Friday, June 29, 2007

Summer program

Looks like I'll be able to practice some orchestra music this week, after all.

I got an e-mail today from our volunteer not-exactly-librarian-but-guy-who-takes-responsibility-for-filling-folders, listing the complete program for our concerts in two plus weeks:

Custer A Salute to the Big Apple
Lerner Camelot
Bizet Carmen Suite No. 2
Webber Evita
Mendelssohn Fingal's Cave
Rodgers King and I
Grieg Peer Gynt Suite No. 1
Webber Phantom of the Opera
Brahms Serenade No. 1
Vivaldi Summer
Rodgers Victory at Sea

Yikes, that's a lot of music. But good news for my possibility of future competence: I invested in several volumes of The Orchestra Musician's CD-ROM Library of cello parts a few months ago, and it looks like I have parts there for Brahms, Mendelssohn, Bizet, and Grieg. (Oooh - they're on sale at Shar this week. Maybe I'll grab the other volumes.)

Wow, what a great resource. I'd better get to work.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Back in the saddle

Woo hoo! I finally made it to orchestra rehearsal, five weeks after surgery. The limiting factor is that it is a good quarter mile hike with cello (no wheels) from the parking lot to the rehearsal space. I was tired, and almost late thanks to a ridiculous volume of traffic - I left early and it took an hour to get there. Grumble.

Tonight was pops night. For some reason we are rehearsing with and without brass on alternate weeks, and when the brass shows, we run the pops numbers. I remember Camelot, The King and I, New York, Evita... and I don't remember at least one other.

Why don't I peek in the folder so I can list everything? Oops, no folder. They were short of music, so I will be sight-reading for another week. The good news is that I don't have to practice any orchestra music this week. The bad news is that I think we are rehearsing the Brahms Serenade and Mendelssohn's Fingal's Cave next week. I'm going to die.

Concerts are July 17th and 18th.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Gig Book

A few months ago I joined my church orchestra, and on the same day a "more advanced" high school cellist joined. He brought his concerto music with him to every rehearsal and performance, played beautifully, and was lost most of the time. I helped as much as I could, but there's not a lot of down time when you have one rehearsal for half the music and get copies of the other half as you are climbing the platform on Sunday morning.

As I settled comfortably into the routine of rapidly preparing my music for practice and performing, I realized that I have either learned or discovered a bunch of common techniques for playing well in this kind of performance environment. I hadn't realized they were common until I saw many of my fellow orchestra members doing the same things, and I hadn't realized that everybody didn't automatically know how to do this stuff until I saw my fellow cellist struggling.

This is what I do:

Prepare a gig book
I have found a three-ring binder works best. Usually you are working with single-sided copies, and keeping them loose in a folder is just asking for things to get out of order. The music goes into the book in performance order. Save alphabetizing or other methods of organization for a separate archive.

Organize each selection
Start by punching holes in the music copies along both sides of the page. Then put the pages in the gig book in the best way to minimize page turns or disruptions in your line if turns are necessary. Ways that almost always work:

2 pages: 1st page goes backwards so you see p1 on the left and p2 on the right

3 pages: 1st two pages as above, p3 forward IF there is a good turning point at the bottom of p2. Vice versa if the best turning point is at the bottom of p1. Otherwise, p3 loose behind p2 and pull it out so you have three pages across stand BEFORE you start playing. If I have more than one crack at playing the piece I trim one side of p3 and tape it to p2, fronts together, then open it up to three across.

4 pages: usually p1 and p2 facing, page turn, p3 and p4 facing. If the bottom of p2 is critical, try p1 up, page turn, p2 and p3 facing, page turn, p4, or a variation with three pages across and one page turn. If the bottoms of both p1 and p3 are critical, there is one other option. Trim p1, tape to p2 facing. Trim p4, tape to p3 facing. Open all four pages across the stand, starting so you can see 1-3 with 4 falling off to the side. Mark "MOVE" at some convenient point after p1 and move the book to the left so you can see p4.

etc. Apply the above principles to group any larger number of pages.

Good page turning and moving points are not always long rests. Also look for rhythm motifs you can play on an open string. You can bow it while turning the page with your left hand. Or, if there are only one or two measures after the page turn before a good rest or open string part, write in those couple of measures at the bottom of the page and turn afterward. And ditto with one or two measures you can write in at the top of the next page so you can turn early.

