Monday, August 24, 2009

Music is 90% Mental & 10% Physical

Or another way of saying the title is that there are two types of technique - mental & physical. The physical side of practicing could basically be compared to weight-lifting - you need a certain minimum physical strength & dexterity in order to to play the instrument - things like finger independence, finger speed, being able to produce a loud sound, proper posture. Those things are incredibly important. The rest is mental. One must first have a concept of what they want something to sound like (whether you do that through visual, textural, aural adjectives/metaphors, doesn't matter - you just have to have some goal) & then the rest of practice becomes about 2 things: trying to create that sound & trying to find the least demanding (most-tension free) way of consistently doing it.

That revelation/realization seems incredibly significant and fundamental to me at this point and addresses progression on any instrument. You can do all the technique in the world, but it has to have a purpose.

One thing I've noticed is that a lot of musicians tend to discount other musicians who can play very fast ... I think this is pointless - it is simply one aspect of technique (and an important one)

On another note, a musician friend recently pointed out to me that English has very little adjectives to describe sound, and consequently, we use a lot of visual imagery - I thought that was an interesting point.

I'd write more, but I think that hits the heart of it, and I'm not feeling so well at the moment...

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Recent Happenings

So, I still haven't had a chance to type up Post-Summit Reflections or masterclass notes or stuff like that ... hopefully I will ...

A ton has happened since then:

1. I quit Soapbox Army to focus more on classical studies
2. Manhattanville College informed me that I needed to return my cello by the end of the month
3. I managed to get a very nice cello to play on for the next few weeks, courtesy of Bernie Tamosaitis - I may eventually buy this cello, but it would likely be in the distant future
4. I'm doing Copland's Appalachian Spring for 13 instruments on 2 rehearsal (had the first one last night) - it's cool. This gig's in Danbury - quite a drive!
5. I'm going to be doing both an Off-Broadway musical & an Opera - this will be good playing & career-wise & also a good test of my abilities

I played for Bernie earlier - it was very helpful. In general I need to:

-Emphasize notes less
-lighten up w/ my bow strokes
-create the sound w/ the bow & not the left hand
-lighten up before shifting
-think more about style & practice slowly
-practice technique w/ specific intents/make exercises out of things
-analyze for excess tension & find the easiest ways to play things

I got to play on a couple of different cellos of his - it was very cool to see how they all respond differently & have different characters - he seems to know a good deal about the worksmanship and history of them, which is great, because I don't really know much of that.

Anyway, so I got some really great advice & experience from it, and I have this church gig in the morning that involves improv'ing over really simple chord changes

I'm thinking of starting a set of "How to Improvise" vids. on youtube - I think it would be helpful for folks who are interested & might help a little in getting my name out as a teacher - I need to send flyers/resumes out to school teachers soon ...

Anyway, sleepytime ...

Wednesday, August 12, 2009


Played the Brahms Trio earlier ... it went ok ... it had good moments & not good moments ... the concert was poorly scheduled (15 minutes after orchestra), so I didn't get a chance to run to the bathroom or eat or do any of my usual pre-stage rituals/routines ... so all in all, it went ok ...

Just, I'm really sick of performing pieces in a half-assed kind of way ... Nothing I've played on any performance has really been up to standard & I've never really been in control of it & fully making music out of all of it ... this needs to change ... from now on, I need to really have a piece down long before I'm going to perform it & be more than comfortable with it. The main thing that needs to happen is that my learning curve & planning need to be steeper in the early stages of work .. and I need more time of course.

Orchestra later ... gonna be lazy for a bit ...

More differences

Soloists always have an incredibly thorough definition of the piece they are playing, both in terms of musical structure & in terms of the technical means to realize that interpretation.

They also have a holistic awareness of the composer's life, cello, theory (well, not always), the score, history & everything else. They have thought deeply about these things and have applied them to the piece.


Today I noticed:

1. I am often not breathing during my chamber piece.
2. I was not using my shoulder blades in my bowing, which meant I wasn't making circles w/ my shoulders or opening them up.
3. I'm often not holding the string all the way down with my left hand ...

These were all useful realizations.


In other news, I got to see Alma play twice today ...

First, in a masterclass ... As if the fact that she plays incredibly well weren't enough, she also picks things up incredibly fast ... I forget what she was playing at this point ... I think maybe some Liszt thing ...

