Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Catching Up with Orchestra and More....

It has been a long time since I have written a post, and a lot to catch up on.

When I last wrote, I was in the Cape Community Orchestra, preparing for a concert. I was one of seven cellists, because the CCO is not an auditioned group and seems happy to take anyone. Even with seven of us, we seemed dwarfed by the brass section.

We had a couple of easy pieces, a couple of challenging pieces, and one nearly impossible piece (The Hebrides, by Mendelssohn). At first I concentrated on the Hebrides, learning a couple of measures at each lesson. That part was fun, seeing an impossible section suddenly become playable with the proper fingering. But, in between lessons, I did not find time to practice, so the work was for naught, or next-to-naught, because even if I could play those sections, I couldn't play most of them fast enough. I loved the music, and with sufficient time to practice, might have become more proficient, but "sufficient" time was not at hand.

Some weeks I didn't practice at all. I didn't even think about practicing. It is not like I though, gee, I should practice, right after I finish this pressing project. It just didn't even occur to me to practice, until I suddenly realized that orchestra rehearsal was the next day.

After a while, when I realized the concert was almost upon us, I changed my strategy and decided to work on the easy and intermediate pieces so I would be able to play most of the concert relatively fluently. For the Hebrides, I did what I could, often playing the first note of a 4-note run, rather than all of them. For me, this was a good idea, to focus on focusing: riveting my attention to counting, and getting the first note of each group of four 16th notes, so that, at least, I would know where we were. I didn't get lost, and that is a good thing, even if I didn't play every note.

I wavered for a while, but finally decided not to continue with the orchestra in the spring season. My work schedule just won't allow it at this time. But, more than that, I have found orchestra playing not to be conducive to working on a beautiful tone, or to getting every note, two priorities for me. It is too easy in orchestra to fake it during certain passages. With seven cellos overwhelmed by several trumpets, saxophones, and tubas, how beautifully one might play a particular passage is not really a concern (at least in the back row of cellos).

I think my focus, for the next "semester," will be on myself, my own playing. I haven't given up on ensembles though. I love ensembles. I will continue to play in the fiddle group (more on that in another post) and am seeking to establish a cello choir here, perhaps with a stray flute or violin (more on that later too--we are playing tomorrow at an informal concert at an assisted living center: 3 cellos, a violin, a flute, and an alto flute. We haven't really rehearsed. The concert is sort of an open rehearsal, but I expect it to be just dandy!)

Meanwhile, I am still playing with the beginning/intermediate piano students, to give them experience in playing accompaniment, and to give me practice in playing with a pianist. I noticed one time that one of the pianists complimented one of the students for being able to follow me when I stumbled, or words to that effect. I refrained from telling her that it was me who was trying to follow the pianist.

When I first started playing with a pianist, for my Suzuki book recitals, I had to memorize my Suzuki pieces and perform with the pianist. This was too much for me, to play from memory and know the piano part as well, and know how it all fit in together. I managed to get by, at least in the beginning, by blotting out the piano, and just playing, trusting the pianist to follow me. And she did. Now, it is nice to have a sense of the pianist and how a piece should sound when we play together.

Listening to the piano recitals has encouraged me to try piano again, and I am happy to say I learned "Joy to the World" on piano and played it at the recital last week at a nursing home. I play it incessantly now and am even thinking of learning another Christmas piece on the piano, before the holidays are over.

Have a joyful and musical holiday!

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Seylan Baxter and Cheyenne Brown

I "met" Scottish folk cellist Seylan Baxter through this blog a couple of years ago when she commented on my posts about attending Scottish fiddle camp. She sent me a copy of her cello and harp CD, "2:40" (with harpist Cheyenne Brown, originally from Alaska, but now living in Scotland), and I was an immediate fan. The name of the CD refers to the 2 performers, and the 40 strings they play.

So, when I learned they would be relatively close, at the Blackstone River Theatre in Cumberland, Rhode Island, on their first U.S. tour, I drove the 70 miles to see them. It was a dark and stormy night, and I could barely find my way home through the torrential rains after the show, but it was a concert well worth seeing; I loved every minute of it.

