Thursday, May 29, 2008

Thoughts & Observations

So practice lately has been incredibly productive (though I still need to do more) ... I've been working a lot on faster tempos (140 & up) doing chord patterns in the LH w/ different rhythms in the RH. I've also been working on the pentatonic scale, and mapping that out, b/c I'm trying to work on figuring out rock/metal tunes, and knowing the scale will help immensely, since most of it is blues based.

On top of that, I've discovered some physical/kinesthetic things about playing:

Breathing! More Important than anything (well this isn't exactly a new discovery, but I'm progressing w/ it more & more)
Maintaining a C shape with both hands at (almost) all times ... This came into play first w/ the LH from practicing scales & really gripping the string w/ my fingerpads for once (in part from playing on fingertips) ... I noticed that the C shape is just there ... it's the natural progression for it (which I've of course had pointed out to me before) ... I also used to have that/my LH is starting to look feel like it once did, in terms of callouses/relaxedness. Then, w/ my RH, I was trying to work on bowing in the middle of the bow, because I realized that it's a tremendous weak point of mine, and that I always practice bowing at the frog. From there, I started to actually really feel my 3rd and fourth fingers and their connection to the bow and it occurred to me that by maintaining what I'm now calling a C shape, that the bowing was much more fluid & free and could come from the elbow - instead of me arguing w/ my hand. It's nice to be getting to this point...

In general, I need to practice with more intensity (in my sound) & focus at all times, and also with a greater level of precision (I'm just finally starting to get to a point where I'm really focusing on eliminating extraneous noise & being extremely precise w/ articulation & timing & then eventually w/ tonal qualities)

So in general, I need to practice more ... I practiced some quartet stuff & jammed w/ a few people earlier ... it was embarassing how poorly I was playing ... so time to step things up ... I'm making my students keep practice logs, and I'm going to start doing the same, so I can really get on top of myself w/ this...

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Progressive Nation 08 & Lyrics & Metallica & Storytime & Folk Metal

Went to Progressive Nation '08 on Wednesday & Thursday!! - absolutely amazing tour!!

Dream Theater
Between the Buried & Me

Every band was incredibly interesting and did a great job.

3 - While not musically cohesive at all time (in terms of form or development), they were extremely creative with the way they used their instruments (particularly their use of percussion, and one of the guitarists slap-guitar style) - absolutely one of the most interesting bands I've watched. They had a drummer and a percussionist ... both played synths at various points ... the drummer looks really young compared to the rest of the band & could really play .. not to mention he sometimes he did vocals ... all in all, very cool & very educational/progressive in demonstrating new ways to use instruments

Between the Buried & Me - I liked these guys more than I expected - the vocals matched the music very much, and the singer also played a synth for half the set ... overall, I think they're very interesting, though they definitely had moments I wasn't crazy about ... some of their fans annoy me too...

Opeth - Shame on me for not having listened to them in such a long time ... they played a combo of older music & some newer tunes & everything was amazing ... their keyboard player had some really cool stuff, and both Mikael Akerfeldt & the new guitarist did some amazing stuff ... for those who don't know, Mikael sings clean melody lines, growls, and plays rhythm and melodic guitar parts ... he's one of the only vocalists who's good at both styles ... I found myself watching him, the guitarist & the drummer the most ... it would have been much cooler if the keyboardist didn't have his boards covered (wonder what the point of that was...)

Dream Theater - Of course were absolutely amazing both nights!! And their setlist on night two was 100% different from the first night ... their use of video was absolutely amazing!! They really, truly stepped that up from the last tour ... the intro video was great, and the encore (The Dark Nintendo Night) was a remix of the Dark Eternal Night & Super Mario Bros.
... on top of that, Jordan's added some really cool stuff to his setup, and his stand is beyond awesome!! (

I miss their 3 hr. sets, but both nights were incredibly intense & the level of performance was beyond amazing ... i found myself watching John Myung (bassist) more, and am gonna make it a point to pay more attention to his parts. On top of that, the first night featured Percussive Nation '08, which involved Mike Portnoy's Drum Solo along with with each of the drummers from the previous band coming out 1 by 1, and then altogether to play with Portnoy - that was an amazingly inspiring and educational experience about collective improvisation ... incredibly cool.

On night 2, Mikael Akerfeldt came out for Repentance (part of Mike Portnoy's Alcholics Anonymous Saga) to sing part of the song - was quite cool... Erotomania was incredibly cool, especially since they cycled through all their albums with the video (makes me really want to watch Score) ... they also played Voices (2 from awake!!)... Jordan introduced Trial of Tears with some brand new, incredibly cool controller ... I need to find out what the hell that was!!

