Category Archives: Cello

The State of Cello

I’ve had a kind of horrible fall, in retrospect. There were bright moments (RHINEBECK!), but I’ve been worn down by various things we’ve been juggling. We’ve had to limit a lot because I was fighting for the final payment for the project I did this past spring, and one of the things I had to drop was cello. I just couldn’t afford it. And with the level of work required for the fall orchestra programme, plus the demands of the group pieces for our Christmas recital… I didn’t have enough energy left over to work on my personal stuff anyway. So no lessons, and no working on something to play at the recital. This is the first time in eight years — sixteen recitals — that I haven’t had a solo piece. And I was fine with that.

I started lessons again mid-November, focusing on the orchestra music and recital group pieces. The chamber orchestra concert has come and gone (it was lovely, thank you for asking; my highlights were Delius’ A Song before Sunrise and Butterworth’s Banks of Green Willow), and so at this week’s lesson, after reviewing the group pieces for recital, I pulled out my Suzuki book and said, “Well, you told me to look at the Squire piece when we broke for the summer. I haven’t touched it in about four months, though.” “Let’s play through it and see what happens,” my teacher said.

Well. It turns out that the work I did on it myself at the beginning of the summer was so good that in her estimation, it is currently at almost a playable level. Which means if I had pulled it out three weeks ago, I might have actually been playing a solo in this recital after all.

I’m still okay with not having the stress of a solo piece, although solo playing is much less anxiety-inducing than it used to be. But I’m a teensy bit regretful. And also kind of impressed with myself for having done such a good job on it alone so far, and months ago at that. It makes me wonder what I could actually do if I took this whole thing a lot more seriously rather than managing to get maybe a max of ninety minutes of playing in each week.

Tour de Fleece 2016: Day 1!

They ride bikes, we spin yarn. It’s all wheels, right?

I wanted to have my wheel clear for the first day of the Tour, but yeah, that didn’t happen. I handed the manuscript of the book in Thursday evening, and Friday was a blur, really. I slept horribly and so I was having trouble staying awake in the afternoon. And then there was that concert thing Friday night, it being Canada Day and all. (It was excellent. Really great. And our replacement principal cellist asked if we’d be interested in a cello club, a monthly get-together for playing stuff. Um, yes? Sign me up. I love group classes and cello choirs.)

So Day 1 of the Tour had me plying the last 3/4 of my FatCatKnits BFL in the London Fog colourway in order to clear bobbins.

It went from this:



To this:

Before a wash to finish the yarn, it’s 466.5 yards, 20 wpi. I loved the experience and the feel of the finished yarn, but I’m not thrilled with the colour. The three-ply barberpoling from a randomly applied colourway… I’ve got a greenish pinkish greyish yarn. If I do this colourway again — and I probably will, because I loved the original braid and it was on my wish list for over three years — I’m going to either split it lengthwise so the plies match up, or spin end to end and then chain ply it.

Whatever. It will make a nice shawlette to tuck into the neck of my velveteen fall coats. I was hoping for socks, but I think it’s too soft. Even though I plied it super tight.

Catching Up

[Good grief. This has been sitting in a drafts folder since April 12.]

I had a concert. It was brilliant. The Grieg piano concerto was fantastic, and the Schubert ninth symphony was better than I expected it to be. (It was also REALLY LOUD.) Right up to the week before the concert I was still thinking I should have dropped out at the beginning of this rehearsal session when I was having so much difficulty with the material; I’m glad I stuck with it. Next: my recital in June, and then the Canada Day concert.

Yesterday I had my second meeting with the team I’m working with on this project. It was just as excellent as the first one was. We reviewed the first two chapters I’d written, and the feedback was so positive. It’s really nice to be so comfortable. The packaging guy was in town for this one, and it was good to meet him too; he said a coupe of very complimentary things about how I was functioning in the meeting and how pleased he was that the team had coalesced so well. And he suggested that if I was interested, if there were any projects that came across his desk that he thought I’d be good for, that he could call me. (Yes! Yes, please do that!)