I find it hard to describe Scottish folk music; it is fiddle music, Celtic music, but with an earthiness to it (perhaps the cello), a solidness and rustic flavor that appeals to me. The cello and harp are not a traditional instrumental duo, and the cello is not traditionally a solo instrument in Scottish music, but Seylan and Cheyenne make you believe that these two instruments, and Scottish music, belong together, and that the cello clearly deserves a starring role. The two instruments, the two young women, share the musical spotlight, and they were quite amiable and congenial as performers. In addition to playing the cello, Seylan sings; she has a wonderful voice, especially good for ballads.

I talked to them both after the show, and they said they hope to return next year for another U.S. tour. The Cumberland audience was wildly enthusiastic about their playing, and I think U.S. audiences will be very happy to see them again.

Seylan uses many contemporary techniques in her cello playing, chopping, rhythmic slapping of the wood, sliding up and down the string, pizzicato, and more. Seylan started out as a classical cellist, switching to Scottish folk music while in college. She did not learn by ear immediately, and had to work on that skill. She encouraged me in my continuing efforts to learn by ear. She was doing a cello workshop the day after the concert in Arlington, MA, and I wish that I had been able to attend (I had a fiddling commitment of my own and another concert to attend). Maybe next year!

The first think you notice about her playing is, of course, that she plays standing up, her cello balanced on a chair. Cheyenne stands as well, her harp elevated a few inches to make this possible. I talked to Seylan about the standing, and asked why she played that way, and whether it was difficult. She said she started doing it because she was often the only one sitting. She experimented with different methods, including strapping on an electric cello, but using a chair turned out to be the easiest thing to do. Some other fiddlers use a longer end-pin or other methods.

Not believing her, I gave it a try at home. It is easy to play this way, and I think the sound is more voluminous. Could be just from where I was in relationship to the cello, but I asked my husband for his opinion, and he agreed that I had a bigger sound when I was standing. I might have to explore this further.

It was a great concert; it was wonderful to see and hear Seylan and Cheyenne, and I hope they expand their tour next year to include a Cape Cod venue and cello workshop. There was one cellist (me) and one harpist in the audience in Rhode Island, and I think there would be many more of each on the Cape.

I am glad to have discovered the Blackstone River Theatre, a small 100-seat theater that offers a folk concert series, mostly Celtic music. I hope to go back again on December 5, when the Jeremy Kittel Band is playing. I have actually never heard of them, but cellist Tristan Clarridge plays with this group. (He is also in Crooked Still, another alternative folk, bluegrass group I enjoy.)

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Orchestra semi-progress

It has been a busy summer and fall, and I have not written much here. Nor have I practiced much. For several weeks I continued to go to my lesson and orchestra rehearsal with NO practicing in between. Appalling. Especially given how much I need to practice. Now, in the last few days (I am on vacation from one of my jobs), I have found a little time to practice, and to blog again.

I am playing with a community orchestra, which I mentioned in an earlier post. Most of the music is easy, though a couple of pieces have challenging sections, and one, "The Hebrides," by Mendelssohn, does require a lot of practice. I have, thus far, concentrated my itty bitty practice time on "The Hebrides," as it is a beautiful piece and I would like to contribute to some of that beauty. But, it has been frustrating, as some of the fingerings are quite awkward, and the music flies by. One could spend one's entire practice time on a couple of measures.

So, my new strategy is to practice the easy pieces, to build my confidence. And then sneak in a few measures of the Hebrides. So far (two practice days), it is helping, and it is certainly a better approach than avoiding practicing altogether. Concerts are in November, all too soon.

Also in November I am going to a weekend fiddle camp. I haven't been practicing fiddle music either. But that's another blog post for another day.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009


Since today seems to be a lucky day, I thought I would visit my poor neglected blog and write a thing or two. I only have time for one thing, and that is that orchestra starts tonight, and if I am going to get there on time, I need to leave very soon.

So, briefly--it is a new orchestra for me, but one that has been around 20 years or so, the Cape Community Orchestra. It rehearses in Harwich, about an hour's drive from here. They play a mix of classical and pop music, and I think they already have quite a few cellists. Nevertheless, they are welcoming, and I am looking forward to tonight.

