Thursday, September 16, 2010

Too busy!

This is not going well, this effort to post every day in September. I am inundated by work and obligations, trying to do a major decluttering of the house, staying up too late, and, generally, forgetting to post. This morning I slept late, missing my 10:30 AM cello lesson. I was also late to orchestra yesterday, missing the first piece. This because I was late getting my work done at the office. It just snowballs. I persist.

Orchestra was fun, nevertheless, and the tricky parts are becoming clearly identified. There is one section in the Bacchus where the fingering is baffling. I really could have used that lesson this morning. The whole cello section had trouble with it, when the conductor singled us out to play it up to speed. There was more or less silence from the six cellos. Then he slowed it down for us, and we managed to get through it. He said he would play it slow for a couple of weeks, but we needed to woodshed it. In a way, it is kind of nice to have that little challenge to focus on.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010


Well, I missed in a day in my every-day-for-the-month-of-September blogging effort. I have been quite busy with work and stayed up very late last night workg, maybe 5 AM. I went into work today, but was kind of wiped out this evening. It is 2 AM now, and I am taking a break from practicing to write this.

I start lessons again this week after about three weeks of teacher vacation. I thought I would make great progress in certain areas, but, in part because I am going in so many areas at once, I can't really point to great strides anywhere.

For orchestra, I am working on the March of Bacchus because its 3 and 4 flats make it the most challenging. I record the rehearsals so I can listen and play along at home, but I can't say I have happily gotten through this whole piece yet. As our kindly conductor said at the first rehearsal, if we could all play it perfectly we would not have to have rehearsals. We would just show up at the appointed hour of the concert.

I talked to a jazz saxophone/flute player today who said he does not rehearse with his fellow band members before doing a show. He likes to keep the music fresh. He travels all over the world, playing with different musicians. They might talk a little before the concert, if they speak the same language, but the concert is "in the moment," and they all understand the language of music. (This is not just going with the flow, but having an thorough understanding of music theory and how to play together.)

It would be great to be able to play that way, but I don't think it is in the cards for me, without a lot more study. For me, though, fiddling fills that desire to just get together and play, and that is why I keep trying!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

String Bass Gymnastics

I went to see the Simon Sinfonietta concert last night, featuring string bass player, Richard Fredrickon performing Paul Ramsier's (b. 1937) Divertimento Concertante for Double Bass and Giovanni Bottesini's (1821-1889) Grand Duo for Violin and Double Bass. Charles Sherba played violin.

Fredrickson is not only a highly accomplished bass player, but he also exudes warmth and good feeling, cracking jokes about an out-of-tune string and imitating a fog horn while tuning. Stephen Simon offered a few humorous comments of his own: "no one should play an instrument that large." The two have been friends for many years.

The two pieces offered a rare opportunity to see and hear a solo string bass player, and the Grand Duo seemed to take both instruments through every possible style and technique of playing, each instrument showing off and then coming together, from the lowest possible notes on each instrument to the highest. Simon had arrange the piano part of the Grand Duo for orchestra. It was an amazing piece,and the audience leapt to its collective feet at the end of it.

The Grand Duo is considered to be a very difficult piece. Usually I would say here, but the soloists made it look easy, effortlessly gliding from one note to the next. Sherba did make it look easy. But Fredrickson did not, and I say this with the best possible intentions. He is a tall man, but his double bass seemed enormous, and when he reached his long arms down to play at the very end of the fingerboard, you could feel his effort. I was in the fourth row (it is a small concert hall, actually a private school gym with risers), and you could see the energy it took to produce such music on the bass, and he called attention to it himself, wiping his brow with a handkerchief after every movement. A good honest performance. He made it look hard, but played it magnificently nevertheless.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Fiddling, Again

I hesitate to mention this, again, but, once again, I have made a concerted effort to learn fiddle tunes on the cello. I have been working on learning fiddle tunes for years. I learn a few. I stop. I forget. I decide to try a tune again an octave up or an octave down, trying to make it more playable. I learn a few more tunes. I play with other people. I have memory lapses when I am playing with other people. They play the tunes differently from the way I play them. They play them too fast. They know a lot more tunes than I do.

