Monday, December 26, 2011

That was different

For all the years I've played the cello, until now, I had not ever played in a "band" setting. Electric guitars, vocals, drums, etc. For the Christmas production, the church threw in a bit of brass, a choir, and strings. All good, but the logistics with limited equipment and space...

Here is what I experienced which was new to me...

Playing with my back to the conductor (when there was one, she was really just there for the choir).

Having to find my entrance, when the intro may or may not be the prescribed number of measures printed in the music. I learned to listen instead of count - and still missed a few entrances.

Having to fit a ritardando (slowing of the music) with the pianist when we could barely see each other.

Mics and monitors and sound checks. I only ever heard myself in the monitor - barely - when no one else was playing (i.e. during the sound check).

Not being able to hear myself or the instruments next to me most of the time for the volume of the rest of the band. This included ...

Having to look at my bow to check my tone (or rather, to guess at my tone) or confirm that I'm actually playing on the right string.

Depending on vibration of the instrument to know certain notes were in tune - and being totally uncertain about the ones which were less resonant! On some longer notes I could take my eyes off the music long enough to lean over my cello and pick up the sound a little bit. Sometimes cellists plug the C string peg into their ear to assist in hearing themselves, but it didn't work for me in this situation. Playing without hearing feels like driving a car blind.

Watching the violins for bowing rhythms, rather than listening to their notes.

Hearing, "Let's pray" before my final note died out on a rare instance when I could be heard.

Rehearsals with no mention of dynamics.

Playing under multi-coloured strobe lights, and even a disco ball!

Having a scripted stage entrance and warm up (kind of).

Having to leave the stage, maneuvering around a monitor and down stairs, in the dark. (I don't THINK my end-pin damaged the monitor...)

Being given a colour palette and style samples for wardrobe, and having to have my clothing approved in advance. (As it turned out - I had to leave out the vest and necklace I had chosen as they were deemed too shiny.) These last two items were more because of the production than the band aspect - still, they were new to me.

Having to wear musician's earplugs.

You might think, "Oh, that's why she couldn't hear!" But I did try without, and heard enough from the other string players (not wearing earplugs) to know that that really didn't make a difference as far as being able to hear myself or the acoustic instruments next to me. What it did REALLY help with, though, was being able to withstand the overall volume, and especially the drums which usually really hurt my ears. I haven't been diagnosed yet, but I think I may have hyperacousis. I couldn't have tolerated being on the stage with the band without them. They cause an even attenuation - all frequencies are evenly reduced - so everything is still heard which could be heard without the earplugs, it just takes the edge off the harsher sounds and takes everything down a notch.

We've all seen cellos and violins playing on stage in situations like this, so there are ways around many of the problems I experienced. We had equipment and stage limitations, as well as inexperience on everyone's part as far as adding strings to this kind of band, and not having all the mics etc. until very close to the performances. But problems or not, a very different kind of experience!

Now, back to classical...

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Cello Christmas Carols

Merry Christmas!

Stephen Aveling-Rowe is a 11 year old cellist who has taken it upon his own accord to create a CD and DVD Christmas Carol Christmas album. 50% of what he makes will be going to support orphanages in third world countries. Visit his site at

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Cello Wars

Here's a video suggested by number 1 son. Enjoy! But kids, if you sword fight with your bows, be warned that you may be subjected to several days of only playing pizzicato!

Monday, December 12, 2011

Perlman on Practice

Itzhak Perlman answers questions from his Facebook page.



"If you learn something slowly, you forget it slowly."

Monday, December 5, 2011

The best excuse not to practice - or - Why my sink is full of dirty dishes

It's a mental debate I have with myself every evening after supper. Do I do the dishes and practice my cello later, or do I practice my cello and do the dishes later.

It may not sound like a serious issue. But you see, a cellist relies on having somewhat tough, calloused fingertips, and after having hands in the dishwater, you know what happens! Picture Madge in the Palmolive TV ads, "You're soaking in it!" (How, after 10 years, were these ladies still surprised that little dish had Palmolive in it?)

And, never quite sure how long after washing my hands they will be ready for the strings, I naturally choose cello first. Then, somehow, the thought that there are still dishes in the sink escapes me and becomes either an unpleasant surprise at bedtime, or a guilty feeling when I hear hubby rattling the pans.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Fun with math

From a strictly mathematical viewpoint:

What Equals 100%? What does it mean to give MORE than 100%? Ever
wonder about those people who say they are giving more than 100%? We
have all been in situations where someone wants you to give over 100%.
How about achieving 101%? What equals 100% in life?

Here's a little mathematical formula that might help you answer these



Is represented as:
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26.


H-A-R-D-W-O-R- K
8+1+18+4+23+15+18+11 = 98%


11+14+15+23+12+5+4+7+5 = 96%


1+20+20+9+20+21+4+5 = 100%

AND, look how far the love of God will take you

L- O- V- E-O-F-G-O-D

12+15+22+5+15+6+7+15+4 = 101%

Therefore, one can conclude with mathematical certainty that:
While Hard work and Knowledge will get you close, and Attitude will
get you there, it's the Love of God that will put you over the top!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Good with faces?