Second, in the chamber concert as part of the Trout Quintet. ... Um, Wow!! First of all, it was so great to see that piece live & performed by other students. They all did an amazing job .... Alma in particular had the whole score memorized & did an incredible job of playing what is essentially always a 2 voice part (it's practically written as if it's two instruments really). There was this perfect clarity between the voices, and you could always hear them both.

Her playing is really inspiring & I can't wait till I've developed my mind and technique to a point where it's that focused ...

I'm getting a lot more analytical about practicing in general, and have decided that I'm going to devote the first half hour of my practice every day to basic fundamental & kinesthetic work & making sure that all of that is really-well set & reinforce ... so the first hour will be a bit of an exploration really ...

I've improved so much in the really short time since my lesson yesterday, and it's really encouraging (but also makes me want to practice more, so I can improve more!)

I need to go to sleep now ... two concerts tomorrow!

Edit: We had a bit of a Jam session afterwards, though it turned into a read Jazz Charts session after a bit, which is much less fun ... Sytske knows all sorts of cool fiddle stuff ... I really need to catch up on that!

Also, there were some other really cool pieces at the concert & lots of other stuff/people I want to write about ... I'll probably spend all my free time thursday practicing & writing up all the things I didn't have time for ...

Monday, August 10, 2009

So about that classical stuff

I realized that there are two pretty significant difference between really amazing players/soloists & the rest of us:

1. Volume/Tone - The really great players have a tremendously large sound
2. Clarity - The really great players have incredibly clear technique & musical expression ... every note is connected to the others & does specifically what they want.

I've noticed the two are related ... if you play with a really big sound, you build more muscles & everything becomes clearer ... and that's the final missing piece between where I was before & where I am now ... well that plus the constant immersion in music & analysis, which I'm really getting back into.

The other thing I realized is that every practice sessions needs to be a really intense lesson (self-taught), where I'm giving myself constant criticism/instructions on how to do better ... words like ... basically taking a really intense lesson/coaching & making myself the coach & holding myself to the highest standard. I've been progressing a lot, but I'm still so far behind, so I need to push even harder ... I'm really looking forward to being done w/ Summit so I can really focus on the things I need to & dive in to some analysis, while doing 3 hours of technique every day.

I've also realized that I know a whole total of zero concertos (well, I've actually learned 1 - the Vivaldi Double Concerto, but I can't just whip that out) ... So, my next piece goal once summit is over is to learn the whole Haydn C really well & then to move on to something else ... all the while, I'll be really working on technique, and improving on that end, so I'll actually play something well instead of mediocre for once.

This last realization was prompted by the concerto competition, which was really inspiring to watch, because it really hit me over the head with how much basic stuff I haven't done yet.

My goal for next year (assuming I do Summit) is to have learned at least 1 concerto very well (so I can enter the competition) & to be at a point technically where the orchestra music is not beyond me at the beginning. I'm still struggling to play all the notes/play it really well ... though nowhere near as much as last year.

I also realized that I need to do a technical analysis of pieces from now on & make sure my technical development matches what I need to know in order to play the piece.

I've designed a technique routine, which I'm tweaking a little bit right now ... After Summit, I'll write it up.

Sleep time now...

Dream Theater & Zappa Plays Zappa

I just got back from an absolutely amazing concert (so refreshing!)

I missed the first two bands of Progressive Nation 09, but did get to see Zappa Plays Zappa & Dream Theater ... Zappa was beyond incredible ... first of all, there was this girl in the band playing Flute, Saxes, Keys & Singing ... A Drummer, A percussionist, Dweedle (sp?) & another guitar & bassist. Second, the giant variety of musical styles within their music is all kinds of awesome ... It really blew me away .. I can't believe how much I've been missing not having listened to them.

Dream Theater was great ... they've improved tremendously as a live band since I last saw them ... full of energy & doing a lot of great musical things w/ a well put together set-list & great transitions ... lots of jamming this time. They're so inspirational technically, but also as composers because of what they do w/ form/orchestration ... so amazing to watch & listen to.

