December 2017 Bi-weekly update

It’s been nine years and a couple of days since my first lesson back in 2008.  Biggest highlight of my experience since the accident in 2014 was getting involved with Bloomsburg Preparatory School of Music and joining their New Strings Ensemble program (now called Concert League of Fine Musicians).  I didn’t realize how much I had to learn about basic musicality and staying in tune with others, but it’s also opened up new horizons. I thought I’d be in it for two seasons and most, then progress to the advanced group.   This did not happen, although being in the group has definitely made me a better and more musical player.  Doing simple things in performance is harder than it sounds.  Just staying focused enough to count is a challenge.  But the conductor (and school director) says I’m getting there.

We finished our performance for the fall semester, so now I can get back to focusing on my lesson pieces.

Here’s the update, from the 11/17 lesson

  • Scherzo (Webster).  Focus on accenting the first note of four-note group.  Shift as a unit.
  • Mooney Position Pieces. Same comment on shifting.  Get used to third position.  Double check where the thumb goes.  Feel generally good about these. but keep checking intonation on 4.
  • Schroeder #23:  Do groups of 4 rather than 8, which is what was written.  Be economical in motion, and focus on the gear shifting rather than wrist flicking mode.


C. Webster Scherzo


I finally managed to get a cello lesson scheduled after an overlong , four-week hiatus that was a combination of issues at the music school and health issues with me.  Both seem to hvae been successfully resolved. Four weeks was a long time to be without a lesson.  I thought I was doing much better than I actually was.

Main issues were

  • Vibrato – using fingers only instead of arm motion.  I thought I was, but when I really focused on my arm momentum, I realized I wasn’t.  Bodies are weird that way; you think you’re keeping your eye on the ball,but if you strike out, you weren’t.
  • Tempo – in order to play the slow section at a tempo that isn’t unberably slow,  I need to get the fast section at  80 beats per minute,  but that means 3/4 second per beat and therefore 3/4 seconds to get 4 16th notes in making each note 3/64 ths of a second.
  • Intonation – shifting needs to happen as a unit.  If my thumb stays back, everything goes flat.  Still wondering if I should have a tactile clue on the back of the cello’s neck for finding first position.  Then, my mind would release the thumb from having that duty for the time being.

12/1 will be my 9th anniversary of starting the cello, so I would like to go into that date with some momentum.



The Schumann op. 102 #2 needs more work

So, it went just OK in recital – because I was too nervous at the beginning, but got relaxed and connected with audience towards the middle and end.  It helped me forget myself a little, and I calmed down.  All sorts of thoughts went through me very quickly, but I figured since I’m not playing my best, might as well try to connect instead of being self centered. These people want me to do well, and not feel sorry for me, and if I give them a few good notes they’ll get what they came for.  And that helped.  So, no video, but I may make a YouTube with my instructor next month.  Each time I play it I have more fun with it, and I’ll do this again in recital in November.

And keep in mind this was only my second recital.   I’m really glad this school is pushing performance because I need as much performance opportunity as I can get.  I didn’t have to choose a piece at the edge of my musical abilities.   I realized after I got home I could have knocked out a Suzuki piece and stayed closer to my comfort level.  So, from now on, for the sake of performance, I need to know a piece cold three months before, as opposed to “working on it” three months before.  But I made very good progress. and feel more confident with all my pieces.  In addition, I’m feeling better in that  6th position G-A-Bb area that I also need to know well for Kol Nidre.   Some descending C minor scales might be good for this as well.

As for K-N, I started playing it for the first time in a while; just the first three lines.

Also, the school director, and also my conductor, pointed out that if I’m feeling nervous, I can channel my left hand nervousness into vibrato, up to a point. 





I am still digesting the experience, and the video is still on the camera waiting to be edited and posted to YouTube.  That will likely take a week or so, given my schedule. Some thoughts, in no particular order.

  • I picked a difficult piece with challenging rhythms.   I felt that as an adult student, people expected more of me.
  • I started working on this piece with Daniel Delaney, and wanted to perform it to demonstrate that I still retained something from the pre-Danville, pre-Car-accident era.  I wanted to show that I was still good enough to play music at the level I had been.   I think I succeeded in this goal, and my rhythm improved.  I also have a clearer idea of the work involved.
  • Have a better idea of how to woodshed a section of music that is giving difficulty.
  • The ending section went really well, but it was rushed and tense in places. However, the nature of the piece with its repeating theme enabled me to get back on track.
  • This was my first time playing with an accompanist.  learning how to start together with my back to her was interesting.
  • Looking up at the audience relieved tension and improved my play.  Realizing that people were going to like what I did, faults and all totally changed my perspective.
  • Keeping the bow moving also helps.  Phantom practice, namely just using an imaginary cello but doing both RH and LH,  was more successful than it has ever been, as well, particularly in the final weeks.
  • Just as public speaking is a journey, so is this.  Success must be measured against one’s level of development.   This is the equivalent of my second speech, and in Toastmasters we need ten before we get certified as simply “competent communicator”
  • It was fun to do, and I’m looking forward to trying again.  Haven’t thought of my next pieces, but I might actually try this one again, along with some others.  The Beethoven Minuet and the Lully Gavotte from Book 3 are in good shape and could be brought to recital conditions by November.
  • I taped the cello at fourth position to give myself one less thing to worry about.   It’s better to play without it, of course, but knowing my A would always be in tune gave me confidence.
  • The remaining movements of that piece are still a couple of years from being able to perform, but I could work on sections until I can.  I do think it is a worthwhile goal to be able to perform the entire work someday.
  • My family came out to see me, and we went to dinner afterward.  It’s important to use music as a social occasion.