But, I persist because I like playing fiddle tunes and I like playing them with other people. Eventually, I will stop trying to memorize and focus on learning/playing by ear. I will learn how to accompany. I have lots of fiddling books, lots of information about how to play the tunes and the backup. It is just a matter of finding the time to practice. Well, mostly a matter of finding the time to practice. But no matter what I do, I am still going to have problems with the speed of some of these tunes. I need to simplify these tunes or figure out accompaniments.

This fall, I have orchestra pieces, the cello trio pieces, and my regular lesson work, in addition to the fiddle tunes. So, I am just picking a few tunes ("Irish Washerwoman," "Coleraine," "Red Wing," "Liberty," and "Flowers of Edinburgh"), and a couple of Scottish ones that I "learned" at Scotttish Fiddle Camp from Abby Newton a few years ago. No one plays these in sessions, but I like them, and eventually I will find a group to go with them: "Willie's Auld Trewes" and "The Corbie and the Crow."

I am planning on attending a fiddle weekend in November: one day of workshops and 2 days of playing together. So, that's my goal, to be able to play the handful of tunes I know, these, and, hopefully another batch, by the time mid-November rolls around in two months.

There will be a CD provided, for learning-by-ear purposes, but it won't be available until the end of September. And, of course it is a violin CD. There was only one other cellist when I attended last year. I do have a list of tunes, and it is similar to the list of tunes played by our local fiddle group. Unfortunately, I keep missing those sessions, in part because I just need to learn more tunes to feel like I am contributing. I know, most people go to sessions to learn the tunes. It is a little different when you are the only cellist, but I should just go. The people are supportive.

I do plan to play with the local fiddle group on Halloween, for the Cape Cod Marathon. We play along the route to encourage the runners every year, and it is lots of fun, if sometimes a bit cold. In exchange for playing, we get sweatshirts or jackets, so, except for our fingers, we should be warm.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Stand Up To Cancer

After orchestra rehearsal, I was blathering on to a friend about minor family problems; I finally asked her how she was, and she told me she was traveling to see her daughter the next day because her daughter was having a double mastectomy. That puts things in perspective.

I'm watching "Stand Up to Cancer" now, very moving. Earlier this afternoon, I got a call from another cancer organization, or so they said. I asked how much of my donation would go toward research. They said 20 percent. Amazing they would even admit it. In contrast, 100 percent of donations to Stand Up to Cancer go to research. I'll donate to Stand Up to Cancer, just as soon as I can get through by phone or on the web site!

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Cello Trio pieces

Carol, Marilyn B, and I (my name is also Marilyn, as I may have mentioned) play together in a cello trio.I met Marilyn in my flute group. She started out on cello in school, but switched to flute. When my flute was in need of repair, she loaned me her flute, a very good flute, for over a year, while I scraped together the money to have my flute repaired. (The original estimate was $800, but it finally got down to $550 or so.)

So, I found it easy to loan her my second cello for an unspecified amount of time so she could play with us. She is a good flutist, and you would not know, to hear her play the cello, that she has not played in 40 or 50 years. She is doing well, and happily content to play the lower parts, while Carol and I argue about who should play first. ("You!" "No, you!")

We have worked out an easy system: we take three pieces at a time, each of us selecting one on which to play first. It has been hard to get the three of us together at the same time this summer, what with work, travel, and longing to spend a day at the beach. We are currently focused on three pieces and will have a coaching session in October with my and Carol's teacher, after MB returns from a month away. We will wait until she has had an opportunity for a lesson with our teacher so we will all go into the coaching session with a pre-coaching lesson.

We are using Suzuki music for our first set of trios. I am playing "Chanson Triste" by Tchaikovsky using the Suzuki arrangement in which I play the entire melody line and parts 2 and 3 play supportive roles. I have this for memory now, and my teacher thinks it sounds great, full of expression. I agree, most of the time, when I am playing it, but when I record it and listen back, I am dismayed. Horrified. (no, I can't blame this on the quality of recording. My teacher's cello playing sounds great.)

