Monday, December 26, 2011

The Show Must Go On

Christmas is past. The gigs have been played. One thing remains from those days. That is....Well, there is one part of the winter months that is nearly inevitable for most. The bug that catches hold and makes you sick as a dog quick as wink. The virus that brings the toughest to his or her knees crying for relief, though relief is hard to come by and usually on the most merciless terms. I hate to mention it but because this happened to me not before or after my Christmas Eve performances rather, during, it is incumbent upon me to talk about it. (Well, humor me anyways. ^^)

All was going well throughout the first Christmas Eve service in Dowogiac. I played and was feeling energetic. That feeling of nothing being wrong, or in other words, life will continue uninterrupted and I'm not even thinking about the possibility of getting sick was soon to be shattered. Half way to the next service I suddenly--usually one is prone to hyperbole in such cases, but if my memory serves me right, it took a matter of minutes--felt rumbling in my stomach. It was that doomed sort of feel that you get when you know that something doesn't agree with you and it wants out, and I mean OUT.

Within 10 minutes of onset of those sick vibes I began to sweat and wondered silently how long I could hold it. After all I was carpooling and had no control over when to stop other than to ask the driver to pull over immediately. Miraculously I held it in for 20 minutes. Upon opening the door I made a "drunken" dash for the grass hoping that it would be all done with before it began. Nope, the winter bug had struck and it wasn't letting me off the hook! (I am sure you know of the action I speak, so I will spare the details at this point as it is such an unpleasant topic to describe or even mention by name.)

Some minutes later I made my way inside the church hoping that I would be strong enough to play the service. I did make it through several hymns and a couple of special numbers but really was unable to focus for lack of energy--having been purged of my supper. I must have looked pretty bad at this point because Linda asked if I wanted to lie down for a spell. I acquiesced and proceeded to nod off through the caroling and most of the homily, waking up only to play one special number that had been arranged specially for voice, cello, and organ, only to remove myself immediately again.

At this point I was done with playing, too weak and tired to focus and pull the bow across the strings. Alas, I have never been struck by the winter monster bug so viciously nor so quickly on a performance night. It was a relief to be purged since it remedied the largest part of my problem but then again, I was unable to play the entire program for lack of energy. Thankfully, I was mainly in good health and spirits the next day and could eat normally again at the time of this writing, even early at about 36 hours after the bug had struck.

The show must go on, with or without you. Luckily there was another who could perform with or without me.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

December Performances

This month I have been fortunate enough to have one gig (in some cases even two gigs) every weekend this month. Beginning with the trip down to the capital city of Illinois, namely, Springfield. It started in the last days of November but ended on the first day of December, so I consider it a December gig. The next weekend was the Pops concert for the Southwest Michigan Symphony in which a local school for dance (The Citadel Music and Dance School) added to the traditional Nutcracker. The music was supplied by the orchestra and the dancing by the students of the Citadel dance school. Although I think the entire program should have been given to the children ballerinas and ballerinos (masculine form?--hmmm, not sure) it was a nice program. The kids did a fantastic job and hopefully will be featured in full next season for a complete Nutcracker, but that is just a section cello wishing on a blog that less than 10% of my friends on FB read.

The next weekend was filled with a double church service at the First United Methodist Church in St. Joseph, MI. There is no doubt that I appreciate playing at this church primarily because the music director, James Kraus, is such a great musician to work with. He arranges most of the music we play and even composes original pieces now and then. I am planning a performance with him next year, whether it be a piece or two for church or a full concert. The times will definitely be given and I'm inviting everyone that can come. He is a fabulous organist as well.

For the Christmas weekend I have two services coming up. Another organist, Linda Mack, has invited me to perform with her for the Eve service in St. Paul's Espicopal Church in Dowogiac, MI. Their service begins at 7pm on Saturday night. I would be remiss if I did not mention the amazing acoustics in this church. If you want to hear acoustics that are really in a hidden gem of a building, please, come to the Christmas Eve service.

