Chinese Proverb

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

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Week 1 - Day 3 (Tuesday 7/30): Practicing with a small group

It was day three and I was still suffering from a headache and was still feeling under the weather. Whatever it was, it was definitely sapping my energy!

Technique Classes
I woke up late again and had 5 minutes before the kitchen closed so I rushed to the dining hall, loaded up my plate and shoveled food into my mouth! I'm definitely NOT a morning person and waking up early for me is extremely difficult. I normally have to set two alarms to get up on time.

Anyway, I got to the classroom late, but the doors were locked so everyone was patiently waiting outside - so no one noticed I was late... again... oops...

The faculty was rotating every other day, so we had DH and LB that day. Since the previous day we had worked on repertoire for both the Technique and Ensemble Class, the group was interested in working on some technique. My memory is failing me so this may have been Thursday's lesson...
We started off with scales to warm-up. I still enjoy warming up with scales even though I've done it quite often with my cello group! I don't think it will ever get bored of a bunch of cellos playing scales! :)

Anyway, they asked for suggestions and another cellist called out "vibrato!"
However, they decided to work on technique that could be more easily applied to our current pieces, but promised to work on that the next time they taught the class. We ended up working on bowing exercises instead and worked on a page from their "Cello Chops" book using the Twinkle variations.

I just can't seem to escape Twinkle! Lol! :)
When I first started playing cello, I was "stuck" on Twinkle for THREE agonizing months and absolutely hated that song so I asked my teacher Adam if we could skip the Twinkle variations. Anyway, Twinkle just seems to come back to haunt me over and over and over again!! I should probably start learning to like Twinkle.

Anyway, we applied the 16th bowing technique (which I will now forever associate with "Mississippi" bowing!) to the piece Chase, which we were going to perform in the large ensemble.
I also discovered that I was using the wrong kind of bow stroke. I was supposed to be using more of a brush stroke and keeping my bow on the string. However, I was lifting my bow and separating my bow strokes. ...hhhmmmm... I don't think I've ever learned how to do the brush stroke now that I think about it. What other Suzuki pieces in Book 1 and 2 uses the brush stoke? - with the exception of the Twinkle variations of course.

Anyway, I was also happy to be reviewing the variations and discovered that I had forgotten some of my bowing basics, specifically opening up my elbow and using more bow! I'm going to have to refocus on those techniques again.

Unfortunately, I've picked up some bad habits playing with my normal ensemble group at home as well - hence my teacher Adam's comment on needing to start focusing on intonation and technique when I got back! Anyway, it took me months to feel somewhat comfortable playing close to the bridge, but every time I start playing in any group I revert back to my bad habit of playing close (or even over) the fingerboard because I feel that I am just too loud!
It also didn't help that Marge's cello was very resonant and loud so I felt that I had to play even more quietly. Anyway, opening up my elbow near the bridge versus closer to the fingerboard changes the relationship of when I have to open up my elbow, which was causing my bow to go awry.

Small Ensemble Class 
We worked on Hunter's Chorus and since LB knew I was working on this piece she volunteered me for Part I, although I was really looking forward to playing Part IV.
I have to admit playing Part I in Hunter's Chorus was probably the most difficult piece to play during Week 1 for me. First, there was less cellos playing the part (3 cellists plus an instructor) so I couldn't hide and second, this piece had more interesting rhythms than the others pieces we performed.

Anyway, there was some questions as to how to follow conductor's cues, so we went over some of that information and some problem areas in the piece with rhythm which we applied the Twinkle variations (naturally!).

Key takeaway from this class: work on opening my elbow, and I'd better start learning how to appreciate Twinkle and its variations because it provides the foundation of all advanced bowing technique! Wow, Twinkle... didn't know you were so important!!! 

Large ensemble:
This was kind of a disaster for me! I was having trouble counting. I mean honestly, how difficult does the Gavotte piece look below?? It's SUPER EASY playing it by myself!!! But I was having the most difficult time counting while playing with the group. ...hhhmmm... or maybe I thought I knew what I was doing, but really didn't! ;) Although in my defense playing in an ensemble is a different skill set.

The conductor explained that Gavottes always start part way through the measure which screws up counting, especially with all of the repeats. So instead of slash marks for each quarter note, I decided to write in "3" and "4" to remind myself that I need to start counting from three.

I think everyone was a bit lost and feeling like they should have practiced more, so I asked some cellists sitting close to me if they would like to practice after dinner. All of them were happy to get some extra practice time so we all agreed to meet after dinner.

I was late to lunch... see a reoccurring theme? *sigh* And yes, I am one of those people who are late to everything... anyway, nothing terribly exciting during lunch, but for the past few days I noticed I had been eating an extremely large amount of food and still feeling hungry in between meals! How could sitting ALL DAY playing cello work up such a voracious appetite?

