Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Cello Plans for 2014

Merry Christmas to Me - A New Cello!

My new cello is AWESOME! I received it on Saturday, and although it is taking a bit of time to find the notes (no note helpers -- stickers or lines to show me where 1-3rd position is), I love the sound and the ease of playability. In fact, I just purchased two new cello books that should help improve my technical ability and performance.

I am renting this cello from SharMusic. I went with their SharWay plan, which costs me $60 per month. This is a brand new Chinese cello - a Franz Hoffman Prelude. It is a good student cello -- beginner level. Cellos are expensive to purchase, and this cello is priced on the low end (retails for $750). I can pay the balance of the cello off in 6-9 months or I can trade up for a better cello (I don't think I will do that, but you never know what will happen down the road!)

Cellos range in price from $500-$5000 (and up) for beginning to advanced student cellos. I have been looking for a new cello since 2010. I have priced a number of them, and I have read reviews, listened to cellos being played, and factored in the costs to determine exactly what I could afford to invest in this hobby of mine. I have played on two cellos so far. My first cello was given to me by a friend of my father's. He had an old Kay cello that he bought from someone about 20 years ago. Kay cellos were very popular in school orchestras in the 1940-1960s. My Kay is dated from about 1950. It is a laminate cello and sounds pretty bad. I replaced the strings once, which helped a little. The cello itself was very easy to play, and for that, I am thankful. I learned quickly, and I progressed to the point where I was able to begin Suzuki Level 3 books. However, the sound quality really bothered me, and I knew that it was time to get a better cello.

I was going through a difficult time financially, so purchasing a new cello was out of the question. My teacher gave me her Cremona cello to try out. She had bought it off Craig's list a couple years back and never could play it. I put new strings on it, and I played it for about a six months. It had better sound, but it was more difficult to play. I took it to the luthier in town, and I spent about $175 dollars getting it repaired (new bridge, sealing cracks, etc.) In all, the quality improved, but it became more difficult to play after the luthier worked on it (LOL!) 

In fact, as time went by this cello refused to play without excessive rattles and buzz noises. I constantly crossed strings due to the fact that the fingerboard was set too high on the cello when it was first made. No wonder my teacher couldn't play it! I struggled with it for almost a year, and I started to feel as though I would never be able to play well. I stopped practicing blaming the cause on school and work when really it was that the cello was so bad I couldn't play or enjoy it.

Three weeks ago, the Lord put the idea of getting a new cello on my mind. I don't know how it came about, but one day I just got this feeling that I should go check out cellos! I went to Southwest Strings first, and I inquired about a used Yuan Qin cello. I had priced this cello a while back, and I liked it a lot. It sounded nice, and I read that it was a very good student cello (retails for $2500). I was going to invest in it - make payments on it - but then my work life took a turn and with the monthly cost around $150, I knew it was out of reach for me. I didn't want to spend that much each month so I put it off. I then saw that they had a used one for sale listed at $650. I thought that this might be the cello for me. I asked and was told that it was not a good cello (nice of them to be so honest) to purchase. It had a number of cracks and it needed a lot of work.

A week later, I was surfing the net, and the Lord prompted me to check out SharMusic. I went over to their website and browsed around. I didn't really see anything, but I clicked on their rental program to see if they rent nationally. As I read about their rental program, I found myself clicking on the cello link. Next thing I knew, I had rented a cello from them. I could have purchased (rent to own) a more expensive cello, but since I am only working part-time and going to school full-time, I decided that $60 per month was doable for me. 

The cello arrived on Saturday. It was well packed, and when I took it out of the box, I was delighted with the color (deep red-brown). The A string and peg were off, so I had to put it back on myself (good thing I have changed my own strings before). It took a while to warm up, but now stays fairly in tune. I only have to adjust the fine tuners each day. Hopefully, after a couple weeks of playing, the strings will stay in tune.  

I am pleased with the sound quality -- it is a step up from my Cremona cello, and it has no wolf tones, rattles or buzzes. It is also smaller than my Cremona, even though it is a standard 4/4 cello. I love the finish - antique varnish - and I think the overall quality is good. Mind you, I am not a performance major. I wanted a good sounding cello to play with my small chamber group, and perhaps some day, play in the church orchestra. I am not looking to solo or become a professional cellist. I enjoy cello -- it relaxes me -- and I love the fact that I can play an instrument (after believing for nearly 47 years that I was musically-inept!)

