Friday, August 31, 2007

PAS: Packing Avoidance Syndrome

One of my psychological failings is that I have a strong drive to avoid doing things that overwhelm me. I think one of the most useful things I have done this summer is my experiment in chunking to learn the Bach C MAJ 2-part Invention on the piano. This week I am reminded that it would be useful to generalize this skill beyond music. PAS doesn't always mean Practice Avoidance Syndrome.

Instead of packing, what am I doing? Cleaning out the closet. Yes, it did have to be done. There was no room for my new, larger-size purchases. But no, I haven't actually packed anything yet.

I hope there is a market for used size 2s.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

A real snoozer

The opinion of my other two consultants, J.J. and GiGi, on the subject of

If you are reading this post and viewing the picture, I was able to e-mail
them directly to my blog.

I consider that a success, though the random line breaks are a bit disconcerting.

Setting up for photo blogging

Elle is helping me while I figure out how to do this on Blogger.

We really should be packing...

Everything above this line was sent from my mobile phone.

For anyone who's curious, I followed the directions in this FAQ to set up a mobile account and claim it to publish directly to my blog. My next step is to see what happens if I attach a photo to an email for publication.


Some people like to plan their trips in exquisite detail, anticipation of coming events being half the fun of the event itself. Not me. Much of my traveling is based around a conference or other organized affair, and if I'm lucky, I start looking at what I've actually got planned in just enough time to pack appropriately.

Today I was reviewing plans for the second half of our upcoming trip to Scotland, a train tour on the Royal Scotsman. This is a description of the train from their web site:

The running order of The Royal Scotsman carriages is: Observation Car with verandah viewing platform; Dining Car Number One (Raven); Dining Car Number Two (Victory); State Car number one, two, three, four and five; and a Service Car. The sequence is in running order from the rear so guests can best enjoy the passing countryside.

At one end of the train is perhaps the most distinctive vehicle, the open-ended Observation Car, converted from the Pullman kitchen car, Snipe. Originally built in 1960 by the Metropolitan-Cammell Carriage and Wagon Company, it entered service in 1961 as a First Class kitchen car. In 1989, the car was bought from its private owner, Michael Bailiss, and converted it to its current luxury configuration, able to comfortably hold all thirty-six guests at any time.

Adjacent to this is Dining Car Number One, which is still referred to by its former Pullman car name, Raven. Colin Angell, a firm of cabinet makers from Evesham, Worcestershire, won the contract to transform a 1962 second-class Pullman carriage into Raven, with a capacity for twenty guests.

Next in the formation is Dining Car Number Two, known as Victory and so called since it was built in 1945. Victory was built as a London & North Eastern Railway Director's Saloon and acquired from Sir Bill McAlpine. The transformation was completed in a number of weeks - from its bright orange curtains and brushed aluminium fittings to wood panelling, inlaid with intricate marquetry, mahogany veneer cupboards and specially made dining chairs and tables – not to mention a state of the art modern kitchen. Eight marquetry panels with intricate designs of thistles, flowing ribbons and butterflies line the walls and an inlaid frieze of several different woods runs on into the corridors. Victory can accommodate up to sixteen guests, ensuring all guests can dine at the same sitting, across the two dining cars.

The five State Sleeping Cars follow. These cars, like the Verandah car, were originally built as Pullman Cars in 1960 by the Metropolitan-Cammell Carriage and Wagon Company.

The sleeping cars provide sixteen twin cabins and four single State Cabins, beautifully fitted out in rich marquetry. All cabins have fixed, lower beds, dressing table, full-length wardrobe, individually controlled heating, cooling ceiling fans, opening windows and cabin service call button. Each cabin has its own private facilities with shower, wash-basin and toilet and a constant supply of hot water.

OK, then. I'm having some anticipatory enjoyment.

I'd better get packing.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007


Last week I spent a few days in DC. Technically we moved away a couple of years ago, but my heart is still there, and so is my body with fair regularity. And though I'm slowly developing new routines in my new city, there are a few things that just don't transfer easily: 1) haircuts, 2) chamber music groups, and 3)Nordstroms.

