Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Thanks for the memos

I am on an e-mail list for a local amateur orchestra. It's one of those groups that's not a good fit for me -- alas, it's just a little too basic. The people involved do seem to have fun playing, however. They rehearse once a week and do a few concerts every year.

One of the cellists, Tom Zebovitz, has been sending some messages to the cello section that reveal a certain gift for language as well as an understanding of some cello essentials, and with his permission, I will be sharing a few of them.

Here's a recent note about an upcoming cello sectional:

Hello Intrepid Cellists!!! And, Maybe Bassist(s)!!!
For those of you not fortunate enough to have chosen the cello as your life's inspiration, please disregard this e-mail. It is for the enlightened eyes of our cello (and bass) section alone. Any confidential information revealed in this e-mail must be held closely to the vest and not divulged under any circumstances unless you are asked in desperately phrased, assertively asked, pointed questions. Civilians may now return to practicing.
I see we are doing sectionals tonight. I'm bringing a metronome, take out your notes about counting, if memory serves, we may have to count as high as six.....
As much as I would like to focus on the Beethoven, I think the Serenade requires our attention. I plan to devote two-thirds of the time to the Serenade. The challenges in the Serenade are rhythmic, so we will be working on the rhythmically challenging sections. There is no point in going over some of the ridiculously high sections of the piece. If you want to work on discovering where the G, two octaves above middle C, is in the nosebleed section of your fingerboard: May the Force Be with You! But, that's between you and your A-string.
In the Beethoven, we will be working on high-profile solo sections, such as the 2nd movement. I also want to work on the third movement, the home of the "stealth rocket theme" that quietly shoots up our four strings. It needs to be quiet, smooth, tense, and together. The rest of the symphony, which is a cornucopia of great cello themes and solos is pretty bombastic and more forgiving of the occasional clinker.
If anybody has thoughts about sections deserving of our attention in either of the pieces, please let me know. We can cover them tonight as well.
If you are still reading this and haven't fallen into a catatonic coma requiring large volumes of Mountain Dew to help you snap out of it, I'd like to share with you my philosophy about making music.
With the exception of some of the more modern music and the occasional instruction from a dead decomposer, I feel cellists strive for purity of sound. Everybody is different, everybody's instrument is different also, however, I believe there is a way of playing that will produce a minimum of scratching, creaking, croaking, frictiony, squeaking, scraping noises that many of us have learned to live with and even filter out so we don't hear them anymore.
Producing that purity of sound begins with the placement of the bow before you even make the first scrape. Getting your string to vibrate resonantly from the start is a technique about which, I'm sure, somebody has written a long book. There are little tricks to getting your strings to vibrate beautifully.  The most effective is to gently pluck the string with an available left-hand finger just as you begin to move the bow with the right hand. I also understand that open strings, especially the A-string, sound pretty darn pure, but, need to be avoided in favor of a fingered note, simply because those notes are so darned pure and twangy. Finding the optimum bow-contact position on the string, the angle the hair contacts the string, the pressure on the bow, the speed of the bow, the pressure used in the fingers of the left hand are all critical in producing pure sounds. When you practice, I suggest experimenting with these variables.
OK, I'm done, see you tonight. Come with bells on your toes....

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting that. Maintaining a sense of humour in the face of potential (probable)atrocities committed against music in the name of love (aka amateur music making)is a worthwhile skill, indeed. Sounds like the section's in good hands!