attention

Questions — by Selma Gokcen

"I would like to beg you, dear Sir, as well as I can, to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer." —Rainer Maria Rilke, from Letters to a Young Poet (1903)   Einstein began his career working on his theory of relativity and then embarked upon a thirty-year voyage in search of the so-called "unified [...]

Holding On for Dear Life — by Selma Gokcen

"Doing in your case is so 'overdoing' that you are practically paralysing the parts you want to work." —F.M. Alexander   As an Alexander Technique teacher, I work with many cellists who are in distress—the kind of distress that means they can't play for the time being. Their conditions vary from tendinitis to De Quervain syndrome to back pain to focal dystonia. The list is long but one thing most of them share is the habit of 'holding on to themselves.' What do I mean by this?  When they are in a position of rest on my teaching table—lying on their backs with their heads also resting on a small pillow—they remain gripped by tension in their necks, backs, arms and legs that may take us many months to undo.  [...]

Breathing Free — by Selma Gokcen

"The nose is for breathing, the mouth is for eating." —Proverb One of the more noticeable aspects of the modern cellist’s performance is noisy breathing. On records or in the concert hall, sometimes heard as far back as the last row, the laboured breath of the cellist engaged in giving his or her best performance can be a major distraction to a listener.  Whether it’s the sharp sniff or gasp on the up bow or a general effortful pant, is this heavy breathing necessary for their work? On a recent surf of the internet, I came across some amusing comments about cellists and their breathing from a radio listener: “I always find that 'cello players breathe loudly, even on recordings! I wondered if perhaps it is a symptom of having [...]

THINKING IN A NEW WAY—Overcoming Habits (Part 1 of 6): The Value of Quietness — by Selma Gokcen

We can overcome habits of a lifetime in a few minutes if we learn to use our brains. —F.M. Alexander The obstacle is the path. –Zen proverb I offer this six part series of articles to demonstrate how I work with the Alexander Technique to help musicians to overcome deeply ingrained habits. If a quick and easy fix is what is wanted, then the reader won't find it here. The process as I see it is multi-layered—the same habits that affect our cello playing and music-making are also our habits of life, the way we perceive, react and behave, moment to moment. Such observations are at the heart of Alexander's work. Albeit with the help of a good teacher the process of unlearning habits can be easier, there are no shortcuts. [...]

About Those New Year’s Bow Resolutions…. — by Wayne Burak

New Year’s resolutions get significant attention right about now! Whether the subject is your living space, personal finance, diet, or exercise, every topic seems to be on the table. But what about the personal needs of your favorite bow—you know, the one that plays beside you in all of your performances and rehearsals? The one you have promised your eternal love and gratitude to, if it helps you get through the nearly impossible piece or gig? Hmm, did I think that, you ask? Bows have long memories, and yes at some point, you did promise. That is why your bow demands attention now!  Think of it like dinner, a movie, and a new outfit for your bow. But before we talk more of bows, let’s assume that you have already handled [...]

Paul Katz’s Airline Nightmare Awakens Public and Media Attention: CBC News

Reprinted from CBC News, Aug 23, 2012   Musicians call for clarity when flying with instruments Students pay for four extra seats only to be told two cellos not allowed on flight The director of Mount Royal University's Conservatory is calling on airlines to set a firm policy when it comes to transporting musical instruments. Paul Dornian said a group of students from Poland returning home from Calgary earlier this month were told their four cellos could not all take their paid seats on the plane. Air Canada told the students it had a policy of no more than two cellos per plane. Dornian said he’s never heard that rule before and says the students had no problem flying with four cellos to Calgary. He said musicians always tell the [...]

The Eyes Have It (Part 1) — by Selma Gokcen

One of the most valuable indicators of well-functioning coordination is eye movement.  I have noticed for a long time now that there are different types of gaze in musicians. The "well-trained" musician of today often exhibits what I call blinkered attention, the result of years of too much effortful practice. The strain around the eyes is visible and often accompanied by laboured breathing. Caught by inward feelings and sensations, this musician is "concentrating." In the words of my Alexander teacher, the original meaning of concentration used to be: to relate a set of factors to a central point. It has been increasingly misused in our educational system to encourage the shutting out of everything else out to focus on a single thing. Concentration therefore as a useful aim has been [...]

Looking & Seeing — by Selma Gokcen

In my last column, I mentioned getting to know some of your habits at the cello…the worst ones can become your best friends, in that they will offer the richest material for work on yourself. So now we step into the arena. Looking at oneself is not easy. The same instrument that presents the problems is also doing the observing, so how reliable can our observations be when the instrument itself is faulty? This was F.M. Alexander’s dilemma. His vocal problem was hidden within himself, and so he set about observing himself in a mirror, later three mirrors, to see if he could discover any correlation between what he was doing with his whole body and his specific vocal defects. After long and patient examination, he identified several harmful habits, [...]

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