Experience

Practicing, Some Practice Advice (Part 2) — by Michael Haber

Frustration and Discouragement, Orchestra Auditions, Some Final Thoughts, a Final Comment   FRUSTRATION AND DISCOURAGEMENT: Now is the time to talk about our number one enemy. When I look back over all my teaching, one observation stands out above all others. It has not been a lack of talent or intelligence which stood in the way of progress for most students. It has rather been the fact that many people become both frustrated and discouraged by the amount of work and the unwavering discipline and persistence it usually takes to become an excellent musician. I have something simple to say on this subject: frustration and discouragement have been the common lot of most of the musicians I've known, born of the eternal gap between our dreams of how we want [...]

THINKING IN A NEW WAY—Overcoming Habits (Part 6 of 6): Putting it All Together — by Selma Gokcen

"You get away from all your old preconceived ideas because you are getting away from your old habits." —F.M. Alexander We come to the end of this six part series, having touched on various aspects of cello technique, bringing the principles of the Alexander Technique to the most basic work of balancing the instrument, then using the bow and the left hand. Once this basic work is accomplished, the next stage is to take a new piece of music and to begin to work with it for a few minutes each day.  Instead of aiming for the goal—which is to get the piece learned and which can produce all sorts of accompanying reactions—we can take away the goal entirely, and use those few minutes while we work on the piece [...]

A Cellist in Kabul (Part 2) — by Avery Waite

After three months in Kabul I feel ready to write honestly about the challenges of teaching here. The thing is it’s almost impossible to separate everything about Afghanistan from my experience as a music teacher; it’s just such a complicated and bewildering place. And the weirdest thing is that the longer I’m here, the harder it is to write about my life. I suppose the overall experience itself is so consuming that I can’t properly distance myself enough to document it. But I will try my best to cover the challenges that I face on a daily basis. The most daunting challenge is teaching in a difficult foreign language. What I didn’t realize at first is that the language of music pedagogy is tremendously complex. It can be very simple [...]

The Force of Habit — by Selma Gokcen

“You translate everything, whether physical, mental or spiritual, into muscular tension.” “We can throw away the habit of a lifetime in a few minutes if we use our brains.” —F.M. Alexander My Alexander teacher is always speaking about the force of habit and the difficulty of keeping the mind on a new track, when, for example, a simple decision is made not to lift an arm or get out of the chair in the usual way.  Our kinaesthetic sense, the sense of our muscles in movement, is of little help here.  We measure effort by how something feels, and that feeling is our habit.  To give up wanting to feel our way forward in the early stages of Alexander Technique lessons comes down to a battle with habit, which is [...]

Passing It On — by Brant Taylor

A few weeks back, I was having a post-concert drink with my friend and colleague Joshua Gindele, cellist of the Miro Quartet, and the conversation turned to teaching. Though we are both associated with ensembles that perform dozens of concerts every season, teaching the cello is an important component of both of our musical lives. (Josh teaches at the University of Texas at Austin, and I teach at DePaul University.) Discussions on the general relationship between performing and teaching often give rise to interesting questions, some without straightforward answers. Many performers teach even though the skill sets required for good teaching and good performing are far from identical. If great teaching is something that is learned, when and how are the skills acquired? If a performer is a big star [...]

Notes from the Field: 12 Cellos are Better Than 1 — by Aron Zelkowicz

I wanted to take a break from behind-the-scenes administrative reporting to share a recent concert experience that might be of interest to those who like to “geek out” about all things cello-related. It might have been Sarah Jessica Parker’s character in Sex and the City (not that I ever watched the show…) who noted that one of the best things about living in New York City is getting out of it once in a while.  So on a scorching July weekend it was invigorating to drive well beyond the numbered streets and convene with eleven other cellists in the town of Hunter, New York—home to some of the highest peaks in the Catskill Mountains. The simplicity of this village and nearby Tannersville was a quaint contrast to Manhattan.  The Catskills [...]

