Tuesday, December 25, 2007

White Christmas

A few seconds of snow for those who are lacking same this Christmas Day. The forecasters predicted 1/2 inch, but I think there's more already, and it's falling steadily.

To all of you

From all of us.




Sharae Maria



Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 24, 2007

'Twas the night before Christmas

The little girls are sleeping, dreaming of treasures to be unwrapped in the morning. Or anyway, of wrapping paper and boxes to play with. John is in the nursery, comforting Holly, our Christmas visitor. Holly was rescued this week from the side of the road by a good Samaritan, face bleeding and possibly injured. We think she might have been thrown out of a car window by someone who decided s/he no longer wanted an adorable tuxedo kitten. After five harrowing days in a dog kennel under the jurisdiction of Animal Control, and as her clock ticked toward euthanasia, she was scarfed up by one of the rescue groups D- and I foster for. D- is off for her Christmas holiday, so Holly is staying with us for a few days.

Madeleine is snoozing somewhere, but Cricket - what's Cricket up to? It looks like she hears something...

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Christmas week

It has been a busy week. No, two weeks, with all of the extra rehearsals for the church Christmas concert. But this week, my music schedule looked like this:

Sun AM play in church, two services (3 hrs)
Mon PM Christmas concert dress rehearsal (3.5 hrs)
Tue PM Christmas concert (2 hrs)
Wed PM Voice class - Christmas carols (1 hr)
Thu PM Cello lesson (1.5 hrs) and Orchestra rehearsal (2 hrs)
Fri PM No music because of DH's holiday dinner
Sat PM Cello studio class (5 hrs - really - no breaks)
Sun AM play in church, two services, 7:15 AM call (Ugh) (4 hrs)

One more performance tomorrow afternoon for Christmas Eve services (2 hrs) and my holiday schedule is finished. (I'm the only cello for that one, so I had better buff that little solo line.)

Physically I have withstood the stress well. My shoulder was a little sore after that three hour non-stop dress rehearsal, but a little ice took care of it. I think I was over-pressing in response to the loudness of the music. And for the rest of me, I've had a daily stress reliever thanks to the combination of adolescent cats and their first Christmas tree. Here's a little taste of what I am likely to see whenever I hear strange rustling in the living room.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Not me

I have no idea how the blankets got knocked onto the floor, but I didn't do it.

Maybe she did it.

No, we weren't looking for the presents hidden in the closet.


Absolutely not.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Decorating the tree

I don't know when I became such a Grinch. The roots might have been during house staff years. We got one guaranteed week off each year, and it was during the winter holidays, either the week over Christmas or the following New Year's week. Half the staff got off each week, and because Christmas week was more popular DH and I volunteered for New Year's, under the theory that it would be less likely that one of us would not get our request. In that case we would be stuck with a year having different weeks off, in addition to those long months of being on out-of-sync every-third-night in-house call. Plus, it was a nice gesture to our fellow house staff who wanted to be home with their kids on Christmas. But the result was that we were working over Christmas, so got out of the habit of doing much for it.

It might be simply a side-effect of living in the Frozen Tundra of the North, where by this time of year the days are very short and the nights are very long and heaven help us when we have multiple storm systems moving through and we don't see the sun for weeks, as happened this Autumn. I have no interest in anything requiring exertion at this time of the year. (Though I am happy to report that the light boxes I invested in a week or so ago appear to be making a difference.)

Or, it might be because of my approach to life in general and holidays in particular, which is that if I keep my expectations low, anything nice that happens will be a pleasant surprise, and if nothing nice happens, no big deal. I'm not even going to try to dig out the roots of that philosophy, which has the useful result that I don't have elaborate expectations of my friends or lover regarding things like birthdays or Valentine' Day, or Christmas. But I must admit that it is occasionally problematic because I don't do much for my friends' birthdays, either, or at this point really comprehend that others may be emotionally invested in these events. Methinks the pendulum may have swung a little too far.

Well, an unexpectedly nice thing happened this year. My friend D- couldn't bear the thought of our not decorating for Christmas, though I assured her that I was pretty sure we had a fiber-optic 15-inch tree in a box somewhere in storage, and we would drag it out and set it up by Christmas. My two-minute decorating approach. So she came by with a large box of lights and ornaments, including a 3-foot tree, that she wasn't going to use this year, and we set up the tree and hung garlands of light around the house.

