Thursday, January 10, 2008


"As far as I'm concerned, If you look down, you've already missed the note"
- Steven Isserlis

So that quote may not be 100% verbatim, but it popped into my mind as I was practicing recently. For whatever reason, I had been thinking about the Alexander technique & stressing & muscle tension, and so I started my practice by trying to play relaxed (because I've been doing lots of technical work lately). Immediately, I started listening to my playing (and let me tell you, the things I discovered that needed improvement... I could go on forever!!)

which brings me to my next point: Focus... truly making progress on a string instrument (well musically in general) involves extreme amounts of focus. First of all, you always have to find something to improve, but second, you have to manage multiple things at once (in my case, 2 hands, plus tone and articulation for each hand, at the bare minimum). In order to do this, you have to be able to listen to multiple things at the same time & then connect them with the physical sensation. I do this when I listen to music (try to listen to multiple parts at once & sing one part while "thinking" the other). It's nice to apply it to my musical work again.

I'me working on 2 musicals currently (well, one's an operetta). First, I'm working on "Amahl & the Night Visitors" by Gian Carlo Menotti with New Rochelle High School. This is loads of fun. Besides getting to hang out with some cool high school kids, I also get to play along David Jutt & David Toby (is that his first name??) & both of them are very amazing players. On top of that, the music is absolutely beautiful.

Next (and showing this weekend), I'm working on City of Angels, with Hastings High School. What an awesome gig!! I got it from randomly adding musicians (aka networking) on facebook. One of the people I added (Remy Kurs) had posted an ad that he needed a cello for a musical (this was long past), so I told him that if he ever needed a cellist, to drop me a message. Well, turns out he needed one!! It sucked getting lost the first time or two I went up there, but the rehearsals have well been worth it.

For one, I've met a couple of new people:
Insia Malik - a violinist who goes to school with Remy & knows a friend of mine at Manhattanville. She's got a really unique name & is very nice (not to mention a really good violinist!!)
Helen Hess - Goes to Boston Conservatory, and is into fantasy novels. I sat next to her at the 2nd rehearsal & during the break she was reading "The Amber Spyglass" (if you're not familiar w/ the His Dark Materials Trilogy, go pick up the Golden Compass now). Interestingly enough, her main instrument is actually viola (which is insanely cool... as much as I'll make fun of violists, I think the instrument is insanely beautiful... and better than the violin...), but she's playing violin for the show. There's some really nice moments where the cello & violin parts come together (unfortunately, it's next to impossible to see on stage... hmmm...)
Becky Riss - A sax/flute player & a friend of Helen's. Seems very nice.
Rob Statell - a brass player, also formerly taught in the New Rochelle School District. When I first met him, he was reading a book about Christianity that his mother had given him (much to the dissapointment of his mother, he's not quite Christian... was quite exciting, as neither am I!)
Michaelangelo Quirinale - Awesome guitarist from New England. Went to school at Berkley & now lives/teaches in Brooklyn. Apparently he taught Remy in music camp!! Was very interesting to talk to. Can't quite hear his playing from over where I am.
Remy Kurs - The music director. Cool kid, goes to NYU, really haven't gotten to know him too well. He's very good about not keeping the musicians past scheduled time... it's different than what I'm used to.
Todd Olson - Keyboard player, also goes to school with Remy. Todd sits with the strings & is fun to make jokes with, he also feels free to tell me when I'm playing something wrong or throw in helpful reminders (like that there is in fact an A sharp in the number we're doing!). It's quite cool.

And that's not even the whole pit!! It's nuts... also, very tight (but hey, that's the fun of it, right?!)...

In other news, I had a very good lesson with Hillary the other day. I don't fully remember what we worked on, but I remember doing quite a bit! She seems much more motivated, almost out of nowhere. It's quite exciting! She asked if we could have a scale due for each lesson (that is Major Scale + relative minor + Broken 3rds & Arpeggios), and I think it sounds like an amazing idea! More structure is good. So we're working with C Major & A Minor ... Next week G!

Some technical things I thought of while playing:
1. Efficiency! This means economy of motion (if there's one thing I should have absorbed from my current teacher, this is it!). The smaller the motions & the efforts involved, the cleaner & more rewarding the sound.
2. Hug the string with the bow - ties in with #1. A great way of being efficient... makes string crossings substantially easier & helps eliminate that surge I tend to get on open strings
3. Breathe & Listen... if I were to write two words on top of every piece of sheet music I own, it would be these two!! So important & helpful
4. Double Stops!! Think of as many inventive things as you can do with them - they are quite rewarding & help with callous building, as does sliding & wide vibrato
5. Practice everything Forte - if you can make a big sound (relaxed), you can make a small one!!

Think that's all for now.. tomorrow is the first show of City of Angels, which is really interesting, b/c we haven't even run through the whole thing with the cast (and we have a dress rehearsal after!!) ... the first real showing though is friday evening.

By the way, for all you cellists out there, Emily Wright is doing a "Does your Bow-Grip Work?" seesion through her blog, go check it out:

1 comment:

Emily said...

Thanks for the props! I admire your goals for this year. Among mine are to record some teaching DVDs and form a string quartet. You are dead-on with the technical tips in this post. I may very well steal them and post them (giving you credit, of course) on SRCB. :) Happy New Year, Mike!