Have a fortunate day!

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Arts Alive

A belated update on a couple of June concerts. I played cello and flute with the flute choir on a Saturday, three weeks ago. All went reasonably well, though I was thrown off balance when a piece we had been playing in 4 was counted off in 2, and went along faster than we had previously played it.

We had six flutists and me, playing mostly cello, sometimes flute.

It was a gorgeous sunny day, rare in these parts in June, and we had a great time. I spent most of the rest of the day listening to other performers.

On Sunday, it was overcast. I performed with the fiddlers in the morning, though did not get a photo. Playing with the fiddlers is always fun, in part because there is no sheet music, and always, for me, a bit intimidating, for the same reason, because there is no sheet music. People do not necessarily play the same versions of each tune, so there is a certain freedom, and, as the sole cellist, I can choose to play melody (if I know it) or some form of accompaniment.

After the fiddlers, my friend Laura and I hosted an instrument petting zoo, giving kids the opportunity to try out violins, violas, and a cello. One of the moms told us that her daughter had her first encounter with a cello at an instrument petting zoo three years earlier, and had been taking cello lessons ever since. It is always nice to hear that these events have some impact.

Getting ready for the chamber concert.

After the petting zoo, Laura and I joined Marv and Joyce to play chamber music. By this time it was sprinkling. Laura and Marvin, on violins, and Joyce, on keyboard began the concert with a trio:
Laura and Avis.

Then I joined them for Pieces en Trio by Marin Marais (1656-1728).

The Marais suite is easy and has a good cello part, as Marais was a viola da gamba player. It is also in the key of C, mostly first position, and the cello part doubles the keyboard left hand. The only problem was the way the keyboard was miked. Unless the speakers were turned toward us, we could not hear the keyboard. And if the speakers were turned toward us, the audience couldn't hear the keyboard.

So since the audience, by this time, because of the increasingly heavy rain, consisted mainly of our spouses, we opted to turn the speakers toward ourselves. Even so, the keyboard played as a harpsichord, when amplified, takes on the sound of breaking dishes, at least to me, and it was difficult to be sure I was always with the keyboardist.

We had two hours of music planned, but, after a piece by Marv and Joyce, we called it quits and headed home, through the raindrops. It might have been better with sunshine and an audience, but I enjoyed it nevetheless.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Waltzing Frenzy!

Our big waltz event was last night. Our little band (4 fiddles, guitar, cello, drum, and tin whistle) played five waltzes and kept the dance floor crowded (until another band took over for the contradances). It was somewhat terrifying, but we all noticed that it was easier to play, and we played better, when there were people happily moving to the music.

I took this photo from the stage, during a tin whistle guitar solo. Beyond the dancers are tables; there were about 200 people, and they all loved to dance. It was a wonderful first performance for our group, a great alternative to either being background music or a concert performance, with all eyes on us. At the dance, we knew people were listening--they were twirling about--but we were not the focus of attention.

These were fast fiddle waltzes, not "slow dances," though still relatively slow for fiddle music. I did bring my sheet music, but I did try to play without looking at it. Sometimes, I completely forgot what note was next, but often I it was easier to just go with the flow, without the music.

The party celebrated the 88th birthday of the father of our tin whistle player. An enthusiastic contra-dancer and all-around good person, he was awe-inspiring, and I was happy to be part of the celebration.

A table centerpiece.

Sunday, June 7, 2009


The fiddle performance is next Saturday, and, while I can play the tunes, I still do not have them reliably memorized enough to play them without the music though. I am fine alone--but sometimes fall apart when playing with the others. And we added two tunes, making a total of 6. One is Ashokan Farewell, which I can play from memory (and I am playing the melody in this one, not a harmony part), but I am not familiar enough with the other new one, Midnight on the Water, to even attempt memorizing it in a week.

So, I will play with sheet music. All the others will play from memory. In my defense, the cello parts are harder than the fiddle parts, which are all played in first position, and the fiddlers are all playing melody parts. I am disappointed to have to use sheet music, but my practice time has been so limited that I am quite happy to be playing at all!