Dircectly following this service we head to Harbert, MI to play the midnight service in The Espicopal church of the Mediator. It actually ends close to midnight rather than starting at midnight. We begin there at 11pm. Again, the acoustics here are quite nice. There are two organs in this church, one of which belonged to Dr. Gunther Koch, Long time violinist in the Andrews Symphony Orchestra.

Here's the schedule of this weekend in short just in case you want to venture out and hear some wonderful Christmas music, most of which is set or arranged (by Linda Mack) for cello and organ.

Saturday December 24, 2011:

7pm - St. Paul's Espicopal Church in Dowogiac, MI

11pm - The Espicopal church of the Mediator in Harbert, MI

Thank you all for reading and supporting. 

I wish you all a Merry Xmas!
Frohe Weihnachten!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Springfield Concert

Springfield, IL Capital Building

St. Agnes Catholic Church. Friday Night concert venue.

The receptionist had a wee bit of trouble understanding how to spell my name.

A closer shot of the Capital building. Not a bad looking place really.

I found a small but nice SDA church just outside of Springfield.
Not only did I eat I played a mini recital in place of the planned vespers.
All Bach. 

Inisde the Presbyterian church in Bloomington, IL.

This was a very nice gig. The people in the orchestra were kind and played well. The conductor, Alister Willis, has conducted the Chicago Symphony Orchestra some 30 odd times and, well, knows his music and knows what he wants....and knows how to get it. Was a great experience and would do it  again despite the long drive over endless fields.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Churching and Freelancing

Last week was Thanksgiving. I took my cello with me and played for my home church, or where I grew up rather. There is still that habit of saying it is home even though I haven't lived there for more than ten years. My Dad and I played several selections from Grieg, Schumann and Bloch. I have never received teary-eyed compliments from anyone until this week. The piece that was most moving, according to the comments was Bloch's Prayer, From Jewish Life. I didn't think I played particularly passionately although it was a very good and clean performance. Those that came to me afterword to express their appreciation and stating that they would go find a recording of Prayer surprised me.

I was surprised but I was extremely happy that a performance that I was involved in could even have such an effect upon some listeners. Apparently, I must be finally settling in to music making and letting it come out more naturally than ever. I too, say that I am feeling better about my performances and can even leave myself with a sense of greater appreciation for the art and music. Not in the sense that I am totally amazed with myself and that I am awesome but rather how being comfortable and thinking on music can change my performance so fantastically.

However, just the day before--Black Friday--I was in Madison doing some shopping and looking around with my Mom, brother and friend. After a nice jaunt up and down the capital building's four flights of marble stairs we went back home. Unbeknownst to me I had received an email from an orchestra in Bloomington, IL while I was out. To my knowledge, I have never sent an email to or auditioned for this orchestra. They found me somehow someway, perhaps through someone I know who plays for this orchestra. idk.

This is the cool thing about freelancing. Once you get your name out there and people start believing in you the gigs come in. All November and December there will be gigs every weekend. Some weekends I will have two and even three performances. So here's to freelancing when the freelance gigs come in and fill out my schedule.

In order of performance:

Springfield and Bloomington, IL
South Bend, IN
St. Joseph, MI (Two weekends in a row)
Dowagiac and Harbert, MI

Monday, November 14, 2011

Attempting a Photo Shoot

Only recently did I realize how few pictures I have of myself playing cello. Since I'm with my cello, playing it and carrying it everywhere I go pictures are some of the last thoughts that go through my head. So, this past weekend I took some pictures or rather, my brother and sister in law shot the pictures for me in their new house. The lighting is much better than other places I can think of and they have wooden floors throughout the house. It really makes for a nice back drop. Thanks to Sean and Rachel--not forgetting little Pierre--for letting me get some pictures.

These pictures are experimental but I want to post them anyway. It used to happen that I would not show anything that I was uncertain of or thought could be better. As you may have already guessed, nothing was shown in public because it never met my over unrealistic standards. *slight chuckling
These are unedited. They is what they is and I'm sticking to it....for now.

Pierre's eyes were glued to the bow most of the time.
He was insistent on having the bow.

He did pluck a few strings.

He watched carefully as I pulled the bow
back and forth, even getting the basic motion himself.