We had multiple ornament casualties the first day, as they shattered when knocked off the tree, which is on a table surrounded by wood floors. (Thank you, Sharae. Bad kitty.) The tree did seem a little naked with only lights, and everything else looked so much nicer, so I overcame my inertia and bought some less breakable bulbs and garlands and did up the tree proper. And I remembered, while looking at ridiculously expensive tree skirts that I declined to purchase, that I had a nice red afghan, usually used by the cats in the den, which would make a perfect Christmas tree skirt. The kitties concurred, and since the tree has been finished someone generally claims the best spot underneath for their afternoon nap.

DH seems especially happy to have the house decorated for Christmas, as he was big on holidays before he married a Grinch. We plug in the decorations every night now, enjoying the emotional uplift of the extra lights in the dark afternoon and evening. There is good reason our species has festivals involving lights at this time of the year.

So thanks, D-.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Paper test

A tidbit from my cello lesson this week.

No, you shouldn't be able to fit the paper under the foot of the bridge.

To fix, loosen the pegs slightly, grasp the bridge with both hands, and gently but firmly tip the top of the bridge toward the tail of the cello. Check with the paper to ensure that both feet have good contact with the top, and visually to see that the bridge is straight, then re-tune and check one last time.

Consequences of not fixing it? In my case, just a little increased wolfiness. Over time, though, the uneven tension on top can warp the bridge, leading to uneven tuning of fifths (thus even harder to play in tune), and on rare occasion to catastrophic bridge failure. A bridge either breaking or suddenly falling over can damage the top and potentially result in a fallen sound post.

Gotta remember to do periodic paper tests during winter peg-popping season.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Tummy target

GiGi is presenting Seri with a nice broad expanse of white as a target in their wrestling matches these days. Every time I see her I tease her that she looks like she swallowed a toad. I should probably stop that before I give her a complex.

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

Sunday, December 09, 2007

If at first you don't succeed

When I set up this blog almost two years ago, I claimed the address for "gottagopractice," because I intended it to be some kind of on-line practice journal. But, violating one of the basic precepts of blogging, I entitled it If at first you don't succeed....

If at first you choose the wrong specialty, go back and choose another one.

If at first your patient doesn't get better, do another assessment and change the therapy.

If at first you choose the wrong career, step back, take stock, and change your career directions.

If at first you play the passage wrong, stop, figure it out, and play it again.

If at first the cat won't do what you want him to do, reassess what you can do to train him.

If at first your student doesn't get it, figure out how to break "it" down into small enough steps that she will succeed through the process.

The title captured one of my central philosophies, one which has also been a topic of discussion in the cello blogosphere this month, regarding a comment by Emily Wright: ...the only difference between those who succeed and those who don't is persistence. Though I'm not sure I ascribe to the "only" qualifier, I heartily concur that trying again is a major component of success.

But what I don't understand is why so many people are looking for "If at first you don't succeed" on the internet. Every day, three or more searchers land on my doorstep. What do suppose they are actually seeking?

Friday, December 07, 2007

Bach Suite 2 Sarabande Take 1

Found time. T- called to cancel my lesson yesterday due to illness (get well soon, T-), and while I hate to miss a cello lesson, with the roads as bad as they are right now it meant an extra three hours to... what?... yes, practice. At least part of it.

So, feeling happy that I can finally play through the Sarabande from the 2nd Suite, and since I haven't posted a practice clip in a long while, I thought I'd record it once through without repeats and do my own lesson this week.

OK, the obvious stuff. I really, really must do something about that facial tic. It has improved so much that I thought it was completely gone, but IT'S NOT! No wonder T- has me grinning and doing other distractions while playing at my lessons. I also notice that a few head tossing mannerisms have snuck in now that my hair has grown a little longer and is getting in my eyes and under my left fingers occasionally.

I moved the stand far off to the right side (since I don't have this memorized) to be out of the way of the camera, and I wonder how much extra tension is induced just because I am turning my head farther than it should be. It will be interesting to compare another recording after it's memorized. In a few weeks, maybe. (Hah!)

I'm not too unhappy with the playing. Could still use some intonation work, and would like to improve the sound quality of the chords. Maybe make them a little longer so they ring more, which I can probably do by relaxing and convincing myself psychologically that I have more time than I think. I'm still not landing the upper notes right on the beat, so need to look at timing for the chords, too. I think my rhythms are correct, finally, but please correct me if I'm wrong.

Other than that, it's just more of the usual. Shifts, string crossings, vibrato, yada, yada.

