Friday, August 31, 2007

Labor Day Weekend Concert

I bought this music on eBay when I first started the cello. It was in a collection of "easy music for beginning cellists." It is almost entirely first position, but does have its little challenges and is fun to play, and I am happy to finally have the opportunity to perform it!

Saturday, tomorrow, is our big concert of the summer. The Symphony is performing a Pops concert at the Fairgrounds at 7 pm to crowds estimated to number over 7,000, and we're part of the background music for the afternoon's festivities that lead up to the big concert. Both my flute choir and my early music group are playing, alternating half-hour segments for over two hours. (Three of us play in both groups.)

We've been performing at this event for the last six years. The first few years we played outside in a tranquil garden setting (as people walked past, eager to set up their chairs for the Pops), but the last couple of years have been inside an airport-hanger sort of a building, with the artists, mostly painters, showing their art and demonstrating portrait painting and other techniques. It has been a nice blend of music and art, and people have lingered longer to listen.

This year they have doubled the number of artists, adding a myriad of craftspeople and children's activities: jewelry-makers, ceramicists, photographers, and visual artists, all demonstrating their crafts, along with puppet shows, face painters, and other children's activities. It might be a little crowded. Hopefully we will be heard above the din. More important is that we hear each other.

We have been given us a stage, though, and microphones, so in a sense we are being elevated. :-) I am a little nervous; I should have practiced more. But both groups are sounding good. As long as we can hear each other, we should be fine. There is a certain comfort in being background music--no one is listening to your every note; but, on the other hand, we do want people to hear our delightful music that we have worked on for months! :-)

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Classical Interpretations, with humor

These aren't exactly Suzuki tunes, but I enjoyed them and wanted to share them. The first is Sid Caesar and Nanette Fabray pantomiming an argument to Beethoven's Fifth, from Sid Caesar's 1950s "Your Show of Shows.

I can't get the second one to post correctly so follow this link:
Jack Benny and Isaac Stern

Jack Benny and Isaac Stern play Bach's Double Violin Concerto in d minor. I have played this on flute, though not entirely successfully, as the second part drops below the flute range quite frequently! A friend played cello in a version for 2 violins and cello, but I haven't tried that yet. I'm not sure if this is a Suzuki violin piece, but most of the violin students play it.

There are a lot more Jack-Benny-playing-the-violin videos on YouTube. I saw him play violin when I was young, and he remains a favorite of mine.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

A. Dvorak - Humoresque No.7

Itzhak Perlman and Yo-Yo Ma play "Humoresque" (Suzuki Book 3).

I found this while idly cruising YouTube, looking for Suzuki pieces that I have played or intend to play. I am going to have to go back and work on my "Humoresque" to put a little more feeling into it. Well, actually, I think Perlman and Ma might be putting a little too much feeling into this, but I love it, and I am going to try to emulate it.

One of the comments on YouTube is "I didn't know this piece could be played that well."

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Paths to success

Two years ago, I spent two days sitting in the rain in Gillette Stadium near Boston with my 16-year-old daughter and 5,000 other people, waiting for her American Idol audition. It was, for the most part, a light rain, and we all had umbrellas, so it wasn't much of a hardship. I was vaguely aware of a hurricane somewhere in the South that was causing this rain. I brought work with me, to pass the time, and I noticed a father a row or two away working on his laptop computer under an umbrella. (Those under 18 have to be accompanied by their parents).

We talked and we eavesdropped on other conversations. A couple was talking about how they had driven up from Virginia, wrecked their car in an accident in Rhode Island, rented a car and drove on, so sure were they of their imminent Idol success. Another person, noting the extremely low ratio of people selected to people rejected, mused, "I wonder how I should act if I get selected and those around me do not. Would be rude to express joy in front of the losers?"

Others strategized. Should I sing really badly, with hopes of getting on tv as one of the dreadful auditions, then sing well when I finally get into see Simon? Still others were practicing their songs, performing for others, or still deciding what they should sing. Periodically groups of people would start singing, and the song would bounce around the stadium for a while. Everyone I talked to, or eavesdropped on, or observed seemed to share the same belief: "I am (or my daughter/son is) supremely talented and will make it." Even I was quite sure that as soon as the judges heard my daughter's voice, we'd be on our way to Hollywood, even though hers is more an operatic voice, than a pop music voice.

The American Idol staff had us sing "Singing in the Rain," while we twirled our umbrellas. Very few of the under-30 crowd had ever heard the song, so it was a little rough getting it going. I don't think this bit ever got on tv, but it was fun being part of the tv production.

When it was finally my daughter's turn she sang two songs, including "Summertime," and was told, along with the other members in her group, "Thanks, but you're not what we are looking for." We joined the parade of dejected, unbelieving rejectees stumbling toward the exit. We saw some friends of my daughters, good singers, all, and everyone seemed to think it was just a quirk that they were not selected. They all still believed.

When we reached home, and reality, after two days of immersion in pop culture, I turned on the tv and discovered that Hurricane Katrina had hit New Orleans with a fury, people were dying and stranded, homes and businesses were destroyed, and help was slow in coming. And two years later, the city and its people are still struggling.

American Idol goes on. This year, the closest audition site was Philadelphia, and my daughter, who is now old enough to attend auditions by herself, decided it was too far too travel. I read that 17,000 people showed up to audition in Philadelphia, the largest turnout yet.

I'm sure there is some lesson here about our priorities as a nation. Like many others, I sent money to the clean-up effort (which was probably misused), but otherwise I have not made a personal contribution. Maybe we want the same quick fix that American Idol offers: overnight success, and we lose interest the long, hard work of rebuilding a city and providing help to its people. Wouldn't it be nice to divert some of the military budget to New Orleans and other areas in need?

