Chinese Proverb

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

Friday, July 25, 2014

Summer 2014 concert

A week before my final move to Oregon we had a concert at eTown Concert Hall, which was a Chase the Music concert collaboration. Chase the Music is the brainchild of Clark Hodge, and is a non-profit that creates special concerts for critically ill children. Below is Clark explaining the idea.

Two years ago, I was thinking of ways to organize our group's annual concert, but was unhappy with the fact that most concerts was about creating concerts "just to create concerts"... and I wanted more - something special and memorable! I happened to stumble across Clark's website and liked the idea, so I contacted him to see if we could do a collaboration. This is our second concert collaboration together! :)

I'm unsure if next year's concert will be in Colorado or Oregon, but we have a few months to decide that yet. As with all of our events, we had a mixture of amateurs to professionals performing - any cellist from beginners to advanced can join to perform in our group.

We open up nominations to our our group's friend and family first because it's always great to have a connection to the family (it makes things much more special), and then we take nominations from anyone locally. This year, BCP member Molly nominated Kati. Kati is an amazing little girl who lives with ataxia-telangiectasia. She's beaten cancer and is only 13 years old.

We had 16 cellos and friends (percussion, timpani, oboe, trumpet and flute). Our resident composer Nick created an original composition just for Kati and the rest of the program was a mixture of Kati's favorite songs - popular music (like Coldplay & Adele), songs from a couple of musicals (Sound of Music & Mary Poppins) and classical music (Copland).

I was very excited to play at eTown Concert Hall (thanks to Clark!). It was such a snazzy venue, complete with high-tech audio and video everything. They even had a recording studio in the building.

We tried to customize the concert as much as possible.  
Can you guess what Kati's favorite color is? It's purple and pink! 

VIP treatment - Kati's very own dressing room! We also had pink and purple ribbons on our stand and also pink flowers in our hair (except the guys).

Dress rehearsal before the concert.

In the 'Green Room' watching the t.v. with live feed (audio and video) of the stage. The green room had a small fridge with food and drinks, and small "kitchen" complete with coffee and drink mixers.

A couple videos from the concert: 

Rolling in the Deep (
So much pizzicato that my hand was cramping up! I was also trying not to do pizzicato used in classical music, but more in jazz and rock, which meant using more of my finger like a bassist. I had to switch to two fingers too because my hand cramped up even more as we progressed through the song too.

Chim Chim Cher'ree (
More pizzicato - I love pizz!! Pizz'ing loud is difficult, so I was trying to use my elbow to put more weight in the pizz. 

Monday, July 21, 2014

Cello performance at 14,035 feet with 11 cellists

Time to catch up on my blog entries! I've finally finished my move from Colorado to Oregon - the first move with most my furniture was in a 20 foot truck last month, the second move this weekend was with a 14 foot truck with a hitch for my Subaru.  It was a very loooong drive! I'm procrastinating doing some of my un-packing (although I did unpack my "cello room") so I figured I should catch up on my entries!

Anyway, before I left Colorado we did a hike up a 14er with the Boulder Cello Project and performed our annual summer concert collaboration with Chase the Music, so I'll post entries on both of those.

About a month ago, our cello group hiked to the summit of Mt. Sherman, which is a mountain that is above the elevation of 14,000 feet, with 11 cellists and our cellos. We performed a small concert at the summit for a wonderful audience who couldn't be more enthusiastic and encouraging. The audience members were mostly friends and family, and random hikers who happened to be at the summit.

(c) Hodge Podge Photography

The day before the hike, I had planned to fall asleep by 7 pm since I had to meet a couple cellists around 3 am (yes, three in the morning! Have I mentioned that I'm NOT a morning person?), and then had to carpool with them to our rendezvous point before heading to the trail-head with everyone. I couldn't fall asleep because I was too excited about the hike and it took me longer to create my extra "cello protector case." I was worried what the weather may do to my cello so I wanted something to help with that - and yes, I brought my more expensive cello so I was a bit paranoid. ;)

I lent my good soft cello case to another cellist participating in the hike and borrowed another soft cello case from a friend. Unfortunately, the soft cello case was more than 10 years old, falling apart and not padded very well. I decided to wrap that soft cello case in reflective insulator so my cello didn't get too hot or cold during the hike. It also provided extra protection because it had bubble wrap on it too, which I'm glad it did because I counted three times where I accidentally scraped against rocks fairly hard while making the descent from the summit. I'm sure I probably scraped against jagged edges more than three times, but didn't notice too. My friend Ben came back from the hike with a bunch of scratches on his hard cello case. Without the extra layer (especially using this particular soft case), I'm sure my cello would have had some dings on it. It probably would have been safer to bring my hard case, but honestly, there was no way I could have made it to the summit with the extra 11 pounds from my hard cello case.
Three out of the eleven cellists who participated brought their hard cases and the rest of us brought soft cases, and none of the cellos were damaged. Yaay! I was really impressed with the three who brought their hard cases.

Anyway, I used a hot glue gun and tape, and wrapped my soft cello case like a Christmas present and then cautiously slid the soft cello case out from the bottom. The reflective insulator held its shape, so I just cut a couple holes for the straps and voilĂ  - extra protection for my cello! I just slipped the extra cover over the soft case during the hike.

After getting my supplies together, I couldn't fall asleep until 11:00 pm and I was really worried about having enough energy for the hike. I did wake up a bit late (and tired), but arrived just when the other cellist arrived to carpool to the rendezvous point. We moved all our supplies into my Subaru (three cellos and a bunch of hiking gear) and drove to the rendezvous point. We arrived about 10 minutes past the scheduled meeting time, but I was happy to discover that we weren't the last ones to arrive. :)

Once everyone arrived, Abram (our leader for the hike) gave instructions to get the trail-head. Those who needed a ride, because they didn't have All Wheel Drive (AWD), hopped into other vehicles to carpool to the trail-head.

We had great conversations on the way there, but accidentally drove past the turnoff to get to the trail. However, we got this awesome view of the sunrise!

