an enticing, if not Irish, "Lobster Rolls!" sign in the window.

Johnson String is within walking distance, so I carried the 6 or 7 violins and violas in a "beach cart," shown in the far left of this photo, and close up, in the next, taken in the shop, surrounded by acoustic and electric cellos and violins. Always a great environment! I carried the two cellos on my back (in soft cases) and wore my hat (the one I share with my cello case). It was a fine day for a walk, even attired thusly.

The next instrument petting zoo I am involved with is at Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival (Ancramdale, NY), for the Bluegrass Academy for Kids. My daughter and I will be camping there for four days in July and enjoying all the bluegrass music one could possibly want. Lots of wonderful bluegrass performers are scheduled, including two groups with cellos: Crooked Still and the Sparrow Quartet. More on this later.

Just for the record, the tunes the fiddlers played at our performance on Saturday were:

Old Joe Clark
Over the Waterfall
Going to the Fair
Long Black Veil
Whiskey Before Breakfast
Arkansas Traveler
Jessica's Waltz
Golden Slippers
Fish Song
Capt. Bing*
Rabbit in the Log*
Midnight on the Water
Alligator Song*

I was not familiar with the starred ones, but it is easy enough to play some sort of backup.

Tunes are often not planned in advance for these events, so you can't really practice for a concert, except that you practice all the tunes as often as you can, in the various sessions. As someone else said, you are under no obligation to play a tune the same way twice.

For my "break" on Old Joe Clark, I experimented with different rhythms, articulations, and ornaments, but in the end, I played it straight. Due to scheduling problems, I never did rehearse the break with the fiddlers before the concert, so didn't want to take any chances. It worked out well, so I will work on the "improvisational" stuff for the future.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Cello case with a hat, and more "Old Joe Clark"

My friend Nicole took this photo of my cello case at the bluegrass festival earlier this month. That's my hat on it. It was threatening rain. It gives my cello case a bit more personality. I expect it to pick up a banjo and start playing.

The instrument petting zoo went well today, thanks to one of the staff people who kept sending people my way. Lots more adults wanted to try instruments than usual, and I think some of them might actually give lessons a try.

One little girl of 2 and a half was intrigued by the violins. Someone asked me to play something, so I played"Old Joe Clark" on the viola, the instrument I happened to have in my hands. It turned out this was the child's favorite song. She was beaming.

Me too. It is not every day that you bring joy to a child, simply by playing an instrument. Later, I taught her father a bit of "Old Joe Clark" on the cello. Usually, I teach them "Twinkle, Twinkle," but it was an "Old Joe Clark" kind of day.

I stayed most of the day at the Arts Festival. After my petting zoo was over, I went to various performances (jazz, country music, folk music) and enjoyed a nice day in the sunshine. Ok, I brought work with me, but I found a nice spot where I could hear the music without annoying people with my ever-present paperwork.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

The Arts far

It was a beautiful day, there were lots of festival attendees, artists, and musicians filling up the library green, I played my "break" on Old Joe Clark very well, though stumbled a little at the end when I thought to myself, "this is going very well."

I played 2 As and 2 Bs (twice through the first part and twice through the second part, for those not familiar with fiddling jargon). About 35 seconds, total. When I finished the 2 As, I thought, "Did I play one A or two As?" So insecure.

But, as someone said afterwards, it really doesn't matter--everyone else is just accompanying until you finish. I haven't listened to the recording yet, but I felt it was very much in tune.

The flute choir performance was another matter entirely. I have never played so badly. And I was not the only one. There was a wind which occasionally moved pages of sheet music, but more often just sucks the sound out of the flute. Or maybe I was feeling really good about knowing this music, and didn't practice the last day or two. I worked on another selection of music, for another concert. Not a good idea.

