CONVERSATION WITH PAMELA FRAME
by TIM JANOF
is Associate Professor of Cello at the Eastman School of Music. She has
toured with the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra and has appeared at the Marlboro
Festival, Festival Casals, and the Skaneateles Festival. In the summer,
she teaches at Interlochen and The Quartet Program. During the '95-'96 season,
she will present "a cellist," a series of recitals in New York
City. The second concert of this series, featuring music by Clarke, Beach,
and Brahms, will be on January 14, 2pm, in Carnegie Hall's Weill Recital
TJ: You studied with Rostropovich. How long did you study with him?
PF: It was over a period of about seven years. I first met him when he came
to Eastman to play the Dvorak concerto with the Rochester Philharmonic.
I was about 18 years old at the time. I asked the man at the hotel front
desk if he knew when Rostropovich was arriving, which he didn't. He said,
"Maybe it's that guy getting out of the cab with the big case."
And sure enough, it was him. I was standing in the hallway as he got out
of the cab. I just looked at him as he walked by. He came over and said
hello to me and I said hello back. Not two seconds later he turned and said,
"I think you're a cellist." I don't know how he knew; I must have
turned pale when I saw him.
So to make a long story short, he was only in Rochester for about 24 hours.
He said, "I think you're a serious cellist and I'd like to hear you
play." I said, "Oh, I couldn't possibly, I'd be too nervous."
Thankfully, I reconsidered my answer later.
TJ: I was hoping you did.
PF: I realized what I'd done and tracked him down the next morning as he
was leaving. I said, "I really want to play for you. When can I do
it?" He said, "Well, my plane is leaving in an hour. I'll be in
Toronto in a month." So I drove up to Toronto, found him, and played
the Schumann Concerto for him. After that he said I could have a lesson
anytime I wanted. I had to find ways of being in the right city at the right
time for lessons, which I did for quite a number of years.
TJ: What was he like as a teacher?
PF: Ferocious! He was incredibly demanding and incredibly inspiring. He
accepted no limitations, and absolutely believed that I could do anything
and expected me to, which was wonderful. I remember when I stayed in Puerto
Rico an extra two weeks after the Festival Casals to study with him. I was
on my way to the beach and I ran into him. He said, "You have a lesson
in 15 minutes."
TJ: That IS ferocious!
PF: Yes. After that I made sure I warmed up just before I left for the beach,
just in case I got lucky and ran into him again!
TJ: What is his approach in teaching?
PF: He doesn't like to demonstrate too much on the cello. He's more likely
to play on the piano with you. He talks about the music passionately and
shows you how to do it only if he has to. He makes hysterical characterizations
of the way you've just played if it's not working. He was also very funny
and entertaining, though always to the point. His character is so colorful
and so passionate, and is reflected in his teaching. If there's a teaching
style, it's his whole style of living and performing.
TJ: You played in the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra for a few years, known for
performing without a conductor. What was that like?
PF: It was a very interesting experience. I like to compare it to a democracy.
It's not that each person has one vote and then you count the votes and
the decision is made. There are senators and representatives and the voting
public, and perhaps even a president. Some of our business is conducted
just within our own section, and some of our business is conducted through
an emissary who acts as a go-between with another section. And some of it
is conducted out in the open all at once, where we'll have a whole string
meeting. During the rehearsals there is some quiet discussion within sections,
as there is in any orchestra, and there's some discussion that's going on
between principals of the sections, and there's some open discussion that
comes up from the ranks of the sections. But when we hit a rough spot or
a snag, we rely on the principals to smooth it out, though it's not an open
shouting match when there are several opinions. The performances were very
exciting. There was a lot of spontaneity, and the rehearsals were fascinating
because they were such working experiences. It was hard work, but it was
really fun. The whole system works incredibly well, but it's been developed
over a long time and it's fascinating to be part of it.
TJ: In a master class you conducted recently, you said something very interesting.
You said, "Emotion is not Art." What did you mean by that?
