Chinese Proverb

"Tell me and I'll forget. Show me and I may remember. Involve me and I'll understand." - Chinese Proverb.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Day 3 (Tuesday): Getting ready for Chamber recital

I got there early to warm-up in the practice room. I was a little surprised that there wasn't anyone else there practicing or warming up.

9:00 Warmup Class
We did a quick Cmaj scale warmup and then went over a few spots in Allegro Spiritoso and Chant & Fugue that our section was having issues with.

10:00 Chamber Coaching
We walked through the process, which was very interesting for me since I always wondered how they put on performances! We walked to waiting area, and then into the Green Room (the room before the stage area) and then back stage and finally onto the stage! I had no idea there was so much going on before a performance!
  • Waiting area
    • They typically have two groups waiting ready to go. During this time we should grab everything: our music, our rock-stop, our bow and cello and just wait until we're called to the Green Room
  • Green room 
    • This was the last chance for us to run out to grab something we've missed, so Susan had us hold all four items and really feel how each item felt in our hands so we would notice them if we didn't have them in our possession
    • In the green room, we could talk and try to relax so she ran through some exercises:
      • 1) Feel our feet and how grounded we are to the floor 
      • 2) Wall push-ups
      • 3) Shoulder, arm and finger stretches 
      • 4) Wrist stretches 
    • There was also a monitor that showed who was onstage so we could watch their performance and to know when their performance ended. Once their performance ended, we had to wait until the next group who was back stage entered the stage and started to play. Then we could walk quietly backstage to wait our turn
  • Back stage
    • We weren't allowed to talk or make noise back stage because we could be heard on stage 
    • There was also a monitor there so we could watch the previous group's performance. Once their group was done, we were to wait for the stage hand to set everything up and then tell us it was okay to enter the stage
  • Stage
    • She instructed us to walk to our chairs but not sit down and wait a few seconds for the clapping  to end and then look to chair one for the cue to sit down 
    • Then we were to set everything down and to take our time and get comfortable
    • She also said for everyone to wait for me since I was the only one that wasn't playing an open note to get in tune, and for me to take my time to find the B note. Once I was done, I would nod to the first chair and then we could start 
Going through the steps in detail helped me relax because I knew what to expect. We ran through it a few times so we knew what the timing was. We also decided as a group to wear khakis and a black shirt for our chamber piece. Details, details!

This rehearsal was kind of a mess and our first chair asked if our instructor would accompany her part because she didn't know if she would be able to play the piece and didn't want to let us down. She was really stressed about being the first chair and having the responsibility of leading the group.
I could sympathize with her, but at the same time I was glad I wasn't the first chair which was considerably more difficult than my part. 

11:00 Masterclass
We went over sitting and different stretching exercises. The instructor, Heather, said since we all started as adults it's very important to stretch before starting to play. We don't have nimble fingers like children do and it takes more time for our fingers to stretch out, which I completely agree!


  • Wall stretches - she had us find a clear spot on the wall and do finger and shoulder stretches
  • Using our Rags - she than had us grab our rags and then had one hand drop the rag behind our head and hold the rag while the other arm grabbed the other end of the rag behind our backs while trying to maintain our shoulders. 
  • Finger stretches - she had us gently spread our fingers out and the pull gently up and then the opposite direction. Then move to the thumb and massage the thumb muscle and pinky muscle. 
  • Forearm - she had us massage the two points where the muscles met on our forearms, which I always forget about when I do my stretches
  • Collarbone - she had us massage into the collarbone; a place I didn't even think to massage but apparently it gets a lot of work because it definitely felt good when I massaged that area
Sitting Posture:

Heather had us first stand and feel our feet on the ground and practice sitting down with a good posture while paying attention to what our hips, spine, shoulders and necks were doing.

She then came around and placed the cello against us, leaning it against us, and then taking out the endpin while we remained in that relaxed position. I noticed that the cello was much more upright than I normally had it. It was funny, since all of us were women adult beginners, one of the students asked what we were supposed to do because of our chest area.

We all laughed, but there was also a sense of relief for her asking because all but one had male teachers and this was something that was difficult to bring up. Both my teachers are male and 2-3 years younger than me so this was a question I had for awhile, but wasn't comfortable enough to bring it up. She said it really depended on the size of our chests and that in most cases her female students who were more blessed in that area typically had it more at a slant to give them more breathing room. But as long as they are able to maneuver comfortably around the finger board, had a nice relaxed posture and comfortably touch the bridge than that was good place to have the cello - it just depends because we come in all shapes and sizes.