Anyway, I had spoken to another cellist (who was a senior citizen... though most attendees were...) who commented that she typically ate oatmeal for breakfast and lunch, and a small sized portioned dinner because as one gets older, we loose our appetites and don't need to eat as much, but she had found she had been eating a lot too! She admitted that she had been eating eggs and bacon for breakfast and then a large lunch and dinner, which was quite unusual for her. ...hmmmm.... maybe next year I should bring a scale so I don't overeat!

Private Lesson
One of the options was to sit in on private lessons since we had rotating days. It's helpful for me since I could objectively watch the lesson, and in most cases the issues that needed to be fixed also applied to me. It's also much easier for me to see issues in other people's playing than my own. Anyway, I sat in on Rob's private lesson and he played a couple of pieces for our instructor.

LB asked him if he wanted to perform one of the pieces for the recital and he agreed.
She had asked me to perform Hunter's Chorus (the current piece I'm working on) during my lesson on Monday, but I felt that I wasn't ready to perform it and told her that I would think about it. Also, since it was one of the options to perform in our cello ensemble, I thought performing it during the recital would be boring for the cellists in my group.

Anyway, I'll post a video of Hunter's Chorus this weekend sometime since I'm kind of bored of that song and want to move on to the next piece!

Baroque dancing
Unfortunately, I had to skip this class because I wanted to get some practice time. I had attended a Baroque dance class before, and the previous class was similar to the class I attended, but I missed the period costume!! ugh!! I really wanted to see that!

A few interesting things I learned during the previous day's dance class:
1) Dresses were actually short enough to see the ankle, so people couldn't "fake" the steps while dancing.
I always thought dresses were floor length because all the movies I've seen, but that is not the case! Come to think of it, non-floor length dresses would be more practical since it would be difficult to walk on unpaved dirty streets since sewer systems pretty much were non-existent and chamber pots were emptied in the streets. ...eeewwww...

2) Calf muscles were sexy back then! ...they still are though right? ;)
Anyway, the reason for tights and that certain bow with one leg extended was to show off men's calf muscles! Apparently, wealthy people spent most of their evenings attending galas and dancing so they were able to develop larger calf muscles. Therefore, ladies of the court could determine a gentleman was in good standing if they had well developed calf muscles! Talk about peacocks strutting their stuff! Lol! :)

3) Status was super important.
Not only did calf muscles show status, but everyone knew each others' status and rankings because when they lined up to dance, the wealthiest individuals lined up first with the poorest individuals at the back. It's no wonder it was so interesting for writers to create stories about peasants being able to pass as nobleman since they were so conscious about status back then.

All I know is I would have hated to live back then... stuffed in thick uncomfortable clothing with no air conditioning and deodorant!

After missing the Baroque dance class to practice, I was still feeling under the weather so I decided to take a nap and woke up late for dinner!

Practice with small group
After dinner, I met up with the small group from our section. I felt bad for not inviting everyone in our section since I dislike leaving people out and being exclusive. Unfortunately, there wasn't much room since we were using one of the empty dorm rooms as practice space. So there were only four of us: "Sue," "Ellen," "Rob" and I. Although it would have been difficult to get anything accomplished with too many people.

Anyway we went over fingering and played through the pieces which was extremely helpful. I shared my "color coding system" with them to help with music road map and had brought a highlighter that had three different colors.

I like to color code the brackets to know where to go in the music and also draw lines and arrows. I have terrible eyesight so the colors help a lot. I know it looks totally amateurish, but that's the least of my worries when playing in an ensemble, and I use the excuse that I'm a beginner too! ;)

Below is a copy of the actual sheet music I used with my notes for the Gavotte piece:

An instructor during the 2nd week, LB2 (...hmmm...just realized both my first week instructor and quartet coach during the second week have the same initials!!) recommended erasable colored pencils.
I ordered a set and am really excited about using them! I chose the box that had less colors and thicker tip since I think having too many colors may be more confusing than not, and I like highlighting stuff.

Unfortunately, I lost my 3-in-1 highlighter at the workshop during the second week, so I found a similar product, but not quite the same. ...darn... I really liked that highlighter, but I decided to order the one below from Amazon too.  

Some other tips that I've discovered, which seem to be obvious and self-explanatory, but...

1) Write in fingerings - I've met some advanced cellists who dislike writing in fingerings if it can be helped, and when I first started playing ensemble music I kind of thought the same thing. I thought, "how difficult could it be to remember to use 3rd or 2nd finger for sharps or flat?" Then I discovered it was kind of difficult to keep track of everything, so I then I thought, "well, if I miss it twice, than I'll write it in!"

Anyway, long story longer, it's not worth the effort (for me) to remember what finger to use if I can simply jot it down. I figure it's best to save my energy to focus on ensemble playing instead; that is, looking for cues, listening to one another, looking at the conductor, bowing, etc,

Also, some pieces of music have a lot of key changes, like the Telemann's Four Airs for Four Celli that we played during Week 2 (I think it had 5 key changes and accidentals!) and then factor in learning 4-5 different pieces with different key signatures... Let's just say, it's easier to jot it down - even for "easy" key signatures like the one above.