It sounds like I am anticipating the beat, not letting the notes linger long enough. I am working on expressiveness. This is a good piece for it.

It has been interesting to play this piece as ensemble--helped to point out to me two spots where I was lingering too long on a note. Yes, my teacher had pointed out these spots, but playing in an ensemble helps to make the point. (This is in tenor clef, if the fingerings look odd. The circled note in measure 33 is one I hang on to.)

Carol is playing Marie's "La Cinquantaine," choosing an arrangement for cello quartet in which the melody moves around among the parts. She has re-arranged it to take back some of the melody from MB because it is beyond her comfort zone right now. Both Carol and I use Coda Finale a lot to transpose, arrange, or otherwise manipulate music. Carol's work is often a great help, putting three parts into a score, for instance, so we can see what is happening in the other parts as we play. And in this case, making a quartet into a trio.

I am enjoying revisiting "La Cinquantaine," and it has inspired me to revisit all the pieces in books 1 to 4 (I am in book 5 at the moment), re-memorizing, re-understanding fingerings, improving intonation, and working on improving my vibrato. Very helpful. More on this later. (I really don't know what book Carol is in, but she is ahead of me. Our teacher does through books 5 through 8 out of order, so we each have all three of those books.)

MarilynB is playing "Berceuse"  by Shubert and it sounds good. Carol and I have simple parts (this is the Suzuki arrangement), and the emphasis is on intonation and harmony.

I am hopeful we can eventually sound good enough to perform somewhere, perhaps at the nursing home where both the flute group and the cello trio rehearse. I think a combined flute and cello recital would be best, and more interesting for the audience. We shall see!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Orchestra Tonight!

My cello folder, in a Cape Cod setting (my back yard). 
Note provided pencil, a heartwarming touch.
I am just home from orchestra rehearsal, the first rehearsal of the fall season. I am playing with the Cape Community Orchestra, which meets in Harwich, about an hour's drive from where I live. There is another orchestra in town, but that orchestra, which I played with for a year, a couple of years ago, now has auditions and seems to need only three cellists. I am not one of them.

The Harwich orchestra had six cellists tonight, and one or two more may come later. There are no auditions, no fees, and  the music comes in a nice black orchestra folder, complete with pencil! I played with this orchestra last fall, but found it difficult to maintain the schedule.

Wednesday is a very busy work day for me, and I have to finish or I just can't leave (I work at a newspaper--you have to respect the deadlines). So, I am going to make a concerted effort to get everything done by 5 PM so I can arrive on time this year. I did tonight. Last fall, I regularly missed the first piece of each rehearsal. (When I am not rushing off to orchestra, I might linger til 7 or 8 PM).

The music is easier this fall than last. (Possibly I am better, too.) Just challenging enough to make me think that I can do a good job with it with the practice time I have available.

Here is what we are playing:

Die Fledermaus Overture, by Johann Strauss, Jr., edited by Tom A. Kennedy

Two Gymnopedies, by Erick Satie, orchestrated by Claude Debussy

March and Procession of Bacchus, by Leo Delibes, arranged by Merle J. Isaac

Two by Berlin, by Irving Berlin, arranged by Edmund J. Siennicki

Theme from Schindler's List, by John Williams, arranged by Robert Longfield

In a Monastery Garden, by A. W. Ketelbey, arranged by C. Paul Herfurth

Magic Melodies (Falling in Love with Love, Strange Music, I'll Follow My Secret Heart)

Hatikvah, by Nikola Ovanin

Tarentelle in E Minor, by Stephen Heller

The March and Procession of Bacchus, Die Fledermaus, and Two By Berlin have some passages that will need extra practice, but generally I think this is all doable. I will keep you posted. It felt great to be playing in the orchestra again, among friends.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010


Blogger has changed a lot in the past year, most of which I have not been actively contributing to my blog. I still haven't figured it all out. Right now I am dealing with comments. When I returned, I found about a dozen comments to be moderated. Not a whole lot, but it has taken me a little time to post them and respond to them.