Sunday, May 31, 2009

End of May progress report

Though it seems as though May began only yesterday, it is coming to an end and June is about to burst out all over. A progress report seems in order.

I had an ambitious plan for May and June cello practicing and performance and started out in a frenzy (for me) of practicing. Everything, every day. For one reason or another, I missed a couple of cello lessons and a few practice sessions.

I started to concentrate on the first performance, the fiddle group performance on June 13. I am making progress on that. I have the four tunes mostly memorized, but there are still a few spots where I hesitate, there are a few intonation issues, and there is one tune that is just going by awfully fast.

Yesterday, at rehearsal, I used sheet music because I did not feel secure without it (I tried not to look at it), and the others (who do not use sheet music) said it would be fine, if I used it during the performance. I have two more weeks, though, and am really going to try to get to the point where I am ok without it.

The fiddlers were more complimentary about my playing than my intonation called for, and, when we were listening to a tape of our session, and I was thinking, gosh, I need to play softer, one of the fiddlers said, "we need to mike the cello." I don't think this is in our best interests.

I am playing with the adult piano students on June 12, and have a rehearsal with them this week. The music is easy (including the Berceuse from Suzuki, book 3), so I am just working on making it sound expressive and musical.

I have not done much on the cello duets or Marcello in the last two weeks (very busy work weeks for me), but for a time there I was feeling competent.

The Haydn trios are coming along for the June 20 performance. Still a couple of fast parts to bring up to speed.

Tomorrow, I plan to attend a performance of a string orchestra that I am considering joining for the summer. It starts June 8, and runs for 10 weeks, which is a little more of a commitment than I wanted to make this summer. But, the conductor is an excellent cellist, and I might learn a lot (if I practice).

Sunday, May 10, 2009

The Plan for May and June

After our orchestra concert the first week in April, I focused on non-cello things for a few weeks, maybe a month, and though I continued weekly lessons, there were some weeks when I didn't practice at all between lessons. One of those times. But my cello teacher was understanding, supportive, and encouraging.

I think I am mostly back on track now, or at least edging toward it. I have several performances coming up in June, so really need to buckle down and find time to practice every day. Well, most days.

The first event is a fiddle performance in mid-June. The group I play with (women fiddlers) is performing four waltzes, and I have written harmony (second) parts to three of them, to accompany the fiddles. The music is easy enough, but it has to be played from memory, which tends to take time, and it will be tricky playing the harmony, with everyone else playing melody. I will have to focus! This is in mid-June.

The following weekend, I am playing with three groups during the arts festival: the larger fiddle group, the flute choir, and a flute, string, and keyboard group.

The larger fiddle group plays many tunes that I still do not have memorized, but I can usually play some sort of improvised pizzicato accompaniment.

In the other groups, we can use sheet music, and I am grateful for that!

The flute choir is playing trio 1 and 4 of the Haydn London Trios and Vivaldi's Goldfinch concerto (plus others in which I play flute), and we have not yet determined the program for the string group, but it may be a piece by Marais, Purcell (Golden Sonata), and/or flute sonatas by Marcello, in which I play the continuo. I have also played these on flute and enjoy them, particularly the first one, which I played recently (on flute) at church. In another context a flute-playing friend of mine remarked that she had played them when she was 10 years old. Ah, well.

In addition to that, I am working on a DeFesch sonata with another cellist, and, because it and the Marcello flute sonatas, reminded me of the Marcello piece in Suzuki book 4, I decided to go back and learn/polish that too. (I abandoned Suzuki about a year ago, to work on other things.)

Then, for intonation and related issues, I am working in the Piatti cello method. My teacher mentioned trying another duet with another of her students, and there is always something that looks interesting, so I am sure the list will grow.

But I am trying to focus.

Friday, May 8, 2009

The Soloist, review

I wrote this review of "The Soloist" for the Falmouth Enterprise, which no longer publishes articles online. I could have written my own book about "The Soloist," but compressed it here.

