Friday, November 30, 2007

The End - Custom comment codes for MySpace, Hi5, Friendster and more

Cello lesson 11/29

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Holiday spirit... or not

You Are a Yule Log

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Chords redux

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 27, 2007


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

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

Monday, November 26, 2007

Bath redux

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

Sunday, November 25, 2007


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, November 24, 2007


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

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

Friday, November 23, 2007


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

Thursday, November 22, 2007


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

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Scales and arpeggios

I came across a link to an awfully cute video while catching up in the Internet Cello Society forums, and it inspired me to write a bit about how I have changed my scale practice recently. If you're a 'cello person, read on. If you are a cat person, go straight to the video. If you're neither, why are you here?

Anyway, my inspiration was in a comment on Jason Heath's Double Bass Blog, later featured in a separate post. You can read the whole comment over there, but the meat of it was a description of Rabbath's recommendation for how to practice scales using a system of 282 bowing and 130 fingering permutations, with increasing practice lengths to build endurance. I don't have access to the Rabbath method, but I do have the Galamian scales transcribed and edited by Hans Jorgen Jensen. This includes two sections, one of scale patterns, and one of bowing permutations. I would imagine they might be similar.

For the past two years I have practiced 4 octave scales with uniform fingering patterns and accelerating notes under one bow: MM=88, 4 beats/bow, first linked half notes, followed by quarter notes, then eighth notes in three patterns, then sixteenth notes until I crash and burn. I was beginning to feel a bit uninspired, and admit to skipping scale practice on more than one occasion.

So I adapted Benjy's advice to the Galamian scales. For the past couple of weeks I have set a timer for 30 minutes, chosen a scale of the day, and after a run-through with linked half-notes to make sure I have the fingering down, am loosened up, and my vibrato is working, I play quarter notes, up and down, using a different bowing pattern each time, just moving sequentially along. At the end of the day I place a check mark next to the last variation I did, and the next day start with the following one.

It does keep things interesting, especially now that I am into variations that have five notes under the bow with various patterns of legato and staccato notes under the slur. I told T- what I was doing, and he heartily approved any plan that gets me "more time in the saddle," and also pointed out how the uniform fingerings for the scales facilitates the bowing variations.

So anyway, if you're bored with your scales, there's another inspiration. And here's a little song:

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Chord etude

Every once in awhile I think it would be great if my cello teacher, all-knowing and wise as s/he is, would know exactly which etude or piece of music I should be working on at any given time to maximize my potential as a 'cello player. Alas, I've had enough experience to know that, helpful as 'cello teachers are, they aren't omnipotent, and so occasionally I pull out an etude (less often a piece) that is really speaking to me at the moment, usually because it appears to my less-trained eye to focus on some skills that have been lacking while playing recent repertoire.

A couple of weeks ago I pulled this one out, an etude in chords and bowing variations. It seems that every piece of music I face lately has broken chords in a variety of bowings, and is supposed to be played at a speed that I just can't get to because, well, I'm just too awkward. This is #68 in the A. Schroeder Vol I, and #26 in the original Dotzauer Book 1. I remember T2- demonstrating the bowings to me a couple of years ago, but the chord transitions were still beyond me then. It seemed to me I should be ready to try again, and now I really need those skills.

This is what I have learned so far. Before going on to the bowing variations, it's important to master playing the chords as chords, and the best way to start is to break them into groups of two: two lower notes, then two upper notes. I was skeptical at first that this was necessary, but realized as I practiced this way I was training my eyes as well as my fingers. These are the important points that either T- pointed out or I discovered with practice:

Keep the chord ringing during the bow change. There shouldn't be a big gap between chords, and to do this you "cheat" by moving the bow away from the double stop and onto just the middle note just before the bow change. To get the large motor skill, I set the metronome on 60, 4 beats/chord, playing the lower notes double stop for 2 beats, the upper notes double stopped for 1 beat, then the middle note into the bow change for 1 beat. Next, I played the chords as half notes with an eighth note middle note transition, finally dropping to the single note transiently into the chord change.

Know where you are going, and how you are going to get there. I have a whole 'nother post to write about this, but at the most basic level and for purposes of this etude, you need to know which position you are in, which position you are going to, and how you are going to manage the shift to get there. When you notice a rough transition, stop, figure out how you are going to shift, then "double mint" it, going back and forth between the chords until it feels easy.