The team sent me home with swag for the family, too. It was heavy to haul home — there’s just over half an hour of walking involved in my commute to and from downtown for these in-person meetings — but everyone here was delighted. In theory the two huge hardcover books are for my reference use, but HRH buried himself in one right away because it was directly applicable to something he’s doing right now.

We outlined the fifth and sixth sections of the book, so now I have the second and third to cover and have these two on the horizon as well. I am hitting the right tone and level of detail they want, which is good to know; I wanted to have this review meeting of the first two chapters I finished rough drafts of before going into the next set, just in case I was really missing the point somehow.

In non-work news, I am finally going to get to Rhinebeck, which is an enormous fleece and fibre festival in mid-October. (The actual name of it is the New York State Sheep and Wool Festival, but no one calls it that.) Ceri, Megan, and I and a bunch of my online mums group are going to meet there; we’re all renting a house for the weekend! (A few houses, actually; people kept saying they were going to go, too, and more houses had to be booked. It’s crazy, and so exciting.) It’s going to be a ridiculous amount of fun, and my phone already knows how to autocorrect Rhinebeck to RHINEBECK, all caps; that’s how exciting it is. For some reason I thought Rhinebeck was much further away. Google tells me it’s just about four hours. That’s not taking border-crossing times into account, but still — that’s closer than driving to visit my parents. And there’s a Rhinebeck thing; people knit sweaters to wear while there. So I am going to knit a sweater. An easy one, mind you, but a real sweater. Once this book is done, that is. I’ve already swatched two different yarns, even, and know which one I’ll be using.

Cello, work, yarn stuff. That’s a pretty decent summary of what’s been going on.

Fall Concert Announcement!

I am a victim of my own overbooked schedule and haven’t posted a concert announcement with adequate lead time for anyone to actually slot it into their own schedules. But better late than never, right?

The Lakeshore Chamber Orchestra’s fall concert will be presented at 7:30 PM this Saturday evening, 28 November, at our home base of Valois United Church (70 Belmont Ave. Pointe-Claire, between King and Queen). The theme of this concert is Short & Suite; rather than the more customary overture-concerto-symphony programming, it presents several shorter pieces.

Mozart: Overture Le Nozze di Figaro
Stravinski: Eight Orchestral Miniatures
Grieg: Holberg Suite
Vaughan Williams: Fantasia on “Greensleeves”
Grant: Doncaster- La rivière et la randonnée (première)
Debussy: Petite Suite
Chants de Noël

(Yes! We are premiering a piece written for us! And yes, apparently we are also doing Christmas carols. It will be less than a month until Christmas by then, so I will grudgingly allow it. So if you’ve ever wanted to sing Christmas songs with a full orchestra, this is your chance.)

Admission is $10, free for children 18 and under. The concerts usually last just about two hours, including the refreshment break. The address and map are on the church website. Children of all ages are very welcome.

I hope we’ll see you there!

The Baroque Bow Class with Elinor Frey


A couple of weekends ago, I was fortunate enough to attend a baroque bow workshop led by Elinor Frey, organized by Suzuki Montreal. It was a two-part workshop, the first half being for violins, and the second half being for celli. The bowing techniques she was talking about were generalized enough that they were applicable to all bowed instruments. (I managed to work past crippling social anxiety to get there, too, so yay me.)

Elinor brought her five-string baroque cello so that she could play the violins’ piece just up a string, and it was gorgeous. (It’s the one in all her current publicity shots, as she has a new album out, Berlin Sonatas; you should check it out! It’s lovely! I am also a big fan of her earlier album with that label, La Voce del Violoncello.) The celli were scheduled to play the Lully gavotte by Marais from the third Suzuki book. Interestingly, the violins were playing a transcription of the bourree from Bach’s third solo cello suite. Usually other instruments get stuck playing transcriptions of violin works, but this time the shoe was on the other foot! So since the celli were sitting through the violin part of the class anyhow, we all brought our versions of the solo suites and made notes on the bowing stuff and the bourree specifically. And I’m glad I did, because there was no way to take notes during our part of the session! Since we’d all listened and made notes during the first half, we had the time to explore the techniques further in our part of the class.