Monday, August 27, 2007

Something for the home

When I get too old to haul the cello around, or when it looks like rain or ice cream (I managed to slop some ice cream on my cello at the last fiddle performance, not wanting to lie it down in the grass), maybe I can turn to the bowed dulcimer. See link for a short clip. There is a variant of the instrument called a "pocket cello" that even comes with an end pin.

I occasionally try to play the mountain dulcimer. I even went to camp for mountain dulcimer last summer and had a wonderful week, learning new chord techniques. When I got home from camp, the first thing I did, after I dragged my stuff in from the car, was to pick up the dulcimer and play all the tunes. I haven't really picked it up since then. But, I just learned of a dulcimer nearby concert/workshop/festival in September, so might attend, just for fun. :-)

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Fiddling goals update

We had a fiddle performance yesterday, which made me think about the two-month Fiddling Goals I set for myself on April 9. It's been four months, and I haven't done very well, though camp was very helpful. Here's an update:

So, my cello fiddling goals for the next 2 months:
  • Go to at least 2 fiddle sessions a month (I have been attending only one).
  • I have achieved this goal. We have had lots of performances this summer, and I go to most of them. But I still miss more practice sessions than I attend.
  • Practice fiddle tunes as part of regular practice (not just the day before fiddle session).
  • I have not been good about this, except when I get immersed in a particular tune. I have learned a few more tunes on the cello, but they are not always hesitation-free, or fast enough.
  • Practice reading from treble clef and transposing an octave down mentally, to avoid having to transpose tunes on paper, just to memorize them.
  • I have been able to do this to some degree, but it is still easier to read bass clef, unless it is a slow tune. I still like to write the music into Coda Finale in bass clef and put it in my loose-leaf notebook of cello fiddling tunes.
  • Study the cello fiddle accompaniment books that I have (the best one, I think, is by Renata Bratt).
  • I have not done much with this, except for an hour or so at fiddle camp. The information makes much more sense after camp.
  • Learn a few more tunes in Abby Newton's book, Crossing to Scotland, even if they are not in the fiddlers' current repertoire. I love this book, and the group is usually happy to learn new tunes.
  • This I have done. though they are not totally memorized. I do want to continue with this.
It is interesting that I didn't include learning by ear in this list, or learning to play accompaniment by ear, both of which were priorities for me at fiddle camp. Thanks to camp, I have made some progress with these two things.

So, I should add a couple of goals:
  • Work more on learning by ear, from other players, from CDs, and from working out known tunes by myself.
  • Work out and memorize accompaniments for some of our standard tunes so that I am not always guessing what the next chord is. I think this will make improvisation easier, eventually.
  • Practice fiddle tunes on a regular basis, perhaps according to a schedule.
I should mention that lessons, the early music group, and flute choir tend to take precedence over fiddling, even though I do not write about them as much as I write about fiddling. It is not that I am not practicing, just that my overcommitment to music ensembles tends to make finding time to practice anything difficult. There is a solution here (focusing, so very nice at camp), but I am not willing to give up any of the groups right now. (I've already dropped three groups this year!)

Thursday, August 23, 2007

More Flowers and writing

More "Flowers of Edinburgh" tonight at fiddle session. We had a guest cellist from Manchester, England who happened to be in the string shop as we were setting up. She was not familiar with fiddle music, but was happy to have an opportunity to play cello. She was a very good cellist, and somewhat perplexed that we would play a tune more than once. We play them at least three times each because that is how we learn and remember them (I gave her sheet music, but we don't generally use it).

After a while, though, she said, "do you have any classical music?"

Ah, a fine opportunity to play "My Love's Bonnie ...." (Flowers of Edinburgh) which sounds like chamber music, yet can still be considered fiddle music. The sheet music has two cello parts, one melody and one accompaniment, so we played cello duets, with violins.

I've been enjoying the writing class this week, even though I do not have time to write much this week. I finally got my little story plotted out; then the exercise for the day was (1) change your main character; (2) change your setting. Oh, no, I can't, I thought. But I did, and I think the story is potentially much better now. Tomorrow is the last class. I may need an ongoing class to actually finish this story. I am impressed by the writings of my classmates. Most of them have been writing fiction for some time, and their story fragments sound good.

Yesterday, I attended most of a talk by Claire Cook, author of Must Like Dogs. Her main message was "write the book that only you can write." (write what you know). But she was funny and had lots of good information on how to get published (there are no rules), so I bought her new book, Life's a Beach. I've only read the first chapter, but it's funny, too. A good beach book.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

More on "Flowers of Edinburgh"

On my CelloBloggers page, I uploaded a recording of the fiddle camp rendition of "My Love's Bonny," also known as "Flowers of Edinburgh," or probably better stated as a version of "Flowers." Please read the explanatory note there. It's more like chamber music than fiddle music here.

I use my real name in CelloBloggers, Marilyn R------, in case you have trouble finding it.

Post-Camp Rehearsals

I'm performing with two ensembles (early music and flute choir) at the same Labor Day weekend concert in about a week and a half. I brought all my sheet music to fiddle camp with me, hoping to practice, even hoping to get some fiddlers to play the violin parts with me. But I focused completely on the Scottish fiddle music while I was at camp, and I am still obsessed with it in my practice sessions, still not playing much of anything else.

So, I was pleasantly surprised last night at early music rehearsal that my playing of the early music pieces has improved even though I have not been practicing them. It must be a side benefit of playing cello four or five hours a day for a week. My intonation is better too. Learning by ear must have helped. It forces you to concentrate on pitches, not notes. I need to keep this up.