 Above: I could not resist posting those with my nephew Pierre. I pulled him up on my lap and was showing him the cello and bow. Instead though, he wanted to show me how to play and hold the bow.

Friday, November 11, 2011

After the Dowogiac Gig

Just finished the Dowogiac concert at the Southwest Michigan College. It was the Fall Choral concert with David Carew conducting. It all went well and smooth. The people were appreciative as well as the choir, who did a very nice job singing. Funny thing, on the way out a man turned to me (I was carrying my cello, in it's case) and asked, "Are you the cello player?"
"Yes, I am," I answered. Chuckles ensued.
"That was wonderful. I love the cello. I could listen to you for a hundred years!" he said as we walked out to the parking lot.
He paused slightly and added, "A hundred years is a long time."

I love those little quips that people make up as they see performers leaving the concert. It makes the performances all worth while. Or, more connected to reality. It helps me realize that real people were listening and enjoying the music.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Dowogiac, MI

This week is another typical gig week. I received the music in the mail last week and looked at it--what little I could considering the trip to Chicago/Wisconsin. (See previous post.)  Tuesday and Wednesday are both rehearsal nights from 6:30-8:30pm in Southwest Michigan College in Dowogiac. Friday night is the concert at 7:30pm.

Admittedly it's not a long drive but it is outside the immediate vicinity that I live in. One way to Dowogiac is about 15 minutes. If there was no gas to put in the car or oil changes to take care of these little gigs could actually turn a decent profit. They are interesting and can be fun with the right people in charge, but they do not, by any means, serve as a long term career plan for me.

If you are interested we are playing some music by the Baroque composer Martini and Ola Gjeilo. It's for choir and orchestra. With a name like Martini it might be enough to create some curiosity in some....?

Click here for 387,000 sheet music titles

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Long Ride, Short Performance

Driving long distances for a chance to play is all in a days (or weekends) sacrifice. This weekend though, I jammed two agendas into one. With my nephew's first birthday and a performance in church I got my driving in. The bday party was in Chicago and the church gig was in Wisconsin. All in all it was an eight hour drive-a-thon.

I played in the First United Methodist Church in Columbus, WI where my mom is pianist and organist and also directs a ladies' choir. We played three pieces in all for prelude, offertory and postlude: the second movement of Arpeggione sonata by Schubert, Sicilienne by Maria Theresa von Paradis, and The Prayer by Sager.

It was a good trip and nice to play for people not to mention helping my mom out a little. The appreciation of many church members left a good feeling inside. Next time it'll have to be a recital so as to share even more good music at greater length. It's always fun to see the faces of people who are genuinely appreciative of the music played and the skill involved in it's presentation.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Revisiting My Cello Story

Yes, it has been six years since I last wrote anything on this blog! It really was the summer of 2005 that I started it and then quickly forgot about it. I realized that it would be fun to continue the stories of me and my cello. A lot has happened since 2005 and I might even write about all of the major life changing events as well as the smaller ones that still had a lasting impact on me. At any rate, the main reason for this blog is to give snippets of my life as a cellist. I'll keep the posts more regular for now, especially in light of the six years of events that I want to share stories from.

A new cello

Upgrading my cello was a very important step in my career. I dreamt about it and imagined that I would be playing on an instrument that was easy to play and could sound any way that I wanted. I envisioned the octaves to be a snap and the loudest ff to be so easy I could relax while pulling the bow. My thoughts ran with the potential of a perfect cello that would be my practice, audition, and performance instrument. It would make my life so much easier and better. Did it? Yes, even if I don't practice I still can make it sound pretty good. It's a free sound and a direct sound as well as vibrating excitedly even with the slightest pizzicato or the lightest bow stroke. It feels like I only have to initiate the sound with only minimal effort and the music comes out of the cello.

