Monday, May 24, 2010

Quebec/Terra Incognita

I had my first real international musical experience last weekend ...

Edensong went up to Quebec to play for the Terra Incognita Festival. It was a very cool experience ... very long drive (about 8-10 hrs. total) ... we stopped in Vermont on Thursday night & got some *amazing* French Toast at Stellas (2nd only to a cafe in Brooklyn of which I can not remember the name). James, Tony, Sarah & I rode up together & did a combination of chatting, filming and listening to cool music on the way up. When we got there, the customs folks were pretty nice & the guy who interviewed us was actually a prog. fan & asked us if we sounded like Porcupine Tree - talk about unexpected (on the flip side, the American customs folks on the way back weren't nice at all)!

So customs went ok - we had no merch in the car with us & it was packed to hell anyway (I really don't know how we fit so much in there!), so I think they decided not to bother inspecting it.

Anyway, eventually we got to Quebec (on Friday) & were all very tired. We went out to meet James' family (who drove up to see the band play) for dinner & had our first experience with Quebec food (it was pretty bad). Then we walked around a little bit & headed back to the hotel where we got settled in and waited for the rest of the band to make it up & settle in so that we could do a vocal sectional.

Then it was saturday. We were the 2nd band on saturday & had probably the best slot of the whole festival! Saturday was a lot of time spent running around getting equipment together & getting the merch table set up & eventually even practicing a bit ... we got an hour sound check early in the day (so cool/helpful!) & spent the whole day at the venue pretty much.

The venue itself was a nicely-sized chapel with a concert hall that fit about 200 ppl & an outside room where everyone was set up. I also later discovered that there was in fact a green room - very helpful for warming up and running through the set (which was essential, because I had barely practiced in 2 days).

By the time we were on stage, I was physically exhausted/just not feeling well & we took everything *fast* ... despite that, there was a lot of energy btwn. the band and the crowd & it was the first time I had played a show with Barry (our flute player) ... he's awesome to play with ... he sort of ... dances? ... on stage while playing flute & rocking out & he's a great person to feed energy off of & to try to one up ...

One of the things that I love about this band is that we're really a live band & we all put 100% into the show... afterwards it was the usual rush of "get everything off the stage" & then I actually had a beer! And there was a rush of people many of whom wanted my autograph on the cd they just bought & many of whom were very excited about the set they saw. Some of them had seen Edensong multiple times & were very complimentary about my cello playing & stage presence ... it was really lots of fun & enjoyment ... also a nice surprise, I got to see John, Paul & Greg from IZZ (who played on night two)... John was the only one I really knew at that point...

The other bands to play that night were: Claire Vezina (whose set I missed, but the other band members said was awesome!) & Galahad. Claire was incredibly nice & friendly and a pleasure to meet & talk to. Galahad were all fun guys & their music was pretty neat too! The keyboardist had some amazingly realistic/great sounding choir patches ... we saw them at the bar/restaurant later that night & they were good fun. (Actually, I met Stuart - their singer - at the hotel earlier & he said that he had seen me the night before & thought "Either that guy's in a rock band or he should be").

Speaking of that bar restaurant ... I've never had so much trouble ordering a cheeseburger in my life! (And it wasn't even good... though it was appreciated nevertheless). At some point earlier in the evening I had had quiznos (oh wait, that was actually day 2...) ... that was ok...

Then on to Sunday ... On sunday we ran into Galahad at the hotel during breakfast & it made for a lively and fun breakfast - they're all a pleasure to talk to & great guys! Hopefully we'll get to play with them again sometime ... Afterwards, James & Sarah & I headed to the city to meet up with James' family again & to do some exploring/eating (again, food was disappointing). The street musicians their played piano, harp & accordion. They played classical & improvisational music. The old city is incredibly beautiful - a must see for anyone who can ... a great example of what we can do/be...

Most of the rest of the band had gone home at this point (except Stefan, who was also with his folks). So we hung out in the city a bit & got to do lots of walking and talking before heading back to the venue for a full day at the merch table (with a bit of watching the bands) ... I really enjoyed doing this & was surprised at how much we sold on day 2!

The highlight of Day 2 for me was getting to see Izz & to hang out/chat with them after their set. I got to meet Tom earlier in the set & got to chat with the rest of the band more afterwards ... I discovered Greg was also a Mville graduate (guess we should have all sent an email to the music department & let them know what we were up to, but oh well, next time) ... on top of Izz, there was Atreal (whose set I missed) & Discipline (who were very nice & cool folks) ... James & Stefan are huge Discipline fans ... it was my first time hearing them, though I was really too wiped out at that point to give them a fair judgement (I had been struggling to stay awake during Izz's set just from the exhaustion). Discipline did really well considering some technical difficulties they'd been having with the festival's keyboard controller earlier in the day.

I think we went straight to bed after the festival ... can't quite remember ... we had decided to stay an extra night at that point (it made more sense & James had gotten a clue to the origins of his hat from one of the Izz folks earlier in the day).

So, Monday was a nice, enjoyable day off that involved just going through the city on our own. We drove to the address listed on the card James had, only to discover that it was an Atelier (which I believe means factory/workshop?). James told him the story of his hat (worthy of a blog entry for sure) & he offered to have us follow him to the boutique ... once there, James re-told his story to the folks working there & bought another (much cooler) hat! On the way out, I decided that it would really pain me not to have a souveneir of Quebec. So, I got a hand-made leather bracelet there that I now wear all the time (though I have found that it interferes with my cello playing, so I often take it off for that). Then we picked up Subway (the only good food we had the entire time!) and started the journey home.

