Sunday, December 31, 2006


It's been a little hectic for the past 48 hours. Half an hour after I tucked in my new foster kittens DH and I left for the airport to pick up my mother, who has come for an extended stay due to to some health problems and a recent hospitalization. If you deduced that I agreed to take the kittens to distract myself from other issues, you would be correct. And an excellent distraction they have been.

I don't have a true spare bedroom in our down-sized townhouse, so Mom sleeps on the fold-out couch in the den. It's not bad, really. A private room with a dedicated bath only a few feet down the hall, telephone and TV with VCR/DVD. I've stayed in worse hotel rooms. And we wouldn't want it to be too nice, you know.

The cats don't mind Mom, which is one less potential source of stress. In fact, when The Twins heard she was coming they decided to help me make up her bed. It's a good thing she is not allergic to cats.

Hey, you. I can't put put the elastic around the bed with you under the sheet.

What? Were you talking to me?

Come on - get out of there.

I think you need to pull up a little on your side.

I'll fix the top while you smooth the rest of the wrinkles.

Would you cut it out, already? She can't sleep in a bed with you big lump under there.

It can get cold here at night - she might need this polartec throw.

Thanks. Can't forget the cat bed, whatever the excuse.


I realized you haven't seen Leia's pretty face yet.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

End of Day 2

Little sister (Gp 4 weights)

I was amazed at the first weigh-in. Leia weighs only 18 oz. She is tiny and delicate and perfect, but rather skinny. Both kittens have good appetites, so I imagine they were just losing the competition for food to their larger siblings. Luke has obviously been used to playing with bigger sibs (talk about a ball of energy) but did very well adjusting to tiny Leia's limitation. He didn't break his sister on the first day.

13F 14M
Date Leia Luke
F 12/29 18 25
M 1/1 18.5 26
Th 1/4 18.5 25.5
Sa 1/6 20 26
Mo 1/8 20.5 27.5
W 1/1022 26.5
F 1/12 22.5 27.5
Su 1/14 23.5 27.5
Tu 1/16 25.5 30
Th 1/18 26.5 31
M 1/2231.5 38
F 1/26 36 41.5
Su 2/4 38 50

Event log
F 12/29 Kittens arrive
W 1/10 2nd dose of deworming meds
Th 1/25 Start doxycycline x 10 days
Su 2/4 Kittens return

Friday, December 29, 2006

This just in

Here they are... Group 4.
Luke (orange/buff tabby) and Leia (calico tabby). Two sibs from a found litter of I don't know how many. Cricket and John greeted them at the door, and don't understand why they aren't allowed in the Nursery yet.

First stop... litterbox.

Second stop... chow.

Thursday, December 28, 2006


I wanted to see where I was on Breval, so I planned on shooting the exposition. Since it was going pretty well at the end of that, I kept going, only to crash and burn on the last set of bariolage and triplets. I'd stop watching before that, if I were you. But this is my blog, and I look forward to reviewing my progress in a year or two, so I'm posting it, imperfect though it is. Countdown to recital: 14 days. Yikes!

Chanson Triste - End of 1st week

Progress check. I'm posting this even though in some ways it is less good than the baseline. I am in that quagmire of half-memorized music, struggling through the darkness. As T- says, it's either memorized or it's not. It's definitely not, but there is enough memory to gum things up when I'm playing from the music.

In spite of a few out-right wrong notes, I do see progress since last week. I have changed the fingerings to eliminate extended extensions. I think the phrasing is better. I have eliminated most of the extraneous facial tics (what does one do with one's expression in a piece like this?)

After watching, I would prioritize my tasks as follows:
1) Finalize and lock in one set of fingerings
2) Intonation!!!!
3) Fix the floating little finger on the bow

I think that will be enough for a week.

My audience.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006


My sister played her first solo in church on Christmas. She started playing viola like I did violin, in fifth grade on a school-loaned instrument. She played in the school orchestras until she graduated, though she had no formal instruction in how to play. It was sort of a play-by-numbers experience, but Mom did eventually buy her a viola. At least it was made out of wood. And though she stopped playing after high school, overcome by life's usual events, she found, like me, that even that experience was enough to plant a love of making music. She missed it.

So last summer I invited her to join me for a week at SummerKeys, thinking that an intensive week of lessons and playing would be a good jump start. It worked. She loved it. She's practicing regularly, though has yet to locate a teacher anywhere near the small southern town where she lives, and has purchased a better quality and slightly smaller viola (via eBay *grin*).

She's attending a very small church, whose musical contingent consists of two elderly pianists, the 10-year-old pastor's daughter who recently began taking piano lessons, and her, a fledgling violist. I can't believe it, but she and the 10yo got together, learned a couple of Christmas carols, and performed them on Monday. She said she achieved a lovely vibrato sound because her right arm was shaking so badly during the performance. I told her that's called bow vibrato.

She's amazing. I'm so proud of her.

(BTW, the Blogger spell check thinks that violist is misspelled, and suggests vilest as the alternative. And foulest. Cellist passes without comment, though Blogger is also not in the dictionary. What a hoot.)

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Brain dump

Guanaco asked in a previous comment how I remember the details of my lesson. Since any answer I could come up with was too big to fit well as a comment, I thought I'd answer the question here.

I think my ability to remember so many details and then to write them down in a somewhat organized fashion is a useful side effect of my medical training. That is to say, it is a skill I developed through practice. As a medical student, I learned to take a detailed history and perform a physical exam on a patient, then in somewhere from immediately to 24 hours later organize the information in a standard format, and present it to a senior physician for the dual purpose of taking care of the patient and receiving a critique of my own process.

These are the factors I think important in producing a useful synopsis of a cello lesson:

(1) During the lesson, pay attention to the teacher. No kidding! That means listen and observe without fiddling or trying things out until the teacher has made his/her point. I make mental notes of what I am doing as I then try it, with the idea always in mind that I will want to record it later.

(2) Begin reviewing the lesson material immediately upon departing. I run through the lesson mentally as often as there is enough time during the drive home. Details start falling out of short-term memory even before the end of the lesson. This slows the decay, and results in more remembered details when you finally get to the keyboard or paper.

(3) Use a standard format for recording the information, as this will provide a memory jog when writing. My current format is fairly simple, and aided by my teacher's organized use of lesson time. As you have seen, I record bullet points of technical and musical things I need to focus on during the coming week, broken out by the musical element (scale, etude, piece) where they were discussed.

(4) Write down everything you remember as soon after the lesson as you can. I usually do this that evening or, at the latest, the following morning.

A fun experiment to try: record your lesson. Over the course of several lessons, do a brain dump at various times from immediately after to just before your next lesson. Compare what you remember with what you hear on the recording. If you are not already convinced that you forget so much so quickly, that will do it!

And the last step to make this a useful exercise is to use your notes at each practice session. A variation on the previous experiment is to do a brain dump after your lesson, but practice all week without looking at your notes. Do a second brain dump just before your next lesson, and compare the two.

I'm in the process of transitioning from one style of practice log to another, yet undefined, style. I'll write more about that later.

Friday, December 22, 2006


I know it put it in last night, but this morning I woke up without my dental retainer. It's nowhere in the bed clothes, either. My first thought was that I must have been the victim of an alien abduction overnight, and they forgot to put it back in when they returned me to my bed.

Then I took a shower. The twins kept guard on the sink, as they often do. As I stepped out of the shower, John softly pawed the plastic cover from DH's razor that was still lying on the sink, gently picked it up in his mouth, jumped down from the sink and exited the bathroom. I think I need to search the house...

Cello lesson

Yesterday was a wet and dreary "welcome home". The rain began early in the morning, and by noon the trees were covered with ice buds. The rain changed to snow soon afterward, and the commute to my lesson was Andante: slushy, slippery and crowded. Coming home was downright scary. The on-ramps looked wet, but that was from the ice, so slick that SUVs were sliding off the side. Unfortunately, when they got on the road they insisted on driving twice as fast as general traffic whenever there was enough open road to do so. Idiots.

I did have a lesson, though, and as a transplant from a city which nearly closes down at the sign of a snowflake, am quite proud of myself for accomplishing the snowy commute. Having shared my desire to perform in the recital on the 11th, we started with a scale but spent most of the time on those two pieces. Brain dump follows.