Mark the road map
Choir pieces often have repeats, some of which become omitted. Cross them out boldly. Write in whatever signs you need to tell you where to go next. The lighting on stage or in the pit is, shall we say, suboptimal. Make sure you can see it.

Hymns. Seem simple. Play these four lines over and over. But how many times? At the top of each hymn, write down how many verses you are playing, and sometimes which ones to sit out, and sometimes which key to transpose to. My favorite to date:
v1 as written (was in D MAJ)
v2 tacit (organ)
v3 Db
v4 C
It may seem obvious during the run-through, but I guarantee it won't in the service when it is one of four tunes in rapid succession. Write it down.

Enough for one day. If I get around to it, I'll write a little bit about rehearsal and practice techniques I find useful in these playing situations.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Sugar spots

This photo was taken at the same time as the Double Mint photo I posted last week. I think it was my snapping away at the sleeping Candy and Sugar that invited Cricket and John to join us. I loved Sugar's tummy, with spots in both black and red. You can see a few of the all-black spots on Candy's tummy, too.

I visited Sweetie at the shelter on my way home from piano lesson yesterday afternoon. She's in a cage in the "sick" section, finishing up 10 days of antibiotics for that sneezing I noticed last time. The disadvantage of being there is that she is separated from other cats and has a more confined space, and also that people are more hesitant about adopting cats who are over there.

Aside: I adopted Cricket from the sick area of her shelter. That shelter had the rule that once you entered the sick area you didn't return to the general floor. If there was no room in foster care, that was the end of the road for you. I do NOT like shelters that have those kinds of policies. Fortunately for both of us, that was not the end of Cricket's road.

The advantage of being sick at Sweetie's shelter is that you get fed canned food, which is clearly her preference. She looked much better than when I saw her last visit, and we enjoyed a little around-the-bars snuggle. Fingers crossed for when she goes back to the main adoption floor.

One of my assignments for piano lesson next week is La Cinquantine, arranged as a (piano) duet with my fellow student. I mentioned that the tune is commonly found in an arrangement for intermediate cellists, as well. So I have the additional assignment of preparing it on the cello in a minor, if it's not already, to play with the piano accompaniment. That should be fun. And my new routine is to stop and visit Sweetie on the way home from lessons, hoping each time I will find she has been adopted.

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

Monday, June 25, 2007

Sleeping in

I love the rare weekend (almost always) day when DH and I choose to sleep in rather than starting the usual routine at the crack of dawn. Or earlier. After an initial protest, the cats begrudgingly accept that breakfast is going to be later than usual and contribute to the general laziness, an activity at which cats excel. These photos are from last Sunday, not this one just passed, because Jack was there to join us.

It was sweet, how quickly my bigs took to Jack. This looks like a family portrait. I wonder what they're looking at?

Here's a view from behind. That's Sharae, my other orphan foster on semi-permanent loan from D-'s house, a bundle of good will and energy. She's an excellent couch potato when you want to watch a movie or a little TV, but not so good at general laziness.

Here's Sharae letting us know that sleeping in has lasted long enough.

Friday, June 22, 2007


I'm so sorry. The valiant Captain Jack didn't make it. After multiple enemas he still wasn't moving stool, so they put him under anesthesia to manually disimpact him. That didn't work, either. He had a pelvis fracture, which was displaced and blocking the hardened stool from exiting, as well as a fracture of the head of his femur on the good x-rays they were able to take under anesthesia.

There was really nothing else to do. You can't fix this kind of problem in a kitten. He was humanely euthanized while under anesthesia.

I will be forever amazed at what a kitten Jack was, doing all the things that kittens do with an unsuspected fractured pelvis and a broken leg. The only time he seemed to be in pain was when the stool stopped passing. Such a brave and loving little soul, and such a huge hole a little kitten leaves behind. I know I'm not the only one missing him.

Thursday, June 21, 2007


It's been a busy week. The new kittens have severe diarrhea (there's a surprise) so have been in to the vet for hydration twice already. Today I got a little training and supplies so I can do it at home. I must say, the kittens objected much more vociferously than the adult cats with renal failure I've treated in the past. This looks like a 2 person job.

Captain Jack went back in the hospital with another bout of severe constipation. At least I recognized what was going on earlier, so he wasn't quite so sick this time. But the poor little guy still isn't passing stool after multiple enemas, so he's not ready to come home yet.

Lot's of driving, as neither vet is close to me. Not much practicing happening. I guess I don't feel much like playing right now. Not too worried yet; sometimes I just need to take a break.

