energy

Sing. Paint. Dance. (Part 2)

Sing. Paint. Dance. (Part 2) Yes, we can place the bow one inch above the bridge and play various phrases for the purposes of mapping and sensory awareness. We can also take one step back and go about it from a different angle. As we listen to repertoire we can place a brush to canvas or a pencil to paper and emulate phrase length with our hands. We can isolate passages in the score and literally paint them. Feel the duration of notes, their inner lives, through your brush. See the color sustain or fade. Watch the brush as it moves up and down according to contour. For me, although away from the cello, this type of association is the most direct connection to gesture. Let’s be clear, this does [...]

Power is Energy, Unblocked and Properly Directed — by Selma Gokcen

"The words of truth are always paradoxical." —Lao Tzu Paul Katz was here recently in London giving a workshop on the bow to the members of the London Cello Society and raised an interesting point about strength.  His Tai Ch'i teacher once said to him, "Hardness is Weakness, Softness is Strength: Hardness is Death, Softness is Life."  This remarkable saying inspires this article. As cellists we need to be able to call upon reserves of power to play our big repertoire, to perform long concerts and tours. No way are we not interested in knowing about power and strength, but as soon as we raise the question of where it comes from, then hundreds of viewpoints can be found. Weight training, strength training, aerobic conditioning, and the list goes on. [...]

Enharmonically Equivalent: Greetings from Kingston! — by Avery Waite

What a month is has been! It has been an absolute whirlwind of teaching, cultural discoveries, new friends, new landscapes and rainy October downpours. Despite the consuming teaching schedule, I've been able to absorb different aspects of Jamaica bit by bit. From the breathtaking views of mountainous junglescapes, to stunning sunsets, to torrential thunderstorms, the natural beauty is both staggeringly vivid and refreshingly wild. But, it's a place of extremes and contradictions. The downtown area in which I teach five days a week is definitely tough and worlds away from the well-guarded mansions that dot the mountain-sides above the city. One of the schools, St. Andrews Technical High School, is bordered by a maximum security prison and several violent ghettos. There is a constant turf war in these neighborhoods as rival gang-lords called "dons" [...]

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 4 of 6): The Arm Becomes the Bow — by Selma Gokcen

The whole organism is responsible for specific trouble. Proof of this is that we eradicate specific defects in process. —F.M. Alexander To a mind that is still, the whole universe surrenders. —Lao Tzu We now come to the bow, the most challenging aspect of cello playing by far. There are so many fantasies and fallacies surrounding the technique of the bow, as well as profound differences of opinion regarding sound production and articulation. Rather than address these directly, I would like to introduce another way of thinking about the bow: as an 'instrument' whose function exists in relationship to the whole body. By starting from the general (the whole of ourselves) and eventually arriving at the specific (the 'bowing instrument'), we might view the process in the right perspective, rather [...]

The Process of Unlearning Habits — by Selma Gokcen

“It is not the degree of ‘willing’ or ‘trying,’ but the way in which the energy is directed, that is going to make the ‘willing’ or ‘trying’ effective.” –F.M. Alexander   As professional musicians, we have a deeply trained muscle memory system, a network of learned movements which allows us to study and perform a huge number of works in any situation, often in a short space of time.  This system is a blessing when it is reliable and accurate and a burden when it does not serve us well. Confronted by unwanted tension or a repetitive stress injury such as tendonitis or carpal tunnel syndrome, some of us, as F.M. Alexander did, may ask: what is my part in this?  How have I brought about this condition? And it [...]

Raising the Arms (Part 2) — by Selma Gokcen

A wheel needs a central point of contact, an axis, in order to turn and spin. One never loses touch with one's central point—the spine—as one moves through life. But society today has lost that core. It has no idea where it is going. - Svami Purna When I was well into my studies as a young cellist, I became fascinated with the question: How does one raise the arms to play? My naive mind wondered: is there a wrong way and a right way, and how does one distinguish between the two?  I read a great many books on cello technique and for years I asked this question of my teachers. It seemed to me to be a very important gesture that most people took for granted, and my [...]

The Eyes Have It (Part 2): More on Attention — by Selma Gokcen

"The obstacle is the goal." - Zen Proverb The training of attention through my line of work—the Alexander Technique—happens in a particular way, through the application of certain principles. We take the obstacles, in this case a pupil’s habits, and work with them moment by moment, observing and undoing the tensions in the neck area and throughout the back and spinal column. In this way the pupil’s habits become rich material for understanding how their attention can be directed. The head is heavy and bears a particular relationship to the spine, as it is either poised (gently balanced) on top of or pulled into the spinal column. Cellists are vulnerable to tightening the neck and pulling the head either forward and down towards the fingers or back and down, shortening the [...]

It’s Time to Start [NOT] Practicing — by Martha Baldwin

It’s September, the school year has begun, and the concert season is looming large. This time of year is the New Year’s Eve of the academic and music world—a time for resolutions and new beginnings. For cellists everywhere these resolutions often focus around practicing—namely doing more of it. For myself, I somehow already feel behind and the temptation to try to cram as much work in as possible, especially on my “day off” from the orchestra is strong (well, to be honest there are other days when the temptation to sit on the couch is stronger). But this year my resolution is two-fold.  Yes, I want to prepare upcoming repertoire earlier than ever this year but before I come up with a plan for that, I’m going to be planning [...]

Putting Your Best Foot Forward in Auditions — by Yeesun Kim

Let's face it. A musicians life is full of auditions.  Even when you might not be taking a formal audition, each concert may turn out to be an audition for your next project. For many students, February in particular is a busy, stressful month filled with college auditions, summer festival auditions, recital juries and so forth. When you are a beginner, auditions generally represent a relatively encouraging nudge of  "Do your best." Later, they have greater consequences, and dealing with the pressure can become quite torturous.  Some are more at ease than others, but I believe it is safe to say that auditions are not activities anyone particularly enjoys doing. Of course listening to auditions is not so easy either.  One is asked to sit through 7-8 hours per day [...]

Airplane Diaries — by Alisa Weilerstein

I think it's appropriate that I'm writing my first blog (ever—not only on this site) while flying between Madrid and Copenhagen. I've taken to telling people I live on airplanes lately, which is sort of true since I catch up on sleep most often while I'm in the air, and I've only been in my actual apartment for four days so far this year. I've been in Europe for a few days and for the first time in awhile am experiencing some serious transatlantic jetlag. I can't sleep before 4:30 a.m. and waking up in the morning (in other words, when the sun is up...) has been difficult, to put it mildly. I just finished three concerts in Madrid, playing Osvaldo Golijov's incredible Azul. Given my perpetually bleary-eyed state each [...]

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