I'm really glad to have gone to that concert, though I wish I had gotten to see Scale the Summit & BigElf ... oh well, I did get a Porcupine Tree sticker for my cello case! It's yet another affirmation for me of how much better progressive rock & heavy metal are than classical. I say better because there is more in them and they are so much more interesting & developed & have so much more sounds. And in terms of presentation there is so much more to experience at a concert ... it's a multi-media thing that really encompasses so many different areas, where as classical is this really narrow kind of setting, and while it's really expressive within its area ... we're still talking about a small area. Also, classical music was groundbreaking & transforming 200 years ago ... we've moved so far forward since then.

That being said, I'm planning to do some hardcore analysis/score reading of both Dream Theater & Classical stuff (starting w/ Bach/Mozart/Beethoven piano stuff).

There's some more I want to write, but now is not the time...

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Summit 8/8

Sometimes you just need a break ...

and so I took one ... yesterday, after the concert I didn't practice & hung out w/ Alma instead ... it was incredibly relaxing/a much needed break. We talked about a ton of different things, including practicing & our conversation made me think of Jordan Rudess (because she was talking about the warmups she does & that they're partially intended to develop finger strength/independence & how much of a difference it's made in her playing), which made me think of this: - some amazing music!!

Today I didn't practice quite as much as I ought to have (only 3 hrs. instead of 5) ... so I'm gonna have to make up for it tomorrow & do 6, because I *really* need to shed both my orchestra pieces and my chamber stuff ...

What I did do however, was come up with a 3 hour technical routine that I'm planning on starting very soon & on doing every day once I get out of Summit ... unfortunately, I also left it in the car & so I can't write about it now (I can't wait till I have internet at home again!)

Otherwise, I went w/ Eric into White Plains & then picked up Michael Klotz - the viola teacher. I managed to watch part of Berlinsky's masterclass & part of Michael's ... missed Bong-Shin Ko's, which was unfortunate, because I would have really liked to have heard some of the pieces ... I'm sure I'll get to at Matt Haimovitz's classes though (he's doing two this year!!!)

I thankfully didn't have chamber today (I needed a break from it) & missed most of the 6 pm concert ... I did watch the 8PM though (which was originally supposed to be Aaron Rosand, but became a Student Gala instead!) ... There was a really amazing performance of Ravel's Tzigane on it (what a freakin' cool piece!) .. also, Elliot Mallard played Elgar mov. 1, and though we have an incredibly different idea of the piece, it's great to watch the way he plays ...

Speaking of cool performances, last night's performance by Dmitry Berlinsky was absolutely incredible ... it's been the first concert that really 100% grabbed me ... and you could really feel the energy in the room ... can't wait for Matt Haimovitz

After the concert, I watched Rita, Maria & Alma try the piano that they're going to play the concerto competition on (I really hope I can have a whole concerto together by next year ... I doubt it though ... I absolutely will have the first movement of the Elgar together in really amazing shape though ... that's a promise to myself ... I want to perform that and make some amazing music out of it) ... that was a nice treat ...

I got a very interesting point out of talking w/ Eric earlier ... he mentioned that when he performs he looks at something else, but thinks about what he needs to do on cello in his head & so I tried out doing that (because I'm trying to fix my problem where I keep looking down at my cello) & it was so incredibly helpful ...

My lesson w/ David went well yesterday ... I played for Jeff Solow's masterclass the day before (not well) & so we talked about some of what Jeff brought up, and some postural/set up issues (which I think I'm getting the hang of, but really want to ask him about again in our last lesson. This way, I'll be able to work on them on my own a little bit).

I also ended up talking w/ Jeff for about an hour or so after the concert this night ... it was great ... I haven't done enough of that this year ... I think If I do Summit next year, I'm going to go to less of the concerts or masterclasses, because I still need to practice more, but I also need time to be a human being & I realized that there's only so much one can actually get from listening to masterclasses.

I'm tired of the pressure of all the different musical things I have to do ... I kinda just want a break, so it will be nice when summit will be over, because instead of trying to split my practicing between too many things I can concentrate on doing a few things really solidly

I am also 100% planning on asking Mr. O to take regular lessons with him ... I've been wanting to for so long & lately I'm feeling more and more lost with cello and how to practice and what to do & just so overwhelmed and general, and I feel like he'd be the right teacher to really solve that. There's a certain instinct in his teaching & playing that I just so naturally trust & that seems to work, and having started the instrument under him, he has a really good understanding of my background & me as a person & I think we work well together.

