Practice

Conversation with Steven Doane (August, 1994)

Interview by Tim Janof Mr. Doane is on the faculty of the Eastman School of Music. TJ: At what point did you decide that you would dedicate your life to music? SD: When I was in my second year in high school, I told my parents that I wanted to train to be a professional cellist. They asked my cello teacher if he thought I would be able to make it. He said, "I don't know if he'll be another Piatigorsky, but he should be able to make a living." Of course I was disappointed that he didn't say I was going to be another Piatigorsky, but my parents were reassured. I ended up studying with Richard Kapuscinski at Oberlin. Then I went to Stony Brook for a couple of [...]

Wellness Retreats for Musicians: Why Are They on the Rise?

I knew there was no way I could practice the amount I needed and not just completely destroy my body. I wondered how other people did it. It never occurred to me in college that it was something I could learn - University of Denver, USA, 1989 On line, or off, pandemic or no, wellness retreats for musicians are all the rage. With so much more now on offer in music colleges and schools in terms of a holistic approach, I set out to find out why so many young musicians are drawn to finding alternative support. In a survey I recently conducted about wellness as experienced by students in music schools and colleges over the last fifty years, it became apparent that, from the beginning of this period, horror [...]

“Back to the Breath” —Mindfulness for Cellists

While we are all facing a new reality with the Covid-19 pandemic spreading all over the globe, our way of experiencing life has taken on a new reality in the present moment. Each day, we are presented with innumerable challenges, from following the sobering news on TV and social media, being bombarded with worries, anxiety and panic about what is next to come in your country, your city, within yourself and for your loved ones. It is important to create a positive outlet in the midst of this uncertain time. As a musician and cellist, you have a way to create a positive outlet by playing the cello. Another positive outlet is to quiet the mind through breathing exercises and meditation. I created “Back to the Breath” Mindfulness and Visualization [...]

Conversation with Alban Gerhardt (April, 2003)

Interview by Tim Janof After winning several international competitions early on (Wettbewerbserfolgen 1990 at the ARD, and the Leonard Rose International Competition in 1993), Alban Gerhardt has established himself as one of the world's leading cellists. His career-launching debut with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra has led to performances as soloist with such orchestras as the NDR Hamburg, Leipzig, Munich, and Frankfurt Radio Orchestras, Bamberg Symphony, Gewandhausorchester Leipzig, Dresden, Hamburg, and London Philharmonic Orchestras, Royal Scottish National Orchestra, BBC Scottish Symphony, BBC Philharmonic, Mozarteum Orchestra Salzburg, National Symphony, Houston and Chicago Symphony Orchestras, Orchestre de la Suisse Romande, Orchestre National de Belgique, St. Petersburger Philharmonikern, Shinsei Symphony Orchestra Tokyo and Nagoya Philharmonic Orchestra, Hong Kong Philharmonic, as well as the chamber orchestras of Lausanne, Amsterdam, Cincinnati, and St. Louis. Among the [...]

Behind the Scenes with Brannon Cho

We are thrilled to introduce you to Brannon Cho, First Prize Winner of the 2018 Paulo International Cello Competition.  In this conversation Brannon takes us behind the scenes offering insight into his preparation, mindset, and aspirations.   Blogmaster: Can you give us insight as to how the competition felt for you?  Did you play as you aspired to? Brannon Cho:  The competition was quite exhausting.  As opposed to other competitions I’ve done in the past there was almost no time to rest between rounds. In some ways I appreciated it because it was similar to the concert schedule of a touring soloist.  As a soloist, every two days you have a big concert. In contrast, in Belgium last year I would sometimes have a week before I played the next [...]

Presence on Stage (Part 5 – The Breath) – by Ruth Phillips

The Breath "The bow must be a living thing at all times, and all living things need to breathe" - Steven Isserlis, cellist. For me, the breath is the thing that binds all of this together. No-wonder it is at the root of so many spiritual practices! It is inspiration and expression, tension and release, taking in and letting go, expansion and contraction. It is not ‘ours’ though it passes through us, and it connects us with ourselves, our bodies and the audience. With all living things. The ocean breathes, trees breathe….It is everything we are and everything music is. When we are aligned and in harmony, we feel as if we are being breathed, just as we can, in performance, feel like the music is playing us. Working with [...]

By |2018-12-19T17:51:13+00:00September 16th, 2018|Categories: In the Practice Room, Performance, Playing Healthy, Self Discovery, Teaching|Tags: , , , , |

Presence on Stage (Part 4 – Presence) – by Ruth Phillips

Presence "The mind in its natural state can be compared to the sky, covered by layers of cloud which hide its true nature." – Kalu Rinpoche   Once we learn to generate movement from our core and not interfere with it, once we start to follow rather than control the music, we experience an extraordinary new space. Presence. Like a city dweller suddenly finding herself under a huge desert sky, for some this space can be terrifying. What do I put in it? Who am I in it? In fact, it is there we find connection. With ourselves, the music and the audience.   Thought “In order to really be, you have to be free from the thinking… Non-thinking is an art and, like any art, it requires patience and practice.” [...]