Purple mountain majesty!
Sunrise against a river. This photo doesn't do it justice! Photo taken on my iPhone.

Once we reached the trail-head, we parked and gave our misc supplies and items to our sherpas/volunteers, which were mostly Abram's hiking and climbing buddies. I swear all of them had super-human strength!, I wish I was as strong as them... I need to get in shape!
I was determined to at least carry my cello all the way up to the summit and back, but was happy to give my stand, chair and misc supplies to our volunteers. :)

Meeting in the parking lot around 6 am. We started the hike at 7 am. Photo taken on my iPhone. 
Our photographer, Clark from Hodge Podge Photography in the orange jacket.

 Through the gate - the start of the hike! (c) Hodge Podge Photography

Hiking up with my cello - makes a good coat hanger too! Photo by Abram H.

Clark, Susan & Dave traversing across snow. Photo by Abram H.

Two sections of the mountain had a lot of snow we had to hike up.  Abram (center) carrying my cello across the snow field.
(c) Hodge Podge Photography

There were a few spots that were a little scary for me. I brought my cross-trainers instead of hiking boots because I didn't have time to break in my hiking boots. Luckily, they had extra crampons to put on the bottom of our shoes to get across the snow, and another cellist (Anna) lent me her extra trekking poles. I didn't think trekking poles would help at all, but boy, did they ever!! I'm going to purchase one those for my next hike.

Anna making it across a snow field. (c) Hodge Podge Photography

Reminds me of ants on a hill! We slid down the side of the mountain to get down. See the snow chutes? Our porters carried our cellos down while we sat on our jackets and slid down! Scary, but fun! :)
(c) Hodge Podge Photography

Not the summit, but a great view nonetheless! Michelle, Abram and I. (c) Hodge Podge Photography

 Steep sides of the mountain. Photo taken on my iPhone.

 Photo of hikers on the trail. Photo taken on my iPhone.

The view was amazing! Photo taken on my iPhone.

This hike was so much fun! Even being more out of shape this year, I think Mt. Sherman was definitely easier hiking than Grays (another 14er). 

At the summit it was very difficult to play and even more difficult to pretend to play when I made a mistake (ha, ha!) since the sound seemed to disappear right away! My endpin kept sinking further into the snow so I couldn't find my fingerings very well. I figured it would be better to pretend to play when that happened until I could figure out the geography on my cello, but I couldn't find my fingering because it kept slipping (yeah, that's what I'm blaming that on!). Unfortunately, it was really obvious when I didn't play so I played out of tune (really quietly, I hope...) until I could figure it out. I wonder what I was supposed to do in those cases?

Photos of the concert at the summit: 

I'm in the yellow CU hat! I packed my finger-less gloves, but I couldn't find them in time. (c) Hodge Podge Photography

Wearing three layers of clothing. I was told not to wear cotton since it doesn't dry quickly. (c) Hodge Podge Photography

(c) Hodge Podge Photography.

This was such a great experience, and I enjoyed it thoroughly - talk about feeling a sense of accomplishment! I'm going to submit this to the Guinness World Record (GWR) for the most cellists atop a 14er. I'm waiting for the videos from our guide before I can submit it, since GWR requires a video of the hike from start to finish.

14,036 ft altitude (and attitude!) + a group of amazing hiking players from the Boulder Cello Project + wonderful weather + friends and family of the group who helped at every step along the way + random hikers on the trail who cheered us on (lots of hikers from Kansas!) + summer solstice = an EPIC experience!!!

Monday, May 26, 2014

A cello play-in atop a 14er

I must be a little crazy to be doing this - organizing a cello play-in atop a 14er! ...CrAzY I tell you!!!

There are over 50 mountains in Colorado that are above the elevation of 14,000 feet and they are known as "Fourteeners." We are planning a hike up Mt. Sherman with some cellists. Supposedly, it's one of the "easier" 14ers to hike; that you can't drive to the top of (like Mt. Evans).

Our group was inspired by a YouTube video of another Colorado cellist Gal Faganel performing a concert atop Longs Peak below last year. ...and yes, "that's so Colorado!"

After we posted that video on our Facebook page I received a few requests from Boulder Cello Project members to hold a play-in at a 14er. My initial thought was, "I barely made it up my first (and only) 14er - Grays, and you want me to strap a cello to my back and do it again? No thank you. You're crazy!!"

Anyway, fast forward a few months later, and I'm planning this event with a fellow cellist and rock climbing/hiking enthusiast Abram H. Since I'll be moving from Colorado, I figured I should have one 'last hoorah' organizing and playing with the Boulder Cello Project and this seemed to fit the bill.

To be quite frank, I don't know that I will be able to carry my cello up a 14er. It was extremely difficult for me to hike Grays last July, and I'm in worse shape this year. Literally, when I was approaching Gray's summit last year, doing switchbacks to get to the top, I was taking 5-6 steps and then taking a "breather" for 10 seconds. I guess I should be happy that I didn't get altitude sickness too.
I may have to do this hike and take photos and video only, and not participate at the play-in at the top - but the whole point is to be able to play at the top!!! ..argh.. I'll have to do it even if it kills me, which it may... lol!

Did I mention that we are planning to start the hike at 6am, which means we'll have to start driving to the trailhead around 3am! I know, crazy right? ...although this should be an interesting adventure!