The cello sounds much, much better than it did in my first recording. I broke three strings in the past month, having never broken one since I started playing. The original D stretched by breaking the core on the peg, and I replaced the A and D with Jarger mediums. The original G broke the same way, and I replaced it with a Pirastro Permanent. Sounded kinda wussy, so I wasn't too mad when I broke it stupidly by cranking it instead of the C string after a pre-concert peg-popping incident, when I was in a hurry and not paying sufficient attention to what I was doing. Replaced it with a Jargar medium, which had a smooth sound but seemed to make the whole cello tight and muted. So changed it out for a Prim a couple of days ago. I still have the original Spirocore chromesteel C. Sounds good now, so I'll leave it alone until I break another string.

Don't worry, this is just a short diversion. My next practice log post is under construction.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Practice Journal

It's snowing (again). I'm sitting in the office, surrounded by lights (this winter thing doesn't really agree with me) and cats (mostly sleeping on the desk and surrounding chairs). I'm just about to finish my (first, large) morning cup of coffee, looking at my schedule, and wondering what (if anything) to write about today. This post has been percolating in the back of my mind for a while now, but I had no idea of how long until I took a look at my drafted (but never finished) posts. Wow, a whole page-worth, and I started this one on December 7, 2006. I suppose I should write it today, before it celebrates an anniversary in limbo.

My original idea when I started this blog was to use it as an on-line practice journal. Nine months after the idea was conceived and I set it up, I finally began, not with practicing, but with foster kittens. It's been a duality since then, schizophrenic in common parlance, though that is a completely inaccurate use of the word. But it works for me.

I played the 'cello off and on (and mostly off) for a decade before the 'cello-bug bit me and I decided to get passionate about learning to play it well. Along with finding a new teacher (T2-) who was willing to do some serious technical work with an adult, I started a practice journal to organize my goals and my work. After surveying all of the commercial products available at the time (not nearly as many as now), I pronounced them all inadequate and made my own. Thanks to some nifty plastic ring binders I found at Staples, I made up an official-looking journal for each year of study.

This is a random page from the third year:

You know what? If I write everything I want to about the elements in this journal, and my thoughts about what I am in transition to, well, lets just say it exceeds the standard scope of a blog post. So consider this the inauguration of a series. Tomorrow I'll describe the sections for you.

Or not. That's the nice thing about a blog. No commitments <g>.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007


I was looking through some old photos for a good tummy shot while the snow is softly (and persistently) falling outside and I am not practicing. But look at my reward: a JJ tummy extravaganza. He did have a knack for the full-body let-it-all-hang-out don't-bother-me-I'm-sleeping back-bender. That's Elle behind him, washing Sharae's ears, and GiGi peeking up from below. Even though I am very happy that Elle and JJ found a lovely home together, I miss them now and again. This was a nice blast from the (rainy, not snowy) past.

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

Monday, December 03, 2007

Sunday, December 02, 2007


I've written about playing with my church orchestra on Sunday mornings, and thought you might like a visual. You can see attendance is a little sparse at the beginning of the first service, not entirely unexpected on the day after a big snow. This Sunday the orchestra is off to the right, and the cellos are in the second row on the outside. Yes, those are two big screens on each side of the auditorium so that people up high can see what's going on. They also project the words to the hymns there. You can probably guess my opinion of singing hymns without being able to follow the music.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Look - a kitty!

Saw a trailer for this while watching Enchanted last night (great fun - my face hurt from laughing).

And thanks to Blueberry for pointing to this 'idgit.

Friday, November 30, 2007

The End

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Cello lesson 11/29

Yesterday's lesson was all about bowings. We're working on a theme here.

My scale for the day was g minor, 4 octaves, using our standard fingering so I start with 1st finger on the C string and play no open strings in the harmonic minor pattern, same fingerings both up and down. After the usual linked half notes at qu=88, we focused on the first four notes, then the first octave, eighth notes then sixteenth, up and down. T- is trying very hard to help me feel faster notes as groups and gestures, but it seems as though right now I can do either the notes OR the gestures, but not both together.

I noticed in orchestra rehearsal afterward, as we were reading Tchaikovsky's Romeo and Juliet Fantasy, that I can keep up with the fast notes quite fine, I just don't actually play them. It's like my eyes go out of focus when I see all of those black note heads grouped together. My bow goes on autopilot, while my eye tries desperately to grasp at least the highest or lowest note in the group and get that in sync.