Here's the set list from both nights:

Night 1:
Dream Theater
Constant Motion
Panic Attack
Through My Words
Fatal Tragedy
The Dark Eternal Night
Endless Sacrifice
"Percussive Nation" Drum Solo
As I Am
The Ministry of Lost Souls
I. Metropolis
II. Learning to Live
III. A Change of Seasons Pt. VII: The Crimson Sunset

Night 2:

Dream Theater
(Intro Video / 2008 : An Ant Odyssey)
ITPOE part 1
Beyond This Life
Repentance (With Mikael )
Take the Time

Schmedley Wilcox
l Trial of Tears
ll Finally Free
lll Learning To Live
llll In the Name of God
lllll Octavarium (Razor's Edge)


So after all that, I read through the Official Dream Theater Bio. that I purchased at the show (so glad they have a non-limited $20 edition!! Wish I could have afforded the special edition when it came out ... maybe some day I'll be able to get it off of ebay?? I still need to get Nightwish's End of an Era DVD!!) ... Anyway, the bio was incredibly awesome, though I wish it would have explored their side-projects more & featured some more interviews, as well as giving detailed run-downs of their equipment in each era & citing sources ...

But, as a result of watching that, I realized that I hadn't watched the Systematic Chaos documentary that I had ... so I watched all of that - it was all them in the studio. Incredibly informative & very cool ... it under-features Myung, but that's kind of the story of Dream Theater in general (at times...) ... It made me hear completely new things in the album & I'm gonna listen to it over & over again until I have everything memorized (the way I used to listen to music!! I'm returning to that) ... it also inspired me to check out some Rush (which has been sitting on my iPod for a while) ... um, where the hell have I been??? It's about time I gave them a listen (considering they're such a part of Dream Theater's roots) ... I finally feel like I can though, and I'm glad I did - very awesome stuff ... if I miraculously have the money, I'll go see them at Jones Beach next month ... but that requires that I miraculously have money (and that Amadeus School actually pays me sometime in the near future...)

The other big effect of me watching that documentary is that I've decided to start really paying attention to lyrics again ... I used to, but then I started neglecting them for other musical elements, and now I'm finally realizing (and others have pointed this out plenty before) that they're incredibly important & such a large part of the music (and have serious effects on the form & sound of it - particularly in rock music) ... so I'm gonna memorize all of them for all of my favorite bands...


Anyway, now from one favorite band to another: Metallica...

Recently watched Some Kind of Monster & When Metallica Ruled the World - both incredibly cool ... It's amazing how much they've documented everything since the Black Album (and even before then) .... so helpful and inspiring ... speaking of which, I got my brother back into the Black Album - very cool ... it's very interesting to watch their dynamics with Jason Newsted (who left the band of course), and to watch their personal and musical evolution in the years since they've become middle-aged ... I'm very curious to hear what their next album sounds like & at some point, I want to pick up their other dvds (which I've watched on Youtube - it's beyond amazing that a band could have that much prescence and energy on stage)


So not directly related to all of the above, I've found that a good way to end lessons with my ounger students is through story-time (I recently ended a lesson with The Swan and kind of narrated it as I went through it) ... it teaches them about the classical rep. while letting them chill out & watch (Students almost always seem to like watching their teacher play & in fact, I think it's an important part of teaching anything) ... just wondering if anyone can think of any other music that works for that purpose


On a final note, I ran into James Christessen after PN08 ... he had just gotten back from Pagan Fest 9which is oriented around Folk Metal), and earlier today gave me some links to a few bands: - KorpiKlaani - Keep on Galloping - KorpiKlaani - Shall We Turn - Turisas - Rasputin (cover) - Eluveitie - Inis Mona - Eluvietie - Summoning the Rain

The last band is the most interesting (to me) ... it's very inspired by the Gothenburg sound (eg In Flames) & celtic music ... the Drummer is a huge DT fan, and it features a girl playing the Hurdy Gurdy, 2 bagpipers, a violinst & others...

Also, check out Haggard (a very cool classical/baroque & Metal Fusion):

Guess that's all for now ... I really need to clean my room and get less dehydrated so I can start practicing again...

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Elgar at the Presbyterian Church

So, oddly enough, the one performance I didn't put up on my myspace is probably my most accomplished...

On one hand, I felt like I could have done much better, and I've come to the conclusion that I need to:

1. Practice arpeggios regularly
2. Come up with strategies for dealing with performance nerves (anyone have any suggestions here)
3. Put something on my case to remind me to tighten my bow, because I think that I've begun *every* major performance I've ever had with my bow too loose (and it really killed the beginning of it...)

So now that the bad's out of the way, it went pretty well overall ... I wish I wasn't up there worrying about stupid technical things when I was performing, but that will come with time ... on a brighter note, people were incredibly enthusiastic about it ... somebody told me that I brought tears to their eye, and a few people commented on the strength of my hands ... the first comment was/is incredibly surreal ... I'm just a kid who plays cello ... the idea that I have that kind of power is weird... In general, I was surprised by the enthusiasm afterwards and the number of people who seemed to be affected by it ... I feel like I need to go practice more and do even better...

