Saturday, December 27, 2008

Musical Fish

Scientists have found the music in fish, though, of course, the whales have been singing for some time.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas! Here's a cartoony dog ornament I drew/painted (watercolor and ink) for a Secret Santa exchange on Drawspace. You ask for various specifics gifts for Christmas, and another artist draws or paints it, then you guess who it was.

Below is the exquisite parrot that a woman named Carol painted for me (acrylics) on a turkey feather. She is an amazing artist, and I am so pleased with this!

Merry Christmas and/or Happy Hanukkah to all!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Playing the Messiah

I played in the sing-in/play-in Messiah yesterday. Because of the overwhelming amount of music, and the short period of time I had to work on it, I had decided, with my teacher, to choose a few of the choruses and play them well, rather than try to play them all. I chose the easier, more well-known pieces, and threw in a couple of 4-sharp pieces, just for the learning experience.

I was sure the other cellists could pick up the slack, especially since a lot of the music is marked "Senza rip," or without most of the orchestra (only first stand players, and I did not expect to be first stand).

So, the first rehearsal was December 18, and I was the only cellist. The conductor decided to jump around, skipping the easy, well-known pieces, and concentrating on the more difficult pieces, some of which which, for some reason, tended to start with a cello solo, or have a extended cello solo, and several of which I had never even attempted to play. I was not prepared, and, rather than admit that, attempted to sightread. To sightread music that I had decided I didn't have time to learn. Insane.

My bow arm felt rigid, moving only from the shoulder joint, completely paralyzed otherwise. The notes sounded squawky, as if I were playing with the side of the bow hair very close to the bridge (my general tendency is to play too close to the fingerboard). The French horn player came and sat next to me to help, transposing clefs, even tenor clef, and key signatures on the fly, and we managed to get few a few choruses in unison. It was nice being about to matching pitches with the French horn. Or at least try to match pitches; I have no idea how it actually sounded.

So, I'm thinking, as I am churning out these barely audible, imperfect notes, probaby a half-measure behind or ahead, that these people will never want to play with me again; I'll have to find another orchestra, maybe another town in which to reside.

The conductor was kind to me (I had told him I wasn't really ready to play, and was thinking maybe I could do it as a reporter), and the first violin player (who has played the Messiah for years) sent me an e-mail later about how brave I was to play, and that there should be 2 more cellists on Sunday.

There was some question about the performance, given the predicted huge snowstorm, but I was actually hoping to play, hoping to do a little better.

So, on Sunday, rehearsal started at 2 PM, and the performance at 3:30, after only a slight break. There was one other cellist on Sunday, and things went much better because of that, though by no means perfectly. I felt reasonably good about a fair number of the pieces and people were kind.

The photo above (which shows only a section of the orchestra--there were first violins, flute, and oboe on the other side) was taken during one of those cello solo sections. The bass voices are singing, and the pianist is playing, but, neither were there for the rehearsal. I am so pleased to see that we two cellists seem to be playing the same note at the same time. :-)

I have decided to play again next year, but to work on the pieces intermittently during the year and ask a violinist or two to practice it with me, so I won't be unprepared for rehearsals.

All in all, believe it or not, I am glad I did it. The music is magnificent and it is wonderful to be a part of it.

Friday, December 12, 2008

So much music, so little time

I am inspired and challenged by working on the "Messiah" music. The cello part sounds magnificent (not necessarily when I am playing it) even by itself. I am learning some new positions for playing in four sharps, and that is very valuable. Kind of like puzzle-solving. But, it is still a lot of music for me to learn in a short and busy time period.

Today, my friend Carol and are are playing three simple cello Christmas duets with beginning piano students at a nursing home. I have yet to decorate, buy presents, or otherwise get involved in the seasonal festivities (except for attending a fair number of holiday concerts and fairs), so this will be my season opener.

Then, it is back to work. :-)

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Handel's Messiah practice

I've been working on Handel's Messiah for a community Sing-in/Play-in on Sunday, December 21. This is a lot of music to learn in a short, but it is wonderful music, and I am having a good time. Whether I can actually play it, at the required tempos, is yet to be determined, but it is a great learning experience. (We are playing selections from the Carl Fisher version.)

I have spent a lot of time trying to find YouTube performances to listen to and play along with (our first official group rehearsal is not until December 18), and am posting them here primarily for my own convenience. There are lots of versions of each section online; I have generally chosen those where I can hear or see the cellists best. If you have other suggestions, do let me know.


Comfort Ye

Comfort Ye/Every Valley

Every Valley

And the Glory of the Lord

Thus Saith the Lord

But Who May Abide

And he shall purify

And he shall purify, O thou tellest

Behold a Virgin Shall Conceive

O Thou That Tellest

Unto us a child is born:

Pastoral Symphony, There were shepherds, Glory to God

There were shepherds and Lo the Angel of the Lord

And Lo the angel of the lord

And the Angel Said unto them

And suddenly there was with the angel

Glory to God

Rejoice Greatly

Then Shall the eyes of the blind

He shall feed his flocks

His yoke is easy

He trusted in God

Lift up your heads

The lord gave the word

Hallelujah chorus

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Why I didn't write my novel

It is the last day of NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month, and I am still at just over 5,000 words, just one tenth of the 50,000 words required to "win." Obviously I didn't try too hard. The reasons why:

I concentrated the first half of the month on practicing for our orchestra concerts, which took place November 14 and16. I figured I could double my efforts after the concerts and still finish in time. After all, my writing speed has improved somewhat since I began working for the paper, and there are NaNoWriMo participants who have written 50,000 words in a single day. One of the winners wrote over 1.8 million words. I find this hard to imagine. As another NaNoWriMo member commented: Marcel Proust's Remembrance of Things Past had nearly 1.5 million words, and was published in 13 volumes between 1913 and 1927. Or, for more contemporary readers, the biggest Harry Potter book had a quarter of a million words, and all seven of them together are about 1 million words (I think.)

Just before the concert, I came down with a bad cold and sniffled and coughed my way through the next 2 weeks. I didn't feel like writing, or doing much of anything.

My writing for work has to come first.

I wasted time on the Internet. :-)

I blogged every day in November, thus "winning" NaBloPoMo, National Blog Posting Month. I knew at the beginning of this month that it might be too much to take on both, as I did last year, but I am glad I at least attempted both. I did do a lot of thinking about noveling, and read some interesting books about writing, as well as some novels, so it was, at least, a month of thinking about writing.

I never really came up with a decent plot. I had ideas, but was not clear where I was heading. And, I was trying to fit too much of my life experience into the novel, rather than imagining what could have, might have been, could or might yet happen. Perhaps I ought to work on a memoir first, or, maybe a fictionalized memoir, just to explore these ideas from my own life, without the expectation of writing a novel incorporating them, and then moving on from there.

My friend Neva, on the other hand, had a very detailed plot outline, and a creative point of view and structure--and she finished her novel with days to spare. I applaud her, and all the others who finished.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Festive Fiddling

My fiddle group played at today at a festively decorated cultural center, a former mansion, made elegant again by a community group. It is a wonderful place, full of music, art, and Christmas spirit. I really haven't been practicing fiddle tunes lately (focusing more on orchestra and Messiah music), but the group is very welcoming, and love playing this music, or what I can of it. The photo above is the first tune ("Old Joe Clark," the tune we traditionally start with), before a friend found me a chair.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Buy Nothing Day

Today is Buy Nothing Day, to counteract the consumer craziness that happens on the Friday after Thanksgiving, when stores open a 4 am with big sales, and stampedes occur at Wal-mart and elsewhere. The idea is to encourage people to live more simply, give their credit cards a rest, and, in general, not partake in the "culture of excess and meaningless consumption."

