Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Fiddle practice and 5-string celli

A friend from the fiddle group and I got together this morning to work on some fiddle tunes. We started with "Bill Cheatham," a tune she wants to learn to play better, and I want to learn accompaniment for. I used the written out accompaniment from the Fiddlers Philharmonic series, which sounded fine, if a little sparse. It's a very simple accompaniment, based on chords. I am thinking of alternating playing the tune and the accompaniment, or writing a slightly more interesting accompaniment. Other tunes we worked on: Long Black Veil (which I think is particularly appropriate played on the cello), Whiskey Before Breakfast, Ashokan Farewell, and Old Joe Clark, which is the first tune we both learned, but you can always add something to it.

We're going to meet again next week and keep working on tunes. This is great, working with one other person at a similar level, so much easier than trying to work on tunes with 20 other people playing at the same time, and who don't have cello fingering issues to work out.

Which reminds me: I saw a five-string cello for sale at Etsy. A five string cello (with the addition of an E string) would make many fiddle tunes easier to play on the cello. On the other hand, they might not sound so good on a $195.00 cello. On yet another hand, if you are one cello playing with 20 fiddles, mandolins, banjos, guitars, and tin whistles (and are not Rushad E.), is anyone really going to hear you anyway?

I don't understand five-string cellos because I have never seen cello E strings for sale. Does one simply tighten up another A string? I wrote to the seller and got back this response, which makes no sense to me:

this is the same cello like you have, just add one more C string and EQ or you ocan turn to EADGEC like bass guitar. thanks

If anyone has any insight into this, I would appreciate it!

Monday, July 30, 2007

No lessons until mid-September

Due to my vacation days and my teacher's scheduled time off, I won't have any more cello lessons until mid-September. I've had a particularly helpful series of lessons lately, working out small, but important details on various pieces, that I am sad we won't have any more for a few weeks.

I have lots of music to work on, that Scottish fiddle camp in August, and helpful friends in the early music group and the fiddle group, so I won't be entirely bereft of guidance, but I will miss those lessons!

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Kneisel Hall Adult Chamber Music Institute

Today's Boston Globe has a great article about the Kneisel Hall Adult Chamber Music Institute in Blue Hill, Maine, written by a clarinet player who attended last year. It is a one-week program for musicians at intermediate level and above. One woman attended after only one year of cello lessons because she was told there was a shortage of cellists. She found it challenging. This year's program is Aug. 12-19.

The article includes information on other summer programs, including SummerKeys, which I attended a few years ago after one year of cello study. Blue Hill isn't quite so far a drive for me, and this camp seems better in the sense that multiple instruments are included in the same week, housing (cabins) and food are onsite, and, earlier in the summer, Blue Hill is a camp for talented and accomplished "pre-professional" musicians, so it has great facilities: practice cabins, a concert hall, a chamber music center and library. It also sounds more demanding than SummerKeys, which, at least when I went, was primarily a place to work on your own music, with ensemble playing as an extra.

The article is at: Pack Up Your Viola and Play, Play, Play

I'd like to go in a couple of years, once I feel more securely intermediate, in terms of Beethoven quartets.

Cats and chairs

Since my plus-sized cat is fully occupying my computer chair, I am off to the beach.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Friday, July 27, 2007

Cello accompaniment styles

Lots of music this week, though little time for practicing. So far, I've been to two early music rehearsals, a flute choir rehearsal, and a fiddle session. Tonight we have a fiddle performance, this time with lobster sandwiches as our payment. Yummy.

The first early music session, on Tuesday night was a little discouraging, as it felt like my week away from practicing had caused me to forget everything I knew about these pieces. Flute choir was different. The week away seemed to improve my playing and my sound. The second early music session seemed to go better, perhaps because we played a little slower. I need to find time to practice some [many] sections very slowly and work out some fingerings.

Fiddle session went well. A helpful guitar/fiddle/banjo player helped me with some of the accompaniments and called out chords for me. After playing and talking to him, I decided that the best way for me to learn to improvise accompaniments is to memorize some standard accompaniments first. Then, as I get better at hearing chord changes, I can improvise with more certainty. There are lots of sources for written-out accompaniments. The Music for Three fiddle volume from Last Resort Music has some cello parts I like and have played with the flute group. We use sheet music in the flute group, but not in the fiddle group, so I know these accompaniments, but haven't memorized them yet. I played their cello part for Coleraine last night with the fiddlers, and it worked fine. The best book for devising fiddle accompaniments, and one I have been meaning to seriously work with, is Renata Bratt's The Fiddling Cellist. It has lots of great ideas for creating your own accompaniment in various styles. I also have her Celtic Grooves book/CD, and I just ordered her another of her cello accompaniment books, Backup Trax, which includes a lot of the tunes my fiddle group plays. I made plans to practice with a fiddle player, to help us both with repertoire, and me with accompaniment.