I also seem to have lost my rock-stop, which is quite un-encouraging...

The rest of the program was pretty interesting, and a lot of the music was incredibly cool .. the one that sticks out most in my mind is The Blue Bird by Sir Charles Villiers Stanford (it was a program of all-English music) ... also impressive was Madeleine Slade (Richard Slade's daughter - he conducted it) singing a couple of solos - very impressive, b/c I think she's just in middle school or something of that nature ... cool to see that the musical talent continues in the family

I also ran into Kathy Weigand, who apparently sings with the group (the Sound Shore Chorale) - what doesn't she do??? ... was very cool (also ran into her at Danny Gray's recital), as she conducted the very first musical I ever played cello in ... she also mentioned maybe playing at Iona sometime ...that would be quite cool ... also ran into Natalie, which was cool ... wish I could play with the NRHS orchestra on wednesday :( ... I'm going to see Dream Theater though.

Diane Guernsey (the accompanist) mentioned maybe working on some more music together, so I'm gonna try and get the Beethoven Op. 69 sonata into shape and maybe work with her on that (and on some of Bach's Gamba Sonatas!!)

Very exciting! And incredibly special since this was my first solo performance in my hometown (New Rochelle)

All in all very exciting ... now time to clean and practice!

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Quad Stops!

So I've blogged about these before, but I was experimenting last night, because I was frustrated that my callouses on my left fingers weren't building up as quickly as I would have liked & that I didn't have enough time to practice. So, I figured I'd give the quad stops a try.

2 different variations on these:

1. Rhythmic: Whole, Quarter, Duplet, Triplet, Quadtuplet, Quintuplet, Sextuplet (gonna add in septuplet once I get the latter two down). I find that the more involved bow strokes really build them up more. This will be great for getting me ready for Saint-Saens.
2. Pitch: moving up and down by half-steps (and potentially other intervals). This can start in any area ... for some reason, descending in pitch is substantially more challenging ... Anyway, I think the best approach probably combines the two...

Right now I have my hand positioned with minor 6ths between then fingers (eg. D A# F# D), which basically makes it an augmented chord. At some point I'm going to try more challenging/different hand positions.

I might start making videos for YouTube for the different exercises I've come up with (ladders and quad stops) ... not sure though.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Lots of fun experiences, plus memories, plus brother helping, plus julia/purchase

So the last few weeks have been beyond busy ... they've also been tremendously incredible!! Going very far back in time (to April 30th), I performed the Mozart Requiem at Lincoln Center as part of Manhattanville's Chorus ... To be honest, just like when I played at Carnegie Hall, I was very non-plussed by the actual concert, but the preparation for and the rehearsals were absolutely amazing! It was so amazing to go from preparing it with an accompanist (and a rather amazing one at that!) to playing it with an orchestra. What was especially cool was getting to watch the cello section (which even had a high school kid in it - absolutely nuts!). But anyway, the music just came alive in a whole different way ... extra incentive to win the concerto competition!!

Then there was my jury. I played the Courante from the 1st Bach Suite, and Popper #11. The Popper I had to take a bit on the slow side (which I realize kind of defeats the point) due to my not fun tendonitis experiences at the time (It's not 100% healed at this point, but daily stretching and lots of playing has made it seem like it is ... along with some serious technical re-evaluation!!). Anyway, they told me that my Bach was the best performance that they had heard all day, and on top of that, one of the judges said after the Popper that he felt my playing was too good for my instrument - which is a tremendous compliment to say the least! My teacher thanked me for making music out of the Popper, to which I responded that one of the things tormented Popper was that cellists always played his music like they hated it.

So then, after that, the semester ended, and the day after I moved out, I was playing in an orchestra concert (for anyone in the area - check out the St. Thomas Orchestra!) ... I really wasn't prepared at all, and in many ways feel like I probably brought things down, because the cello section is so amazing, but anyway, it was a good experience, and involved lots of faking, and was good for networking (plus I only had 2 rehearsals with them & had tendonitis - so I can't beat myself up too much!).

Also relating to St. Thomas, I finally met Claire (a cello teacher in New Rochelle) who I've heard about for quite a while. She seems like a cool person, and apparently does some electric cello stuff (and apparently some string quartet tributes according to ...)

In the midst of all this, I started another student, who is 6 years old, and whose parents wanted to do hour lessons ... when I pointed out that there's only so long you can hold someone's attention at 6 years old and suggested 2 30 minute. lessons a week as a better medium, they went with 2 45 minute lessons a week ... On one hand, I'm not sure this is good for a 6 year old ... on the other I don't see why not ... on top of that, it means I have to drive twice a week, and as much as I love all my students, the driving gets so tiring, especially as the gas goes up ... on the other hand, I get more money & more teaching experience ... really wish I had some high school kids to work with though ... I'd feel so much more comfortable...