Read ahead. That's essential for knowing where you are going. I discovered that the most efficient way to do this was to read half of the chord at a time. Since you are breaking the chords, read the lower half of the next chord while you are playing the upper half of the current one, then the upper half of the current chord while you are playing the lower half. This organizes the left hand into two moves: shift to the hand position to finger the lower two notes, then add the finger for the upper one.

This has been very productive work. Not only can I (finally) play this etude, but I was inspired to drag my 1st Suite into my lesson, where I had an excellent session applying these chord ideas to the Prelude. T- was so pleased with my progress he assigned the Allemande for the next week. It's nice to revisit something I did a couple of years ago on a new level, plus that gives me more time to learn the notes in the 2nd Suite <g>. I feel like I'm making a couple of steps upward off of this long plateau. Thank you, Mr. Dotzauer.

Monday, November 19, 2007

In the dark

I was thinking about writing a real, honest-to-goodness post today, but as I was stirring to do it the power went out. That means that all of my half-finished posts are stranded on Blogger, including the one I wanted to finish today. So I'm phoning this in, and there's something about thumb typing that discourages intelligent discourse.

Or, maybe it's just me. Maybe my neurons are short-circuiting due to this virus run amok. Or maybe I've just running out of things to say. Or maybe I've never had anything to say, anyway. I think I'll go practice in the dark.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Girls will be girls

So much for quietly observing me in my sick bed.

Though, to be fair, John joined us soon after I captured this. Nothing like three cats sleeping on your core to keep you warm.

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Bless you

That lump underneath is me. It looks like a furry prayer service.

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Get Well Soon

You can blame NaBloPoMo for these posts. If I hadn't committed myself to write something every day this month, I would just quietly disappear for a few days.

Saturday, November 17, 2007


I agree with John.

My illness took a turn for the worse this morning, but I felt obligated to play the medical school white coat ceremony. I need to take a page from Gen X and get over this misguided loyalty thing. Maestro was there to start us off, so it went much better than Tuesday night, but we were on our own playing the first half of the Romanze from Eine Kleine Nachtmusik for an hour during the coating. Yes, an hour. It was an out-of-body experience.

Finally home, and started antibiotics (which are making me nauseous), heading to bed. I expect my furry nurses to join me soon.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Chicken Soup

I spent most of last weekend in bed with fever (quickly suppressed), chills, and non-specific malaise. Never developed into anything, I just felt yucky. Didn't practice or exercise, but did manage to keep posting AND made myself a lovely pot of chicken soup.

Tuesday night I had a dinner reservation right after that disastrous performance (probably a good thing), a nice 5-course affair with a tasting of some Alsatian wines from the Zinck vineyard.

My pleasure was a bit tempered by being seated next to a very nice older gentleman with a very nasty-sounding upper respiratory infection, probably compliments of recent plane travel.

You guessed it. Sore throat came on last night. People, please keep your germs at home.

Good thing I still have chicken soup left over.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Bad habit

For a musician, a pencil is only as good as its eraser. No eraser? Trash. It speaks to the constant editing that goes on during practice and rehearsals. My favorite variety is Ticonderoga 2/HB softs - for whatever reason, their erasers never harden. But I picked up a few of these nice colored ones at the music school the other day.

It appears I have a serious problem at my house. The erasers on my new pencils have begun disappearing. The other morning I found these: brand-new, unsharpened, and eraserless. No, it wasn't me. I don't bite my fingernails, I don't chew pencils, and I don't eat erasers.

But I know who does. Silly me, I put the last remaining new pencil from this batch (sharpened) into my pencil holder. So much for colors. I'll stick with my yellow Ticonderogas, and I'm very glad their erasers aren't tasty (who knew?).

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

I hope it doesn't get any worse than this

Forget what I said last week. The disaster was last night. I don't think I've been this embarrassed in a performance since I went skidding across that floor on my accordion.

It should have been fine, a good thing, even. The string section from my orchestra was scheduled to play two slow movements from Mozart string quartets to start off the medical school anatomy memorial service. This is a function organized by the first year students at the end of their gross anatomy course in order to thank their cadaver donors. They invite the families of any of the donors who are available and make quite a nice program of musical performances, poems and eulogies. I understand that for some of the donors it is the only memorial service they may have.

We began the program. Lights came up, we played, then the speaking began while we exited stage right. Hastily, I might add.