How many composers can you name?

C'mon now, give it a try, let me know how you did!
(I only got 9! You can check your answers... but don't peek yet!... on Wikipedia's article on classical music.)

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Easy christmas music for cello

One of the things I enjoy about teaching is finding new music for my students.

Last year we waited and waited for the new edition of Cello Time Christmas (Oxford) which included the play-along CD. In the end Christmas came before the books, but we were all set for this year! Those with violinists in the family purchased Fiddle Time Christmas, and several pieces in it(though not all) are compatible. There are also Viola Time and Piano accompaniment books also available.

This book is packed - 32 Christmas songs, and my students are loving it and practicing more than the assigned pieces. Some are duets and they are all at an easy level in first position. There are even open string duet parts on some so that absolute beginners can be included.

Just like the other books in the Cello Time series, the CD includes fun accompaniment with bass and drums, etc.

Check it out HERE.

A fortunate find last summer was Weihnachten im Barockstil (Christmas in Baroque Style) published by Dowani International. It is available for violin, flute, recorder... maybe more? But of course we are talking cello! My students haven't been introduced to this gem yet, but I know some will really like it.

This book features 11 Christmas songs, familiar to my German friends, and familiar to me from having a few European Christmas CDs, but refreshingly different from the usual Jingle Bells, Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, etc. North Americans will still recognize a few of these older pieces though, like Es ist Ein Ros' Entsprungen (Lo, How a Rose E'er Blooming) and Stille Nacht (Silent Night).

These are the things I love about this book:
  • Includes keyboard accompaniment, Cello 1 and Cello 2 (Basso Continuo), and a play-along CD.
  • The CD includes three recordings for each piece: One recording of a performance - using baroque instruments (harpsichord, organ, viola da gamba) as well as cello, one recording at a slow learning tempo, and one is an accompaniment recording.
  • While the music isn't difficult (several can be played in first position), the 2nd part and accompaniment make it sound quite sophisticated and elegant.
  • Oh, and the German words are included on the keyboard accompaniment if you want to sing along.

Go take a look HERE!

Autumn weekend work

We have had some wonderful weather Saturdays in these parts lately, helping to motivate me to take care of fall gardening. I would be interested to know just how many leaves are on that maple tree! Not finished raking yet!

The raspberry canes which fruited last summer and the smaller new canes have been cut out, and the strong healthy first year canes which will give us next year's berries have been cut to a manageable size.

The flowerbeds haven't all been tackled yet, but it feels good to have a good start anyway.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Golden Rules for Ensemble Playing

(original author unknown)
1) Everyone should play the same piece.
2) Stop at every repeat sign, and discuss in detail whether to take the repeat.
3) If you play a wrong note, give a nasty look to one of your partners.
4) Keep your fingering chart handy. You can always catch up with the others.
5) Carefully tune your instrument before playing. That way, you can play out of tune all night with a clear conscience.
6) Take your time turning pages.
7) The right note at the wrong time is a wrong note.
8) If everyone gets lost except you, follow those who get lost.
9) Strive to get the maximum NPS (notes per second). This way you gain the admiration of the incompetent.
10) Markings for slurs, dynamics, and ornaments are only there to embellish the score. Ignore them.
11) If a passage is difficult, slow down. If it is easy, speed it up. Everything will work itself out in the end.
12) If you are completely lost, stop everyone and say, "I think we should tune."
13) Happy are those who have not perfect pitch, for the kingdom of music is theirs.
14) If the ensemble has to stop because of you, explain in detail why you got lost. Everyone will be very interested.
15) A true interpretation is realized when there remains not one note of the original.
16) When everyone else has finished playing, you should not play any notes you have left over. Please play those on the way home.
17) A wrong note played timidly is a wrong note. A wrong note played with authority is an interpretation.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Rastrelli Cello Quartet - Oblivion (Piazzolla)

No words necessary.

Thanksgiving Harvest

Happy Thanksgiving to all in Canada today!

We had our turkey dinner last night, but today I reaped my fall harvest.

I anticipated a heavy load on the apple tree this year, as we usually get every other year, but we had a cold spring... So even though there were a lot of blossoms, the bees weren't very busy.

I picked a couple apples last week, and these today. There are still about three on the tree which I couldn't reach, and some had already dropped to the ground. These, the main harvest, will make a few nice apple coffee cakes or something.

Monday, October 3, 2011

And another passes away...

MARGE DEVRIES (1929-2011)

Marge DeVries passed away and went to be with her Lord on Friday, September 23, 2011. She was born Margie Lou Sherman, to Carl and Alberta Sherman, on August 16, 1929 in Brooklyn, Washington.

Because her father was a locomotive engineer for a local timber company, Marge grew up in the logging camps of Southwest Washington, where she made friends that lasted a lifetime.

