Technique

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: , , , , , , , , |

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 [...]

The Britten Cello Suites (Part 3) – An Introduction to The Third Suite

  Britten chose to build his Third Suite for Cello around four pre-existing Russian themes: three tunes taken from Tchaikovsky’s volume of folk-song arrangements, and the Kontakion, the Byzantine chant for the dead taken from the Russian Orthodox liturgy.  Rostropovich considered himself Russian Orthodox, and one can appreciate the impact of Britten presenting a score based on this theme as a gift to the cellist in Moscow.  The Third Suite also serves as a dual tribute to Shostakovich.  The second movement, Marcia, includes the signature “anapest” rhythm found in Shostakovich’s symphonies (“da-da-DUM”), and in a subtle yet ingenious linking, the final statement of the Kontakion in C minor employs the notes C-B-Eb-D: a reordered allusion to Shostakovich’s famous four-note D-S-C-H signature (D-Eb-C-B). […]

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 [...]

Developing a Technique to Improve Your Talent

  In the United States, there has been a strong push to reform our general education in recent years, with federal initiatives like No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top capturing headlines as innovative ways to improve the worst-performing schools in our country.  On the other extreme are teachers like me who are working primarily with students one on one in intensive hour-long lessons on a weekly basis to achieve the pinnacle of possibility.  One thing that has always fascinated me is the question of talent: is it innate, or can one learn it?  Many of my teachers have made statements such as “anyone can be taught how to play the cello, but there are some things that are innate and cannot be taught,” “That’s god-given talent” and so on.  I have [...]

The Holy Sextet (Part 2) — by Brant Taylor

Part 1 began an exploration of three bow variables that—in addition to the three well-known concepts of weight, speed, and contact point—make up a sextet of basics that should be known and practiced to maximize your control over the string with the bow.  We discussed the first and most important, bow angle, in Part 1. The remaining two variables may seem relatively minor, but they are by no means unimportant. If practicing means attempting to find solutions to the challenges of successful instrumental control, you should attempt to understand every potential reason for success or failure with the bow. FLATNESS OF HAIR, or how much of the hair makes contact with the string. Many cellists hold the bow with the stick tilted up (toward the fingerboard) to some degree. This means that [...]

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 [...]

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 [...]

The Power of Quietness — by Selma Gokcen

The place to find is within yourself.  I learned a little about this in athletics.  The athlete who is in top form has a quiet place within himself, and it’s around this, somehow, that his action occurs...There’s a center of quietness within, which has to be known and held.  If you lose that center, you are in tension and begin to fall apart. – Joseph Campbell True quiet means keeping still when the time has come to keep still, and going forward when the time has come to go forward. In this way rest and movement are in agreement with the demands of the time, and thus there is light in life. The hexagram signifies the end and the beginning of all movement. The back is named because in the [...]

Stage-dreaming — by Mickey Katz

A few days ago I was on the Symphony Hall stage, playing Brahms’s A German Requiem in concert.  While playing the second movement, I started thinking about what I was going to make for dinner the following night. The last time I cooked it, I thought, it came out a little dry. Maybe this time I should… But wait a second, I was playing one of my favorite pieces in one of the world’s best halls, with a great orchestra and a great conductor, how could I not be completely absorbed in what I was doing? Was I the only one on stage whose mind was wandering, and if not—did anyone in the audience notice? I was aware that I was a part of a great concert, and the audience [...]

Tak-Sîm (Pt. 2) — by Jeffrey Zeigler

Here in Part Two of my discussion on Tak-Sîm by Alireza Farhang, I am going to focus on his application on various extended cello techniques. On this topic, I found his approach to be quite fascinating and one that I am especially excited to share with everyone here in the cello community. The piece begins with an audio trigger that I execute by pressing on a foot pedal. The trigger is a low, ambient sound that is sonically enhanced when I play a tremolo on the stick of the bow thus creating an almost a breathless quality. Although a relatively simple technique, for this technique I would suggest using what I call a "guilt free" bow. The reason is because there is a large crescendo at the tail end of [...]

A New Look at Sight-Reading (Part 3) — by Robert Battey

Successful sight-readers move deftly around within a rigid hierarchy of tasks (“the Levels”).  They’re like fencers, thinking ahead, anticipating the threats and challenges in the music, and adapting what they do on a measure-by-measure basis.  They keep to the hierarchy, adding the next Level only when the lower ones are completely under control; experienced players do not jeopardize the ensemble by fumbling at a Level they can’t handle properly. Thus, effective sight-reading training is about understanding these Levels to the point where you can apply and adjust them instinctively, automatically.  As I’ve said, it’s a different kind of thinking, almost like playing a different instrument.  For most people, the most difficult concept to wrap your head around is that finding the actual pitches comes last.  Simply chasing notes will quickly [...]

A New Look at Sight-Reading (Part 2) — by Robert Battey

"I can play something ok if I have some time to practice it, but I can't sight-read to save my life."  How many times have we heard this lament or some variant, particularly among adult amateurs?  It does express a common deficiency.  Sight-reading is a specialized skill, which must be acquired separately and in addition to one’s general technical work, so it’s quite common for a competent player to be a weak sight-reader. The term “sight-reading” is a poor one since it’s both obvious (how else will you read music if not by sight?) and inaccurate (“sight-playing” is a little closer, though not by much).  It’s been used to mean several different things, but the meaning we’re concerned with here, and the only context in which the skill level really [...]

Holiday Blues — by Mickey Katz

It’s an exciting time for the BSO, as we’re finishing a week of concerts and preparing to go on our first tour in a long time, playing some major pieces by Berlioz, Bartok, Harbison, Mozart, Carter, Brahms, Wagner, Ravel and Mahler (really).  But every visit to a retail store or a coffee shop reminds all of us of the inevitable—the day after we return to Boston is our first concert of Holiday Pops. In just over a week, the Miraculous Mandarin will turn into Frosty the Snowman, and Daphnis and Chloe into Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer. The Boston Pops has been the alter ego of the Boston Symphony since 1885, and is an integral part of the job of orchestra members. During the holidays we’re required to do a good [...]

A New Look at Sight-Reading (Part 1) — by Robert Battey

As a teacher who specializes in adult amateurs, and who coaches at chamber music workshops catering to the amateur demographic, I have been struck by the differences of approach between these players and the “serious” conservatory students. By definition, “amateurs” are those who pursue the art form simply because they love it, and without the goal of becoming a professional. Conservatory students pursue the goal of professionalism even when, in a few cases, they don’t actually love the art form that much. But inherent in that pursuit are the thousands of hours slaving away on exercises, scales and etudes, always with an eye on the competition lurking in the next practice room or the impending juries. Amateurs “just want to play.” They have no illusions about ever sounding like the [...]

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