This is my recipe for disaster:
* Take one orchestra composed of a range of intermediate-level players.
* Schedule two difficult pieces for performance in concert in too little time.
* Take one scheduled rehearsal two weeks before the concert and have the strings-only practice Mozart quartets that they will need to play three weeks in the future for a different function.
* Have the Maestro conduct the rehearsal, even as he announces that he will not be there because he has a gig that night.
* Do not have the concert master do any significant leading, even though she will be in charge of the extra performance.
* Make multiple contradictory declarations of which repeats to take and which not, depending on whether the piece will be played at the concert, the memorial service, or the white coat ceremony the following weekend.
* Send an e-mail two weeks beforehand to ask who is actually going to be there, as multiple string players have conflicts on that night.
* Don't tell the remaining strings who is going to perform, and definitely don't let them rehearse together in the planned configuration.
* On the night of the performance, have the concert master fail to show up at all.
* Have no warm-up before the performance, a combination of waiting for the tardy leader and other circumstances that dictated otherwise.

What else could go wrong? The second-chair pinch-hitting concert master tried her best, but her count-offs weren't really clear. We spent a complete B section of one quartet with each string section being off by a different beat. But at least each section stuck together. In an actual quartet it's pretty easy to get back together by adding or subtracting a beat, or jumping in someplace you know. If multiple people in the section tried to do that at different times it would be cacophony. I think it was better to keep section integrity and wait for an obvious place to get back together. Hopefully the audience was just thinking "I wonder why that doesn't sound quite right?".

But, the side-effect of all of that uncertainty was tension. Our violins are not what you would consider confident players at the best of times, and under tension they just fade away. Especially the seconds. I was grateful that the nice concert hall gave us a little more warmth than we deserved.

Other bad moments? The hurried instructions at the beginning about what we were playing, the order of the program, and which repeats to take (none). (BTW, we didn't screw up the repeats. One thing that could have gone wrong that didn't.) The moment when one of the cellists asked the stage director, who knew nothing about us, whether we would have a conductor. That gave me a really bad feeling. The moment we stopped playing and didn't know what to do, having not discussed that. (I gestured to the concert mistress that we should stand up and bow, which we did, so we didn't look like complete buffoons.) And walking off the stage with the collective opinion that this is the worst thing we have ever done. Ever. Ever even before my time. And have I mentioned yet that the auditorium was full?

This post is long enough, so I'm not going to talk about what I intend to do about all this. Which relieves me of the responsibility to figure that out in the next five minutes. I'll keep you posted. And thanks for listening.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Tummy Tuesday

I haven't posted a Tummy Tuesday shot in awhile, so what better time than during NaBloPoMo?

This is Poppet trying to decide whether to continue playing Arena Ball or go for the toy instead. What to do?

I realize I never told you Poppet's story, so shall have to remember to do so later this week.

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

Monday, November 12, 2007

Chunky Bach Update

You may recall that 'way back in August I undertook the project of learning the Bach two-part invention in C Major on the piano, inspired by Josh at Joshua Nemith's Cincinnati Pianist Blog. He went to the very great trouble of outlining a practice approach for the early intermediate student who was facing this piece as their first can't-tame-it-in-one-gulp project.

It's a little over three months now, and yes, I am still working on it. The first month was very hard going, initially at a pace of two measures/practice hour. After the two-week break of my vacation it was memorized, but not reliable. I started playing it for my teacher in group lesson, frustrated, as usual, at my inability to recover when I screwed up. I think she thought it was in worse shape than it actually was for quite some time.

Three weeks ago I added the ornaments, which engendered another learning curve and regression in progress. But I am pleased to report that I played it entirely through in class today, recovering each of the half-a-dozen times I faltered. Go, me!

Our piano teacher would like for me and my fellow student to perform a piece for the class of less-advanced students that meets before us, perhaps two weeks from now. Next week we'll perform for each other. (This week was separately for the teacher, using earphones. It's a piano lab with e-pianos.) So today, after class, I sat down and recorded my first performance practice. I was still relatively warm from class, so I recorded my first attempt. I would expect to perform slightly worse than this if I had to do so right now, as I find performing in person more nerve-wracking than playing for the recorder.

One thing I have found, now that I can play through pretty well, is that that's all I want to do. I love playing this piece! So for the next week I'm committing myself to one play-through per day. That's it. It can be the first thing, or the last thing, or something in the middle, but only once. I'll spend my actual practice time working on starting each bar independently, from the end of the piece backward. I need more rescue ramps. Plus I'll do extra repetitions of each of the ornaments and getting into them, where most of my falters occur. I should probably do some slower metronome work, too, to help fight my tendency to rush when I am playing it under tempo like this.