The audience was friendly though, and it was still enjoyable. Not quite as enjoyable as playing well. I stayed to watch about four other groups, mostly people I knew, on way or another (ex-fiddle teachers, other people who play in Town Band), so it felt like a community of music. Though I ran into a cellist-friend today, there were no other playing cellists. Maybe next year.

Tomorrow, I will return to the Arts Festival with an armload or two of violins, violas, and cellos for the instrument petting zoo, and try to encourage some cellists for future events.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Day at the Beach

It was a gorgeous day at the beach yesterday. Today too, I think. Most of the week, after a cold and raining spring. At this point on the Cape, you can look west into the setting sun over the water.

I didn't actually spend much time on the beach. My husband and I had a picnic dinner, watched the kite surfers, and tried to protect our sandwiches from the windborne sand. Maybe on a windless day, I will actually play the cello on the beach.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Stradivarius in the closet

So this woman walks into the string store where I work occasionally, and says she found a violin in her closet and wants to know what it is worth. It was made by Stradivarius, in 1860, in Czechoslovakia, according to the label.

I said, sure, bring it in and we'll take a look at it. It could be a wonderful instrument to play and it could be valuable, but it is probably not a real Stradivarius. "How can you tell, without looking at it?," she asked.

We talked. I think I convinced her to learn to play her violin. :-)

Of course, she could have meant 1680 and Cremona, and that would be an another story altogether.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Arts Fair this weekend

Big weekend coming up, the 3-day Arts Alive festival. I'm playing with the fiddlers and with the flute choir on Saturday, and on Sunday I'm running an "instrument petting zoo" to give kids and adults an opportunity to try violins, violas, and cellos. To lure them into this odd, demanding, but satisfying world of music.

I've been practicing like crazy, mostly for intonation, as I could play most of these pieces in my sleep by now. :-) Well, not all the fiddle tunes, but I am making progress.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

"Two Pianos, Four Hands"

We went to see to see a local production of "Two Pianos, Four Hands" last night, a story of two pianists from the age of about 7 to 17, as they struggle to learn to play the piano. Lots of amusing stereotypes of rambunctious young students, persnickety teachers, demanding parents, elitist conservatory and jazz faculty, a piano bar performance for a drunken spectator, and a middle-aged adult student who uses her lesson for therapy, talking all the way through it. And wonderful piano playing. All characters and piano playing were done by only two actors, changing roles throughout.

It was fun, but both students were disillusioned by the process, giving up hopes of being serious pianists by the age of 17. They meet later, when they are 42, wondering if they could have been great performers had they continued. They decide that they are "two of the best pianists in the neighborhood." Then they play Bach together, flawlessly, joyfully. An affirmation of the joys of amateur music.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Writing Group as Cello Recital

Grab the reader in the first four words of your article. Write tight (concisely). Make sure your article is perfect (spelling, grammar, usage), and that it follows the style of the publication you are writing for. This means you have to read the publication you are writing for. Don't overuse "good words." The impact of a special word like "shimmer" is destroyed if an author uses it more than once in the same publication. These were the main messages from Gerree Trudeau, guest speaker at local writing group I attended yesterday.

Trudeau is entertainment editor of the local paper, a small paper published twice a week, all local news, school news, good entertainment coverage. Trudeau has published my concert reviews and press releases over the last few years, and I wanted to meet her in person. I am interested in writing more reviews and articles on music, on Cape Cod, and on music on Cape Cod. Here, on Cape Cod, writing about Cape Cod is always well-received, according to Trudeau. She writes reviews on movies and local theater. She generally does not write music reviews because she is not a musician, so there is opportunity for independent reviewers, though not payment.

Questions were handled in an interesting fashion. We were seated around a long table, about 12 of us. One by one, in order, everyone asked a question relating to the talk. A methodical, participative approach. After the question/answer session, the writers read excerpts from their work for Trudeau to comment on. Of special interest to me was a former opera singer's account of her hazardous journey up a mountain to a theater in Italy. After each reading there was an affirmative murmuring from the other writers and a comment by Trudeau. Generally, she suggested that they make their opening line more dramatic.