Because I read the book first (and because my sister graduated from Juilliard), I was interested in how accurately the movie represented the book. (There is also the question of how accurately the book represented the true story, but I can't answer that).

I searched the web for reactions from musicians, mental health people (those with schizophrenia and those expert in schizophrenia), homeless people and experts, and newspaper columnists, for other views, but found very little. The book/movie raises many interesting discussions about music, mental health, homelessness, and the current state of the newspaper industry, so I do think it worthy of discussion.

‘The Soloist,’ In Praise Of Friendship, Music

“The Soloist” is the mostly true story of the real-life relationship between Los Angeles Times columnist Steve Lopez (Robert Downey Jr.) and Nathaniel Anthony Ayers (Jamie Foxx), a homeless, schizophrenic musician whom he befriends, initially for a story, and, ultimately, because he cares about him and values his friendship. Mr. Ayers, in turn, accepts Mr. Lopez’s friendship and is transformed by it, as both are transformed by the healing power of music.

It deals not only with mental illness, homelessness, and music, but also with the financially crumbling newspaper industry, urban politics, work and family issues, and the attack of aggressive raccoons. I thought the latter had been thrown in for comic effect, but in fact, Mr. Lopez has also written columns about these mangy creatures, so there was some logic to this otherwise irrelevant subtheme.

Steve Lopez knows a story when he sees one, and did some research, discovering that Nathaniel had once been a promising scholarship student at Juilliard, but had to drop out when the pressure became too much for him and he had a nervous breakdown. His bad experiences with multiple forms of therapy led him to a homeless existence, practicing in noisy traffic tunnels, or in a downtown park, under a statue of Beethoven, and sleeping on the streets at night, scaring off rats with sticks.

His series of columns on Nathaniel convince the mayor to prioritize homeless-assistance programs (there are 90,000 homeless people in Los Angeles). More importantly (to the plot of the movie), the reporter strives to get Nathaniel off the street for his own safety, partly to continue to have something to write about, but also, increasingly, because of his growing friendship and respect for him.

Both Foxx and Downey are excellent in this movie. Foxx is particularly convincing as Ayers, in part because he is an excellent actor, a fine musician, and spent hours observing the real Nathaniel Ayers to better capture his vulnerability, anger, confusion, and his passion for music.

But Foxx also had a personal connection with the role. According to The Los Angeles Times, when he was 18, and in music school himself, someone slipped a psychotropic drug in his drink, and he came close to losing his mind. Flashbacks continued for almost a year, and he spent hours and hours playing the piano in an effort to escape, an experience very similar to Mr. Ayers’s, but without the devastating lasting impacts. He did have panic attacks and bouts of paranoia during the filming of “The Soloist,” though, fearing his own madness could return.

“The Soloist” was directed by Joe Wright, who also directed “Atonement,” a movie that I thought was better than the book. This was not the case with the “Soloist.” I might have enjoyed “The Soloist” more, if I had not read the book first.

Mr. Lopez’s book, whose full title is “The Soloist: A Lost Dream, An Unlikely Friendship, and the Redemptive Power of Music,” tells a slightly different story, and the arbitrary changing of, for the most part, minor details in the story was unnecessary and sometimes annoying.

In the movie, Nathaniel Ayers is a cellist at Juilliard, and, when a kindly arthritic woman gives him the valuable cello that she has played for 50 years, he plays magnificent, ethereal music on it without the use of vibrato and without stopping to tune it. He fills the tunnel, and all of Los Angeles, with exquisite, uplifting music.

In the book, he was a string bass player at Juilliard, and taught himself cello and violin later. Though he is clearly uniquely gifted, the book makes it clear that his playing, like his personality, is a bit disconnected and rough around the edges. He forgets notes; he adds unwritten flourishes, playing the way he talks, sometimes making sense, sometimes off on poetic or incomprehensible tangents. In the book, the donated cello is a student cello provided by a businessman, and Nathaniel sometimes tunes it endlessly, as a nervous activity. And he overuses vibrato, rather than avoiding it.

