Monday, December 20, 2010

Lessons Learned

This blog is not defunct. Perhaps a step beyond sporadical, but I'll never say never again. I have closure issues, you see. And I note that this appears to be my 600th post.

It's a rather lengthy post, as I've taken videos that in the past I would have strung out over a week, and instead posted them all together. I expect only the cello-hardy to remain until the end.

This experiment was inspired by Owldaughter's serendipitous discovery that playing her recital piece over and over, instead of concentrating on the tricky bits, resulted in marvelous improvement. I wish I could remember who next mentioned Burton Kaplan's Technique of the First Try, (if it was you, speak up and I'll edit in an attribution), but that inspired me to use that technique to prepare for my recent recital, on which I performed the D MAJ Mendelssohn "Song Without Words."

Parenthetically, my preparation of this piece was hampered by a semester of pain in my bow arm generated by a neck condition, and on which I had a surgical procedure done at the beginning of the month. Let's just say I haven't been practicing very well this semester.

So here's the gist of the technique. Each day I warmed up for 10 minutes with a martele rendition of Long Long Ago (may have to make a post about that as well - it's a great warm up). I then set up the camera and the music and recorded my first play through of the day - no prior preparation. I played through a couple of more times while the recording uploaded, reviewed it, and played through 4-6 more times with attention to a trouble spot or two between. That's it. About an hour of practice each day.

Three days before recital...

The biggest changes were after this recording. I changed many bowings, and really started working on getting my elbow down (releasing tension) on my up bows. I'm listening to the accompaniment on my iPod, BTW, which leaves little room for tempo manipulation.

Two days before recital...

Still need to get those facial tics under control!

One day before recital...

This was the day after my dress rehearsal, which went very well. It was suggested I focus on how I wanted to shape the music. The problem I began having at this point was that the music was nearly memorized after so many repetitions (much to my surprise) and I was beginning to have difficulty following it on the page without getting lost.

Day of recital...

I didn't bother with the accompaniment for this run-through, partly because I was short of time, and partly because I wanted to play a little more freely.


The problems with "near memorization" really came home to roost. In addition to being cold and playing cold, I kept losing my place. The worst problems were in the B section, where my accompanist did a wonderful job of helping me when I entered a loop, and with many places where my bowings were simply, shall we say, unplanned.

On the other hand, I think you can see how much improved this was over my 1st recording only three days before, as well as how I lost that predicted 20% from the "best" I'd done so far, under the stress of performance.

I think my primary take-away is that this is an effective technique, but should be started well before recital, not just three days. Ideally, this would be the prelude to a studio class or mock recital for friends, and the recital would be performed from memory. In fact, that's what I plan to do. I am so inspired by my imperfect success that I plan to do exactly that at an upcoming all adult recital in a month or two. Then I'll really feel like I've done the best I can with this piece.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Petting the dog

By way of explanation: Michael Tuchman says that his teacher likens the bowing in this excerpt from the Webster Scherzo (Suzuki Bk 3) to petting a dog. OK, mystified. Here's what my bowing looks like. Would definitely not pet a dog this way. Waiting hopefully for full video elucidation.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Shy kitties

Miss me? I'm still here, mostly hangin' out on twitter and my practice blog these days. Not having much to say, I'm not saying much. 140 chars at a time fills the bill nicely.

I have several shy kitties among my fosters at the beginning of this year, sisters Buffy and Willow, and Arnie, about 2 months older. Someday I'll write about them in detail, maybe on our rescue blog, but in the meantime I wanted to post this little video. You see, Willow has a crush on Arnie, and nobody believes me. Here is video proof of Arnie washing Willow's ears. I wish you could hear her purrs.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Who doesn't love a freebie?

One of my (many) little neurotic "things" is that while someone is working in my house, I feel like I must be working, too. (I would have made a terrible aristocrat in times past.) This week a very nice carpenter is here replacing the storm doors, and while he is doing that, I have been attacking the neglected filing in my music and hobby space.

OK, that's not quite fair. More accurately, I have been moving my stuff out of what is mostly DH's office space, and setting up my own space in one side of the open downstairs area. Truth be told, I have been mourning the loss of my previous closed studio to the gym a while ago, but am now ready to get over it and claim this area, even though I can't close the door on my practice time, as "mine." It's a combination music, stamping, blogging and study area. I have a table with two work spaces, moved the computer down, book cases and organizing cubes, the piano, and of course cellos, stands, and mirror.

So this week I emptied and moved some plastic file boxes downstairs and have been busily sorting, labeling and filing. I hope to get through the last four partial boxes of "stuff" today, which will then be the first time I haven't been living out of boxes since we moved here. Whoa. Major paradigm shift.

Now, based on the title of this post, I didn't start typing here in order to tell you all that, but rather to tell you what I found. I'm "pre-filing" the stuff from the boxes, sorting them into piles on the floor, and ran across a Shar flyer. It says that they have free sheet music downloads available, so I checked it out. Looks like they post something new every week, and this week it's the parts and score for a Mozart string quartet, k458, "The Hunt."