Was hoping to get to orchestra rehearsal today, but was worn out by the emergency vet trip. Stamina's not returned yet. Good news, though: on Monday my knee bent enough to turn the pedals on the bike completely over, so I was able to spin for 10 minutes. At last. I need some endorphans. Three more rehearsals until the summer concerts, so I really hope I'm up to going next week.

And finally, last night I disassembled my computer so that I could put in a rug and computer shelves, and hopefully lose the rats' nest of wires. Alas, the power cord won't fit through the slot in back, so I'm computerless until I get to the store for a narrower extension cord. Trusty Treo to the rescue.

And that's the news.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Country Cousins

The new kittens are settling in nicely. I think the diarrhea is most likely due to the stress of a long trip in a cat carrier along with a newly-enrichened diet. I'm feeding them Authority kitten loaf, which I have found to be a nice bland diet that was not on recent recall lists, laced with acidophilus, and have already found one semi-formed stool in the box.

Having burned off the excess energy, I find I have a nursery full of velvety soft purring cuddlers. Big and healthy, too. Looks like they're fresh off the farm. They weigh about the same as Captain Jack, but look twice as big. Huge feet and thick coats.

Here's a couple minutes of morning play time for your vicarious kitten-viewing pleasure. That's JJ trying to finish of the last bit of breakfast, and Elle the annoying tail-pulling sister.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Alphabet Soup

Did I mention I've had a small remodeling project going on for the past two weeks? The work area included the Nursery, where we replaced the toilet (wanted one that flushes reliably) and the vent fan (kittens were scared by the old one, which sounded like a 747 taking off). The vent fan was probably the more critical, sorely missed when I had 7 cats with diarrhea in there.

The work was finished on Friday, and on Sunday afternoon we moved in a new family of kittens. These came to attention when an older sister appeared at a feeding station "down south" with a huge purple mass instead of an eye. The sister was presumably from the litter before these kittens, who looked to be about six weeks old. The nice lady who was feeding them brought them inside while looking for assistance for the patient. The local rescue group agreed to help out, and I became the official foster home that allowed them to bring the kittens up, too.

These aren't shelter kittens, so I had to learn a whole new intake protocol, which included a physical exam, weights, first deworming, and toenail clipping. Also cleaning off the bottom of one who had diarrhea. They have evidently been cooped up for about two weeks, and letting them out of the carrier was like releasing a cyclone into the nursery. In about 5 minutes there was litter and poop everywhere. Ugh. That's why they start out in a bathroom.

After an hour of bouncing off the walls I fed them, and here they are at their first meal. From the top and clockwise we have JJ looking at you, GiGi, Elle, and QT. They needed names before they go to the vet for a check-up, and I went with an alphabet theme.

The remainder of this post is their medical log. I'll have more pictures later.


Date GiGi JJ Elle QT
6/17 Su 28 29 30 30
6/20 W 28.5 27 31 31
6/21 Th 29 27 29.5 30.5
6/22 F 29 26 28.5 31.5
6/23 Sa 28.5 26.5 28.5 31.5
6/24 Su 29.5 27 30 33
6/25 M 30 30.5 33 32.5
6/26 Tu 33 33 36 34+
6/27 W 32 33 35 36
6/28 Th 35 33 34 35.5
6/29 F 36.5 36.5 36 34
7/2 M 35 38.5 36 37
7/7 Sa 38 37 37.5 38.5
7/17 2+13.5 2+15 2+15.5 3+5

GiGi - brown classic tabby with white feet
JJ - brown classic tabby with "bulls eye", white feet, white stripe on belly
Elle - dilute torbie with classic pattern and white feet, lots of pink!
QT - marmalade mackerel tabby with white feet