Behind the Scenes of a Music Festival (Part 1): The Vision Thing — by Aron Zelkowicz

By self-imposed annual tradition, recent weeks have been crunch time, when a year’s worth of planning comes to fruition.  My pet project, the Pittsburgh Jewish Music Festival, held sway in early June where, for the past several years, it has settled in the form of four concerts.  I thought it might serve as a useful case study to explore various behind-the-scenes topics. This is the season when myriad music festivals around the country are in full bloom.  What is the take-away experience from any one of these that makes it unique?  Even traditional chamber music festivals have their own trademark DNA that set them apart, from big issues (BUDGET, LOCATION) to small (I’m playing in a festival this summer that offers a cookbook featuring the players’ signature recipes—cool!).  Festival X [...]

Self-Motivation and Summer Vacation — by Brandon Vamos

As I helped my students over the last few weeks in preparation for their juries and looked through my calendar to discover how many recitals I will be attending before the middle of May, it suddenly hit me. The end of the school year is upon us once again. That time when there’s one final burst of juries and lessons, tests and papers before summer vacation hits. And after a long academic year, summer vacation can offer a welcome change. I remember those summers I was attending summer programs, and had three or four weeks off, or those students who sometimes have the entire summer devoted to working or relaxation. But regardless of what your summer plans may look like this year, I’d encourage you to remember one very important [...]

“Which Hand Do You Hear?” — by Bonnie Hampton

When Paul Katz invited me to participate in the “CelloBello” Blog, I was intrigued and immediately saw his idea of a free exchange of cellists sharing their experiences, exploring ideas together and just being in contact as a larger community.  As cellists,we have a rich heritage and spirit and we certainly love that instrument a great deal.
  Otherwise, why would we carry it all over the world! There is so much to explore, but one thing which I find an endless investigation is the whole use of the bow.  Of course, all the issues of the left hand are immediate.  We play the notes.  Expressively, our uses of vibratos are part of our individual “voice,” but while one might call the work of the left hand, our craft, how we [...]

Defining the Intangible — by Melissa Kraut

Several years ago I was asked to contribute to an article for Strings Magazine on "what teachers look for in an incoming student."  I was excited about the article—what a fantastic idea—a compilation of suggestions from teachers who listen to 100+ cellists a year auditioning for music schools!  Despite my best intentions, I still haven't crafted a contribution. (Here is where I should publicly apologize to the cellist, who is no doubt reading this entry, for the 3 year delay in responding to your request).  My neglect  was not for lack of interest, or lack of knowledge or experience on the subject.  It came down to the difficulty in putting words to something that  is so nebulous—defining the intangible.  The title for this entry popped into my head during audition [...]

Cello Is My Co-Pilot (Part 1) — by Jeffrey Zeigler

Several years back I was flying out of the Dallas-Fort Worth Airport. My cello was strapped into the seat next to me and I was ready to go. Lost in my own thoughts, a flight attendant leaned over and asked me very nicely if I was flying with an oboe. Now, I have flown a great deal with my cello over the years and have conditioned myself to be ready for whatever excuses the flight attendant brings in order to hassle me. But I had never ever heard of a cello being confused with an oboe! In complete shock, my only reaction was a nervous laugh. It was right then that I realized that she was actually quite serious and I immediately apologized. But honestly, where had she thought up [...]

Two Minutes of Your Time — by Brant Taylor

Early in 2011, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra will hold auditions hoping to fill two vacancies in our cello section.  In my twelve years of hearing auditions as a member of this ensemble, hundreds of cellists have presented themselves on our stage. Some have done so several times. Their audience is a committee of nine members of the orchestra who sit behind a screen in our otherwise-empty hall.  Some of us take notes during the performances, but the only thing that matters to the process is the simple "yes" or "no" each committee member marks on a blank index card after every player has finished. If a candidate receives at least six "yes" votes in a preliminary audition, he or she advances to the final round.  To those unfamiliar with the [...]

Raising Your Self-Awareness — by Brandon Vamos

I recently worked with a student preparing a Bach suite for his recital. In his lesson, he was struggling with the many challenges one faces when playing Bach. A week later he performed the entire suite in studio class and I was taken aback by the dramatic improvement. He played the work with great poise, clarity, and a much higher level of solidity and intonation. I was curious about this sudden jump in playing level and asked him what his focus had been during that weeks’ preparation. His answer was that he had become much more self-aware and objective of his playing. He had made a conscious effort to sit back and get a true sense of what was coming from his instrument. The result? He was better able to [...]