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".