Thursday, March 29, 2007

Lesson Addendum

I almost forgot. We also discussed my frustration with the tendency of my thumb to dive in between the frog and the bow as I play. In addition to discussing the direction of the bow and possible reasons for this, T- demonstrated how the thumb should bend in response to the bending and extending of the fingers, which in turn flex and extend in response to the bow changing directions on the string. I made a quick movie of me demonstrating his demonstration, because it's a lot easier to show it than tell it.

Cello lesson 3/29

Scale: Db MAJ, 4 octaves. Scale in linked half notes only. Paused on the shift on the A string from F/3 to Gb/1. To make sure I was not playing the shift with the bow, played open G while shifting up, then back down, then bowed the A string during the same shift. Observe: there should be no extraneous bow sounds on open G. Also don't overplay the arrival note. Shifting finger releases tension during the shift, then recovers tension as the note is reached without excess tension or vibrato. Parenthetically, I am doing much better at releasing tension during downward shifts. This was a good exercise.

Etude: Duport #21, also in Db MAJ. This was not a coincidence. I had chosen the scale to complement learning the etude. Spent the rest of the time working on bow change motions, accentuated when playing short legato notes near the tip, which is where the 1/16 notes in the opening are played.
* Bow motion is horizontal. Think opposites. To-away, from-to, east-west, open-close. Just not push-pull, because it should be pull-pull.
* Think of bar sideways through wrist, along which wrist slides in its to and fro path.
* Thumb curved on down, straight on up.
* Hand changes in response to change of direction, not in preparation.
* Feel the breeze as the arm approaches the side during a big up bow.
I also need to spend some time with shifts across strings, making sure I am crossing strings with my arm, not my wrist, and preserving the bow change motion at the wrist. Example: from II 4/Ab to III 1/Db focus on new finger, new string, new bow and make sure everything happens at the right time. I think I could profitably work on just those 2-note string crossing + shift places.
We got to the first treble clef section today. Should have worked out the rest of the etude by next lesson.

Also discussed two more Cello Gym exercises.
1) 6 count, down p to f, up f to p dynamics. Use the "power bow" stroke, in which the arm stays firm at the elbow so that the pressure on the string is generated from the back, with primary arm motion at the shoulder. (Rather than most of the motion occurring with the forearm at the elbow in the upper half of the bow.) Use the scale. (Right hand strength.)
2) I don't think I quite got the details of this, but the essence is a trill exercise beginning on A-D in 4th position, 3,4 on A, 1,2 on D, trilling between 4-2 and 3-1. This is probably one of the first Cossmann daily exercises. Start with 8 notes /bow? /beat? Repeat in each 1/2 position down to nut. Ascend with 7 notes. Descend with 6 notes. etc. (Left hand strength, especially outer fingers.)
As with all Cello Gym exercises, each day perform only to the point of fatigue. Stop *before* there is any pain. The point is to build strength gradually over time.

T- would like me to start working on a Sonata in addition to my very slow progress through the Bach 2nd Suite. I have next week off, so my plan is to spend some time with the first movements of Grieg and Beethoven g minor and we can choose at my next lesson in two weeks.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Sausage Tummies

I have been horribly delinquent on posting pictures of The Sausage Kittens, our shorthand designation for the very fat and very healthy brood delivered by D-'s foster Juliet on March 1st. In this photo at age three weeks their eyes are wide open but not yet observant, and their squirming has become more directional, and occasionally looks almost like playing. The black kitten is exiting stage right, but we have a 50% tummy showing for Tummy Tuesday.

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

Monday, March 26, 2007

Luke and Leila Update

It's been awhile since I posted any cat entries, so when I got this e-mail from S- I thought it would would be nice to update you on the life of Luke and Leila (formerly Leia). These are two of the photos I took when I visited a couple of weeks ago. Curious that they seem to like backgrounds where they blend in best, little chameleons that they are.