Scale: d harmonic minor, 4 octaves. Linked half notes only.
* Intonation of the highest octave needs higher LT and lower 6th. I've noticed that I can't really pre-hear that augmented 2nd when I am playing in that octave.
* When shifting upward in thumb position, thumb should stay 1/2 step behind 1st finger, and not lag lazily behind.
* Vibrato is good in thumb position (Yay! That took a painstaking year to develop.) but is not so good passing from finger-to-finger in lower positions.
* Worst shift was from C# III to Bb IV in both directions, but especially downward. Coordinate extension and string crossing. Don't keep hand in an extended position when vibrating (can't vibrate in extension!). This discussion led naturally to the next piece.

Chanson Triste
Technical points
* Instead of maintaining open extension in 1st two measures, try shifting downward to the Bb (1/2 step), then quick extension to C while passing the vibrato.
* Maintain a "vibrato mitten" when vibrating. The angle of the hand to the FB changes on 1 vs. 4. Use 3 to help support 4 in a curved position. If the motion is not relaxing, I am doing something wrong.
* In a cantabile song with continuous vibrato (like this one), lower the elbow so that the flat finger comes away perpendicular to the side of the FB. This decreases the need to collapse at the DIP in order to get the fleshy pad on the string.
* Moving down a 5th across strings
- When using a higher finger, stop the lower string with the next lower finger prior to crossing to lower note. Pulling lower string slightly close may help. Sledge finger over without lifting.
- When using 1, keep finger angle flat to FB. Contact on upper string closer to DIP than usual (below callous), though not actually a DS. Roll finger up slightly to catch lower string closer to finger tip.
* Descending qu-ei-ei under slur motif - that is a slur, not a phrase marking. Don't fall away from the eighths. Musically, they should lead to the next qu.

Musical points
* Tempo a little slower than the one I chose. (Initially I played much slower - before video I posted yesterday.)
* Discussed the character I was aiming for. I considered my too-slow tempo lacrimose. (T- calls a too, too slow tempo lugubrious.) Not what I want. I hadn't come up with a good term for my too-fast tempo. Love-sick, perhaps. We discussed the Russian concept of "smiling through the tears", with a short diversion to Chekhov. That called to mind nostalgic as a possibility. I'll work with that this week.

Breval Sonata in C
Technical points
* Open chord string crossing measures (I told you this was my worst part.) Practice as gestures. Character of note (down- or up-bow). Character of next note, after string crossong. Link the notes in tempo. Add the next note. etc. Get in character - oompah band. Enthusiasm!
* Opening chords. In tune!!!! Slight break on 3 notes, big one on 4.
* Opening measures. First note in the string. Full tone. Exciting.
* Need to work on all of the trills.
* Not too short on the slurred up-bow staccatos.
* Add a little staccato in the repeated triplets (piano) to change the character more obviously.

Musical points
* Yes, this piece is at high risk of sounding boring - if I play it that way!
* Make it not boring. Right.

An excellent lesson. My marching orders are clear. I can't wait to practice.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Chanson Triste Baseline

Here it is, the movie you've all been waiting for.

Forgive me for not writing more. This is the first time I've done a video recording (a Digital Elph is a dangerous thing), and I'm feeling overwhelmed at the number of things I had no idea I do when I play. Plus, I'm really tired from my recent travels, and I need to exercise and prepare for my cello lesson this afternoon.

So, feel free to offer constructive criticism now, or to wait until after I post my own critique.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006


Happy kitties.
Happy hubby.
Happy me.


Crap shoot

Bolo. Got to Las Vegas to find a flight leaving for home 2 hours earlier than my scheduled flight. Full. Really full. They called half-a dozen names of passengers who had failed to report to the gate. Unfortunately, all but one managed to drag themselves away from the slot machines in time to preclude my getting on the earlier flight. Someone else was waiting ahead of me.

Two hours in Vegas, and not a PacMan in sight. I just don't understand the thrill of watching little pictures go round and round. DH tells me there is an excellent gym here, but it's outside of security, and the security lines can be an hour or longer. What a waste.

So, I'm carrying an extra bag in order to take home two new pairs of running shoes. Since I gottem, I might as well usem. I have run in Nike Air Pegasus since 1981. There were no Pegasus's on sale, so I bought a pair of... Maxair, it says on the side of the shoe, and a pair of the new Free 5.0's I have been wanting to try. So far I have taken 1.5 laps around the D concourse in the Maxairs. They feel fine. New, but fine. Stopped to take a call and charge my phone battery. Too much blogging today.

I notice that many of the pillars in the airport have "This is a smoke-free facility" signs on them. I also notice clouds of smoke wafting from the bars and from the glass-enclosed slot machine islands. The latter remind me of the old patient-waiting areas in the hospital where I trained. We used to call them CIU's, Cancer Incubation Units.

Have you noticed my improved hyphen usage for the past couple of days? I have a bathroom book (you know what I mean) called BUGS in Writing: A Guide to Debugging Your Prose, in which I read about hyphens this week. A timely topic.

I think I have time for one more lap before boarding the last leg.

Somewhere, out there

Here I am, somewhere over America. Well, not am as you are reading this, because I can't connect to the Internet while I am in the air. But am as I am typing. I can't tell where, exactly, over America I am (or was), because of the thick cloud cover below. I remember the first time I flew above the clouds in an airplane. Even with my junior-high-school-level knowledge of geography it didn't seem right that we were flying over Antarctica to get from Pennsylvania to Michigan.

This is the first-class leg of my journey, which I assume is karmic payback for suffering overnight in that cramped coach on the way out. Ordering lunch was interesting. Instead of going from front to rear in an orderly fashion recording choices, the flight attendant flitted randomly from seat to seat. But not randomly. Apparently, this was in order of priority on her list, as she addressed each passenger by name. Alas, I was next-to-last, and had no choice. But I got what I would have chosen, anyway. Let's hear it for liking the road less traveled.

I indulged in a glass of wine with lunch, even though it was before noon on the east coast. After all, it's late afternoon at my destination, and besides, I wanted one. I didn't see the label, but there were kangaroos hopping around the neck of the bottle - a White Tail chardonnay (is that one or two words?)? Must be the wine-of-the-month, as they had the same selection on our Hawaii flights. DH didn't like it, but maybe it was the food. I thought it was fine with the butter and cheese in my sandwich today.

A humongous oatmeal cookie and decent cup of coffee for dessert, and I'm ready to... nap? No, practice. I'm working on memorizing Chansome Triste, by visual, auditory, and intellectual approaches. I've finished reading Cumberland (see sidebar. Unless you are reading this post from the archives, in which case the sidebar will have changed. Instead, look for a book report that I will post later.) and am working on application. My seatmate is sewing away on a doll's quilt, and I am singing. What a creative little corner we have.


It's the big day. Last travel day of my year. I started at dawn, waiting for the bus. Two trains to the airport. (I love the place that Metro crosses over the Potomac, especially in the early morning hours.) On-time departure, and now I'm in Detroit, waiting for the next leg. Should board in 10 minutes or so.

This is probably not very interesting to read, but I wanted to e-mail posts from my Treo, just because I *can*, you see. (Oh, good. Looks like the Blogger gateway is open.)

Tuesday, December 19, 2006


Great news - I'm upgraded for the DTW - LAS leg of the journey home. My fingers are crossed for the other two legs.

Yesterday's trio was an All Schubert Day. We started out on string trio reading the Allegro of D471, the only movement completed in that trio, followed by the Minuetto and Rondo of D581 (first version), having made a valiant but unsuccessful attempt at the first two movements. Then the violist wanted a switch so we moved on to the piano trio, Op 99. It was a Bb kind of day. That piano trio has a wicked cello part, and I haven't practiced it at all this month. I think I have a subliminal conviction that it is impossible, so what's the point of practicing? I gave up on trying to read the notes, and just played it by ear, a surprisingly successful strategy. Yesterday, anyway.

I also had P- accompany me on piano while I tried out a couple of recital options, with T- as audience. I found out last week that my music school has two adult recitals coming up in January, one for string players on the 11th, and a second for chamber music on the 25th. My trio there will play the 4th mvmt of Beethoven Op 1 No 1 on the 25th, but the organizer also asked me to consider playing on the 11th. Since my Bach Prelude is nowhere near performance ready, I'm considering a couple of other options.

