Monthly Archives: May 2009

What I Read In May 2009

The Tenth Circle by Jodi Picoult
Mercy by Jodi Picoult
Alex and the Ironic Gentleman by Adrienne Kress
Lambs of London by Peter Ackroyd
Mountain Solo by Jeanette Ingold (reread)
The Servants by Michael Marshall Smith
Babyproof by Emily Giffin
The Children’s Book by A.S. Byatt
Palimpsest by Catherynne Valente
The River King by Alice Hoffman
Deja Dead by Kathy Reichs
Drood by Dan Simmons
The Beekeeper’s Pupil by Sara George
Something Borrowed by Emily Giffin
Blackbird House by Alice Hoffman

I never know whether or not to include the chapter books the boy and I read together. If I did, the four Catwings books by Ursula K. LeGuin would be on the list, too. (Rereads for me, first-times for him.)


The Children’s Book was wonderful for about three-quarters, then took a turn into the political environment leading up to and during WWI that didn’t interest me as much. I admit that I skimmed those parts until I got back to the actual character storyline. So I won’t own it in hardcover, but will absolutely pick up a paperback copy next year.

I couldn’t get into Something Borrowed at all and gave up on it a third of the way through. There was something about the pacing and the characters that just didn’t sit well. But Babyproof got me from page one. Go figure.

The Servants: Very nicely written; subtle, not beaten into the reader’s head. No time wasted explaining how all this was happening. Also, eleven-year-old protagonist. Rare. Usually older or younger. Good age.

Drood was huge and really well-done. I want to say more but can’t quite formulate it.

In Which We Are The Coolest Parents Ever

In half an hour, we will be packing the boy up to take him to a movie theatre for the very first time. Pixar’s Up is opening today, you see.

We switched Grandma’s Fridays for this. And yes, if he was in school, we’d be manufacturing an excuse to keep him home.

Earlier in the week we were concerned and rather disappointed, because the only listings available were for the 3D showings, and there’s no way the boy would be able to sit through an entire film in a movie theatre for the first time and keep a pair of polarized lenses on at the same time. But we checked this morning and to our relief, all the non-3D listings were up as well.

He has been told that there will be popcorn. I said we would share a bag, and I was informed that no, Mama, you could get your own bag.

Right. If he’s not awake within the next five minutes, we’re waking him up.

ETA: He. was. awesome. So was the movie.

Dear 4/4 Cello:

Fifteen years ago I bought you almost new from another student cellist, your only identifying label a small one that says “Made in Hungary.” We’ve seen a lot together, from Twinkle to Scheherazade. I was stunned when luthier after luthier examined you and told me that you were about my age and a high-end intermediate model, not the shlunky new student model I’d been told you were by the previous owner. Over the past fifteen years your sound has developed beautifully, and you’re powerful and strong. Your action is easy. Your only prima donna trait is your tendency to demand a new bridge every eighteen months, and really, when you think of what can otherwise go wrong, that’s pretty reasonable.

I never knew how huge you were until I handed you to the principal cellist of my chamber orchestra for a moment, and she exclaimed about your width and depth. You were just my cello; that’s the way you were. So when I spoke to my new luthier and he measured you, I was surprised to find out that you are in fact an oversized 4/4. I am petite. I always thought people’s remarks about how amusing it was to see a tiny person playing a large instrument were generic sorts of comments. Now I wondered if there was something else to it.

After much discussion with my new teacher a year ago, we decided to start trying 7/8s; she said that the smaller size and proportion would positively impact my technique. I felt horrible, like I was cheating on you. I felt even worse when I discovered that it actually was physically easier to play a 7/8; I didn’t have a huge chunk of wood in my way when it came to putting my left hand in higher positions and moving my bow arm to play the C string. Even as I searched for a 7/8 whose tone I liked and whose action felt good, I thought I’d never sell you: I would be loyal to the end, whether I bought a second cello or not.

I rented the latest 7/8 for four months to play it exclusively in order to test the playing-better theory. And then last week I brought you upstairs from your lovely exile to play you, to see if there really was a difference. You were almost perfectly in tune, as if you’d been waiting for me.