2) Write in sharps and flats - It's difficult for me remember if it's a sharp (or flat) even though it's at the beginning of each line! Again, it's gets confusing juggling information - reading music, watching for cues, listening, processing info - sensory overload!
I also tend to miss the F# on the C string so I like to write those sharps in. Although I'm curious if/when I should stop doing this? Is it a skill I'll eventually need (i.e. remembering when there is a flat or sharp)? But then again, I only do this when playing in a group and not during solo work... hhmmmm... dunno...

3) Write in measure numbers - After rests I like to write in measure numbers so I don't have to keep re-counting the measures. It's also helpful to write in measure numbers where I get lost often (or where my stand-partner gets lost often) so I can easily call out measure numbers.

4) Write in rehearsal numbers - I found if we kept revisiting a section of the music, it's easier to write in a rehearsal letter or a measure number and put a box around it. It saves time having to recount the measures over and over again!

5) Highlight key changes and changes from arco to pizz and vice verse. I like to highlight key changes in the music so I don't miss them. I especially like to use bright colors going from bowing to pizzicato because I need some prep time to change my bow hold.

Also, in measure 28, the eyeglasses is a commonly used symbol to look up at the conductor for the next cue, and the "apostrophe" (beneath the eyeglasses) means to take a breathe or pause. I'll post more examples and tips later, but this entry is getting a bit long!

Participants of the workshop started performing their pieces and I was amazed that some of these cellists had taken up cello later in life! It totally inspired me, but at the same time, it made me more nervous about performing Hunter's Chorus since everyone was playing "real" music, while I was going to perform a piece from Suzuki Book 2! Next year, my goal is to play a "real" piece of music during the recital! ;)

I also discovered that there were a few cello teachers participating at the workshop. I LOVE it when teachers participate! I highly respect teachers who continue to improve their own skills.

Anyway, after the concert I couldn't sleep so I decided to practice and lost track of the time, and ended up playing past 11:30pm. The next day there was a sign about practice times, i.e. "quiet hours." Oops!! Sorry neighbors! Although another participant told me there was a cellist who had practiced until 4am, or maybe they just woke up really early...
Whoever that was, "Cheers!!!" Glad there was another night owl among us. :)


  1. Hi! Just a note to let you know how much I appreciate your recap of CelloSpeak! I tried to go there several years ago but it was full so I was out. I've been playing 10 years (one of those late starters-at age 50) and I also have vision problems. I color code LOTS. Repeats, as you do, and also to mark dynamics (red=forte, blue=piano); when there are 2 (or more) endings, I color code them as well. I also write in sharps and flats when I miss them repeatedly! My music looks crazy to anyone else, but it's a road map for me. Bottom line is always: Whatever works! Thanks again for your posts! Nancy

    1. Thanks Nancy! You should try to go again - it really is worth it! :)

      I'll have to try the dynamics coloring idea too! I'm always curious to see how other people's music looks like...

      Anyway, I sometimes see people make faces or something (maybe it's just a look of curiosity?) when they see COLOR on music sheets. Do you ever get that? :)

      ...hhhmmmm... I should start drawing big funny pictures on the music to see how people react - a big yellow happy face or something - than seeing highlighted notes and text won't be so shocking! heh, heh :)

      I totally agree with you - whatever works!

  2. i was actually talking to a couple of colleagues about the hunger thing. they say that complex thinking creates an appetite so you may or may not be feeling the effects of all that focused thinking :}

    i was wondering about your issues with the flats and sharps - i usually keep in mind the key signature of the piece so i know where and when the accidentals come in but this would mean being relatively familiar with all those major and minor keys.

    Or just looking to the far left of the stave and reminding yourself that this piece has (in your case) a C and an F sharp so every time you play those notes, you should hopefully remember to sharpen them.

    1. AWESOME article!!! Thank you for sharing!!! :)

      It's funny - I typically just have coffee for breakfast, snack throughout the work day and then have dinner when I get home. At CelloSpeak, I was loading up 2-3 plates of food and going back for seconds during breakfast, lunch and dinner (no exaggeration)! That is, if/when I arrived on time for breakfast... Anyway, at the end of the workshop I had only gained 5 lbs too - although it could have been water weight too.

      One my genetics teachers a couple of years ago mentioned glucose fueling neurons too, so every so often she would pass out candy during class. She was totally AWESOME! Though I wonder what the effect would be if one were to load up on glucose BEFORE "intellectual work" and if it would result in a "sugar crash" later or would it be "used up"? And then the effects of simple sugars versus complex sugars? ...hhhmmmm... I've got to look into that - great article!! :)

      Yeah, I'm not too familiar with key signatures yet and I also tend to lose my place when I go from one line to the next, but I'll start trying to read to the far left of the stave to get some practice. I don't think I consciously look at that when I jump to the next line which may be one of the issues too. Although having weak eyes definitely compounds the issue.