This morning I practiced some fiddle tunes with a friend from the fiddling group. We sounded better together too. We played "Flowers of Edinburgh," and started to work on "Kinrara." We have a fiddle session later this week, and I hope to teach "Kinrara" to the group then. We played some Scottish music in the early music group too, including a violin/cello duet of "Flowers of Edinburgh." I am going to have to memorize that one.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Writing Camp!

View to the side, from the classroom. To the left (not shown) is the ocean.

I am taking a couple of classes at a week-long writer's conference this week. One class meets every day: Writing Fiction from Family Stories; the second one meets only Wednesday afternoon and is about inspiration for writing. There are also talks in the evening that I may attend, if I can find the time. I do get to go home every night and sleep in my own bed. And attend to my job during the rest of the day.

There are assignments. Today we had to come up with an idea. My first thought was to write something about my mother, who died in February. I was having trouble fictionalizing her life though. I talked to the teacher after class who suggested that maybe it was too early to write fiction based on my mother's life. Maybe a nonfiction memoir would be the way to start. She said she had similar feelings when she tried to write about her mother. That was a very helpful discussion.

I'd like to write about someone who plays the cello. Or about someone who lives in a nursing home/assisted living center. Or someone who lives in a nursing home and plays the cello. Someone who is a real person, not a caricature of an elderly person. Someone who has their wits about them (as my mother did). But I am thinking that it might be best to start with a character who is somewhat removed from me (and my mother). We'll see.

I don't write much fiction (just memoir and blog entries that sometimes want to leap in the direction of fiction), which is the reason I am taking the class.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Fiddle camp extensions

Leaving Thompson Island on Saturday, land of Scottish Fiddle Camp.

Fiddle camp came to an end yesterday, but the spirit lives on. My husband and I journeyed out to the other end of the Cape to hear Catherine Fraser (fiddle) and Duncan Smith (piano), both teachers at fiddle camp, perform tonight. Catherine was my favorite fiddler: her playing is lyrical, energetic, emotionally expressive, powerful, technically flawless (at least as far as I could tell!), and inspiring. Australian, but of Scottish heritage, she plays all types of Scottish music, as well as her own gorgeous compositions. Duncan's piano playing adds much to the sound, and it was great to hear him on a grand piano, instead of a portable keyboard. Several other campers attended too, and it was great to see those familiar faces.

Her web site is
To hear her music, see her MySpace page.

We (at the violin shop) are working on putting together some other workshops and events, and I've got about five rehearsals this week, so life goes on.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Friday at Fiddle Camp

In Friday’s Beginning Fiddling class, we went over all four parts of “High Road to Linton.” It, like the other beginning fiddling tunes, is in A major. I’m still having trouble reliably fingering the high G sharps, but this tune is coming together. Each of the four parts is pretty easy; it is just a matter of remembering them all, and the order in which they go, as we learned them out of order. The whole tune is on the A string for the cello. I ought to try playing it an octave lower, just to move around the strings a little. But then it would start on a low C sharp, E, A, probably creating more problems than it would solve.

Getting the notes is only the first step of course. There are slurs and accents that must be played for the piece to sound good and authentically Scottish. Correct bowing is crucial. Then you have to bring it up to speed, in order to play with others. I’ll try to continue to work on this when I get home. The Scottish tune book that I donated to the auction has “High Road to Linton,” so I know where to fine the notes if I need them. Most of the non-copyrighted tunes will be on the camp website shortly, too, so you, dear reader, may play them too.

In Friday’s first cello class, we learned “Sister Jean” and an interesting (and easy) countermelody to it, as well as a somewhat complicated bass line, which I did not pay too much attention to, figuring I would just stick with the countermelody for our performance tonight. We’re also going to play “Kinrara” so we went over that again. I’ll take a bass line on this one, as I cannot play the melody fast enough. I can play it almost up-to-speed, or up-to-speed with a couple of hesitations, though. A hesitation or two, and it is hard to keep up! I’m not as clear on the bass line as I should be, but am getting most of it.

At lunchtime, I grabbed a plate of salad and some uncharacteristically delicious tofu and vegetable concoction left over from last night’s feast, and headed for my room. I wrote down the “Sister Jean” countermelody so I wouldn’t forget it, and played it over and over again.

We reviewed the tune again in the afternoon cello class, along with all the other tunes of the week. I didn’t play anything perfectly, except maybe the countermelody once or twice and the waltz, but am feeling good about what I did remember and could play.

Abby taught an elective class right after the cello class: Baroque Scottish chamber music composed by James Oswald. She and Anne Hooper demonstrated a few violin/cello duets. Outstanding! I was a little worried about playing the pieces because they sounded complicated, but, when the music was passed out to violinists (for the moment, they were no longer fiddlers) and cellists, I found it easy to keep up, and felt so fluid, just being able to read the music! Ok, I got lost once or twice. It was so much fun being able to play along with Abby. Most of the tunes we played are on Abby’s CDs, and will be in her next sheet music book. Highly recommended! What a delightful way to end our classes here.

Friday night was the Ceilidh, which included performances by some very talented campers, as well as skits and nonsense. I was in a skit involving the Ministry of Magic (cellists, pianists, and guitar players formed the Ministry) giving out points to the various houses. The Beginning Fiddling class did a little skit involving warm-up exercises in which the fiddlers, while playing our waltz, dropped to their knees, and then to the floor where they lay on their backs, continuing to play. I let my endpin slide in and knelt, then sat on the floor, but could not, would not lie on my back. The other cellist did. Finally, the cellists performed our two tunes, “Sister Jean” and Kinrara. All went well, and I enjoyed doing it. Then, as on the first night, there was much playing of commonly known tunes, led by various instructors. I still knew only a couple of tunes, so I played backup, a touch more intelligently than last week.

