I want something impossible to do.


I’ve been thinking over the last couple days, since I’ve been sick and not practicing much, about why I might be feeling so dissatisfied. I started thinking about when I started feeling so discontent, which seems to have shed a little light on things. I was feeling fine while I was utterly failing at the new song I’ve been working on. The OMG-HOW-THE-HECK-DOES-ANY-ONE-PLAY-THIS phase was great. Then the next day it was suddenly the oh-that’s-how-this-is-so-damn-easy-why-was-I-having-trouble-in-the-first-place. By the next day the piece was memorized and I had the dynamics and articulation worked out how I wanted them. Normally this process takes a few weeks, largely with lots of struggle to get through each stage. Normally it’s filled with tons of frustration and I feel like I’m fighting every step of the way. Now this song, that seemed far harder than any other I’d played at first try, turned out to be so terribly un-challenging. That’s why I feel so dissatisfied!

Now, I’m sure everybody else would just love a song that magically learns itself and is actually too easy, but for me one of the things that attracted me to this instrument was that I believed it to be inherently difficult. I’m not happy when things aren’t difficult. My mind needs something to obsess over, something that I can’t for the life of me understand how I (or anyone else) could learn. But, I don’t like purely intellectual pursuits. One of the reasons I wanted to play an instrument in the first place was the physicality of it. I could, if I felt like it, pursue any number of academic or purely intellectual subjects, but I get too antsy just thinking and doing nothing with my body. I like thinking spatially and in the real world, not just inside my head.

So back to what I was saying: I want difficultly. Lots and lots of difficulty with the cello. Actually, I don’t want difficulty. I want impossibility. Give me a song I can’t learn and I will be satisfied forever because I really don’t give up! I find myself so envious of my teacher’s other, more advanced, students who are working on much more advanced pieces that they’ve spent the last 6 months tackling. I always come in a few minutes before my lesson and hear the tail end of Eleanor working on Danse Rustique by W.H. Squire and always wish that I could be working on that piece instead of some random excerpt of a real piece out of stupid Feuillard.

Somehow the days of OMG I’M NEVER GOING TO FIGURE THIS OUT have turned into the days of meh it’ll take a couple days. SO NOT COOL!


10 responses »

    • You probably need to have a discussion with your teacher…

      I read this today though


      TJ: Why do you use the Popper Etudes?

      IS: Popper was a genius! He composed just at the turn of the century when music was beginning to lose a clear sense of key. His etudes are so chromatic that even a person with a fantastic ear cannot sight-read them. They serve as a valuable bridge for the study of contemporary music. The etudes really force you to learn where the notes are on the cello, and are wonderful ear training studies for cellists. You can not rely solely on your musical memory to teach you the pitch patterns in the music, you must also figure out the intervals. The etudes engage the students’ mind in a way that other etudes do not. I teach around 30 of the 40 etudes, since some are not as musically satisfying as others. When I assign an etude for the next lesson, I make a video or audio recording for the student on the spot, so that they will have an idea how the etude sounds, which will save them from incorrect learning. This seems to work very well, since many of my students learn the etudes by the time they are 12 or 13 years old.

      I haven’t done Popper yet, so I can’t say how hard they are. But the person being interviewed says it’s a sight-reading challenge.

  1. I generally just use etudes for sight reading (which is what my teacher wants.) I memorize pieces very quickly, so I can play each one only a couple times before it’s not sight reading anymore. She used to try to get me to spend more time on etudes until she realized that I don’t learn as well from them as I do from actual songs. I’m happy to spend time on exercises pertaining to skills I need in a specific song, but in general etudes tend to just make me not want to play cello. So, they’re sight reading only at this point, which seems to have worked just fine for me. What I’m really wishing is for far more complex songs. It’s annoying to me to have a song that is as good as it will get for a while with a week or two of work (they can always be better, but I get them to the point where I’ll benefit more by moving on to another song.)

  2. I’m loving the challenge of starting my grades. Sure you’d probably walk grade 1, but then comes grade 2, 3, 4….. And yes, they have proper pieces. Jon can prob. elaborate

    Failing that, go buy a score of the suites – that’ll keep you busy for a really looong time ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Try ABRSM, they’re international and the syllabus is on their website. Even if you don’t want to do the exams, the syllabus might give you some inspiration. In the words of Lisa Simpson, “Grade me!”

  3. I looked through their site a while ago, but wasn’t particularly inspired. I’m not so much wanting goals or anything like that, just more challenge. I want my head to feel like it’s going to explode. I remember my first six or so months of lessons I could hardly form a sentence at the end because my brain was so overwhelmed by so much newness. I miss that terribly. I don’t think doing this grades thing would really get me what I want.

  4. It’s not even about having one particular piece to work on to challenge me. It’s like the whole structure of everything isn’t working for me. Sure one challenging piece would be fun, but a piece is just a piece, not my entire cello life. Maybe I’m just going through one of my many depressed phases in life. Haven’t had one of those since starting to play cello, but I had a panic attack today just trying to lay down and take a nap for no reason whatsoever. Very irritating. Haven’t celloed today either (and yes, cello is now a verb.)

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