These are many more examples, including changes in Mr. Lopez’s life. Sometimes these detract from the movie, making it seem that the only mentally ill people worth caring about are those with extraordinary talent.

In a recent “60 Minutes” interview, Mr. Ayers was asked why he played in a tunnel, where the traffic almost drowns him out. He said, “It seemed orchestral: the commotion, the calamity.”

And it is “the commotion, the calamity” of Mr. Ayers’s life that makes the book so compelling. The flawless playing in the movie (actually the work of Los Angeles Philharmonic cellist Ben Hong) is unnecessary, and hokey.

To its credit, though, the movie does remain true to the book in that Mr. Ayers is not “cured” of his schizophrenia in the end. Music is healing, but it is not a miracle drug.

It should also be noted that considerable effort was made to make other aspects of the film accurate. A “character artist” was hired to duplicate the style of Ayers’s ubiquitous graffiti, and to replicate his shopping cart and clothing. Real homeless people were hired to play themselves, and the real Los Angeles Philharmonic performed in the movie.

“The Soloist” is a visually appealing film, if occasionally overly lyrical, and the subject matter, and the performances by Foxx and Downey, make the film well worth seeing. I also recommend the book, and the original columns and supplemental articles, which are online on The Los Angeles Times website. Also worth taking a look at is the foundation set up by Mr. Ayers’s sister to aid the artistically gifted mentally ill, at www.naayers.org.

Friday, April 24, 2009

"The Soloist," this weekend, finally.

"The Soloist," the movie about Nathaniel Anthony Ayers, the homeless cellist and Los Angeles Times columnist Steve Lopez, is finally coming out this weekend. I am still only halfway through the book, but looking forward to seeing the movie. After watching this 60 Minutes segment, I am thinking a full-length documentary might be even better than a movie.

I love the quotes by Mr. Ayers in the clip. When asked why he played in a tunnel, where the traffic almost drowns him out, he said, "It seemed orchestral: the commotion, the calamity."

He also says, "Music is saying, 'Life isn't that bad.'"

Elsewhere I have read that one of Mr. Ayers' goals is to play in a community orchestra. (More commotion and calamity!) And another is to teach music therapy. Though he, himself, still suffers from mental illness, the music helps bring him peace.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Rethinking the orchestra

Last weekend's performances were fun, though it may not have been wise to play in all four in the same weekend. The two "minor" concerts, one with piano students and the other as a soloist in church, went well, though I did not spend much time preparing the music.

I enjoyed the two orchestra concerts, but, in truth, I had not really mastered the music. I played most of it, but "self-edited" myself out in the places where I could not yet play up to speed. We had a very enthusiastic response to the performances, and I wish I could have take more credit for how well we sounded, but, in truth, we had six cellists when two or three would have been fine, given the total of only 31 players in the orchestra. As I am the fourth cellist, I am feeling a little unnecessary.

There are two other community orchestras in the area, one all strings, and one with a fairly similar make-up to ours. Both play "easier" music and have a more welcoming attitude toward "extra" cellists, so I think I will try one of these other groups in the fall.

For now, I am working on cello duets and small ensembles, and I have to say I am enjoying having the time to work on music other than orchestra music. I learned a lot during orchestra season about using various fingerings and improving my speed (not quite enough), and glad to have the time to slow down a bit and integrate it with the rest of my playing.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Music, Music, Everywhere

It is coming down to the wire on our spring orchestra concert, and I missed last night's rehearsal due to work obligations. The concert is next weekend, Friday, April 3, in the evening and Sunday, April 5, in the afternoon. I am not ready.

In addition, I am playing cello with group of piano students (to give them practice playing with soloists) on the morning of April 3, and performing both flute and cello at a church on the morning of April 5. All this music is easy and do-able. Then, there is a women's fiddle group session on Saturday afternoon (music is mostly do-able, but I have yet to memorize it), and I am reviewing an orchestra concert that evening.

This weekend, in preparation, I have a rehearsal with the pianists today, a rehearsal with the church organist tomorrow, and an orchestra rehearsal on Sunday. And I am reviewing another orchestra concert Saturday night. And, sometime, during the weekend, writing up a few articles about local music activities, events, etc.