However, I don't just want to accompany. Chops and grooves are not my thing, at least not as a steady diet. I want to play melody or melodic accompaniment. Abby Newton is my role model here. I love her CDs, and am currently listening to her Castles, Kirks, & Caves CD of 18th century Scottish music. Beautiful. And perfect for me, combining early music and fiddling. So, in preparation for my Scottish fiddle camp with Abby Newton in August, I am immersing myself in Scottish cello and fiddle music styles so I have a better understanding of it when I get there. I am putting together a list of Scottish cello/fiddle resources, that I will post here soon.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Cellos are very, very expensive

I tried the online 20 Questions game the other day, which my daughter enjoys, and, of course, chose cello.

Based on my responses, the game first guessed ukulele and dulcimer. Odd choices, if you ask me. But maybe it assumes people try to pick unusual items.

Question number 20 was "Is it very, very expensive?" I said "no," thinking of my own cello, which was expensive, but not "very, very expensive."

The game finally guessed cello at question 23 or so, and told me that I was wrong about the cost of a cello:

You were thinking of a cello.

Is it very, very expensive? You said No, 20Q was taught by other players that the answer is Yes.
Contradictions Detected
The opinions of the 20Q A.I. are its own, and are based on the input of players. 20Q's answers reflect common knowledge. If you feel that 20Q is in error, the only way to correct it is to play again!

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Grey Fox performances

The oblong box in the middle of the above photo is the main stage at Grey Fox. It's located at the base of a hill, and people place their chairs in rows up the hillside, creating a natural amphitheater. This photo was taken from the top of the hill, where small tents for shelter from the sun or rain mingle with the chairs. Behind me are "real" tents, and another camping area. The large white tents house other performance areas, food vendors, and other vendors.

(vocals), Corey This was the stage from our chairs. That's Crooked Still (Rushad Eggleston, Aoife O'DonovanDiMario (bass), and Gregory Liszt (banjo)) with Casey Driessen (fiddle), performing on Friday. It is hard to see Rushad's elfin hat, but if you click on the photo, it is a little more visible.

I watched favorite performers like Crooked Still with binoculars, achieving a view somewhat better than this. This was their Saturday performance. Here, Rushad is wearing a coonskin hat and a Captain America shirt. He punctuated this performance by dancing and jumping off, then back onto, the stage.

The seating philosophy at Grey Fox is that people are free to sit in any unoccupied chair; should the chair owners arrive, they relinquish the chair. So, to catch the last few minutes of the Kruger Brothers' act, we grabbed a few chairs in the second or third row, and watched close up. The "VIP" area is in front of the fence.

This is the Kruger Brothers performance in the Masters (workshop) tent. This was a fabulous performance and great discussion, in which they talked about their musical influences and experiences (classical music, American folk and fiddle music, pop, rock, you name it). Jens (banjo) and Uwe (guitar and vocals) are brothers, originally from Switzerland. They moved to North Carolina recently. Joel Lansberg (bass guitar) is from New York. I love the intimate setting of the workshop tent. You get a glimpse into the personalities of the musicians, a better understanding of the music, and a kinder, more gentle amplification system.

This is Rushad Eggleston's performance in the workshop tent: "Low and Gorgeous," with two bass players, Missy Raines and Eric Frey. You can see that people fill the tent and completely surround it for popular performers. We got there late and couldn't stay because I wanted to see the Kruger Brothers on the main stage. That's Rushad's gaily decorated cello case. His girlfriend was wearing the coonskin hat (out of camera range).

There was also a workshop tent performance by Casey Driessen and Ben Sollee, but I was watching Uncle Earl and forgot to attend. Wish I had, though. I heard it was great.

Sunsets were glorious. Here, the sun is setting over the food and CD vendors. You could also buy jewelry, clothing, cowboy hats, blankets, instruments, artwork, and tuners. I bought two silver rings, a Sparrow Quartet CD, and a Grey Fox t-shirt, trying my best to be frugal.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Camping at Grey Fox

Campsites on the hill. I took this photo as we were leaving. We camped in a different area.

