Monthly Archives: April 2015

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.

Owlet: 44 Months!

These updates are getting challenging. I remember Sparky’s growing much harder to write around this point, as well. There aren’t as dramatic leaps forward as there were earlier; it’s like everything is just a bit more developed or precise than it was last month.

We spent Easter weekend in southern Ontario with my parents, and visited the RBG while we were there. They were hosting an exhibition on frogs, and the kids were enthralled.

We walked through the permanent collections after seeing the frogs. The greenhouse room between the main building and the collection building was full of spring flowers. Walking in, the scent quite literally hit you like a physical blow. It was warm, spring-damp, and gloriously colourful. I wanted to stay and just drink in the smells. Owlet wanted to pet all the flowers, and was sad to leave that room.

But then we took her to the wee indoor koi pond, so it was all right again.

After our stroll through the collection, we saw that there were people with kids gathering for a presentation, so we sat down with them and were treated to an interesting talk on local flora and fauna. Talking about the frogs led into the host showing two snakes and talking about respecting the participants in the local ecosystem. After he was done, he invited the kids to make a line to come up and touch the snake, with the idea that if they actually experienced one firsthand, they wouldn’t have misconceptions about them and hopefully perpetuate that respect beyond the RBG doors. Sparky and Owlet were right there in line, and Sparky was fantastic, helping Owlet hold her fingers out and stroke the snake. It was pretty special.

Owlet has given up her naps at home. We don’t even try on weekends any more; we just set her up with craft stuff and she works quietly for an hour or so. She’s down to forty-five minutes at preschool, too, and only because her educators run them ragged!

I bought her a new pair of size 10 canvas shoes to use as indoor shoes at school this spring, but she’s taken to wearing them at home. She calls them her coronation shoes, and it took us a while to figure out that she meant carnation shoes, because they have flowers on them. She also has new rain boots, which have ladybugs on them. They clash with her spring coat, but we don’t care. She’s really lengthened out; a couple of her dresses are definitely tunics now. We’re into size 5 in most brands now.

Her current favourite books are the Henry and Mudge series and Madeline books. She doesn’t have a favourite movie at the moment; she’s happy to watch anything and everything. She does tend to suggest Miyazaki films first, but we have a house rule that if the sibling absolutely does not want to watch whatever has been suggested, they can say no and have to propose something in return that the sibling agrees on. Negotiations can drag on until they both agree.

There’s been a recent language upgrade; everything is more precise and stories are more involved and complex. Her artwork is refining, too; she’s still very into coating an entire page with colour, but now she draws things with circles and dots and says they’re actual things, not just abstract shapes. We started a pen pal exchange with the other July 2011 kids from my online mums group, and she had loads of fun chopping up bits of card stock and gluing them onto a butterfly shape.

And she dictated her penpal letter to me, then signed her name. Now, I talked her through how to make the letters, but this is the first time she’s ever shown interest in actually printing out her name. She did an amazing job!

She and Sparky are really good at playing together. She’s starting to stand up to him and codirect the play, and he’s starting to allow her instead of ploughing right over her like he was doing a few months ago. A couple of weeks ago they were working on a Secret Project downstairs, and when they brought it up to show us they were so proud of it. It’s a family portrait in Lego, and we really love it.

(Sparky and I have owls, HRH is holding a drill, and Owlet has flowers.) I’m so happy that they worked on it together, making artistic decisions and allowing one another those decisions. The Owlet minifig has black hair, for example; that Sparky didn’t insist on blonde hair is quite impressive, because he’s a perfectionist. Owlet’s capriciousness is teaching him to let go a bit.

Deep Breath

Well, we just discovered the wonderful gentleman who usually handles our taxes has passed away, so I’ve sent out a query to someone MLG recommended, and have another query (possibly two) lined up if that comes to naught. But my fingers are crossed.

I have been working overtime for the past six weeks. I booked last week off from the publisher because I was burning out… only to have work sent to me from the local contract. This was not a terrible thing; I really enjoy the work I’m doing on that local contract. I was looking forward to time off work, that’s all. In retrospect, it’s a good thing I did book that time off, because otherwise I’d have been in the exact same position, working overtime to get things done. Yesterday I finally got to prep all the tax stuff. Today Sparky has a ped day, so we’re going to go see Cinderella at the theatre.

But yes, overtime, what with two different companies sending me stuff. Journalling has fallen to the bottom of the pile of stuff to do. There are three (!!!) Owlet posts in the queue, plus one on pens and inks, I haven’t posted fibre arts stuff in months, and I really want to write down something about the baroque bow workshop class I did last weekend with Elinor Frey.

I’ll start with the most recent Owlet post; that’s almost complete. I just need to resize pictures and such….