Sing. Paint. Dance. (Part 1)

Sing. Paint. Dance. (Part 1)

Sing. Paint. Dance. (Part 1)

Sing. Paint. Dance.

I am often reminded of a statement made by Tabea Zimmerman that alluded to the idea that all instrumental problems have non instrumental solutions.

With that in mind I often advocate a number of non instrumental solutions to any issues that may arise in the course of music making. Each can be connected to one of three wings : Singing. Painting. Dancing.

On the occasions that I played with the LA opera, I was around Placido Domingo as both conductor and singer. The latter is clearly his identity in spades. But to hear him sing every vocal line in a rehearsal always echoed quartet life for me. Listening with a sense of integration -each voice existing within the context of the whole. And beyond the sense of a beautiful composite, Placido used his breath to communicate everything. Phrase length, tension within a given interval and it may go without saying, but, character.

Opera is, of course, one of many wings in the vocal arts. Lieder and its poetry continue to capture my ears and heart perhaps more than any aria. I feel on some level that Matthias Goerne is really the ultimate cellist. Or perhaps the finest cellist integrates an unbelievable baritone voice within his or her palette. Listening and singing Schubert and Schumann lieder are enough to guide the approach to thematic material in any of the string literature. Truly, sing them. In the shower, on the treadmill, anywhere! Why? Because we return to the breath and the ears. We aren’t lost in technique or physical challenge. When we sing, we engage our diaphragm in concert with our inner voice. We truly embody the sound we wish to create. And of course, as string players we connect our right sides to this relationship. We no longer spend the bow unconsciously. We distribute as we would our air supply. We find the speed and weight relationship that connects to the depth of sound we crave and we reflect that frequency in the left side if desired.

Singing is invariably connected to language on some level as well. Hearing the use of language is vital in regards to the discussion of articulation – emphasis can often be connected to the treatment of a vowel or consonance. Also most dots or tenuto markings can be sorted by listening to language. Think of the idioms of Bartok for example. Even singing his name helps to integrate this type of approach to vocalization that reflects Hungarian folk singing. Of course time period and style must also be factored in, but this relationship to singing remains a tool in that discovery process.

This kind of work is always very intentional in the sense that it’s helping physical and internal awareness. It’s turning up the volume of one’s inner Jonas Kaufman (Frederica von Stade or Barbara Hannigan would be amazing voices to incorporate too!) and helping that sound connect to its physical source.

That said, singing can be used in countless ways in practice. One rather unrefined application often helps if hesitation of any sort arises in playing. On any given note that may be a challenge to begin it often helps to sing simultaneously. So when the bow reaches the string and engages in spinning the sound, it is accompanied by vocal sound. It’s not a shock that engaging the diaphragm releases tension in the arms and connects to rhythmic impulse. But without thinking about anything like that, one can allow the body to feel release in conjunction with sound production. This goes for any dynamic range, by the way.

And just to be painfully obvious, singing is perhaps most connected to childhood and imagination. Inhibition is gone and we often can strip away layers that may be impeding the creative process. A phrase moves as it wants to move, rises and falls organically and we are at ease physically all the while. So, get singing!

Painting. Drawing. Visualization.

To be continued….

About the Author:

Rebecca Merblum

Rebecca Merblum, originally from Connecticut, has been dedicated to chamber music throughout her life as a cellist.  The Hartt School gave life to this connection as Rebecca worked with the Emerson String Quartet and Mitchell Stern (American String Quartet). It continued through her studies at the Cleveland Institute and the New England Conservatory where she went on to earn her Bachelor and Masters Degrees respectively.

Rebecca joined the Artaria Quartet for the 2016-2017 season. This was a renaissance of sorts given her history with the Azmari Quartet. As a founding member of the Azmari Quartet, she participated in the Graduate Quartet Residency at Northern Illinois University under the tutelage of the Vermeer Quartet. The Azmari Quartet served as the Corbett String Quartet in Residence at Northern Kentucky University from 2004-2009.

During the 30th anniversary season with the Artaria Quartet, Rebecca enjoyed collaborations with Andres and Roberto Diaz, Geoff Nuttal and several former members of the Artaria Quartet family. The quartet performed throughout the Twin Cities while remaining dedicated to nurturing the growth of students at the Artaria Chamber Music School and Stringwood, the summer festival directed by the ensemble.

Rebecca also enjoyed frequent appearances in the cello section of the St Paul Chamber Orchestra during her first season in Minnesota. This included a recording project with the ensemble in the Spring of 2017. She has continued to perform regularly with the Grammy Award winning SPCO and toured with the ensemble in the Spring of 2018 as well

Ms. Merblum also enjoys performing engagements with the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra and has performed in the past as a guest artist with the Salastina Chamber Music Series, Sundays at LACMA, the Green Umbrella Series (Los Angeles Philharmonic) and Classical Encounters. Additional chamber music performances involved collaborations with Michele Zukovsky (LAPhil), Martin Chalifour (LAPhil), Ronald Leonard (LAPhil), Andrew Schulman (Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra) and Panic Group, an ensemble dedicated to the presentation of new music. Rebecca was also a substitute with the both LAPhil and LAOpera from 2010-2016. Several film soundtracks also feature Ms. Merblum.

A dedicated teacher, Rebecca served as the Chair of the String Department at the Pasadena Conservatory where she was a member of the cello and chamber music faculties. Her students have gained recognition in numerous competitions and festivals including the Piatigorsky International Festival.