I'll check back in in a month or two.

Mobile post sent by gottagopractice using Utterz Replies.  mp3

BTW, that cute little skinny bar is the mp3 player. I'm liking Utterz.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Veterans Day

Thank you to those who have served, and are serving.

If you would like to read a very moving Veterans Day post check out Anesthesioboist.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Aptitude test

You Should Play the Violin

You are highly intelligent, and mastering difficult subjects never intimidates you.
And while you may not be musical yet, you have a good ear - and you're sensitive to subtle differences in music.

You are dedicated and studious. You have a great work ethic.
You study well under a teacher, and you don't mind repeating tasks or following instructions.

Expressive and moody, you are very likely to convey a variety of rich emotions through your music.
You are definitely a passionate person... passionate enough to truly love the violin.

Your dominant personality characteristic: your high intelligence

Your secondary personality characteristic: your sensitivity

I saw this on Maricello's blog, and of course I had to try it. I came up with violin on the first try, but wanting to explore other option kept going back to the questions to try different combinations of answers. I got violin almost all the time I answered that I wanted to play in a symphony, plus harp, piano, and lots and lots and LOTS of accordion with other combinations of answers. I think that whomever wrote this quiz could use a good music appreciation course. His/her knowledge of instruments appears to be very limited. Or perhaps they think the accordion is funny, so engineered the quiz to return that answer most of the time.

It reminds me of my first screening for musical aptitude. I was about five years old, and I sat with a man who asked me lots of very silly questions. The one I still remember had something to do with the voices of Mama Bear and Papa Bear, and where spatially you would put their relative voices. Well, I was getting suspicious of this guy and his nonsense, so feeling sure this was a trick question, I motioned that Papa Bear was high (with one hand up) and Mama Bear was low (with the other hand well below.)

Silly me. What instrument did they pair me with? The accordion. You know, the 'cello works that way, too, but this was pre-Suzuki and they didn't start kids on 'cellos at that age. I remember how easy it was to learn to play each hand's part, and how impossible to play them together. Of course, the teaching method went something like "Wow, each hand sounds really good. For next week I want you to play them together for me." Right. When I finally got around to taking piano lessons in much-later adulthood I was partially convinced I would never be able to play hands together. Thanks Pat, for for getting me past that fear. The teacher is so important.

One of my earliest scarring memories has to do with that accordion. The shop where I took my music lessons had an accordion band, probably 20 or 30 of us. After one performance I tripped on my way back to my seat and must have skidded 20 feet across the tile floor on top of my accordion. Great sled potential. Of course, everyone laughed. I'm sure it was pretty funny seeing a cute little girl with an accordion almost as big as she was skidding across the floor. And of course, I was mortified. I think the roots of all of my performance anxiety issues are in that evening.

Friday, November 09, 2007


I don't know what it is with cats and drawers. There is one armoire in the house with a drawer that you have to be very careful closing, because invariably some cat will have squirmed through the open drawer to hide behind it. No matter how quickly you open and close it - they're fast, and seem to have some sort of notification system active so they immediately know when that drawer has been opened.

A few weeks ago I got around to purchasing a couple of large filing cabinets, hoping that someday soon I will finally get everything out of boxes. Uh, oh. Another set of drawers to crawl through. This is John helping me "file."

Thursday, November 08, 2007


Sometimes that's the best you can hope for. When you know you are in over your head, but the concert date has arrived. You've practiced, but honestly not as much as you could because the task feels so overwhelming and you just don't want to.

Now, don't get me wrong. It wasn't a disaster. Every time we pulled apart, we pulled back together. Somehow. It was a particular challenge because we never rehearse in our concert space, and it's set up with the winds four feet above and at least fifteen feet behind the strings, and the time delay was unsettling.

Some things went very well. The strings played a Mozart quartet, K. 157, between Carnival and Enigma, a breather for the winds, and a chance to enjoy playing something musically, and all of the notes, too! We didn't flinch when Maestro decided to play the second movement, too, not originally planned. He was watching the clock, saw we had a little extra time (we had never achieved a run-through of the Roman Carnival Overture without stopping before, so he hadn't timed it quite correctly) and we finished the concert exactly on the hour. Way to go, Maestro.