4/29 Est. DOB
6/17 Arrived
Strongid 0.5 cc
No fleas or ear mites seen
Nails clipped
Diarrhea (pooled brown): QT and GiGi, at least
6/20 Vet check LAH
JJ SQ hydrated
Start i/d diet
6/21 ThWatery yellow diarrhea
All SQ hydrated
stool still Neg
Start Albon 0.90 then 0.45 cc qd
6/26 T Vomiting, may have been overfeeding.
(Note high wts p bfast.) QT also after Baby Cat.
Stop Baby Cat, start DM kibble.
6/28 Th Incr Albon to 0.5cc
6/30 Sa Change kibble to DM + Evo + Wellness + i/d
(nearly out of DM)
7/1 Su Strongid #2 0.6cc (new bottle)
7/7 Sa Distemper #1
7/20 F Last Albon
7/21 Sa Strongid #3 0.7cc
7/24 W Spay/Neuter
All FIV/FeLV Neg
8/2 Th Distemper #2
Cestex (L,GG,JJ)
8/27 M JJ ponazuril 0.35cc paste
(5.5 lbs, recurrent diarrhea)
8/28 Tu Elle ponazuril ~0.35cc paste
(5 lbs 2 oz, recurrent diarrhea)
Both JJ and Elle had liquid diarrhea w/blood spots today
11/9 F GiGi well-visit @ WPC. Someone's stools POS for clostridium and giardia cyst. GiGi has significant gingivitis.
Panacure qd x 5d
Distemper #3
Rabies #1
1/5-26/2008 Gigi Three week course of doxycycline 50mg/ml, 0.5cc BID for gingivitis (John had mycoplasma hemofelis on biopsy)

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Captain Jack Log

Date Oz.
6/15 27.5
6/17 29+
6/19 28


6/17 touches down with R, sl wt bearing
holds R up to wash around
sl stretch with R toes flaring
scratches chin with R
two-footed hoppy run
6/18 Diarrhea, Solid Gold?, held lactulose

Sharae Log


Date Oz.
4/25 19
5/23 22
5/31 24
6/13 38
6/15 40.5
6/19 41
6/26 40
7/1 46
7/17 3+8


3/24 SaEst DOB
4/23 M Arrived from RLIR
4/25 W LAH
4/27 Strongid #1
5/11 Strongid #2
5/23 W LAH: FIP, FIV/FeLV Neg
5/25 Strongid #3
5/30 LAH: mildly anemic
? incr WBC; Start Clavamox 0.2cc BID
6/6 TRF to ggp
6/16 Distemper #1
6/17 last clavimox
7/7 Diarrhea c/w coccidia
Started Albon 0.6cc
7/14 Distemper #2
7/20 Last Albon
7/24 Spay
Repeat WBC WNL
7/28 Repeat FIV/FeLV Neg
8/2 Cestex
8/11 URI with green d/c OD
amoxicillin 1.0cc then 0.5cc BID
8/12 conjuctivitis with periocular swelling OD
warm soaks and gent ophth OD TID
8/16 Dr. H @ WPC
8/17 Revolution applied
8/21 last amox, gent ophth
11/9-13/2007 Panacure qd x 5 days
(Soneone's stools tested POS for clostridium and giardia cyst)
12/14/2007 Distemper #3
Rabies #1
1/5-26/2008 Three week course of doxycycline 50mg/ml, 0.5cc BID for gingivitis (John had mycoplasma hemofelis on biopsy)

Friday, June 15, 2007

Double Mint

For the first two weeks after surgery I was under orders not to climb stairs, based on my surgeon's experience of patients having a higher likelihood of injuring their repaired limbs in stair accidents than anything else, so I camped out on the fold-out couch in the guest room. One evening Sugar and Candy joined me there, and soon after, Cricket and John. I don't know, seeing the pairs curled up together just gives me warm fuzzies.

It also called up a mental association. Sometimes a good way to practice a shift that is giving me problems is to work things out both forward, as the shift is in the music, and backward. T- calls that "double minting" the shift. Even though the backward shift seems to be irrelevant, you are working out the balance of the shift and kinesthetically training your arm joints about distances.

Thought you might enjoy that pictorial reminder.

Thursday, June 14, 2007


Guess who showed up on my doorstep last night? Jack in a box, carried by D-, who had sprung him from the kitty hospital on her way home from work. She knew I was feeling bummed about Sweetie, and figured a kitten in need of nursing care would cheer me up. We read the copy of his medical records to figure out what all needed to be done for him - poor guy, he must have had a hundred enemas since the weekend. Well, two or three a day, anyway, and he got SQ hydration a few times and was started on lactulose to loosen his bowels and help keep them moving.

Jack looked great, and fortunately the only confinement orders are to not allow him to climb stairs. Sharea was delighted to see her old buddy, after the obligate hisses and bops to let him know who was in charge of this house. He looks to be improving slowly but steadily, using his bad leg for balance with decent proximal control, and having muscular control of the proximal two inches of his tail. That means a lot in terms of cleanliness, because he can lift it out of the way when he eliminates.