So last week I got my hair cut and spent a very productive day at Nordstrom outfitting myself for my trip to Scotland next week. (Retirement + knee surgery + perimenopause = all my clothes have shrunk. Go figure.) But the best part was the play dates.

The first evening I met with two good friends and cello-playing buddies, three cellos, and five bows. Friend 1 had two on trial, a Richard Grunke ~ 40yo and a hot-off-the-bench Sam Cohen. After doing round robins playing the bows on his cellos we read the Beethoven cello trio (originally for horns) in order to compare them in an ensemble and had quite the good time.

The next evening I joined Friend 1 in "my" old quartet, where he replaced me after I moved. Since we had a cello-heavy quintet, they agreeably scrapped their plan to start working on Death and the Maiden and played the Schubert string quintet instead. We played the outer movements, with me on Cello 1. Expectations were not high since no one had prepared, and we had a terrific time meeting them, and got in a little more bow comparison, too. Friends who will let you massacre the first cello part in the Schubert are very special.

The last night of playing was Schubert again, this time a planned outing that I had organized because my last teacher (T2-) had expressed a hankering to play the first cello part with a congenial group of amateurs. My string trio formed the core, then we added T2- on Cello 1 and my favorite first violinist, someone with whom I had played piano trios in a university chamber music course for a couple of years.

I had mailed parts to the upper strings, so they had had a few days to look at the music, not much time because they were completely unfamiliar with it. It's cello Top 40, but amateur quartets don't often have that fifth cellist available so it's not as well known amongst the non-cellists. It was absolutely the best rendition of this piece I've ever played in, and we read all four movements.

The second movement seems to give amateur groups the most difficulty. Though slow, the key signatures are eb minor (5 flats) and E Maj (4 sharps), cello 1 is mostly thumb position, playing a duet with Vn1 much of the time and demanding a beautiful legato technique, and the cello 2 part has sixteenth note triplets followed by runs of accidental-studded 32nd notes as the music becomes more agitated. I first played this last summer and completely bombed the cello 2 part, but we won't talk about that now. This performance was much more respectable, aided by some audible counting from T2-. A little more work on the 32nd notes and I think I'll have it.

There was one particular moment in the middle of the Adagio, where the melody descends an augmented 2nd to move to the tonic, that was truly electric. We made a couple of extra passes to perfect it, and I got chills each time. Wow. That night I woke up every couple of hours and lay in bed, not trying to return to sleep, but replaying that quintet in my mind. It's fading now, but then I heard *us* playing it, and not a more generic rendition. Sublime.

It's been a bit anticlimactic since then, just a series of small parties celebrating my "big five-oh." That's today. HBtM!

Thursday, August 23, 2007


You know you've reached a certain age when you wake up and can't remember what day it is... Until you get the pillbox and find out which is the next unopened day.

And all of my favorite coffee mugs have chips in them.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007


Forgive me, it's been a week since my last post.

I'm busy practicing and making cryptic practice notes in my practice blog, thus sparing you the tedium but leaving it a bit arid over here.

This photo demonstrates the optical illusions that happen when two cats with nearly identical markings hang out together. And J.J. is an especially relaxed little tom-catlet, happy to bare his belly anywhere, anytime.

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

Tuesday, August 14, 2007


So, what about the new 'cello, you ask?

Well, first it needed a few days to acclimatize and settle in. Then, I needed a few days to make some initial accommodations to the new size, feel and most of all, setup. It came with a set of Spirocore chromesteels, a much brighter string than I generally play. Oh, my. I think every one of my faults is amplified.

But I love it. I really, really do. And after a few days it's training me to be more careful about my bow speed and placement. I think I'll leave these strings on for awhile, at least until I have a chance to hear them outside the practice room.

Now, since I've missed a few Tummy Tuesdays and have hundreds of tummy shots of the Cousins, I've put together a slide show. Somehow this little Popper etude just put me in the mood for looking at kitten pictures. Hope you enjoy it - both the kittens, and my debut on the Patriot.

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

Monday, August 13, 2007


I don't usually do this, but I found the coolest CD over the weekend.