I don't have a lot of solo performance experience, so I thought I'd choose something that is technically well within my grasp, and that I could confidently buff for performance in only three weeks. My candidates are (1) the 1st mvmt of the Breval Sonata in C, since I worked on it a little this month while both assisting Pink Fluffy Slippers by recording a practice accompaniment track and avoiding my own practice requirements, and (2) Chanson Triste, by Tchaikovsky, a second selection from Suzuki Book 4. My secondary motivation for considering these two pieces is that they are the audition pieces required to get approved to take beginning level Suzuki teacher training.

I haven't played Chanson Triste before, but it is very cellistic, and was the vote by my trio members. (The Breval is actually rather boring as a solo, somewhat better as a cello duet, but that isn't an option.) I played it again for my neighbors yesterday evening, and they enthusiastically endorsed that plan. A-, the 9yo cello player in the family, is really getting into it, choosing to practice rather than almost anything. I hope I provide additional inspiration. So that is my tentative plan. I have until Thursday to commit.

Monday, December 18, 2006

This is nuts

Got home from Honolulu on Friday. As D- says, "home" is monochromatic at this time of the year. After the sunshine and orchids of Waikiki, home feels like watching a movie in black and white, gray and muted. Today I am in Washington, DC. Though it's also winter (of sorts) here, the winter colors tend more toward shades of brown and green. The coloring is still winter, but not so depressing.

I got to DC early yesterday morning, having spent the night on three flights via Las Vegas. That's the nuts part. I was only a couple thousand miles short of making the next frequent flyer status level. I've heard stories of people booking a flight to Alaska, then turning around and coming home to meet year-end mileage requirements. Maybe next year I'll see if Guanaco is up for a visit. But this year I spent an afternoon researching flight options and discovered that, for a mere $200 (extra) and 26 hours of travel time, I could expand my scheduled trip to DC and get the extra miles. I'll find out next year whether it was worth it. That flight from LAS to DTW in a fully booked coach was pretty miserable.

Today in addition to business I have a rehearsal with my favorite piano/string trio, and tomorrow cello quartet followed by the annual Christmas "party" with my old orchestra. A little seasonal music-reading is what the doctor ordered to call up some Christmas spirit after this month of travel. And after I get some rest I have some thoughts about memorizing music, practice journals, and studio classes I want to post.

Friday, December 15, 2006

My Tarot Card

You are The Wheel of Fortune

Good fortune and happiness but sometimes a species of
intoxication with success

The Wheel of Fortune is all about big things, luck, change, fortune. Almost always good fortune. You are lucky in all things that you do and happy with the things that come to you. Be careful that success does not go to your head however. Sometimes luck can change.

What Tarot Card are You?
Take the Test to Find Out.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Random Observations

My time in Hawaii is winding down, and to fill the time waiting at the airport for my flight to the Mainland I thought I would try to capture a few of my thoughts over the past two days.

1. Hatches on-board ships can be dangerous. One form of injury occurs when the hatch slams down on your hand, fracturing all four proximal phalanges (the finger bones closest to the knuckles). This can be fixed, however, and the construct looks like a set of crossed hairpins, one "X" in each finger.

2. Orthopaedic (and other) surgeons spend one year after they finish their residencies and pass a written exam collecting details about the cases they perform. They submit these cases to an examining committee, and must successfully defend their treatment decisions in an oral examination in order to become board certified. There have been a number of orthopaedic surgeons who spent their entire case collection period in areas of current military operations. That is an interesting set of case decisions to defend! Good news - all of them passed their boards.

3. I saw an interesting poster about hamate fractures (one of the bones in the wrist). This is usually caused by a strong blow to a closed fist. Perusing the list of injury mechanisms, it is reassuring to note that in the midst of current world event, boys will be boys. Four of them had punched a wall, and one a tree.

4. Waikiki beach is still beautiful, though hemmed in by tall buildings in increasing density. It also gets very crowded when the local running club trots by.

5. A Hawaiian Luau features mostly Tahitian Hula. What's up with that?

6. The Honolulu airport has no glass in most of the windows. What a great place to live.

7. When Oahu experiences an earthquake, they turn off the electricity.????

8. When there is a traffic fatality, the highway is closed for the duration of the investigation. If you happen to be in a car on said highway, too bad. People have been known to leave the car on the highway and get a hotel room for the night, returning to retrieve the car the next morning after the highway reopens.

9. Sending blog entries via e-mail is a nice feature, but having to log on to Blogger in order to complete the post kind of defeats the purpose. Scratch that. The last two posts have bounced at the gateway. Fortunately, I had copied the post to my e-mail account and was able to grab the post there and paste into a post when I did get access to a computer. And I can't believe there is no way to mail a photo in.

10. I have a piano trio rehearsal scheduled tomorrow evening, and I haven't touched my cello since last Wednesday. This is going to be painful.

11. I am nearly over my cold, but still have fluid in both ears. More pain anticipated.

That is all.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006


I forgot to mention that John had his first bath the other night. Since dedicating my favorite soaking tub to the kitten nursery, I have been using the tub in the guest bathroom on the rare occasion that I wanted a bath rather than a shower. The guest bathroom tub has a step outside of it that forms the ideal platform for any cats who would like to keep me company. So I brought the wireless TV into the bathroom and Cricket, John, and I were hanging out (them), soaking (me), and watching (us).

One less desirable aspect of the guest bathtub, from the feline perspective, is that the lip around the back of the tub is fairly narrow. I guess I wasn't paying attention when John got bored and tried to walk around behind me, because I was sure surprised to hear a splash and subsequently feel a sudden pain in an otherwise unspecified dorsal aspect of my corpus as he vigorously pushed off out of the tub. Fortunately, I didn't need to wash out the wound. I did help to dry the cat. That's a lot of water to try to lick off.

It occurs to me that my biorhythms must be at a nadir this week. URI, barotrauma to both ears, scalp and posterior person lacerations. What next?

Tuesday, December 12, 2006


Here I am at the 48th annual meeting of the Society of Military Orthopaedic Surgeons. There's a 20-foot white-frosted Christmas tree in the back of the room, and palm trees up front. A room full of (mostly) guys in (mostly) uniform watching the opening ceremony of (mostly) guys in (mostly) beach attire performing a traditional Hawaiian blessing, dance, and Japanese drum performance, followed by the standard posting of the colors.

I'm not a guy, and I'm not an orthopaedic surgeon, but I found the first session on treatment of trauma in the current areas of conflict to be... simply excellent. You can't imagine the quality, professionalism, and thoughtfulness of these military surgeons. One of my overwhelming impressions from this morning is how proud I am to have served with people like these (including the one I married).

So I'm here in Hawaii in mid December collecting some needed continuing education hours and a few thousand miles toward a higher frequent flyer status for next year. I'm also reveling in a few days respite from winter cold, visiting friends and classmates who are stationed here, reviewing some medicine I haven't thought about since medical school, and enjoying a meeting where there is never a line in the Ladies Room.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Pit stop

OMG, you have *got* to see this Rob Paravonian video that Eric Edberg linked to on his blog yesterday. I was ROFL (possibly the only time I will ever use that in a sentence). Fortunately, the only time I ever performed the Canon in D was in a cello trio, and I got to play an amalgam of the 2nd violin and viola parts. But I read the bass part the other day as warm-up for our wedding gig rehearsal. I think it works best when you have a deal with the other musicians that they give you a seriously big "we're stopping now" cue just before the end.

I was right about dinner on Saturday night. My taste buds were out of order, but I enjoyed dinner at per se anyway. The wine was excellent, and I focused on the more extroverted tastes in the meal. That's a good tactic for getting through nine courses, anyway.

