Monday, November 23, 2009

Discovering Secrets

I learned 4 very important things in the last 2 days of cello playing

1. I needed to "let go" of the bow & stop using so much downward pressure/trying to force the bow & use my upper arm muscles to increase the bow speed instead. I had had this pointed out to me before & had lessened the pressure from what it was then, but I didn't really understand it until now.
2. Which leades me to my next point - Cello is a physical task & no matter how important the mental side of things is, the body has to learn & feel how things should be. The cello and bow are really just extensions of your body while you're playing them.
3. Which leads me to my next point - "practice makes permanent". Countless repetition (until consistent perfection) is the essence of what it means to prepare something on cello. Learning cello is like any other creative process - it's a tension & release cycle & in order to get the most out of it, one must put in as much effort/analysis/repetition as possible & then let go & take a break and then come back to it & repeat the process
4. Which leads me to my next point - Every single motion is linked to and is a preparation for the following motion. I learned this from watching Julia Lichten play at Purchase tonight. There literally is no excess in her playing, every single motion was connected to the next one with such meticulous detail. Instead of hindering or subtracting from the music, this in fact added to it substantially. It's this level of preparation that allows someone to actually express themselves/the music's intent fully.

Ultimately, this all could be boiled down to this: "Your cello practice is a temple. What you put into it is what you get out of it."

It's all about how many hours you put in all the time & how much more you ask of yourself in your focus & persistence. I finally feel like I'm beginning to grow into being a real player, as a result of these realizations & all my recent experiences. The Journey is just beginning.

A lot of these realizations came as the indirect result of the interviews I was reading with Howard Shore & Douglas Adams - for any who discover this post: It is so important to have interests outside of your main discipline. There is so much to learn & so much that can be applied to cello...

The Etude Project

I *really wish* that more advanced cellists/musicians would do things like this (post about their learning/practice process)

In general, I wish that more college or post-college players would blog - there is so much to learn - especially with all the different teachers out there ... this seems to be a really under-represented group in the blogging community.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

The Music of the Lord of the Rings

Here's another source of musical inspiration: The Lord of the Rings Scores. Both the music itself & people talking about the music from a theoretical & experiental viewpoint. This blog in particular has some really great interviews with Howard Shore & Douglas Adams (who's written a soon-to-be-published book about the music of the films). Film music has always been something I've been into (since I discovered it) & it often receives very little substantive/informative press, so this is really great to read. Particularly, it's inspiring since the music is so large-scale and so classically-influenced. (It also means I'm really going to have to start exploring Wagner & the rest of Opera soon ... this is going to be a very big journey!).

Howard Shore talks a lot about his musical development & the fact that he'd been composing music since he was ten (I find that to be so cool!) & what he was influenced by & stuff like that ... go check out the interview transcripts ...

Musical & Personal Growth

I've learned an incredible amount over the last few months (and particularly over the last week) & wanted to take some time to reflect upon that.

I think my main source of growth has been the Sound Shore Chorale. I've just about always liked singing (except in early high school when I was way too nervous to sing for anybody), but SSC has really just been a tremendous experience. I've met all sorts of different people (all older than me - I'm the youngest in the ensemble) & that in itself has been great. However, the real growth has been musically. My sense of pitch (well, really my ability to sight-sing/read) has developed a lot more (from having to prepare the parts on my own) & my listening has improved as well. Through preparing the pieces & having to really internalize & analyze them in a way that you don't always necessarily have to (but should) when reading something on a physical instrument has done wonders for my understanding. I've also started working on learning the accompaniments to the songs we performed & will keep working on that ... I'll talk a bit more about that later. One thing I've learned is that I have a very under-developed sense of pitch (relative to the rest of my sense of pitch) in my lowest register (between 1 & 2 octaves below middle C) - both on cello & voice. This has been improving lately as well.

