Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Grumble, grumble

I went to rehearse my Christmas cello pieces with the organist and vocalist yesterday. The vocalist, who used to play the violin, wanted me to lower the pitch of the cello one whole step because there is a note in Gesu Bambino that is too high for him to sing. Either that or transpose the piece from the lovely key of G to the key of F. Not so bad, except the middle section is now in four flats, just like "O Little Town of Bethlehem." I am going to have to transpose the piece now, and I was reading it so well in treble clef!

I did try, briefly, to lower the pitch of the strings, but quickly decided against it. I have two pieces to play and no way to leave the front of the church to tune in between pieces. I do have two cellos, but my new one sounds so much better than my old one that I am reluctant to use the old one for such an "exposed" performance, when I need all the help I can get.

The vocalist/ex-violinist tried to convince me it would be easy to change the tuning, but I think this must be an entirely different matter for a violin vs. a cello and think it would loosen the strings too much. I am curious though whether anyone else has tried changing the pitch of the strings to accommodate a singer or for some other reason.


Gottagopractice said...

Tuning the whole instrument down a whole step in the middle of a performance is a big deal. You loosen the tension to pitch, but the strings may keep relaxing as you play - more and more out of tune.

I would suggest to the vocalist that he is risking a seriously bad performance having you re-write and re-learn the piece in a more difficult key, and that he should pick a lower note in the chord to sing instead of the one single note that is too high for him.

yarnplayer said...

I agree with gottagopractice, this guy is asking a lot of you.

Maricello said...

Gtgp and YP, thanks for your support! His feeling is that he is the soloist and I should try to accommodate him. In rehearsal on Monday, we did play in the key as written, and he did manage the high note. He is an older man, used to be a professional singer, probably used to having his own way. Our next rehearsal is Friday, and if things don't go well enough, I will ask him to sing the piece as written.

CelloGeek said...

Vocalists have always been my least favorite musician to accompany. can you take it down even lower, to the key of D? down a fifth?

anyway, tuning down during a performance is not easy. In the Schumann piano quartet he has the cello tune the C down to a B flat for the end of the slow movement. The cello has the lowest note - even the piano is higher during that whole time the cello plays that B flat. Every time I've tried to tune down I've never been able to do it.

CelloGeek said...

whoops, not quite a fifth, but probably a more friendly key for the cello?

melissa said...


Please. I agree with gottago. I can't think of a worse idea. I have a very tempremental instrument, and purposely taking it out of tune would be a nightmare!

His instrument can change easier than yours. :)

Maricello said...

Cellogeek, I have never accompanied a singer before, except for my daughter, and she is very accommodating. I reacted to this vocalist more in his role as an ex-violinist, who, as Melissa says, doesn't understand cellos. I think you can tune a whole step up or down on the violin using the fine tuners. It is quite different from the cello!

I have transposed the piece now and practiced it a bit. The part now in F (most of the piece) is fine, but I am still having problems with a measure or two in A flat (involving a D flat on the G string that I am having trouble playing in tune). The A flat part is "Oh Come All Ye Faithful" or a variant thereof, so is slow, but I am going to have to work on this a bit more.

Thanks for all you opinions! It has been very helpful to hear from everyone.