And now it's Monday. Thanks to the URI I have some residual barotrauma to my ears, which did not clear well on the landing yesterday. My nose is still draining maliciously down the back of my throat. And last night after scooping kitty litter under those lovely spiral stairs you may have noticed in previous photos I stood up short and hit the top of my head on one of the oak posts. Hard. Today I have a healing 1 cm. laceration and a very sore crown. But nevertheless, I'm leaving for Honolulu in two hours, so I had better go pack.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

I hate being sick

Yes, it's cold in NYC this week. I brought my parka knowing that it is not at all fashionable, but I've been intercepting lots of envious looks. Unfortunately, I've not been much up to going out, now being at day 4 of an upper respiratory infection. I used to tell my patients that a typical cold lasts a week, but if we add treatment with "x" medication we could probably shorten it to 7 days. (I'm easily amused.) Three more days to go, so I'm expecting the worst today and tomorrow. Too bad I won't be able to taste the lovely dinner we have planned for this evening.

Another cello sighting yesterday. We went to see The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee at Circle in the Square last night. The band consisted of keyboard, a reed doubler (mostly clarinet and sax), one cello, and percussion. The cello played pretty steadily, more countermelody and harmony than rhythm, and an occasional solo line. Wonderful instrument. It's amazing what one string player adds.

Friday, December 08, 2006


OK, I'm traveling. And I'm posting. Maybe. That depends upon whether my Treo can handle Blogger Dashboard. I like the feature of being able to e-mail my posts, but last time I tried this I still had to edit and publish through Dashboard.

I'm sitting at the Crowne Plaza in Times Square thumb typing on said Treo. NYC is enjoying a seasonal cold snap. The westerly winds were so brisk around this corner of the hotel last night that I thought I was sleeping in a wind tunnel. That led to some interesting dreams, I'll tell you.

This morning I caught a few minutes of the Today show with my breakfast coffee. They were broadcasting a number by Il Divo. I'm not big on vocal groups, but these are four guys who sounded like a classical answer to the Back Street Boyz. They were performing on a Persian rug covering an outdoor bandstand, surrounded by a 20+ piece orchestra who seemed to be all women. Very cold women, dressed in wool coats and hats and playing with gloves on. Sure looked that way in a closeup on one of the violinists, anyway. I didn't see any short fingers on those gloves. The orchestra was playing with great enthusiasm - probably to stay warm!

I think it's time to hit the streets in my hardy midwestern parka.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

There she goes

So, back to my recent wedding gig. On my first outing, I learned that the cognoscenti refer to the wedding processional as "Here she comes" and the recessional as "There she goes". That bride wanted the standard Wagner and Mendelssohn. Yuck. This bride wanted a recessional of special significance, which of course did not exist in an arrangement for cello trio, so we rolled our own. And here it is...

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Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Trip to the vet

Today was Round 2 of Feline Leukemia Virus vaccine. The master tactician (that would be me) succeeded in boxing up all three cats in under 15 minutes. I always worry that I'll fail, we'll arrive too late for our appointment, and be denied access. That's probably a little leftover neurosis from my youth (my mother was never on time for *anything*). But having done this a couple of times now I think I've got a routine:
(1) Brush Cricket where she is napping at the foot of the bed; snag her and carry to open box in the next room.
(2) Pick gentle John up off the top of the cat tree and put into second box.
(3) Close all bedroom doors and disassemble the bed in order to extricate Madeleine from underneath it. After several minutes of chase, corner her by the door and carry a large squirming kitty who doesn't like to held under any circumstances 10 feet to place in the last box.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Break dancing

Well, what does it look like to you? I don't know if John was spinning in ecstacy over some chipmunk antics outside the window, or if he just had an urgent itch. But fortunately DH's phone was handy, and he snapped this pic. Maybe disco for the bipedally challenged?

It's Tummy Tuesday. To see more of the (feline) sunny-side-up variety, visit LisaViolet.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Wedding gig

It's harder than I expected to maintain a daily posting habit when I'm traveling, but as a reward for those of you who have been fruitlessly checking for something new all weekend I have a cello-playing video clip.

On Saturday I attended the wedding of a close cello friend. We were stand partners for a long time, he on the inside and I in the outside seat. (I'm thinking six years, but that could be just a magic number I am pulling out of the air.) I taught him everything he knows about turning pages. Having played in a cello trio at one of his employees' weddings, he thought it would be a shame to waste all of that prior experience, and he would like to have his old trio play at his own wedding. The bride agreed to have us, but would not part with the groom for the purpose of the musical interlude, so he recruited a fellow student to take his place and we dusted off the old trio books. I played Cello 3.

I wonder how many gigging cello trios there are? It's certainly not the first combo that comes to mind, but I think it's rather pleasant for background music. We are playing as the crowd is gathering, prior to their trooping outside for the ceremony (hence the background chatter in the clip). In fact, it may be better than an ordinary string trio or a flute trio, as the violin and flute would be much more demanding of attention in their higher registers.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Cello lesson

Another good reason for playing a 4 octave scale every day from slow to fast, according to my teacher at today's lesson, is that at least once each day you'll get all over the fingerboard, play slowly with rich sound and full vibrato, and also fast. Because some days what you practice otherwise may short one or more aspects of basic technique. For me, I am at my most zen when I'm playing my scale. I can sink into the physicality of cello playing without the distraction of new notes to learn. Everything goes better on a good scale day. And if I can't get it in tune, or I'm too tense because I'm distracted by something else, it's probably best to just stop there and come back to the cello later when I am in a better frame of mind.

Today at my lesson I only worked on the Prelude to the 2nd suite. I had a few moments of insight where I realized that I am trying too hard. And many more moments of frustration that without trying the notes elude me. One of my teacher's studio rules is that you come in when you get there, and great if you're there for part of the preceding student's lesson. And you are welcome to stay into the next lesson as long as you like. It just happened that the student following me both last year and this is the same high school sophomore. Last year she was working on the Saint-Seans concerto, and this year on Lalo, as well as Lee, Grutzmacher, and Duport etudes that are still well in my future. It is so incredibly valuable to see a more advanced student learning. Not only do I get a taste of the "next" technique, but I see both her and my teacher applying the technique that I am currently learning so that I can build on it in the future, without the distraction of my own playing.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

How I practice scales

Have you ever watched another musician practice? We observe each other in group rehearsals, but rarely see each other practice, another activity entirely. How do we possibly learn how to practice in this practice vacuum? If we're lucky, our teachers break out specific tasks for us to work on, but it seems to me that they do that less often for adults than for children. Somehow we are just supposed to know.

I adopted my current scale routine when I began working with my current teacher, a year and a month ago. I practiced scales before that, but somewhat haphazardly. He had me start with E major, shortly followed by c# natural minor, 4 octaves, to learn the standard (Duport) scale fingering that does not use open strings. I play with the metronome at 88, which provides an optimum bow speed for producing a rich sound with four beats/bow, as follows:
* half notes, changing note every-other note, i.e. not on the bow change
* quarter notes, four notes/bow
* eighth notes in three patterns:
- 8 notes/bow, repeat the octave
- 7 notes/bow, change on the octave
- 8 notes/bow, as it comes, starting down then up bow
I run through this every time I practice scales (daily!), then do the 4 octave arpeggio using the fingering 1st note - 1,3 or 4,2 - 1,3,2 - 1,3,2 - 1,2,3 where "-" indicates the shift. I do this in a variety of patterns from half notes to eighth notes, sometimes repeating the note at the string crossing and sometimes not.

It's a little more complicated than that, because I'll also apply a number of practice techniques to isolate troublesome shifts, or eighth notes, or intonation, or tone quality (especially in violin range), depending on the time available and what sounds worst on any given day. I usually do only one scale each day, currently d minor (to complement my Bach), and it takes 20-40 minutes.

Some days I add (attempt) thirds in double stops or triplets in double stop fingerings, and also broken thirds, but only for E MAJ. I haven't tried those in my lesson yet. If I'm really feeling ambitious I'll try other things from Yampolsky, like subdominant and dominant arpeggios, or more rarely sixths in double stops.

What about you? I TAG any musicians reading this blog to describe your scale routine.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006


I had no idea that some cats like an extra stretch until my cat sitter demonstrated that point with John one day. She picks the cat up around the front shoulders, letting the rear feet hang free. Some cats don't like that, but others, John included, stretch front feet to the ceiling and back feet to the floor. It looks like a reflex to me, but he seems to like it. Since she started it he has developed the habit of stretching his front feet out to indicate it's time to get down, then allowing you to rotate him heels over head to the floor.

Here he goes...