From S-:
I just wanted to share the latest cute stories from Luke and Leila with you. Any time Leila decides to take a nap in an open area Luke decides it's his job to wake her up by biting her and playing with her. So to prevent this from happening, she has out-smarted him, imagine that! She now naps under the couch, bench seat, or table with the shelf on the bottom because Luke can't fit under any of these pieces of furniture! She naps in peace until she is ready to deal with him again! Give that girl credit, she is always thinking!

Sunday I had the windows open since it was so nice out and both L & L loved it! They were glued to the screen checking everything out. So when it finally started to rain I hated to have to close the window, so I was just watching to see if it was raining in the window jam before I shut them. I couldn't tell right away if it was raining in until I looked over at Luke and then it became pretty obvious. He was sitting in his perch and every time a rain drop would hit him in the face he would blink. It was absolutely hilarious! Don't get up and move, just sit there and blink! What a guy!

And I have to share last week's update, too:
I worked an extra long day yesterday and when I arrived home I was greeted by happy little kids. Until they realized the door was still open--silly me. They both rushed down the hall to the neighbors door to investigate. By the time I got to them, Leila heard the neighbor talk and the baby cry and she was gone back to her safe little home! Luke wasn't phased one bit and proceeded to check things out. After I scooped him up and went back into the house I had to delivered the appropriate amount of attention and affection. When they had their fill, they began to play.

After a few minutes, Luke came bounding from the glider by the window running full speed across the back of the couch and he ran right into the lamp on the table. Stopped him dead in his tracks! He shook his head and looked at me like why did I put that there? After I made sure he was all right he was off to another adventure.

A few minutes later, I noticed Miss Leila kept disappearing into the bathroom with various toys. When I got up to see what she was doing, I found a spring, a jack, a mouse, a tail to a mouse, a cow bell, and a few balls all strategically placed into her new favorite playground--the bathtub! She kept adding items through the evening! What a little princess!

Just a typical evening!

What scamps. After reading this it seems so quiet in my house.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Next concert

We don't have a date for our next concert yet, but Thursday night we read through the new music. The Maestro was occupied elsewhere, so we had a substitute conductor, a nice and very competent guy named Steve, who seemed well-known to the rest of the orchestra. The main theme of my thoughts since rehearsal is something along the lines of "Ouch!". I don't know if it was just two hours of reading, which means we had fewer breaks because we didn't stop as much to work, or if this is very bow-arm unfriendly music, but my tendinitis has definitely flared.

This is what we have in our folders:
(1) Dvorak's Slavanick Dances #3 and #8
There are evidently not convenient and well-stocked libraries for checking out orchestral parts available locally. The orchestra has a very small library, and the repertoire expands through generous gifts from patrons. This year, it seems like the patrons have been wind players, who have donated a number of pieces that "they" would like to play. Hence these Dances. We did 1 and 2 last concert, and will eventually do all 8. All I know is, they're fast, have a lot of double stops, are in string-unfriendly keys (#3 is in Ab and E), and are doing a number on my arm.

(2) Moussorgsky's Une nuit sur le mont chauvre, which sounds so much more elegant than Night on Bald Mountain. This one is fun if nuanced appropriately, and shouldn't cause too much strain if I don't overplay the fortes.

(3) Rossini's Overture to Die diebische Elster. WT? Aha - The Thieving Magpie. I knew I recognized it. I was initially annoyed that the stand behind us had missed the tenor clef, but then we discovered that they had been given a bass part. This won't be bad after a session to work out optimal fingerings. A little time on fast scalar passages, and again, don't overplay.

Well, that review makes me feel more optimistic. I don't really care for the Dvorak, but as long as I don't let myself get sucked in to trying to compete with the brass I think I can do a better job both of playing the music and protecting my tendons at future rehearsals.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

This one is for PFS

In case there was any doubt...