PF: When my seven-year-old has a tantrum, that's not Art. That's what I
often tell my students, anyway. An artist is someone who can express his
emotions in a way that creates that emotion or suggests that emotion to
someone else in a very clear and organized way. It takes organization and
discipline in order to create something called Art. You can't throw the
paint at the canvas and say that's Art. You can dump a paint bucket on the
floor in a fit of anger and say that expresses anger. But it isn't Art.
One of the biggest struggles for a teacher is to help a student find the
balance between emotion and discipline. This applies to most musicians actually.
I think that all of us, when we are under pressure, tend to go toward one
or the other. It's interesting to see that some of my students will gravitate
toward emotion and some of them will gravitate toward discipline, but very
few people naturally keep it in balance.
Discipline is not natural to begin with, you have to learn it, unlike emotion.
Which one a student gravitates toward may have been learned in the younger
years of the students' education. He may have learned wonderful discipline
and work habits and may have learned terrific cello technique. If he has,
it makes it all the easier for the teacher. But you still have to teach
him to balance the two. And when he is under stress, I need to know which
way he is going to react, so I can coach him through that process until
he can find the balance between the two.
I think this is one of the most fascinating parts of teaching. If you just
talk about the emotional content or the character of the music, without
addressing the technique necessary to accomplish your goals, you will not
get the strongest results. If you address technique alone, the result will
be a wonderful technician, a terrific typist, but not an artist. Finding
that balance between emotion and technique is a fascinating process. Making
a student aware of what happens to him or her under stress, noting that
she moves toward technique or emotion, can be a big help to the student.
TJ: There are teachers who teach the cello to their students and remain
distant when it comes to the student's emotional state and personal being,
and then there are those who try to teach the whole person, trying to get
involved in the student's psyche. Where do you fall into that camp?
PF: I try to fill in all the gaps. I wish we had the equivalent of a sports
psychologist: a music psychologist that each student could work with. A
lot of Olympic level athletes use a sports psychologist. There's no reason
that musicians shouldn't do the same thing. I certainly address aspects
of it in teaching. I tell my students when I think they're discouraged or
when they need to listen in a different way, rather than saying, "Here
are my fingerings and bowings. Do it my way, practice harder because you
play out of tune in fourth position. I'll see you next week." I may
tell a student that their practice habits don't seem to be working, and
why. This type of teaching has a deep affect on them. It's hard work, and
I often feel like I'm flying "by the seat of my pants."
Six of my students gave a recital last night. One of the younger students
played for me a couple of days ago and I didn't think that I should put
her on the recital because she wasn't ready. I said, "I'm afraid that
it's too much pressure on you and I'm not sure how you will react. On the
other hand, you work very hard and efficiently." Her response was that
she felt she could get it ready in two days. I agreed to let her try. In
a way, I took some of the pressure off her, because I didn't think it was
enough time to expect her to accomplish what she needed to do. On the other
hand, it was a gentle challenge. She played absolutely beautifully. She
astonished us with a beautifully formed performance -- wonderful character,
sound and control. A very convincing performance! I was glad that I was
candid with her and that she met a challenge with grace and determination.
It's very important to be honest with students so that they have the opportunity
to respond and grow according to their own abilities and goals.
TJ: Do you have any themes in your own teaching?
PF: Students ignore their bow arm. I don't think it's taught as much as
left hand technique. One of the reasons for this is that we can't put it
on paper. You can write fingerings and bowings, and you can take a picture
of a bow grip, but what really happens with a bow grip isn't so much about
the picture of it, the static view of a bow hand or a bow arm. It's a dynamic
process. I am constantly reminding my students about the balance between
weight and speed, and that the relationship is not static, ever.
When you're playing legato, if you maintain weight and pressure all the
way through the bow stroke and all the way back, you get a very dull sound.
It may sound steady, but I wouldn't really call it legato. When you analyze
the playing of something that sounds beautiful, if you analyze what's going
on with the bow, you find that the bow is very often articulating the beginning
of a note and then actually releasing a little, then growing a little, and
then at the very end making a small release. It's not that every note should
die on the way to the next note. But how you create something that sounds
natural is a pretty complicated process. We're having to create more of
a tradition for teaching the bow arm. It's always a struggle to create and
maintain a tradition of teaching the bow arm, because it's difficult to
TJ: Are there any other common pitfalls you see students falling into?