I had brought no works-in-progress with me, but have a review in this week's paper, so mentioned that. I also mentioned this blog to the woman sitting next to me, so do want to say hello to her, should she drop in.

It seems to me that reading one's work before a group of people could be even more traumatizing than playing the cello at a group cello recital. So much more personal on many levels. And, it is more demanding as an audience member too. "Performers" are not just playing the same Suzuki pieces you know and love. They write in a whole range of genres and voices and tone. You have to pay attention to the words, the meaning, the emotions, and the technical aspects in order to comment effectively.

A woman I talked to afterwards said yes, it is difficult to read your writing in public. But she finds she works harder at perfecting the piece, knowing she has to read it. Kind of like a cello recital.

The writers were universally supportive and encouraging of each other. Also much like a cello recital, especially a cello recital by people like me, late-starting adults.

I am not sure if I will return to this writing group on a regular basis due to time constraints and lack of an ongoing writing project that I need comment on. But, like a musical ensemble, such a group would provide motivation and feedback, and I can see the value of it.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Kids and Music

The other night in flute choir rehearsal, we were talking about our kids and how hard it is trying to start or maintain your own musical life when you are also taking the kids to music lessons, soccer practice, school plays and performances, etc.

I started the cello when my kids were 10 and 12 years old, and it has been a struggle at times, finding time for my own music, especially since my kids are quite talented, and I felt like some sort of impostor, tagging along. Well, driving.

But I only have two kids. My friend has six, all grown now, with kids of their own. They all took music lessons, and my friend started flute when her daughter tired of it. She told a funny story about practicing the flute in the ladies room of the ice rink while her daughter was skating.

She hit her first high "C" in that rest room, in Aspen, CO (Rocky Mountain high). Excited about her achievement, she asked her daughter, "Did you hear me? Did you hear me?" "Did you see me? Did you see me?" responded her daughter.

I love her dedication. I never went to such lengths myself, to practice, though I did bring work everywhere I went.

My kids are 18 and 21 now, driving themselves to their own gigs and activities. So, I have fewer interruptions, fewer excuses, fewer reasons not to practice, but I do miss those music lesson outings just a little. :-)

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Taking a Break

Jim, our fiddle group leader, called today to ask me to "take a break" at our next concert, June 23. The thought flashed through my mind that he wanted me and my cello to sit out the concert. But, of course, "taking a break" in fiddling is taking a solo. Not, in this case, creative improvisation, just the tune.

Ok, I said, with some trepidation, but agreeing with him that a tune is more interesting when the various instruments take turns soloing. I'll do "Old Joe Clark," maybe not the prettiest tune on the cello, but among the easiest and our signature tune, and I have plenty of time to "perfect" it.

Besides, it is a friendly hometown crowd. :-)

Monday, June 11, 2007

Practicing Outside

I practiced outside on my deck on Sunday, in the middle of the day. A beautiful day, and so quiet in the neighborhood that I think everyone else must have been at the beach, or toiling in the local tourist economy. At least no one yelled at me to stop.

A few years back we had a next-door neighbor whose son played the trumpet. They made him practice outside because they found his practicing inside annoying. Thoughtful neighbors! And so supportive of their child's musical development!

My son used to have his rock'n'roll band rehearsals, then his jazz band rehearsals here. Indoors or out, that would be enough to wake the neighbors, but no one complained. So, maybe a single cello is not so disruptive.

I once practiced outside in a public park prior to a lesson, but one of the groundskeepers kept talking to me about playing the cello, and it was hard to get any work done. He did say I could practice there any time though, so I plan to play there again. I love playing outside.