You Are 16% California

You are a bogus Californian. Go back to the East Coast.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Two things

Once you break a habit it's easy to keep it broken. I think that's the third law of thermodynamics, or something. It has been over three days since I posted, the longest break since I started blogging about six months ago. I guess I needed a vacation.

The best stimulus to practicing is being told you aren't allowed to practice. Since the Occupational Therapist gave me my practice schedule of 5 minutes twice a day I have practiced two hours a day. I started out being very good about bowing only 5 minutes of each hour, but yesterday and today did some "no tension" bowing in addition. The funny thing is, when I concentrate on not using much bow and no pressure at all my sound gets better and better. I think there's a good chance that I will have improved my bowing mechanics in addition to having cleared up my tennis elbow in a few weeks.


Saturday, March 17, 2007

The week in review

When I started this blog, I decided to limit myself to one main topic per post. I thought a shorter post looks more accessible and is more likely to be read. When it became apparent that I have two separate topics, and that "cat people" read "cat posts" and "cello people" read "cello posts," it helped them (you) to clearly see which was which. It helped me to focus my thoughts and complete my ideas. One downside, though: it's kept me from writing on occasion when I have too many things to talk about and not enough time to do justice to them all.

Like this past week or two. If you have been following his blog, you have seen Guanaco mention the social network web site we have been building for cello bloggers on Ning. We called it CelloBloggers... imagine that. It's taken some time away from blogging to set it up, and while I expect we will continue to improve it over time, it's now up and running and ready to welcome members. We elected to set it up as a private network to decrease the likelihood of spammers, which means you need to request an invitation to join, but don't let that be an impediment. If you are a blogging cellist, stop by the site and request an invitation.

And now completely violating my single-subject intent, here's my digest of events for March (so far):
* Eden and Charlie left yesterday for a new home with a lovely young couple and another 3-year-old female cat named Cookie, who reportedly looks just like Eden. We're missing them here, as always, and anxiously awaiting news about how they're adjusting, and what their new names will be. My bigs seem happy to have my full attention. I'm undoubtedly anthropomorphising, but I'm sure I heard a big sigh of relief that now they would get some rest, followed by whines of boredom, "Mom, where are the littles? I want to play!"

* Last weekend I visited Luke and Leia (now Leila) in their new home. They are obviously happy and healthy, and up to 5 lbs. Leila is going to be a petite thing, but Luke has a manly ruff and some big feet on him. He has a way to grow. They were very playful and social, but I never had the impression that they remembered who I was. That's good. I loved seeing them happy and well-adjusted.

* D-'s foster kittens are big and growing fast. We're calling them the Sausage Kittens because they are so darn fat, though they will be given Shakespearean names in honor of their mother, Juliet. I've got a bunch of pictures I need to post.

* Physical therapy on my knee is going well. I can walk and climb stairs normally, but am missing my aerobic exercise. Walking too long aggravates things, and I can't run yet. Was biking, but had to cut back on that this week, as well as some of the exercises, because I've developed a "click." Still sorting that out.

* I also started occupational therapy to try to clear up the last of this lingering tennis elbow in my bow arm. The massage, ultrasound, and iontophoresis seem to helping, after only one session. I'm also supposed to be wearing a brace at night, but that lasts only until I wake up claustrophobic at 2 am and have to take it off. And here's the hardest part: my practice schedule is supposed to be 5 minutes twice a day, separated by an hour of rest. I decided to interpret that as 5 minutes of bowing plus 50 minutes of left hand playing, quiet pizz while wearing the brace, and cognitive work. We'll see what the OT has to say about that next week.

* DH turned 50 this month. So far we've had three parties. He seems to be holding up well.

* And lastly, this is my green thing for St. Patty's Day. Yum.

Thursday, March 15, 2007


I had an interesting experience playing in church this past Sunday.

