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.


Terry said...

I'm with on the "up" shift (which is actually in a down direction), but what about "down" shifts. I've always found "down" shifts harder. No gravity assist, there.

Gottagopractice said...

Someone asked Carter exactly that question in KC, Terry. His response was to think of shifting down as "falling upward". In fact, gravity is not assisting much in the upward shift, and the most important component of "falling downward" is releasing the muscles holding the arm in position, allowing it to move freely.

As an aside, I must say it was entertaining training my first Alexander teacher, a dancer, that when I spoke of shifting upward I meant moving my hand downward, and vice versa.

In AT I think of the action as elbow away (from me) and arm and forearm approaching each other as I "allow" the elbow to bend. I get much the same physical sensation by thinking of it as "my wrist is falling upward". Give that a try.

Anonymous said...

Ok the obvious next question is, so how does one transition without preparation? It's a zen koan for sure.

When I play for a long period I'll sometimes straighten out both legs, and actually balance the cello on my kneecaps. My knees just get sore from sitting for a long period with that angle bend in them. Doesn't really seem to hurt or help my playing, but no doubt it puts more stress on the upper body.

Gottagopractice said...

It is a bit zen-like, isn't it? The AT cycle for any action is 1) Think of what you want to do, 2) Inhibit your usual reaction in preparation, 3) Direct (think) the way you wish to perform the action, 4) Do it.

Excess tension is eradicated over time by stopping the undesired preparatory activities early and keeping the desired way of performing the transition in consciousness until it becomes a habit.

Funky Smith said...

I should get ASTA but I don't (embarassingly) . . . that sounds neat. I will have to try the forearm falling.

Funky Smith said...


Gottagopractice said...

(Chuckle.) Glad you like Foster. I hear my 4 yo niece likes to read my blog just so she can play with him.