PF: Yes! Cellists need to take advantage of gravity more. Many hold their
left arm up in the air and press their fingers down instead of resting the
arm on the finger board, letting the fingers support it. This applies to
the right arm too. Players hold their arm up in the air and then push down
with the bow to make a sound. Why work if you don't have to? It's tiring
enough. So I work a lot with my students on using the weight of their left
arm to keep the string down. When they do, their vibrato is a lot freer
because they are not squeezing with the left thumb and playing finger.
Many times when I hear someone play who has a very narrow, nervous vibrato,
I ask them to vibrate wider, which they can't for one of two reasons. Either
they're holding their arm up and pushing their finger down to play, such
that their arm is so tight that the same muscles that are supposed to be
free when they vibrate are already busy doing isometrics. Or they know instinctively
that their finger is going to be knocked off the center of the pitch if
they vibrate wider because their hand isn't anchored enough on the finger
board. They don't want to vibrate wider because it's going to sound unfocused.
Unless they learn to anchor it better, usually by just letting the weight
down on the fingerboard, they will never be able to produce a beautiful
Another thing that I see a lot in the left hand is using the fingers completely
isolated from the left arm. If you see someone's hand completely static
with just the fingers moving, it's a very tiring and weak use of the left
hand. It's possible to sort of throw your arm into it. You can put your
fourth finger down, for instance, by just dropping your arm into position,
hardly moving your fourth finger.
You can use your arm for all the fingers. My elbow ends up in a different
position for first finger than it does for the other fingers. It drops down
as I go through second, third, fourth finger a little bit. And when I do
that, I find that my hand doesn't tire and that my pitch is better.
When you look at your hand, the fingers are all different lengths, and then
you look at the finger board and think, wait a minute, the half steps are
all regularly spaced in diminishing intervals. How am I supposed to arrange
that, since my fingers are different lengths and when I curve them they
go crooked at funny angles? And why my second finger is never in tune when
I put my hand square to the cello, second and third just don't go in the
right places? You can counteract this with a tiny bit of an angle to the
finger board, a little tilt of your hand, and then using your arm to drop
the fingers into place rather than flailing away with your fingers. It's
very beautiful to see when a student understands it. It looks very elegant
and takes care of a lot of pitch troubles. Their fingers kind of drop into
place, in the right distances, because their hand is so much more flexible
than when they're operating their fingers just from the base joint.
TJ: Do you encourage students to listen to recordings?
PF: Oh yes, the more the merrier. They will do it anyway.
TJ: That's true.
PF: Students have tremendous recording collections these days. As a matter
of a fact, I'm getting to the point where they're suggesting repertoire
to me from their vast holdings of CD's. I was looking for a certain piece
of repertoire, and two of my Eastman students called me up with suggestions
from their CD collection.
I think the idea that listening to recordings stifles your creativity is
baffling. Since going to a concert doesn't stifle your creativity, I don't
understand why listening to recordings would stifle it either. A broader
musical experience is preferable. I do think it's a shame if they're just
listening to cello recordings and they've never heard a Verdi opera. But
I encourage them to study music using recordings as a resource. I think
it's a great way to study a score. It's dreaming to think that everybody
can look at a score and hear a score in their ears, particularly the younger
ones. There's no way they're going to be able to hear a score when they
study it, even if they can pick out some of it on the piano. Actually, I
ask them to follow the piano score exclusively and keep their eyes off the
cello line. Then one time they follow the cello line with the score, and
then sometimes listen to the recording with their part in front of them,
and not the score. Listening to it these different ways is active listening.
I don't think it's a good idea to put on a CD of a piece that you're learning
and just play it all day long in your apartment while you're studying your
homework or writing a paper. That's not the kind of listening that I encourage
them to do. They need to be critical, active listeners.