It was the summer of 2008 in Chicago, IL. I had been to quite a few shops and had tried out numerous instruments both in the shops and at home. Even after more than a dozen (perhaps two or three dozen if I count all the instruments that weren't even considered to be worthy of purchase and those that were played for fun though out of my budget). Up in the top floor of the Fine Arts building on Michigan Ave. in the shop of Bein and Fushi I found myself holding a brand new cello. This cello had been finished only a week or so before. I was one of the first to play it and I was sitting down with it and gingerly drawing the bow over the strings to test out the sound. What was this sound? Why was it so easy to make a pleasing sound with it? After some scales and excerpts of concertos I stopped to think about the response of the strings and the tone produced with the bow and by pizzicato. Was I really getting the beautiful ring that I had envied with others' instruments?

Perhaps I was being fooled by the brand new instrument.....but wait! A new instrument isn't supposed to ring and vibrate so exuberantly! I tried again and again and pleasantly received the same lush sound with each pluck and each bow stroke. It was nearly a purchase right then and there, well, at least it was that feeling of wanting it some way, somehow. None the less, I took it home for a few days to test it in the environment that it could potentially have for most of it's life with me.

When I arrived home with the cello I pulled it out of its case immediately and began to play in the carpeted and low ceiling room. To my great pleasure the ring and the tone were all still present. After the trial time had expired I returned to the shop and began the purchase process. It was definitely going to be part of my life.

The cello by William Whedbee, fecit 2008 in Chicago has been a companion in growth from the first day I brought it home as mine. The tone has expanded just as my ability to pull out beautiful tone has expanded. The depth of sound in the cello's qualities has grown just as my search for depth and new layers has grown. I expect that this cello can keep on developing just I will continue to develop. It has been a great three years with this instrument. Here's to health and music!

Breaking in a New Cello

Now that the search and purchase was over and done with I could focus my attention on practicing. The instrument was fantastic. Yes, that is true. However, it was a change. We all know that change is welcomed on many occasions but at the same time can be a challenge to overcome too. I was used to a larger instrument, but that wasn't a big deal. The smaller bouts were greeted with pleasure since it was actually easier to sit with. As I mentioned before, the response was immediate and full of vibrations that wouldn't die away seemingly forever, that was just awesome. That was one of the big reasons I liked the Wheedbee so much in the first place--no problem there.

What was the biggest challenge of changes that I faced? Mainly it was the learning curve on what a new instrument would do when faced with changing weather and climates. A synopsis of this cello's history: 1) Whedbee put the final coat of varnish on it only in early July 2008, 2) the cello was setup--end pin installed, bridged carved and fitted, strings put on for the very first time--just weeks before I went to Bein and Fushi for the first time looking for cellos, 3) I was practically the first to play on the instrument during that first trip to the shop, 4) I was the first owner of this cello.

What does all that mean as far as getting used to the instrument? In reality, it wasn't me getting used to the cello as much as the wood was getting used to its new found structure, that is, in the shape of a cello. Wood planks are chiseled, planed and sanded to get the right thickness and shape. The bouts --sides of the cello, which are curved--in addition to the chiseling, are also molded into the shape. The parts are glued and clamped together in a long and exacting process, assembling the cello piece by piece until you get the body or box of the instrument. The neck is glued into place as well to finish the process of the main cello. For the cello to withstand the immense amount of pressure that the steel strings have on the instrument it has to be precisely fitted and glued, even reinforced at strategic spots so the whole thing will not simply snap in two once the strings are tightened up.

Although tension is high once the strings are in place and tight, the wooden instruments--held together by glue--somehow withstands the rigors of vibration and being picked and put down, transported in a case and even bumped (by accident). However, just like a person being pulled from one side and then another--"Hey, come with me", "No, come with me", sort of a feeling--the cello also gets this treatment. After all, the wood was forced--molded--into the curved shapes and then glued together. Can't you imagine the person being pulled in one direction then another would want to revert back to his/her relaxed position? That's what's happening with the cello but on a continuous basis from the very first time the pieces were glued together. All this time it is resisting the changes and seeks to "relax" itself, reducing the tension placed upon the seams, or where the pieces of wood were glued together.

The seams are the pressure release valves on a cello. If the tension is off or becomes unbearable for the instrument this is usually the first place to go. The seam opens up and therefore releases the tension and, consequently, also half of the sound. The first time this happened on this cello I was wasn't expecting it at all. After all, it was brand new. What was there that should go wrong with a new instrument?

