phrasing

The Shape of Brahms: Looking at His Music

Brahms the Architect One of the keys to understanding the music of Johannes Brahms is through his use of shapes and sizes and the manipulation of them in building his architectural forms. He was always stretching motives and phrases, making them overlap, go in and out of sync, hiding the bar-line and bringing it in sight again. Irregular phrase lengths, hemiolas, working with conflicting slurs in order to make us unsure where the strong beat is - he had many tools to confuse us. What this playing with blocks of material means for us performers is that one should not fall in love with only one line and its details, everything is always part of a larger picture and while detail is important it always relates to larger structures. I [...]

By |2019-11-12T16:25:43+00:00March 9th, 2019|Categories: In the Practice Room|Tags: , , , , , , , , |

Emanuel Feuermann and the Art of Phrasing — by Brinton Averil Smith

There has been a long-running debate in the string-playing world regarding the 'Golden Age' of string playing, generally considered to span the 1920s to the 1960s. While many today are happy to listen to and model their playing on more contemporary players, there has been a persistent argument made that the players of that era—Heifetz, Feuermann, Kreisler, Oistrach, Casals, and numerous others—played in a different way than more recent players. It is easy to dismiss this argument as the eternal 'nothing is as good as it used to be' meme and, when painted with too broad a brush, such generalizations quickly fall apart. The string players of that era were, after all, a group of vividly different players with different approaches—as are today's players. Yet when one begins to examine [...]

By |2018-12-19T17:55:07+00:00May 18th, 2018|Categories: Artistic Vision, Self Discovery|Tags: , , , , , , , , |

Phrasing and Meter — by Robert Battey

Today’s ruminations have to do with musical phrasing.  As a music critic for the Washington Post, I'm regularly attending concerts of all kinds.  That, plus a lot of chamber music coaching, leads me to ruminate on this subject often.  The ability to produce clear phrasing is just as important as having good rhythm or intonation, but a lot of folks don’t do it well, or as well as they think.  Remember, in grade school, when we had to take turns reading aloud from the book?  And how some kids were flat, with little inflection and the same pause between every word, while with others it came out sounding like natural speech?  To a certain extent it’s the same with music, sometimes even at the professional level. It’s often been remarked that the [...]

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 [...]

The Swan — by Arnold Steinhardt

When I was eleven years old, my violin teacher assigned me The Swan by Camille Saint-Saëns. I had no idea that The Swan was a famous cello solo or that it was part of a much larger work, “The Carnival of the Animals.” I had never even heard of its composer, Saint-Saëns, or seen his name in print before. I wondered why there was a funny line between his two-word last name and what could be the purpose of those strange dots perched on top. And was Saint-Saëns actually a saint? I thought that The Swan was very pretty and probably associated the music’s title with its general mood in some vague way. As a child, I often saw swans gliding regally through the water on the lake near where [...]

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 [...]

Bach Suites and You – by Robert Battey

“In a work of art the intellect asks questions; it does not answer them” -Friedrich Hebbel Few tasks are more daunting than attempting to discern and convey J.S. Bach’s precise intentions for his Cello Suites.  Just playing them is hard enough, but a true and meaningful interpretation of the Suites requires an entirely different heuristic model than that of our other repertoire.  This is because the autograph of the Suites has been lost, and we are left only with several flawed and inconsistent copies.  Since there is no original source, everything, from notes to rhythms to phrasings, must be questioned. With many pieces, one can rely on the fidelity and accuracy of a high-quality edition, prepared either from autographs or composer-supervised prints.  There, you have the simple choice of either [...]

Exploring Beethoven’s Fifth: Second Variation — by Jonathan Pegis

Picking up where we left off last time, at the conclusion of variation 1 it is a good idea to keep counting in between the two variations.  You want to play this second variation in the exact tempo as the theme and first variation.  I will say right at the outset that there is no ideal fingering for this excerpt!  It just doesn’t lie well on the cello.  My fingering is a bit unusual in that I do not use the thumb at all, or any open A strings.  I do, however, use the A string for some of the notes.  I highly recommend not playing the open A just because it tends to really stick out.  Many cellists don’t use the A string at all which is also fine [...]

Exploring Beethoven 5th, Variation One — by Jonathan Pegis

Continuing our discussion of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony, let us examine the first variation. As I did with the theme, I will first talk about the technical challenges of this excerpt and then look at the musical challenges.  First of all, it is very important that you play this excerpt in the exact same tempo that you played the theme.  A common mistake is to play this variation much faster than the theme simply because of that long first down bow.  One trick that helps is when you finish the theme keep counting the quarter note rests at the end of measure  10, and then count off the two quarter note rests in measure 49.  (Almost like you were making a cut!)  You can do the same thing at the end [...]

Exploring Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony — by Jonathan Pegis

Here in just a few measures is an excerpt that has confused, befuddled, and downright scared more cellists than just about any other excerpt (please click image to enlarge): The theme from the second movement of Beethoven's fifth, along with the first two variations, shows up on the vast majority of cello audition lists.  I thought it would be educational to spend some time exploring this theme, and future blogs will explore the first and second variations.  To begin with, this excerpt is one of a handful that I have coached for many years where I am actually LESS confident than I used to be.  Why?  Because every teacher, every coach, and every conductor has had radically different ideas about all the different aspects of this theme.  Temp, color, dynamic, [...]

The Tools of Embodied Music® – the Feldenkrais Method for Musicians (Part 1)

  Before discussing what the Feldenkrais Method is and how it can help you make better music without injuring yourself, let me start by asking a few questions. Have you ever observed how very young children respond to music – with rhythmic movement, with sounds, with all sorts of other movements? Do you remember how you felt as a child, when you wanted to make music? Do you ever feel something akin to ecstasy when you hear a piece of a performance you really love? Is the sense of ecstasy only a thought or is it a feeling also in your body? Where in yourself do you feel it? Do you feel the rhythm? Can you feel that sometimes music makes you feel light and sometimes heavy, sometimes it is [...]

Practice Time: Inspiring and Productive? — by Natasha Brofsky

As musicians, a life spent practicing our instruments means that we need to be able to teach and inspire ourselves. The art of practicing well is essential in order to develop our own musical voice. The musical idea is everything. Awaken your musical imagination!! Is the phrase you are practicing lyrical or dancelike? Is it passionate? Melancholy? Stormy? Tender? Does a particular passage inspire a scene in your mind? What kind of a story does it tell? How do you want the audience to experience the music at that particular moment? Experiment! Try different bowings and fingerings for the same passage. What makes the music come alive?Remember that the phrasing and emotional impact of the music affect what techniques we use to play it successfully, so don’t decide on bowings or [...]