I consider myself to be an advancing intermediate cellist (technically speaking), and probably an advanced beginner when it comes to performance. I panic when I perform so I don't do it, and I don't like the pressure of performing. I can play in my group, but even then I often miss notes and I will freeze up if the music goes to fast for me to keep up. My goal for 2014 is to return to my technical level of progressing intermediate (where I was in early 2012) and bring my performance skill up to Intermediate. My long term goal is to be accomplished. Accomplishment has various meanings, and different performers will view it through their own lens. In my case, accomplished means the ability to play any piece of music well. For me, that means with technical precision. I am not musically gifted, so to speak, so I am not a passionate player. I am technically good. This is my skilled area -- it was the same when I studied art (painting and drawing) -- I was never gifted creatively, but I could practice the discipline with great precision. Therefore, my goal is to be accomplished and to  be able to play any piece of music well. This would mean that I could play a piece of music assigned by an orchestra director (at my church) or I could play the cello part in a small group or in chamber.

To help me perform better technically and stylistically, I have created this repertoire for cello study:

Etudes and Scales

Klengel Technical Studies, Vol. 1 by Julius Klengel

I read several reviews and this book is suggested for advancing cellists who need to strengthen fingers and who need to develop familiarity with the fingerboard. I can play in 1-4th position, some 5th, but not consistently. I am solid in 1-3rd, 4th on the A string. I struggle more with 4th on the D-C strings.

There are two volumes of this technical study book. Once I master volume 1, I will move onto volume 2.

Schroeder Foundational Studies

I have been working through this book for about a year now. I am slowly progressing through the selections. They get progressively harder and I am stuck between 26-32. There seems to be a big jump in skill so I am hoping that with Klengel's book on fingering and scales, I will be able to progress further in Schroeder. There are 3 volumes, and this series is supposed to provide the advancing cellist with enough material to last a life time.

I have volume 1 only, and I am thinking it will probably be a couple years before I can finish this book and move into book 2.

Schroeder Cello Method

I have volume 1 and 2 of this series. I started learning to play cello with volume 1. This book worked for me. Not sure why because I have heard that some people do not like it. I was able to teach myself cello (initially) by working through the scales and using the Internet. I love the etudes in this first book. They are easy to play and give the beginning cellist the feeling that they are playing "real music." I have some other beginning study books (Mooney for example) that are easy to play (geared for children) but boring. I completed book 1 already but I cannot move into book 2 because it focuses on Tenor clef and I am still working on solidifying my knowledge of bass clef. Still, I hope to complete book 2 at some point in time.

An Organized Method of String Playing by Janos Starker

I read about this book on a cello website today. I ordered the book from Amazon, and I am hoping that it will do what the author promised (mind mapping the fingerboard to help with understanding all the note positions). The cello website where I found the reference said that this book would help you understand the cello, the fingerboard, and note placement. I am keeping my fingers crossed!!

I think this is my greatest need right now (after getting a better cello!) I need to "see" the notes in my head and to know where they are on the fingerboard. I still struggle to remember where the "target" notes are (thanks to Rick Mooney's book on targeting notes -- the one thing I learned from his series). I now know that in 1st position on the A string you start with B and end with D (with C and C# in between -- the dreaded C#). On the D string, you begin with E and end with G (G# being one of the most used notes on cello -- is right next to the fourth finger position). On the G string, you begin with A and end with C, and then on the C string, you begin with D and end with F. The sharps, which always get me, are now mentally cemented in my mind. My hurdle for January is to find the notes: D, G, C, and F (fourth finger) without going flat or sharp. I had a smiley face sticker on my old cello to remind me where to put my pinkie. I am going non-stickie on this cello, which means that I have to learn where to put my finger every time without that visual cue!!