Hope this explains why I haven't been blogging much. I think I am going to go practice now.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Early Spring

I drove out to Brewster today, the other end of the Cape from where we live, to pick up my cello. The bridge had warped badly, and I had taken it to a luthier out there on Tuesday to have it straightened out.

The luthier has a wonderful studio on the edge of the wetlands, perhaps surrounded by wetlands. The property used to be an aquarium. He has large windows looking out at the marshes. It was raining, perhaps a cross between rain and snow, and I said, "Well, you will be the first to know when spring comes, when things start greening up, with this wonderful view."

He said that he considered spring to be the return of the ospreys. There is a nest on a post in the marshes, not very far from his studio. Last year, he said, the ospreys returned on March 23. He told me about how the male is expected to tidy up the nest for the female, and other interesting tales about these birds, their migratory habits, territorial defenses, and care of their young.

Almost immediately after I got on the road headed home, I was confronted with a large bird, sitting squarely on the telephone wire stretched across the road, no more than six feet from me. I imagined it was the female of the pair, waiting for the male to arrive and fix up the place.

I had my camera with me, but did not have time to turn around and go back for a shot. I wish I had. After I got home, I searched for osprey images to post with this story, but could not find one in the right position--they were angled more than my bird.

After a while I decided it was a red-tailed hawk instead. They are rounder, less angular than the osprey. The photo on the left is an osprey; the one on the right is a red-tailed hawk.)

But the hawks are migratory birds too, and I do think that bird was telling me spring is here!

Friday, March 6, 2009

Orchestra update

A couple of weeks ago, the first-stand cellists were both planning on being absent on the same night, moving me and my stand-mate up to first position. We were struggling with the music, and I was not looking forward to struggling publicly. Last season, there was a night when the first two cellists were both out on the same night, but it was further into the season, and I think we second-stand cellists did pretty well. This was too soon in the season, though; the music has many challenging sections, and it is flying by at a rapid pace!

Miracle of miracles, a new cellist showed up that night, a really good cellist--a teacher of cello and other strings who had performed all our piece in the past. It was great playing with her, and, instead of a disaster, the evening was fun, though still challenging. She is a boon all of us.

I am still practicing, both slowly and for speed, and making progress, though still having weeks, like this one, when impending deadlines reduce my practice time to 10 or 15 minutes a day. There are other times, like Thursdays, when I have an hour and 45 minute lesson (a "group" hour shared with a friend, followed by my 45 minute lesson), an hour's practice in the afternoon, and a 2 and a half hour orchestra rehearsal. That will dent your fingers.

The concert is in a month, and I am still not where I would like to be, but I am learning a lot, and that is a good thing!

Sunday, February 15, 2009


A friend shared this link: The Typealyzer, which will analyze your personality by reading your blog.

I tried both my blogs, and my business website, and got the same answer:

ESTP - The Doers

The active and playful type. They are especially attuned to people and things around them and often full of energy, talking, joking and engaging in physical out-door activities.

The Doers are happiest with action-filled work which craves their full attention and focus. They might be very impulsive and more keen on starting something new than following it through. They might have a problem with sitting still or remaining inactive for any period of time.

I have never thought of myself as an extrovert, and I have no problem sitting still (so long as I am working or playing the cello or knitting, or drawing...). Well, maybe I am active in that sense.

I am curious to know what others get. I tried one fellow-cello-blogger who had the same result, and one who had a different result.

Friday, February 6, 2009


The orchestra music is not particularly hard, but it is too fast for me in many places. My stand partner (though we have separate stands because I couldn't otherwise see the music!) and I talked about this last night at rehearsal.

I said I would continue slow(er) practice at home and hope to be eventually able to bring it up to speed. She said there were two schools of thought on this and the other one was to work on a few measures at a time and bring them up to speed.