I'm all for that. Shopping and spending has gotten way out of hand, to the point where people think they can cure cultural malaise or economic problems by rushing to the mall. Especially for those of us who live in the U.S., it's time to change our ways. Stay home (or go out) and play music.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving!

They may not be the most artistic pies you have ever seen, but they're the best ones I've made in many years, since I rarely make pies. Have a virtual slice, and enjoy the day!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Thanksgiving Eve

I find myself with a relatively free day, meaning no deadlines, and Thanksgiving, tomorrow, takes precedence over my Thursday lesson. There is, of course, work to catch up on. I do much of my work from home, and is its always here, to remind me. There is pie-making to attend to, and cleaning, that I feel even cheerful about doing.

But, for a few moments, I am alone in the house, and I am going to spend that time playing the cello.

Happy Thanksgiving to all!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Cellos and immortality

I read a book review of a new book featuring a cellist. José Saramago’s new novel, Death With Interruptions is about a period of time in which death does not occur. Then, death, in the form of a woman, decides death must continue, as the consequences of the absence of death are overwhelming. She picks a cellist as her first victim, but is apparently, attracted to the cello and to the cellist. Here is the New York Times review of the book. I haven't read the book yet, but it sounds intriguing.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Short week

I only have two days this week to do the work I normally have a hard time doing in four, so will be brief here today. I love my work, but would like a few more hours in each day, a few more days in each week, to get it all done, and to find time to relax, and, yes, even to clean the house. For now, though, sleep is a priority, if only to beat this cold into submission.

The flute choir concert went reasonably well, though I did notice two retirement home residents leave the concert early; both used to be professional musicians. We were probably hard on their ears, and it must be hard for them to be no longer able to play. Others, with less refined musical sensibilities, seemed to enjoy the concert and even sang along when appropriate.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Flute concert today

Today's musical event is a flute choir concert at the retirement home which has been so generous in providing space for our weekly rehearsals. Our flute choir is actually a quintet, consisting of four C flutes and an alto flute. Occasionally, I play cello instead of flute, to approximate a bass flute, but today I am playing only flute. We are playing an assortment of folk and traditional music, and a Thanksgiving medley. None of it is difficult, but intonation, even on the flute, can be a challenge sometimes.

After that, I will check out the Messiah vocal rehearsal; it starts at the same time as the flute concert, but will go longer. The singers have more rehearsals than the instrumentalists. We rehearse only on Dec. 18 and 2 hours before the performance on Dec. 21. I have been practicing, and feeling optimistic.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Fiddle time

I haven't been fiddling in ages, but plan to attend the women's fiddle group today, to try to get back into the spirit. I enjoy the women's group. We play relatively slowly and sheet music is allowed, at least initially. The goal is always to play by ear or from memory.

We are working on a waltz today, Gold and Silver, which gives me half a chance to keep up. But, then, again, it is a long waltz, and the A and B parts don't really repeat, so one has to learn (by which I mean memorize) 32 measures in each part, rather 16, repeated. There are also a couple of those little tricky parts.

I might spend the rest of the day in bed, though, to rid myself of this lingering cold, catch up on some reading, and even get some writing done. Or sleep accomplished.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Duo cellos and piano

My friend Carol and I are playing cello duets with three different piano students and went to rehearse with them today. (Thus the pieces are actually trios.) The students are, like us, people who started lessons as adults, in retirement or approaching retirement. We will do one performance with and for all the piano students, and another one at a nursing home.

All seems to be going well, though, at today my ears are clogged from my relentless cold and/or from the cold medication I am taking, and my cello sounded twangy to me. I could barely hear the other cello, and didn't want to hear my own, but played on anyway. Everyone loved it, or said they did. Hopefully my ears will unclog by the performance, two weeks hence, so I can enjoy it too.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

G.F. Handel - Messiah (01 - Sinfonia)

I started working on the Messiah in my cello lesson this morning. My teacher was enthusiastic and agreed with my plan to play only those movements I can play well by performance time. And she will play too. I am excited. She said to listen to a recording of Messiah every day, score in hand. I am not entirely sure where my Messiah CD is, but, YouTube is right here at hand, and this is the opening movement, so I will start here.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Christmas is almost over

Working for a local newspaper, I have been beset with announcements of holiday activities for the past couple of weeks. Not Thanksgiving (the harvest fairs were in September and October), but Christmas. There were a round of holiday fairs this past weekend, and more coming up this weekend and next.

Not to mention holiday performances. Like other groups, our orchestra has to schedule its concert carefully so as not to get lost in the deluge of Christmas/Holiday concerts. Events seem to peak the last weekend in November and the first weekend in December. After that, I guess, we're all too busy shopping.

The Messiah sing-in/play-in is different, taking place the Sunday before Christmas. I went last year as an audience member (one of the few as everyone else was singing or playing) and as a reporter. It was a peaceful respite from the busy-ness of the season. I'm going to attempt to play this year. Anyone can show up to play; there are only a couple of rehearsals. Last year there were about seven string players; this year we expect a lot more, as the orchestra has finished its season, and members seem to want to keep playing. It probably won't be as serene an experience for me this year, as it was last year, but it should be fun, provided I find some time to practice between now and then.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Second Concert

This is a view of the Falmouth Chamber Players orchestra from the upper balcony, taken prior to the concert. Not shown are brass and timpani off to the left. If you look closely (click on the photo to enlarge it), you can see there are two groups of cellos, the first cellos in about the middle of this photo, facing the audience, and the second cellos, to the right, in front of the harpsichord. I am the cellist turned away from the camera in that second cello grouping. This playing position was a little disconcerting to me because I couldn't see any of the other cellists, and couldn't confirm that I was bowing in the proper direction, but, if I was off, I don't think anyone noticed. The performances were great fun, the setting was warm and festive, and it was thrilling to be on the receiving side of an enthusiastic standing ovation.

Monday, November 17, 2008

New strings, and sad news

I finally got around to buying new strings. It has been a year and a half, at least, and I usually change strings once a year. Cello strings have really gone up in price since my last purchase. I worked at the string shop Saturday afternoon, but spent quite a bit more than I earned. In addition to the strings, I bought a soft cello case for my old cello to replace the large and unwieldy case it is now stored in. Also for those times when I have to carry my other cello relatively long distances; the soft case is definitely lighter than my hard case.

I am sad to say the string shop is closing. The last day will be Christmas Eve. The "mother store" in the Boston area will remain open, two of the shop personnel will remain as local consultants, and purchases can still be made online, but the Cape store will be gone. Not only will I miss the convenience of being able to buy strings, sheet music, and miscellaneous stuff from the shop, but I will miss the camaraderie, the classical, folk, and fiddle concerts we have had there, the parties, the recitals, the special events. The shop was open for seven years. I started working there in its second year, on my birthday, and worked about 10 hours a week for four years. The last few years I have worked less and less often, on an as-needed basis, when others were on vacation, traveling, performing, or otherwise unable to come in.