It's Tummy Tuesday. To see more of the (feline) sunny-side-up variety, visit LisaViolet.

Monday, November 27, 2006


This morning I woke up a little earlier than usual and practiced for half an hour, after my first cup of coffee. I used to practice regularly before work, but have lost a little of that discipline since I've retired. All right, a lot of that discipline. The occasion? I had a piano trio rehearsal at 9:30a and wanted to warm up before I went. That is also unusual, and only scheduled then because of extenuating circumstances. We have a session with coach planned for tomorrow evening, a new and very demanding coach, and wanted to get ourselves together a bit after the holiday, but the only time that would work for all of us was before the pianist went to work this morning. We spent some time with Mr. Metronome, and discovered many of the places where we are slowing down, and more surprisingly speeding up, to our horror. So it will be multiple repetitions of one third of Beethoven Op 1 No 1 mvmt 4 at MM 112 this afternoon and tomorrow.

Over Thanksgiving week I had the opportunity to play with a different trio. This one is interesting because the violist is also an accomplished pianist, so we might work on either piano or string trios when we get together. We've played together in various group combinations for five or so years, but rehearse only every month or two since I've moved from the area. It is a real pleasure to play with them because we are fairly well matched in our level of musicianship, and are all decent sight readers. This time we were a string trio, and Beethoven Op 3 was on tap. That gave us a chance to play movements we have been working on for a year or two, as well as to read the last couple that we haven't gotten to yet. The violinist is recovering from a knee replacement in October, and is just getting back to playing, so when we finished all 6 movements we thought it a very good night. What makes this group so much fun to read with is that we are all very good at staying out of each others' way, regardless of the technical difficulties in our own parts. That is not such an easy skill to develop, and I really miss them.

Sunday, November 26, 2006


During the extended stays of my first groups of foster kittens, I found myself wishing for something they could climb on and scratch to bits, first while they were confined to the office, and later when I loosed them in the general vicinity of my furniture. I figured it also wouldn't hurt to have something to entice my resident cats away from the couch. And since they are primarily indoor cats (primarily with respect to Cricket's occasional rooftop forays) it would be nice to find something they would enjoy playing on in addition to scratching, both to increase their general activity level and to "enrich their environment."

So, early in Thanksgiving week I took delivery of two pieces of Custom Cat Purrrniture. This is constructed of recycled spindles and beams, and covered with carpet remnants. It is large and heavy, and sturdy enough to withstand multiple climbing and flying felines without tipping. The proprietor gives a 30-day money back guarantee, but not the usual kind. Instead of allowing you to return it without question within 30 days, he requires you to keep it for 30 days and if your cat won't use it within that time frame he'll take it back. Well, I won't be able to return mine. John was inside the base of one unit within 30 seconds of it entering the house. It hadn't even been moved to its place yet.

Do you see the hole in the platform John is sitting on in the office? That's the third level up on the Orbitor, and his favorite thing to do so far is to enter the base and shoot up through the spindle. Or launch. Whoosh. It's quite entertaining.

This post is cited in this week's Carnival of the Cats, hosted by Scribblings.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Bow bugs

Yuck. I opened my bow case and was confronted with streaming strands of bow hair. No wait, that's not true. I had left the bow case open in the hopes of avoiding this. I guess it was dark enough and the bows were enough undisturbed that the bow bugs set up shop anyway. As I understand it, bow bugs are small mites with a taste for horse hair. What I don't understand is why they go for the ends of the hairs, where they are anchored in the frog and the tip of the bow, rather than setting up shop in the middle. Whatever the reason, I won't be doing any playing with these bows until they are rehaired. Sigh.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006


One of the etudes I am working on right now is Duport #6. I believe that is one of 2 or 3 etudes in his (Jean-Louis's) 21 exercises at the end of the Essai that are not written by him, and as I recall this one was written by his older brother Jean-Pierre. Interesting, but without great import. My primary focus in this etude is that springy, fast detache in the middle of the bow, but it has the additional challenges of several passages in thumb position written in the tenor clef. I am making great progress in the thumb position passages, though they still aren't so secure that I can just play them after a break between practice sessions. That's not unexpected, and I know that I am making progress because it takes less time each practice to be able to play them again.

Having gotten that far, the next thing I have started working on this week are the bridges, the few notes that tie together what I can play to the tricky bit, or the transition from one tricky bit to another. An example.

The etude begins with four measures in first position followed by four measures of the same notes an octave higher played in thumb position, with the thumb on the half-string harmonic. The first note of the first passage is open string G followed by 4th finger D on the A string, and the first note of the repeated motif is harmonic G followed by 3d finger D on the A string. This week I have spent all of my practice time on this etude just getting the following steps:
Step 1: play open G with hand loosely in 1st position, play harmonic G with the thumb (get the location)
Step 2: play step 1 followed by 3d finger D on the A string (get the hand position)
Step 3: play the last few notes of the first passage (which includes a shift to 2nd position) then step 2 (get the shift)
Step 4: play step 3 then the next few notes in the second passage
Step 5: play both passages

It still amazes me how long it takes the muscles to be able to do this reliably, and then it amazes me again to see how reliable it is once that happens. This is what keeps me coming back to the cello.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Practice assistant

This is the room I used to practice in. This is the chair I used to sit on to practice. This is a space occupying lesion. John, my music-loving cat, came to listen to me practice, and stayed to push me off my chair. As you can see, there wasn't much room left for a cello player there.

It's Tummy Tuesday. To see more of the (feline) sunny-side-up variety, visit LisaViolet.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Running in the cold

I'm thinking that chances are small that we will be seeing the north side of 50 degrees again this year, but the sun, at least, was shining, so I hit the road today. Running on a treadmill is just enough easier that a periodic reality check on the road is a good idea, like taking the etude that was sounding so good at home into your lesson. Unless you prefer your delusions, of course.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Practice Quote

...we may say, "That's confusing". Well, nothing is inherently confusing. Something may be complex, but confusion is something we create because we are unable to deal with the complexity of a situation. It is important to understand this, so that we don't fall into the error of thinking the problem is "out there", instead of where it really is, "in here", in us. Fortunately, the answer is in us, too!

Confront Your Confusion in
The Deeper I Go the Deeper It Gets
Jamie Andreas

Friday, November 17, 2006

Bug hunt

Those long music days are killers: piano lesson followed by cello lesson followed by orchestra rehearsal. Consistently, though, that hour of practice in the rented practice room between lessons is my best of the week. Is it because I focus best in the slightly terrified state of knowing I am about to display my weekly progress (or lack thereof) to my cello teacher? Or because I can concentrate better without the multitude of potential distractions at home? The worst of which is the computer, I might add.

This week's lesson focused on my scale and the Bach prelude (2nd Suite). Last week I convinced my teacher that Bach wasn't ready for a semi-private airing yet (phew) and I am so glad I found a way to get past the PAS and work on it a little this week. Not a bad technique, really, especially because it doesn't feel like practicing. Exactly. In his most recent book Philip Johnston calls it a Bug Hunt, but he used to call it The Spot Method. I like the new moniker. After my bug hunt I had widely-spaced groups of red dots in the middle section, and had given up and drawn a red line over the dozen bars after the cadence 2/3 of the way through.

The dots are only part of the process, of course. For the rest of the week (what little remained) I limited my practice to only measures that had red dots (or bars) above them. I need to get over the fear that if I don't continually practice what I can already play I will forget it. It's so inefficient. But so much more fun than struggling with the hard stuff.

I got my reward. I was able to play through the entire movement when directed to do so. Not without error yet, but it was great progress. I did laughingly warn my teacher that I was sure I could play it through as long as he didn't care what notes I played, and of course his first comment was on my shaky intonation in a couple of sections. Picky, picky. But then we got on to the cool technical moment and I learned how to do something he called up-bow continuation. It's a way of leaving the bow distribution uneven when you play more notes in one direction than the other. Not exactly a new concept, but it seemed very illuminating in that context. A good day. As soon as the glow of accomplishment wears off I'll go practice again.

Thursday, November 16, 2006


Madeleine was born in a barn. You would never know it. She's such a refined lady, not to mention gorgeous. But alas, it's the truth. Her Mom was a lovely medium-long haired and very shy white cat. Her most likely Dad was a short white-haired tom. Her brother looked like Dad. I hear that white hair is dominant and black recessive in cats, which is at least a logical explanation for how two white cats can create a black kitten.