This second method is making sense to me today. I am too slow in fiddle music too, so it would make sense to work specifically on speed in all areas of playing. I'll try this, this week, and would love any comments or advice as to how to increase speed.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Winter/Spring Orchestra Season music

Community orchestra rehearsals begin next week. We plan to play Rossini's Overture to the Barber of Seville, Haydn's Symphony No. 101, the Clock, and Mozart's Symphony No. 28. I am nowhere near prepared, in terms of practicing, but have, at least, been listening to YouTube versions. I am posting them here for easy reference by me, and, as always, for anyone else who is interested:

Rossini, Overture from the Barber of Seville (this is the most challenging, in E major and E minor, and quite fast. There are multiple versions of this online, including a guitar orchestra version, and several vocal chorus versions.):

Haydn's Symphony No. 101, The Clock. (This one seems more do-able.)

First movement, Adagio/Allegro

Second movement, Andante

Third movement, Minuetto/Allegro

Fourth movement, Finale, Spirituoso

Mozart, Symphony No. 28. This is the first movement, Allegro Spiritoso. There are three other movements, Andante, Menuetto, and Presto, but I haven't found them on YouTube yet.

And a version to discourage an adult cellist entirely--or give hope! A seven-year-old cellist plays this in a quartet--his family, I think.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Air and Simple Gifts

A beautiful interlude in an outstanding day.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Hope and Inspiration

The dramatic survival of 155 passengers and crew after their plane crash-landed in the Hudson River seems to have filled the nation with hope, a nation already jubilant over the upcoming inauguration of Barack Obama.

I look at these amazing photos of people standing calmly (well, probably not really calmly) on the wings of the momentarily floating airplane, ice cold water rushing around their feet, as the ferry boats race toward them, and it just fills my heart with joy and wonder at it all.

Another splendid image that brought tears to my eyes, though for an entirely different reason, was a tape, played on television, of Yo-Yo Ma in 1961, at the age of 7, playing the cello with his sister for then-president John F. Kennedy and his wife Jackie. Ma went on to play for five sitting presidents and will, of course, be playing at Obama's inauguration on Tuesday, which I am looking forward to: both the inauguration and the music, a work composed for the occasion called "Air and Simple Gifts." ("Simple Gifts" is one of my favorite melodies.)

I was talking to a poet yesterday, who was equally excited about the inaugural poet, Elizabeth Alexander. I asked her if she had any thoughts about poetry and the present dismal state of the economy, expecting she might say something about the healing value of poetry and the arts.

She talked about Obama as the embodiment of the merger of poetry and politics, the importance of eloquence, of words, of verbal expression as a means of inspiring and leading, the lasting impacts of people like Abraham Lincoln, Kennedy, and Obama, that words are not "just words," but have the ability to inspire and to find solutions, not merely to heal, though that is valuable too.

I have worked as an urban and environmental planner and have a degree in international relations and have some idea of the problems we are up against, but it is as a lover of words, music, and art, that I am feeling hopeful, and inspired, today.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Cello Resolutions

Happy New Year to all!

In a hopeful mood, I plan to really improve my cello-playing this year! (and lose weight, prosper during the recession, and, finally, declutter.)

Here are a few thoughts on the cello resolutions:

1. Practice more, and more consistently. Let's say at least five days a week, at least an hour. And focus on the things my teacher [repeatedly] brings up in lessons (I sometimes forget to even look at the notes I make during lessons.) Consistent practice has been a problem for me because my work is so deadline-oriented, and not restricted to regular "office hours," so it often fills the day, and the night, and the early-morning hours. But, there are ways to find the time.

2. Focus on intonation. There's no point in playing the cello if it is not in tune. For this, I am going back to scales, etudes, and easy pieces and duets, playing with a tuner, with recordings, and with others.

3. Prioritize music for ensembles: cello duets, orchestra, fiddling groups, flute choir. These all used to come after Suzuki music, but I have put Suzuki on hold for the time being. I love playing with others, but I also want others to enjoy playing with me! I haven't entirely ditched Suzuki (though I am not memorizing it, as I used to), but there is also much to learn from the ensemble music. And, there is only so much I can do at one time.

4. Keep working on the Messiah throughout the year so I can play it brilliantly, or at least competently, next year.

Have a warm and happy, healthy and prosperous, and fulfilling and creative 2009!