It was November 2008 and the weather had changed to the cooler and dryer climate of the ensuing winter months. The heat was on in the apartment and the moisture was being evaporated as fast as it was produced. That's life in the Midwest. I guess I was thinking that it was new and didn't need quite the attention as my old cello did. WRONG. And quite possibly the biggest factor that I hadn't accounted for was the fact that my cello was finished up in the middle of summer when the humidity was the highest and the temperatures were the hottest. Does wood expand when it's wet? Does wood contract when it's dry? Yes, and yes again.

Not only was the tension of the strings bearing down on the glued seams but the dry air was sucking all the moisture out of the wood and causing the pieces to shrink. Now I was dealing with a cello that was trying to pull itself apart. The glue couldn't hold any longer and finally let go allowing the seam to open along the back of the cello down at the bottom near the end pin. This happened several more times during the Winter. Luckily, I know benevolent luthiers who are also really good at repairing string instruments, so it didn't cost too much.

In the end, I did learn a lot about an instrument and how it "grows" into it's determined shaped. It takes time for it to adjust to the tension and the expanding with humid days along with the opposite pull during dry days. Now I just moisten the humidifiers in the cello case every day during the Fall and Winter regardless of the humidity inside or out. The easiest way to avoid going to the luthier unnecessarily is by keeping the humidity level up.

Youtube cello

Hey everybody. I will be be starting a Youtube account that will have a lot of cello videos on it. I am starting a regimen of learning and posting new works on a weekly basis. The 1-2 page pieces will be posted on a weekly basis and the longer pieces such as concertos and character pieces that are three or more pages will be posted after two weeks. It's my goal to learn a new short work every week and a new lengthier work at least every other week. I will post them whether they are perfect or not intending for you to critique my performance as I learn. Once I have received some insightful, positive feedback on how I might improve or what you think could be different I will re-work those points and record the piece again, posting the new interpretation of the same piece.

I hope that I can find some supportive people that love music. While I'm putting my neck out there for people to criticize me I think this new undertaking will be overall positive and also a good learning experience for me. I'm looking forward to learning and playing new works for you all.

P.S. While some works will be completely new to me, as in I never properly studied them, some of them are new in the sense that I have never recorded them and posted them online before. I still consider it all new since it will be a new experience to me. Thanks for your support!


Traveling With a Cello

Ever since I can remember my cello has gone with me practically anytime I went on a trip. It was in the back of the van or in the trunk of the car or when I got my own car on the back seat. On longer trips that required airplane transportation it goes in with the checked luggage, quite unfortunately, just like my suitcase. The cello, in it's hard case, is just large enough to keep it out of the overhead bins inside the cabin of the airplane. Only on one occasion did I buy a ticket for my cello to sit next to me in the cabin. That was just after I bought the Whedbee.

Traveling with a large instrument is fine until it comes to carpooling and flying. How many times have I either sat with my cello on my lap because it wouldn't fit in the trunk? How many times have I somehow stuffed it in a trunk that, on first, second and third tries, seemed too small to get it into? At the airport it is a different story all together. At least it used to be. When I first started flying with my cello about 10 years ago the question was inevitably, "Did you purchase a ticket or are you going to check in your guitar?" Or the comment, "That's a big guitar you have", and of course, "Is that a big violin?" And so I would proceed to check my "big violin/guitar" in for the flight just like a common piece of luggage with the exception of the lonely Fragile sticker that was usually ignored by the airline personnel.

Luckily, I have only experienced a damaged instrument once as a result from checking it in. Although my case has been damaged and even cracked at the hands of the airline personnel my cello came through unscathed and healthy. Actually, the only time anything of significance happened to my cello was this summer on the way back from Taiwan. I opened my case to find the fingerboard effortlessly floating around in the case. Fortunately I had packed my cello with padding on the inside just in the case of this sort of event. No scratches, just that black ebony board sliding around.

