Monday, December 17, 2012

Gut Strings

Steel versus Gut

I have taken up the challenge of comparing gut and steel. Last week I ordered Eudoxa Chrome/Gut A and D strings, and Passione Chrome/Gut G and C strings. These things are monsters in terms of girth. I took the Evah Pirazzi A string off and then began winding the A Eudoxa but had to double check the package to make sure I had the A string. It seemed like I had grabbed the G string by mistake at first.

Size issues aside, I began playing the instrument with all gut core strings and noticed one phenomenal difference. I could draw the bow horizontally without downward pressure whatsoever and get a soothing, ringing tone immediately. Conversely, I had squeaks and whistles and garbles like you wouldn't believe by exerting the same pressure I normally did with the steel strings.

Regardless of the near absence of downward force I still found that i didn't know how to control the response. Granted I have only had them on for a couple days, but honestly I didn't think the difference in control would be so great. I did manage some sweet sounds but found that the A string was difficult to control especially when crossing from D back to A.

Who has experience with gut strings? Leave you comments on how you dealt with the differences between gut and steel, do you like gut in the first place, and would you be willing to try gut even if you are the biggest proponent of steel.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

That Time of Repair

There comes the inevitable time of every cello's life when repairs and adjustments must be made. The health of the instrument depend on these repairs. Just yesterday did I pick up my cello from the repair shop after a four day stint of getting some substantial work done. Thankfully, none of the work was body work that required any open heart surgery and revealing the innards of the cello. Rather, it was a routine bridge and sound post change.

The luthier took a photo of the inside of the instrument while he had some of the removable parts out. Here is a really cool shot of what my cello looks like from the inside.
The Cello's Innards

From this picture you can see the sound post--the wooden dowel--just right of center in the picture, which holds up the top as well as acting a sound quality control. The other cool thing of this photo is how it reveals the other-worldliness of the inside of the cello. There is the bass bar running along the top of the photo--just left of center, then you can plainly see about half of each f hole, and other hardware supports that give the instrument shape and robustness.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Popper Etude Op. 73 No. 5

I think it is not half bad for looking at it for less than a week. All the while also memorizing Dvorak third movement and Bach Suite No. 4 Courante.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Kinmen:A free trip

Tomorrow morning I leave for Kinmen, which is a small island just off the coast of China. It is, in fact, part of Taiwan, it just happens to be closer to China than to Taiwan/Taipei. It will take about an hour to fly there from Songshan Airport in Taipei. Looking forward to my first trip to any of Taiwan's outlying islands. It will also be my first time shooting a commercial. I get to be one of four westerner's playing in a string quartet for some beverage company based in Kinmen. Hopefully I can get a few shots during the filming process. There is supposed to a famous Taiwanese singer there while we play behind her on some raft. When I get back on Thursday I will upload some highlights from the trip.

Grotto Playing
That was possibly the coolest thing I have ever done, at least on a professional basis. The trip was paid and they took care of me like I was a star, and I go to play in a cave. How awesome is that?!

Kinmen 101- a play on Taipei 101 :)

Looking the Performance Part for the Shoot.

The Entry Way to the Cave

Grotto. What a Great Idea.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Pesky Warts

For several years I have had two warts. I don't remember exactly when then appeared but it seemed as though one day I noticed something on my finger and my foot. The one on my finger was a particular nuisance with it's big, white skin plateau. Normally, this sort of topic wouldn't make it on a blog about cello but in a way it does have to do with cello, at least in an aesthetic way. It never affected my playing per se, but it did bother me because I knew that people noticed it. And it did hurt if I inadvertently bumped it on a hard surface or caught the piling mass of dead skin on my pocket as I pulled it out of my pants pockets.

Really, what I am about to describe is quite extraordinary. For about a year I tried various methods to beat the nasty thing back and rid my skin of the blemish, but without success. Those methods included freezing it, coating it in a jelly/wax of natural ingredients and using the much acclaimed "Mother of Tincture" apple vinegar. Although I did get some result of the vinegar it never changed or gave me the impression of leaving.

I remember that I was standing at the sink in the bathroom one day about a month ago and was so disgusted by the sight and the annoyance that I said distinctly said, "I am going to wash you away!"
I poured the soap on and scrubbed with all my might. I continued to angrily pour on the soap and scrub the wart until the skin literally squeaked. This was a thrice daily routine until I began to notice the wart peeling in an unusual way. It seemed that something in the skin was changing, which encouraged me to scrub more often and aggressively. Finally, two weeks (or less--I didn't keep track) after I began the soap and water regimen the wart kind of just "dried up" and went away as if there had been some glue on my skin and had fallen off.