So anyway, fast-forward to this week - I accidentally scheduled the 2 lessons for the new kid at the same times I have rehearsal/performance for my friend's sr. recital - what was I thinking! (actually I had lost my planner on the day we had the lesson ... it was a rather overwhelming day... ). Rescheduled one, the other never took place b/c they never got back to me ... not exactly encouraging ... I saw Apocalyptica in concert ... that was an interesting experience. I was depressed at the time (going in), but came out happier & it was really interesting to watch ... I felt like their musicality was sacrificed for showmanship at times, and I felt like they could have used more tonal/dynamic variety at times, but holy shit can they play!! It was very cool to watch who was doing what, cuz it would really catch you by surprise ... it's weird, it felt almost out of place for a concert venue, almost like it would have worked in a more classical setting ... but it would have been horribly out of place there too ... guess that's what Break of Reality's for - bridging the gap between those two worlds ... I think they're better anyway ...

So lessons went well ... sort of ... Hillary's didn't happen because I was at Lincoln Center (she's my older student), Ellie's did happen & we got to read some more music & finally introduce the scale! I'm glad, because I love scales & I think it will help us move forward faster; Maria's one lesson was good, but dragged a little, cuz I haven't had a chance to get another copy of "solo time for strings 1" (which now that I've mentioned it, I still need to pick up - which is great, because I need to go to a sheet music store in Greenwhich anyway - potentially more students in the future!).

The next exciting event involved rehearsal and performance for Danny Gray's Sr. Recital. Again, I felt underprepared, and wish I could have done a better job, but overall, it was a very fun, amazing event & the music was sooo cool!! This was also good for networking. On top of that, I got to see some friends I haven't seen in a while, got asked about doing a quartet in a month or two (awesome!) & got to meet two really amazing cellists. One of them suggested that I sit in on their cello class in the future (so cool that that even exists in the first place!), and I emailed Julia Lichten asking if it was ok, and she said I could - incredibly cool!

So since then, I've been doing some serious practicing, working on Yampolsky, Elgar (which I'm performing in 1 week!), Saint-Saens (long overdue), Rick Mooney's Thumb Position Books, and random other things for sight-reading/taking a break purposes. Elgar, I'm trying to work on the first movement musically (and trying to "trace"/analyze DuPre's style & the way she feels/plays the piece so that I can incorporate elements of it into my own interpretation & make it more full.). Saint-Saens, I'm up to the double-stop passage in the first movement ... It's fun ... a good amount of work. I can't wait to start on the second movement of the Elgar, but I think I need to do some more solid technical work first!

Speaking of technical work ... I've been trying to really incorporate what Julia told me when we had our lesson together, and I've been trying to really incorporate breathing and relaxation as much as possible. On top of that, I'm working on building up a running technique and being able to play at faster tempos/triplets & 16ths with ease, b/c it is my giant weak-spot - well one of them!). Yampolsky is doing wonders for this, as well as giving me an incredbile challenge ... I feel like I need to develop a scale routine beyond what I have now. I think it will include: whole note scales, Rhythmic Variations (Quarter, Duplets, Triplets, Quadtuplets & Quintuplets), Ladders, Broken & Unbroken Thirds, 5ths, and 6ths (Broken & Unbroken). Additionally, I need to develop an open-bow routine - definitely double stops help tremendously ... I'm doing the "see how long I can hold the bow out" exercise at Quarter Note = 40 currently, and I think I want to add in stuff for the faster tempos.

Speaking of bowing, my brother helped me figure out/remember a few things:
1. Bow must be parallel to bridge
2. Double stops help this along
3. Though the source of power is the upper back, the elbow initiates bow changes & direction. The key to bowing straight is to concentrate on the elbow motion (elbow as a hinge, also, dead hand - which is Ostrofsky's idea, and fits with Julia's comment about not bowing with your fingers)
4. The key to figuring out if the bow is straight or not is to keep the bow very nearly on 2 strings (which is also a key to efficient playing that my teacher described to me a long time ago ... sort of like keeping my fingers down, this is tricky mentally, but physically much better/easier...)
5. The upper body, and shoulders absolutely must be relaxed in order for bowing to work well - it's very hard to maintain that relaxation while playing, but it's essentially to really getting a clean & loud tone!

So now that I've written a whole essay on my cellistic life over the last 3 weeks, I should chill out & do the dishes soon ... tomorrow I'm visiting O - can't wait!


Edit: Visited O today, discovered that I can't play for their concert b/c I'm going to see Dream Theater that night :( It was a fun visit anyway though ...