Still, I wish I made fewer mistakes, but even more important, I wish I had a better sense of time and not rushing parts.  I can deal with the occasional missed note.  This was a lovely lyrical piece, and I wish I had done more with it.

Countdown to Recital : T-4 days

Alright,  I don’t sound like I think I sound.    Some notes are too blaring, and I also need to sound more connected.

I have an extra lesson with Aurora tomorrow, and we’ll hopefully focus on musicality.  I went through today on some youtube videos and listened to where the vibrato is narrow and fast vs wide and slow.  It’s still hard for me to keep my LH going for vibrato constantly.  I can’t just turn it on and off.  Vibrato on 4 makes me feel off balance.   I am experimenting with playing

I have an extra lesson with Aurora tomorrow, and we’ll hopefully focus on musicality.  I went through today on some youtube videos and listened to where the vibrato is narrow and fast vs wide and slow.  It’s still hard for me to keep my LH going for vibrato constantly.  I can’t just turn it on and off.  Vibrato on 4 makes me feel off balance.   I am experimenting with playing with only the left hand and singing the piece so I can figure out for myself where I want to emphasize.

I also am considering playing the A-flat in M 22 on 2 instead of 4 because it needs more emphasis.  However, this comes at the cost of an extra shift.

One thing that doesn’t work for me though is playing along with a video because I wind up thinking I sound better than I do.

I also need to get those runs of 16th notes more even.   Recording myself helps.   Right now it seems so far away, but I’ll get there.

Gritting it out

I recorded myself on the first two lines, and it was just weak.  It just didn’t express anything.  It was gross. I spent the entire practice  of about 50 minutes getting the first three notes sounding somewhat tolerable, both in terms of dynamics and tone.   There’s so much to do, and a job change in the mix.    I’ll be in two different cities in the next two weeks, and the recital is on 8/12.

I also learned a couple of things about self recording.  For me, it’s actually easier to just let the recorder run for an hour and divide the track into sections with vocal introductions rather than constantly stopping and re-recording for each take. Besides, there’s audio editing software if I need to cut someting into tracks.  The other thing I learned is that my singing voice isn’t horrible.

While singing, I learned that I wanted the first two notes to have a slight decay, and the third to have a bit of a sustain.  Whether that is right or wrong, the important thing was working to get the bow to match how I was hearing it in my head.  At least now, it’s something.

It takes guts to do this, but that’s why this is hard.  And I am willing to do it.   And it’s non-linear.   The next 60 measures won’t take 30 times as long as the first two.   And while I’m at it, I need to develop a consistent vibrato.

David Finckel”Talk 7: Clean Up!” on YouTube

I just got finished watching this.  Had seen some cello cleaning material before, but I must admit I become lax. After all I don’t play nearly as hard as a professional therefore how often do I really need to clean it, right?

Check this out. Here’s my microfiber rag afterwards. 

I have seen the light, or in this case the darkness. I must say I was shocked by how much dirt was on there.

It bears repeating that one must be extra careful to tilt the cello to avoid possibility of drippage. It is absolutely critical not to get the alcohol on the cello body itself.

Mm. 64-67

I’m working hard at intonation for the final tenor clef section, particularly the runs where I have to switch the bow after the first note and then gracefully step from Bb down to D.  The shift from G to F is not accurate, so I’m just exhaustively training myself by ear and the tuner. I’m also doing gradual shift exercises so that I can hear the G-F reliably (this is easy in fourth position), then changing one finger at a time until I can do G on 1, F on 4.

In my next post, a music theory question for you. [UPDATE:  I’ll wait until after my performance to worry about my question, and I may see if Quora has it first]

Ringing Tones

I’m revisiting the first line to make sure all of the Cs, Gs, Ds, and As are ringing, especially on the 1-1 shift from G to A.  Just going back and doing target practice over and over.   It sounds like a different piece now.  My accuracy is not good so far – about the same as a Lebron James Free Throw, hence the break to write this post, but I know what I should be listening for.  Sometimes on the final note of a phrase, I can squeak to the right note by using vibrato if I’m already close.  Granted all movements should be made with conviction and not fishing for pitches, but if I’m already very close, I can get the notes to ring.

Another question I have is that if I play A and C well, should the following F ring as well? What does it mean for the entire chord to ring?  I’ve never experienced this. I’d like to.