I guess I could count one other time as far as damage is concerned, although the luthier considered it more as antiquing than scratches. I had borrowed a case from a friend to ensure the protection of my new cello (it was just a year on from my purchase of the Whedbee). When I reached Germany I looked inside my case saw that my bow was carelessly knocking my cello on the front and the sides. Each scratch and indentation could be easily seen. Needlessly to say, it was upsetting to find "big" gouges in a new instrument. In fact, I had taken such good care of the cello that they were the first scratches on my instrument.

They were deep and obvious, at least to me, but I got over it. Now, they look like antique marks just as the luthier said when he saw them before rubbing stain into the scratches. Well, the playability and tone of the cello were not affected. I can deal with that.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Halloween Concert

The one thing you expect from a concert is that is goes off without a hitch. No interruptions, no mistakes, no stopping in the middle of a piece, these are all things that aren't supposed to be a part of concertizing. However, for the fist time that I can remember something happened during the middle of our performance in Battle Creek tonight. It was enough to cause the conductor to stop the orchestra and look around for some explanation or help to put a stop to the cause of the irritation. And what was this stirring the ire (not really ire I guess, but more of a befuddlement)? Nothing short of a lovely performance of The March of the Marionettes by Gounod from his opera Faust played by the illustrious PA system in Kellogg Auditorium.

The incredulous look from the conductor's face as she strained to search out the sound technician to no avail was priceless. Then she muttered something about ghosts and walked off stage to find a way to switch off the music herself. A minute or so later she walked triumphantly back on stage after having conquered the intruding sounds.

In all my performances I have never before stopped right in the middle of piece no matter the problems. Whether my own or from another source. Normally I am embarrassed by this kind of thing, but tonight I found it amusing. No, truthfully I was laughing so hard that I wanted to burst out but thought better since I was on stage in the outside chair this cycle. Wish I had been able to video this whole thing. Alas, I was playing my cello during the whole ordeal, or sitting with it anyways.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Battle Creek

This week on the Traveling Cello blog is another concert. This time the distance is not as far as Traverse City. Or is it farther? Yes, the actually distance between my place and Battle Creek may be less than between my place and Traverse City, but I drive to Battle Creek a total of three times. Let's do the calculations. My place to Kellogg Auditorium in Battle Creek, door to door is 81 miles. A round trip makes that 162 miles. Multiply 162 by 3 and the total miles traveled for Battle Creek Symphony Orchestra rehearsals and concert equals 486 miles.

The Traverse Symphony Orchestra mileage begins like this, the distance between my place and Interlochen  Center for the Arts (the orchestra performs in Corson Auditorium) is 241 miles. Make that a round trip and it becomes 482 miles. Oh yeah, travel is more for Battle Creek.

Wait!!!!!!! I forgot to calculate the times I went from my lodging to the rehearsals and concert for Traverse Symphony. Let me add that mileage to the total. Kingsley to Interlochen is 19 miles and a round trip equals 38 miles. I made that round trip two and a half times. I can tack on another 95 miles to my TSO trip. Therefore I get 482 plus 95 equalling 577 miles.

I actually thought that the Battle Creek cycle would beat out Traverse City cycle before I calculated it. And it does for those trips that go straight from home to venue. I will put the map on here for the visual comparison to last weeks TSO post.

Monday, October 24, 2011

TSO: October Concert

I just returned from rehearsing and playing with the Traverse Symphony Orchestra. The concert was a great combination of Classical and Romantic Era styles. Although each rehearsal seemed like a battle between the instruments and those controlling them, the end result was quite pleasing. Yes, something was not quite working this time. It was as if half of the orchestra was either not trying or just having a really off weekend with music.

The surprising part about that is not that the rehearsals were extremely slow going, like slogging through the same ideas each time we came to them, but rather than we were playing Beethoven and Mozart (at least two of the pieces)! Straight forward music that  has little if any tempo changes or rubato or anything of the like in it. Just "da da da da, da da da da" or "daaaa da da da da da, daaaa da da da da da" and it was all over the board. Counting seemed like a foreign concept to the orchestra, especially when came to sub division. Rushing through a dotted quarter note followed by five eighth notes is supposed to be only done by youth orchestras.