I will miss the shop, not as an employer, but as a cultural center, as will the local music community.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Sore throat blues

I got a flu shot this year (for the first time ever, only because they happened to be conveniently offering at the mall when I was in Atlanta), but nevertheless feel achey and sore-throaty today, and our final concert is this afternoon. It's been coming on for a few days (I coughed through our first concert on Friday), but seems to have settled in today. I have no time to be sick. At least I am not playing flute, which would be hard on a sore throat.

Saturday, November 15, 2008


The church was full to the rafters (there is a balcony), the orchestra played beautifully, and we got an enthusiastic standing ovation at the end. It was a great night, even if I, personally did not play every note. Our program:

Overture to Water Music by Handel
Concerto in E minor for Recorder and Flute by Telemann, with flute and recorder soloists
Scherzo from Symphony in C by Bizet
Andante Cantabile by Tchaikovsky
Kamarinskaja by Glinka
Overture to Rosamunde by Schubert

The Telemann and the Tchaikovsky were performed by smaller groupings of musicians, and I did not play in either one. It was nice to be able to sit back and enjoy the music, in the midst of our concert.

We will do it all again in Sunday afternoon.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Dress Rehearsal

Last night was dress rehearsal--our first orchestra concert is tonight; there is another one on Sunday.

We played for the first time at the church where we will perform. Because the performance area is small, the cellos are awkwardly arranged. For the first half of the program, I was actually more in the audience looking back at the orchestra, facing the principal cellist, rather than behind her. It was disconcerting. In the second half, when the harpsichord is moved off-stage, we moved back to a more reasonable location. Perhaps a better arrangement of cellos and harpsichord can be found by tonight.

Incredibly, I forgot my nicely arranged, heavily marked up music, in my well-organized notebook. I had been practicing before the dress rehearsal, and put it on my cello chair, to remind me to remember to bring my stand, which was with my flute music (I have different stands for travel and home use). I remembered the stand, but not the music.

Fortunately, the four other cellists were able to help. As I said, we were awkwardly arranged, so it was not possible to share stands, but each of them gave me a full or partial copy of a piece or two, and I was able to reconstruct the program. They were mostly out-dated copies (we are constantly changing fingerings and bowings, and some of the music is in Finale form, so multiple copies are floating around), but I was very grateful that they hadn't cleaned out their notebooks of extraneous papers, as I had.

It wasn't in a notebook, though, and some of the page turns were clumsy. And, in the move from the front of the stage area to the back, I left the two middle pages of a four-page piece at the front. I ended up improvising for two pages, mostly air bowing, but it was ok (especially from the back of the stage).

Other than that, and several spots that are still too fast for me, all went reasonably well, and orchestra sounded good, to me.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Teaching and learing

Emily Wright at Stark Raving Cello Blog had a very interesting post recently about Teaching Your First Lesson. I read it, thinking, wow, my cello teacher would never recommend that. And I thought of another teacher who was appalled by "instrument petting zoos," in which someone (like me, specifically me) lets others, usually children, try out a violin, viola, or cello, seeing what it feels like to hold a bow and play some notes. She (the other teacher, not mine) thought the danger of my teaching the child something inappropriate was far greater than the benefits to be gained by the nonmusician or prospective musician experimenting with an instrument.

In other words, only a music teacher should be teaching, and technique must be proper from the beginning. You should hold the bow for a week before applying it to the strings, and you should spend another week pizzing. Something like that. Meanwhile, I would teach "Mary Had a Little Lamb" or "Old Joe Clark" to interested attendees at instrument petting zoos, in a half hour or so.

I am happy to see that my teacher is now encouraging "practicing buddies"--pairs of students who practice together between lessons. The less experienced one pays the more experienced one for his or her time, so it is similar to having the more experienced student teach, though still with the training wheels of her lessons for both. It's a nice idea for those lessonless times: summer vaction, Christmas vacation, etc., too. The more experienced student can be any age, even middle school.

In a way, our orchestra sectional rehearsals have been like group practice buddies this fall, except no one is paying each other. It builds self-confidence too, as we offer suggestions to each other and figure out bowings and fingerings, rather than just follow along. I will miss the sectionals and the rehearsals, but could use a little break after the concerts!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008


I haven't played any fiddle music in ages, yet there are a couple of fiddle performances coming up that I would like to participate in, and the women's fiddling group is starting to meet again, after a summer-long hiatus, so I am starting to think about getting back into playing fiddle music.

I was talking to a fiddler (violin) about playing Celtic music with a small group, which might be more satisfying than playing old-time music at top speed. I have a hard time keeping up, as I have mentioned countless times, but I like the camaraderie of fiddling, and, when I know the tune, I love knowing it, playing it from the heart.

Some Celtic music is slower, or more melodic to my ears, than the old time music we usually play, and I think it might be fun to work out some arrangements with a small grouping of four instruments, maybe a cello, fiddle, flute, and guitar. Someday when I have time.

For the time being, right after the upcoming classical concert (Friday and Sunday), I plan to refocus on fiddle music, well, for at least a week. Then I'll need to work on the music for Handel's Messiah. Our town does a community sing-in, play-in every year, the Sunday before Christmas. I attended last year and was overwhelmed by the intensity, the relentlessness of the cello playing. Still, you know, it might be fun to give it a try.... (forgetting for the moment how long it takes to really learn the music)

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Why Things Sometimes Fall Apart

Not that I haven't tricked this fix-it technique myself.

Just think what this cat could do with a piano, or a set of drums.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Practice makes better

Ok, since Thursday or so, I have been practicing two hours a day, in an effort to perform adequately at our orchestra's upcoming concert (after failing to practice regularly for several weeks). Today, we had the rehearsal I was dreading, without the two "good" cellists, and I was feeling gloomy going into it, thinking that I would miss entrances (I had been depending on the principal cellist a lot) and, in general, stand out as incompetent.

Oddly enough, I didn't miss entrances--for two reasons. I counted, and the conductor, for the first time, possibly sensing our need, cued us on every entrance. Yes, there are a few passages that are still too fast for me, but I had a better sense of them, and stayed with the music, though not playing every note. And I understood the entrances better, especially on the one piece for which I do have the score.

We, the remaining three cellists, were not singled out for ineptness, as I had feared. It all went pretty well, or, at least, the conductor was kind. :-) He did mention intonation as an issue (repeatedly), but not singling out any particular section. Intonation is a constant concern of mine, but it is harder to obtain good intonation at high speeds.

Monday through Wednesday are long days for me, work-wise, but I hope to continue this practice routine. Who knows? It might work. And it was a good thing, in the end, to play without the two "good" cellists, a confidence builder, just when we needed it.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Arts and the Economy

There were a couple of good articles in the Cape Cod Times this week about the arts and the collapsing economy: Economy Gives Art Lovers the Blues, and Finding New Ways to Make Art Pay the Bills, both by Kathi Scrizzi Driscoll.

They address both the negative effects of the recession (or worse) on the arts (fewer ticket sales and art purchases, less willingness to drive long distances for art, theater, and musical events, higher costs and less income for artists and performers, etc.), as well as the spiritual need for art in times of distress.

Driscoll quotes Jerome Karter, executive director of the Cape Cod Symphony Orchestra: "In difficult times, it's always been the case that people do want to continue to hear great performances and great music. This is a crisis. People do look for refuge sometimes, and we certainly remain a spiritual refuge."

