Monthly Archives: February 2011

A Non-cello-y Day

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I woke up early today planning on getting in a few hours of practice before work and class. Stuff got in the way. I got home from class. Stuff got in the way. Now I’m waiting for a load of laundry to finish it’s spin cycle so I can switch it and I’m blogging. I’m obviously not cello-ing. Stuff is still getting in the way still. But wearing clean clothes is important. So is having a clean bathroom. And eating dinner with the hubby. And snuggling my cat. I do really hate it, though, when cello ends up last on my list of things I need to do.

I react rather irrationally to this — you should all know by now I’m more than a bit neurotic. I start panicking that I’m going to end up never having time to practice again and all this time and energy will be wasted and I will be miserable and unhappy and hate myself for not adjusting my life around playing cello. Yes, I’m aware that’s more than a bit dramatic and bordering on crazy. But knowing that doesn’t stop me from thinking it. Whenever I have one of these days I forget all the hours of practicing I did the day before and the day before that and so on. It’s like I’m convinced I’ve never played cello in my life.

There are still a few more hours before bed, so hopefully I can manage at least a few minutes of practice. And hopefully I will stop being so damn neurotic for a few minutes too.

Hi, 6th position!

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The last few weeks we’ve been doing nothing new in terms of pieces so that I’ve had the chance to undo some bad bowing habits. Which has meant I’ve been spending most of my practice time bowing open strings. A lot. I’ve hardly worked on pieces at all it seems — especially with my cello’s issues she’s had this week (visiting the luthier 3 times in one week must be some sort of world record, right?) I was expecting her to be unhappy with my progress this week since I’ve been upset by it, but she always surprises me. When she asked what I worked on most, I told her I worked on the wonderful bowing technique she’d shown me the week before and what I wanted to do musically with the Couperin gavotte and also playing around trying to figure out just how many different kinds of staccato bows I can play so they were all in my arsenal for the piece. It felt like not much from my perspective, but she was happy with what I’d been doing with the piece and thought I was doing a great job with the bowing. We worked on the gavotte some more with a focus on me learning how to get her to follow my changes in mood/feeling of the song while playing. How to lead her musically so to speak. It was harder than I expected — previously she’d been sort of helping me along with that so that if I did something other than what I intended she would move it along to where I’d actually meant it to be. Now, if I screw something up (ie. play a happy energetic staccato instead of spooky haunting staccato, she’ll move in the direction I played, not the direction I should have been playing.) Really confusing to think about all this while still trying to make sure we’re playing in tune with each other, etc. Lots of wrong notes, but the feeling of the song was better.

Then, she decided it was time to move on to the next piece. Well, the one after that. The next one is boring and ten times easier. Not sure why it was stuck in there, so she always skips it. This new lesson is all about 6th position. How the heck did I end up getting to sixth position already? We played B-flat major (two octave) for the introduction to the position and then she told me the new piece by Haydn she wasn’t going to go over with me at all this week. I get to figure it out all on my own. So, that should be fun. We’ll see how it goes!

She’s Back!

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This morning I went back into my luthier (again) because she was still having buzzing/sanding/burbling noises. Her response had been much improved, but she just sounded wrong still. First things first, he played her and he actually heard THE SOUND. Yay! I’m not crazy! He tapped around her to listen for loose seams or other loose ratting things, but we heard nothing. He noticed that the bridge looked slightly crooked, so he went to measure the placement and compare it to before. It was off, so he fixed it. Along with that, he checked around the seams with this thin metal tool that can locate invisible gaps, which ended up revealing a loose seam (ie. it popped open right then and there!) So… I got to leave her (again) to be glued and clamped. While he wanted to adjust some other things, he said it was important that we wait until she was glued before we started messing around with stuff.

*Fast forward five hours*
He called saying she was dry and to come play her. Now here’s the fun thing: when he was moving her bridge around earlier, he had to majorly loosen her strings. And since we know her bridge tends to move when being brought to pitch, I had to actually tune her to where she should be right then and there. I was hoping he might have some sort of cheating device (ie. a tuner) but he didn’t. I had to tune her entirely by ear without a reference pitch! Surprisingly, I managed to do it. Apparently my ears do work! But this is beside the point…

I was still hearing THE SOUND after getting her up to pitch (and after he knocked her bride back into place.) While she was still more responsive than the day before, she was rather dull and THE SOUND could be heard over her so clearly it was distracting. What next? Let’s adjust the sound post! And so he did. (Which involves loosening the strings again and me having to get her back up to pitch entirely by ear again!) It turned out that the sound post was crooked, which he says had likely been the case since I got her — if they move at all they usually just fall over. So, after lots of measuring and nudging and measuring and nudging and tuning, I got to play her again. WOW!!! When he said that my crooked sound post wasn’t making good contact with the body of the cello and wasn’t transmitting the vibrations properly he wasn’t kidding!!! THE SOUND still exists — he hears it too — but it’s not so bothersome now because of her fantastic new ability to resonate like crazy. I swear the sound actually gets louder after I lift the bow off. And it just keeps going and going and going. Like the energizer bunny. Instead of dropping off after about a second, it keeps going for 5 or 6 seconds and even after I can’t hear it anymore I can still feel it with my body.