The Sibelius had it's own set of difficulties. It was like Bach's complex counterpoint. Each group of instruments had their own "melody" to play, and very different for the rest. Or each group of instruments would imitate the previous instrument that entered only a measure before. This happened straight from the beginning all the way to the end practically. It is as if Sibelius studied Bach's Art of the Fugue before writing his Symphony No. 1 and decided that he should do that too. Only his harmonies, sonorities and rhythms would be Romantic in nature.

In the end TSO did a good job, but the lack of counting and the conductor's ever mounting frustration of having to mention it every time we came back to rehearse those things was disturbing. The orchestra really can play well. There must have been something strange in the air this time. Hopefully that's the case. Oh, I almost forgot the soloists. The flute and harp players were great. Mozart wrote a master piece in this concerto for flute and harp. The soloists obviously had rehearsed until they knew every note, phrase, sound, dynamic, rest, nuance and interaction with the orchestra. They were a treat to listen to.

Traveling Cello: TSO: October Concert

Traveling Cello: TSO: October Concert

Friday, October 21, 2011

Traverse City

Speaking of traveling, that is exactly what I'm doing this weekend with my cello. Today, in about 30 minutes, I head head with a bag of essentials and my cello. The essentials are clothes for the concert, toiletries, and some food to tide the appetite. (Taking your own food saves a bundle of money and usually keeps the healthy factor higher than eating out.) 

To right is the route that I take every time. It's a fairly straight shot right up to Traverse City from Berrien Springs. Although it's quite far, the time is not bad. After Grand Rapids the traffic thins out enough to allow for real "Free Way" driving. Free to drive consistently at 70 mph and do it in either lane you want for the most part.

The map on the right shows Traverse City but more importantly, the venue of performance. That will take place in Interlochen. Anyone privy on it whereabouts? Small place but really nice to visit there. Well, it's time to start packing the car and drive off to Traverse City.

On the Program

Eggmont Overture by L. van Beethoven
Concerto for Harp and Flute by W. A. Mozart
Symphony No. 1 by Jean Sibelius

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Auditions: The Music

For many musicians playing in orchestra is a way of life and a pay check. Getting into an orchestra that pays anything is no easy matter however. There's a lot of preparation and practice that must be done with utmost diligence before one actually sits in the section during concerts and plays. What goes into an audition? What must one prepare, and how?

The first part of auditions begins months before the day of reckoning. You have sent your resume and the personnel manager from the orchestra has given you the repertoire list. It is time to look it over and make sure all the excerpts on the list are in your possession. The list may look something like this:

  1. Solo of your choice from any standard concerto. Or.... Either the first movement of Haydn concerto in D major or Dvorak concerto in B minor.
  2. Orchestral excerpts
    1. (List of 8 to 10 symphonies and the excerpts)
  3. Possible sight reading
Which concerto to choose? Romantic, Classic, Modern? Excerpts are funny. They are pulled way out of context and yet they are used to determine one's ability to play the music in an informed and sensitive manner.  

Actually, I think I'm done with this post already. Auditions kinda annoy me so I'll have to get back to this a later time when I have a more level headed take on them.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Traveling Cello: Cello's First Flight

Traveling Cello: Cello's First Flight

Cello's First Flight

I wish I had a picture of me with my old Bam travel case. There are so many memories with that thing. Moreover, it's the first flight with my cello that brings me to this blog post. It was with the Bam travel cover that I took to the skies with my cello on board for the first time. The case was more like a giant blue marshmallow in the vague shape of a cello with wheels and one awkward handle in the back, half way down the neck. That would put that handle about three quarters of the way up the case or about belly button level for me. If I wanted to push it while holding on to the handle I had to reach around the bulky head or let the bulk continually rub against my arm with every stride.