Stool is softer than toothpaste, but he has control of the urge to defecate. He's still lacking that last bit of sphincter strength to clean things off completely sometimes, so I do have to keep an eye on the floor. Things are looking up for little Captain Jack.

Jack's not the only gimp in the house, so we commiserate with each other. These are a few photos of my other buddy, the Cryo Cuff.

For over three weeks now I've looked even more like a What Not To Wear refugee than I usually do. Here's my typical garment, the sweat pant, covering my lumpy left knee.

Concealed is a Cryo Cuff and a stocking. I thought the stocking was to compress the swelling, but my surgeon informed me at my last visit that is is mostly there to protect my skin from the Cryo Cuff.

The cuff has a valve that attaches to a tube that runs to a cooler filled with ice and water. Attach the tube, open the air valve and put the cooler on the floor and the warm water drains out of the cuff.

Raise the cooler with the air vent open and the cuff fills with ice water. The cooler lives on my kitchen counter during the day. It's like a little filling station where I stop every hour or two to fill up.

That's the life of a gimp. TLC for what hurts or doesn't work well while waiting for things to get better. In the meantime, doing what you can. And on that note, here's a video clip of Sharea and Jack playing before he went back to the hospital. Even with that leg not working well at all he completely acts like a kitten, though you can see that he was excessively concerned about what was going on behind at the time.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007


Today I stopped by the shelter to visit Sweetie. I'm not sure I should have, but I'm sure I can't not. That's just the way I am. The kittens have all been adopted, which is a good thing, I suppose.

Sweetie is housed in a nice room with four other cats, a tall cat pole with multiple levels for roosting, some overturned litterbox tops, like turtle shells, for hiding under (what a great idea), and litterboxes, and food, of course.

Her roommates were very pleasant. Several of them greeted me, and one, a three-year-old female who is a mini-Madeleine, spent most of the visit in my lap, presenting her spay scar for me to admire.

Sweetie was crouched in a litter box, looking rather unhappy, I must say. I sat and talked to her, and after a few moments a look of recognition crossed her face and she gave me "kitty kisses," that slow eye squinting thing cats do to recognize you. She let me pet her briefly, until she moved into a turtle shell with a large tuxedo cat who looked remarkably like John.

During all this she let out strings of sneezes, so she has obviously caught a cold, which accounts for some of her miserable demeanor.

I worry about lots of things, but now I am most worried about how she will compete in the adoption race with her unremarkable tabby coloring (at least in her present state of scruffiness) and her cold. Especially against all the kittens who will soon be flooding the shelter. People, spay your pets!

Like PFS says, I'm going crawl away to sob for awhile now, before I dust myself off to return to the fray. But I think I had better stick to the orphans. The mommas' lot is too hard for me to bear.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Captain Jack

I had two visitors over the weekend - orphan kittens who needed more than a daily visit when my friend and co-foster parent D- went away for the weekend. One of them was Sharea, whom you met in a previous post. The other was a little tuxedo boy who's been through a few names already in his maybe eight weeks of life, and is currently going by Captain Jack, or Jack, or sometimes Jackie.

Isn't that a cute tummy? Every tuxedo cat is unique. Jack has a little white bikini, and you can see just the bottom outline of his black heart - just like Cricket's!

Jack was taken in by the rescue group from a veterinarian's office, where he had made his way after possibly being hit by a car and deposited on a Good Samaritan's doorstep. He has a spinal cord injury that currently leaves him with a nearly paralyzed right hind limb and tail, and some bowel and bladder dysfunction that has yet to be fully defined.

Unfortunately, as I watched him over the weekend it became apparent that he was actually incontinent of stool, and not doing well at all in trying to evacuate his little bowels properly. When he vomited a couple of times and his distress levels increased I took him back to the vet, where we discovered a very large, distended colon that was FOS. (You can figure out what that means.) So he stayed there for a few kitty enemas and observation.

D- and I visited him in the hospital yesterday. He's showing some slow recovery in the muscles around his hip and tail, so we're all hopeful that this little bout of constipation was primarily a side-effect of his pain meds, and that once he's cleaned out and with some recovery time his bowel function will normalize. I hope so. He'll be very hard to adopt out if he's incontinent.

But while we're waiting for all that to sort out, we're enjoying Captain Jack. He's a little scruffy right now, but you know I have a weakness for tuxedo cats. My bigs seemed delighted to have kitten company, especially without a momma attached. D- has a theory that cats make friends more easily when they look like each other. I don't know if that's true, but it was very cute seeing Cricket meeting Jack. You could just see his little pea brain working, "Momma!," as he ran forward to try to nurse. Cricket was so funny, alternately growling, bopping, and washing him, as those warring emotions worked themselves out on her face.