On the way, we stopped in a place that could only be described as Hick's ville (not meant in any derogatory way) & got some great food for really cheap! It was quite impressive ... Sarah ordered a whole pizza pie (that was not entirely intentional) & we worked on french on the drive home (a little late huh?)

All in all, it was a cool, incredible experience & though I was less awe-struck than when I traveled to Baltimore, it is definitely something that will stick with me. It was generally very relaxing & helped lift the weight of the world off my shoulders a bit ... I'm going to really love it when Edensong becomes more successful & we can travel even more ... I definitely think lots of traveling is something I'm meant to do, and it seems like Edensong will be my venue for that...

Ok, time to go to sleep ... I'll try to write about something technical soon ... I've been practicing a lot lately & will be teaching my first guitar lesson tomorrow (which has caused me to start learning the blues, which is just *so fulfilling*) ... it's funny how life sort of has its own timetable/way of filling in the pieces...

Tonight's Lesson

Tonight I had a horrible experience - I was playing along to some music for a hip-hop fashion show ... which was all cool and fun ... BUT I had not thought about amplification/it just never got brought up ... the result? Somebody was holding a mic to my cello when I already had inadequate space

What would have solved the problem? Having a quarter inch on me ...

The Resolution: Always carry a Quarter Inch in the car ...

The show was good otherwise, but that really put a damper on it for me :(

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Bow Technique

I learned two things from watching Nevarra's bow technique vids:

1. The index finger & pinky are the most important fingers ... the pinky is for balance ... it is important to concentrate on both of these fingers.
2. I was doing my bow changes wrong ... I was doing them with the fingers and not with the upper arm ... he had an excellent point: you can tell if you're doing the change motion correctly, because the angle of the tip will remain the same. That was a valuable lesson & I'm playing better already ... coordinating bow changes was always something I had trouble with. ... It's amazing how much of playing the cello well really just comes down to have a concretely & correctly defined technique

Caveat: Anybody reading the above should go watch the actual videos, because it's easy to misunderstand what I'm saying since it's out of context (and I don't think I'm explaining it well):

Part 1 -
Part 2 -

An Update & A Reflection

So, first I want to start off by saying that all is well in the land of tendons and body-injuries & sickness ... I'm all better & playing a lot better too! (Partially from time off, and partially from watching a lot of Jacqueline DuPre & Greenhouse vids and trying to understand what they're doing with their left hand ... also, Nevarra's bow vids ... maybe someday someone will translate the rest of those into english!)

So what happened? I increased my practice time from non-existent (I was still playing in 3 or 4 ensembles regularly) to 3-6 hours a day in the span of a week and a half ... as Emily of put it *Hits head with frying pan* What did you expect?! ... or, as the saying goes, hindsight is always 20-20. Seems painfully obvious in retrospect... I had lots of accumulated tension in my upper arms & pecs and lower back and so that manifested itself in my tendons. Emily was kind enough to chat with me about some preventative strategies last night - definitely helpful!

There were some good things to come of this all:

1. I built up muscles/strength
2. I re-evaluated my technique (always a good thing)
3. I started stretching again (For a good series of stretches, I recommend finding John Petrucci's Rock Discipline video ... I use a few of those, but mostly use stretches I learned in Karate, years ago)

So, last week was a bit of a panic ... on top of all this tension stuff, I was pretty sick, taking about 4-6 ibuprofen a day & had 3 concerts and a ton of rehearsals!

I actually cancelled one of the concerts, because on top of all this I really hadn't worked out what I was going to play (it was my own solo show) ... I learned something from this: Decide rep/program *first* then book the show. I have a bad procrastination habit that I reinforced in college and that I am trying to break. One of the biggest keys to not injuring myself is that I have to keep the amounts of work I put into things consistent, which means I have to do more earlier. The other things is that I have to build my workload up in small increments & not giant leaps!

The other two concerts were a marathon to get through ... Friday I had dress rehearsals for both, and then saturday I had both concerts. The first concert was with my Piano Trio & involved playing Beethoven, Gade & Haydn in a hall where the sound on stage gave the impression that I was being buried by the piano (which was not actually the case) ... this was a real challenge to get through (mostly because of a fever and not being able to breathe clearly) & it really messed up a lot of my intonation & some of my entrances. Despite that, in the end, it had a lot of great moments & a very good energy & the people who were there really loved it.

The second concert was the St. Thomas Orchestra concert. This was also an endurance test (SS Cello Concerto, Schubert 4 & Coriolanus Overture). However, there were some *very* cool things about this concert. First was that we were doing the SS Concerto ... the soloist was really amazing & only in her late 20s. She really enjoyed the actual act of playing & there was this very singing quality to her playing - it was very cool. It was also interesting to note how toned her upper arm muscles were from playing cello - very much reinforcing the idea that the only way you get better at this thing is to put a tremendous amount of time into practicing. However, the thing that struck me most about Zhou Yi was that she really loved playing (and playing with us) - she was so excited in a completely sincere way & stayed along afterwards to tell the orchestra players good job & to stand around and chat with everybody. She really loved what she was doing & that was so great to see! (She also was part of what inspired me to get my butt in gear and start practicing more again ... it's so essential to watch - and really tune in to - great playing of your instrument as much as possible).

The other cool thing about orchestra was that we had two ringers (Our cello section is normally 5, but our principal was horribly sick), so there were 6 of us in total. Michael Meade - my teacher from college - came & sat principal & it was so great to actually work with him in orchestra & Viviane Penham also joined in & was a pleasure to get to work with.

On top of that, I think I played the best as an orchestral player that I've played so far ... still have a lot to go towards actually learning the music fully, but for once, I didn't feel like I was taking away from the group by playing