Last year - Gray's summit (14,270') having lunch. Wearing my yellow CU hat! :)

We are planning to hike Mt. Sherman on June 21, 2014, so I'll post some videos and photos after the event. If we get enough cellist to participate we may submit it to the Guinness World Book of Records. We shall see! :)

COLORADO CELLISTS: If you're reading this blog and live in Colorado, we are opening this play-in to non-members. Shoot me an email or leave a comment if you're interested in participating! :) Or if you simply want to hike with the group and listen to cello ensemble music at the summit, please feel free to join us! Although we do need volunteers to help carry extra food, clothing and water so our cellists can carry their cellos! ;)

Facebook page:
Meetup page:

Monday, May 5, 2014

Community Orchestra Concert 2 - Villa Lobos Bachianas Brasileiras

This piece totally kicked my ass, especially the second movement! There were several times that I wanted to quit, and seriously asked the other Part 4's if it was okay if I didn't play during the concert the day before the first concert. ...yeah, I know... bad me! :(

I also wasn't planning on performing during the second concert because I had tickets to a Zoe Keating concert that was taking place at the same day and time, but decided it was worth it to perform, instead of watch a performance. Hopefully, I'll be able to attend one of her concerts in the future. Anyway, here's the concert video:

During the second movement of the first concert, I was lost a lot of the time and couldn't do the harmonics so I ended up air bowing, but the second concert went much better for me and I was able to play a lot more of the notes. It's a total bummer that I'm not in the video after all my hard work, but you can see my busted middle finger pizz'ing and bowing away (in the veeeerrry far right hand corner of the screen) playing Part 4. I swear that's me! :)

This definitely was a great learning experience, especially playing a piece that was far outside my comfort level and abilities. I would say in the beginning, 15% of the music was playable for me, and by concert time I was able to play 95% of the first movement and 70% of the second movement. Pretty good all things considering.

Now that's over, I have to start practicing for our upcoming summer cello concert. We are creating this concert for a teenage girl (13 yro.) who has a critical illness. She loves musicals and popular music, so our resident composer is creating arrangements and an original composition for the concert. The program we will be performing is currently:

1. Fanfare for the Common Man (Copland)
2. Viva la Vida (Coldplay)
3. Chim Chim Cher’re (Mary Poppins)
4. Call Me Maybe (Carly Rae Jepsen)
~~~ Intermission ~~~
5. Simple Gifts, from Appalachian Spring (Copland)
6. Somebody That I Used to Know (Gotye)
7. Climb Ev’ry Mountain (Sound of Music)
8. Rolling in the Deep (Adele)
9. Composition

I'm really looking forward to this concert because it has a lot of popular music!

Big news again, I'll be moving out-of-state so I'll have to look for another cello teacher. ...arghhh...:(
But I'm excited to move and be able to get more practice in since I'll have some free time for the first couple of months while I look for a job and I won't be organizing a group. Although I will miss organizing the Boulder Cello Project a lot!! There may be some plans to organize another group where I move to, but we'll see... However, I really need to get some cello lessons and individual practice in.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Community Orchestra Concert 1 - Villa Lobos Bachianas Brasileiras

Yaay - first time I played with a community orchestra! :) I'm crossing that off of my goals for this year! I know technically it was a bunch of cellos again, but...

Playing with an orchestra definitely has a different atmosphere and vibe than my cello group. Since we have more intermediate and beginner cellists playing in our cello group, we focus more on cello technique and ensemble skills. We also allow food and drinks while we rehearse and it's very relaxed - we drink beer! ;)

Playing with this orchestra (I'm assuming most orchestras are the same), everyone just showed up, played through the music and received instructions from the conductor with regards to tempo, phrasing, etc. without much info on cello specific technique or ensemble playing, but that is to be expected when there is a larger group musicians with different instruments. We were only allocated one hour per rehearsal so the entire orchestra could work on their pieces, but we had extra rehearsals hosted by other generous cellists in the section so we could get some extra practice together.

Even though this is a community orchestra, and there are no auditions to play in this orchestra, I felt everyone was definitely an advanced player! ...well, MUCH better than I at least. ;) It's always great to play with better players though, and it definitely pushed me to my limits, especially with regards to learning to play different tempos.

Anyway, I'm sitting to the far right (2nd cello in from the end) and I'm covered up by the conductor throughout the video (which is great since it's less obvious when I mess up!), but my fingerings are still visible. ;)

I couldn't pizz and hold the bow at the same time (due to the torn tendon in my middle finger in my right hand), so I had to leave my bow on my stand. I was so nervous every time I picked it up I kept bumping my stand and making a loud noise! Lol!

There are a bunch of empty chairs in the video because normally the orchestra would sit there, but for this piece all the cellos sat up on the stage. I sat on the second level (on the steps) so I had to pull out my endpin all the way to reach the floor, and it was still too short. It threw me off to have my cello more at a tilt and shorter than what I normally would like it to be. Unfortunately, we didn't get to practice in this setup prior to the concert.

The orchestra taking a bow at the end of the program.

Anyway, the second concert went MUCH better and I'll post that video tomorrow. :)

Friday, May 2, 2014

More practice on Bachianas Brasileiras No. 5

I wrote this two weeks ago, and forgot to post it! ...oops... so here's an entry from a couple of weeks ago. I had my first concert today and have a video! I'll post that tomorrow. ;)


I met with Adam to go over the Villa Lobos piece. Two more weeks until concert time! I'm definitely going to record this and post it too - even if I do terribly!

We worked on a few spots that was causing me issues while Adam played Part 1 so I could become more comfortable with how my part fit in with others since I tend to freak out when I hear someone else playing something different. Normally, when that happens I freeze up and get lost because my brain assumes I've played something incorrectly so I quickly try to scan where everyone else is and get lost in the process. I've got to stop doing that! :(  In this piece, there are so many interesting rhythms that I have to almost ignore what is going on around me.

I'm also not very strong at reading and playing rhythm (yet) so I've been having some issues playing the measure below because of triplets. I haven't quite figured out triplets yet... darn you triplets!

I've been counting "1 &, tri - ple it, tri - ple it, tri - ple it. Hold..." but my beats are still not quite matching up. I'm either too slow or too fast. I've even tried "1 &, two-oo-oo, three-ee-ee, four-or-or, five (hold and look up!)" for the passage below, but no luck. ..and yes, I had to highlight that fermata because I kept running over it! LOL! ...I'm sure the conductor probably didn't find that too funny. ;)

Anyway, we practiced this for a bit and Adam mentioned that I may just have to start "feeling the beat" and saying it aloud for a while until I can verbalize it. Obviously I'm not doing myself any good practicing it incorrectly numerous times without being able to verbalize it correctly since I'm just ingraining bad muscle memory in the process. So first things first - be able to verbalize the rhythm. I'll be working on that for awhile...

That measure is also a very powerful part in the piece so I need to use a lot more bow... not to mention work on my intonation, but I'll be happy just to get the rhythm for now. ;)

I'm also learning a lot while I work through this piece, like how to play harmonics in a song. I thought I knew how to play harmonics until I actually had to play it in music! Lol! I'm playing the top of the divisi below and those notes are mostly harmonics. I know that probably looks easy, but those rests are killing me! Again, I'm not very good reading rhythm (yet).

I like to darken the part I'm not playing and/or highlight the part I am playing because I have weak eyes and tend to jump to the wrong line. My music sheets tend to look really crazy, but it works for me. ;)

There are some fast runs (for me), which reminded me of something I learned a few months ago with Dr. G; that is, there is a "hierarchy of beats." Notes that are on a beat should be played more "convincingly" than those that are not.

So "convincingly" does NOT mean playing notes that fall on a beat more loudly, but that is what I am doing right now until I get that figured out. :)

Dr. G had explained knowing where the beat is located at all times is extremely important in ensemble playing, phrasing, staying together, etc. He also explained that is also one of the reasons why electronically generated music sometimes sound "weird" because the notes aren't played with varying importance.

Anyway, I was constantly getting lost until remembered this and then consciously started playing the note that fell on a beat much louder. I even circled and drew a line through the note to remind myself to play the note more convincingly. This has helped me with regards to being able to stay with the music and not get lost - although I do still get lost, but not as much as before!

I've also discovered that I'm much slower playing with extensions than I am shifting to another position. I'm not that familiar with 3rd position so I've really had to work on getting my intonation and geography, which is still a work in progress.

Wow, lots to work on... I'm really curious how this concert is going to turn out for me!
I mentioned to my husband that I would be happy not being the weakest link and being able to perform without people being able to tell that I am messing up. He jokingly replied, "glad you're setting such lofty goals for yourself!" ..hhmm.. I guess I should rethink my goals!

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Rehearsal, torn tendon and play-in