In the 1940's her family moved to Seattle where Marge graduated from Roosevelt High School in 1947. In 1949 she joined her parents in Oak Harbor, Washington and met Peter DeVries, a young farmer, whom she married on December 8, 1950. Together, Pete and Marge raised a family of seven children, Timothy, Mark, Ryan, Stanley, Lewis, Wallace, and Andrea. In 1966 the family moved to LaConner.

Marge went back to school to study music after the youngest of the children was in school. She earned an AA degree from Skagit Valley College, and earned two bachelor's degrees in music and education from Western Washington University. She taught choral, band, and orchestra at Whatcom Middle School and Sehome High School and taught voice at Western Washington University in Bellingham. She was the Director of Music at the First Baptist Church in Mount Vernon, and also at the First Methodist Church in Santa Barbara, CA, where she and Peter lived for a short time. After retiring from public school teaching, Marge taught at the Sylvan Learning Center in Mount Vernon, and continued to teach private voice lessons.

After her family and friends, music was the great love of Marge's life. Among her hours she gave to charities, she volunteered for many years for the Tulip Festival Committee.

Marge was preceded in death by her parents, her husband Peter, and her son Lewis.

She is survived by her children, Timothy DeVries, Mark and Adele DeVries, Ryan and Nancy DeVries, Stanley DeVries, Wally and Kenna DeVries and Andrea DeVries; her sister, Lois; as well as 6 grandchildren; 5 great-grandchildren; many loving nieces and nephews; and many, many friends.

A memorial service to celebrate Marge's life will be held at the Kern Funeral Home in Mount Vernon, on Monday, October 3, 2011, at 1:00 pm.

In lieu of flowers, the family asks that you make a donation to Hospice Northwest, in Marge's name.
Published in Skagit Valley Herald Publishing Company on September 28, 2011

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Cellos for Africa

Fundraiser for drought relief
The Mall at Piccadilly
Friday, September 16 3:00 PM
All donations sent to Canadian Red Cross
Funds matched by the government of Canada

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Time for more cello fun!

I haven't shared any videos here for a long time, so we're due! (Kids, do not attempt this at home! Well, I mean the goofy bits in the out takes at the end or bow sharing at 2:36.)

Wednesday, September 7, 2011


September is a wonderful month. Warm days, cool nights, and new beginnings.

Some start the new year in January, but for me, September has always been much more of a new year, being so immersed in the September to June school year culture most of my life.  I especially loved the start of the school year when teaching my own children.  I am so glad I was able to start teaching cello lessons as soon as our home school years were over so I still had something to start new in September.  And not only am I excited about the start of cello lessons this month, I also have some of those "New Year's goals" (not resolutions) in other areas of my life. Another post, maybe. 

I've been preparing for the new cello year by reading - getting motivated, adding tools to my teaching "tool-chest" to hopefully make me a better teacher.

I've been reading these:
The Art of Cello Teaching (Gordon Epperson)
Back issues of The Suzuki Association of the Americas' Minijournal
Playing the String Game (Phyllis Young)
Sing a Song of Twinkle (Charlene Wilson)

And I've been re-reading portions of these:
Ability Development from Age Zero (S. Suzuki)
To Learn with Love (William and Constance Starr)
Helping Parents Practice (Edmund Sprunger)
[Ideas for] Teaching Suzuki Cello (Charlene Wilson)

I've also watched some DVDs:
Exploring the Bow Arm (Orlando Cole/Lynn Harrell)
Parents as Partners 2006 (Suzuki Association of the Americas)
Nurtured by Love -the life and work of Shinichi Suzuki

AND I've been in conversation with other music teachers.  I was hoping to attend the Suzuki Valhalla Institute to observe the experienced teachers there... maybe next year!  I did get to spend one morning at Campocello in Vernon, as well as attend their closing concert.

We used to do some of our home schooling outdoors on such nice September days - should we move our cello lessons outdoors, too?  Something to think about!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Another of my teachers passes away...

Lifetime Bellingham resident Lois A Banks passed peacefully from this life Aug 8, 2011 at the age of 97. She is survived by her four children: Sheldon Banks (Jo-Anne) of Ferndale WA, Benjamin Banks (Julie/Donna) of Bellingham, Bonnie Banks (Donald/Dan) of Bellingham, and Loren Banks (Suzy) of Cordova, AK: 16 grandchildren and 11 great grand-children. Lois was born to Martin and Adela Dagne Olson, both immigrants from Norway. She married Bellingham photography shop owner, Clyde Banks, in 1941. Lois was a well-known cellist and violinist. Her quartet was regularly featured at the Bellingham Museum, as well as throughout Whatcom and Skagit County. Lois was selfless in her devotion to her family and music. She was surrounded in life by children and grandchildren who absolutely adored her. She'll be remembered for her light-hearted, kind approach to everyone she encountered. Lois Banks lived a wonderful life, blessed with good health, adored by family and consumed with a passion to serve others. We would like to thank her caregiver, Laura Banks, and A Loving Heart adult family home and Whatcom Hospice.Westford Family Funeral Home & Cremation Broadway at Eldridge

Published in Bellingham Herald on August 14, 2011