This was our site. I rented a minivan to haul all our stuff. My daughter and I shared a large tent (in front of the minivan) and a "gazebo" tent. We cooked out on a propane stove, bringing food enough for a month. The white tent in the distance is the kids' activity tent, and the field behind our tent was usually full of kids playing with circus toys from the red-and-white striped tent.

The kids' play area, from the other direction. Our tent is behind the person with the green shirt and khaki pants. Once a ball came flying through and landed in our gazebo, but on the whole it was amusing to have the kids nearby, and their noise was a good cover for Doris's and my occasional fiddle/cello playing.

Our neighbor's site. They had a mini-car, a mini-tent (behind the mini-car), and a mini-gazebo. Later they put their tent inside their gazebo. This photo was taken before our friend Doris joined us, parking her pickup truck in the space between. Doris had a truck tent, which is set up in the back of the truck, so she had a very small camping footprint, kind of making up for our big one.

Not everyone camps with two cellos, three violins, and two violas.

All packed up. The people on either side of us had already left. You can see that the land is not level, but this was the flattest tent site we had had in three years, and the closest to the main stage, workshop stage, and activity tents. You can also see how densely spaced the campsites are.

We were among the first to leave on Sunday morning. It is a long ride home and we wanted to have some time with my in-laws in Connecticut, on the way home. We ended up staying overnight, having a nice, relaxing visit with them.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Home Again!

We had a great time at Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival, but I am delighted to be home again and looking forward to sleeping in my own bed once again. The Kruger Brothers were outstanding, definitely my favorite group, even though none of them play cello. They have written a symphony for their trio and orchestra, which was performed recently in Maine. I would love to hear that.

The "newgrass" groups, including Crooked Still and the Sparrow Quartet (both with cellists) were also delightful. I was impressed with Ben Sollee, a very creative, innovative, and talented cellist. He helped give the Sparrow Quartet its distinctive sound.

I saw the workshop (small audience) performance by the Kruger Brothers and two main stage performances by Crooked Still, but missed all but a few minutes of Rushad Eggleston's workshop performance and the Kruger Brothers' main stage performance because they were both scheduled for 4 pm, during the same time period as my instrument petting zoo. The petting zoo is rewarding in its own way, of course, especially watching people fall in love with the cello's glorious sound.

The weather cooperated. It rained only at convenient times: after we had the tent completely set up the first night we arrived, and during the night. Otherwise it was mostly sunny and beautiful. And freezing cold at night. Next time, more blankets.

One interesting weather event: Crooked Still sang a tune with the chorus: "Oh the wind and rain" and "Oh the dreadful wind and rain" and asked the audience to sing along. As we did, dark clouds moved in and the wind picked up ominously, despite Rushad's caution that we sing "not the wind and rain," since the same thing happened last year. The wind subsided for the next song.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Peaceful Harbor Cruise

My husband and I enjoyed a beautiful Boston Harbor cruise tonight with others from the string shop where I work occasionally.

The new Charles River bridge rising in the background. I used to work for the joint venture that designed this bridge, but that is a long story.

The U.S.S. Constitution ("Old Ironsides"), with Bunker Hill in the background. We watched as the ship shot off a cannon to acknowledge the sunset.

Another boat, similar to ours.

A much bigger boat.

Another boat, bigger and much rowdier than ours.

Home again.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007


We're due for some rain. I've been thinking it would arrive this week, Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival week. I finally looked at the weather forecast. Rain. Every day. Some thunderstorms. The worst part will be setting up camp in the rain. No, maybe the worst part will be driving down the muddy hill on Sunday, after the roads have been reduced to mush. Or, maybe, watching a favorite band perform in the wind and rain. Or lightning. Geesh.

Of course we are still going. We leave tomorrow. Some days show only a 40 percent probability of rain. We can always sit in the car while it slowly sinks into the mud or slides down the hill. I'm sure it will be lots of fun!

Monday, July 16, 2007

Grey Fox:" New Generation" Bands

The Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival schedule has been posted. The first year, I looked at it and circled maybe three performances that I wanted to see. One of them was opposite my "instrument petting zoo." One of them was canceled. This year I have circled most of them, favorites from previous years, and groups new to Grey Fox that I have heard on the radio (WUMB.org, Boston folk radio) or checked out on YouTube after hearing about them.

I am distressed to see that the main stage performance of the Kruger Brothers is scheduled opposite Rushad Eggleston's masters tent performance, just around the time when I am doing my "instrument petting zoo," or, hopefully, shortly thereafter. Imagine me running from stage to stage in the hot sun (or rain) toting a collection of violins, violas, and cellos.

Fortunately, I should be able to make the two Crooked Still performances and the Kruger Brothers master's tent performance. And lots of others.