In the end, I feel reasonably good about how I played, competently in Nimrod and Variation XII of the Enigma Variations, the cello soli that I had learned 15 minutes before I left for the concert. For the most part, I came in where I was supposed to, at the right tempo, and didn't play during the rests. However, in spite of my best efforts over the past week, walking around clapping, counting out loud, drumming on the counter, and every other way I could think of, I just could not get the Mendelssohn-like variation with the cellos pizz on the afterbeats of 3 and 1. And unfortunately, neither could anyone else in the section. Though I continue to maintain that the real problem was that the violins had jumped the gun and come in early, and we never had a chance.

I love sitting around after the fact and obsessing over every little detail and thing that went wrong, and exalting over the things that went right. I remember long drives home from orienteering meets in college, reliving every hill, flag, and wrong turn with my team mates. But I don't know, other musicians don't seem to be so into that. Maybe it's the reticence that comes from not wanting to point fingers or make someone else feel bad.

I guess I can always say it in my blog. Heh heh.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007


Today is my busy day this week.
* 0900 Physical Therapy
* 1130 Call for orchestra concert at noon
* 1330 Pick up D-'s new foster kitten at the vet
* 1730 Voice class

And in between, warm-up for concert and practice.

We're finally laying those Enigma Variations to rest, one way or the other. Yay!

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Warm fuzzy

DH sent me this while I was in DC. I think he was trying to make sure I was homesick.

That's Sharae and Serengeti on the "beach."

Monday, November 05, 2007

Why are there feathers all over the basement?

I just got back from a weekend in DC. After a few minutes of checking in on the Blogosphere, I walked downstairs to warm up on the piano prior to my lesson this afternoon. There are black spots all over the floor. Feathers. (Had to get closer - my eyesight ain't so good anymore.) I wonder what DH will have to say about this?

It occurred to me after I had posted this that you might wonder why I invoked DH in a discussion about feathers. It's because I left him in charge of the home fires and the cats this weekend while I was off playing chamber music and celloing. Do you think he might have noticed the feathers on the floor? Maybe not. Most of them were in my practice area.

And btw, though the sun was shining through patchy gray clouds when I returned this morning, the cats and I are now viewing the clouds turned sullen and the first snow flakes of the season.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Happy Extra Snooze Day

I was gypped. I spent my extra "falling back" hour last night awake. As far as I'm concerned, the worst peri-menopausal symptom is this sleep disorder, which differs a little from classic insomnia in that falling asleep is OK, but you wake up frequently through the night and often can't fall back asleep. I can take the hot flashes and night sweats, but I hate feeling sleep-deprived.

So last night at 1 or 2 am, depending on whether you are a before-bed or an after-I-get-up clock changer, I hit the snooze button on the radio for three 20 minute segments. I had hopes that I would fall asleep and not leave the radio on, which means I am not yet devoid of optimism, I suppose. In addition to a forgettable Strauss waltz I heard Elgar's Enigma Variations.

We're playing the E.V. in concert this Wednesday, so had our last rehearsal on Thursday night. It was pretty close to disastrous . We had serious problems with the transitions between sections, having never done them before. The violins crashed and burned on the variation with the fast eighth-note leaps up and down and all around the fingerboard. (That part reminds me of the second violin raindrop entrance in the 4th movement of Beethoven's Pastorale symphony. They crashed there, too.) The bassoons kept screwing up their entrances, apparently counting-impaired. The principle flutist complained that her pianissimo solo sections were being covered, and Maestro told her that the best we could hope to achieve was a fairly uniform mezzo forte, so she needed to play louder. I take that as an admission that this piece is too hard for us given the amount of rehearsal time allotted.

And I discovered a forgotten variation that just happened to be mostly a cello soli in tenor clef. (No, not Nimrod. The other one.) Evidently we rehearsed it once early on and it went well enough that we never returned to it, so it didn't get "starred" later for extra attention in my practice room. Oy. I'm cramming now.

So being awake last night wasn't a total loss. I hear so much more in a piece after I've worked on it for awhile. Not only that, but I know where all the snake pits are and can take pleasure in the professional navigation through them. I should probably get out of bed and start practicing now.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Life without fingernails

I once had a guy on a plane spontaneously turn to me and say "You know, if you stopped biting your fingernails your hands would be really pretty." I do not bite my fingernails. I'm a cellist. And I do not recommend that as a pick-up line, in case you were thinking about it. This came back to mind as I was reading an offhand comment about needing to clip nails on Cellomania.

I remember how traumatic it was for girls to give up their fingernails in high school. Many didn't, and were stuck with a finger-slapping lousy-intonation no-vibrato technique. I'd bet they don't play anymore. Even if your technique leans toward using the fleshy part of the low fingertip to get a fat vibrato in lower positions, you need to get further up to play faster, and you can't play in thumb position at all if you're not up on those tips like a ballerina is up on her toes.