Say a prayer for a little guy who's had a hard start in life.

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

Monday, June 11, 2007

Sweetie the Mooch

You probably don't remember, but in one of my first posts describing Sweetie and the Sugar Babies I mentioned that Sweetie likes donuts. I captured some of the evidence on video. In one hand I have the camera, and in the other, a donut. As I recall, it was half of a rather stale old-fashioned buttermilk donut that I was eating for breakfast. (I'm not proud, but I do occasionally have entirely non-nutritious CHO-laden junk food for breakfast.)

She really, really wanted a bite of that donut.

In subsequent weeks, DH and I modified our behavior to accommodate a cat that was interested in any food that was left on the counter, as well as on our dinner plates. My own cats are well-behaved, and I think nothing of leaving food out on the counters. Here is the evidence of a few of our lapses, and some that I have never experienced with a cat before.

Eating the popcorn with Sweetie circling the bowl was a feat. I put the last couple of handfuls in a baggie and left it on the kitchen counter. The next morning I found it on the floor, and you can get some idea here of the holes that had been chewed in the bag.

What a pretty cat, sitting calmly on the floor in the kitchen. But what's that on the counter?

No loaf of bread was safe with Sweetie in the house. This was the result whenever we forgot to close the garage door on the bread and toaster.

One day DH set his briefcase down on a chair by the counter when he came home from work. What is that faintly groaty thing sticking out of the open pocket?

Looks like an uneaten ham and cheese sandwich from lunch. I hope he didn't intend to eat that later. It was clearly too much for Sweetie to resist. She's made quite a project of trying to dig it out of the barely opened pocket.

Here she is, caught in the act. We had obviously become a little too complacent, but who would have thought she's go after a bag of cantaloupe?

Eh. Not cantaloupe. She was eating the corner of a napkin that had been used to mop up something greasy. A bit of donut, perhaps?

Two days before Sweetie went back to the shelter (she returned last Sunday with the last two kittens, Candy and Sugar) it occurred to me that with such a strong drive for food, Sweetie was a good candidate for clicker training. That's short-hand for positive-reinforcement-based training where a sound (click) is used to mark exactly the behavior you are trying to encourage, and then something the animal desires, usually food, is given to them as a reward.

We were having salmon for dinner, and as usual were closely guarding our plates as Sweetie circled around the backs of our chairs, onto the window sill, making attempts on the table. First I set her down on the floor, clicked (I used a tongue click, the "tock" that you make when you remove your tongue from the roof of your mouth under pressure), and gave her a bit of salmon. You should have seen the surprised look on her face.

Thereafter, I CTd (clicked-treated) any movement away from the table. I CTd the first motion toward sitting. Soon her butt was glued to the floor. Every couple of minutes of sitting, I rewarded her again. By the end of dinner I had a cat who was quietly begging, sitting by my chair, instead of making strafing runs on my plate. This took no more than 10 small bits of salmon. At the end of dinner she got one last click, then a bonanza of all of the salmon skin cut up in small pieces, on a plate in the place where she usually eats.

DH was amazed. At the next meal we repeated the performance with bits of lunch meat and cheese from my sandwich. She already started out beside my chair instead of on the table. When she would climb onto my chair I pet her, but no food, and she got a CT each time she returned to the floor, where she daintily accepted each bit of food from my fingers. At the end of dinner I announced "all done" as I removed the plates, and she calmly went on to other activities.

I know some would argue that any begging is unacceptable. I'm not fond of it, myself. But this was a huge improvement in just two training sessions. I think the hardest thing about clicker training is deciding exactly which behavior you want to reward. In my case, I didn't want to desert my dinner, so I took the easy path of just getting her off the table. I would have had to spend some time thinking about what I would rather have her do than sit by my side on the floor.

I'm kicking myself that I didn't think of this earlier. Think of the things Sweetie could have learned to do, as well as becoming a much better behaved cat. I hope the special person who adopts her appreciates how smart she is, as well as how beautiful.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Pat White's Technique Bank

Five or so years ago Pat White wrote a post on Cello Chat in which she expounded on the importance of learning technique, apart from the music. Her analogy was the Technique Bank. That quote is frequently referred to as the discussion warrants, but the last time I searched for it I couldn't find the original post. I thought things were supposed to last forever in the Internet Age.