Anyway, we applied some of my rhythms and accents to playing the fast one octave scale gestures, and as usual, when you add one new thing one of the old ones flies out the window - in this case, the shifting. The two shifts in this part of the scale are a whole step between IV and III and an extension between III and II, and the faster we went the more randomly those shifts were happening. I laughed, but it was in frustration.

We also looked at the first exercise in Sevcik Op. 2, Part 2. This is an etude in triplets covering the fingerboard through 4th position (it looked like on a quick glance), with 105 bowing variations. The idea is to learn the notes very, very well so that the bowings can be experienced in one-measure gestures. That's something I will enjoy, and can substitute for some of the Galamian scale bowing time I have been putting in. I can also use the myriad scale passages in the Tchaikovsky to practice chunks and gestures and rhythms, and maybe will gain the benefit of actually being able to play the right notes in orchestra.

And finally, we took a quick look at two more variation in my chord etude, the ones that have two or three down bow, then one quick note up bow, and then the next down bow is either up the arpeggio again, or down. There are several ways to get back to the frog for the down bow: 1) a fast martele stroke, so that the bow is moving faster on the up bow than the down, 2) a quick almost spicato up bow at the same bow speed as the down bow notes then move the bow through the air back to the frog, and 3) jump back to mid bow and play the up bow like a hooked note. #2 is the best approach, not only for these variations, but also for the one where the arpeggio up is slurred followed by 3 short notes up-down-up. Application: this bowing is found in the Saint-Saens concerto.

I like when I leave the lesson with a clear idea of which are the core elements I want to focus on for the next week.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Holiday spirit... or not

You Are a Yule Log

While you do have holiday spirit, you have a secret, heathen past.

I'm not sure that's quite right. While I can't speak to the pagan roots, I have been sadly lacking in holiday spirit in years past. I think it started when WGMS decided to air All Christmas Music All the Time from Thanksgiving until Christmas a few years ago. No other classical music. Drove me absolutely crazy. I hope they don't do that anymore, now that they have been consumed by WETA/NPR.

I am happy to report that, while festive lights are slowly appearing around the metro area, I have heard nary a holiday tune on the radio. Maybe in a few weeks I'll pull our little foot-high artificial Christmas tree out of the box and pretend we've decorated.

Thanks to This was a triumph for flushing out this 'idgit.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Chords redux

So, the second step in my lesson on chords, after learning to play them in the standard broken fashion, was to tackle the first bowing variation. This was simply playing each half note chord as four slurred eighth notes in the string pattern G-D-A-D, whatever the stopped notes on each string were.

The key to playing this pattern fast, and I assume all the others, is to learn to anticipate the changing bow levels across the strings with the upper arm leading the change. None of these patterns are played at the wrist, a common beginner mistake. The most entertaining part of the lesson was when T- had me pursuing function rather than notes, and I was flapping my bow arm like a goose trying to take off from the water. I had a good laugh, but that was definitely helpful.

So what's the trick? For me, it was dropping the arm downward from the shoulder before I moved the bow from the A to the D string. You can practice that slowly with the metronome to get the feel of it. On a down bow, put the beat on quarter notes (about mm=60), play open strings, and think: G and D and A drop D and, so the upper arm drops on the "and" of 3. Then, when changing the bow on the G string, be sure to drop to G before changing the bow direction.

This was the practice that made the most difference for me in Bach, going back the the 1st Prelude and taking a quick look at the 3d, inspired by PFS. Then today I read through the Martinu flute trio and found that, instead of panicking when I came to the broken chords, I found myself thinking "whew, bariolage, I can breath for a minute before I have to resume counting." Very worthwhile.

Shortly after my lesson I came across this video while perusing the blogs of random NaBloPoMo participants. The blogger wanted to discuss dreams, but I was excited to discover that this is a marvelous demonstration of that early shoulder drop in broken chords.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007


One of the (few) joys of being sick as a child was staying home from school and watching daytime TV. Even as an adult, sometimes I want something mindless to do in those periods between sleeping. So, during my recent illness I brought the small wireless TV I usually keep by the treadmill into the bedroom, and set it up on the bed. The next thing I knew, GiGi had taken advantage of the divots to situate herself for comfortable viewing.

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

Monday, November 26, 2007

Bath redux

Much as my cats like their cat sitter, life is best when their own people are home. Here are three relaxing after dinner, neatly apportioned, one cushion per cat. I turned my back after the photo, though, and the next thing I knew the symmetrical arrangement had collapsed into a bathing fest. GiGi appears to be the prime beneficiary.

Sunday, November 25, 2007


I realized several things at our wee dram party the other night.