Elinor talked about bowing gesture and release being two of the main components of baroque phrasing. The gesture part is the initial physical impetus, which creates a more emphasized sound with bow speed, and the release is the gradual diminished activity that translates to softer sound. It’s not just a dynamics thing, though. It’s a phrasing thing. Because a baroque bow is shaped and held differently, the power naturally lessens about two-thirds of the way along the bow toward the tip. We can’t use the shoulder torque and back muscles that we do with a modern bow to maintain weight and contact toward the tip, so that natural diminuendo has to be incorporated into the performance. The gesture comes from the elbow, and when you’re using a baroque hold on a modern bow, it’s really hard to lead with the wrist, as many of us tend to do. And interestingly, the gesture doesn’t necessarily come at the beginning of a bar; it’s often (but not always) on one of the strong beats.

We approximated the baroque bow by holding our modern bows a few inches away from the frog. I think of it as choking up on the bow, the way I choke up on a baseball bat (because those are always too long for me, and the balance point is off). I’ve done this before, not with my previous teacher but on my own, when I was doing independent reading about bowing. It naturally makes the bow lighter and it pretty much negates my unconscious tendency to lift the bow at the beginning and end of my bow strokes, keeping the bow in the string and producing a nice, creamy sound. It also made that wretched scale run in the gavotte a lot easier, I discovered during the class.

Elinor talked about giving different notes weight in order to create a different palette of sound, going beyond the basic blocks of bars. It does still have to sound organic, though, and one of the techniques she shared with us was looking at the music for visual clues. In the bourree she pointed out a passage with low notes and high notes that formed a kind of dialogue in the music, the high notes being one voice, answered by the lower notes/voice. Since our ears hear higher notes more clearly, she had the violins play the lower voice/notes with more presence, using the gesture impetus for those and the natural release for the higher voice/notes. The result was a very pleasing contrast.

We also discussed interpretation and learning about the music. When starting a new piece, Elinor said she always researches it to learn as much about it as she can. If it’s music for a dance (which, of course, both the gavotte and the bourree are), learn about the dance, because how it’s danced will impact how you play the music for it. She also tries to find a manuscript form of the music, because that can give you insight as well if all you know is a clean modern edition with standardized bowings and slurs.

We had an interesting tangent about Suzuki citations and attributions, too. Just as I discovered when I was reading about the Lully gavotte (because of course I read about most of the pieces I am assigned; I am a research geek, one of my charming Ravenclaw tendencies), she said that she’d found out the gavotte wasn’t written by Lully; it was written by Marais, and dedicated to Lully. Over time, the ‘Lully’ gavotte became ‘the Lully gavotte,’ which became interpreted as being ‘the gavotte by Lully.’ So yes, while there is misleading and erroneous attribution in the Suzuki corpus, it’s a great opportunity to teach students to not blindly accept whatever they read and to double-check everything.

All in all, it was a wonderful afternoon. I left feeling excited about my instrument and experimenting with the new ideas. I’m currently working on the two minuets from the first solo cello suite, so a lot of it is directly applicable. While some of the subjects she addressed I had been exposed to either through my own work or in orchestra, it was a lovely chance to observe a baroque cellist with baroque instrument and bow, and to think about a different approach to the music and performance, and experiment accordingly. I really hope we can do this again with Elinor, with another piece of music.

Spring Concert This Saturday!

Ignore the snow and the five-foot snowbanks. Pretend everything is green and blooming, and celebrate with the spring concert presented this Saturday evening by the Lakeshore Chamber Orchestra!

