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.