In general, I prefer the "new generation" bluegrass bands to the "authentic" bluegrass groups. Grey Fox is dominated by the younger groups this year, though there are still quite a few of the older groups, including the Dismembered Tennesseans, a group that got together when they were all in high school and has stayed together, played together, for 55 years. Quite an accomplishment!

"New generation" groups include Uncle Earl, Sparrow Quartet, the Dukhs, Crooked Still, Nickel Creek, the Green Cards, the Infamous Stringdusters, Bearfoot Band (from Alaska), the Biscuit Burners, others. They will be playing individually and in "jams" of two or more bands. I am not familiar with all the groups, but happy to pull up a chair and listen for three days straight. I think my daughter will enjoy these younger groups too.

I'm bringing a cello, of course, so hope to join a friendly group of jammers myself, when I have an unscheduled moment.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Art with Words

I found TypoGenerator, an amusing little site, on Knitting Kat's blog. You type in a word, and it creates a little piece of art for you, grabbing an image from the net. Then you hit "try again" and it gives you an entirely different graphic. These two were done with "cello centered."

This, from the word "cello."
And this from the assortment of instruments I play or attempt to play.

And, finally, this one, from my husband's first name. The background graphic added a "Honey" after "Glenn," as if it knew, and mentions Memphis. Memphis is one of the many places we have lived. Psychic word art.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Singing Along

These flowers were the backdrop for our performance tonight at an outdoor art sale. At times like this I really appreciate being able to look at the scenery, not sheet music.

My teacher says that one of the best ways to improve intonation is to sing solfege syllables while playing scales. I find this a little frustrating, as it is sometimes hard to tell whether it is my singing or my cello playing that is not on pitch. While I have sung in several community choirs, I do need to stand next to someone who can actually sing so I can match pitches. So, singing the scales is a struggle, but I do believe it is helpful.

The fiddle group I play with loves to sing. Usually, they are standing, and I am sitting, so I can't lean into the microphone with them and sing along. Tonight, we played a two-hour sit-down gig, so I was on and equal footing with everyone else. So, tonight, I sang. Barely audibly, but I sang, pleased with myself for being able to coordinate this complex task of singing and playing at the same time. Can't say for sure how it sounded though!

Several people complimented my cello playing tonight, including the guitar player sitting next to me, who said he like my "bass-playing" accompaniment.

He laughed when he said it though, reminding me a little of myself when I tell people trying out a string instrument for the first time that they really have talent. The first time I said this, I was trying to be funny, meaning just the opposite. The player took me seriously, and, beaming, continued to play and enjoy herself. Now, I tell everyone they have talent, and I think they all do. It's just a matter of what they do with it, and a little encouragement always helps.

I choose to feel encouraged.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Grey Fox Cellists: Ben Sollee

Ben Sollee played at last year's Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival in the Masters (small workshop) Tent with Abigail Washburn and an unnamed group most of which is now the Sparrow Quartet. He seemed quiet, playing a calm and soothing background cello. At the time, he was the only member of the group that hadn't played in China the previous year.

At 22, he had just graduated from college with a degree in cello performance. This past year, he did go to China and Tibet. And this year, he is playing on the main stage with the Sparrow Quartet, which includes banjo player extraordinaire Bela Fleck, innovative fiddler Casey Driessen, and multi-talented Abigail Washburn, vocalist, banjo-player, and the reason why everyone went to China and Tibet.

My husband and daughter saw Abigail Washburn perform the first year we went to Grey Fox. I was off somewhere watching something else. They were so impressed with her all-woman band, Uncle Earl, that they bought the CD for me (even though there were no cellos in it!). Abigail still plays with Uncle Earl (they will be at Grey Fox this year too), but her focus seems to be more on the Sparrow Quartet this year, which I am looking forward to hearing, not only because there is a cellist in the band, but because I find the Chinese connection interesting. Abigail studied for a time in China and was inspired by Chinese traditional music to explore her own U.S. folk music heritage, and the group toured China and performs music from both traditions.

Not the greatest video quality, but a good performance by the Sparrow Quartet in China. Abigail sings in Chinese.

More videos on the Sparrow Quartet and the Chinese connection:

This video introduces the Sparrow Quartet and shows them jamming with a Mongolian folk band based in Beijing.

This video is a preview of documentary of the Sparrow Quartet in China and Tibet.