We leave on the 10 am boat on Saturday (today), and we’ll be back in the real world where people go to work and carve out only a small portion of the day for cello playing. I’ve learned a lot about learning by ear and playing accompaniment. I have met lots of great people. It’s been a wonderful experience, but I am looking forward to getting home, too, and seeing family and friends. And sleeping in my own bed!

Friday, August 17, 2007

Thursday at fiddle camp

View of Boston from The Hollow.

Yesterday’s clam bake/lobster meal was great! What a delight! We ate outside, in an area called The Hollow, where the chairs can be arranged for performances or for eating. There was some entertainment beforehand. Our fiddle teachers played “French Folk Song” slowly and out of tune before launching into another exquisite set of Scottish tunes. There was also an auction items and services donated by campers to raise money for a former camp instructor who is being treated for cancer.

There was a dance afterwards, but I returned to my room with the idea that I would practice. I didn’t though. I went to bed early. It had been a busy tune-filled day.

Anne returned to teaching Beginning Fiddle, and we continued working on “High Road to Linton,” which has four parts. We reviewed the first part and learned two more parts. I missed Hanneke’s “close-your-eyes-and-listen” approach, but for one of the parts and analytical approach worked better. There were repeating four-note sections, in which the first part of each section was the first note of a turn (C-D-C-B).

In Cello class, I have been sitting at the edge of the class, where a view of Abby’s hand is often unclear. Thursday, I had a clear front-and-center view and had no problem starting of the tune because I could clearly see which notes she was playing. (The woman who took my end seat, who usually has no problem getting the tunes said what I had earlier: “I don’t even know what note you’re starting on.”) When things got complicated, it actually helped to look away though and just focus on the listening. The new tune, a jig, moves around from first to second to third and fourth positions and features a Shetland bowing. Watching was confusing though because I always fell behind trying to analyze what Abby was doing. So, I was torn between taking advantage of my great position visually and ignoring that position to focus on the tune.

One of the cellists who had been in Hanneke’s class with me said it was helpful to keep a free brain: to focus on the listening and the music and rid yourself of other thoughts, especially those “I can’t possibly do this” thoughts.

Another of the cellists who usually gets all the tunes said the standard session tunes were easier to learn than Abby’s more unusual music. We all agreed we loved Abby’s selection of music though.

After class I was torn between practicing, taking a nap, or going for a walk. I went for a walk, to the end of the island. I picked the closest end, the one heading in the direction of Scotland, and enjoyed a peaceful journey along a path through woods and meadows, with views of the ocean and Boston’s Logan International Airport.

It is hard to play in class for three or four hours and then find time and energy to practice. Still, I like the schedule here. There is a half hour between classes in the morning, an hour and a half break for lunch, and classes are over by 3:30. Dinner is from 6 to 7, and the evening’s entertainments start at 8 pm. There is always an opportunity to play at sessions or with other people.

Tonight there is another big party, the Ceilidh, preceded and followed by sessions. The Ceilidh include performances, skits, amusements, and dancing. It will be hard to leave this little island in the morning, but it will be nice to have time to practice some of these tunes (and all that other music I should be working on but have been neglecting).

This is my dorm building. My room is the basement room on the left end of the building. My cello class meets under the trees (where the cellos are), and my wi-fi center is the table. Pretty easy commute.

This is the side view of my dorm building. My side window is the one in front, on the right. Behind the building, you can see the soccer field. At the end of the soccer field is a path to the end of the island that I followed yesterday.

Logan airport from the walking path. (This is where I was when I called you, Glenn!)

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Tuesday and Wednesday at fiddle camp

I’ve been writing these entries offline, in my room, rather than outside in the Wi-Fi center. Here’s an update on Tuesday and Wednesday. Thursday’s classes just ended (except for the electives, which I may skip today), and I will write about them later. I am catching on and learning much, but I am also getting tired, and the tunes are beginning to meld into conglomerate tune, or, as they say, “chune.”

Tonight is the clam bake (with lobster), a welcome break from standard camp food, which is often entirely yellow (corn, rice with leftover scrambled eggs mixed in, pasta, some other pasta, fish sticks, some sort of potatoes, and lemonade), with an occasional salad. I thought the world had embraced nutrition! The last two camps I went to had fresh organic fruits and vegetables, creatively cooked and presented. Oh well, the music is excellent here.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

In Beginning Fiddling, we reviewed our March tune and learned a harmony part to Lovely Stornoway. We will be playing this waltz Wednesday night at the Harry Potter dance. Since there are two cellists in the class, we will alternate on harmony and sometimes both play melody with other fiddlers playing the harmony part.

We had an open period prior to Cello class in which one of the other cellists and I worked on the tunes. He was very helpful, reminding me to sing the tune and listen for the intervals. I now have one of the tunes memorized and almost up to speed. The other still need some practice, but it is coming. Playing these fiddle tunes and accompaniment by ear requires a bit of knowledge of music theory, so there are benefits beyond “merely” fiddling and memorizing.

In Cello class, we reviewed the two earlier tunes, with accompaniment, and learned a new air. I am catching on a little faster now. It helps to do a slow tune, though this one, “Da Auld Resting Chair,” is not all that slow, and it seems to have many sections to it, not just an A and a B part. The tunes always seem more complicated when you are first introduced to them, then make more sense when you work on them. I have not had time to work on this tune, as the day has been busy, as always. I went over some of the fingerings in Abby’s book, “Crossing to Scotland,” with her. Abby’s fingerings are simpler than those my teacher gave me, and I am happy to have them. She will have another book out soon, by the way, with music from her other CDs.