One of the things I love about studying an instrument is that my ears are becoming better and better at hearing music. I especially like to listen to other people play the things I am studying, or have played in the past. Ergo, I only began listening to cello concerti recently, in spite of my love for all things cello, as I felt them unobtainable in this lifetime.

On the other hand, most of the pieces within my grasp are not recorded, so at best I have the modeling of my teacher and playing friends to shape my sound concept. I personally think there is a huge market for quality recordings of student repertoire, and have been delighted to find a few more of those recently.

So my find - an album of "Children's" pieces recorded by Steven Isserlis (cello) and Stephen Hough (piano). It starts with a lovely Berceuse on open strings, and goes on in a graded fashion, including many Suzuki favorites as well as delightful pieces I had never heard before. I am totally pumped - I could play these! Well! Nothing like a beautiful and attainable goal to get the practice juices flowing.

For whatever reason, Amazon lists neither the table of contents nor musical clips for this album, so, suspecting that other of my readers might be interested, I'm listing the TOC here:

First Steps
1. Ludwig Lebel: Berceuse Orientale
2. Sheila Nelson: Mad as a Hatter
3. Alfred Earnshaw: Tarantella
Joachim Stutchewsky: Two Pieces from 'Six Isreali Melodies'
4. Kinnereth
5. Wanderer's Song

6. Adam Carse: A Merry Dance
7. Francis Purcell Warren: A Sunday Evening in Autumn
8. Francis Purcell Warren: Cradle Song
9. John Graves: The Swans Glide on the Bishop's Palace Moat
10. William Henry Squire: Danse Rustique
11. Luigi Boccherini (arr. Goltermann): Minuet
12. Gavin Bryars: With Miriam by the River
13. Arnold Trowell: Gavotte
14. Jean Sibelius: Lulu Waltz
15. George Dyson: Melody
16. Frank Bridge: Spring Song
17. Amy Beach: Berceuse
18. Gabriel Prosper Marie: La Cinquantaine
19. Georg Goltermann: La Foi

The Young Cellist
20. Francis Poulenc (arr. Gendron): Serenade
21. Joseph Tuby: Serenade
22. Gabriel Faure: Berceuse
23. David Popper: Gavotte Op. 23
24: Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy: Song Without Words Op. 109
25. Gaspar Cassado: Requiebros

Gabriel's Corner
26. Howard Blake: Archangel's Lullaby
27. Olli Mustonen: Frogs Dancing on Water-Lillies
28. Stephen Hough: Angelic Song
29. Stephen Hough: Angelic Dance
30. Steven Isserlis: The Haunted House
(Narrated by Simon Callow)

Friday, August 10, 2007

Liberating Lizzie

D- has a new kitten, another orphan found wandering around somebody's garage. She's about 7 weeks old, all black except for a few chest hairs and a tiny white bikini, and has big bugged-out eyes that give her a frantic look, and as much energy as six normal kittens.

Kinda cute, isn't she?

That's the thing about black kittens. It's hard to capture their personality in a still photo. And for Lizzie, add the complication that she is rarely still. At best you get an occasional pause as she prepares to launch in another direction, a scramble of flying limbs.

For a variety of reasons, Lizzie is confined, alone, to a spare bedroom. We decided to bring her over here for a play date with the Country Cousins last night, and oh my, how much fun they had. Unfortunately, I was so busy ROFL I didn't think to take any photos.

Today I suggested maybe she could spend some time in Day Care while D- is at work, and burn off a little more of that excess energy. She loves the company, and the attention, too.

No ulterior motives on my part whatsoever, let me emphasize. But I did take the opportunity to capture a minute or two on film.

Elle and J.J. are the featured Cousins, and John appears in a cameo, doing what normal cats normally do in the early afternoon.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007


That monstrous, cool-looking case with the cat ears is a David Gage cello case. It's not mine; it's Anne's, and this is not its first trip. It's traveled the globe, carrying cellos to prospective and new owners, returning to Anne, sometimes empty and sometimes not. This return flight will be empty.

The case is built like a fortress, but fortunately I've received advance instructions to look for the hex wrench under the duct tape.

There it is, snuggled around the lock on top of the case.