I got serious about my study of the cello in June 2002. I know the exact date now because I'm looking at the first Lesson and Practice Log I designed to help me focus on my mission. What a wonderful resource these old logs are now. I set up this blog in January 2006 with the thought that it would be the next phase in my practice log. It hasn't exactly worked out that way, but that's another story for another time.

At the front of my first Log are a few inspirational pages, one of which is Pat White's quote. So that it will live on for a little longer, this is the excerpt I copied:

On the one hand we have playing pieces. On the other hand we have working on technique. Most students love to play pieces, and most students hate to play technique. However, I want you to think of technique as a bank account. Let's say that every day you practice scales, arpeggios, etudes, bowing studies, etc. How high is your technique bank account?

...So you want to play this piece that has about 15 different techniques in it. No problem! Just go over to the technique bank account, make the needed withdrawals, and play the piece!

What if you wanted to play a really neat piece, but you are someone who does not have a technique bank account? You will try and try and try to get things, and you will think you just have to keep trying the piece over and over and over, but the REAL problem is that when you need to go over and make a withdrawal from your technique bank account, it is empty.

So the idea is to always work on boring technique because it gives you the ammunition to play exciting repertoire. Trying to learn a piece without the proper technique bank account is like trying to go up the down escalator. You CAN do it, but it is NOT the best way.

I know I found that to be very inspirational. In a way, it was one of the signposts that sent me along my current path. Thanks, Pat.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Cello lesson 6/7 - School's out for summer

T- spends the summer at Bowdoin, then September in Alaska, fishing. Has, for many, many years. Last summer I filled the didactic void with 4 cello camps, an experiment in excess. Not entirely successful, but I learned a lot about what I like, and where I fit, and what's worth my time, effort, and money, and what's not. And how different all of those points are now than they were four years ago, when I took the more obsessive fork in the road toward cello playing excellence.

This summer will be something completely different. I have no cello camps scheduled, partly by design after last year's excess, and partly because I knew I would need lots of recovery time after my knee surgery. I had toyed with the idea of starting Suzuki teaching training this summer, but am also putting that off, mostly because of the knee thing.

So, I knew the end of the semester was approaching, but didn't realize yesterday would be my last lesson until we were half-way through it, when I specifically asked about the summer schedule. (I wonder when T- would have mentioned it if I hadn't asked? Musicians. Disgusted snort.) We had spent the first half discussing the studio class I had missed on Saturday. (It was a last minute bail-out due to fatigue, pain, and thunderstorms with 1.5 inch hail stones. I considered that I had shown an unusual amount of sense by turning around and driving 30 minutes back home rather than risk physical damage to my newly reconstructed knee.)

He offered the possibility of one more lesson before he takes off, but I'm really ready for summer to start. I read a very interesting book on Monday, The Perfect Wrong Note: Learning to Trust Your Musical Self, by William Westney,and one point that resonated was how difficult a weekly lesson can be when you feel like you need to have something prepared for the lesson, but really should be doing the painstaking work of slowly exploring the music instead of rushing to get something ready. That's the way this second Bach Suite has felt to me all year. I am so looking forward to taking as much time as it takes to learn, and hopefully memorize, all six movements without having to bring anything that's not ready into daylight for the next four months.

I told him that is my plan. He politely squelched his snort, and spent the last half of the lesson giving me an overview of the more difficult things to work out in the Menuets and Sarabande. I think the other four movements will yield to rhythms and other repetition games, but have been stumped by how to work out these two movements. My project for this afternoon will be a brain dump of those points, to retain as much as possible for later study. And that will be a post for later.

School's out, and I'm finally ready to get to work. I'm psyched.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Mary West

I received an e-mail notification earlier this week that Mary West died on June 3d. Mary was the great-grandmother of violin teaching in the Twin Cities music community, beginning her teaching career in the 1950's. I learned a lot about her when she came down to Kansas City to accept a lifetime community service award at the ASTA meeting. I was thrilled to see her, making the trip at... 94 years old? I think she was then. A tiny, elderly woman with exceptional presence.

I'm not a violinist, but it didn't take long to recognize that all of the advanced violin players I met in Minneapolis were students or former students of Mary West. I probably shouldn't say all, because there are so many other violin teachers in the area, but it certainly seemed that way. She taught a long time, with great dedication and skill.