She also quotes Andrew Polk, artistic director of the Cape Cod Theatre Project in Falmouth, who said, "I think that people turn to theater, in times of crisis and uncertainty. This is a time when people come together--for solace, wisdom and transformation. There is no better place to find these things---than in the theater."

I am in agreement, and hopeful that sold-out performances at several concerts I recently attended are indicative of people's interest in, and willingness to support, the arts, even now. Here on the Cape, the arts are an important aspect of the local economy, benefiting the tourist industry as well as the arts. But, the role of the arts in nurturing the soul, whether one is creator or audience, is crucial, in today's economy, and always.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

25 Hours a Week

My cello teacher is disappointed in my progress on my orchestra pieces, and our concerts are next week (Friday and Sunday). She said, when she was in orchestra (she was principal), she practiced the orchestra music as soon as she got it, 25 hours a week, bought scores, recordings, etc. She wonders why I am not practicing 25 hours a week. In a nice way, of course, though discounting that she was a cello major at the time, and I am committed to work and family.

Not only am I not practicing 25 hours a week, I took several weeks off from practicing almost entirely, the first to finish up work projects to go to Atlanta, the second to be in Atlanta, and the third to catch up with work, after being in Atlanta. Not so good in a short rehearsal season!

25 hours a week is more than 3 and a half hours a day. I will aim for 14 hours this week, 2 hours a day, not counting rehearsals. I did about 2 and a half yesterday, and, not surprisingly, found it very fruitful. I am not sure I can fully catch up this week, but I do hope to continue to make progress. We have rehearsals tomorrow and Thursday, which should help. Except that the first two cellists will not be at tomorrow's rehearsal. I am third (though the fourth is equivalent to me, and has been practicing. The fifth is having trouble keeping up). I have been counting on them for entrances. I am more than a trifle worried about tomorrow, so will go practice now.

Friday, November 7, 2008

The Music Teacher

One of the reasons I decided to write a NaNoWriMo novel this year is because I received a review copy of a small novel about a "failed" violinist (she didn't become a classical star) who teaches at a more-folky-than-classical music store in California. Having worked at a small violin shop myself, it sounded appealing, and the promise that one of her students was going to change her life was intriguing. I figured if someone else could write a music-related novel about a music shop (or musical ensemble), so could I.

It started out good, but as I continued to read, I felt more and more that The Music Teacher by Barbara Hall actually was her NaNoWriMo novel and needed a bit of editing and rethinking. From the interesting perspective of a music teacher's relationship with her talented, but needy, student, the novel drifts off into the more mundane world of "which of the shop's eligible men will the protagonist sleep with?"

But, before it got to that point, I was heartened to see that someone would dare to set a novel in a small violin shop, a world I understand--except there were no affairs going on in our shop--that I knew of , at least!

It's a pleasant little book, at best, but not earth-shattering. The musical tale seems to get lost in the relationships tale, but perhaps that is real life. There is some discussion of the playing of the violin, and though the author is a guitar-player, not a violinist, it sounds good.

The publication date on this book is February 10, 2009.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

NaNoWriMo, Again

I have officially signed up to write a novel (50,000 words) this month as part of National Novel Writing Month. I did this last year by writing 2,000 words a day, every day, and, when I finished 50,000 words on November 25, I stopped writing, even though the novel was not finished and still needed plenty of work. Still, it was satisfying and, I think, improved my ability to write something.

I started off this year, on November 1, by writing 2,000 words. Now, on November 6, I have about 4,400 words. I am way behind, but there is still plenty of time to catch up, especially after my mid-month concert. Last year I had a very clear idea of my plot; this year it is less clear and my concept may not even be novel-worthy, but it is of interest to me. It is about clutter, things, stuff in the lives of various people with tangential relationships. It is based on a real event, as was my earlier attempt. It is fun to explore, but I do need to have more of a plot than I do at the moment.

I bought a bunch of "how to write a novel" books last year, but had no time to read them, as I was busy writing. This year, I am reading one of the books, on plot development. NaNoWriMo's book on writing is called "No Plot, No Problem," which is another approach to writing, but one that may leave the writer and the reader less satisfied.

Oh well, I will deal with this later, as it is time for cello lesson, one of my favorite parts of the week.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Lovely Day

It was a lovely election day. The weather was sunny and mild, and of course I was pleased with the national election results. Here in Massachusetts, we decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana, banned banned greyhound racing, and voted against repealing our state income tax. Really. We do see some value in taxes here.

My sister worked for Obama in the important state of Ohio, and my brother voted for Obama in the key state of Pennsylvania. My husband worked for Obama here. (I read all the breaking news on the Internet.) It felt like a great family effort, even though Georgia decided to stay red.

I was happy to be mentioned in a blog on Paste magazine about election day blogging. Paste is a magazine about music, film, and culture, and it is nice to see someone there equally consumed by the election. As for me, I worked all day in the newsroom at the paper where I am arts and entertainment editor. It was hard to concentrate on entertainment today, knowing what profound changes were about to happen, and I checked Google news fairly often. We are a local paper, so no one was covering the election, except to take photos of the lines of people waiting to vote. They were quite short, though, especially compared to Georgia's lines.

Now I can stop reading every single political news story and turn a little more attention to practicing. Our orchestra concert is coming up on November 14 and 16, and I do have a bit of work yet to do on my parts. I have, thus far, been practicing every day in November, but not always for the extended periods required. More on orchestra later, as the concert rapidly approaches.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008


I can't think of anything more important to do today than vote, if you live in the U.S., of course, and if you haven't voted already.

I live in Massachusetts, where early voting can be done only through absentee ballot, so it was quite an eye-opener to spend the last week in Georgia, where people, including my daughter and her friends, stood in line for hours (in weather far colder than I expected, for the South) to vote. Early voting went on for weeks, and record turnouts are expected. The line in the photograph above extends from the voter registration building far out into the parking lot and then doubles back toward the building and continues inside the building. (There are only 12 voting booths inside, which must be part of the problem. I have not found any explanation of why they haven't added more machines.) You probably have seen this scene on CNN; I did, before I traveled to Atlanta, but it was amazing and inspiring to see it in person. People of all ages, all races, standing together to make their voices heard. It restores one's faith in democracy. 90% of registered voters are expected to vote in the election. Extraordinary.

We went to see "Secret Life of the Bees," which, in addition to featuring a cellist, takes place in 1964, after the passage of the Voting Rights Act. The contrast was deeply moving.

I will be voting in the very blue state Massachusetts, where the outcome is not in question. It will be interesting to see what happens in the red, lately pink, state of Georgia. At the very least, you can get lots of free stuff for voting in Georgia (and other parts of the U.S.): Starbucks coffee, Ben and Jerry's ice cream, Krispy Kreme donuts, reduced admission to Zoo Atlanta, a free meal at Shane's Rib Shack, a party at P. Diddy's restaurant in Atlanta, and, undoubtedly, more.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Thank you, Huthmakers

Cellist Anna Huthmaker of Huthmaker Violin

I was in the Atlanta, Georgia, area recently, Duluth, to be exact, visiting my daughter. Shortly before I arrived, my daughter had stumbled across the Huthmaker Violin shop in the lovely "Old Main Street" area of Duluth, and stopped in to check it out for me. She knew I would be interested, not only because I play the cello, but also because I worked, for about four years, at Johnson String Instrument on Cape Cod.