Madeleine has always been shy. Although she's the Grande Dame of my house at seven years old, she has given up the dominant status to each new cat as they have successively arrived. DH calls her our 'Fraidy Cat. She is startled even by his footsteps. (Though not mine. Wonder why?) I should have suspected she would be like this when we had to move a very large stack of hay bales she was hiding behind in order to extricate her from the barn. Though she runs from strangers, she is very loving to both of us, and also to my mother and sisters. It's curious that she hides from his family members, but takes to mine immediately. Is it their smell? Our collective aura?

The occasion for this entry is that we finally have caught a video clip of Madeleine begging. She has done this ever since she was a kitten, no training required. You'll never see this in person, but you get to see it here.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Gp 3 Update

Got word from the shelter that everyone in Group 3 was adopted over the weekend. Yippee!


Practice Avoidance Syndrome. There are many reasons musicians give for not wanting to practice. I think the biggest triggers for me are 1) I have too much to get done and I don't know where to start and 2) something on that too-long list has some time pressure involved. I've been that way all my life. Give me a big project and a due date and - the house gets very clean and every other task I've been putting off either gets done or makes significant progress. And the problem with that approach would be... ? I mean, the project always gets done (usually the day or the night before) and I like a clean house as well as anyone. The ulcers are incidental. But I do feel badly that it makes my husband crazy.

I knew last week that my PAS was getting out of hand. I had a concert on Monday, and thus those orchestral pieces I listed a while back to perfect. And I have started working on the 2nd Bach Suite as my big project in my lessons. That in itself is wonderful. I love that suite, especially the prelude, and it's a delight to finally feel ready to work on it. But I can't just play it into perfection, and I'm still devising practice strategies for this kind of music. And I've felt disappointment that I'm not getting this faster emanating from the general direction of my teacher in the past couple of lessons. (Is it real or Memorex? His disappointment or my projection?)

So, thank you PFS for this completely irrelevant Breval project. It reminds me how well I can work on something that nobody cares about but me. And at least I'm practicing something!

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Breval Session 2

I'm making good progress on internalizing the rhythm in measures 25-31, so it's time to turn my attention to something else. Research shows that we remember best what we learn at the beginning and end of a work session, so I usually switch tasks at least every 10 minutes. With a brief mental break, I get another primacy and latency effect for each task. Plus I don't get bored, I give my neuronal pathways time to develop the last task, and I reduce the likelihood of overuse injuries.

I would prioritize my remaining tasks as follows:
1) double string crossings in m. 29-30
2) bring the triplets up to speed
3) add the bowing to the triplets in m. 27
4) bring the whole passage up to performance tempo
I have decided that my final performance tempo will be quarter note = 120 bpm.

Some cellists would find the fast triplets to be the most difficult technical aspect of this piece. For me, it's the double string crossings. I find the combination of left and right hand challenges to be very awkward, especially at a fast tempo. So I would choose working on that as my next task. But as before, I would try to sort out the left and right hands separately. As an aside, I find that the Suzuki books often have good preparatory suggestions for the method pieces. I was a little disappointed in the prep etude for string crossings in book 4. It's just more of the same, which I guess means I'm disappointed it doesn't break it down far enough for my needs. Another exercise for the student, so here I go.

Right hand first. I know that the goal of an efficient string crossing is to play on the "inside" of each string, inside being the closest side of one string to the next string played. Double stops can be invaluable for training the amount of right elbow motion needed to achieve this. (This is true whether you are crossing one string or three.)
Step 1: Analyze the double stops I need. I see both measures are identical except for the dynamics. In each case, the first three pairs of notes alternate from the G string to the A, and the last pair is from the C string to the D. For double stops I will play in eighth notes GD DA GD DA GD DA CG GD.

Step 2: Observe my right elbow motion (height) while playing repeated AD double stops. Then when playing repeated DG double stops. (There is a reason that mirror was conveniently in front of me when I took that picture of John in my last post.)

Step 3: More slowly, alternate DG downbow, pause, lift elbow to AD height while pivoting the bow on the D string, AD upbow. Pause, lower elbow to GD height with bow pivot on the D string, GD downbow. Etc. Set the metronome as slow as necessary so that I don't feel rushed. Stay at the slow tempo until my elbow no longer overshoots its mark and I no longer have the tendency to "lift" the bow between string pairs. Then increase the metronome speed in steps to the intermediate target of 72 bpm. Repeat the entire process for the DG and GC pairs.

Step 4: Alternate playing down GD up DA with down CG up GD, first slowly then gradually up to 72 bpm with eighth note ds.

Step 5: Play the ds pattern I need at 72 bpm. Might start more slowly then increase speed if I can't do it right off. GD/DA GD/DA GD/DA CG/GD repeat

Left hand. Before I go on to cross strings without double stop, I'll learn the fingering. String heights change just enough when the strings are stopped that you have to recalculate crossings, anyway. The key to left hand efficiency in fast double stops is to keep a finger down once it is placed until you need to use it again.
Step 6: analyze left arm motion. Play double stop down GD up DB back and forth (1 down on B). Then down BD up DD (3 down on B, 4 down on D together). Then down AD up DC (1 down on A, 2 down on C together). Then down DG up GF# (1 down on D, 3 down on B together). What I see is a slight rise in my left elbow with each subsequent pair, then drop and repeat the same sequential rise for the second measure.

Step 7: Practice playing the pairs of double stops in order, no tempo, with pause in between. Focus on keeping fingers down together for each pair of double stops. My fingers would move something like: 1 down (B), 3 down (B) 4 down (D), 1 up then down (A), 4 up, 2 down (C) 1 up then down (D), 3 down F#. Next measure open G, then 1 up then down (B), 3 up then down (B), then as before. When I can do this and still be relaxed, start at very slow metronome and gradually speed up to 72 bpm. Have I maintained the elbow motion I saw in Step 6? If not, find the tension I have introduced and eliminate it by going back to slower and building up again.

Step 8: Continue at 72 bpm. Alternate playing the pairs of notes as double stops for a measure then clean string crossings for a measure. I should not be able to see a noticeable difference between the arm motions from one measure to another.

A lot of words, but by writing them down I feel like I understand a good approach to the problem. Not only that, but I tried it out before I sat down to write, and can play those measures up to near my target of 120 bpm. A good night's work, I think.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Practice buddy

All of my cats have at least tolerated my practicing, though the females have consistently liked it less than the males. I know that in humans women have more sensitive high frequency hearing than men (on average), so I wonder if cats have a similar gender difference. None of my cats care for the violin, at least the way I play it. They'll stick around for a bit of Bach in the lower register, but as soon as I hit the E string - whooosh! - they're out of the room. That would be consistent with cats having more sensitive high frequency hearing than humans (on average.) Good thing for them I primarily play the cello. However, I think that given their druthers they would rather I switch to piano. I have a lot more company when I'm practicing my rudimentary keyboard skills or having piano trio rehearsal at my house than I ever do when I'm practicing my cello.

That said, John is a special musician's cat. Generally, when I start practicing he comes running in from wherever he is to be with me while I play. Usually he's calm, but a couple of things set him off. When I was working on Duport #2 in f# min he regularly howled and tried to climb my back. Really. Ripped holes in a couple of T-shirts. Imagine my amazement when he did the same thing while I was improvising on the black keys of the piano. Just goofing off, but in a modal version of the same key. Do you think he has perfect pitch? I used to think my Duport was just really horrible. This photo and clip show him in more typical practice mode.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Thinking out loud

I've been reading Pink Fluffy Slippers' blog (no cats over there, but lots of cello) and a recent post about the Breval Sonata in C got me thinking. She's having trouble with just a few measures in the exposition that feature duple to triplet rhythm changes, double string crossings, and awkward bowings in the triplet sections. That last tricky bit is ruining her enjoyment of the movement, because it limits her feasible tempo. (How many pieces do I have in the closet waiting for a miracle to fix those last tricky bits?)

Anyway, I've spent a good part of the past year learning and trying to apply ways to practice more efficiently. (When you start late you don't want to waste time.) So I thought it would be fun to devise a plan for attacking this section. After I write it down I can decide whether I've learned anything. Any musicians reading this entry may feel free to criticize (constructively!!!)

