musicians

Dave — by Arnold Steinhardt

David Soyer, cellist and founding member of the Guarneri String Quartet, passed away on February 26, 2010—one day after his 86th birthday. Michael Tree, violist, and John Dalley and I, violinists, the other founding members, played in the quartet with Dave for almost forty years and we knew him for close to fifty. Peter Wiley, a former cello student of Dave’s and his successor in the Guarneri Quartet, has known him for easily forty years. Given the close musical and personal relationship that we had with Dave stretching over decades, it is hard to believe that he is no longer with us. Dave and I first met at the Marlboro Music School—quite literally at a rehearsal for Brahms B Major Piano Trio. In the course of that two-hour rehearsal, I [...]

Improve Your Talent: Breathing Awareness and Control — by Gregory Beaver

In "Developing a Technique to Improve Your Talent," I laid out 6 things that I have been using actively in my teaching to improve my students’ talent.  This post will investigate the first of these, Breathing awareness and control. “I am so totes aware of my breathing!” you might be thinking, especially if you are a vocalist or a woodwind/brass player.  However, in my experience, there are very few people who are truly aware of their breath.  Breath awareness is not just about being able to breathe in and out and notice it.  It is the ability to do something very complicated and still notice your breathing.  For those who do not use their breath to create the music, it is about using your breath to provide energy and power when needed, and [...]

THINKING IN A NEW WAY—Overcoming Habits (Part 2 of 6): Finding our Source of Power — by Selma Gokcen

"You translate everything, whether physical, mental or spiritual, into muscular tension.” 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.” The stiffened necks and arms of people of today are outward signs of the imperfect development and lack of coordination of the muscular system of the back and spine. —F.M. Alexander Any athlete, and I include musicians here, who is aiming for the top level of performance is by definition working to improve their coordination, timing, balance and accuracy of movement. But musicians have another reason for wanting a reliable 'instrument' (I refer here to their own body, not their musical instrument). We want the freedom to immerse ourselves in the [...]

A New Year’s Goal-Setting Session — by Mark Summer

As the New Year dawns bright and full of possibilities, (the financial cliff not withstanding), this is a useful time to contemplate where we stand on our path of development as musicians, and to think thoughtfully about where we’d like to be in the coming year. My wife and I make it a priority to take turns, voicing our goals, and writing down each other’s dreams and aspirations for the coming year. It gives us a supportive place to dream big and to begin to put into practice what we are imagining for ourselves. Even if you don’t put much credence in books like “The Secret”, which posits that positive thinking brings us what we think about, I think that we can all agree that it’s useful to know what [...]

Tour of Duty, Tour of Pleasure — by Aron Zelkowicz

A postcard from Vienna: By the time the Danube winds into concrete beds through Stadtpark, the water is just a trickle. Children in their parkas swing on the playground, the U-bahn train pulls into its station, and people stroll or bike over the canal’s bridges, all within a stone’s throw of the surface.  This view from our hotel is lovely and quaint, for those of us on tour with the Pittsburgh Symphony that have north-facing rooms (those with opposite views can peer down on the bustling skating rink next door). Pittsburghers, no strangers to rivers and bridges, hardly needed reminders of the horrible flooding that occurred this week.  The tame canal is at odds with what we’ve seen on the front page of local papers and all over TV.  I [...]

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 [...]

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 [...]

Best Public Response Letters to WestJet Bumping the Cello

I want to thank the 200 or so people who have emailed me in support of my dispute with WestJet Airlines and I apologize if your comments were not used below. Don’t want this blog to be too, too long! Only 1 email was critical of me and I include it below. The responses are worth reading…illuminating, useful…and a couple are  hilarious! -Paul Katz […]

Bumping the Cello: An Exchange Between WestJet’s Robert Barron and Paul Katz

Shortly after my "Airline Nightmare" story appeared in the Boston Globe, WestJet representative Robert Barron wrote a letter of explanation to the Globe.  It is reprinted here, with my personal reactions injected. – PK Robert Barron - West Jet Customer Service Agent: First of all, I'd like to say to Mr. Katz that I'm sorry he had such an unpleasant experience flying with us. All of us at WestJet are very proud of our company and its caring culture so we take it personally when we hear people are unhappy with us. The second-last thing I would want to do is cause a guest any upset, but the very last thing I want to do is to jeopardize anyone's safety. While many airlines do permit musical instruments to fly in the cabin, [...]

Raising the Arms (Part 1) — by Selma Gokcen

You are a marvel. You are unique. In all the years that have passed there has never been another child like you. Your legs, your arms, your clever fingers, the way you move. You may become a Shakespeare, a Michelangelo, a Beethoven. You have the capacity for anything. Yes, you are a marvel. - Pablo Casals Pablo Casals, ever aware of the miracle of life and of how gesture can be informed with thought and feeling, could elicit from his cello or from his orchestra sounds that could penetrate the heart. To watch him moving his arms as he played or conducted was to witness the reaching forth from his inner being to the outer world. Arms are conductors of the energy within.  They bear the fruits of our thought [...]

So You Think You Know? (Part 1) — by Selma Gokcen

“We think we know what we do, but all our efforts show that unless our sensory appreciation is reliable, this belief is a delusion.” – F.M. Alexander Musicians, like athletes and dancers, work on the basis of muscle memory. Our conventional teaching has taught us to play by "feel," as well as by using the ear, by sensing how far, how near, how long, how short, how much force or weight, how slowly or quickly—the endless  subtle variations of these directions we are called upon to make as we move. We rely on this "sense of where and how things are" not just at the cello but in everyday life. Through constant repetition, the conduits are formed for nerve impulses to activate muscle.  In this process our kinaesthetic sense is [...]

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 [...]

The Injured Cellist — by Martha Baldwin

Like most of us cellists out there I can barely remember my life before my cello was a daily part of it. Sometimes it is the happiest, most ultimately satisfying part of my day, sometimes the most frustrating. Being a cellist is my life’s work, one that defines me utterly. While other aspects of life are undoubtedly more important (friends, family, health, happiness), what we do is a big part of making up who we are. Not doing it anymore is an exercise in redefining who you are. For nearly 18 months during the 2008/2009 and 2009/2010 seasons I couldn’t play the cello. A pretty common rotator cuff injury resulted in surgery, rehab, and a long period of complications and set backs. I won’t go into all the medical details, [...]

Searching For One’s Cello Voice — by Bonnie Hampton

It is a remarkable thing that just as our vibratos show our  individual expression, so ultimately does our “cello voice” as we develop our sound with the bow on the cello. What are the elements which make up this search? It is a given that we can’t make a beautiful sound unless our bow arms are free and we are finding our energies all the way from the back, with none to the various joints or muscles adding physical tension or tightness.  We need to have in our imagination, the qualities of sound we respond to. Perhaps we have heard a wonderful cellist who has inspired us, or perhaps there is a tone quality in our inner ear which we strive for. We are so fortunate,  the cello is capable [...]

Cycles, Shostakovich, and the Final Four — Brandon Vamos

I often get asked about performing cycles. I am a member of a Quartet that is passionate about performing cycles of music, including the complete string quartets of Beethoven, Carter, Mendelssohn, and Shostakovich (among others). But why bother with cycles? What do they have to offer us a musicians or audience members? I like to think of it like I think of my Vikings (in case you didn’t know, I’m a huge fan). Why bother following a team game to game or season to season? Well for one, you start to learn the language of the game. Not just the game of football itself, but how that TEAM plays the game. The aggressive way they run plays or their team personality, what feeling they leave with you at the end [...]

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