In addition to that, I've grown a lot as an ensemble member - both in terms of my commitment to an ensemble & learning to be in sync with the ensemble and the conductor. I still need more work on the second (because I tend to work by ear, rather than visually) & need to look up more (because I usually know the music to the point of memorization anyway), but I've really progressed with it a lot.

In addition to all that, I've got a chance to watch Richard Slade as a conductor/musical director & have learned from that. There are two aspects to this position: the musical & the people-management. Musically it involves picking repertoire, rehearsing it on a weekly basis, knowing what your group can handle musically, having an incredible ear, being able to conduct & having/being able to communicate a musical vision. As a manager, it involves having rehearsals & concerts scheduled in advance & spaces reserved, it involves telling everybody the order of pieces over, it involves planning multiple concerts a year, being the most-organized person at the concert & all sorts of other things.

My experience with SSC leads me to my next source of growth - playing in a string quartet. We performed the 3rd (thanksgiving) movement of Beethoven's Op. 132 Quartet (Richard asked me to put this together as part of the program). This was a brand new experience for me. The only other time I've been able to play in a quartet has been playing christmas music & that is hardly even close to the same thing. I've done a fair amount of chamber music before (not an incredible amount, but a good amount for how long I've been playing), but it has always been for other combinations (largely piano trios). Those formats all have their own lessons, but there are things you can only learn through playing a string quartet with other advanced players.

In addition to my musical growth from that quartet, I also learned about the organizational side of putting a quartet together for a performance. This was a very challenging activity! First, it takes time to find players (which proved to be particularly difficult in this instance), who will most likely be very busy, then you have to schedule rehearsals (which is always a challenge). Then add in the difficulty of the work & last-minute problems/illnesses & making sure everyone is on the same page with everything & everything goes according to plan... and there you have it. At the end of the day, everything works out & it's on to the next thing. The whole experience made me think of tour managers and stuff like that for bands & what their experience must be like. In my case, I need to plan things a little bit more in advance & account for time better (I'm usually getting to things just when I need to - unless they're in NYC, in which case, I'm always early b/c I never know how trains will work out)

Another source of growth has been the St. Thomas Orchestra. We performed Harold in Italy & Mendelssohn's Scottish Symphony. I have performed Harold in Italy before. I didn't have either piece fully prepared & one thing I have learned is that I need to start working on parts much earlier - even when I have a ton of other activities going on. I need to create a schedule/deadline for working on things & I need to get to a point where I know all the notes by the second or third rehearsal so that in rehearsal I'm actually working on musical things & on following the conductor a lot better. One thing I have gotten much better about is listening to the other parts and fitting my part in with them. Orchestra playing is really just a huge chamber ensemble, and that makes it *incredibly difficult*. I could still do a better/more frequent job of listening, though.

It's also caused me to grow, because I am the weakest cellist in my section. The gap isn't overwhelming, but everyone else has a much more secure technique/knowledge of the parts & it's been great to be around that & watch and learn from them. Particularly, I had one rehearsal where I sat in the first stand (because a lot of people were out) & playing next to Claire was just really inspirational - she is a very strong player. One important thing I've learned from St. Thomas is that it's much easier to dislike the way someone does something than it is to do it well yourself. In the future, I'm going to do things better & make it much more of a point to find things to like/learn from when observing other people (while still being critical).

One thing I've been getting into lately is accompaniment. Not that I've been doing any, but I've been reading about accompanists & working on piano parts for the choral music I'm working on. In general, I'm hoping to develop my piano skills more so that I can start to do accompaniment work & maybe even some day play keyboard in a pit. This will help things financially, but also musically & compositionally. I came to realize from various playing I've been doing that accompaniment is something I really like doing (regardless of what instrument I'm on). It's an enjoyable challenge, and I find it very fulfilling.

So there are some sources of recent musical growth ... there have been more too, which I'll write about soon.