I'm still figuring out the routine, but so far we have had one or two pieces with choir that we rehearse ahead of time, plus two or more hymn arrangements that we get music for on the way in to final rehearsal 30 minutes before services start. Then it's a quick run through to learn the road map, and maybe touch up a trouble spot. Maybe. If not, at least you know it is there.

Last Sunday one of the hymns was in D MAJ, and the road map was play three verses, the first in C, the second in Db, and the third in D. Orchestra was to sit out the first verse, play the second quietly, then forte for the third.

Well this is cool, I thought. I've never transposed a cello piece in a performance, but in piano class we transpose nearly every piece right now. They're all in five-finger patterns, so no big deal. I struggled to play through by intervals, like on the piano. Hit a few clunkers, but overall did better than I expected.

It wasn't until after I left that I realized all I needed to do was read the notes and think the key signature with 5 flats. Duh.

Does anyone out there have any secrets for transposing on the cello?

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Concert report

I know, I know. I am very delinquent. This is how the concert last Thursday went.

The Program:
Mozart Overture to The Marriage of Figaro
Dvorak Slavanick Dance #2
Faure Elegie (with our principal cellist as soloist)
Humperdinck Overture to Hansel and Gretl
Mozart Horn Concerto in Eb (again our own soloist, a medical student, playing from memory)
Dvorak Slavanick Dance #1

My orchestra is associated with the local university hospital, and was originally started to give the musician physicians an outlet for performing. When this group of players proved somewhat unreliable ~g~ it expanded to include other employees, family members, and interested community players. They used to perform in the hospital lobby, always well-received, until the lobby was remodeled. First the construction, then it was smaller, then some bean counter decided it wasn't a place for concerts, anyway.

This was our second concert at a new venue, one of the churches on campus. We played in the moderately-sized sanctuary, stone finishes, wooden pews, two-story walls with the stained glass windows placed high. As we discovered last time, these are in exactly the right position for the sun at noon to stream down into the faces of the cello section.

The strings set up on the floor between the first row of pews and the pulpit area (which probably has a more specific name that I don't know), which was 6 steps higher, and upon which four rows of brass and woodwinds set up in a compact square, with percussion in the far rear. I have no idea how that worked acoustically in the sanctuary. From the floor, I could hear the winds much better than the strings, and myself not much at all, but took heart when the Maestro shushed us a few times that I was actually making some sound.

I really enjoyed hearing the Elegie with orchestra instead of piano. Our parts were a gift to the orchestra, presented by the principal cellist's wife, who is also the principal flautist. Isn't that sweet? I think they have played with the orchestra since its inception 13-or-so years ago. J- has played cello since childhood, and said he first learned the piece as a teen by sounding it out after hearing it on the radio. You know, I can't remember the last time I heard it on the radio.

The most entertaining moment of the concert (for me) happened just after Elegie, at the beginning of Hansel and Gretl. We had very little rehearsal time on this piece, it being the last-minute substitution for the Bach Double after the recent injury of one of the violin soloists. We played it at our last concert, and I was really happy when we turned that music back in. So it wasn't exactly an old friend, and I decided that with no time to practice properly I was just going to practice my faking skills. But that's not the entertaining part.

The Overture opens with a brass chorale for 7.5 measures before the strings enter together. J- had just moved his chair back into position next to me, and was regrouping after his lovely performance of the Faure. He's sitting there counting. We're both sitting there counting. I get ready to play, confident about where we are to begin because of both my count and the auditory cues. He's still counting with the bow resting in his lap. That makes me a little uncertain, but I *know* we're supposed to start now. The strings come in. He scrambles to get going, omitting the customary flourish with which he brings in the section. I am having a great deal of difficulty containing my mirth.

I like playing with J-. The concert was fun, and yes, I think it sounded well. I believe it was recorded, and if we get access to the mp3s I'll share a bit with you later.

Thursday, March 08, 2007


One of my fondest dreams is that someday I will go in to a concert feeling completely prepared and supremely confident about what I am going to play.

