Tuesday, November 30, 2010

YTSO Audition - What I learned (Technically)

Here's some technical stuff I learned:

1. The slow it down method really does work very effectively.
2. Tackle the hardest bits first & always keep in mind the way things are connected/relate to each other.
3. Practice the relative scales in at least 2 different fingerings is immensely helpful
4. I tend to use the wrong muscle groups a lot, or go horribly out of alignment when trying to hit something tricky - this is a downward spiral, because going out of alignment generally makes things tricky.
5. I am trying to figure out what exactly the other cellists' (who are all waaaay more advanced than me) have that I don't. One thing I'm noticing relates to the giant mess of my left hand technique. It seems like the other cellists are commonly keeping the general weight of the arm down into the string, and it also seems like they are keeping there fingers generally close to the string. All their movements are very efficient.

I tend to release my weight a lot and use some very ineffective movements to try to accomplish things. This would explain in part why playing Haydn C is still a major struggle for me/why a lot of my technique doesn't seem to work on any long-lasting level.

I think the next key in my practice is to constantly look for the most efficient movements possible & to consciously work on keeping my weight down (so that I can at least have control over when I use it and when I don't. I feel like it's very important to a general tonal/expressive palette to be able to do both.

One of my goals is to learn to be more imaginative in my playing and to be able to play the same riffs in many different feels/ways.

That's what occurs to me for now ... the YTSO audition really pushed my technique a lot & is giving me tons of food for thought with watching other cellists...

So glad I did it, even if the vid's a bit embarassing (for non-technical reasons): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0ea9HrKNdQQ

YTSO Audition - What I learned (Psychological)

I learned quite a few things from doing the Youtube Symphony Orchestra Audition

1. Be Prepared. Underpreparedness is something I'm really fighting ... it's been a constant in my life & one of the things I'm really good at is making things work that I am not prepared for or don't already have skills for. It's a double-edged sword though. Anyway, what I learned is that I need to start preparing earlier & I need to start preparing with a better general awareness of what I'm trying to achieve. Part of the way I will achieve this is by listening to classical music more often.
2. When Auditioning, set an earlier deadline to have the rep. playable by. Then work on having them playable consistently. Too often when I prepare things, they are not thoroughly prepared enough & they are too at the edge of my technique. In order to have a successful audition, the pieces need to be somewhat easy.
3. Do not wait until the deadline day to do the takes and then also try and put together the video the same day ... this results in disasterous, embarassing video ... not to mention leaves you with a narrow selection of takes & possible technical failure
4. Set goals prior to playing - this is super important! It's so easy to just waste time ... yet a minute or two's thought/reflection prior to practice does an amazing amount to focus one's attention. The results are drastically different.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Strengths & Weaknesses: A New Level

Tonight I was made keenly aware of some of my weaknesses (as well as the progress I've made as a cellist, and the progress I still have to make) ... in a specific sense, I got knocked over by sight-reading Dvorak 8 ... in a general sense, I'm very ignorant of classical music ... I want to change that. I'm really going to make it a point to really learn classical repertoire (as a listener & as a cellist) ... particularly, the orchestra rep. It's so connected to what I do and what I want to do ...

Anyway, this post isn't meant to focus on this ... it's mean to focus on my strengths ... because normally, I'm not one to (intentionally) focus on them. In conversation a while ago with a friend, it came out that though I'm not a very good/advanced classical cellist & I can't play with the control/sophistication of other people my age who've been playing since they were teeny ... I'm really good at non-traditional cello ... at heavy metal cello & writing cool pieces and improvising ...

I've been thinking a lot about how I'm going to actually make money doing this cello thing lately & I've been watching others and learning and trying to figure out how they get gigs & how I can get gigs (because I want to earn some money from performing and some from teaching) ... anyway, I LOVE to improvise - even if I'm not necessarily very sophisticated at it - you ask me to play you something on cello, without thinking I start playing some D minor pentatonic creation that nobody's ever heard before, or you need some awkward silence at a wedding/gig covered & I just make something up that captures the mood ... whatever it is, I'm pretty decent at improv'ing and I really, really love it ...

Earlier, when writing to Jesse Ahmann on facebook, I realized that I want it to be my trademark ... this is what I want to become known for (one thing anyway) ... but more importantly ... I'm going to make it my mission to help spread cello improv to as many people as possible - cellists and non-cellists.

I'm also going to make my improvisations a vehicle for my technical development ...

So here's my plan:

Step 1: Constantly Improv & keep really honing and developing my skills
Step 2: Busk in the NYC Subway with a big sign doing nothing but improv to try and make some cash
Step 3: Put together a cello duo to play duets and primarily focus on improv. Then take this busking and booking some gigs
Step 4: Youtube, Youtube, Youtube (I sort of already do this)
Step 5: If this all gets attention and becomes something I really actively do, find a way to make workshops out of this and get paid for it ...

So anyway, that's the general plan ... If anyone has specific advice for how to go about doing these things, I'd love to hear it ... I need all the help I can get right now ...


Also, I've had some amazing cello experiences lately that I plan to blog about very soon!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Something New to Pay Attention To: Vibrato

So one of the things that came up in my little lesson the other day was that my vibrato could use some refinement. I use a really wide vibrato, intense all the time & it was pointed out to me that I could use a narrower vibrato & that I could do different things in terms of when I start the vibrato, or in terms of varying the note.