I'm going to limit my practice to measures 25-31. I have a very bad habit of playing on from whenever I start, so I will even put a sticky note over the measures before and after to fight that tendency. Then I divide the problems into three general categories: notes, bowing, and rhythm. Or left hand, right hand, and brain.

I won't spend much time focusing on notes. The critical thing about notes when you are needing to bring a section up to speed is that you decide on one fingering and stick to it. I would play everything in this section in 1st position, so that's straight-forward. I just need to remember to play the recurrent F#'s (noting that I've actually been in the key of G since measure 11.) I might play a G MAJ scale from open G to D on the A string a couple of times to get the finger patterns set, but will leave repetitions of the notes until later in rhythm study.

Rhythm is the biggest problem in this section. Taking Ms. MacKinnon's advice to heart, I need to figure out how to practice the rhythm without having to also think about the notes and the bowing. So I'll start with testing away from the cello. Can I say the rhythm with the metronome? I'd start with a tempo under performance speed, but fast enough to get the character of the piece. 72 bpm (quarter note) is good. Although I usually use the word "trip-e-let" in my head when I am reading triplets, when it's really tricky I revert to food. So quarter = "prune", 2 eighths = "jel-lo", and an eighth note triplet = "pine-ap-ple".

Step 1: MM=72 practice going back and forth between foods OUT LOUD. So, prune, prune, jello, jello, pineapple, pineapple, pineapple, pineapple, jello, jello, prune, prune, etc. Mix 'em up; try to trip yourself.

Step 2: MM=72 Say the measures OUT LOUD: one-two and jello jello |prune pineapple pineapple pineapple| pineapple pineapple pineapple pineapple | pineapple pineapple pineapple pineapple | jello jello jello jello | jello jello jello jello | pineapple pineapple pineapple pineapple | If I can't say it from the notes immediately, I'd write it out like this and just read it to the metronome. If I still can't say it out loud, I'd slow the metronome down enough so that I could.

Step 3: MM=72 Say the measures OUT LOUD while clapping at the same time.

Step 4: MM=72 If this was really hard or I really wanted to be obsessive, say the measures OUT LOUD while clapping the rhythm AND walking around the room (or marching in place), one step per beat (quarter note.) [You might think this is silly, but IT WORKS. Both your rhythm and your coordination will improve.]

Step 5: Play the rhythms on the cello, using open strings only. Play the triplets on open G and everything else on open D. Or pick another pattern. Do this until I can play it correctly 3 times in a row (or pick another target.) (Optional: say the rhythm out loud while playing. Personally, I would do that only if I couldn't just play it the first time.)

At this point I should have the rhythm down pretty well. I might test it by playing the notes in rhythm but NOT playing the slurs and NOT playing the string crossings in m. 29-30 yet. For these measures I might just double the lower notes of the two (also a good fake if I need to play the piece with someone before I've worked out those string crossings.) I'm still concentrating on the rhythm.

Next it's time to look at the bowing problems. But not tonight. This post is long enough, and I still want to practice.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Winter is coming

This morning it's less than 30F outside but the sun is shining. The door to the deck is again open. At this temperature Cricket goes out for a minute and comes right back in. Not much danger of extended roof forays, and she's not inside pouting because I won't open the door. She's a fair weather wanderer, just like I am a fair weather runner. In my youth I was outside in the rain and snow and dark of night (and have a scar on my chin to affirm the latter), but no more. Above 50 with the sun shining is my preference. I wonder if it will get that warm this afternoon?

Last weekend was a perfect running weekend. I ran outside both days, and it was warm enough for a walk around the pond behind my house to cool down and enjoy the weather afterward. As we crossed a foot bridge at the last turn I noticed that the water appeared unusually lumpy. Lumpy water? Took the old eyes down close enough to get a good look, and discovered the lumps were rocks that someone had tossed on top of the ice on the pond. Ice? I guess it's getting pretty cold at nights. My outside running days this season are numbered.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Practice Quote (deja vu)

I can't resist a second quote today. It demonstrates that training is training is training, whether you are a musician or a doctor or a dog. In fact, I remember that Burton Kaplan has one lecture in his Performance Power seminars entitled "Your Body is a Dog."

This is a paragraph in a newsletter I was reading tonight, “Clicker Trainers Use No Punishment” and Other Training Myths by Melissa Alexander:

To get a truly reliable behavior, there's only one way to do it. Practice with intent. Generalize the behavior. Practice in the conditions in which you need the behavior reliable. Work on latency. Keep records and train until you've achieved the level of reliability you need, whether it's nine of ten or 999 of 1000.

Practice Quote

When a student sets to work, he should remind himself that he is temporarily a teacher, and that his pupils (the habits) should be taught, like modern pupils, with consideration: this means that learning should be simplified as much as possible. Indeed, the secret of learning may be said to consist of the faculty of attending to one thing at a time.

Lilias MacKinnon
Music By Heart (1938)

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Big and Little

Shelley asked in a comment awhile ago if my big cats ever play with the kittens. My answer is that it's not a big part of their lives, but yes, they occasionally do. They were starting to warm up to Group 1 when I returned them, but they pretty much ignored Group 2, who were only here for a week. They didn't interact as much with Group 3 as with Group 1, both of whom were here for three weeks. I believe that they are getting the idea that kittens are transient, so best not to get too emotionally involved. However, John always interacted gently with them as he visited the Nursery to snarf kitten kibble, and Cricket was always somewhere close, watching. As the weeks wore on they interacted more. I saw John playing circle ball with them a couple of times, and here is a clip of Cricket playing with Seamus at the scratching post play area.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006


Ever has it been that love knows not its own depth until the hour of separation.

Kahlil Gibran

Last day

Gp 3 Day 21
If you had been watching the weight chart for Group 3 (I know you haven't, as it's buried deep in the October archive) you would have seen that Charlotte, the smallest kitten, weighed more than 2 lbs on Monday. They're going back to the shelter today for their spay and neuter operations tomorrow morning, and they'll probably be out ready for adopting on Friday. I'll miss the little buggers, as always. They are enjoying a fine day of playing all over the house while intermittently napping in the office, where I am working. I'm very pleased how this group turned out. From shy, bitey kittens who didn't like to be held they've turned into lap-seeking motorheads who play with soft paws (sheathed nails), mouth gently without biting, use a scratching box consistently, and stay off the dining room table most of the time. They will make very good pets, and I hope each finds someone to love them.

I asked for a couple of extra days with them to decrease a possible stressor on my bigs. I received the sad news last week that two of the kittens from Group 1 have tested positive for Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV). Ordinarily the shelter tests Mom, and if she is negative the kittens aren't tested individually. In this case, Mom was negative but the kittens eventually tested positive after being adopted. The bigs went to the vet today to be tested, and I'll spare you the suspense... they are negative (very happy smile.) But they *hate* being crated and transported, and I didn't want to add a recent experience of seeing littles boxed up and not returning. So that's all done, and the kittens go back tonight.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Another reason to love...

...a tuxedo cat.
Doesn't she look great with a red cello case?
My cello case doesn't usually sit upstairs by the rail, but I had dropped it at the way station after orchestra rehearsal. This year I have scheduled my piano lesson, my cello lesson, and an orchestra rehearsal all on the same day. The two lessons are in the same place, with a 1.5 hour break between, so I pack a lunch and rent a practice room for an hour. That's a long day, so it's no wonder the cello stops upstairs while I grab dinner.

This semester in orchestra we are playing Dvorak Symphony No. 8 (old 4), the Grieg Pomp and Circumstance, Overture to Hansel and Gretel by Engelbert Humperdinck (that would be the one who lived from 1854 to 1921), and Winter from Vivaldi's Four Seasons. The Dvorak is an old friend, my third time through it. I'm relatively new with this orchestra, so it's been nice that my first two large pieces were Beethoven's Pastorale Symphony and this Dvorak, both of which I've been through with two other orchestras. And both of which have complex and exposed cello parts that I have had plenty of time to work out the puzzles of. You will recognize the slow bits of P&C as what you commonly hear at high school graduations, but I'll bet you didn't know that the opening and interludes are fast and tricky. H & G also has some parts that I think are too fast for me to play accurately yet. I haven't given up, but for now I practice them slowly to get the notes, fast in short bursts to get the gestures, then during rehearsals keep my bow and fingers moving in the right rhythm and hope for the best with the notes. Winter is rather fun. Our soloist is a recent Eastman grad who has recently moved back to the area, and whose Dad plays in the viola section.