And you were… harsh. Oh, your action was as easy as I remembered it being — easier than the 7/8, truth be told — but your sound was so bright and cutting that I found myself wincing. I remembered how I searched endlessly for the perfect combination of strings to tone down your brightness, to give you the more mellow sound that I craved. The sound that, I must admit, this 7/8 has in creamy, caramel-y spades. I had no physical problem playing you, but I did notice how large you were and how I had to lift my arms more to get around you, which limits the power I can devote to refining the sound I draw from you. You boomed, you were operatic, and… I cringed a bit. Were I a true soloist, your sound would be perfect for me. But I’m not. I’m a small-ensemble, orchestral-section girl. You’re… big, in every sense of the word. And I’m small.

I know now that keeping you would be sentimentality, pure and simple. While I can physically handle you, it’s just easier with a 7/8. And your sound isn’t what I’m looking for. Now that I know I have other options, I’m a bit sad. It was easier when I didn’t know any better.

You held my hand through pizzicato, my first shaky bow strokes, in-class group recitals, public recitals, joining my first orchestra, and playing bass in an eclectic cover band. We’ve experimented with a wide variety of strings and bows. I’ve given you four new cases over the years. Remember the time I shipped you to Toronto in the baggage car of the train, and the base of the hard case got punched in somehow? I panicked and opened you up right there in the middle of Union Station. And you were fine, laughing at me as if it would take more than whatever happened to hurt you. You have nicks and scratches all over you from minor mishaps over your forty years, and you don’t care. You haven’t a single wolf, and your balance across your strings and throughout your octaves is beautiful. I’ve never found your limits.

Come August, I’ll list you in local classified ads and hope you find someone who will love you as much as I have, someone who needs your size and your beautifully developed, unique sound. I love you. And I release you.


I was poky this morning, dragging my metaphorical heels and saying, “I don’t wanna work.” And I spent what I thought was a lot of time kicking around online, hopping through my usual stops of news and journals and Facebook and Twitter and various forums, looking for distraction. I made bread. I don’t think I really settled in to the documents I had open on my desktop till around eleven.

And now? Wow. Freelance assignment finished, half the galleys done, and two hours of cello interspersed throughout. And I thought I was wasting the day. I shall have a glass of wine as a reward!

The Recital Report

A triumph! No screw-ups, secure shifts, solid intonation, some pretty damn fine subtle shaping, and oh look, stable bow weight resulting in nice smooth crescendos! Huzzah! The ensemble pieces were good too. In fact, everyone did very well. And I am very proud of the boy who behaved extremely well, but who, alas, fell asleep right before the Star Wars theme that was the thirteen-year-old’s choice of solo (just past the halfway mark of the recital). He quite enjoyed what he did hear, however. I am told he played air cello and clapped like a mad thing after the duet.

Summer is going to be very long. I will miss cello activites. I have another month of lessons to go and almost six weeks of orchestra, but year-end performances are always tinged with melancholy.

And now, I am going to reward myself with a glass of red wine that I saved from the bottle MLG brought to accompany dinner last night.

Uneven Dress Rehearsal…

… hopefully even recital, right?

This morning we had our dress rehearsal for tomorrow’s recital. The ensemble stuff sounded great, except for one piece, which admittedly did sound better once we’d had a break and retuned. Our duet sounded all right (I know hearing notes slightly out of tune is normal for performance, because one’s hearing goes hyper-critical) except for the bit where I relaxed in the repeat of the A section. I glanced away from my music, and when I looked back I had no idea where we were. I quickly ran out of what I remembered of the two bars following and had to stop playing until I figured out where my partner was. Very embarrassing; thank goodness it happened at the dress, so it won’t happen at the recital itself. We ended up cutting the repeat (which makes sense apart from my gaffe, as the A section is forty bars and quite long enough on its own), which reduces my chances of over-relaxing and losing my place. The other solos sounded terrific. It’s going to be a good recital.

HRH and I did end up going out to see Star Trek yesterday afternoon, and it was quite enjoyable. I’d have sat through the entire thing again if we hadn’t had to go collect the boy.