1. I am slowly acquiring a taste for Scotch, though wouldn't rank it up there as my drink of choice yet. It was interesting to sample a wide variety at once, representing four of the five whiskey-producing "districts" and several different maturation processes, though not-so-much time-wise as which recycled casks (port or sherry) were used to add the final nose. Never fear, I learned my lesson about the delayed punch Scotch can carry while in Scotland, so my eight tastes added up to a whole wee dram, at best, and I awoke fully functional the next morning.

2. I have a number of pictures that I didn't blog during the last week of the trip while we were out of Internet contact. I think I might do a little nostalgic backtrack to post those before I forget what they are of entirely. I'm sure no one else has that problem with vacation pictures. My memory is so poor that after a couple of years going back is like taking somebody else's trip.

3. My very favorite souvenir from two weeks in Scotland is... Porridge. Not because I brought any home, but because I discovered it there.

I lived with my grandmother for a good part of my growing-up years, and it was her habit to send us off to school after a good breakfast of hot cereal and milk. My favorite was cornmeal mush, but we also had cream of wheat and, most often, oatmeal, which my family has always called "Mothers' Oats." Except me. Somehow I missed out on most of the local colloquialisms, perhaps because even at a very young age I was immersed in classic literature, which acted as an inoculation against some of the worst of those. Not that Mothers' Oats is bad, just that I have never met anyone else who called it that.

Oatmeal tasted fine, but it was not my favorite because it didn't have holding power. I was always hungry again by two hours after breakfast, and still had  two long hours until lunch, in the days before vending machines in schools when food outside the lunch room was treated as contraband. We didn't have instant oatmeal varieties, but I find those to be even worse. More processing seems to correlate with less rib-sticking. But porridge, ahh, what a difference the steel cut makes.

I was so excited to discover that the grocery store carries several varieties of steel-cut oatmeal, often referred to as Irish oatmeal, and even Quaker, the original Mothers' Oats, makes it now. I've tried them all, and this is what I've learned since Scotland.

* Don't bother with the pressed varieties. They don't taste appreciably different than Quaker. However, you can cook them in a microwave in three minutes, just remember to use a deep-enough bowl and never cook it on full power or it will explode all over the microwave.

* Slow-cooking steel-cut makes the best, longest lasting porridge, and I don't taste an appreciable difference between Quaker and McCann's. It's really not possible to cook it well in a microwave, though, and takes 30 minutes on the stove. I usually cook 4 servings at a time, eat one, feed one to DH, and save the other two in the refrigerator to decrease the average labor a little. When reheating, you need to add nearly the same volume of water as cereal, break up the porridge brick, and nuke for three minutes on 80% power.

* My favorite is the quick-cooking McCann's steel-cut oats. The steel-cut is slightly finer, but the texture is not too much different from the old-fashioned cut, and it works in the microwave. Nuke a single serving first for 3 minutes on 80% power, then for a second three minutes at 60% power. I don't know why oats have a tendency to rapidly expand in water at high temperatures, but I've cleaned enough microwaves and stove tops to know that they do. Please trust me, and don't feel the need to replicate those experiments.

* And finally, for whatever reason preparation instructions for oatmeal excludes salt in the cooking process. I assume they must be a little like dried beans, where salt in the water during cooking changes the texture. Or perhaps it's because salt allows for an even higher temperature leading to an even greater probability of exploding oatmeal. I elected not to perform those experiments, and merely add a shake of salt to the final product, before the brown sugar and cream.

Saturday, November 24, 2007


That was the temperature in the car, parked inside the airport parking ramp. Must have been colder here over the weekend, though, because the pond behind our house froze over.

Yesterday we made a pilgrimage downtown to purchase the supplies needed for a wee dram and Scotland pictures party, and it was such a beautiful afternoon that I pulled out the cell phone and snapped some touristy pictures while we were driving along Independence Avenue. Here's a little Washingtoniana for you.

Friday, November 23, 2007


That was the temperature when we landed yesterday, a nice fifty degree differential. We had an hour of gorgeousness, then a blustery front blew through, dropping the temperature but leaving us with a clear, crisp, and sunny Autumn Friday. Back to winter tomorrow.

Thursday, November 22, 2007


That's what the airport thermometer was displaying. I don't remember hearing snow in the forecast for today, or that it would be this cold. Looks like Christmas, but bleaker, because the lights aren't up yet. Safe travels, everyone, and have a grateful day, however you are spending it.