I immediately checked out the Huthmaker web site and discovered that not only did they rent instruments, but they had their own community string ensemble, the Main Street Orchestra which meets once a week. The orchestra is open to "amateur string players who love music and love making music. There is no audition. Just come to a rehearsal, take out your instrument and join the fun."

It sounded great to me, so I immediately called to see if they would rent me a cello for a week, and whether I could drop in and play with the orchestra. They were very friendly, though, at the time did not have a full-size cello, and told me to call when I arrived. And, yes, I was welcome to play in the string ensemble.

What a treat, I thought! I hated the idea of not being able to practice for a week (especially given that our orchestra concert is coming up in two weeks, now), and thought it woud be fun to connect with another string shop. I decided to rent a 3/4 size if that was all they had. There are numerous passages in the orchestra music that I really need to work on.

Huthmakers was great. Not only did they have a full-size cello for me, but they (it is for the most part a family business, like Johnson String) were all so friendly. Roland Huthmaker (the father) was asked by another customer to play "Devil Goes Down to Georgia," and he complied, much to our delight; Anna (the daughter) and I discovered we had a mutual acquaintance at Johnson's, and we all knew cellist Eugene Friesen who has done workshops for both shops. They also had a photo of Yo-Yo Ma on their wall, though I can't say he has ever visited Johnson String's Cape shop.

Violist Dixie Huthmaker has written a children's book called Trapped in Half Position about a 12-year-old girl who has trouble moving out of half position, and Anna, her daughter, who plays both classical and Celtic music, and both cello and string bass, is in a group called Border Collies, which has a CD called Sticks and Stones. (More later on both the book and CD.)

Dixie autographed my copy of the book, "Practice every day," and I did, while I was in Georgia, though not for very long, as there were places to go and things to do, but it was great having a cello with me, and it was a delight to meet the Huthmakers.

Huthmaker Violin in Duluth, Georgia, above. Below is Johnson String on Cape Cod. I found the similarity between the two buildings striking.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Spread Peace and Joy with Yo-Yo Ma

A friend sent me information about a contest in which the prize is an opportunity to play with Yo-Yo Ma. Details are on the Indaba Music web site (or click on the photo above).

In celebration of the release of his latest album, Songs of Joy & Peace, which includes contributions by many other artists, such as James Taylor, Alison Krauss, Diana Krall, Chris Botti, and Renée Fleming, Ma has invited amateur and professional musicians to compete for the opportunity to collaborate with him on "Dona Nobis Pacem (Give Us Peace)."

On the Indaba website, there are recordings of Ma playing "Dona Nobis Pacem" as a cello solo, as well as a sample counterpoint melody and variations. And the downloadable sheet music to get you going. (It's in treble clef because you don't have to be a cellist to enter.) Participants are encouraged to write their "own counter-melody or record an entirely new set of variations."

It sounds like fun, as well as a nice collaboration of traditional and improvisational music. And, for those of us who don't stand much of a chance of winning, we can use Ma's recording of "Dona Nobis Pacem" as inspiration for our own playing.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Blog posting

I posted every day last November, as part of National Blog Posting Month, but after that my posts have been less frequent, and connections with other people seem have diminished, though my blog stats have been increasing. What I liked best about NaBloPoMo was the camaraderie of fellow bloggers and finding a wonderful array of new blogs to frequent. I am hoping to find 29 scintillating cello-related things to say this month. Yes, that's right, this wimpy post counts as my first post of the month. :-)

Friday, October 31, 2008

NaNoWriMo and NaBloPoMo

I have no time for this, but, yes, I have signed up for both again this year, as well as my own personal PracticeCelloEveryDayMonth. I would love to hear from others involved in either event, or two or more.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Secret Life of the Cellists

We saw "Secret Life of the Bees" last night. Alicia Keys plays cello in it, not, in my opinion, entirely convincingly, but a cello is enough to get me to any movie.

I loved the book of the same name, and the movie is the best movie adaptation of a book that I have seen in a long time. It really captures the book, and the era (1964, as the civil rights movement was growing).

But, for now, just the cello part. Zoe Keating is the actual cellist in the movie, and, as the credits flipped by, I noticed that Alicia Keys had two cello coaches, one in New York and one in North Carolina, where, apparently, the movie was filmed. I didn't catch their names, and was checking the Internet for additional information, when I came across a query: "Was that cello piece the same one as the one in that commercial?"

Yes, it was the prelude to Bach's first suite for solo cello, the same one featured in numerous commercials from dog food to automobiles, apparently the identifying cello piece. Amazing Grace was also played, quite beautifully, I thought.

Just found an article about the North Carolina cello teacher. There is a video too, but I am in a motel in the Atlanta, Georgia area right now, one with a very slow Internet connection, so I can't watch it.

Here's another video, maybe the same one; it's hard to tell without being able to see them. It starts off by saying she learned the cello in 4 weeks. I guess she looks pretty good for four weeks!

I loved the fact that there was a cellist in this movie and there were quite a few scenes in which the cello played a supporting role. Alicia, however, played a character who was a bit unfeeling and unwilling to take a chance on love, perhaps someone who focuses all her emotions on the cello. So, you kind of want her to lighten up, put the cello aside, and go outside and play.

Oh, one other tiny complaint. This movie features Jennifer Hudson, Queen Latifah, and only gives us little snippets of singing. Ok, you can't make this book into a musical, but it would have been nice to hear more.

Still, in all, a great little movie, even the non-cello, non-musical parts.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Russian Animation-Камаринская-Kamarinskaja

Laura found this wonderful animated version of Glinka's Kamarinskaja on Youtube; we are playing it in our newly founded orchestra. We are giving two concerts on November 14 and 16.

I love this piece, which is based on two Russian folk songs, and the cellos have lots of great lines.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

"The Soloist" Release Delayed

I was disappointed to read today that "The Soloist," the Jamie Foxx movie in which he plays a homeless, schizophrenic cellist, will not be released on November 21 as planned. The release has been delayed until March 9, 2009.

A story in the Los Angeles Times provides more information on the politics of the decision. Click on the movie poster image above for that story, which says, in part, that the movie is of "particular interest to those of us here at the L.A. Times, since it is based on a series of gripping columns by our own Steve Lopez about his relationship with a homeless musician grappling with schizophrenia." One of the concerns is that this change eliminates the movie from Oscar contention. Hard to figure why they would make that decision.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Maybe a novel, maybe not

I participated in National Novel Writing Month last year, and actually wrote a 50,000 page novel, some words of which are memorable. But, honestly, I haven't even looked at it since I finished it last year. This was partly because, almost immediately after writing it, I applied for a job as a editor/writer with the local paper, and have since been up to my ears in writing, not only for the paper, but for another blog.

Do I have time to write a novel this year? Probably not. But I visited the nanowrimo site, just to see what was happening, and I seem to have accidentally signed up.

The first web badge simply calls attention to the event, the second one indicates I am a participant. I shall ponder, over the next two weeks, which one to keep.

Last year I also participated in the blog-every-day-for-the-month-of-November event, NaBloPoMo (National Blog Posting Month). I am pondering that one too. It was a lot of fun last year, and I met a lot of great bloggers. But this is also a huge time commitment, especially when you do both at the same time. There is a NaBloPoMo every month now, actually, but November still seems to be the official month.

Neither one of these endeavors really promotes quality in writing or blog posting, but sometimes quantity is better than nothing. And nothing promotes writing like a deadline.