I did not play fiddle in the March down to greet the visitors boat because I loaned my fiddle to a woman whose fiddle was hit and cracked by a flying Frisbee while she was practicing in the meadow. (This was actually a relief for me, not having to worry about playing both fiddle and cello here!) I spent some time relearning the March tune on the flute, barely getting down to the dock on time. I didn’t play, as they were already into the fast version of the tune by the time I got there. The march was fun though, even (especially) not playing.

The march led to an open-air concert featuring our stellar teachers. Abby played in many of the sets, and I enjoyed that particularly. All the teachers are outstanding players and multitalented. My beginning fiddle teacher, Anne Hooper, also plays with the Boston Philharmonic. Hanneke Cassel, who will teach the beginners on Wednesday, teaches at multiple fiddle camps, plays with Rushad Eggleston, and is sort of a female version of Rushard, in that she plays chops/grooves and is a little loony. But she is much more articulate than RE and shares the stage much better than he does. She is behind the Harry Potter theme, and has assigned each fiddle class to Hogwart Houses and given roles to various teachers and administrators. She is energetic and creative and always seems to be having a good time. Catherine Fraser is an excellent fiddler from Australia. She’s probably my favorite fiddle player: lyrical, musical, expressive, and makes it look so easy. There are guitar and piano teachers too, but I haven’t gotten to know them.

Lots more playing tonight. In other camps I have attended, there are individual and small group performances, usually daily. Here, the focus is on playing in the larger ensemble. So we all played various tunes that each class has been working on as well as other Scottish session tunes. The cellists did have group performance though. I played accompaniment, as I do not have these tunes up to speed yet. I love them though and will continue to work on them, though I am getting increasingly snowed under with tunes as the week progresses.

I like the fact that this camp is so focused on one genre of music. At other camps, I have felt torn in many directions. But here, especially now that I loaned out my fiddle, I play only cello (except for that brief flute diversion), and I play only Scottish tunes. I am trying to decide if I would come back here next year. I would have to build a repertoire of Scottish fiddle tunes over the coming year. Not Abby Newton cello-oriented tunes, but standard session tunes that everyone else is playing. That means I would have to find someone to play Scottish tunes with throughout the year. We have Celtic groups on the Cape, but not specifically Scottish groups (except for the bagpipers).

Once I get back home, the other genres of music in my life will clamor for attention, and I don’t know if I will have time to learn even a small Scottish repertoire. I’ll keep working on learning by ear and accompaniment. I can teach the Scottish tunes I have learned to the Old Time fiddle group I play with, as they also play some Celtic music. I am inclined to come back here, just because it is so well-organized, friendly, and focused. Of course, it will depend on who is teaching cello.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Beginning Fiddle was taught by Hanneke Cassel today. She has a completely different approach from Anne. We started with physical rhythm exercises to prepare us for the new tune, “High Road to Linton.” This involved standing, stomping one’s feet while clapping out a 1-4-7 rhythm. (There are eight 8th notes in a 4/4 measure, and the accented notes are on the 1st, 4th, and 7th eighth notes.) We have do something similar in cello class, which just involves counting one-2-3, one-2-3, one-2, while playing a rapid accented accompaniment. We also did a little primal screaming, something Rushad did frequently in the camp I attended with him.

Hanneke played the tune and we sang it. Then she asked us to close our eyes and listen while she played the first few notes of the tune and asked up to copy her. She gave us no clues and we weren’t supposed to look at her fingers to see what notes she was playing. We did this for about 20 minutes, repeating sections of the tune, building on them, adding to them, until we could all play the A part of the tune. Amazing. I found the tune easy to learn this way, and it was a very soothing, comfortable experience.

Next, in cello class, we decided to play a waltz for the big Hogwart’s Ball this evening. We selected the “Tombigbee Waltz,” and I closed my eyes, listened, sang it, and learned it fairly quickly, without too many clues. I was so proud of myself, even though this is a much easier tune than the others we have learned this week. Then we worked out a couple of accompaniments, which the others had no trouble memorizing, but I wrote down the chord names.

Later in the afternoon, I was worried that I wouldn’t remember the tune, so wrote it down, listening to the recording I had made in class. I realized I had made a couple of mistakes, including not recognizing when two notes of the same pitch followed each other. I had that problem with two of the other cello tunes we learned this week too. At dinner I mentioned it to two fiddle teachers I was eating with. One said that that was one of the most common mistakes people make, not hearing repeated notes of the same pitch correctly. Whew! So, it is not just me.

Excitement about the Harry Potter party built during the day, with everyone trying to remember details from the book to create costumes and activities. Our cello band, for instance, was called Hagrid and the Magical Beasts (the beasts being the cellos, not us). The fiddle classes were named for the houses at Hogwart’s. The Beginner class was Griffindor because we are so brave. The costumes were varied and creative. I simply wore mismatched clothing, as did several others.

I don’t know what they do at Hogwart’s for fun, but we danced Scottish dances while various bands played. I played the “Tombigbee Waltz” with my cello group (five of us and an accordion player) and “Lovely Stornaway” with the Beginner Fiddling class with piano and two of us cellists. Both from memory and without too many mistakes, and I was comfortable enough to watch the dancers, not my cello. When you play a short waltz for dancers, you play it over and over again, maybe 10 times, so you have plenty of time to correct errors!

So, I feel pretty good about making progress in learning by ear this week, and it is only Wednesday. Two more full days of camp lie ahead. There will be more performances Friday night. The cello class with perform “Willie’s Auld Trews,” which I still have much work to do on. And there is another tune or two to learn tomorrow.