Presence on Stage (Part 3 – Non-Doing) – by Ruth Phillips

Non-Doing The tennis player observes the ball as it leaves his racket and completes the trajectory he has sent it on. He is no longer ‘in control’ of the ball but rather relaxed, alert and watchful. Primed for the return. Once we have learned to initiate movement from our core, we must then practice not interfering in it. For those of us who have learned that playing is all about control, holding and doing, this is quite a challenge, and yet this is what allows us to replace fear of being out of control with freedom and ease.   Gravity “When the abandonment to gravity comes into action, resistance ceases, fear vanishes, order is regained, nature starts again to function in its natural rhythm and the body is able to [...]

Presence on Stage (Part 2 – Power vs. Strength) – by Ruth Phillips

Power versus Strength ‘When you have attained complete relaxation, you are able to be flexible and agile in your movements.’ - Zen master Yang Cheng Fu “To relax is not to collapse, but simply to undo tension….There is nothing to be done. It is not a state of passivity but, on the contrary, of alert watchfulness. It is perhaps the most ‘active’ of our attitudes, going ‘with’ and not ‘against’ our body and feelings.” - Vanda Scaravelli -  Awakening the Spine. Building strength through force only promotes the shortening of muscles as they contract, causing fatigue and strain. That strain goes against rather than with our body. Developing power is another matter entirely. Power is a natural state. It involves movement generated from our core, a great deal of relaxation and a [...]

Presence on Stage (Part 1 – Introduction) – by Ruth Phillips

Introduction Many people ask me on Breathing Bow retreats if stage presence is something we can practice, if it is possible to find a way to be exactly where we are - in a concert hall with an audience right here and right now, about to share what we love? I believe that the answer is yes. Musicians’ preparation on a concert day can range from taking beta blockers to eating bananas. However, as soon as we are on stage we feel fear. Fear of losing control or mental focus, and above all fear of judgement. Our muscles contract, our heart rate speeds up, we go blank, our bow shakes, we sweat….the list of symptoms for ‘stage fright’ is endless and for many of us, coping with them simply isn’t [...]

By |2019-06-24T18:55:44+00:00September 12th, 2018|Categories: In the Practice Room, Performance, Self Discovery|Tags: , , , , , |

Practicing, Some Practice Advice (Part 1) — by Michael Haber

I've written this brief essay for purely selfish reasons: I like to see my students improve. When they do, I feel happy, they feel happy, I go home for dinner a happy man. What follows is intended to help you organize your practicing, and your thinking about your practicing, in an effective way. Your progress, mine too, depends on the quality and quantity of this work. It's also intended to encourage you to practice, period. Not all of my students are always inclined to work as well and as much as they should. I should confess from the beginning that I have always loved practicing. It is the royal road to instrumental mastery and the incomparable satisfaction of playing music as well as it deserves to be played. I have [...]

Conquering Coordination Through Broken-Rhythm Patterns — by Grigory Kalinovsky

Reposted from Strings Magazine. One of the most common problems encountered by string players in virtuoso pieces is the coordination between the bow strokes and the left-hand fingers in fast running-note passages (passages consisting of mostly the same note values), especially when the majority of notes are played with separate bows or with a few small slurs thrown in. Examples of these types of passages abound—they include sections from the Finale movement of Wieniawski’s Violin Concerto in D minor, several episodes and the entire coda section of Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso by Saint-Saens, the majority of the Allegro movement from Kreisler’s Preludium and Allegro, and many, many other pieces. Without proper coordination training, playing these passages can create a feeling of the two hands “chasing each other”—and getting tangled up [...]

By |2019-05-16T19:15:36+00:00June 14th, 2017|Categories: In the Practice Room, Self Discovery|Tags: , , |

Setting Goals — by Jonathan Thomson

"The well-prepared marathoner looks after every detail of proper physical and mental training, nutrition, hydration, clothing, and equipment." — Amby Burfoot (running guru and winner of the 1968 Boston Marathon) Photo: Meb Keflezighi, who in 2014 became the first American to win the Boston Marathon since 1982 This attention to a wide range of details occurs over months of training, all with the ultimate goal of running 26.2 miles. Musicians should train for performance the same way runners train for marathons: with great organization and structure. Marathon training plans are highly detailed, with specific goals for each day. All facets of daily life become focused around achieving a personalized and realistic goal. This goal is set for one race, and is based on previous experience and current fitness. Both running [...]

Rule #2 — by Jonathan Thomson

The previous post introduced the concept of Rule #1 (Never Stop), which trains the mind for performance by teaching it to stay focused, even after mistakes. Simulating the timing and continuous playing of performance is a crucial experience to be repeated many times during training. Through Rule #1 practice, we get important feedback about our technical preparation, stamina, and memory (if applicable). Rule #2 is the necessary counterpart to Rule #1: Rule #2: Always Stop! When you are practicing, you must not allow any mistake, uncoordinated motion, scratch, or squeak. If you practice with mistakes or undesirable tone, you are teaching your muscles "this is how the piece goes," and establishing bad habits. The next time you get to the same place, you will make the same error! Instead, start again from [...]

Rule #1 — by Jonathan Thomson

I can still vividly recall the lesson in high school when I first learned of RULE #1 and RULE #2. Somehow, though, I am still unable to impart these crucial principals upon my own students with the same gravitas as my teacher did then. These two general guidelines shaped the way I learned to focus my practice time and prepare my mind and muscles for performance. The more I study about how we learn, and about strategies for mental preparation—things like "chunking," myelin, meditation, visualization—the more I realize how valuable these two simple "rules" have been. We must practice not only for technical mastery, but also for expression. We must imagine future performance scenarios in the practice room. Putting the focus on communication provides the goal to work toward, and the [...]

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