I shall ponder for a little while longer.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

All You Need Is Love - The Beatles

Now, this is the way it should be done--complete with cellos!


I saw the Beatlemania Classical Mystery Tour last night with the Cape Cod Symphony Orchestra. The audience loved it. The singers looked somewhat like the Beatles, and the various costumes (changing over the years) were fun.

I was not enchanted though, wanting the Beatlemania people to be more like Beatles: sound more like them, move like them, be quirkier, and call each other John, Paul, George, and Ringo, not their real names, to heighten the fantasy. I also wanted the sound to be more balanced, as in this video. Live, the amplified guitars seemed too amplified for me (a common complaint of mine), and the orchestra's contributions were sometimes obscured. Jung-Ho Pak looked great in his Sgt. Pepper jacket, though.

A fun night (the crowd went wild, responding with three enthusiastic standing ovations), but not exhilarating, at least for me.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Two Steps Back can be useful

Dissatisfied with my intonation, tone, expression, musicality, you-name-it, I decided to go back to the beginning, cello-wise. More than two steps back, really. I wanted to play simple scales and exercises really well and be more confident about shifting, positions, bowing, etc.

My teacher suggested we start with Piatti, book one. After initial distress (why not book two, at least?), I calmed down and have been serene about cello playing and cello progress ever since.

Still, finding time to practice is not always easy. I have two very demanding, deadline-based, but otherwise unstructured jobs, family, friends, rehearsals, and "occasional" Internet time.

I was thinking of Marisa today when I went in for my lesson, trying to think of an excuse for not practicing that sounded different from previous excuses. My last-minute practice session late last night must have helped though, because all went well. I had a great lesson, and more important than that, I had a great time playing and loved playing those simple, now very musical duets with my teacher.

Isn't the cello lovely! (Maybe I will manage a little more practice time this week.)

Monday, September 29, 2008

Denise Djokic, Again

The concert started in an unusual way, with applause for the banks who sponsor the concerts, not so much for sponsoring the concerts, as for simply not going belly up yet. We're grateful for small things. Well, I guess that is a big thing.

Cellist Denise Djokic was the soloist with the Cape Cod Symphony this weekend, playing Tchaikovsky's Variations on a Rocco Theme for Cello and Orchestra, Op. 33. An outstanding cellist (said to be one of the best classical musicians in Canada, or in the world, depending on whom you listen to) and an incredible piece of music, lots of variety for sure, and very demanding on the cellist. Yet, she was graceful and fluid, from grumbling low sounds to delicate high notes that you not think a cello capable of making.

I was glad to be able to see her. She was here, playing with the Simon Sinfonietta in February 2007, but I was unable to attend. It was nice of her to return. :-)

Here's a link to her playing Handel Halvorsen Passacaglia with Jasper Wood.

And another, part of a documentary done on her, called "Seven Days and Seven Nights."

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Rain, Cello, Piano, and Chopin, Twice

Yesterday morning, I drove, slowly, through the heavy rain, to Sandwich to play a couple of easy pieces with two pianists, both adult beginners, at their piano recital. All went well and the pianists all sounded great. I agreed to come back again for the next recital, and bring some other musicians. Pianists, at least at the early level, don't get to play with others that often, and they appreciated the opportunity to play with me. Makes me feel good too. :-)

Then, last night, I attended a cello/piano concert featuring Savely Schuster on cello and Sharon Mann on piano. They are both virtuoso musicians and played brilliantly, and I hate to even mention them in the same post as our little recital in the morning, but there were many similarities.

Both concerts were affected by the rain (turnout was light in the morning concert, and though the evening concert was sold out, many did not attend, for fear of torrential rains, which did not materialize). I did benefit from this by getting a great seat with an unobstructed view of the cellist, but was sorry so many people missed the big event. Both concerts very satisfying in their own way: great music, warm and friendly people, exceptional refreshments afterwards, and, both concerts included the same piece, Chopin's Nocturne in E Flat Major. Of course the piece from the morning concert was from a book called "Simply Chopin" and left out quite a few notes that were included in the evening version, but I enjoyed them both.

A great day, all in all.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Cello Thursday

I am now committed to 4 (or more) hours of cello-playing on Thursday. Orchestra rehearsal is 2 hours, maybe 2 hours 15 minutes in the evening. My lesson is 45 minutes at 10:30, and we have just added a "duet lesson" for a friend and me, in the hour before my lesson. Today, I also practiced in the afternoon.

I am still having a hard time finding time to practice on a regular basis, but, at least, I will be playing a lot. At least on Thursday.

I loved our first duo lesson today. Carol and I are basically on the same level and we have been friends for a few years, playing together in a coached cello quartet for a while. I dropped out for various reasons, but we like to play together on occasion. It has been on rare occasion because we are both so busy. This way, we know we will be working together every week. And maybe it will motivate me to practice more. We have a duo performance scheduled for Saturday, but the remnants of a hurricane threatens the performance, at an outdoor harvest festival, so that may not actually happen. There's another (indoor) performance next week though.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Cellists for Obama

Barack Obama's favorite classical music, according to his Facebook page, is Bach's suites for solo cello.

Friday, September 19, 2008


We have spent all summer getting ready for orchestra season, after a series of three preliminary rehearsals this summer. There were endless e-mails over all sorts of things, publicity, music selection and distribution, negotiating with our conductor, fundraising events, etc. Finally, tonight, we had our first rehearsal. It was all worth it.

We have about 35 members--a great turnout; a few days ago we were expecting only 22. We have five cellists. I am sitting in the second chair, but only because the cellist who should be there preferred to sit farther back, and the other two cellists had already picked chairs in the back.

The first chair cellist is a friend, a professional flutist who also plays the cello. She was the one who got me interested in the cello in the first place, when she got some of her adult flute students together with adult student of a cello teacher and a violin teacher. I loved the sound of the flute and cello together and wanted to enhance our flute choir with a cello. (At the same time, my daughter independently decided she wanted to play the cello after we visited my sister and her family, and was intrigued with the cello one of her cousins was playing. So we, my daughter and I, started cello together.)

Our orchestra program for the fall is:

Handel, Overture to Agrappina
Vaughn Williams, Fantasia of Greensleeves
Tchaikovsky, Andante Cantabile
Telemann, Concerto in e minor
Bizet, Symphony in C

We worked on the Bizet tonight. This is a four-movement, 30-minute piece, and we only got through the first three movements in two hours. It sounded good to me though, and it not too difficult on the cello. The Greensleeves, which I haven't even tried yet, looks to be the most challenging, as most of it is in four flats, and there a lots of triple stops and some tenor clef. I will have to try it out this week, should I find the time to practice!

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Cello, Trumpet, and Piano

We went to see Tre Corda this afternoon, a jazz trio with Tim Ray on piano, Greg Hopkins on trumpet, and Eugene Friesen on cello. Not exactly your typical jazz instrumentation, and the music they play draws on African rhythms, especially with the cello, classical music, jazz classics, and a healthy dose of improvisation. All three instrumentals are virtuoso players, creative, innovative, whimsical, and full of vitality. Just the antidote for an overcast afternoon.