TJ: When you teach a student a piece, when it comes to interpretation, do
you give them as much "rope" as they want?
PF: I'm willing to listen. If it doesn't convince me, I'll tell them I don't
like it. I'm just another listener at that point. I will sometimes tell
them that it's not the way I would do it, but that's okay with me. Bach
is a good example. When my students are working on a Bach suite, I do not
give them all the bowings and fingerings. I'll work through it with them,
from their score, but I won't hand them my bowings and fingerings and say
this is the way it's done. Because, first of all, the way I did it the last
time I played that suite will not necessarily be the same as the next time
I do it. Where it's just impossible to negotiate tricky fingerings, then
I give them some help. I certainly don't say you must to do it my way. I'm
not that kind of player. I don't always follow my own "rules."
TJ: Speaking of the Bach Suites, do you have any sort of general principles
when you play Bach?
PF: I hope so! It would be embarrassing not to!
TJ: True. I'll give you an example. When I was taught them, my teacher would
say, "In the beginning, there was rhythm...."
PF: My playing of Bach has changed since I was a student. Some of the fingerings
and bowings that are in my music wouldn't work for me today. But I think
one of the things that has changed for me over the years is that I tend
to like bowings that line up more with the measure. Even though the phrase
may very consistently overlap the first beat of the next bar, I don't mind
the bow changing on the bar line, while the phrase continues over to the
next note. It used to be that I would line up the bowings with the phrase.
But I think that's more of a Romantic approach. I find that this approach
doesn't work as well in the Baroque style.
I have a deeply ingrained sense of articulation from Alexander Schneider,
when he used to scream at us, "Arti-coo-late!" so much that we
didn't even know what he was talking about for the longest time. We just
knew that when he said that we'd better really look like we were concentrating.
We didn't know how to articulate when he said that, but we'd better look
like we were paying attention. I finally figured out what it meant one day.
I was principal cellist and I had to work hard at it. When I understood
that he wanted us to grab the string with the bow, I could interpret it
for the rest of my section. We started to make some progress at that point.
I'm really fussy about it with my students. Articulation is a big part of
TJ: How about just playing music in general? Do you have some sort of theme
PF: No, not about playing music in general, but I think there's an aspect
of performing that I am very interested in, which I also articulate to my
students as a part of the learning process. When we play, we have to remember
to listen. It's difficult to do. We input information and keep producing
the sounds, but don't actually listen. And usually when I explain this process
to my students, I see the light bulbs going on. When they begin to listen,
if they hear something going wrong, they know what they need to do to fix
it, instead of passively relying on a shopping list of items.
That's a big theme in my teaching and in my playing. I remember a performance
when it suddenly occurred to me to listen to the sound out in front of me,
rather than thinking down through the cello when I play. I listened to it
as it was leaving, on the way to the audience. It was a strange experience.
As I heard the sound, I thought, "Does that match what I mean? How
will the audience hear that? Will they interpret that the way that I intended
it?" And it was a very startling experience to listen that way. I do
listen more that way now.
TJ: That may be one reason why Yo Yo Ma sits back, away from his cello,
when he plays.
PF: Maybe. Perhaps he is trying not to think only of the instrument all
the time, or that he doesn't need to think of the instrument anymore. We
should ask him!
TJ: He hears what he's playing more objectively.
PF: Yes. On the other hand, there are also people who just seem to be experiencing
the emotion of the music exclusively, and aren't doing the work that it
takes to make the instrument bring this out clearly. That's the idea of
emotion without discipline, without technique. Without the craft it doesn't
really happen. You can see the cellist just experiencing all the emotions,
but when you close your eyes the real force isn't there. That person has
to listen to make sure that the sound that they're producing is really indicating
those ideas that they have. And that's the part of the process that is missing.
TJ: The music business is very competitive. What do you tell your students
about this? A lot of them are probably coming to school fantasizing that
they're going to be the next Yo-Yo Ma or they're going to be playing in
the Boston Symphony.