Details on the Fiddle Tunes

I recorded Saturday's bluegrass festival, clipping the microphone to the leg of my jeans, to better hear my cello contribution. Even so, it was not always easy to hear the cello, sometimes for the best, but I am mostly pleased with how I sounded, even if few people heard me. Here's my blow-by-blow account, to aid in developing my strategy for acquiring a decent repertoire of fiddle tunes over the next several months.

Old Joe Clark, A
I played melody. On the whole, this was pretty good. Mostly in tune, mostly audible. I know there were a few times I slipped out of intonation, but they didn't stand out as much as I thought they would. In the future, maybe alternate a backup with the melody. Now I play melody all the way through, even when the violins switch to chopping, during the vocal parts. I just play softer in the vocal part, which probably isn't necessary. 5:56

Over the Waterfall, D
This is a tune I know and love to play on fiddle, so I tried to play melody by going up a string (into 4th position on the A string), but it was not working well, and trying to transpose mentally and play at the same time was not working for me. Thinking about it afterwards, it would have been better to go down a string, where the whole tune is in 1st position. We play it very fast. I felt this was very muddled and was disappointed because this is one of my favorite tunes. In the recording, I am not so bad, but I know this is one I want to work on. 1:53

Jessica's Waltz, D
Again, I played melody. This is a slow tune, and I had it memorized at one time, but realized I was playing it wrong, and it has been hard to re-memorize correctly. But, I played the parts I knew, and tried to stay with the group on this tune. Because it is slow, though, all the wrong notes stand out to me. Listening to the recording, it sounds like I am intentionally playing a counter-melody. That might be nice to try on purpose sometime, but for now, I will try to work out the tune correctly and re-memorize it. 4:54

Going to the Fair or Let's Go to the Fair, G
I don't know this tune, so concentrated on playing a bowed bouncy backup to go along with the bouncy tune. This would be a one to learn a choppy backup for. It sounds fine on the recording. Occasionally tiring for the bow arm, especially. I have not been able to find sheet music for this Ralph Stanley tune. 3:53.

Soldiers Joy/Liberty, D
I played melody on Soldiers Joy. Even though this is a tune I know (I play a quarter-note version while the fiddles are playing an eighth-note version), we started out fast, and it took me a few measures before I could jump in. Other than that, it was fine.

We went directly into Liberty, a tune I have learned on the fiddle, but could never play fast enough. I am working on a simplified version for cello. I play a few measures of my simplified melody, then whatever seemed to fit in. It doesn't sound too bad. Renata Bratt's book, The Fiddling Cellist, has an excellent section on accompanying Liberty. I need to work on that. I will probably go with her simplest alternative: root note, fifth, two notes to a measure, because we play this very fast.

Fish Song, G
This tune was written by Jim, our leader. It has a nice swaying Caribbean beat. It is a humorous love song from a man to a woman who is cooking fish for him. I really should learn this one. It is slow enough for me. I played a few bits of the melody, then whatever seemed to fit in. It sounds good, but I would definitely like to be playing more melody on this. 4:10

Eighth of January, D
This is one of the first tunes I learned on the fiddle. I still can't play it fast enough on the fiddle, and I have never even tried to play it on the cello. Jim asked his son to start this on out, and he took it at a speed I will never achieve on any instrument. Chopping chords is a much better alternative here. My G and D string accompaniment sounds good. 4:05

Backup and Push, C
This was our big bluegrass tune. Not everyone felt secure with it because the group has been playing it only a couple of months. Jim said, at worst, it would be our "joke tune." I mostly played open notes, pizz, because I do not know this tune and didn't want to be the one to make it into a joke. I was pretty much inaudible, which was just fine. I have downloaded the sheet music for this, but don't think I will attempt to play the melody. 3:27

Two Dollar Bill, A
This is a very simple tune, but I don't know it. I try to learn it by ear, each time we play it, but haven't really gotten it. I downloaded it from a fiddle tune website after the concert. I will play melody next time. This time I played some melody, some wrong notes, some backup. It doesn't sound terrible, but I look forward to learning this correctly! 5:24

Recording was helpful. It gives me an idea what to focus on. Next time, maybe I will clip the microphone directly to the cello.