Here is a link to their CD Baby site where you can hear their music: Tre Corda. Most of the pieces sound a bit more mellow than they did in person though, where their sound filled the room and rattled the walls. In a good way, of course.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Cello and Piano

Last spring I met a piano teacher who specializes in teaching older adults. I was impressed. Some of her students had played when they were kids, but most of them had taken up the piano in retirement, had played for a year or two, or more, and sounded pretty good. I mentioned that I played the cello and had started as an older adult (though not quite in retirement). The teacher though it would be a great idea for some of the students to play duets with me at the next concert. I said sure, as I almost never turn down an invitation to play.

The concert is in two weeks, and we rehearsed today. The pieces are pretty easy for me (a "song" by Beethoven and "Amazing Grace") so I can concentrate on tone and intonation and sounding good, but I can tell they are a little more complicated for the pianists. Most had not played with others (except some piano duets) and were struggling a little to keep the tempo constant. It was great fun to rehearse with them, though, and to listen to their other pieces. A lot of them were serene, contemplative pieces, very relaxing. Just what I needed today, after yet another busy week.

Monday, September 1, 2008


Along about this time every year, I realize I didn't do enough "summer things" during the quickly fading summer. I'm always so busy working or involved in musical activities of one kind or another.

We did manage to get out on a sailboat over the weekend. And though it was a little misty, we enjoyed the serenity of Vineyard Sound. The quiet was intense, and, for me, was even more powerful than the other voices on the boat. (This was a "tourist boat," with about 20 adults and children on board. The parents were noisier than their kids, with their efforts to keep them safe and amused.)

Tonight we are going to a play in Dennis (the other end of the Cape), and my husband called the town to see if there would be a town band concert there tonight, as there has been on other Monday nights when we went to the theater. "Summer's over!" was the response. A little abrupt, I think!

Hopefully, we will still find time to go kayaking, biking along the rail trail, etc. At least I can always just take my work out on the deck and enjoy the weather there.

And my cello. I didn't practice every day in August, and didn't actually keep records after I started skipping days in the second half of the month. But it was a whole lot better than July. I will try again in September.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Flute Trio today

I woke up this morning at 9, coincidentally the time I was supposed to meet the other two women in our flute trio to perform at the Unitarian church I am loosely a member of. I had been up late working last night, intermittently reading scandalous rumors on the Internet about Sara Palin's baby boy having been born to her daughter, not to her, and other scandalous rumors saying the first rumors were started by people wanting liberals like me to react with condemnation against this woman "whose only crime was protecting her daughter," or would have been, except that the rumors weren't true. It's all very confusing.

I also discovered that Sarah Palin plays the flute, or at least played the flute as her talent when she competed in beauty contests. I have not been able to find anything on her views on the arts, but I think she may be, at least, the only musical instrument-playing national candidate. (I am totally at odds with her stands on other issues.)

Interesting woman, though, and it is stories like these that make me despair of ever writing fiction. Real life is just so much more convoluted.

Anyway, there I was, groggy at 9 AM, and the service started at 9:30. We were playing "The Water is Wide" and the first movement of the first trio of "Haydn's [four] London Trios." I opted to play the flute on the third part, rather than cello. This was a big event (Sunflower Sunday, in which the fellowship was dedicating its solar panels and promoting energy conservation and renewable energy), and I didn't want to worry about intonation.

I couldn't find the flute part to the Haydn, so grabbed the score, the flute, etc., threw on some clothes (my husband had gotten them out of the dryer for me while I was brushing my teeth), and my husband drove me to the meeting house, which is only a mile away. I was worried about parking problems, so thought it would be quicker if he just dropped me off.

I got there with about 10 minutes to spare, not enough time to rehearse, and only a short time to warm up and tune. Nevertheless, all went well (despite my missing a note or two when I had to turn pages of the score), and we all agreed it was our best performance. The audience was very complimentary and one woman wanted to buy our CD (which we haven't recorded yet, but I have started to think we should...).

I decided to walk home, and, for once, was glad I had the flute with me, and not the cello.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Playing at the Art Fair

Members of our newly organizing orchestra played, in various combinations, at the art fair a couple of days ago. This was sort of a last minute thing and we had very little time to rehearse, but I think it came together pretty well, all things considered.

For once, I played cello better than flute, for the simple reason that we rehearsed the harpsichord, violin and cello music two or three times before the event, and we mostly sight-read the music for the flute, oboe, and clarinet ensemble. Practicing--it makes a difference! Other groups performing were flute and harpsichord, Irish flute and harpsichord, and fiddle and string bass.

We intend to do it all again at a harvest fair in September. Hopefully, we will have a few rehearsals in between.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

A Day at the Beach

would be nice. I only managed a couple of hours today, but it was glorious. We've had great weather all summer, yet, with beaches within minutes of my home, in all directions, this is the first time we actually went to the beach. To plop down in the sand and read, and to swim that it; we did walk along the beach under the full moon last week.

I have such a busy schedule, but the beach, the sand and the ocean, is rejuvenating. Maybe I should have made a pledge to get to the beach every day in August (instead of, or in addition to, practicing).

I missed another 2 days of practicing this week, but, all in all, things are going well.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Orchestra news

Well, we seem to have our community orchestra up and running. Rehearsals will start September 18. In the meantime, some of us are playing at an art fair on Thursday, in part to promote the orchestra and in part to raise some funds for it. It's a five-hour arts fair, so we will be taking turns in small ensembles. I am boldly playing cello in a trio or quartet, mostly confident of my new-found grip on intonation (these are easy cello parts in which you can focus on intonation), as well as flute.

I am excited about the orchestra; we have a great group of people organizing it, and a very capable conductor. I am looking forward to playing with the other cellists, most of whom are better than I am. That should help with intonation too.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Cleaning up

I gave our cat a bath today. She was very tolerant and did not attack me, as I had feared. I had to do it since she had not really been keeping herself very clean recently. I noticed a couple of weeks ago that she had a lot of matted fur on her hindquarters. I started gently pulling them out, and soon most of them were gone. Apparently she was helping out.

But she still had something that looked like dandruff, felt a little grungy, and she had fleas. So I bathed her in the tub, filling it with a couple of inches of water, and I used flea/conditioning shampoo. She is silky smooth now, and all fleas are gone.

And she is a lot happier than she looks in this photo. She is next to me, purring, as I type.

My theory about the matted fur is that she may have been depressed about the loss of our other cat, who was hit by a car a few weeks ago. They weren't very close, but I think she was missing him.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Midway, more or less

Just a quick update on my "practice every day in August" pledge. I have practiced all but two days, and those were days I was home only to sleep. I am feeling good about this, especially after going most of July without practicing at all. A couple of the days bare minimum practicing, as little as 10 minutes, but most days were at least an hour, sometimes 2, and occasionally 3 hours.

I am trying to focus on intonation and sound quality, not on repertoire, but sometimes the repertoire takes over for a while. I played with the fiddlers yesterday, so worked on some fiddle tunes this week, and I played both flute and cello at a church this morning, so worked on those pieces as well.

When I told my teacher earlier this summer of my plan to work on intonation and sound quality, using scales and etudes, she suggested a new book. I sighed because I have several scale and etude books already and had planned to use one or two of them. Finally, after a couple of weeks, I bought the book, A. C. Piatti's Method for Cello. Starting with book 1. Yes, I wanted to do simple pieces, but was dejected about starting on book one, all over again. She allowed that we could start midway through.