It fits that way, but somehow doesn't seem right.

That's better. Now let's see - righty-tighty, lefty-loosy...

Thought it might be better to lay the case down at this point. There's another lock on the side...

...and one more on the bottom.

Inside, the cello is packed in a vintage canvas case, covered with a fine substance that looks suspiciously like cat hair.

Believe it or not, it's secured in the case by a single strap, buckled securely but not tightly across the neck. There's a sling behind the scroll...

...styrofoam blocks under the bottom (the red and yellow tube is punched full of holes and contains a sponge - dry)...

...and a system of airbags inflated around the sides.

There are four bow cases, two in the Gage case and two in the canvas case, one of which contains a bow. It's a well-used Glasser, so I am assuming it is a permanent occupant of the case, and not meant for me.

Inspector #1 is still on the job...

...ensuring the integrity of the cord that attaches the two sides of the case. Note how she carefully avoids stepping in the bridge. Obviously well-trained in these exacting procedures.

Phewwwww - the sound of exhaling as the case is unzipped to reveal an absolutely gorgeous and apparently intact 'cello.

More styrofoam blocks under the tailpiece and fingerboard, and bubblewrap around the tailpiece and bridge.

The 'cello is removed from the travel case, and after careful consideration, Inspector #1 sniffs her approval.

The canvas case lies crumpled in the Gage, rather like a discarded snake skin.

New 'cello is carried to the practice room, heart in throat (mine), and placed on the cello stand.

Inspector #1, still on the job. Is she getting overtime?

John shows up late in the game...

...and immediately walks over to check out Emma, recently displaced from the stand and now homeless. I really need to get another cello case. Or two.

The styrofoam blocks are removed, and the bubblewrap is carefully clipped away.

A brand new microfiber cloth to gently wipe away the packing dust, and careful visual inspection. No cracks seen. Another big whew.

The sound post looks like it's where it's supposed to be...

...the bridge is straight, and the feet haven't moved. There's Madeleine, observing from her spot on the table.

The strings were under very light tension, so I've tightened them slightly and will slowly bring them up. No reports on sound until sometime tomorrow, but if you want to learn a little more about my new 'cello, you can see it here. Yup, that's it on the front page, a very special instrument. There's more later... it's called the Patriot.

Now I really need to go finish my piano practice.

It's here!!!!!!

The inspectors are hard at work...

I think I'll take a quick shower while I'm waiting for the "all clear"... then it's time to unpack!

Black on black on black

Black has always been my favorite "color." I discovered this in elementary school, when we made "art" that was created by coloring a picture hard in crayon, then washing the paper with black water color paint. Funny, I never wore black clothes until college, and I guess it's just as well I grew up in the pre-goth era.

In my practice room I have our old dining room table, which has a black granite top. Upon that I have a lamp with a black, wooden base and a black lampshade. I have two of the dining-room chairs, which are cherry wood with black microfiber cushions. (Don't worry, the rest of the room is monochromatic beige, so the effect is sophisticated rather than overwhelming. In my opinion.)

Recently I threw my black soft-cover cello case on top of the table, just to get it off the floor, and as usual it's remained there a lot longer than it should. And yesterday I discovered that this forms one of Madeleine's current favorite chillin' spots. She seems to enjoy listening to me practicing Bach on the piano. Tough to spot her at first, though, all that black on black on black.

Monday, August 06, 2007


I just had an Aha moment.

I was reading an older post from Michelle Bennett's blog A Singer's Life, and she talked about the act of anticipation - keeping your mind one step ahead of your body while singing, or in my case, playing.

That's exactly what I have been experiencing in the moment when I am able to play my bits of piano practice at a desired metronome marking.

And by extension, what I need to learn how to do on my cello. I'm thinking that part of the solution is to play things slowly until my brain can get ahead of my fingers. That's a lot longer than I usually do, and also not something I have paid much attention to. I wonder if that may be part of the key to being able to play "more difficult" music.

It feels really cool.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Playing around

Points off for the irregularity of my posting lately. I have lots of projects in the air, but nothing with sufficient clarity to write about. So this is another what-I've-been-doing-this-week post. It's like when you get behind in your correspondence: the behinder you get, the harder it is to write anything at all.