Now, I am happy to say that I can proudly point my finger without wide eyes staring at that wart of piled up skin viciously defying me. Still waiting for the treatment to take effect on the wart on the bottom of my foot. Will post an update when successful. Oh, and I must add that my hand once again slips in and out of pockets with ease! Win.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Popper Etude Op. 73 No. 1

This month, October, I finally accepted the Popper challenge. I have heard about it, read about it, and seen in action on Youtube and in person. Only now have I decided to give it a go and have upped the ante.

What it means specifically to be a Popper Challenge:

1. Practice all 40 etudes from Op. 73 "High School of Cello Playing"
2. Learn one a week
3. Record it regardless of preparedness and refinement.
4. Upload it for the whole world to see.

So, 40 etudes and that means 40 weeks. I should be done sometime in July. So far, there are three videos in the bag but Google's Blogger seems to hating on my computer and will not upload them. As soon as I troubleshoot this issue the videos will be up and viewable. 

Friday, October 12, 2012

The Element

I just wanted to write a short post about a book that recently found. It has some incredibly compelling stories about people who found what they like to do and are doing for a living. I'm half way through and Dr. Ken Robinson has given so many anecdotes packed with powerful principles for living and thinking that I know it is too good to keep to myself. You will see the link to the book off to the right of this page.

The Element: How Finding your Passion Changes Everythingby: Ken Robinson, Ph.D.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

On Learning New Repertoire and Old

Learning music is a part of being a musician. In fact, it is one of the most exciting parts of being a musician. Don't get me wrong, I also enjoy the "mastery" part of having gone over a composition a thousand times in an effort to achieve a certain kind of perfection as well. However, the delving into a new piece, that unknown territory of bowing, fingering, and phrasing is a pretty cool feeling. It makes me look at my fingers and why I choose certain fingerings over others in a different way. Why, if the interval is the same and the notes are exactly the same in a particular place in the new piece of music as opposed to another piece, would I choose a totally differently fingering? Confounding perhaps? Well, maybe not all that much. Giving the context, the musical phrasing, dynamics, bowing, and over all mood of the music it becomes clearer.

I know, I know none of you can see the music that lays out before me but for those musicians who read this they will probably argue the same once they mindfully compare two different fingerings, from two different pieces, with exactly the same notes but with a different mood and feel. 

Well, that wasn't the way I actually thought I was going to begin this post. That was just a side note that popped into to my thoughts while wondering how to begin. Oh well, it will remain there. Ha....

What I really wanted to mention here was how my approach to learning music, whether I have practiced it a thousand times already or haven't even played one note of it yet. This summer I suddenly realized that if I truly wanted to have a piece of music in my head so that I didn't have to think twice about notes, fingerings, bowings, dynamics and be able to focus on the music making I would have to drastically revamp my practice habits. Going over large chunks and force-feeding myself extended passages won't work. It hasn't worked so far (that's probably close to 20 years worth of practice in that manor) and it never will work! 

That's when I had an epiphany. Haha, I say it's an epiphany but really I was watching a video about Rostropovich and how the great conductor Gennady Rozhdestvensky related a story of the great cellist learning the very difficult Hindemith concerto one night before performing it! Long story short they both stayed up until very early in the morning going over the concerto one measure at a time. And you know what? Rostropovich played it by memory without mistakes that night, less than 24 hours after beginning the learning process. 

I don't know if he never heard it before or never had seen the music. I doubt it. The point is really that he knew what to do to keep that music in his head and in his fingers and how to do it effectively. That story stuck with me and I determined to try it out for myself. First, I started on a small piece, technically easy. The Sicilienne  by Maria-Theresa von Paradis. I only learned one measure at a time. When it was perfected and I knew it by heart I went on to the next and repeated the process until I ran out of measures to memorize. To my astonishment, I knew the piece better after only hours (of cumulative practice) than any other piece I had already been playing for years! I could play it the next day after finishing the process and the next as well. Then I waited over the weekend to find out how well it really stuck, after all, it could be that I had simply been poring over it every day for a week. Next week came and wouldn't you know it, the music was still there waiting to by played from memory. 

Later on I decided to learn the third movement of the Schumann cello concerto in the same method. The pages totaled eight--very complex, arpeggiated, jumping passages weaved in. The effort lasted for four weeks but I can still play it now after two months. It is really an exciting process to know that the music is going in your head in a logical and consistent way. After all is said and done I would venture to say that the number of times going over the same passages are reduced by a 1/3 or at least a 1/4. While I never counted the repetitions done to memorize the music I do know that it is a whole lot more effective than cramming it into the head all at once. --I would liken the former process to that of trying to put a puzzle together by simply dumping the pieces out of the box and hoping they fall into place. 

Thank you Rozhdestvensky for telling that story.