In conclusion, she’s still not the most beautiful cello in the world, but she’s fulfilling more of her potential than she used to. Many thanks to my awesome luthier!

“cello buzzing in my brain”

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Before I blocked search engines on my blog, this was actually the top search for finding it. So, for whoever out there is reading this and hears buzzing that no one else can hear, IT’S NOT IN YOUR HEAD. I promise. Because otherwise it means that my cello’s buzzing — which is really more of a sanding — is in my head. But I swear it’s not. It wasn’t there before. And it sounds horrible. It’s worse on G & D, but still there on A & C. Just because my luthier can’t hear it and just because my husband can’t hear it, it doesn’t mean I’m imagining it. It’s just like being able to hear the hum of electronic devices that are off but still plugged in. No one else can hear it, but that doesn’t mean the sound isn’t there.

On the plus side, her response to bowing is much better and she is much more resonant.

But unfortunately there are more problems. When I was tightening her strings with the tuning pegs (again for the 3rd time because she doesn’t want to hold a pitch) I heard this pop and saw the bridge move. I put a straight edge to the bridge and it was once again bent. I bent it back, but she’s still all wonky. And she still has that damn sanding sound that no one else can hear. I’m taking her back in to my luthier tomorrow in hopes of finding out what the heck is wrong with her.

Oh, and if I feel along her lovely maple sides, instead of feeling smooth, she feels bumpy now. As in there are ridges. Which weren’t there before. I know the weather makes her all crazy, but this is ridiculous.

But, on another positive note, the biggest perk of having a really shitty cello is that it doesn’t matter one damn bit if you harm her. Which is good because I managed to accidentally give her several new scratches today. And no, that did not happen before the buzzing/sanding sound. I did not cause her to behave this way.

Oh, yes: another good note! My playing actually sounded pretty decent today. So far. Off to go practice again, so we’ll see if that holds true!

At the Luthier Again…

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So, I pulled her out of her case and she was beyond wonkified today. She was so out of tune it was ridiculous — worse than when I’ve just put new strings on. A & C totally flat, D & G totally sharp. Practically between tones kind of sharp and flat. So, I start trying to tune her and no matter how much I tightened the fine tuner on the D, it was always just barely flat. And buzzing. And rattling. So I examined the bridge since it had been having problems. The outsides of both feet were totally lifting off the body of the cello. As in I could stick a piece of paper under there. Even though this was not the case yesterday. I’m thinking she is pissed about the weather (we were having torrential downpours today) and this exacerbated whatever was wrong (the weather always does.) But, since I need to play her in all kinds of weather, we’re going to have to fix this. Thus, she got sent to the doctor to have her footies filed down so they sit more flush against her body. Hopefully this solves some of her issues. Sigh…

Feeling Inferior

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Maybe this isn’t a problem for all you other beginners out there, but for me it really is. I just simply feel less than other cellists. Or other musicians in general, really. Almost like I know they’re already so much better than I am and so thinking about that I make it true. Does this make sense to you guy?

I’m thinking of a couple cases right now, the first being playing in my class tonight. I was the only one who got to really play and I played a short duet with my professor, who plays professionally with SacPhil and conducts one of the Sacramento Youth Symphony orchestras. Now here’s the thing: had she been a nobody or even someone less awesome I don’t think I would have made such idiotic mistakes. I mean, I failed to notice that she was indicating we were starting. It was really ridiculous. Somehow I’ve convinced myself that the universe would implode, or at least the moon would come crashing back to earth, if I didn’t screw up in the presence of a musician so much better than I am. An invisible rule that says I have to fail because this person is good. Not because I’m not capable, but because it would destroy my own idea about myself: that I’m not capable of playing with good musicians. I’ve internalized the thought that I can’t be any good — I started when I was 26, after all — even though it’s the very thing I fight against every day.

The second thing is regarding blogging. I feel horribly uncomfortable commenting on people’s blogs who aren’t fellow beginners. It’s not a problem when these people comment on my blog first, but I often read blogs belonging to some rather awesome musicians and teachers and feel like it would be inappropriate for me to say anything. I can’t imagine any of them thinking I have anything remotely important to say, which for once I don’t think is a fear based on me being neurotic. A lot of people in the classical world don’t take adult beginners seriously and I’ve been the recipient of some really unfortunate attitude. This makes me very hesitant to involve myself in discussions happening on people’s blogs who haven’t shown me, by way of commenting on my blog, that they think adult beginners are actually fellow human beings. Even though I think people like me can provide a really important perspective on many things, music education in particular.

Part of me thinks this is just my own problem — stop feeling this way and if they’re mean, that’s their problem. Just because I’m a beginner doesn’t make me like the child they seem to think I am and I know this, so what’s the problem? But I also feel like I shouldn’t be putting this all on myself either. I just don’t know. I’m tired of feeling this way, like I’m not supposed to be taken seriously.