I am not going to post two of them. Both seemed to be from kids. They were critical of one of the other commenters who had admitted that it has taken her a long time to learn the cello. As I recall, they said, more or less, give up the cello if it is so hard for you. (I am not not posting them because they were negative, so much as because they are old and it is unlikely that the original commenter would see them or respond to them.)

The comments reminded me of many YouTube comments by what appear to be 7th graders who are studying the same piece. No matter what virtuoso is playing, they find something to criticize, often by minute-second count. As in, at 1:32, he or she is playing way too fast. Or is out of tune, or missed a note. It is even worse when students critique other students. The criticism is occasionally constructive, but often not.

I have not put any of my own cello playing on YouTube, but I did put a piece by my flute group online, as we were part of a larger festival, and I was putting everyone else online. True, we playing the piece a too slow, but the sole comment: "If you can't play this piece up to tempo, don't play it at all," or words to that effect, seemed a little harsh.

I left that comment up, though I find it embarrassing. But, we are going to keep playing that piece, and one of these days we will get it up to speed. Then--maybe--I will upload another video.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Local Television, Cellos, and Me

I am watching one of my TV shows as I write this. It is a concert featuring a local women's chorus and a children's theater production, both directed by the same woman. I produced the show, ran the camera, edited video and sound, added graphics--everything but sing in the chorus.

It's in focus, that much I can say, and there are a variety of different types of shots (close-up and distance). The quality of the sound could be better.

When my kids were 8 and 10, my husband answered an ad looking for children to be in a locally produced cable TV show. I distrusted the ad. It was not grammatically correct. It seemed to play into parents' desires to make their child a star.

I didn't trust the producer of the show, but I found her very intriguing. Insane, might be a better word, just short of evil. The kids enjoyed being in the show. They got to sing and act and play the saxophone. I helped on the show, but, at the same time, investigated the woman and decided to do my own show, in which the kids would be the hosts. My show went on the air a couple of months later, just as hers went off the air. It wasn't much of a victory for me: she died of ovarian cancer. (There is a much longer story here--I have tried to write it as a novel. Someday I will finish that tale.)

And I had a tv show. I kept it on the air for about two years, but it was a grueling schedule. I should mention that our local cable access station has wonderful staff and classes. Anyone who wants to can put on a show. There is a lot of support from staff and other volunteers.

Eventually, though, I ran out of time, energy, and ideas, and the kids entered junior high. We ended the show about 12 years ago. I continued taping school concerts for a while, but moved on to other things (like playing the cello).

Last spring, though, I heard about a new local show that would include short (5 to 7 minute) segments produced by various people. "I could do that!" I thought.

As it turns out, in TV production, as in writing, it often takes longer to produce a shorter piece. My segments, 4 so far, have been about 10 minutes; the last one ran 13 minutes and 49 seconds, though I did give the overall producer permission to cut it, after I finished editing it as tightly as I could.

I soon started taping concerts by local singers and musicians, and have also produced four more-or-less hour-long concert shows. The first was a cello master class with Wendy Warner. She played with the Cape Cod Symphony Orchestra in May, and, in coordination with that performance, gave a master class to four local cello students (three are students of my own cello teacher). I love that show--I could watch it over and over again--and have!

Ah, the women's chorus show just ended, and the cello show is airing again. It makes me happy, though I do wonder who is watching it. No matter. That is one of the reasons I love local cable access television production. It gives you creative freedom to fill television screens with cello music.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Town Band Encore

I started playing the flute when I was 9. I was never really any good at it. For a long time, I could only play pieces I knew, because of my inability to count.

Then, my children started showing an interest in music. They were very, very good, and it inspired me to take up flute again, and at various intervals, oboe, tin whistle, piano, cello, fiddle, dulcimer, octave mandolin, and guitar. (Cello is my true calling, thus the name of this blog.)

My children's enjoyment of school band inspired me to join the Town Band, and though I still wasn't very good, I persevered. It helped that I have two friends who are very good flutists. I sit next to them. It helps a lot.