Friday, we will play 18th century Scottish chamber music by James Oswald, from sheet music! I am looking forward to that. Oswald was a cellist and so made the cello parts interesting, according to Abby.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Some quick photos of fiddle camp

A sunset. They are always beautiful.

Two camp buildings. This used to be a school. The one on the left is the cafeteria. The one on the right is a music classroom and music hall. The bare grass makes it look a little dreary, but it isn't. In the distance, between the buildings, is Boston Harbor.

A dorm just behind the cafeteria.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Sunday and Monday at Fiddle Camp

August 12, 2007

Sunday was the first full day of Scottish fiddle camp. Saturday was spent arriving here, by car and by boat, hauling luggage and instruments, computers and electric fans (for the anticipated heat wave), meeting people, touring the facilities, eating dinner, and sessions. There are 85 people here, and most of them filled the hall Saturday night, playing Scottish tune after Scottish tune. I am so impressed by the high level of musicianship here and most people’s long-term interest and involvement with Scottish music. I am not here because of a long-term love of Scottish music, but because I love the way Abby Newton plays the cello. Since she plays Scottish fiddle and Scottish Baroque music, so I would have to say I am also a fan of Scottish music.

I was one of four cellists playing on Saturday night. I knew one tune (Mairi’s Wedding, an easy piece for both fiddle and cello), but most of the time, I improvised backup, watching the other cellists and listening to the piano.

People are incredibly nice,friendly, helpful, and easy to talk to. I forgot my USB cable, which I need to transfer recordings from my minidisc player to my computer, the camp director directed me to someone who might have such a cable with him. Turns out it was one of the other cellists, the one for whom I brought a rental cello to the camp. That worked out well! [Note: Today, I found my own USB cable—I had carefully stored it in a drawer. I’ve been just a little disorganized, but in an organized way.]

The first class I attended was a beginning fiddle class, playing cello along with one of the other cellists, to get more practice in learning by ear. This was good for me, and the tune was easy enough so that I got most of the notes readily. Shifting was required and high G# fingering required some thought, but we were playing slowly and the fingerings were not difficult. However, to bring this tune up to speed and add the accents and improve the distinctive rhythms that make it such a lively march will take it a little longer.

I just stayed in the fiddle room for the next class, in which I played fiddle, which was called Fiddling for the Very Beginner. A little boring in the beginning, but it turned out to be an excellent review of fiddle posture and bow hold, and the teacher gave me some useful pointers and helpful advice.

After lunch, there were two back-to-back classes with Abby Newton. Abby is wonderful, a caring teacher and helpful in my quest to learn to play by ear. All tunes at this camp are taught by ear, but varying degrees of help are given, depending on the students’ needs. The other three cellists have much more experience with Scottish music than I do, and they can play by ear better than I can. Some of them were familiar with the tune we learned, “Kinrara,” which is on Abby’s Castles, Kirks, and Caves CD. (Listen to this CD if you are at all interested in folk cello music!) So, I got a little more help than the others needed.

Abby likes to use open strings. A fine quality in a cellist. Apparently open strings are just fine in fiddling, though frowned upon in classical music. We learned the tune in the first session and learned two accompaniment styles to use it in the second session. When I say “learned,” I mean some people learned the whole tune. I learned most of it, in parts, but holding the whole thing together in my head was difficult.

After class, with the help of my recording and, yes, the sheet music, I am now able to play the piece. Some people say it is easier to learn by ear than from sheet music. I would have to agree, especially when you are in a class and the teacher is giving you helpful advice, such as “this is a scale part,” “determine the highest note and the lowest not in a phrase,” Note the fingering here carefully (2 on high F, followed by 2 on D), “Bowing here is up-up.” You can get the articulations, dynamics, and nuances better than you can get from the sheet music. For me, learning by ear from a CD or in a session is a little more difficult without those teacher prompts.

Abby says that when she learns a piece, she records herself playing it from sheet music and then learns from the recording, not the sheet music. Of course, I think she means learning as in memorizing, not learning as in figuring it out. But it is an interesting approach.

The concert tonight was outstanding. Gorgeous Scottish fiddle music! Anne Hooper, my beginning fiddle teacher, played, as did another fiddler, both with piano accompaniment. The piano accompaniment really added to the fiddling. I noticed this Saturday night in the jam session, and tried to stay with the piano in my accompaniment attempts.

Accommodations are fine. It’s like a tiny college campus, with several small red brick dormitory buildings, a few classroom and meeting buildings, and ocean views. The island is also used for Outward Bound, but I think the Outward Bound kids are roughing it elsewhere on the island. The weather has been perfect. Sunny, cool and comfortable. But all classes today were inside!

Monday, August 13, 2007

Beginning Fiddle Class was a review of the March we learned yesterday, plus the introduction of a new tune, a slow air, “Lovely Stornaway,” like the March, in the key of A. The March will be played by all when we go to welcome the visitors on Visitors’ Day, Tuesday. Cellists don’t have to march. I may play the March on my fiddle, if I have time to transfer my imperfect knowledge of the tune to fiddle. I like this beginning class because it goes slow enough for me to learn the tune, yet the teacher introduces embellishments and articulations that make the tunes sound good. And when I say “learn,” I mean learning in class. Forgetting it afterward is pretty common, unless you work on it, and even when you do.

Though I spent at least an hour working on “Kinrara” yesterday, it completely escaped me in class today. We reviewed that tune and learned a new one, “Willies Auld Trewes.” Both are in d minor, and both are beautiful tunes on the cello. Abby says she is teaching tunes that are fun to play and sound good on the cello, rather than just what the fiddles are playing. Makes sense to me. I continue to be the least able to pick up tunes by ear in cello class, but it’s ok. Eventually I will get this.