I attended my first rehearsal a few weeks ago with FCO, a community orchestra, and it went surprisingly "well." "Well" meaning I wasn't completely lost, although the first few run-throughs I was a lost as usual. It always throws me off when I hear other players play their part. What can I say, I get distracted easily! ;)

I also came somewhat unprepared since I hadn't practiced much, and haven't had a cello lesson in a REALLY long time! ...and I really need one!!! aaarrghh... :(
The concert is less than one month away, so it's time for me to do some serious practicing. I figure I don't have to be the best, but I sure as hell better NOT be the worst! Normally what get's me practicing more is telling myself, "I'm not going to be the weakest link, I'm not going to be the weakest link..." Lol!! :) Not very positive I know, but it works for me. Not to be mean or anything, but a group is only as strong as their weakest player so I don't want to be the one holding everyone back. Unfortunately, right now I think I may be the weakest player due to my lack of experience and ability, so by concert time I want to be kicking some ass and totaling hitting all my notes!

Anyway, I also tore a tendon in my middle finger (on my right hand) a few weeks ago. Luckily it wasn't my left hand, but I am right-handed so typing and writing has been difficult. I currently cannot play pizzicato while holding the bow, or pizz very quickly because the splint gets in the way, but I'm getting better at it. I'm fairly certain I'll be able to perform for the May 3rd concert though.

I have a doctors appointment next week to see if my tendon will reattach itself. If not, I will need surgery to attach the tendon, which I've heard would be a fairly long recovery and that I may lose some mobility in the finger. ...but I'm sure my tendon will reattach! ;)

I thought I'd also post a video from our ACMP play-in last month (this was prior to hurting my hand), since I haven't posted any videos lately. See, I'm still playing! ;)

Boulevard of Broken Dreams
I'm sitting in the far left, wearing black.

I really need to start posting videos on my Suzuki progress again!

Monday, February 10, 2014

Community orchestra concert in May

As part of my 2014 goals I want to perform with our local community orchestra, so I have decided to play during their May concert for one piece. technically I am playing with the orchestra, but it’s kind of a “cheat” because the piece I'm hoping to perform with them only has cellos and an opera singer - Villa Lobos’ Bachianas Brasileiras No. 5; and there will be a bunch of cellists from our cello project performing too. ;)

I first heard and saw Bachianas Brasileiras No. 5 performed by CelloSpeak’s faculty last year, and there were more than a few teary-eyed cellists and audience members during this performance. It was just GORGEOUS!!! Not to mention that this was the first time I've heard an opera singer before so I was totally blown away! ...yes, I live under a rock... =p

Unfortunately, I feel like I’m totally psyching myself out and feel like I won’t be doing it justice, which I probably won’t!  I don’t know what the deal is, but I feel like I’m not ready to play this even though I KNOW I can! It’s the strangest feeling...
Perhaps my expectations are too high because I think I need to be able to sound like the performance I heard? This got me thinking... maybe it was good for me NOT to have been exposed to classical music before taking up the cello, otherwise I would've been too emotionally attached to the music that I would be learning and be too hard on myself all the time? Because right now, I have very little knowledge of any classical repertoire so when I play them incorrectly it doesn't bother me since I have nothing to compare them to! ...ignorance is bliss? Lol! ;)

Or perhaps my doubts are just me wanting to chicken out again with regards to performing in front a bunch of people. Fortunately, I’m not allowed to chicken out since I agreed to performing it with the group and it would look bad if the group's collaborating organizer changed their mind and decided not to perform with their own group! Lol! I'd better set a good example. ;)

Anyway, I decided to play Part four because 1) I think it’s more difficult than Part three due to the rhythm, 2) I need to work on playing and reading more complicated rhythms and this fits the bill for me, and 3) I love playing pizzicato!

I’ve been slowly working through the piece and haven’t gotten it anywhere close to speed yet, but right now I’m just getting myself familiar with the notes. I have a full three months so I should be good to go by May.

...okay, three months...daily practice... I can do this... (maybe)...

Another recording of the piece:

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Practice notes for the week of 20th

I discovered the reason why it's difficult for me to walk and count at the same time. It's because I take fairly small quick steps! Unfortunately, I can't count and play very quickly (yet), which is why I'm having difficulty counting while I walk. If only I took longer SLOWER strides...

Anyway, I will be taking up dancing again (Lindy Hop & Blues) after my three year hiatus so my focus is going to be somewhat split, which isn't good for my cello practice since I've already lost some of my focus. My husband and I have already signed up for an out-of-state Lindy Hop workshop and plan on doing a lot of social dancing to get back into shape, so if my practice logs have more dancing than cello practice that's the reason! The workshops we typically attend also have auditions for track placement so I have to get my cardio back and loose the weight I've gained (since starting the cello!) or my lines won't look very good. **sigh**

I'm only counting practice time and not playing time for my practice log below:

Monday, January 20th: 40min
10min Warmup
10min Hunter's Chorus
20min Musette
1 hr Lesson with Adam

During this practice session, everything was sounding off, which typically happens to me after a lesson. I think I over-think everything instead of specific issues that I'm supposed to be working on.

Tuesday, January 21st: 33min
5min Warmup
5min Misc
13min Musette
10min Hunter's Chorus

Wednesday, January 21st: 0min :(

No practice, but I listened and danced to a Blues quintet after work and it was THE coolest experience ever! After the band break the waiters moved the tables aside and I swear everyone in the cafe got up to dance - including myself. ;) It looked like one of those scenes from a musical. Seriously.

It was also really nice to have people come up to my husband and I to say they enjoyed watching us dance. I always find it somewhat embarrassing when that happens, but it was definitely a confidence booster, especially since we hadn't danced in a few years!
We were also invited to dance at a local dance venue that had recently opened. It's the same idea with not charging professional (makes a living teaching or performing) cellists to play with our cello group. I waive the annual membership fee for professional cellists to participate in our group because I want good cellists to participate in our group! It's the same for dancing as learning to play the cello (and other instruments I would assume...), that a person gets better faster by dancing/playing with better dancers/musicians. It's a win-win situation!

Thursday, January 21st: 60min
10min Warmup @ 60bpm
10min 4th Position Exercise #1 @ 60bpm, 72bpm
40min Bach Minuet No. 1

Friday, January 21st: 0min
2.5hr Cello group play-in

I'm typically so exhausted after a play-in that I normally don't pick up the cello to practice afterwards, especially play-ins held on a weekday.

Play-ins held on a weekday typically go something like this: work 8am-5pm, rush home to setup for the play-in (i.e. move furniture out of the way, buy snacks & drinks and do general setup), have a 30min "social" before the play-in, play for 2.5 hours with the group (usually starting around 6:30pm), hang out for another 30min to an hour afterward, then cleanup and put stuff away. By the time everything is put away, all I want to do is plop down in front of the television to eat and relax, and become a total zombie!

Saturday, January 21st: 0min
2.5 hr Played with cello trio