I bought Ben Sollee's solo CD, Turn on the Moon, last year at Grey Fox. He sings and plays the cello and writes his own music. I don't really know what musical genre it is. Let's say alternative folk rock. The only song on the CD that he did not write was written by Prince. Kind of mournful and rambling. While I really admire anyone who can sing and play the cello at the same time, as well as write his own music, I can't say I am a fan of this particular CD. I enjoy his melodic cello playing, but the singing and the rhythmic cello playing (perhaps he is tapping on the cello?), not so much. One tune, "Bury me with my Car," is a nice statement on contemporary culture. He is a talented and creative cellist, but this is not my kind of music. Perhaps it is a generation gap, or a gap of a couple of generations. You might like it!

I do enjoy his cello playing in the Sparrow Quartet, being predisposed toward folk/bluegrass/improvisational ensembles with cellists. There just aren't very many bands around with a vocalist, two banjos, a violin, and a cello. I wonder why Abigail chose this particular group of instruments/players. I have found no explanation. It's a unique group with an appealing multicultural sound, and one of the groups I am most looking forward to seeing, along with Uncle Earl.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Music Copyright and Town Music

The high school jazz 2004 reunion band getting ready to play last week at the town band shell.

Every town on Cape Cod has its own town band that plays weekly throughout the summer for residents and tourists. Admission is free. In my town, band members are not paid, nor do they have to pay a membership fee to be part of the band. They do get a free meal at a nice local restaurant at the end of the season though.

Having playing in my town's band until recently, I know that it is struggle to raise money to pay for new music. We pass the bucket at our concerts to get donations from those attending. The band has a huge collection of music, given it plays 14 pieces per concert, for ten weeks throughout the summer. Still it is always nice to freshen up the music with new purchases.

So it was interesting to read in today's Cape Cod Times that ASCAP is requiring $200-300 per town for blanket coverage to play live or recorded songs at town town venues. That includes town band, local cable television, arts fairs. Most towns pay up, as it would cost more than that to argue with ASCAP.

It seems a little heavy-handed, but as a musician playing at town events, it's good to know that our performances are covered under the copyright regulations, and that we won't be individually sued! We buy the music; it seems odd to have to pay to perform it. I don't know how the whole system works, but I do hope composers and sheet music producers will flourish.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Intonation Practice

I was having intonation problems on a piece in E flat major last week in the early music group: Bach's flute sonata no. 2 (1031) arranged for two flutes, cello, and piano/harpsichord. The cello doubles the piano left hand, and there are some awkward shifts and fingerings I have yet to figure out. I started out playing flute on this piece, so hadn't played it on cello prior to the rehearsal, which didn't help.

The group wanted to speed up the piece, and I made a face. One of the flute players said, "Well, you're just having problems with intonation, not speed." Hmm, maybe fast and out-of-tune is better than slow and out-of-tune because the notes offend for a shorter period of time.

Last evening, I worked with the harpsichord player on my part, first playing E flat scales, then the piece, which consists of three movements, two of which are in E flat and the middle section, the well-known Siciliano, in B flat. We played slowly, correcting the pitches when necessary (a lot in the beginning, but improving later). We changed some of the notes that required awkward shifts (at least until my teacher gets back from vacation).

I made a recording of the harpsichord part alone so that I can continue to practice at home. Of course a recording won't say, "hold it, that F was flat"; it will just keep playing merrily on. But I am encouraged.

Falmouth Fiddlers

This photo of the Falmouth Fiddlers playing at the Arts Alive was posted on the Rhode Island Roots Music site, where it is much larger, but still somewhat grayed out. I'm there, in the back, near my trusty cello case.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Grey Fox Cellists: Rushad Eggleston

Other than me :-), there will be two cellists that I know of at the Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival: Rushad Eggleston, who plays with Crooked Still and other bands, and Ben Sollee, who plays with Abigail Washburn, Bela Fleck, and Casey Driesen in the Sparrow Quartet. More on Ben Sollee later.

I met Rushad Eggleston at the first Grey Fox festival I went to two years ago. He and a bass player were doing a workshop called the Low and Lonesome Sound. I had already signed up to go to the Maine Fiddle Camp where he was teaching cello, so I went over and introduced myself and my daughter, who also went to the Maine Fiddle Camp with me. This is one of the things I like about Grey Fox: being able to talk to the musicians.

His workshop was outstanding, his cello playing inventive and ear-catching. He has great musical credentials: first string player to receive a full scholarship to Berklee School of Music in Boston (a jazz and rock orientation, and studied with Eugene Friesen, another of my favorite improvisational cellists.) He seemed a little shy.