The concert takes place at 7:30 PM on Saturday 21 March 2015, at our home base of Valois United Church (70 Belmont Ave. Pointe-Claire, between King and Queen). Here’s the programme:

Mozart: ‘Der Schauspieldirektor’ Overture
Schubert: ‘Rosamunde’ incidental music (selections)
JS Bach: Violin Concerto in A minor (guest soloist: Celia Morin)
Beethoven: Symphony no. 7

Admission is $10, free for children 18 and under. The concerts usually last just about two hours, including the refreshment break. The address and map are on the church website. Children of all ages are very welcome.

I hope we’ll see you there!

Oh Look, It’s the End of February

And really, March 1 cannot come too soon.

I don’t have the energy for full paragraphs. Let’s do a point-form post.

My first two weeks on the video game project are done. So far I am enjoying it.

In my off time I handled my first project of the new year for the publisher. It was a Star Wars book. Yet again my geeky hoard of trivia proves useful! (Here’s a tip for you: The term ‘Jedi’ is a singular plural. One Jedi, two Jedi, many Jedi. Never Jedis. Never. LOOK, I CAN BE GEEKY ON MULTIPLE LEVELS HERE! AND PEOPLE PAY ME FOR IT!)

I started my free month-long trial of subscribing to Scribd for e-books and audiobooks. All things Agatha Christie have been converging in my life, and I decided to subscribe to an audiobook service so I could listen to her books while I spin or knit, but I find Audible very expensive for what it is. Scribd is $8.99 a month and offers unlimited access to a tonne of audiobooks, and e-books, too, so I went that route. (Bonus, I discovered: comics and graphic novels. Awesome.)

I am knitting a hat for a swap, and I am arguing with it. I have already ripped it back twice, and I suspect I will do it again. I just don’t know if I will try the pattern a third time, or give up on the decorative stitch part and simply knit it straight, then add a little something to it afterward. That kind of feels like cheating or giving up, but it may save my sanity. Ceri pointed out that the pattern isn’t hard but it’s tricky, which can be just as frustrating in a different way, and she has a point. Add that to the fact that I can’t knit anything more complicated than basic stockinette or garter in a room where there are other people, and there is a problem. It doesn’t help that the deadline for mailing is in one week. I could have been done by now if I hadn’t decided I really wanted to spin the yarn for this project. (But I did, and it’s terribly nice to knit with, I must say.)

I’ve started spinning more yarn for Mum’s beautiful silk/cashmere/Merino wrap. She’s getting close to the end of the stuff I made for her in 2013, and it’s not long enough, even taking into account the length blocking will add. I am so glad I took good notes about how I made the initial yarn.

One month till the chamber orchestra’s spring concert. That’s… soon. (Saturday 21 March, 7:30 PM at Valois United church. Mark your calendars. It’s a lovely programme.)

Yeah, Owlet’s post is late. That’s par for the course these days.

We had a lovely little Valentine’s Day tea party for our goddaughters, and it was so much fun. We finally got to use the half-size china teacups I bought Owlet for her first birthday for the kids. There were several courses of delicious tea-type foodstuffs, excellent company, and it was just a lovely day all around.

I got a new fountain pen; a Noodler’s Ahab in the colour Ahab’s Pearl. It’s a flex nib, and I’ve been really wanting to try a flex nib. It’s got a thick barrel, like my Waterman Kultur. I would have preferred a Konrad or a Nib Creaper, both of which are slimmer, but WonderPens.ca didn’t have them in stock at the time and I had really promised myself a new pen when the big cheque for the math book came in. I inked it with J Herbin’s Vert Empire, and I am smitten. I am also wholly smitten by the converter it came with, and the converters I ordered for my Waterman and Parker pens. I put some Diamine Damson in my extra-fine Sheaffer pen, and it writes so much more smoothly than it did when inked with the Noodler’s #41 Brown. I think the Diamines may be lubricated; I’m not entirely certain.

Okay, that’s enough. Back to work.