Met with my cello trio to play some ensemble music from 2pm - 6:30pm, but we spent 2 hours talking and drinking! Lol! I'll have to do a separate post on that.

Sunday, January 22nd: 

Dancing! :)

I do a lot of cello-related "stuff," but I really want/need to focus more on PRACTICING.
Playing with others is a lot of fun, but I think individual practice time is what will get me to the next level. It's also the reason why I'm still in Suzuki Book 2 after three years - not enough individual practice! ...argh...

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Cello Trio, chocolate and scotch

I started playing with a couple cellists from our group (I'll call them Bert & Melissa) and we spent last Saturday afternoon drinking scotch, eating chocolate and playing cello trios! What an awesome way to spend a Saturday afternoon! :)
Hopefully we can keep this going as a reoccurring get-together since we all have fairly busy schedules. We scheduled our get-together at 2pm and we finally called it quits around 6:30ish when we became hungry, but we probably spent a good 1.5 - 2 hours drinking and talking!

I discovered that Bert likes to drink Scotch, and I had started learning to drink scotch recently, so we decided to try out each other's scotch selections. I have to admit that I like the fruity sweeter scotches, and not the peaty or smokey ones.

We paired it with some dark chocolate, which was really yummy! I can never get enough chocolate... or sushi!!! 8). Bert had some super dark chocolate consisting of 80-90% cacoa, while I brought some dark chocolate with a lower cacoa percentage and with different flavors like intense orange, coconut and sea salt. I just really enjoy how it brings out the different flavors in the scotch!

Fortunately for me, Bert and Melissa are stronger players than I am! I'm comfortable playing the lower part, while Bert and Melissa get the more difficult parts (typically 1 or 2). Melissa also plays the violin while Bert plays several instruments (piano, accordion, flute, etc.). I mentioned in my previous post that playing with stronger players helps to improve faster, so this is going to be really great for me! ;)

We sightread through a bunch of trio music and decided to work on the four pieces below to bring back for our next get-together since we liked them the best.
  • Bach's Gavotte
  • Bach's Sarabande
  • Handel's Sarabande
  • Lupos' Fantasia
During our playing, I was reminded how much easier it was to read from the score because anytime I read from parts while sight-reading, I tended to skip a line and get lost! I also need to brush up on my terminology since I forgot some of what I learned when I attended CelloSpeak; specifically what first or second system meant!

Anyway, this was really fun so hopefully we can keep this going and play together at least once a month.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Practice Notes for the week of January 13th

I haven't done a practice log in a really long time, but I'm going to do a few until I get back into the habit of practicing regularly again. Although it won't be as detailed as my previous practice logs.

Thoughts & epiphanies during last week's practice
I used to think that "real" practice could only be done while playing cello, even though my teachers have told me otherwise. Now that I'm trying to focus on rhythm, I've been practicing away from my cello.

Recently random events have been triggering me to think about (and practice) rhythm, which has been really strange! For example, I couldn't sleep because I could hear my clock ticking away. ...tick, tick, tick... Normally, I wouldn't be bothered by this, but it made me think about subdividing beats to my ticking clock. It kind of drove me nuts! I couldn't fall asleep because I was too busy thinking "1e&a2e&a..." and trying to fit different beats between the clock's ticks. I swear since my lesson, I've gotten a few less hours of sleep per night.

Also, when I listen to the radio, I find myself trying to count to songs to try to figure out how to fit beats into the song. Although for the most part I couldn't figure out the time signatures for the songs I listened to. Anyway, it's kind of weird thinking about rhythm so much!

Dr. G had also recommended thinking about fitting beats when I walk. My teacher at CelloSpeak (LB) had also recommended this as well. Supposedly, I should be able to walk at a consistent pace and count each time I take a step, but I swear I don't walk very "consistently." Maybe that's why rhythm is so difficult for me!

Anyway, this week I'm going to try doing this on a treadmill as I walk and jog at different speeds since one of my goals is to lose the extra pounds I've gained. Hopefully this will make exercising on the treadmill a little bit more interesting...probably not, but working out my body and mind sounds like a good plan to me! ;)

Monday, January 13th: 1hr 15min
20 min: Vibrato with C scale 3 octaves
20 min: Hunter's Chorus - relearning piece to record, specifically intonation issues
20 min: Musette - working on phrasing, and "feeling it in 2 instead of 4" so trying to use smaller and lighter bow strokes
15min: Work on rhythm => Using I Can Read Music. Lesson 25 #1 & #2, clapping to metronome at 60bpm

Tuesday, January 14th: 20min
20min: Clapping rhythm: I Can Read Music. Lesson 25 #1 - #5, clapping to metronome at 60bpm, 72, bpm, 80bpm

Wednesday, January 15th: 25min
10min: Hunter's Chorus
15min: Musette
1 Hour Lesson with Dr. G
Blog Entry

Thursday, January 16th: 1hr
30min Hunter's Chorus
30min Musette

Friday, January 17th: 0min :(

Saturday, January 18th: 0min :(

Sunday, January 19th: 0 min
2.5hr Improvisation Play-in: I'll have to posts notes on this later
Actual practice time: 0

This is my baseline of how my week typically looks like for practicing and playing cello, but I need to make sure that I practice daily.

After this entry, my goal is to practice at least 20min a day this month, and then I'll slowly increase my practice time.

My two cats hanging out on the couch with me while I blog on my laptop.

Lesson #153A: Warmup exercise & repertoire

It's been a while since I had a lesson with Adam since he was out-of-state during the holidays and I've been really busy with family stuff.

We worked on the exercise he gave me, which I find to be really frustrating! It's supposed to help with my intonation and shifting, but for the life of me I just can't seem to get it right. I guess avoiding practicing it doesn't help either. :(

String Finger Note Problem
IV 0 C
IV 3 E Finding that E from "no where"
IV 1 D
IV 2 F
IV 1 E Make sure this matches the other E
IV 4 G
IV 2 F Making sure this matches the other F

Repeat pattern on all strings (same finger pattern).

The beauty of this exercise is that I'm supposed to match my notes to the previous matching note that was played, but I can't seem to get it consistent enough to match. Although I'm getting better at recognizing whether I'm flat or sharp. Before I just knew I was "off," but not which direction.

Move my entire arm. My hand seems to be tipping forward and not keeping its shape as I shift. Also, I should think about leading the shift with my forearm more, and feeling how the crook of my elbow opens up to help me calculate the distance of my shifts.

Rotate top half
I need to rotate my upper half more when I'm playing on the A string.

Hunter's Chorus
We worked on some intonation and phrasing issues since I need to revisit this piece before I can record it by the end of this month. I wish I would have recorded it when I had it down a few months ago!

Take the first two measures and play them as double stops to work on intonation. My second finger C seems to be the culprit!

Measure 25, 26, 29, 30
  • Watch intonation
  • Use less bow, and think of a "scrubbing motion"
  • Play with dynamics 

We briefly worked on phrasing since we ran out of time, but I need to work on making my bow strokes more legato to make the notes flow into each other more.

So I need to work on:
  • Staying on the string
  • Using more bow
  • More legato bowing

I'm starting to like how this is sounding! :)

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Learning to improvise (January improvisation play-in)