She is also teaching rhythmic drone accompaniment, as well as more chord-like accompaniment and countermelodies.

Today I worked on the March and the Air from fiddle class. Abby is performing tonight, and after that is a dance, but I might come back after the concert and practice the cello pieces. I should probably drop the fiddle class and concentrate on the cello tunes, but the learning by ear is more my speed in the fiddle class. We’ll see.

You can’t escape the “real world” here at fiddle camp. The theme of our big party on Wednesday night is Harry Potter.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Here at Camp

Camp is wonderful. The people are friendly, talented, and serious about Scottish music. The teachers are very good. Abby Newton is an excellent teacher and all-around great person. Camp has Wi-Fi hotspots and beautiful ocean views. What more could one ask for? Well, the food isn't very good. But, all in all, a great place to be, and I have already almost learned two tunes, almost by ear. :-)

More later. It's almost time for the evening concert.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Morning on the deck

Just time for a quick cup of coffee with fellow cello bloggers!

Friday, August 10, 2007

All my bags are packed....

I am leaving in the morning for Scottish Fiddle Camp. I'm carpooling in to Boston with another camper, a fiddler who lives nearby, and bringing a rental cello for a camper flying in from California. I've also had some e-mail discussion with another camper, and phone and e-mail conversations with various staff members.

So, I almost feel like I already know people and can just jump right into camp routine without going through that sometimes awkward and shy getting-to-know-you phase. :-)

This is a long camp: mid-day Saturday to mid-day Saturday. Other camps I have attended have started with receptions on Sunday night, followed by a Monday-Friday camp. We're going right into classes on Sunday morning. There are four classes a day, and three of them will be cello. I may take beginning fiddling (on the fiddle) in the 4th period, play cello with a beginning or intermediate fiddle group, or just take a nap. Evenings are for concerts, dancing, and playing [music] at parties. And naps.

Thursday, August 9, 2007


Long, long ago, my cousin Shirley used to tell me about the house they had owned in New Jersey. We were both living in Evanston, IL at the time. Her description of trying to clean that house stays with me today. There was alway so much dirt, she said. You could suck it out from between the floorboards with a vacuum cleaner, or scrub it out with a brush and water, but still, there was always more dirt, as if the house was actually producing the dirt and releasing it through the floorboards. Good basis for a horror movie, I think.

Our house is the same way, but it is not dirt so much as clutter, and it is not the house that has produced this situation, but us, the owners and caretakers of the house, who have allowed it to fill up with stuff. Still, when I clean, declutter, and toss stuff out, the remaining stuff seems to de-compress and take up more space. Last week, I hired someone to haul away a dump truck full of stuff. It made barely a dent.

I am going to persist though. De-clutter sites on the web suggest allotting a mere, but consistent 15 minutes a day to the task. Sounds like a plan.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Fiddling and Tenor Clef

I eagerly bought Latham Music's publication, Fiddling for Classical Stiffs (Cello Version) even though I already had the Fiddle Version because it includes a high percentage of tunes that my fiddle group plays and because Lynn Latham is a cellist, and I was sure that this book would include lots of great tips for cellists and good cello-centric ways of playing and accompanying fiddle tunes.

Alas, it is the same book, just in bass clef. I tried playing a few pieces and was surprised and delighted to find them quite easy to play. Suddenly it dawned on me: the tunes had been transposed to cello-friendly keys. Yes, they are easy to play, but you can't play them with a fiddle group. Every single one of the pieces had one sharp fewer than the fiddle book.

Then I had another realization: If I pretended they were written in tenor clef, rather than in bass clef (and added a sharp), all would be well, and I'd have lots of practice reading tenor clef. (Until I memorize the pieces, of course.)

That or return the book. I haven't decided, but am leaning toward keeping it. And writing to Latham Music about how they might make this book more useful for the fiddling cellist.

Anyway, I'd recommend the book (which comes with a CD) to anyone who wants to get the feeling of playing fiddle tunes without shifting too much (or buying a five-string cello), but is not playing with a fiddle group. Or for someone who is playing with instrumentalists willing and able to play in cello-friendly keys. The CD, by the way, features a viola, not a cello, and the fast versions ot the tunes are really, really fast. Too fast for me.

Another fiddle-related option for learning clefs: Rick Mooney's Thumb Position for Cello Book 1 contains a number of fiddle tunes too, in duet form, in treble clef with the accompaniment part in bass clef.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

It's Our Anniversary!

Thirty-six years ago today, my husband and I got married at the Spiritual Life Center on the campus of American University in Washington D.C. I sewed my own wedding dress (at a cost of $18.00) and sewed and embroidered my husband's shirt. We wrote our own wedding vows (it was the 70s--it was almost required to do so!). We had our wedding reception/dinner at a Korean restaurant in a hotel along Rock Creek Parkway which later became the Chinese Embassy. The whole thing cost about $400. *

My sister played Bach on the piano, and my brother played "Foggy Mountain Breakdown" on the banjo. Together, they played Greensleeves. I wish we had recorded it! (Greensleeves is about love gone wrong, but we always liked the melody, and it doesn't appear to have jinxed our marriage.)

So, what are we doing to celebrate? We're going to a community party at an environmental reservation, at a beautiful spot overlooking the bay. Why? Because I'm playing cello there with the fiddlers as part of the festivities. I never would have foreseen this 36 years ago, though maybe my brother's banjo playing was a clue.

(* $2,029 at today's prices, according to Consumer Price Index calculator by the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis.)