PF: In the first place, the students are not quite in the real world at
Eastman because the level is so high. When I was a student I desperately
wanted someone to tell me how good I could be and to tell me what I could
be when I grew up, but nobody would tell me. I remember trying to pin down
one teacher, but he wouldn't tell me. I was furious with him. He said, "It's
up to you." I really wanted the support of him saying where I could
go, but he wouldn't say it. Now I know he did the right thing.
There's a certain level of responsibility we teachers must accept. We have
to be honest about the work that needs to be done. In other words, teachers
have to say where you are now and what you need to do to get to where you
want to be. But I don't have students walking into my studio saying "I
want to be the next Rostropovich." If they believe that, they don't
tell me. But they do have very high goals, and it seems to me they're meeting
them. I watch them make wonderful progress when they put their minds to
it. It's not for me to say where they can go, but it is for me to keep their
eyes open about what it's like, what a career is like, and what it takes
I'm very straightforward with them about what my career has been like. I
don't tell them they will get a job in the Boston Symphony, a job teaching
at a conservatory, or a job in a string quartet. But I do tell them lots
of details about my career, the bad and the good. I think that they get
a real dose of reality from that. But I can't tell them, you do this and
you do that. It's impossible. I don't know how far they're going to go.
It depends on a lot of different aspects of each person.
I'm trying to get my Eastman students out into the community to perform
rather than just playing their recitals at school. For the students who
say yes when I ask, "Do you want me to take you out to play for a bunch
of Rochester school children next Wednesday?," I'll drive them there.
For instance I'm taking a quartet to a public school next week which will
play three performances for three consecutive groups of 100 fifth graders.
Between performances they'll be critiqued by Robert Kapilow, Robert Weirich,
and me. We've had a number of fairly short conversations about working on
their program for these kids, and I've explained to them what kind of music
background the fifth graders have. I think that they know by my level of
interest and enthusiasm, and the fact that I'll actually go with them to
do this and observe them, that I feel it's very important.
I show them what the real world is like by the things that I pay attention
to and the fact that I'm not only interested in them entering competitions,
and playing recitals of romantic cello music within the hallowed halls of
the school. These are not the only activities that I really encourage, although
they're part of it, of course. I go to their recitals and they play in studio
class. But there's lots more out there and I think learning to talk to an
audience and communicating about what they do and who they are is vitally
important right now. It will be very important to their careers down the
line. That's an aspect that I address with all of them. What does it mean
to perform? It doesn't just mean giving recitals. I remind them that that's
not the basis of many careers, and that nearly all of us who took performance
degrees are now teaching. How many people do you know who don't teach?
TJ: Not many.
PF: And yet if you look at the studio teachers at Eastman, and if you look
at many schools around the country, the people who are teaching the performance
majors don't have education degrees, they have performance degrees. Being
a performer is about being an educator, it's the same thing. We must address
that aspect of their career and I do that.
TJ: Speaking of community outreach, what did you do on "Prairie Home
PF: We played Dvorak Bagatelles at a show at Interlochen. It was a lot of
fun. It was really interesting to see Garrison Keillor put the program together.
We had one three hour rehearsal that afternoon and then we did the show.
PF: It's live and Garrison surrounds himself with some very talented people
who are very quick workers. They are really on the spot and have very little
time to put the show together. But they get it right. Garrison is a very
talented guy. He really does a new show every week and he's done some writing
before the rehearsal, of course. But in the rehearsal, if there's a modulation
that he doesn't like, he talks to the violinist and says, "I want that
to go to G minor there." The violinist calls out a couple of notes
here and there to a couple of people, saying "violist play a G flat
there, and don't play this note here." We play it and then Garrison
Keillor says, "No, I don't want an extra measure, I want it to happen
right here, within that bar. Measure 29, cellos, I want this note and violists
I want that note." And then we do it and it's right! His standards
Cellists find themselves developing lots of different aspects of their careers.
As a teacher, I believe that it is very important to let my students know
that they will need to excel in many different ways and to value and develop
their various talents.
I would like to thank the Internet Cello Society for bringing cellists into
"the net." I will look forward to following the cello dialogue!
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