During our improvisation play-in, we did some "free improvisation" and also read through Come Together by the Beatles using the Chord/Lyric Sheet below. There are a bunch of these sheets available for free, mostly from guitar websites, but they work for any instrument.

This was my first time reading from Chord/Lyric Sheet, and it was really interesting. It wasn't as difficult (i.e. completely impossible for me!) as I thought it would be, but it wasn't easy either.

Reading from a chord sheet does mean that I have to know the song pretty well. Luckily my dad is a huge Beatles fan so I was familiar with it. Unfortunately, I didn't prepare for the play-in, which I should have done, so I kind of struggled through it. We also took turns doing solos and mine was SUPER lame! Lol! Oh, well - it was a learning experience! ;)

Anyway, a couple of exercises for beginners like me to prepare is to 1) play along to the song to find easy rhythms and to try to improvise on top of it and 2) make sure I know the chords, which are listed in the blue box, and to become "familiar" with the notes in each of the chords. I thought that was a bit too much to memorize for me, so I decided just to memorize the first two notes listed in the blue box, i..e the 1st and 3rd note of the key.

I had also remembered what Clayton had tried to teach me during our beginning lessons together on learning how to improvise. He had given me an exercise to do when improvising in a key (example Dminor):
  • Play root of the key only: D
  • 1st & 2nd notes of each key: D, E
  • 1st through 3rd notes: D, E, F
  • 1st through 5th notes: D, E, F, G, A
  • Chord (1,3,5) : D, F, A

That was about a year and half ago, and I didn't understand back then why it was important to know how to play the first few notes of a key, but now it's finally sunk in!

First of all, playing those notes (like the above exercise) IS improvising within the key, just add a few different rhythms and voilĂ ! Secondly, it helps me learn the notes within the key really well so it's easier for me to think of rhythms instead of trying to figure out what finger to use. Not to say that I have any of this down (yet!), but now I'm starting to understand it! Yaaaay!!! :)

Anyway, to prevent my brain from exploding, I decided that I would just play the root note and the third note (if possible), and defaulted to just playing the root note if I got confused or lost during the playin - can't go wrong with the root note! :)

We also learned the "riff" for Come Together with the notes: D, D, F, G, F(slide) to C(pluck), then D.
I couldn't quite get the timing of the rhythm, but close enough... and we learned it without looking at sheet music either - just watch, listen and then mimic!

I was also able to play and sing at the same time, but I definitely wasn't singing in tune! ..ack, another thing I need to learn and work on! Anyway, I think a few more play-ins learning and playing from chord sheets and I'll be able to start learning how to play from Lead Sheets, which is one of my goals.

Example of Lead Sheet:
It shows the notes of the melody, unlike the chord sheet above.
It does provide more information, but right now I find this more confusing than a chord sheet.

...hhhmmm...just a thought, but why is it that other instruments (like the guitar) begin with learning chords? Why can't we use that method for cellists too? Then we'd all know how to play chords and improvise from the very beginning! :)

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Lesson #152G: Rhythm

I guestimated the amount of lessons I've had since I lost track. I haven't had many lessons recently though. :(


I honestly don't know how I got by 3 years (wow, has it been 3 years?!) of playing cello without learning how to play and read rhythm well. I know how to play and count whole, half and quarter notes, but anything smaller and it's kind of a shot in the dark for me!
I know some would say learning how to read rhythm should have been taught from the very beginning, but honestly, I don't think I was ready to learn it then, so it wouldn't have sunk in for me. ...maybe... 
Although I have met many beginning adult cellists who are in the same boat as I am. I also don't have a musical background and this is the first instrument I've played. ...yeah, yeah, excuses, excuses... 

I currently learn how to play music (and learn how to play rhythm) by listening to audios or other cellists and then mimic them, so ALL my rhythm comes from external sources. And, for the most part, I don't even count! ...yeah, I know, terrible! Although I have recently been working on trying to count more frequently.

So how did I get away with not learning rhythm for so long?
Well, when I'm playing with others, I typically try to find a "rhythm buddy" who is playing the same rhythm as I am and just match my rhythm with theirs. Or if there are other cellists playing my part, I just listen and follow them. Or I just "fake it," which typically takes me 2-3 tries (depending on tempo and notes) to figure out how my notes fit in with others and just get it that way. LOTS of ways to "fake" my way through reading rhythm, and all of them depend on finding external sources!

Anyway, it's getting more difficult to "fake" my way through music as it is steadily getting more complex, so I figured it's time to concentrate on learning to read rhythm - "for real" this time!

Lesson Notes:

My main focus this year is to improve playing and reading rhythm, so I asked Dr. G to spend the beginning half of our lessons on rhythm. We began with clapping out rhythms for 30mins.

Ironically I could have easily mimicked what Dr. G was doing (like I usually do!), but then I wouldn't be learning how to internalize rhythm, so I was trying very hard to shut off my brain (which wanted to mimic what he was doing) so I could FIND and internalize my own rhythm. ...still in the dark with a flashlight...

I have a fairly wonky rhythm in the first place and having an external source, which includes the use of a metronome, helps me A LOT!

Dr. G wrote down some rhythms so we could sight-read and work on it. Surprisingly, I thought I had gotten over being embarrassed about clapping out rhythms, but I was a teensie-weensie embarrassed to struggle through such "simple" rhythms. Being embarrassed made me tense up, which made me clap early for most of the beats too!, yeah, that's what it was - I'm blaming it on tensing up! Definitely not from my total lack of rhythmical abilities! ;)

He patiently went through the rhythms with me, but I could tell that he was really surprised that I was having trouble with them. I seriously could have faked my way through and sounded better, but I was really trying to internalize everything. ...I swear! :)

Clayton had once mentioned that he didn't count in his head, but instead heard "ticks" or "beats" like a steady metronome, and Dr. G mentioned that this is what he did as well. Dr. G explained that once I start to play much faster music it becomes very difficult to count aloud (or count internally), which is why it's extremely important to have a strong internal pulse.

We then went through some music to sightread, which I played better because it didn't have a bunch of weird rhythms that I was unfamiliar to me. We were also playing duets and he was my rhythm buddy (same rhythms as me) throughout the entire song, so it was really easy to figure out how to play all the rhythms.

I also learned that notes played on a beat are typically played "stronger," - but of course, that also depends on phrasing. He mentioned that learning how to play notes stronger on a beat will help me with my sight-reading abilities too because I will always know where the beat is located.

We went through some quick phrasing since I'm still making all of the notes sound "important" so it sounds too march-like. So we practiced on open strings so I could try to figure out how to make a note more or less important, but that didn't click for me during this lesson either. Whew, lots to work on! :)

Monday, January 13, 2014

My new cello! :)

I purchased my Raul Emiliani cello in the beginning of November and am now getting around to blogging about it. Oops!

I selected a pink case, which I LOOOVVEE!!