So, my priorities are learning melody for Over the Waterfall, Jessica's Waltz, Two Dollar Bill, and the Fish Song; backup for Liberty and Eighth of January. The only tricky one here is the Fish Song, which I am going to have to learn by ear. Not my strong point, but a skill I need to work on.

Tunes I know reasonably well on the cello: Ashokan Farewell, Angelina Baker, Mairi's Wedding, Old Joe Clark, Soldier's Joy; sort of less well, from playing them on the fiddle: Red-haired boy, Redwing, Country Waltz, Girl I left Behind.

Other fiddle tunes I am working on now, in various stages, include: Coleraine, 100 Pipers, Star of the County Down, Amelia's Waltz, Road to Lisdoonvarna, Westphalia Waltz, Whiskey Before Breakfast, Crossing to Ireland, Wagon Wheel Notch, and Sister Jean. The first five I am also playing on the flute. I like Irish minor key tunes, and am trying to get in a few Celtic tunes before my Scottish cello/fiddle camp this summer, even if we don't play them in the fiddle group.

I'd like to have 25 tunes in the "reasonably well" category by the end of the summer, as well as an ever-improving approach to, and understanding of, accompaniment.

We'll see. I'm also doing a Suzuki recital, hopefully in mid-July. Not a whole book; just four pieces.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Bluegrass Festival Cello

I woke up early Saturday morning (about 4:30 am, having gone to bed, exhausted, very early the night before). I needed to wash some clothes for the bluegrass festival and, of course, practice.

Because this was an outdoor festival and rain was predicted, I took out my old cello to tune it up, warm it up, and get it ready. But, I hated the sound. The tone was muffled and unclear. I've always loved the tone of this cello, but perhaps in comparison to my new cello, or perhaps because it hasn't been played in a few months, it just sounded awful.

So, I took the new one, for its wonderful resonance and strong tone, even if only I would hear it.

The performance tent was very large, providing shelter for both musicians and audience (and instruments). One side was open giving a nice view of the grounds. It didn't rain. Attendance was low though, perhaps because of the dire weather forecasts.

Our core group of 12-14 fiddlers was augmented by another 6-8 players I had never played with before (though I think I sold a bow to one of them). They were all excellent players, and we played most tunes faster than usual. Our hour went by in a flash. The fiddler next to me told me she heard my cello, and that I sounded great! The fiddler in front of me said she could not hear me at all. Oh well, there was a microphone aimed at me, so maybe someone in the audience heard. The wife of one of the string bass players (we had two--"That's why they call them double basses," quipped one) told me she saw me, so that's a start.

I am going to try to memorize a fiddle tune a week on the cello, as well as work out some accompaniments for some tunes, and/or collect some written accompaniments that I like. I love the Music for Three (Last Resort Music) accompaniment for Coleraine, for instance. Very easy, but twangy, in a good way. That way I can alternate melody with accompaniment.

The next concert is in two weeks.

Today is a gloriously beautiful day. But I have to work, so I will take my work, and later, my cello, out on the deck.

Friday, June 8, 2007

Bluegrass on the [Soggy] Bogs!

The bluegrass festival I have been preparing for is this weekend, ready or not, rain or shine. Thunderstorms are predicted tomorrow, while we're playing. The stage is covered, but the audience is not. I have been to bluegrass festivals in the rain before; but thunderstorms? Maybe not.

On the positive side, I feel ready, not virtuosic, but able to contribute in a positive way. I'm glad I have two cellos, so I don't have to subject my new one to the weather.

There's another weekend arts festival coming up in two weeks. In that one, I am playing with my flute choir and with the fiddlers, as well as running an instrument petting zoo (giving kids and adults the opportunity to try out violins, violas, and cellos) for Johnson String Instrument. I do love encouraging adults to play! Sometimes I can encourage a whole family to "make music" together.