Alas, someday is not tomorrow.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Just-in-time practicing

I hate when it comes to this.

I like my practices to be somewhat leisurely. Plenty of time to play scales and etudes without pressure, work on difficult parts of the pieces I am learning for orchestra or piano trio, play through pieces as I learn them better. In fact, I have been known to brag to my teachers that I never practice "for a lesson." I just practice. And am therefore always prepared.

Not this week. I spent the weekend helping Guanaco build an on-line home for cello bloggers. It's like an addiction. If the computer won't do what I want it to do, I must make it comply. Comply. Comply. Comply, darn you.

So, having shorted my practice time over the weekend, this week I am cramming for piano trio tonight, tomorrow for church orchestra rehearsal, and Thursday for orchestra rehearsal and, sorry to say, cello lesson.

Did I mention that we have a concert on Friday?

Friday, March 02, 2007

Baby watch

The Midwest was hit by a big snowstorm yesterday, our second within a week. You may have read about it. It was bad enough here that my orchestra rehearsal was canceled, with a concert looming next Friday and a last-minute change in the program after one of the violin soloists injured her shoulder this week. I decided not to risk getting stuck in the snow with a bum knee, so missed a cello lesson, too. Felt a little less like a wimp when they closed the music school before my lesson time, anyway.

So I had a lovely day at home, playing with kittens, blogging, practicing, e-mailing, reading... too many things. I had a touch of cabin fever, being stuck inside watching the snow fall, and didn't stick with anything for very long.

I got an e-mail from D-, who had made it in to work before the roads got really bad. As you might recall, Charlie and Eden moved in with me in order to make room for a pregnant cat at D-'s house. The cat's name is now Juliet, though she was originally named Romeo by a shelter volunteer who might benefit from a little more training ~g~. We've been on baby watch for a week. Her note:

I had a wild night with Juliet. She got to spend time with me in my bedroom after I got home from your place. She was restless, moving from under the covers next to me to laying on my chest to hiding under the bed. I put her back in the bathroom for overnight by 10 or 11. At 2am she woke me up making a racket scratching at the door and crying and such, so I went to check on her. Everything seemed fine but she really wanted to cuddle. Her canned food was gone so I gave her more and went back to bed. Then at 4am she woke me up again with the same craziness. This time I brought in some new alternatives for her birthing space: a cardboard box lined with newspapers and larger litterbox with a cover to replace the small one she had. She checked out the cardboard box and messed up the newspapers, then climbed right into the litterbox and started scratching and scratching in there and settling in. Well, I wasn't going to have her giving birth in her litterbox, so I got another clean empty covered litterbox and lined it with newspapers. She crawled in there and started scratching again and then tearing the newspaper into strips with her teeth. No babies though, so I finally went back to bed. And, still no babies this morning, but she is certainly nesting!

She also asked me to dig up a couple of references on birthing kittens (referred to as queening). Those references strongly suggested that birth is imminent when the cat is displaying this level of nesting behavior, and if you've peeked below you know already that they were right. There were 2 kittens waiting for D- when she got home, with 2 following in rapid succession and 2 more a little later.

Darn. I had predicted 7.

Momma and babies are doing well.

Thursday, March 01, 2007


Purr-rrr-k-rrr-k-rr-kchoo! The kittens came home from the vet with a little URI. Just sneezing. A little watery eye. But no discolored discharges, fever, or respiratory difficulty. Some liquid stools, but that resolved with a day of plain yoghurt supplementing their meals. (They love that stuff. Who knew?)

But here's something I haven't seen before. They have pretty much stopped sneezing. Except - when they purr. I have been getting skeptical responses when I describe that to the cat rescue people. I can almost see the raised eyebrows over the phone, and no emoticons required in e-mail. But really - they purr, they sneeze, or possibly cough. Still.

Eden had a little bout today that I couldn't catch quickly enough, but here is the video proof. Charlie, would you purr for us, please?