So, I started on page 1 anyway. I like the book, after all, and find I am learning things, even from page 1, and the point is not what page I am on, but whether my sound is improving, and I think it is. This is a completely different approach from Suzuki, of course, and it introduces some things, like G# and half position and key signatures up to 3 sharps and flats, much earlier. It introduces 1st to 4th positions, and ends with 5th, 6th, and 7th position, in tenor clef.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Extreme Cello: Mountain Climbing

It's hard enough to play the cello, but to play it on top of a mountain, after you have hiked up that mountain with a cello on your back, is quite a feat! The Extreme Cellists recently climbed four mountains with their cellos: Ben Nevis in Scotland, Scafell Pike in England, Snowden in Wales, and Carrauntoohil in Ireland, and played trios at the peaks. These are the four tallest mountains in these countries, and they started from as close to sea level as possible, for a total climb of 14,581 feet of climbing.

The endeavor was called the Four Peaks Challenge, and it took place between July 21 and 30, 2008. The purpose of the challenge was to raise money for Aspire, an organization providing rehabilitation assistance for people with spinal cord injuries, and Mountain Rescue, in all four countries. They raised £3,573 so far, and are happy to receive online donations.

You can read more about their adventures on their blog: Latest From the Extreme Cellists and, of course, they would be happy to receive additional contributions. For more information, see their website at: Extreme Cello. This is only one of several extreme activities they have undertaken.

These people are inspiring; not only to they find time to practice the cello, they make time to hike up mountains, blog about it, and work for worthy causes. I will think of them, next time it seems like a Herculean task to just practice.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Practicing, or Why Not

Ok, I have to admit I skipped practicing two days this week, already failing to practice every day in August, but this was a really tough week to insert practicing into. I have had a very full work week, events to attend every night, and yesterday performed in two flute concerts. I thought one or both would be rained out, but the ominous clouds departed, and both went on as scheduled. I was kind of expecting, kind of hoping that the second one would be rained out. We had had so little time to prepare for either event, and I am the least accomplished player in both groups.

The first was with a woodwind trio (flute, oboe, and bassoon). It turned out pretty well. We were background music for a luncheon, so occasional flubs went unnoticed, and people came up to us telling we were "perfect." The oboe and bassoon were giving their players problems in the humidity, and the oboe player had to swab out her oboe after every tune, so we had plenty of rest time in the two hours we played.

Next, I played in a flute trio (all flutes) at the Falmouth ArtMarket, a weekly artists fair. We played for two and a half hours. This was set up more as background music than as a concert, but our music was sent to all corners of the art fair via a sound system. It's best not to even think about that while you are playing. It went well, for the most part; one piece (Haydn's second London Trio, which we had not rehearsed much) was messy, and some others were flawed, but Haydn's first London Trio drew applause, and we were praised by a flutist in the audience, who may join our group, and attracted the attention of a woman looking for entertainment for a wedding.

My whole body was aching by the end of the second performance, but it was only 5 PM, time to join my husband for a quick dinner out (it was our anniversary), before joining my son and his girlfriend to see the Woods Hole Theater Company production of The Rocky Horror Show. It was flashy and zany and lots of fun for all, even if the words were somewhat incomprehensible, in part because the very excellent band was abundantly amplified.

Before I crawled into bed, I played two or three scales on the cello, just to get back on track.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Me and the Fonz

This was so much fun! Henry Winkler will be conducting a piece at the Boston Pops concert (with Keith Lockhart) in Hyannis tomorrow. Tonight there was a VIP reception for him. I brought one of his children's books (they are chapter books, for ages 8 to 14) and asked him to sign it. I don't think anyone else had one of his books, as this was a music-oriented event, and he was so pleased.

His series is about Hank Zipzer, a child who struggles with dyslexia. The stories are autobiographical, about Winkler's own learning disabilities, his own bad teachers and strict, disapproving parents, etc. The books are funny, and of course Hank triumphs in the end.

Winkler was warm and friendly to all, and very funny during the fundraising auction for the local arts association. His contribution to the auction was an autographed set of all his books (there are 14), plus to name a character in his next book after the winning bidder. He coaxed the bid up to $5,000, and then offered a second identical prize to the losing bidder for the same amount, bringing in $10,000.

I didn't bid on anything! But I did practice when I got home.

Every Day in August

I haven't practiced cello for a while, though I do play it occasionally. Yesterday, the first of August, I decided to make an effort to practice every day in August. My lessons start again in mid-September, and I have put Suzuki aside for a while to concentrate on scales and etudes (and maybe a little Scottish cello music, in the style of Abby Newton), to improve tone and intonation. I need to add orchestra music into this mix, but not until mid-September.

So, my plan is every day in August, even briefly. My work schedule remains busy, as is my entertainment schedule (I have four plays to review this week, and a concert and a reception to attend, not that I am complaining!). I am playing two flute background music performances with a woodwind trio and with a flute trio this week, 11 to 1 AND 3 to 5:30 on the same day, perhaps a little crazy. Tomorrow there is a 2-hour fiddle performance, also more or less background music at an art fair, that I am contemplating taking my cello to.

So, if I write here that I will practice every day, maybe I will make that extra effort to actually do so. I practiced yesterday, though not yet today, and am off to another art fair now. Later!

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Slow Entertainment

We held a fundraiser for our newly formed orchestra Friday night. We screened the film, Radio Cape Cod, which is set in Woods Hole (here on Cape Cod), and the director, Andrew Silver, and his son Julian Silver (both appear in the film) came to the screening to introduce the film and answer questions about it. Among other things, the film promotes slow food and a gentler, more laid back lifestyle. In addition to being the opposite of fast food, slow food is an actual movement, promoting natural foods, local foods, sustainable agriculture, and taking time to enjoy cooking and eating.

Our orchestra, which rehearses in an auditorium that used to be a research center for renewable energy, organic agriculture, aquaculture, and housing alternatives, seemed a likely choice for showing this particular film. We added a string quartet prior to the screening, and a brass quartet afterward, and lots of reasonably nutritious foods to munch on. It was a very nice evening of, as one of our members put it, slow entertainment, with lots of time for socializing, and a very community feel to it all.

Time will tell if we can play music together (I do think we can), but clearly we can throw a party.

Monday, July 21, 2008

A little touch of elegance at the Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival. This is taken from the top of the hill. The main stage is behind me. Other performance tents, the food and craft vendor are in front, down the hill, surrounded by a sea of tents, campers, RVs, and cars. It is a weekend jam-packed with all sorts of bluegrass music, and even a few cellos.

I wrote about it a little on my other blog (, but will probably add another word or two here, when I find a minute!

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

First Orchestra Rehearsal

Our new orchestra met for the first time last night. We had a good turnout of about 33 people, including 9 cellists, violins, violas, a bassoon, a bass clarinet, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, several trumpets, French horn, and possibly others. We should perhaps change our name to the mostly all cello orchestra.

We played "Sonate 2 da Chiesa" by Corelli and the Rosamunde Overture by Schubert. Both of these are free scores we found online. We were uncertain how many people would show up, and what instruments they would bring, but the random assemblage of players seems to be working out well.

I chanced to meet a young woman visiting from Scotland, a cellist, and invited her to join us (luckily, I have two cellos). She is a great musician, and it was a treat to sit next to her. On my other side was the bassoon player, also a strong player. I didn't get every note, but I played better with their help.

We were pleased with the turnout, with our conductor, and with the beautiful music we produced. It's a good thing, a community orchestra!