Cello Music Selections

I am very happy playing etudes. Weird as that may seem (most string players do not like etudes -- according to my teacher who has been teaching violin and viola for years), I love these short pieces. I like that I can work through an etude and learn it well. I get frustrated over longer pieces, and etudes give me enough to chew on before I get bored. I don't really have any music selected right now. My cello teacher will give me parts to play for chamber, and I will be meeting with her every Sunday before our chamber group to go over them. I am on my own as far as lessons though. My teacher retired and moved about 45 minutes away from my house. She still has her small group come out and play on Sundays, but she is not teaching lessons anymore. She will go over the pieces with me to make sure I understand them. I struggle with time signatures and tempo mostly. Once I play through them once or twice, I am usually good to go. I am good at sight reading, but I cannot read super fast to where I could sit down and play through a piece on the fly. I can so long as the piece is not too difficult or too fast.

Down the road, I am thinking of working through Popper's High School of Cello playing series: 15 Easy Studies, Opus 73 and Opus 76. I would like to be able to say that I played through this series at least once in my life time.

Other than Popper's books, I would like to tackle Suzuki Book 4 at some point. I need to finish a couple of the harder pieces in Book 3 (Humoresque and La Cinquantaine). I really want to play Breval's Sonata in C Major. This is on my list of want to play pieces along with Bach's cello suites. Dreaming...just dreaming.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

I did it!

I bought a new cello! Well, I am renting a new cello -- to be more accurate!! After a disappointing chamber group meeting on 12/8 and 12/15, I made the decision to invest in a better quality student-level cello. I ordered a Franz Hoffman Prelude cello from SharMusic. It is a good student cello, in my price range (for rental fees and purchase), and hopefully it will be easier to play. I ordered it today, and I am hoping it arrives before Christmas!

Monday, December 16, 2013

2013 and a whole lot of nothing

Yes, it has been over a year since I blogged on this site. I have been so very busy with work and school, and unfortunately, cello got set by the way side. My cello teacher retired in 2013, moved to another part of town, and I was left to continue to work on studies on my own. I did my best, but I wasn't into it anymore. Thankfully, we have kept in touch and our small chamber group still gets together occasionally. It is not the same, though, and that is what bothers me most. My son has grown up, now age 20, and is so very busy with life, work, and his own thing. Our other member went away to school (good for her), and that left just the three of us who remained (one adult, one high schooler, and myself). We have stayed together, and played together, but like I said -- it is just not the same.

I pulled my cello out yesterday and lugged it across town to play with my teacher. It was nice to see her, and we covered a couple Christmas tunes. My cello is so difficult to play, really I mean it. It doesn't help that I am out of practice, and that I have forgotten how to read notes, LOL! I invested about $250 into my cello in 2012, and the luthiers did a good job of getting it back into shape. But the cello itself is wrong, just wrong. It was made wrong, and over the years has suffered greatly due to neglect. I would love a better cello, but at this point, I am stuck with what I have and with what I can afford.

After all, I am a graduate student again (PhD) and I am working part-time (teaching English Literature) so right now I have very limited funds to devote to anything outside of living expenses. Perhaps in 2014, I might get a better cello? Oh, wouldn't that be lovely! For now, I will continue to dream of a new cello, but I will settle for what I do have. God is good to me, and I am thankful for the cello I have to play. Thank you!

Some thoughts on getting back into shape:
  • I was just listening to George Winston's Christmas album on Pandora, and a song came on that had a beautiful cello solo. I so wish I could play something lovely like this song. I need to find some lovely cello music that is not fast, but is slow and melodic. I think I would play more often if I could play the kind of music I like to play.
  • I have some good books to practice scales and such. I need to set aside a small amount of playing time each day and just practice. My calluses have worn off and my fingers are so sore. I need to get my fingers back into shape again.
  • I need to make time to play - that is really the crux of the matter. I just don't make the time. I fill it with everything else BUT practice. My fault, my bad...
  • Last, I need to recommit to cello and make it a priority among all my other priorities. I can do it, I have time, I just need to make it so.
I do love playing the cello. Yesterday as I went to my teacher's house I was thinking that I was no longer interested in playing the cello. I said to myself "I don't care anymore" but this wasn't true. After I got to her house, and we started to play the music she had selected, I felt myself let go and enjoy the experience again. I think I enjoyed playing because of my teacher and the small group I played with each week. It gave me something to look forward to each week, and I loved the friendship of the group. I miss that feeling, that sense of belonging. I think this is really the issue. I gave up playing cello because I lost my friends, my teacher, and my sense of being a part of a group.