Category Archives: Music

Christmas Recital 2016

Our studio recital went blazingly well yesterday. I sat and knitted for the entire first forty minutes during everyone else’s soli, and you know, I think I may take a break from doing a solo every couple of years or so. It was so relaxing. I got to really appreciate everyone’s pieces more than I usually do because I wasn’t stressing, keeping feverish track of who was playing so as to ready myself to move up and take my place, or running fingering patterns on my right forearm. The four group pieces all went brilliantly. It’s such a joy to watch everyone get better and better, and to welcome new cellists.

Speaking thereof… guess who said he’d like to try cello again? I suspect watching the three other eleven-year-olds who joined right around the time he quit two years ago may have something to do with it. He’s older now, and I pointed out twenty minutes of practice a day would be his responsibility — I’m not going to argue with him about it — and he agreed. We’re working on autonomy, self organization, and socialization with other kids outside school, so this may slot in nicely. I get to tell my teacher this week at my next lesson.

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.

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!

Fall Extracurricular Classes

Yes, it’s that time once again!

I had to switch my time slot for cello, as we were looking at registering Owlet in an intro to music class at Preville, the arts centre with which Sparky does his summer camp and art lessons. With two kids doing extracurricular activities on Saturday, I either needed a second car or to switch my lesson time. And since a second car isn’t in the budget, I worked out a new slot on Friday at midday with my cello teacher. (This means working on the weekend if necessary, but ehn. If I have to, I will.)

I had my first lesson yesterday, and the work I did on the Vivaldi sonata over the summer wasn’t a complete waste of time (go me!). I didn’t get a debrief of the concert and assignment of summer homework in a final lesson back in June, as schedules didn’t align, so I just guessed and went with it. My teacher congratulated me again on a terrific recital performance, and asked if I’d seen HRH’s recording of my solo Bach yet; I had to admit that no, I hadn’t, because as happy as I was with my performance, I haven’t had the courage to sit down and watch it. I got two stickers in my book for it, though! (I am in my forties and still like getting reward stickers in my music book, thank you very much. It’s the little things.)

Orchestra also began this past week, although I had to miss the very first rehearsal because of work (hey, there, busy season and rush jobs and everyone needing everything tomorrow morning). The upcoming programme looks terrific: some Debussy, Vaughan Williams, Stravinsky miniatures, a Mozart overture… stuff I’ve enjoyed playing before, a couple of new things. Our annual membership fee has increased by 40%, which is ouch even though the reason is valid (our conductor, who is excellent, has until now been accepting payment way lower than other orchestras of this level are paying). My individual lesson fee has also increased; I suspect I’m going to have to make a compromise somewhere, maybe by dropping one lesson a month.

Sparky is now in Cycle 3, and that means band at school! It’s wind and brass instruments, so right now he has been trying to get sound out of the headjoint of my flute to see if that would be interesting for him. If not, he thinks either trumpet or trombone would be fun. We shall see what happens there.

I went to the Preville open house this morning (with Megan! and I ran into my friend Adelina, whom I haven’t seen since we did our workshop on alternative-spirituality parenting discussion at the Yule Fair a few years ago!) to see what was on offer. We got to see and say hi to some of the teachers we’d become familiar with over the summer at day camp, which pleased Owlet. In the end, she will be doing her intro to music next semester; this session, it’s all about art, thank you very much. (That’s what I get for suggesting she move on to explore other tables rather than just standing at the intro to music table, banging the little cymbals. We then had to pry her away from the glue, feathers, and Plasticine.)

She also totally schooled the violin teacher as only a four-year-old can. He showed her how to rest the instrument on her shoulder, and she sighed and said, “That’s not right.” Then she lowered it and held it vertically in front of her. “No… that’s how you hold a cello,” he said, a bit puzzled. “Well, yes,” she said, giving him a flat stare, and you could tell she was thinking, ‘Seriously, dude? You teach this stuff? Everyone knows you hold these things like this.’ One small victory in a world where most kids call violas and cellos ‘big violins.’

So both kids are now registered in their respective art classes. Sparky is delighted (I am not entirely sure why, but he thinks both he and his sister taking art with the same teacher, albeit at different times, is terrific) and Owlet is looking forward to it as well, because (quite apart from the exciting making art thing) her friend Audrey is in the class with her. And I’m looking forward to not having to drive 45-60 minutes first thing on Saturday morning and then be focused enough to play cello and process musical instruction for an hour on Saturday mornings, then drive another 60 minutes home. Everyone wins!

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!