I love free sheet music. Did you know they were doing this? Great way to get folks to visit your shop every week.

And even better, now that I have blogged about it I can discard the flyer. Hehe.

Monday, August 31, 2009

The sound of one hand practicing

Just getting in under the wire - one more day, and August 2009 would be the first month without a post in almost two years.

August was a funny month. Between my travel and T4-'s I had half the expected number of cello lessons, plus I was building back up in practice time in fits and starts after my longer travel period in July. I'm up to an hour pain-free, but still lack the desire to work daily. I think it's coming, though.

Two weeks ago I initiated the "what am I going to do this semester?" chat with T4-, and I'm excited about the plan:

Set Allegro Appassionato aside in favor of Squire's Tarantella. I'll have many of the same bowing and fast-playing issues to be worked out in a slightly less complex piece of music. That was a relief, as I had reached the point of discouragement with AllApp. Now I can look forward to revisiting it with a new and improved skill set in the future.

Suite #3, beginning with the Prelude. This will be my first pass through this suite with a teacher, so I'm excited. I love the expansive joy of the 3d prelude.

We're going to spend some time on orchestra excerpts, which are important both as rep (I'm far more likely to play in an orchestra than to give solo recitals) and as an etude substitute. We're starting with Mozart Symphony #40 and Beethoven Symphony #5, which are the usual audition pieces for amateur orchestras in this area. Fun.

This is still a little up in the air. I'm continuing to work on Popper High School #1, and may look at the pre-high school book. Not sure about thumb position stuff yet, but for now I'll use the scales in Offenbach Grand Duo Concertante, which I am working up outside of lessons.

T4- doesn't seem big on scale routines and checking on them in lessons, so I'm a bit on my own. I can play all 12 major and 12 natural minor keys in 4 octaves at the drop of a hat, using Duport fingerings, so I've been choosing a key of the day and practicing elements of articulation or bowing from my pieces using either a standard 4 octave or Galamian 3 octave scale as the substrate. That seems good for now.

The impossible dream
Haydn Concerto in C. Yes, I'll probably get to start it later in the semester, and I'm thrilled.

I spent three years with T3- developing flexibility in my bow hand, so it's a nice change to focus more on left hand flexibility in order to play fast. At my last lesson on Tarantella we discovered that when I finger the notes without using the bow I make no sound. My project for the week is to observe my left hand while playing without the right hand. When I achieve the right degrees of flexibility, floppiness, unrestricted expansion and contraction, and balance the notes sound as I play them.

Very cool.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Auf Deutsch

Cool. I get to hog the computer while DH is at a dinner meeting here in Vienna, and just discovered that all of my Blogger toolbar is in German. One can never assume anonymity. Fortunately, all reverted to English after I figured out that anmelden had something to do with signing in.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

End of June

My, that month went by quickly. It's already time to look back and see how I did with my practice goals this month. Drumroll, please...

And the answer is, very well, and very badly. I practiced 18 hours and 5 minutes over 19 days, which means I reached my total time and frequency goals handily. But I had a deuced time with the sit down behind the cello for 5 minutes before noon goal. I did OK for the first 6 days, missed a couple, tried again, and just gave up.

Turns out I am completely unable to sit down behind the cello without a goal. What I found myself doing was getting to the cello at 11:55 to start an hour's practice, not my intent at all. The biggest question I am left with is why I thought I wanted to do this in the morning.

Good reasons to practice in the morning.
1. If I practice in the morning, well, then it's done. Works for exercise, so I thought it would be a good idea with practice.

2. Morning is both an introspective and a focused time for me (but do NOT talk to me before 9am OR before coffee, whichever comes later). Seems like the energy requirements should coincide.

3. I used to practice for 30 minutes before work, with the benefit of starting the workday feeling relaxed and virtuous.

Possible reasons it didn't work.
1. I also got back on the morning exercise bandwagon this month. Ran every day (but 3) for 10 minutes with 10 more minutes of walking, PT, and stretching. Doesn't seem like much, but a huge breakthrough as I am still trying to recover from knee surgery.

2. I like to sleep late, now that I can. Thirty years of being up and at 'em before 6am was plenty long enough, and since retirement I have resumed my more natural night owl rhythms.

3. I love to spend my first barely-conscious hour drinking my coffee and catching up on the overnight blogging and Twitter activity. After feeding the cats, of course.

4. I don't have to, and no one can make me.

Sleep late + coffee/blog time + work out + breakfast and the morning's over.

I guess that's the bottom line. There are other ways I would rather spend the morning, and much as I like practicing, it just gets squeezed out. And you know what? It's not really important. I reached my time and frequency goals with no problem, and the practices I had were of good quality. So I guess I learned an important lesson this month. Just because a goal seems like a good idea doesn't mean it's right for me.