Cello Musings

(Oh look, I found a journal entry I’d been working on in fits and starts over the week. Evidently the headaches and work have given me the attention span of a gnat.)

I have the money to buy my current 7/8. Which, of course, now makes me all wibbly again. I’m just going to need to upgrade in a few years anyhow, now that I’m taking lessons again and advancing properly.

But why do you wibble? I hear my Gentle Readers say. We thought you were decided.

Well, insofar as I like the cello and it’s good to play, yes. When it comes to handing over just under $2K? Not so much.

I just dragged the 4/4 up from downstairs, though. And yes, wow, it’s great: it’s balanced, and projects really well. But it’s huge. And… I’ve come to prefer the tone of the 7/8. It’s more… caramel-y. My 4/4 is kind of like espresso: delicious, but with a bite. The 4/4 is easier to play action-wise; string crossings were effortless and the sound match between first and fourth position is smoother. But the 7/8 has that lovely mellow, nutty sound to it that’s always been my preference in cello tonal colour. And it’s improved since I got it; it likes being played and the sound has certainly developed. It will only get better.

I know I want to sell my 4/4. That much is decided. Love the sound, but I’m never going to be the kind of cellist that needs it, as in a soloist who needs to be heard through the orchestra. I’m small-ensemble and chamber material. So there’s hopefully around $1000 to be recouped from that. Whether or not it will sell is a different story; I’ve seen cellos posted repeatedly on Craigslist and Kijiji, with prices revised downward. I know this one is a gem; it’s a question of getting people to understand that.

Apart from the looming purchase of the 7/8, I also have hard case woes. The one I bought secondhand last year just isn’t going to work for a 7/8. The suspension is all wrong, the curved parts that are supposed to fit into the cello’s waist don’t fit into where the 7/8’s waist actually is, and there’s two inches of gap at the bottom. Even when I pad the bottom, the weight of the cello pulls it down so that the lower pegs hit the bottom of the scroll box, which means the cello’s weight is suspended from the lower pegs. (Bad? Yes. Very.)

Having bought both new-to-me hard and soft case last year, I’m loathe to buy a new one again. The soft case I bought is roomy on my oversized 4/4; the 7/8 swims in it. Yes, I could sell them along with my oversized 4/4 when I sell it, but adding another $300 on to the price of the 4/4 isn’t going to help sell it. But if I buy the 7/8, I want a good case to protect it. The one the luthier included with the rental 7/8 is a super-padded soft case which would be another $140 extra. If I want a new low-end hard case it will be about $300 and I’ll have the problem of finding a small 4/4 one in which the 7/8 won’t swim, or a large 3/4. There’s a local place that will let me send them my measurements and they’ll tell me if the 7/8 will fit one of their 3/4 cases, but they’d have to order a 3/4 in and it’s non-refundable if the measurements don’t match up after all. A hard case designed specifically for a 7/8 will be over $500.

The main problem with the 4/4 I’ve got is that the curved areas for the waist actually interfere with the bouts when the 7/8 is placed high enough to try to avoid the pegs mashing into the bottom of the scroll portion of the case. Putting foam padding in the bottom to support the base of the cello only helps to a point, because the tips of the bouts bonk into the semi-circular bits, and they stop the padding from lifting the cello enough to avoid the pegs problem. I’ve talked to HRH and checked the material of the case, and it’s made of that high-density stuff cycling helmets are made from. So we’re going to remove the padding, he’s going to trim off the semi-circular sections that are designed to fit the waist of the cello, we’ll insert a crescent-shaped piece in the base to make the body area smaller and snugger, and replace the cotton velvet covering. It’s not like removing the curved sections is heretical; most of the cases I see don’t have them at all. Then I won’t need to worry so much, and the 7/8 won’t bang around.

So the first thing we’ll try is modifying the hard case I’ve got. (I hear certain Gentle Readers hooting about the fact that I’m modding a case.) If that doesn’t work, well… we’ll make it work.

In the end, I know what I need to do; I just have to steel myself to hand over the money, and trust that I’ll recoup part of it eventually. It’s just that the money is so reassuring in my bank account. Taking it out leaves me with not very much at all, even if I knew that it was earmarked for the 7/8 to begin with.