I shouldn't even be drinking this

Just a rant about General Foods International's new packaging (on the right) for their cappucino mix packages. The "new, improved" 100-calorie packs replace the old 90-calorie packs.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Memorization, Again

I gave my teacher a printout of the article on memory that Erin suggested a while back about why it is not necessary to memorize music. My teacher just laughed. This is not an article she is even vaguely interested in reading.

I've been grumbling about having to perform Suzuki book recitals (all the pieces in the book) from memory. I think I am focusing too much on memory and not enough on technique, intonation, and expression. Either I need to improve my memorizing skills or I need to focus less on memorization.

On the whole, I believe in memorization. I like having a repertoire at my fingertips; and I like performing fiddle tunes, and you can't use sheet music for that. But memory doesn't come easily to me. It requires a lot of analysis and repetition. Then, I tend to be thrown off a bit when I play from memory with others, especially the fiddlers when, sometimes, everyone is playing a slightly different version of the tune.

I tried an experiment a week or two ago. I memorized a fiddle tune, Coleraine, on the flute, to compare the memory process and to see whether it would help or hinder learning the tune on the cello. I memorized it easily the first day, forgot it by the next day, re-memorized it and solidified it over the following few days, and can now play it well. I had never memorized anything on the flute, and it seems to be a very different process than memorizing on a string instrument. When I memorize a fiddle tune on fiddle or cello, I tend to visualize the fingerboard as a grid and think about finger placements on the grid. Most fiddle music on the fiddle is in first position, requiring no shifting, so this works well. Most fiddle music on the cello does require shifting, so it is a little different process. I think about where the shifts are, the bowings, where there is a scale fragment, a fifth, an arpeggio, etc.

With the flute, I found I thought more about note names. No shifts or bowings to worry about, and the pitches are more dependable. It also helped that I could play the tune on the flute--no learning needed, only memory work.

Then I switched to the cello to see if I could play the tune on the cello just from my knowledge of it on the flute. To some degree I could. Curiously I forgot the G#'s that I had focused on in the flute version. Just knowing the tune better helped a lot, though.

Why go through this, you might ask? Well, I have been thinking of memorizing a few fiddle tunes on the flute so I can play flute with the fiddlers on occasion. I have 4 or 5 tunes memorized on the flute now, and have learned several of these on the cello. I think the flute memory work is helpful to memorizing on the cello. At least it does not seem to be detrimental.

As for Suzuki music, I think I will change my focus a little. Instead of memorizing first, polishing second (the Suzuki way), I will concentrate on the learning, intonation, and polishing. I will continue to memorize, and to analyze the music in preparation for memory, but will try not to make memory the major focus of my work. It is not easy to make this transition, but I will try.

Monday, June 4, 2007

Giving up the cello. No, not me.

A friend told me over the weekend that she is taking a break from cello in order to explore other activities. At first I thought she was saying she was not going to take cello choir this summer in order to pursue her own cello interests, but gradually I understood that she might be breaking free of the cello entirely. An amateur musician, she has been playing for over 20 years. It is a little disturbing to me, this sloughing off of the cello, after years of commitment. Not for her, but more the implication that I might stop someday too.

It could happen, should physical frailty overcome me before the proverbial truck runs me over, but I can't imagine just setting the cello aside. Yet, there are other aspects to life.

I have been thinking about what I thought she said first: giving up ensembles to pursue your own cello goals. This is an idea I readily endorse.