After she was done adjusting everyone's cellos, everyone's endpin lengths and locations of the rockstops were at different locations. She then had us memorize and feel where everything was, and then instructed us to retract our endpin, set the cello aside and then walk around the room, and then come back and find that same spot again. This was a great exercises, one which I wished I had learned in the very beginning.

She then had us tap up and down the fingerboard to loosen our shoulders and to feel the weight of our arms against the fingerboard. While we tapped away she reminded us to make sure that our shoulders don't fall forward which all of us were doing. I noticed that I have a really bad habit of doing this so I'll be focusing on this during my practice sessions.

Then she had us slide our fist up and down the fingerboard to get used to the range and to make sure that we were able to reach the bridge.

Next she had us lightly touch the strings to create a harmonic and slide our fingers up and down the strings. We tried it on all strings. She told us to think of a balloon attached in the front and that we weren't supposed to crush it by allowing our shoulders to collapse forward.

She also made sure that we were grabbing the string on the side and not straight down. Getting the string on the side was new to me, but it definitely felt better and more secure. I felt like my hand wasn't going to slip off which it occasionally does when I play on the A string.

She then went around and gave us individual advice, she gave me three main ones:

  • Drop my elbow especially on the A string and D string, it was too high and I was doing a lot of work that I didn't have to do 
  • Grab the string from the side which will help me with my elbow height as well
  • Make sure that my shoulders don't droop forward

Using our toes
Once we got a good base, she showed us how moving around allowed us to get more bow. We could push off our toes to go from side to side. She said if our bodies are free to move, we can breathe and therefore relax more which ultimately means better tone!

We did a Cmaj scale and really exaggerated the back and forth motion and it definitely felt good to move around and just play in that mode.

12:00 Lunch
We were all excited leaving the masterclass because we all got great tips on what to improve on our playing. We all wholeheartedly agreed that her classes were our favorite!

1:00 Orchestra
More practice on orchestra pieces, the conductor gave us a bunch of slow downs in sections of the pieces, which was difficult for me to read my music and watch the conductor at the same time for the cues for the diminuendos.

2:00 Individual Practice Time
I practiced Spiritoso and Chant & Fugue since those two were the ones I was struggling with the most. I think practice time (besides the masterclass) was one of my favorite times of the workshop. I could relax and focus on the things I wanted to focus on and "re-group" since there was tons of information that was being thrown at me!

3:00 Enrichment
We played the folk songs and worked on chopping and singing at the same time. Ha - talk about rubbing the tummy and the head at the same time!

We learned how to do the D, A, G chords which I wasn't able to do. I had to look at my fingers to get it, and I kept forgetting to drop my elbow all the way down to get my fingers across the strings.

Our instructor said eventually we would be able to chop while doing chords - I'm going to learn how to do this if it kills me! Lol! :). 

4:00 Student Recital
This was interesting to see the kids and one adult sign up to do the recitals. I was expecting everyone to be a virtuoso and play the cello very well, but I was pleasantly surprised that there was a wide range of abilities.

The only adult that performed did very well, but I could tell he was very nervous because his bow was fairly shaky. I know for myself, my hand would have been shaking terribly so I was really proud of the fact that he stuck it out and also signed up to play amongst kids. I may have to try that next year...maybe...

There was only one kid that was a really, really good - he looked to be 9 or 10 and he was playing a really fast difficult piece and his fingers were moving all over the fingerboard like crazy! He was nice and relaxed, and his tone and intonation was spot on! It was humbling and also very inspiring to see a kid that age playing so well.

I have to admit at the end of this day, there was a lot of complaining coming from the adult groups, so I promised myself that the last couple days that I would focus on having fun and not complain at all. I don't think I was being negative or complaining, but I definitely was agreeing that all the pieces were very difficult and probably not helping with the complaining. The adults definitely felt like we were thrown off the deep end and were expected to learn how to swim. :).


  1. I'm a adult beginner cellist myself and have enjoyed reading about your experiences at camp so much I signed up for one! (national cello institute) The links you have provided have been very helpful. Keep playing!

  2. Hey, that's wonderful!!! :D.

    That totally made my day reading that you signed up for a workshop! It was such a great experience for me, I hope you get the same enjoyment out of your workshop.

    I read/heard that Rick Mooney's workshop is top notch so I'm sure you will! :)