I missed his performance on the main stage, that year with Darol Anger's Republic of Strings, because I had to do the "instrument petting zoo" in that time slot. But I had him as a teacher for almost a full week at Maine Fiddle Camp with about a dozen other cellists of all levels. He's not shy; he is crazy, and his teaching method is all his own. He yells out rhythms, he jumps around, he tells stories using only funny sound effects with his cello, he sings. He taught accompaniment techniques more than tunes. "What's the point of learning another tune in fiddle camp when you could be learning techniques you can use on all tunes." Makes sense to me.

But, when I took a break from cello to join one of the fiddle groups and suggested I use one of his chops and grooves techniques, the fiddle teacher said "No, his techniques are not suitable for traditional fiddle groups." So I learned another tune on the fiddle instead. And I didn't really try his accompaniment techniques with our fiddle group at home, thinking I would get the same reaction here. (Now I know they would be receptive, but need to work out some accompaniments before plunging in.)

We all had an individual 15-minute lesson with Rushad. He taught me a tune because I wanted him to teach me how to learn by ear. I didn't do all that well. I remember him saying, "It's an A! It's an open A!" when I couldn't tell which note to play next. :-) But, in that 15 minutes I did learn "Cluck Old Hen" and a chord-chopping accompaniment to it. And I have a tape of the lesson.

Rushad was a pied piper among the many kids at camp, being one himself, running around with them, playing games with them. There were faculty concerts every night at fiddle camp, and his improvisational cello playing/accompanying was always a hit. Rushad and his friends also play in Band of Snee, which is Rushad at his craziest, singing fast-paced, complicated lyrics about a Dr. Seuss-like land while playing the cello at a frenetic pace, often with the kids and a few stray adults singing along.

I saw him again at Grey Fox last year, this time playing with Crooked Still, a band I love. They take the old traditional fiddle tunes and infuse new life, rhythm, and jubilation into them. And without a fiddle! Members play cello, banjo, bass, and vocal/guitar. Creative and energetic. He also did a workshop, this time including Aoife O'Donovan, Crooked Still's vocalist.

This year, Crooked Still has two performances, and I am looking forward to hearing them.

I couldn't decide on one YouTube video, so here are three:

A relatively calm "Ecstasy"

An energetic "Mountain Jumper" (a Band of Snee tune)

And an interesting "Come on in My Kitchen" with Rushad on an elevated platform and wearing his more usual wild and crazy clothing.

Saturday, July 7, 2007

The Big 7/7/07 Concert

No, not Al Gore's concert. I'm talking about the local high school 2004 jazz band reunion concert. The kids in the jazz band in 2004 were outstanding, and the band won many awards. Several of the kids, including my son, formed their own jazz band, the Turner Ave Quintet (TAQ), which still plays together on New Year's Eve and in the summertime when the kids are home from far-flung college and jobs.

Tonight was the first time that most of the high school band has played together since most of them graduated three years ago, so it was special for all of us, kids and parents alike. The band did a great job, and the TAQ had a couple of featured numbers too. My son plays first alto sax and had his share of solos. I was so proud. :-)

My husband was the announcer, and he and I videotaped the concert for the local cable television station. The concert was outside, at the band shell near the harbor, at sunset. Perfect!

Grey Fox: The Kruger Brothers

I saw the Kruger Brothers a couple of years ago at the Joe Val Bluegrass Festival in Framingham, MA. This is a mid-winter festival, and the music is performed inside, in a long, low hotel conference room. A dreary environment for bluegrass, and I spent more time looking at exhibits and playing the fiddle with other entry-level fiddlers than in the concert hall.

But the Kruger Brothers really lit up the room and the entire festival for me. I remember them with a silver white aura emanating from them (could have been a spotlight) while they played music that sounded to me like a mix of classical, jazz, and folk, in addition to the more standard bluegrass and gospel genres. Simply breathtaking. And they also have a sense of humor.

Even though they do not play the cello, this is the group I am most looking forward to at Grey Fox this year.

It was hard to find a good video of the Kruger Brothers on YouTube, but I picked this one, crying baby and all, for the extended instrumental section. (Kruger Brothers Live @ Rudy's 1/5/2007) There are other YouTube videos showing their bluegrass and gospel styles.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Again and again and again

Often, I have found, the first time we (any chamber music group I play with) plays a piece, it sounds great. On our sight-reading nights, all sounds good, and we go on and on.

However, when we decide to work on a piece to bring it to performance level, it seems to fall apart, initially, sink into some sort of abyss, and I can't remember how I could have possibly played the piece previously. Sometimes I don't even recognize it. Gradually, the piece comes [back] together, and we are pleased with the result.