I am "taking a break" from vocal choir and Town Band, and I will not be taking cello choir class this summer. That leaves me with three ensembles: flute choir, early music (Baroque) group, and the fiddlers, plus my Suzuki cello lessons. The flute choir has two performances this summer; the early music group, one, maybe two; and the fiddlers perform every week or two. I have a Suzuki cello recital coming up and cello fiddle camp in August. It still sounds like a lot, but I am relieved to be narrowing the list down a bit, to focus on improving my playing and on the music most meaningful to me right now.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Concert review, Recital Snafu

Last night's concert was outstanding, top-notch, glorious to behold. It will be easy to write this review. And it was followed by a gala party, complete with food, wine and a jazz band, at a recently restored mansion, now arts center, to celebrate the conductor's birthday.

Did you know that the entire second movement of Haydn's 13th Symphony in D major is a cello solo? I didn't. An unexpected cello adagio cantabile. What a treat!

Today's cello choir recital was fine, all things considered. We met early to rehearse our two pieces. The first time through our more difficult piece, I thought went very well, but some of the others weren't happy and wanted to try it again. The second time, I got confused. In the performance, several people got confused, and we had to actually stop and start over. Between the three times, though, it was good enough. :-)

Saturday, June 2, 2007

Last night's performance, another concert, and a recital

Last night's concert went very, very well. I did not record it; if I had, I might have been disappointed with the result; you might have been appalled. But, for me, last night was a personal best.

I was still nervous when I arrived at the community hall, but as the musicians arrived and began to warm up, I relaxede. This was a big concert for me, not a "background music" event. I was feeling a bit like an impostor, but knew I had to perform in this concert, ready or not, to be ready for next week's bluegrass festival.

We had more then 20 musicians, energizing us as we crowded onto the stage. Boldly, I took one of the chairs located at the center back of the stage and moved it to the front, placing myself at the left front of the stage, so I could see our leader and the audience. The other seated musicians, a mountain dulcimer player and a string bass player, remained in the back. When I played fiddle, I cautiously remained in the back too, but as a seated player, I don't want to get lost behind all those standing people.

I also wanted people to see the cello, perhaps to connect with others who enjoy playing fiddle music on the cello.

I played melody on only a handful of tunes, but I felt that my accompaniment had improved dramatically. I played quiet pizzacato a little, but most of the time I adopted an energetic bowed style, even playing in the chops-and-grooves style, as taught by folk/bluegrass/improvisational cellist Rushad Eggleston. I learned to do this at fiddle camp with Rushad two summers ago, but haven't used it since (the traditional fiddlers at camp didn't like it) and didn't expect to be able to do it.

I played following the advice of our Town Band director: "Play out. If you are going to make a mistake, make a good one," rather than the advice given in classical music environments: "Air bow if you don't know what you're doing." In this fiddling setting, playing out works better than air bowing.

I enjoyed being part of last night's music festival, joining numerous other local amateur and semi-professional bands, filling up the town, inside and out, with music. The fiddlers went across the street to a restaurant after our performance, where most people took out instruments and fiddled through dinner. I did not play cello there, as space was limited. I do have a "mini-cello," an octave mandolin strung and tuned as a mandola (like a cello an octave up). I should learn to play it for just such occasions.

Another concert tonight, classical music, but this time I am reviewing the concert, not performing. Ah, the irony, that a mediocre (but enthusiastic) amateur will review the professionals. I should practice.

Tomorrow, my cello quintet plays two pieces (one classical, one folk) in a recital of the quintet teacher's students (all adult beginners).

Friday, June 1, 2007

Concert tonight!

I am feeling nervous. This is a fiddlers performance, as part of a weekend musical festival here in town. Our group is on first. I will play cello. I know melodies for handful of tunes (maybe five) for memory on the cello (and have played others on the fiddle so have a general idea of how to play them), but on most tunes, I will improvise a backup, focusing on staying with the guitar. We don't know the list of tunes we will play in advance, which just adds to the excitement.

Fortunately, this is one of the most welcoming groups I have ever played in, so I expect the nervousness to disappear and that things will go well. We are playing inside, in a hall that has plenty of folding chairs, so I will not be bringing my new cello chair.

Unfortunately, I can't practice much today, due to work deadlines.