Monday, April 28, 2014

Julian Lloyd Webber says good bye to cello

An injury looks like it will end the cello career of Julian Lloyd Webber. Link to article HERE. Heartbreaking!

Sunday, April 27, 2014

2014 Adjudicator's Words of Wisdom

Once again, I was able to enjoy several string adjudications in our music festival. Sharon Stanis was wonderful with the students!  Much warmth and humour and many complements.  I have fewer notes to share this year, as her teaching style was less "lecture", more kinesthetic.   Each student got a lesson on their instrument as part of their adjudication.  Also, I probably attended fewer of the adjudications - or maybe my pen just wasn't as energetic this year.  :-)

I will share a few of her general ideas which she repeated for more than one student, and then a few other gems.

She suggested to several violin students to try a deeper bow hold - get the middle fingers down over the frog more for a deeper tone.  [I changed my cello bow hold in this way and experienced this some years ago.]

She likes to use the word "Watermelon" to say along with notes in groups of four to help organize them.  ("Strawberry" would be good for groups of three.) The emphasis on the first syllable helps to put emphasis on the first note of the group.  For the older students, as well as using "watermelon," she said that they should know for each note in passage sections four things:
  • up or down bow?
  • which string is it on?
  • which finger are you using? (say "O" for open [or name of string] to keep it one syllable)
  • what position are you in?
We should know each note as well as we know our best friends!

Practice in four note sections - wait for the brain to be ready for the next section, repeat if unsure.  This is less overwhelming than practicing through the whole passage.  The hard stuff becomes easy when organized.

When shifting, keep the bow deeply into the string.

Use a strong, confident bow - the left hand will follow.

Mistakes happen between the notes.

Know the history of your piece.

Air bowing is a great way to practice.

On a singing piece such as The Swan, look at the score with the piano and sing along, listen to recordings, learn to avoid strict counting.

Put stories to your songs to give them character. Think of an adjective for each section.

Play with love - impart that to your audience.

"Failure breeds success."  Perfectionism leads to stiff shoulders.  Let the shoulder be boring - scoop the sound out with "smile" bows. (Baroque piece.)

Smiling is part of being entertainers.  Smile after you bow!!!

We need to "exercise" our instruments!  If it is never played nearer the bridge it will not respond well - we need to work it in.  She told a story of a teacher loaning a violin to a student.  When it was returned it no longer worked well near to the bridge - it had to be worked in again.

[A new instrument, a new bridge, and often new strings ... all need to be "played in" to some degree in order to develop their optimal tone.  I was very interested to learn that this also applied to bow placement!]

If you think of the tone, you will not go wrong.  Tone = beauty. 

Even rests and ends of notes need beauty.

Be a good salesperson - play your music like you love it!

Bach Suites are the cellists' Mt. Everest.  To make them look easy is the cellist's job.  Analyzing the keys of sections will help with memory.

Before performing, a cellist needs to check set up and be 500% comfortable!  Chair height, endpin length, strap length... [and make sure the endpin is tight to prevent slipping!  Heel height, too - practice in the clothing and shoes you will perform in!]  

There were many, many wonderful performances... and I only attended two of the three strings days!  Look for some of the best and most fun ones at the Night of Stars wrap up concert (follow link for details - May 2). 

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Strings Adjudicator Words of Wisdom part 3

About time I got back to this... 2014 music festival is next week!!

Back to 2013 and William van der Sloot's words of wisdom... Continued from Part 2 HERE.

On understanding your music:
The middle class developed in the Romantic Period, and the idea of working hard to  make something - a painful process. Understand the music you are learning, LIVE the history.

On playing by memory:
The music needs to be not "memorized", but KNOWN. We must play by ear.
Getting your eyes off the page helps to communicate and share with the audience.  Our natural musical instincts come out better when playing by memory. Play by ear from the start.  Play what we hear, not what we see (see- hear- play).  Develop a trust in the ear.  If we KNOW the piece we don't need the music.
It's harder to be musical when reading the music.  It's better to have memory slips and have fun than to play with music and be boring.  The performers whose music sends tingles up your back or make you weep also have memory slips.

More on practice: 
Use a metronome for practice.
Listen to intonation.

The right (bow) hand is BOSS!  Practice fortissimo, and don't make concessions for the left hand.

Practice rhythm patterns of a piece fortissimo on open strings, with a careful bow (slurs, separates).
Practice dotted scales to  speed up reflexes and impulses.
To develop concentration practice repeating a rhythmic matrix or 9 random numbers.

On cello posture and technique (and violin technique):
Technique is the body's work.
To break a bad habit, experiment.  Why is it better the other way?  Try it with a relaxed hand to see if your body likes it.  We need to hear how it sounds, feel it - our body needs to like it.

The bow hangs better from a violin which is held up.  The canvas is bigger when the violin is held up.

Playing the cello with a twisted back makes the hand tight and is hard on the back.

Don't twist the cello too much as it makes playing on the C awkward. (Might I add? ... let it twist slightly as you play the A and flatten a bit as you play the C)

The thumb moves with the hand to balance it.

A supinated bow hold puts pressure on the thumb and can lead to tendinitis. (Supinated = opposite of pronated.)

Use forearm instead of wrist for sautille.  A wrist stroke works better with heavier hands.

On expectations:
There is a certain level expected from teacher, self, the class...  The environment gives the initial motion, then the students can play off each other and get things to "spin well."  In some of his master lessons, nothing was ever played for the teacher twice, and the music (paper copy) was never taken to the lesson.  Over the summer the students were expected to LEARN the repertoire by memory including the orchestra/piano parts.  The EXPECTATION was there, so that's what students could do!

There are no straight lines in our learning, so don't compare yourself to others the same age, etc.
On expression:
Espressivo does not mean dolce.
Playing closer to bridge with a slower bow is louder, but the strings do not spin faster.
A fast narrow vibrato with a light touch near fingerboard might be dolce.
A slow wide vibrato with a heavier bow near the bridge might be espressivo.
Support a soft sound with a faster bow or playing nearer the bridge, not just a lighter bow in the middle.
Experiment with colour - bow, vibrato, releases... the bow leads, not the vibrato.

Don't be too NICE with the music (Bach Arioso) - add more physical and emotional energy.  Take something brutal like Shostakovich, then refine that and take it back to Bach.
Don't just get louder - add energy, articulation, clarity.

On performing:
Be discreet when checking your first note.  The performance begins when you enter the stage.

We can't participate in our own performance as the audience does, just listening and depending on motor memory - need to learn to think and prepare ahead.

Let the character of the music out - don't be too controlled.