This is the sort of thing that I bet I do instinctively on occasion & I've definitely read various interviews with master cellists complaining about students just doing "on/off" with vibrato... I've got this sort of "everything as intense as possible all the time" mentality to making music ... it's an integral part of my style, but I've finally realized that I lack the ability to do more refined or quiet styles with ease (for example, playing mournful middle-eastern music or the "tea & scones" sort of classical/baroque music).

Part of this comes from being obsessed with the way Jacqueline DuPre plays, part of it comes from wanting to project/be loud & generally being enamoured with loud cellists (like Rostropovich), part of it comes from David Finckel's 80, 90, 103 Vibrato vid & practicing that only with a wide vibrato, and part of it comes from not really feeling like the narrow vibrato is a real vibrato.

On the other hand, watching the vid. of Steven Isserlis playing the Tchaick Rococo Theme Variations at the proms, the amount of things he is able to do just from vibrato is mind-blowing. The expressiveness and the uniqueness to what he's playing largely comes from this.

So now I've got something new to really pay attention to when I wath other peoples' playing ... and also something to work on in my own...

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The Biggest Cello Revelation of My Life

Earlier today I had a quasi-lesson with a cellist friend of mine who gave me some useful tips and thoughts on things I could do to refine my technique. While we were discussing things, it came out that he was reading this article: (http://www.cello.org/Newsletter/Articles/natural.htm) by Nicholas Anderson.

So let me interrupt myself right here and say you *need* to read this article. Yes, really you do - whether you're a professional, an absolute beginner, a teacher an advanced student, somebody with tension problems/tendinitis/carpal tunnel, or whoever you are, you need to read this.

I'm not going to tell you what the article talks about, because I don't want you to summary judge and go "oh, I don't need to read this". Instead, I'm going to tell you about the effect it had on my playing over the course of *one* day.

In the last week, I'd been practicing lots more and making some substantial technical improvement. Sunday, I went to a cello festival, which was both incredibly fun, and incredibly educational. I also went to orchestra & read the music almost the best I've ever read. Anyway, suffice to say, I played a lot sunday, played a lot yesterday and played a lot today. I was on the early stages of what becomes tendinitis and was trying to figure out where I can possibly fit in some time off (because I'm of course, behind in the music I need to learn).

So anyway, earlier today I started practicing for a few hours & reading this article, as well as trying out the method mentioned in the article. It's very clear from the article that Nicholas Anderson is a teacher - he teaches you very effectively through writing ... and that's not easy. Anyway, I'm not going to describe the actual process of going through the article, but I am going to tell you the net effect. Over the course of 3-4 hours of practice, I went from very tense playing that required a ton of energy to almost effortless, meditative playing with a complete sense of freedom and power while still retaining musical control. More specifically, I was able to play through the Haydn C 1st mov. and the Elgar 1st mov and Kol Nidrei & all sorts of other stuff, and maintain a sound and feeling I've never been able to achieve on the cello before, even with all the tons of weight and energy I put into my playing. What's more, the technical passages and all the stuff were easy ... I'm talking about the fast runs, the upper thumb positions, all that stuff ... effortless. I played in a way that I've only ever dreamed of playing. The only time I've ever come close to playing like this was in an Alexander Technique masterclass for a few seconds, and I wasn't in control of it. Tonight I was ... I was able to create the feeling of simplicity and ease, and I know I can do it again and again and that it will become a permanent part of my playing.

Everyday, I'm going to make this article and its method the focus of my cello playing/practice until it become intuitive. Right now, it requires concentration & it requires me to focus on the particular side of my body that I'm trying to improve. Over time, it will become the way I play the cello without even realizing it.

I've had various amazing teachers try to work with me on the things I managed to learn in just a few hours from this article. This was the first time I've ever really gotten them or been in control of it.

I really recommend you go print this article and work through it until you really understand and feel what it's talking about. It will make worlds of difference in your playing.

Oh, I should also add that by the end of the practice session, the signs of approaching tendinitis were all gone.

Friday, November 5, 2010

The World Is Built On Feelings...

I feel like I've betrayed the things that are truly important to me and put up false gods in their place ...

I've replaced creative and being progressive and exploring new creative boundaries musically and technically with fitting into a model and playing a certain way and becoming popular/making my music popular ... and those are all good things ... particularly trying to play well ...

But sometimes you just need to let go of all of that & just pour out your soul onto the cello or the keyboard and just create and not put yourself in a box of musical and social protocol ... classical music is awful for that ... rock music can be too ... but improvising and writing ... there's no rules for that - except the ones I want to follow ...

I just jammed out some pretty cool keyboard riffs for the first time in longer than I can remember & it felt soo great ... (to be fair, had I not been doing all the technical work, this wouldn't have been possible)

I've also started rereading my blog from the beginning, because as I wrote to somebody else (who was talking about a musical god) ... I still have my gods, but I've lost my religion ... so I'm going back to my gods.

There were other times when I was learning more and progressing more (even though I play the cello betteer now than I've ever played it in my life) & really expanding my mind more ... and thankfully I've written a lot of it down ... I've chronicled a lot of the inspiration and experience ... I'm not stopping until I've gotten it all back .

That's all for now ...

(oh, the title is a quote from Tuomas Holopainen)