Working on Bach has been really frustrating on a very good way (I'm really finding all my flaws) ... I wish I had time to write more in general ... lots of stuff I'd like to write about ... I need to get home and go to sleep now...

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Summit 8/6

Today, I had Orchestra (like every other day), which I was actually doing pretty well in (minus the parts that are too fast for me to play at this moment) ... but in terms of watching/counting/making corrections and making some kind of music, I'm doing a decent job
... could be better of course ... and it will be once I have the music more under my fingers... now if only I could find more time so I could practice it...

Richard Clark has emphasized a few times that playing in Orchestra is like a big chamber ensemble ... I couldn't agree more.

So anyway, after orchestra I practiced for 3 hours & then played in Jeff Solow's masterclass, which was incredibly helpful & educational. One of the highlights of it was getting to watch Elliot Mallard play ... he has the most fluid left hand technique I've ever seen from a student cellist ... it's pretty incredible

In my case, Jeff suggested the following:
-Pick up the Tempo
-Start firmly ... the D F A triad starts on D, not a...
-Re-examine my fingerings to eliminate undesired transportational slides
-Slant my forearm back (is this called pronating)?? He used different words for it, but basically what he pointed out to me was that I was always balancing on my fourth finger, because of the way I rotate my hand forward. He also mentioned that I wanted a slightly concave wrist. So far, I have found this suggestion incredibly helpful ... also alarming, b/c I've been teaching people the exact opposite (yikes!)

In general, I was hungry/nervous during my performance, and my bow arm got very stiff ... I have to find ways to loosen it up & I have to find ways to counter-balance nerves/focus on telling a story before starting/being in the zone/meditative state. I also need to stop looking down when I play ... practicing w/ my eyes closed helps a bit, but it doesn't really ... I just need to practice looking elsewhere (and remember Steven Isserlis' masterclass w/ the Dvorak).

Then I had Brahms rehearsal (which I have 3 of tomorrow ...) & then I needed about 2 hours of me time to chill out & de-stress and eat & not be depressed (was dissatisfied from my performance at the masterclass)

Then there was the 8:00 concert ... many kinds of cool ...

Beethoven Violin Sonata
Brahms F Major - Bong-Shin Ko was the cellist
Schumann Fantasiestucke on violin (this sounds so much cooler on cello!)
Mozart Clarinet Quintet (which played 2 tunes orchestrated by Benny Goodman afterwards)

Then I practiced another 2 hours (making a total of 5) ... now it's time for sleep...

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Summit Days x-y - the super condensed version!

I learnt something very important today ... in order to prepare for a performance (or a masterclass in my case), you have to practice something in as many different ways as possible (interpretationally, dynamically, with your eyes closed, with a story line or mono/dialogue running through your head & any other way you can think of!). Playing with your eyes closed is easily the most revealing of technical insecurities ... playing everything at full volume helps with that too.

In other news, today I:

Had orchestra
Practiced for 2.5 hours
Attended Emanuel Gruber's Masterclass
Practiced for a half hour
Had a 2 chamber coachings
went to the concert (first half Julian Milkis, second half, Beethoven Septet!)
Improv'd outside (this was nice - despite the humidity - full moon & I ended up w/ a very small audience)
Practied for an hour

So, 4 hours of progress ... I had some absolutely amazing musical experiences in the last couple of days, including: getting to play for Emmanuel Feldman in a masterclass (He told me to open up my shoulder when bowing & to move around a bit & to not hold extensions); getting to see Alma play her Liszt piece (Transcendental Etude 10) on one of the Student Galas (she played with so much energy & force that it really reminded me of Jacqueline DuPre, except on piano ... but anyway, I had no clue that one could get that much sound out of a piano); getting to see Eugene Osadchy & the rest of his trio play Tchaickovsky ... I'm sure there's other stuff ... I'm going to try really hard to do some full posts about the previous days by the end of the week...

So far Summit has been an incredibly transforming and inspiring experience ... I've generally been tremendously happy in a way that I haven't been in longer than I can remember. I'm smiling & learning & spending time with people & it's all been so great! Been getting some great stuff from the masterclasses too...

Now I have to go to sleep...