Monday, August 6, 2007

Playing By Ear

Playing by ear is not my forte, but I am currently intent on learning to learn by ear. The way that I have been learning unfamiliar tunes is to figure out the notes, sometimes by actually asking a fiddler what notes s/he is playing, sometimes with the help of sheet music that I have bought or found on the Internet, then writing down the tune in Coda Finale, printing it out, and memorizing it. This isn't efficient, and works against allowing yourself to learn by ear, especially in a session.

Learning by ear involves listening, initially learning a few notes or a phrase at a time from another musician. Eventually, you can just pick up the tune in a session, without specifically learning or memorizing it. Or so they say!

For others who may be interested, here's a link to an interesting article on learning by ear.
And related links on Irish traditional music.

A fiddle friend and I spent a few hours practicing together today. Not learning by ear, though. We are still using those old-fashioned methods: sheet music and memorization, but we worked out a few tunes one or the other or both of us were having trouble with. I'm doing accompaniment on some, melody on some, and some combination of melody and accompaniment on others. It is nice that fiddling allows all this freedom of expression!

This week, I am also working on pieces from Abby Newton's Crossing to Scotland book, as she will be my teacher at Scottish fiddle camp next week. (And always, though I don't usually talk about it, working on memorizing those Suzuki pieces!)

Oh, and I added a little poll on memorization, just because it (the ability to add polls) was there. Vote if you will.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Dance shoes and water shoes

A photo from last year's Scottish fiddle camp showing fiddlers on the dock, waiting to welcom the Visitor's Day boatload of family and friends. This photo and the one below are from the camp website.

Among the myriad items on the Scottish fiddle camp list of things to bring are dance shoes and water shoes. Apparently there is dancing every night, even in the non-air-conditioned heat. Photos from previous year's camps show people wearing anything from white disco boots to no shoes at all. I've got some ballerina-style slippers that ought to fit right in.

According to the camp website, it is "a bit of a hike" to the beach, and the beach is rocky (thus requiring the water shoes), but is supposed to be beautiful, looking eastward toward the vast ocean (rather than back toward Boston). We've got some water shoes around the house somewhere, if I can find them. Maybe it is time to buy some Crocs.

(It will be interesting swimming in Boston Harbor. It was once very polluted. I used to be an environmental planner and worked on a project involving improvements to one of the then-semi-functioning sewage treatment plants. I understand Boston Harbor water quality had improved dramatically, due to this and other efforts.)

Also on the camp list is "silly costumes" and decorations for parties. I'm not sure about this. My daughter thinks my dancing skirts are silly enough. Add my tie-dyed t-shirt, and I think I'm ready.

Though I don't leave for camp until Saturday, I have started packing already. I don't want to forget anything, as, of course, I'll be [happily] "stranded" on an island for a week. I will bring work with me, and my computer, but I am really looking forward to getting away and concentrating on music for a whole week. And dancing and the beach.

Friday, August 3, 2007

To the Beach

I live on Cape Cod, surrounded by beaches, so one would think I would spend a lot of time at the beach. But, I hardly ever have time. Last year, I went to the beach once, toward the end of July, and I stopped in to see my son, who works at the beach concession stand. When I got there I discovered he had been taken to the emergency room with some form of heat exhaustion. He was doing fine by the time I got there though, and eventually I got back for a few minutes of sunset on the beach. I never got to the beach in August at all.

This year, I'm doing much better. I've been at least four or five times, even if it is just to grab a quick, but serene, lunch on the beach. It feels great.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Learning and memorizing a tune

I attended a great fiddle concert tonight by the Kane Sisters, two Irish fiddlers. One of them, Liz, said she could learn a complicated tune in about an hour, by ear. Then, the next day she would have to learn it again. And keep at it until she had it down. It doesn't take her all that long: about five times playing the tune with her sister until they have it down. Less complex tunes take only a half hour (the first day).

This was reassuring to me, as they have been playing fiddle since they were young children. I can easily memorize a tune on the first day and almost completely forget it the next day. Yet, if I keep at it, it doesn't really take more than a few days to memorize a simple tune. Reliably playing it is another story.

Liz also said the first step was "listening until you are blue in the face." An interesting image! This is important. I used to do the reverse in a class--try to memorize the tune a few notes or measures at a time, before I really knew the tune well enough to sing it. It is so much easier to play a tune you already know.

I briefly attended a fiddle session before tonight's concert, in which the same subject came up. One of the fiddlers said he memorized about a tune a week, but it took him about a month to learn each tune. Thus, he's usually working on four tunes at once, in different stages of knowing the tune. This makes sense to me, as it is more or less what I do, but sometimes I'm lucky to add one new tune a month.

Here's a link to a good summary of fiddle practice technique.

Later tonight, after the concert, I got a call from a woman at the Scottish fiddle camp that I will be attending soon. She wanted to know my cello level so the teacher could prepare for the camp. There are only 4 cello students, including me, of a total of 75 students, and we're all over 40 and pretty much on the same level (I hope! All the others have attended this Scottish Fiddle Camp before, so they are a bit ahead of me on Scottish fiddling styles.) Turns out we will be learning by ear. I had a nice chat with the caller (a fiddler) about learning tunes, and she agreed about the importance of listening and the ease of forgetting. She also said that the cellists attending are the nicest group of people you could ever hope to meet. Well, I already knew that about cellists!

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Magic of music

Ah, music. A magic beyond all we do here!

J. K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, 1997
British fantasy author
I happened to come across this quote today. It seems appropriate, given the Harry Potter frenzy. Though not really a Harry Potter fan (I only read the first 2 or 3 books), I do have agree with J. K. Rowling here!