My children joined Town Band too. My son played saxophone--at 12, he was immediately selected for a solo, and my daughter played clarinet and oboe. My husband became the Town Band announcer. I spent 9 years in Town Band, then 3 playing only sporadically. My children stopped playing or after high school. (It is a commitment--10 rehearsals and 10 performances, from the end of April through, this year, the first week in September.)

I rejoined the band for the last two concerts of the season, and my son returned for the final concert. He played his old solo again, after several years of completely avoiding his saxophone. He had practiced maybe once or twice in the week prior to the concert. I really didn't know what to expect.

He was absolutely amazing, full of depth and feeling. I have never heard him play that solo so well. Brought tears to my eyes. How is this possible? I can't play anywhere near that well, after years of practicing.

I hope he continues playing--he has such power! I will continue practicing, hopefully more inspired than discouraged!

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Fall Cello

Well, Hurricane Earl was a washout, thank goodness. We got a lot of rain, but not much wind, and all was sunny and bright when I woke up this morning.

Cellistically, I am getting ready for fall. I start community orchestra on Wednesday of this week, I am working on memorizing fiddle tunes in preparation for attending Fiddle Hell again this year, and I am playing with a cello trio (we are each playing 1st on a piece--mine is Chanson Triste from Suzuki, book 4). I am also working on my regular etudes and Suzuki (Vivaldi, Book 5, at the moment). Trying to find enough time to practice!

Friday, September 3, 2010

Waiting for Earl

Fortunately, Hurricane Earl has weakened to a tropical storm. We have had a lot of rain, throughout the day, but not much wind. If all goes well, we will wake up to sunshine--and less humidity!

I have spent most of the evening trying to replace the screen in one of my two laptop computers (the one I use for the newspaper work). I got the old screen out, and the new one in, but just can't get the the last couple of screws back in. Frustrating.

Time to practice.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Reviewing Art

I met with a local artist this morning to discuss guidelines for artists and others who want to write art reviews. She brought some reviews that had run in the paper, and I brought some guidelines that I had found online.

Here are some thoughts we had:

1. Reviews should support the local arts.
2. Reviews should be honest and served the readers' needs for information about the show.
3. Reviews should contain constructive criticism.
4. Reviews should be educational for the reader (and probably for the writer).
5. Reviews might include interviews with the artist(s) about their methods, intent, process, and background; thoughts on other issues like framing, hanging arrangement, and setting; and personal opinion, so long as it is supported.
6. Descriptions of art should use art terms and concepts--rather than simply saying it was a lovely painting of a beautiful sunset.
7. I suggested 700 words, though longer or shorter could be fine. When I first started writing music reviews, they were 1200 words, but now I try to keep them under 900, aiming at 600 or 700.

It's a start.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Busy Summer!

I just noticed that NaBloPoMo's theme for September is "art." I haven't posted in ages, but art and the arts is a theme I can relate to. So, I will try to resume this cello blog.

It has been a busy summer. I have been to countless plays, concerts, and art exhibits. Well, I could probably count them. Probably 2 or 3 a week. Not so overwhelming, except that I review them for the newspaper, and that does tend to take longer than the actual event.

Reviewing the local art scene, as a person without a specific education in the arts, can be challenging. One wants to support the arts, yet, at the same time, provide reliable information to those who spend money on tickets to plays and concerts. Art gallery receptions are free, and there are usually refreshments.

Sometimes the music is great, but way too loud. Sometimes the acting is great, but the play is insipid or hopelessly dated. Sometimes the audience loves it, and I don't. Sometimes, I am completely awed, but at a loss for words.

I sometimes ask others to write reviews for me--if there are multiple events on the same night, or if I feel another person is better qualified. So, I am in the process of putting together some guidelines for other reviewers, and will share my thoughts on writing reviews over the month of September.

(NaBloPoMo is National Blog Posting Month, which used to be only in November, but has been every month, with themes, for a couple of years now.)

I am still playing the cello, still taking lessons, still playing with several groups: a trio of cellists, a group of fiddlers, and a community orchestra. More on all of this another time. Orchestra starts a week from today.