Most likely, I was not really hearing all the problems the first time through; it probably wasn't as splendid that first time through as I thought it was.

I enjoy sight-reading and I am one of the people who is always buying new music, but I would rather spend time with a piece than just sight-read, especially with the initially unfamiliar early music pieces we play, working out the fingerings, the articulations, and dynamics, and feeling how one's part fits in with the whole.

At a minimum, being able to recognize the piece! "Oh, that's the Canzona from the Purcell Sonata in F Major," I want to be able to say. Seems like a reasonable request. But it takes a deliberate effort to focus! I am recording all the rehearsals now and making CDs for everyone, which helps a lot, especially since I am playing cello and not always focusing on the flute/recorder/violin melodies.

Both the flute choir and the early music group are performing on Labor Day, and several of us are playing in both groups. I am happy to say that both groups are focusing now, playing only the music that we will be performing on Labor Day, seeking to perfect it. It seems like a long time until Labor Day: we haven't even had a good summer heat wave yet. But I'll be away two weeks (at Grey Fox and then at Scottish fiddle camp), and other people will be away too, so there are only a few rehearsals where we will have the whole early music group (2 flutes, recorder, violin, cello, occasional second cello, harpsichord) all together.

Last year, we only had three members in the early music group and patched together a program in about two weeks, some of which I barely recognized when it came time to play it! We're already miles ahead of that!

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Red , White, and Blueberry

I meant to get some gorgeous photos of the neighborhood 4th of July parade today, but my batteries were not cooperating. We've been marching in this parade for years. It is not our neighborhood, but the neighborhood of friends I play flute with. It is a beautiful march route with glorious views of Vineyard Sound. The weather was great: sunny, not too hot, not too windy. Our hosts supply red T-shirts with the band logo on it, so we look pretty cool as we stroll along, playing for clumps of residents along the way. "March" would be too formal a word.

It is easier to march with a flute than a cello. I said to my husband, "We don't play while we are marching, just when we stop, usually in the shade. I could easily play the cello." He looked at me cautiously; I had to explain I was joking. It is hard enough to play the flute on some of those tunes, holding the flute off to an angle in an attempt to read the music strapped to my arm. Each year I think I should buy or design a better music holder, something like an around-the-neck harmonica holder, but a few inches away from the face. Then I forget about it for another year. A marching cello music holder would be a thing to behold. Oh, maybe I could haul a music stand around with me too!

We had a lot of adorable little kids playing drums this year, well-directed by an adult drummer. We also had 2 flutes, 1 clarinet, 2 saxophones, a baritone horn, my husband's bodhran (Irish drum). It sounded surprisingly good. We were followed by people in decorated cars, and lots of neighborhood residents, stretching out for several blocks. 76 trombones, in spirit.

We marched and played for about an hour, then gathered at our friends' house for a pot-luck feast. We talked and ate for about two hours, possibly negating the positive effects of all that exercise.

I always bring blueberry buckle, and everyone always raves about it, so I thought I would share the recipe, in lieu of photos, for those still into sugar and fat, with a touch of blueberry antioxidants. It's basically a Betty Crocker recipe I acquired when I was 18, with a couple of minor changes. I hope she won't mind.

Blueberry Buckle

3/4 C sugar
1/4 C margarine
1 egg
1/2 C milk
2 C flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1 pint fresh blueberries

Crumb topping: mix together. Should be lumpy.
1 C sugar
2/3 C flour
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 C soft butter or margarine

Heat oven to 375. Mix margarine, sugar, and egg. Stir in milk. Add flour, baking powder, and salt. Blend in blueberries. Spread in greased and floured glass pie plate. Sprinkle with crumb topping. Bake for 40-50 minutes, or until a toothpick stuck into the center comes out clean. Serve warm.

I took mine out of the oven at 9 am this morning, and when we ate it at 11 am, it was still warm and lovely.

Happy 4th!

Monday, July 2, 2007

More on the Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival

This is for Donna and others who might be considering Grey Fox this year.

The photo above is from the Grey Fox web site. It shows a young, all-woman string band, Uncle Earl. Abigail Washburn, who sings/plays banjo in Uncle Earl, also plays in the Sparrow Quartet, which includes a cellist, Ben Sollee, as well as Bela Fleck on banjo. They will also perform this year.

My interest in bluegrass music is fairly recent and directly related to my attendance at Grey Fox. I have been aware of bluegrass music for a long time--my brother plays bluegrass banjo by ear and has always been a fan. I became interested when I started playing the fiddle 3 or 4 years ago.