One of the things I really loved about her career is that she didn't set out to be a music teacher. In KC I learned that when she was getting started a wise mentor advised her to just teach, and stop obsessing over whether she could.

Faith Farr is collecting teaching tips from Mary's former students to publish in the Fall issue of the local string teachers' publication. There were two in the e-mail, probably from a pedagogy session she presented in January. One was:

Start each lesson with technique. You know the students will practice the pieces. When they realize the lesson won’t get to the pieces until the technique is covered, then they will also prepare the technique well.

My first cello teacher (T1-) had just the opposite philosophy. I think we touched on a scale here and there, but other than that technique was all demonstration on his side. I think he must have been psychologically scarred by technical practice in his past. It took me too many years to realize that I was gaining nothing from that approach, and my own technical ceilings were firm. One of many reasons I love working with T- is that he obviously shares Mary's philosophy.

A lot of folks are going to miss Mary West.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Guest artist

Well, Luke always was the bigger kitten in that pair.

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

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Lesson follow-up

Leave it to my loyal readers to notice that I appear to be doing too much too soon after knee surgery. The surgeon said pretty much the same thing yesterday. That was partly a timing issue, partly responsibility to previous commitments, and partly ignorance of how much I was going to hurt post-op.

I chose May 22nd as my surgery date with a great deal of deliberation and schedule coordination. It was after my May 15th orchestra concert, 10 days before my June 1 chamber music recital, and at the beginning of a 2 week block where DH was going to be in town. It's also 4 months before September, when I am planning to go to Scotland, and is the minimum rehab time I can reasonably expect to need to be fully functional for such a long trip. I figured 10 days recovery before a chamber concert was do-able, so I also planned to attend my regularly scheduled (and already paid for) cello lesson, and scheduled an Alexander T. lesson. I resumed playing on Tuesday (post-op day 7), and did play the recital last night.

When I was first in the knee immobilizer back in February I presented with my stiff left leg at my cello lesson. T- took it in stride, pointing out that Navarra (with whom he studied) frequently played with his left leg extended, and didn't need a knee immobilizer to do it. I also have to credit 3 years of studying Alexander Technique. I can achieve a balanced playing stance even with my left leg out, providing a little guidance to the cello but no real support.

I'm sure my fumbling around between cello and crutch provided some comic relief at the end of the recital last night. My only difficulty was that my end-pin slipped a couple of times (grr), which I attribute to using a loaner with an inadequately sharpened end-pin, rather than to my knee issues. I will surely be glad to see my own new cello, and be able to do those little things to make it just the way I like it, and have them be the same from one session to the next.

Two other questions from the comments. PFS, every time I try to answer your question in my head the essay grows to book length. So I am going to limit myself to one paragraph, and one introductory exercise. One of Alexander's most useful observations about body use is that when the problem is too much tension, the nidus of that response happens, not when you start the motion, but as soon as you think about doing it. Probably the second most useful observation is how hard it is to notice that yourself initially, which is where a good teacher comes in handy. (I'll refrain from making the obvious comparison to cello teachers <g>.)

The exercise: use the first two notes from Arioso, (1) B, 1st finger, 1st position on the A string, and (2) C, also 1st finger, 1/2 step above the B. (Old finger, old string, new bow stroke.) Play the B with a big, sloppy, gorgeous vibrato, and the most relaxed legato stroke you can manage. Play it until the note is as beautiful as you can make it. Then THINK about shifting up to play the C. Rotate your attention from neck, to left arm, to right arm, to back, to legs. If you are a normal intermediate cello player you will feel various amounts of tension in all of those places. (Beginners are concentrating so much on everything that their sensory circuits would be overwhelmed with this attempt.) Here's the crucial point. Every bit of tension that you feel having just thought about shifting to the next note is unnecessary. The result of continuing that into the action will be things like a tight tone, non-continuous vibrato, an obvious slide on the shift, and missing the shift, usually on the flat side. And that's the simplified difference between preparation (bad) and transition (good).

Funky Smith, do you get the ASTA journal? There is an excellent article by Carter Enyeart on shifting, I think in the Nov '05 issue. He also had a session on shifting at the ASTA meeting in Kansas City last year. Though they describe it differently, his approach is similar to T-'s. My first teacher (T1-) also taught the preparation and follow-through approach. As noted above, for me that contributes to having too much tension in the shift, and particularly to difficulty maintaining continuous vibrato and having too much finger pressure. My technique is much better when I concentrate on the forearm falling.