Why not grab a hold with two hands and push, one hand on the head and the other along side to guide it? Ah yes, a quick solution the the problem, if you aren't carrying another piece of luggage! One hand for my cello and the other for my luggage. Let's imagine for a minute how that must look when walking down the concourse finding the check in counter. One arm is trying to keep the awkward bulk, weighing in at about 20 lbs--not too heavy I must admit--from swerving into oncoming traffic with their own luggage spilling out of the cart and causing the bags to tumble all over the floor. The wheels on the travel case are so close together that turning is not the issue. Nope, as I said before it was trying to keep it on a straight path that posed the problem. So, the other arm is guiding the luggage, that has wider set wheels, therefore allowing me to focus more of my attention on the cello and keeping it on the straight and narrow path that is necessary in busy airport concourses.

I did manage to find this stock photo of the Bam travel case. This one is slightly different from mine though. See the handle sticking out really far in the back? That was not the handle I had. Mine was a comfortable rubber handle that was stretched snuggly around the back side of the neck (similar relative location as the handle in the picture) so that my knuckles would be rubbed raw after long haul from parking lot to check in counter.

The case was not hard like one would think but rather a layer of rather stiff cushion overlaid with a synthetic material tough enough to withstand average wear and tear of travel. I believe it was the same material that most soft sided suitcases are made with. Once the smaller hard case was fit snuggly inside the cushioned travel cover I was prone to think of trying to bounce it off the ground to see how much of a rebound it was give. Although I could see the reason for using the cushion as protection I would learn in 2004 on a trip to Germany that it was no match for machinery that, if it chose to, could tear and chomp through the cover without any effort at all.

However, back to the first trip with the marshmallowy, whale-like creature of a case. The anticipated first trip with the case was also the first trip to Europe. It was the summer of 2000 and my brothers and I had decided to travel abroad to study German in Seminar Schloss Bogenhofen. While the violinists and violists were privileged to carry their instruments on board as the piece of carry on, the larger instruments like the cello had to go underneath or provided for with a ticket just like a person.

I don't remember a whole lot about the check in process in Chicago O'Hare Airport but I do vaguely remember the attendant asking whether I was checking it in or buying a ticket for it. After I told her I was checking it in she looked a little befuddled and seemed to be wondering to herself what that monstrous blue thing really was. Of course, I told her it was a cello and was fragile and if there was any way to give it extra protection even though it was going underneath the airplane that I would be really really grateful to them. A couple of fragile stickers and some assurance that it would be taken care of and off it went laying on the bridge on the conveyor belt that led to the dungeon of luggage and...Well, ok, I don't really know but it sure is a feeling of helplessness when you see your instrument that cost thousands of dollars disappearing into the unknown.

After a long flight and choppy air half way over the Atlantic Ocean we arrived in Munich, Germany. First, through customs with some angry looking officers, who seemed to take no pleasure in their monotonous task of asking customers what they are doing in their country and how long they were staying. On to baggage claim and the search for the cello was on. At that point in time, airline companies had no clear set policies on how to handle oversized baggage that were also covered in fragile stickers. Besides that it was my first time ever, to pick up my cello after a flight. Where would it come out? Was there a special area for fragile items? Or would it be treated with the same cold disregard that regular suitcases were?

Standing amongst the hundreds of other passengers and trying to catch a glimpse of my own luggage and at the same time keeping one eye peeled in the case that the blue whale would breach the floor. Standing for what seemed like an hour and pacing up and down the carousel looking and hoping the cello was alright, I finally caught sight of the case. It was coming up out the depths and spilling down onto the carousel like any other piece of luggage. What? They actually don't care about those fragile stickers? Are they there to decorate the cello case? I got my cello off the belt quickly and examined the case for damage. Amazingly there was only a slight smudge here and there presumably from the act of loading it on and off the belts.

The trip itself was uneventful for my cello thank goodness. The cello turned out to be in perfect working condition. I had loosened the strings and stuffed the inside of the hard case with some soft T-shirts so that the bridge wouldn't even have a chance to be knocked out of place allowing the tail piece to fall onto the soft pine, scratching the living daylights out of it. I was happy about the whole process in the end. The biggest problem really had been figuring out how to pack the cello to avoid damage and worrying about how the airlines would treat it. First flight done and over with. Onto to a summer of German, impromptu concerts, castles and mountains, not to mention the "Sound of Music".