I've been working on setting up a practice log on Ning, the site that hosts CelloBloggers. Here is a link to my first page: Bach 2-part Invention in C. I may start thinking out loud here about how I want to keep a practice log - at least that will keep the posts coming!

I finally picked up my cello after a 2+week hiatus. At last I feel like playing again, but of course my chops are totally mushy. I'm starting off very slowly - 10 minutes the first day, 20 minutes the next - and so far playing 2 octave scales in a variety of bowings and reading through the etudes in the first volume of Schroeder. And not working on anything.

I expect my desire to play my cello will increase dramatically on Thursday, when a new cello arrives. Note I say a new cello, not the new cello. Who knows when that cello will ever leave England. No, this is a cello I have loved but not owned for over a year. It's actually the cello in my profile photo here, but I won't tell you more until after it arrives. I don't want to jinx it.

On the kitty front, I've heard from QT's new home, his new owner is in love with him, and in photo's and videos she has sent he looks very happy. I took the other Cousins to Petco again this weekend, along with two of D-s kittens, as she is out of town. No more. A lot of work for little return and too much trouble. I was so disgusted I'm about ready to adopt these four myself and stop fostering. Thinking of pets as living beings we assume responsibility for, I guess I just have fundamental differences with those who view them as property without feelings.

Knee rehab is going slowly but surely. My gait is normal most of the time, though I still have to think about it. And I'm really tired of not being able to bend my knee fully. It's the little things, like getting out of a car, where I notice it. Still not back to running. I've taken one 2 mile walk, which was more difficult than I expected. I can't remember the last time I got out of breath just walking. Gotta pick up the pace so I can be ready for our Scotland trip next month.

That about does it. I'll start fresh tomorrow.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Counting reps

I got a new toy just before my big computer crash, when life as I know it got much more difficult.

Yes, it's an abacus. Did you know that there are two kinds of abacuses (abaci?)? This is referred to as a Chinese abacus, which has rows of 10 beads. The Japanese abacus has a divider, with 5 beads on one side ("earth") and 2 beads on the other ("heaven"). I know this now because I borrowed a book from the library to learn how to use the Japanese model, having never seen one before I went shopping.

I am not using my abacus for calculating, but for counting. Repetitions. While practicing. Before I got it I was using a handful of jelly beans, which I moved one at a time from one side of the stand to the other. I found I also needed a little flag, so I knew which side I was moving toward. I suppose I could have picked up the whole pile and moved it to the "starting side" before I began each set of repetitions. But the most complicating aspect of counting with jelly beans was my strong desire to eat them. Which meant I had a steadily decreasing number of repetitions available.

One could argue that there is no need to count if you are simply repeating a section until you have played it correctly x number of times. While that is fairly simple to keep track of in my head, a book I read recently (it's in my stack of new piano music) recommended physically moving something to count, not purely for the keeping-track-of benefit, but also because the act of moving it requires you to reset your hands, and by extension your mind, before you start again. I think the author was on to something.

Today I learned segment C2 in my Bach invention at one session, then put it together with segment C1 in a second session. I have been using the metronome specifically to fight my tendency to vary the tempo wildly depending on how hard the lick is, and Joshua was right on when he called me out for not sticking with it. SOoo I slowed way down to 8th=56 and practiced in rhythms, using only the long-short and short-long variation. Wow, you really have to know the next note coming when you are in the long wait period at that tempo. Can't rely on muscle memory. Then I played it 10 times at 72, concentrating on improving the legato-ness in the phrases.

Here's today's work. I'm really quite pleased with the result. And somehow counting with the colored beads on the abacus increases the fun-ness of practicing.

C2 at 8th=80. Still not quite on the beat.

powered by ODEO

C12 together in long -short rhythm at 8th=56

powered by ODEO

C12 in short-long rhythm at 8th=56

powered by ODEO

C12, first rep at 8th=72

powered by ODEO

C12, 10th rep at 8th=72.

powered by ODEO

I think I'm staying with the metronome better, but did you hear any improvement in legato?