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.