I know that has nothing to do with cats, but I don't want to leave you with the impression that kittens are my entire life. They're just a very fun part of it.

Monday, November 06, 2006


Although we may dream about our future in splendid images, we must live our lives in practical everyday actions, one after another.

Robert K. Cooper
The Other 90%

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Tuxedos large and small

As you know, two of my big cats are black and white tuxedos, so it has been especially interesting to have little Seamus here. When I look at his sisters, I see kittens. When I look at Seamus, I see a miniature cat. Sometimes it's downright disorienting. I still have many visiting friends who remain mystified about who is John and who is Cricket. But it's kind of like twins: the longer you are around them, the more differences you see. I thought it would be interesting to list how they are different. And this is just about looks; we won't even get into temperaments.

Eyes: peridot green
Ears: black with white ear hairs
Nose: black
Face: black
Chin: white
Brows and whiskers: white
Tummy: white with a black "heart"
Front feet: short white socks
Back feet: white stockings
Paw pads: black
Tail: short and thick

Eyes: golden green
Ears: black with black ear hairs
Nose: black
Face: black
Chin: black with a white "dribble" down the right
Brows and whiskers: white, except mostly black right brow
Tummy: white
Front feet: white socks, a little longer than Cricket
Back feet: black with one or two white toe tips
Paw pads: black
Tail: very long and very skinny

Eyes: muddy green
Ears: black with white ear hairs
Nose: pink with a black beauty mark
Face: white to eyes and forehead
Chin: black
Brows and whiskers: white
Tummy: white
Front feet: short white socks
Back feet: high white stockings with black posterior knee pads
Paw pads: black center, pink toes
Tail: still growing, but more like Cricket. Often looks like a bottle brush.

Saturday, November 04, 2006


Of course I don't want you to repeat that measure 70 times. Design seven different ways to practice it, then play each way ten times.

Peter Howard

Friday, November 03, 2006

Time spent with a cat is never wasted

A quote, commonly attributed to Colette.
I'm sitting here acting primarily as a bed for kittens, so of course I find that quote at this minute to be resonating. But when did Colette say this, and upon what occasion? I recently listened to an audiobook recording of Claudine At School, and I can assure you it wasn't there. Don't you love life A.I., anno Internet? You have a question, you look up the answer. Unfortunately, all I've found so far is an interesting wikipedia entry (I didn't know all that) and a million websites listing cat quotations.
Questions 1 Inquiring Minds 0.

Thursday, November 02, 2006


In music, as with most things we try to do, failure is rarely caused by poor aptitude; the real culprit is a stunted imagination.

Frank R. Wilson
Tone Deaf and All Thumbs?

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Littles rule the world

Gp 3 Day 14
Yesterday the floor, tomorrow the world. Today littles rule the high ground. One of many fun things about taking care of kittens is that each day is like having a whole new group, they grow so much overnight. The bigs gave up without a fight. I suspect it is overwhelming to be confronted with that much concentrated energy. Now that this group is healthy, they are either asleep, or in motion.

Playing under a chair is so passe.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

All the world's a toy

Gp 3 Day 13
One dose of Flagyl to go. I don't know if you remember Lotus demonstrating the kitty wrap and med administration a few weeks ago, but that is not what it looks like with these three. Sheila is starting to get it, but with the other two it's a fight the entire time. I'll be glad when we don't have to do this anymore.

Now that the diarrhea is better I'm letting the kittens explore the house. This is a hoot. The littles own the floor and the bigs stay up high to observe. And when a kitten is learning, everything is a toy. I have skirted chairs at the dining room table. See how much fun that is.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Thought's not only our big dreams that shape reality....The small choices bear us irresistibly toward our destiny.

William James

Saturday, October 28, 2006


Gp 3 Day 10
OK, not a disaster. Minor catastrophe, maybe. I was gone all day to attend a workshop by Susan Kempter on childhood development and targeting music teaching strategies. I left the kittens in the office with the door closed. Unfortunately, while they were playing they also managed to close the door to the Nursery. AKA the bathroom. AKA the room with the litter box and food. Poor kitties. They were starving and thirsty. There were two pools of urine on some bubblewrap on the floor. And a small pile of feces in the "canyon" of computer wires. Yuck. That was a pain to clean up. The good news is that the stool had really firmed up since starting Flagyl for presumed giardia on Thursday. The potentially bad news is that I can't imagine that is all the excrement in eight hours from three kittens who would usually fill a litterbox in that time. And I haven't found any more yet. The very good news is that they were ravenously hungry, and their weights today reflect their improved appetites since Thursday. Always a silver lining.

This photo is of the three imps where I often find them sleeping upon my return to the office. It's the chair I sit in while working at the computer.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Circle ball

Gp 3 Day 9
We've reached a number of milestones in the past few days. Seamus and Charlotte can get out of the tub, though they still haven't figured out it's easier to jump up on the back where the seat is a little lower. Seems like Group 1 got that in no time. All can jump up onto a chair, and I see that Charlotte has made it up to the window sill and discovered the pulls for the blinds. And as of last night all can pull themselved over the box barricade at the door, so the office door has to be shut until I'm ready to let them into the house at large. We are heading up to the shelter shortly to have their persistent diarrhea checked out, and they'll get house privileges after that has resolved.

D loaned me a popular cat toy that consists of a ping pong ball enclosed in a plastic track. It's been sitting out all week, but they finally figured out how it works yesterday.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Gp 3 Day 7

It's now the end of the first week with Group 3. The major theme has been enticing everyone to eat, a problem I prefer to nursing upper respiratory infections. Things did not turn out as I would have expected after the initial weigh-in. Sheila, the smallest, turns out to be a voracious eater, and is turning into a little round punkin head. Seamus, the biggest, ate hardly anything for three days, until finally I regressed him all the way back to formula (kitten milk replacement). Charlotte is willing to taste everything, but not eat much of anything. Her weight dropped to 24 oz., but is holding steady, so I figure she must be getting something.

Socialization is proceding well. The amount of biting is decreasing. Everyone has a nice relaxation response to being picked up. Seamus finally purred, quietly, not to be confused with the rumbles his sisters produce. And there is definite lap-seeking behavior when they get tired, my favorite part.

Group 3 is still confined to the Nursery and adjacent office. I thought about getting a baby gate, but instead rigged up a make-shift barricade of boxes and a wooden stool to keep them confined while allowing access to big cats and people, as well as visual access to their space. Seeing Cricket swoop over the wall is a thing of beauty. John, on the other hand...

Monday, October 23, 2006


Gp 3 Day 5
These kittens have a bit of an oral fetish. When they are either tired or overstimulated they bite my fingers - hard. And they rootle each other, trying to nurse. If they clamped down on Mom like they do on my fingers, no wonder they were found alone! The good news is, I have usually been successful at stopping this behavior with enough time and consistency. What I do: when they nip, I take my hand away. If they keep pursuing, I set them down. My verbal cue that this is about to happen is "Ouch." Eventually, when I say Ouch they stop. Really. The behavioural term for this is negative punishment: removing something the animal values (petting) in order to decrease the occurrence of an unwanted behaviour. The most important part is the consistency. No mouthing, period, or you end up with an intermittent reinforcement schedule, which will make the behavior even harder to eradicate.

As to the rootling, that is not uncommon in kittens who have been removed from Mom at this young age. However, D assures me that early removal can also be a good thing, making it easier to socialize kittens who have not had previous human contact.

And OBTW, the other human member of my household thought Shariah was too feminine-sounding, so tkfkas (the kitten formerly known as Shariah) is now named Seamus.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Gender bender

Yesterday I was still ambivalent, but today I'm pretty sure - Shariah is not a girl. It's sometimes tricky to tell when they are very small, and very squirmy, and have longer hair near the tail. Good thing I gave him a gender-ambiguous made up name. But I may change it after I think about it some more.