Since I started playing violin at age 10 I have had long nails twice. One summer in college, my string bass years, I decided not to practice at all and grew them. I had to cut them off when they got in the way of sailing. Slipping sheets + catching fingernails = ouch. And I grew them for six weeks before my wedding for the photos. That was during a long 15-year +/- stretch where I wasn't playing an instrument, but by then the short fingernails had become a well established habit. By the time I can see a fraction of a millimeter of white my nails feel too long.

My current teacher, T-, keeps nail clippers in his studio. I've seen him hand them to students during lessons with unspoken but specific instructions. My last teacher, T2-, told me once that when she writes her autobiography she has two titles in mind, and one of them was Life Without Fingernails. Yup. I know what she means.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Little Black Book

Well, big black book. Or, big but not-too-thick black book. Actually, it's a 3/4" black 3-ringed binder. It's my practice partner.

I don't exactly live in two cities. I know this because I have cats in only one city. I do, however, have cellos in two. And I frequently visit the one without the cats, and have chamber music play dates there, and want to practice while I'm there. To facilitate that I photocopy all of the pieces I am working on, punch holes, and put them in the notebook. To go city hopping I throw it in a backpack and go. To go to my cello lesson I throw it in a music bag and go. To look up anything I am currently working on I grab one book and it's there. Takes a little up-front work, but really simplifies things.

Until... the notebook gets full. Like now. I should have done this at the start of this academic year, but I didn't. Because I wanted to do this, which I'm doing now. The changing of the book.

To mark the next era in my cellistic development, and remember the last, I'm going to list the contents before I remove them (or not). This is what I worked on last year. I'll mark the stuff that stays with +, the stuff to be filed elsewhere with -.

+ Directions to Studio Class location as many times as I've been there, sometimes I forget
- Excel spreadsheets with a log of Cello Gym exercises for left hand, right hand, and third hand (brain) a failed experiment
+ Bach 2nd Suite this will take at least another year
+ Faure Elegie started over the summer, this year's project
- Tchaikovsky Chanson Triste move to review
- Breval Sonata in C Allegro move to review
- Yampolsky E MAJ 4 octave scale and arpeggio variations
- Sevcik Op 8 I, II, VII, VIII, XXIII-XXVI I'll use the book when I'm here, and make up shifting exercises elsewhere if I'm so inclined
- Jensen Fun in Thumb Position preparatory exercises and 5 lessons
+ Saint-Saens The Swan I use this as a thumb exercise (swan on the thumb) and rarely need to look at it anymore, but it's nice to have it there when I do
+ Grutzmacher 13 first thumb position etude, will stay in the book until it's memorized
+ Grutzmacher 14
+ Duport 4,6,10,19
+ Grutzmacher 1 can't complain I don't have an etude to practice
+ Lee Op 31 1-8 still do these periodically, will probably stay here until I move beyond #8
+ Popper HS 6 for extra credit
- Goltermann Concerto #4 1st year project, move to review
- Romberg Sonata in e 1st year summer project, move to review
- Bach Suite #2 Prelude, Continental ed. I'll look it up if I need it
- Grieg Sonata Op 36 will pull it out if I need it again
+ Bach Arioso my first piece with T-. I like to beat my ahead against the wall.
- Schubert Trio in B hard. But I'm not working on it right now.
- Schubert Song Cycle I was supposed to use these for thumb position practice, but that never worked out

In the back pocket
- some cryptic notes about a piece with sections and patterns, but I have no idea what it is toss
- a copy of the famous Leclerc/Ramaeu duet move to duets folder
- Gabrielli Canon a due return to duets folder
- an uncompleted financial disclosure form for a journal article what's that doing in here?
- yet another Bach 2nd Suite, I think the Icking downloaded version
- Previn Vocalise score and cello part was I going to work on that with someone here?
- two pages of something in Eb beginning on m 104, with one line of treble clef and one marking: lamentevole. What on earth is this from?
+ de Swert 25 a nice warm-up exercise from the T2- era

In the front pocket
- A few pages from a Duport Sonata in G another huh?
- a copy of our wedding arrangement of All You Need is Love file
- a few pages of master class and lesson notes mine for blog topics, then file
- a music school tuition receipt or two file
- assorted concert flyers toss

Plenty of room now for another year of celloing.