Monthly Archives: April 2011

Non-doing

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One of the themes of my lessons and practice is the focus on what I’m not doing. This is actually pretty fun and generally relaxing if I’m actually succeeding. Unfortunately, I really did have to stick the Jargars back on since the other strings really just aren’t playable (loose winding is never good!) Now the Jargars feel stiff and like they are just fighting me, making it super difficult to relax and not fight back. I’ve only been able to practice for a few minutes at a time because I just get so frustrated at how the strings feel under my fingers and bow and wind up doing all the things I’m supposed to be not doing. Ugh…

Bits and tids

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Yesterday as I was working on relaxing my left hand I thought to myself if only I had some lower tension strings this would be so much easier! and then I realized that I did — the strings that came on the cello. While they were a pain to bow I figured that they would give me an idea if having lower tension strings actually makes a significant difference. It turns out that 1. it made a big difference in how relaxed my hand is (pesky weak little girl fingers!) and 2. The strings are a hell of a lot easier to bow than they used to be. Plus, they are waaaay more mellow than the Jargars! So, I’m thinking I need to replace my stings — the Jargars are now intollerably bright and these strings are pretty shot. I think I need to find a real string shop within reasonable driving distance that let’s you try out whatever strings suit your fancy to find myself a more ideal set.

It was interesting practicing today with the different strings (except the A is still a Jargar.) The strings are in bad shape (winding coming undone and giving me all sorts of funky false tones) I actually enjoyed playing on them. They really point out my faults, which NOW is a good thing, unlike during the first six months of playing during which I had no hope of making them sound good. I spent quite a while bowing open strings and working on nuances that the Jargars never really forced me to think about. The results were quite nice despite the condition of the strings.

Now I need to find a string shop (hopefully in the SF bay area) that will let me try out all sorts of strings!

Lessons have gotten kinda strange lately…

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I’m sure you guys have noticed (assuming you’ve been reading all my lesson blog posts) that lately my lessons have been less about working on specific pieces, techniques, etc. than they used to be. Now it’s about breathing, emotions, mental states, attitudes, how techniques feel as I do them. Last lesson she was able to tell me exactly what I was thinking and feeling just from hearing me play a single octave of C major! It was really quite interesting because this is a theme that has cropped up through many facets of my life in the past also — whatever you are thinking will be expressed in whatever it is you are doing! Fear, doubt, self-deprecation, mental cringes, frustration, etc. can all be heard!

Hm. Got distracted for a while and forgot where I was going with this. This way of approaching things is very interesting because it seems like I’m not working on anything, yet I’m certainly making a great deal of progress. It’s frustrating and difficult because what I’m essentially working on is myself, but so far it seems to be worth it!

Well, at least I got a decent night’s sleep…

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Today has been one of those days, the kind where nothing cello-y goes right. Everything sounds just awful today, possibly related to my asthma which has been acting up a lot the last couple days. Kinda hard to play well when you’re gasping for breath… The extensions in my most recent song are absolutely killing me (the song is in E major) to the point that I have spent most of my practice time today wishing for a 7/8 size cello. Or not having short, stubby, inflexible fingers would work too. To top it off I really really really hate the song I’m supposed to be working on. Feuillard is really starting to get on my nerves to the point that I’m wishing I had to work out of Suzuki instead (surely it can’t be any worse!) I feel like I’m going to stab someone with my endpin if I have to play one more song that goes A phrase – B phrase – A phrase. Or A-A-B-C or A-B-A-C. Surely there has to be a better way than this. I know I suck at playing cello, but do I really have to be stuck playing obnoxious, emotionally uncomplex songs? Seriously, any of you out there who read my blog and are teachers, is there any alternative to Suzuki and Feuillard?

Sleep and Cello.

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The last couple weeks I’ve hardly been able to sleep and last night was certainly the worst — less than three hours, which might be okay had I been getting a decent amount lately. Unfortunately, I’m lucky to get more than 4 or 5 hours of crappy, interrupted sleep on a good night. It’s not a due to a hectic lifestyle or anything — I have plenty of time to sleep — I just cant fall asleep, stay asleep, or get quality sleep when I do.

This is, of course, really bad news for the cello. I’ve been doing okay most of the week and have been able to make noticeable progress daily, but today it all sort of caught up to me. I haven’t played, haven’t wanted to play, and haven’t even wanted to want to play because all I really want is to sleep. I thought that surely I would be able to take a nap, but after five hours of failed napping I gave up along with any hope of playing today.

The lack of sleep has also made me feel a sort of slow, weird, sleep-deprived kind of crazy. Were this blog totally anonymous, I’d likely be typing out the odd contents of my head right now (probably a good thing I don’t have an anonymous blog.) It’s rather amazing what sleep deprivation does to the mind.

I seriously hope I can get a decent night’s sleep tonight…

If only there was nothing in the world to do but play cello.

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This week so far has gone surprisingly well. Most of what I’ve worked on has been the breathing, almost entirely through scales with all sorts of bowing. The biggest thing I’ve been working on is turning left hand, right hand, and breathing from three synchronized motions into a single action. When I actually manage to do it, the results are beautiful. Playing this way is indescribably joyous. There’s such a wonderful aliveness in the sound, so lovely that even when I make mistakes I can still experience the wondrousness of the sound.

The other day I was thinking about why we have a tendency to stop breathing when we make mistakes or hear sounds we don’t like (or at least why I stop breathing.) It’s as if by stopping my breath I’m trying to avoid receiving the undesirable sound, as if I refuse to take it in and let the mistake be a part of me. But by doing that I am keeping that which is beautiful apart from myself also. What a great tragedy! So, I’ve been practicing breathing through mistakes, allowing mistakes to just be mistakes, not assigning judgment, letting them go as new sounds come.

Then sometimes I can get to a place where I don’t have to work to do that. I just breathe. The breath carries my body and makes the sound happen. The mistakes are just sounds — nothing more! Then how easy it becomes to not make mistakes! How clear it is why they are happening and what to do differently! Suddenly — the most beautiful sounds I’ve ever heard from my cello (mistakes and all!) An hour or hour and a half has gone by, but it always feels like just a few minutes, one continuous moment.

Today’s Lesson

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Today’s lesson was just what I needed. All we worked on was breathing. Obviously I played stuff — scales, one of the songs I’ve been working on, various exercises — but today was all about the breathing. Somehow just having her there to talk to about what I was working on and how I was working on it made a really big difference. At one point she even told me to pause for a moment and revel in my success (her words not mine.) Now if only I didn’t have to think so hard about it all and put so much effort into making pretty sounds come out of my cello. She’s convinced that one day it really will be automatic for me. I’m definitely not convinced.

We also worked on some new exercises that involve singing and the cello. It took her a while to even get me to be willing to try, but I didn’t actually fail and in fact succeeded far more than I expected to. She wants me to work on the same exercises this week at home, which I might actually do if I can find a time where I’m actually home alone (not likely.)

I got all my theory work done that’s due for the rest of the semester and I don’t have class this week, so hopefully I should be able to practice a bit more than normal. We’ll see. I’m finding it very hard to practice when everything I need to do is all about breathing. It yields beautiful results, but I still keep trying to avoid it. And now there are the voice exercises. I have absolutely no trust in my own voice and it’s terribly emotional for me to try singing anything at all. I spent my whole life not singing because as a child every time I tried I got made fun of in the same way that people today make fun of Justin Bieber and Rebecca Black. Maybe this is just my teacher’s way of making all the breathing exercises seem like fun…

In any case, I got to hear pretty sounds come out of my cello today — and I was the one playing it!