One last thing. One of the major ways I've grown over the last few months is that I've developed a lot more self-confidence & comfort in my playing/musicianship. To accompany that, I've also begun to think less of my individual accomplishments (not in a demeaning way) and to start to see the bigger picture & look at how my experience compares to other players'. So in short: more confidence, less ego.

Another thing, it's a little scary to write so openly about my playing on a blog, but I think it's an important part of who I am as a person, so I will always continue to do it to the fullest extent possible.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Gig/Activities Summary!

In the last month or two, I've done a ton of different stuff. Here's a summary:

1. Topsy Turvey Loves - a 2 wk. Gilbert & Sullivan (sorta) show ... wasn't the best experience, but I did get to network & meet some awesome musicians. It received mixed press.
2. December's Fall at Flushing Library Halloween Show - this was awesome. Really, the best rock gig I've done! We had a full stage & the audience was mostly kids (I mean kids!) who got really excited over our music & some wanted our autographs & stuff like that after the show - it was so cool! Such a great energy. Tony Baptist was on drums after learning the tunes in *2 days* It was so great to get to play with him again!
3. Brigadoon - My idea of an ideal musical - cello book was great, I got some players involved & met a ton of new ones. The production was with Blue Hill Troupe, who are a great bunch to work with & everything about it was awesome. Low pay, because Blue Hill gives their money to charity, but more than worth it. I wish every gig could be like this.
4. Music Career Workshop at Manhattanville - this was useful & helped me feel like I'm on the right path/doing things well. I knew a lot of the info already, but that's because I've been reading up on this stuff & have a huge variety of interests. I think this was a great step forward for Manhattanville, which I didn't really feel helped me out career-wise very much. Presenters were: Melvin Stecher & Norman Horowitz, Laurie Jakobsen, Justin DiCioccio, Michael Anesta & Christianne Orto.
5. Pam Devenport Masterclass - I watched her teach a masterclass at Hoff (to 12 & under students) & learned a bit from watching it. The most interesting thing was to see how much she emphasized tone & getting a good ringing sound out of the cello. It was also great to see the level of the kids, who are more advanced than my students (and have been doing this longer)
6. Sound Shore Chorale performance at the New Rochelle Public Library - went well, I learned a lot of my parts somewhat last minute, but sang what I knew with confidence & I learned more about what I need to do to develop further as a performer.
7. Photo Shoot - I forgot the artists name, but I did a photo shoot earlier today & will be recording in the future. More details when this materializes more & when I know that I'm allowed to give more info
8. Metallica concert - this deserves its own post ... here's the short version: They kicked my ass & actually improved substantially from last year!
9. I BUILT MY OWN WEBSITE! Please check it out at:

That's all for now... I have a recording gig tomorrow morning & 2 more concerts + a quartet movement all within the next week ... can't wait till this is all done!


I feel so insufficient when I meet other cellists & tell them I'm working on Haydn C & when I meet other players who have very easy technique/intonation ... I feel like it's such a struggle for me & not for them ... I was getting to that point, but then a lot of personal & work stuff started to get in the way of me practicing enough & not practicing enough really makes me feel insufficient ... I wish I was in an environment where I could just practice 4+ hours a day & everybody around me was doing that ... it's so hard at home when people want things from me & I have to clean stuff up & go to work & people get annoyed at me for not saying hi to them for 4 hours, b/c I've been busy practicing ... I feel insufficient when I get up and play a gig & a song I've played on multiple gigs & rehearsals is out of tune

The insufficiency is a good thing, but the fact that I got to a point where I feel like that at all is not so good ... I just need to get through this next week so I can get to a point where I really just have time to work on my own rep. & music

I also hate not being able to take gigs b/c of work - particularly when it actually looks like something cool/career-useful. I am definitely only going to hold this job through the end of december ... even if it means going back to taxis ... I like B&N better, but the nights/weekends thing is just completely killing me.

Ideally, I'll have more students by then & this won't be necessary (I will be promoting heavily in december)