So, two years ago, when there was a need for someone to bring instruments to Grey Fox for an "instrument petting zoo," I volunteered. My brother had talked about this festival, and I thought it might be fun to go, especially since he and his business partner and my good friend Doris (a fiddler) were going. My husband and daughter came with me that first year, though my husband has declined to come last year and this year. I understand: enduring the sometimes oppressive heat, the gentle or not-so-gentle rain, sleeping on a hill, even a slight hill, is not for everyone, and watching bluegrass day and night for four days straight can be a little overwhelming. My daughter continues to enjoy the event with me though, and I can't wait to see Doris there.

Because of Grey Fox, bluegrass music is much more meaningful to me now, having heard the groups at the main tent and seeing them up-close-and-personal in the smaller masters tent, and having a chance to talk to them directly after a performance and buy their CDs. It is wonderful having the musicians so accessible and learning a little more about them as people.

In addition to the performances, there's also a dance tent, a family activities tent, and workshops where you can learn fiddle techniques from the experts. You can jam with other musicians, and there are lots of them. The play all night long (except in quiet camping).

And, of course, it is fun for me to do the petting zoo, to introduce kids to cellos, violas, and violins. Other people bring banjos, dobros, guitars, and other instruments. Brian Wicklund, who wrote the American Fiddle Method books, runs the camp. I had the opportunity to talk to him about the cello version, suggesting more use of 4th position, maybe in a "more advanced" second volume. He said they might to that in a second volume, if people buy the first one. So, buy it. :-) It is a good intro to cello fiddling, especially if, like me, you are playing with fiddlers who use the fiddle version.

Grey Fox is a huge bluegrass festival, constructed for a week or so in mid-July in the middle of a parched cornfield in the hills of upstate New York. I don't know for sure how many people come, but the figure I have heard is 16,000. There are 4,000 campsites, tents smack up against each other sometimes, to cram more people in. Campsites is too formal a term. There are roads marked off to provide basic structure, but campsites are basically wherever you can put a tent, along with a canopy for jamming, a table, a cookstove, maybe a shower tent. There are no hookups, but there is a shower facility (long lines) and plenty of porta-potties. There are lots of vendors selling food, clothing, crafts, jewelry, CDs, and instruments.

For more information, see the Grey Fox site, or read the press release for this year's event. I am partial to the "new generation" string bands, mentioned in the press release, particularly Crooked Still, with Rushad Eggleston on cello (playing here with Casey Driessen on fiddle):

The Kruger Brothers, an "older" group playing banjo, guitar, and bass guitar, will be there this year. They are an outstanding group, melding bluegrass, classical, jazz, and contemporary music. I will write more on about the music later.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Old Joe Clark for cello

I came across this sheet music for Old Joe Clark on the cello recently and thought I would share it with those who haven't tried this easy fiddle tune. I particularly like the Performance tips at the bottom of the page.


I play it an octave higher, and some of the notes and rhythms are different, but that's fiddling for you. Lots of variations.

Enough carefree fiddling for me for a little while though. I am back to [attempted] precision in early music and Suzuki for most of the rest of this week.

Fiddling outside

I went to an old-time fiddle session yesterday, under a tent canopy in a friend's backyard. There were 21 fiddlers (fiddle, banjo, guitar, mandolin, tin whistle, autoharp, recorder, and me on cello) from various parts of Cape Cod. One of the other fiddlers occasionally plays cello, though didn't bring her cello yesterday.

A fiddling friend and I agreed to go to the Irish/Celtic fiddle session at the other end of the Cape during the last week in July.

I like both Celtic and old-time (I may have a slight preference for Irish, particularly mournful minor key tunes, but I play with an old-time group), though I can certainly see the advantages of specializing in one or the other. We were given a list of close to 200 old-time tunes to play yesterday; O'Neill's book of Irish tunes contains 1,850 tunes. Hard to make an inroad! Still, we did play a few tunes I knew (Soldier's Joy, Old Joy Clark, Jessica's Waltz), a few I sort of knew (Frosty Morning, Midnight on the Water), and a few I sort of knew but can't play as fast as they do (Liberty, Eighth of January, Arkansas Traveler). I happily worked on accompaniment styles during the pieces I couldn't play.

I said to my friend who hosted the event, "You must have great neighbors, not to complain about the music." She said that the neighbors in back and one side told her they enjoyed it, and the neighbor on the other side was elderly and deaf.

Very encouraging. I'm going outside to practice.