perspective

The Britten Cello Suites (Part 2): An Interview with Steven Doane — by Aron Zelkowicz

My first live encounter with a Britten suite was an in-your-face experience.  Steven Doane played the First Suite, Op. 72 as a “dry run” for a group of students as we crammed into an Eastman studio with barely enough floor space to not get poked with an upbow.  Mr. Doane’s association with the piece has only grown, leading to a brand new recording of the complete suites to be released this year.  I asked Mr. Doane about his thoughts and experiences playing this demanding work over the years. Do you remember the occasion of learning the Britten First Suite for the first time? It’s a piece that I discovered late - I was in my mid thirties when I started working on it, and it was revelatory.  It was an [...]

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 [...]

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 [...]

Teaching at Cello: An American Experience — by Mark Summer

As a founding member of the Turtle Island Quartet, I am grateful to Paul Katz for asking me to contribute to CelloBello. As a conservatory-trained, improvising cellist, I hope I can bring a unique perspective to this forum with thoughts on performing, teaching, and traveling with my cello. This past summer I enjoyed five days of intensely rewarding teaching and performing at the summer music program, Cello: An American Experience. The program attracted 18 young cellists from around the country, and is held at St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota, 44 miles south of Minneapolis. Left to right: Avery Johnson and Mark Summer My introduction to Cello: An American Experience began with a Facebook message sent to me from the director, and my old colleague, Anna Clift. Anna [...]

That Sound — by Selma Gokcen

"Musical training is a more potent instrument than any other in the integration of the human being because rhythm and harmony find their way into the inward places of the Soul on which they mightily fasten, imparting grace, and making the Soul of him who is rightly educated truly graceful."  – Plato I wonder whether most of us, performers and listeners alike, fall in love with the sound of an instrument before we even know how and why it has such an effect upon us. The primacy of sound—its essential fascination—indicates a deep internal need for the connection to life, first of all in the womb where the heartbeat of the mother is heard, then after birth as the newborn is attuned to the sound of its mother’s voice, and [...]

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 [...]

Practicing What You Preach: Some Thoughts on Balancing Performing and Teaching — by Natasha Brofsky

During my preparation for playing a faculty recital at NEC’s Jordan Hall at the end of March, I found myself thinking a lot about the challenges of maintaining a teaching and performing career.  I always find it the most challenging to play for the “home crowd,” especially students and colleagues, because I hope that I will in some way be able to “practice what I preach.” As a cello teacher my listening is focused on how a phrase could be played in a different, more compelling way, and how technique can serve the music. I find that turning my critical teaching ear on myself can inspire me but also paralyze me, because while I am playing I am hearing all the possibilities for doing it better: all the ways I have taught [...]

Doing More with Less — by Brant Taylor

I recently had the opportunity to travel to Havana, Cuba, accompanying a jazz band that was invited to perform at the Havana International Jazz Festival.  Considered a “cultural exchange,” the trip was approved by the U. S. Department of the Treasury and we made the short flight to Havana from Miami. (Because our embargo is a financial one, the U.S. Treasury oversees all travel between the U.S. and Cuba.  A full report on my impressions of Havana or on the 50 years of economic strangulation the Cuban people have experienced is far outside the scope and purpose of this space!) Among many other activities, we visited Havana’s Amadeo Roldan Conservatory, which teaches music to high school students.  While I am aware that Cuba has a vibrant, colorful musical tradition and [...]

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 [...]