My two cello cases remind me of the color of watermelons. Yum! ;)


Here's my pur-tee little cello! The different densities of the tailpieces (ebony, boxwood, rosewood and pernambuco) helps the cello with it's sound, resonance, wolf, etc. Here's a great article on tailpieces. I have a Les Bois D'harmonie boxwood tailpiece, which I think looks great on my new cello! ;)

I decided to go with two posture pegs for the C&G on my Emiliani. My Lombardi cello only has a posture peg on the C string, and I really wish I had done both the C & G because the G still touches the back of  my head and gets caught in my hair. I should get that updated sooner then later since I keep complaining about it!

I need to find a study on the body's autonomic response to something touching the back of someone's head or neck. If anyone knows of any studies please let me know because I'd love to post it. 
I swear when something touches the back of my head I automatically tense up! And when I use someone else's cello that has pegs on the C&G string, by the time I'm done borrowing their cello my shoulders are up by my ears! 

Anyway, I digress... back to my new cello! I also got PegHeds (mechanical so they don't slip!) for my D & A string in a heart shape. ...jeez, can my cello be any "girly"-er? case, heart shaped pegs...

Pegs come in different shapes (Hill style, Heart style, Swiss style, French style, Baroque style & Old style), and then they have options for ornaments, carved or inlaid designs and come in different woods. Mine is a boxwood heart shaped peg with a black ornament ball. So far my favorite peg was on my Li cello which was an ebony Swiss style peg because it was really simple and I liked it's smoothness and how it felt in my hand. 

Anyway, I wanted two cellos with different voices that are on the "darker" side, so this works out. I especially like the Emiliani's G string because it sounds so dark and rich.

Raul Emiliani cello (left):                        Pietro Lombardi cello (right):
Length of body: 30 1/8"                            Length of body: 30"
Width of upper bout: 13 1/2"               Width of upper bout: 13.375"
Width of c-bout: 9 1/2"                       Width of c-bout: 9.375"
Width of lower bout: 17 1/2"                  Width of lower bout: 17.375"
String length 27 1/8"                                String length 26.75 

The measurements are fairly similar, but the slopes of the shoulder and the thinner ribs on the Emiliani makes it feel much smaller and more comfortable than the Lombardi.

Overall, my Emiliani cello feels more comfortable to me and plays easier, but Dr. G thought my Lombardi cello outplayed my new cello. I kind of agree, but I think with a new bridge the Emiliani will sound better - not that it sounds bad, just different. I think it is a bit too resonant and needs a bit more focus, which I think a new bridge will help.

hhmmm... I need to come up with two names for my cellos... I'll have to think about that for a bit. 

Friday, January 10, 2014

My 2014 Cello Goals

I didn't accomplish a lot of my 2013 goals, but looking back at my 2012 goals, it seems that I accomplished more items from that list instead! ;) Does that count??

My 2013 goals were:
  1. Finish Suzuki Book 2: Not even close! ..argh... only worked on two new Suzuki pieces this year! :( However, I was busy playing and learning other pieces... 
  2. Start learning how to do vibrato and use it in my playing: I started learning to vibrate with Clayton and when I went to CelloSpeak, but have not been practicing or using it while playing since then. 
  3. Play with a community orchestra: I showed up to one rehearsal! Lol! But that doesn't count since my goal was to perform in a concert with a community orchestra. 
  4. More practicing, less organizing for my cello group! This totally did not happen. I spent more time organizing then practicing this year. 
  5. Post at least 5 videos by the end of the year - that will give me 2-3 months on each piece - Wow, sooooo BAD!! I only posted 2 videos this year!
  6. Keep up with my blog entries: This was not good either. I only posted 42 entries last year, compared to 98 entries the previous year. I swear there is a direct correlation with the amount of entries, my progression and practice time! That is, the less blog entries, the less practice time and progression I feel I've made.
  7. Work on sight-reading skills: I've been trying to do more sight-reading. I typically don't practice any of the music that I play in my group (on purpose) so I could work on my sight reading skills. We have monthly play-ins, so I get consistent practice on this. 
  8. More efficient practice time: I didn't really have much time to practice...? I think my practice sessions were definitely less focused then last year though. 

Despite all the unmet goals in red, I don't feel like 2013 was such an epic fail for me. This year I feel like I became more "comfortable" with my cello.
  • I feel more comfortable playing with others in general; i.e. if I mess up, I keep going and it doesn't feel like a big deal when I mess up either. I think getting over that feeling helps a lot! And I feel like I can listen to others while I'm playing at the same time... finally!!
  • I've been playing "free improvisation" with our group on a monthly basis so I no longer feel as self-conscious about messing up while improvising in front of people - although I still don't know how to improvise that well.
  • I also feel like my cello isn't completely foreign or detached from me (if that makes sense!). That is, when I don't pick up my cello for a few days, I don't feel like I have to start over from scratch. Now I can pick up my cello after a few days of not practicing and do a few quick exercises to warm up and I'm good to go. Before, I really had to work at getting everything back to where it was (and then some), before I could start playing any piece of music. 
  • I also feel like everything past first position isn't "scary" any more. Before I would have mini-freak-outs and think, "What? No way! I'm not ready for that! That's waaaay out of my abilities!" Now I feel like any note on the fingerboard is just a note that can be achieved by lots of repetition and practice, so now it's more like, "Darn it, this one is going to take a while... I'm really going to have to spend some time on this note to get it in tune..." I feel like everything is playable as long as I have enough time to practice it, which I feel like is a HUGE step forward in feeling comfortable playing cello. 

My 2014 Cello goals
1) Work on a past goal: Post 7 videos & finish Book 2 
     January 31st - Hunter's Chorus
     March - Musette
     April - March in G
     June - Witches' Dance 
     August - Two Grenadiers 
     October - Gavotte 
     December - Bourre 
2) Work on a past goal: Play with a Community Orchestra 
3) Work on a past goal: Keep up blog entries (at least five entries per month)
4) Work on something I want: Learn 1-2 pieces from the Bach Suites => already started on Minuet 1!
5) Work on something I want: Learn vibrato and use it consistently 
6) Work on something I want/weakness: Learn three octave scales
7) Work on something I want/weakness: Learn how to read from a lead sheet & improvise
8) Work on a weakness: Feel more comfortable reading and playing more complicated rhythms

This year, I'm going to organize my goals into three categories: 1) working on a past goal, 2) working on something I want to learn, and 3) work on a weakness.

I want to be able to feel like I've accomplished most of my goals by the end of the year since I didn't complete a lot of goals this year so I want to have a good mix of things that I want to learn to keep me motivated, but at the same time work on weaknesses so I feel like I'm progressing. I have a lot of the same goals as last year too, so this should help with feeling like I'm continuing my progress.

My main focus for 2014 is to play and read different rhythms better since I feel like that is the area that is holding me back the most. And this year, my goal is to achieve at least 75% of my goals!!! ;)

...just 'cause I think my cat is adorable! ;)
He always looks like he's smiling when he's asleep.