2003 National Cello Congress Notes
Tempe, Arizona, USA
by Tim Janof
The following are my notes from the various master classes, lectures, and panel discussions that I attended while at the 2003 National Cello Congress in Tempe, Arizona.
Hans Jorgen-Jensen Master Class
Margaret Rowell Video excerpt presented
- Hans Jorgen-Jensen studied with Rostropovich in Basel.
- His life was changed by Rostropovich's recording of the Haydn C Major Concerto.
- Alfred Brendel -- "Intuition should be based on knowledge, not intuition."
- Bach D Major Prelude -- Take time in chords near the end.
- Bach D Major Allemande -- Bring out the bass lines.
- Bach D Major Allemande -- Float in this movement.
- Bach almost touches the sleeve of God.
- Haydn C Major (3rd Mv't) -- An exercise for learning how to sing on the cello is to play same-finger scales up and down the cello with vibrato (i.e. 1-1-1-1-1-1-1…)
- Think "down" when doing an upbow on the A-string and "up" when doing a downbow.
- A student usually has a good vibrato motion when the teacher can move the vibrating hand. If the hand is tight, the teacher can't move the hand.
- Move the bow towards the bridge when going up the string.
- Exercise for teaching vibrato -- Place tennis ball on the fingerboard in the higher regions and place the left palm on the ball. Move the ball back and forth while bowing and try to produce a good vibrato. The fingers should be relaxed.
- Vibrato starts on the note and goes back.
- When playing on the lower strings, use more weight in the bow, and move the elbow around.
by the California Cello Club -- 5/16/03
- Our ultimate goal should be simplicity.
- Perfection is obtained when there is no longer anything to take away, rather than add.
- The human foot already has reflexes built in, while the hand has to be taught to work through the brain.
- One's power comes from the back and is transmitted from the back, through the arms, and to the fingertips.
Jean Michel Fonteneau Talk
Professor at San Francisco Conservatory -- 5/16/03
- Plays video of 13 year old playing the Barber Concerto. If it is relatively easy for this kid to play this concerto, what does this tell you about how we hold ourselves back?
- We must be in love with our own search for better musical understanding.
- We develop our technique as we develop our approach to music.
- Good posture allows freedom of the upper body, head, shoulders, and arms. Sit up straight. Try sitting with the "sitting bones" near the edge of the chair.
- The arms should be in a "monkey posture," in which they can fall freely.
- Be in good physical shape.
- Patient practice saves time.
- A good exercise is to speak while playing. It helps to uncover points of tension.
Panel Discussion with Orlando Cole, Phyllis Young,
Eleonore Schoenfeld, David Litrell -- 5/16/03
Hans Jorgen-Jensen Master Class
- Cole -- Pressure should be applied before the bow is drawn. Then it should be released once the bow starts moving. If there is a scratch when the bow moves, the pressure has not been released soon enough. If the pressure is released too early, the note won't be clearly articulated when it starts.
- Cole -- Musicality is in the bow arm. The three factors that are typically played with are: (1) placement of the bow relative to the bridge (2) bow speed, (3) bow pressure.
- Cole -- Good etudes, in order of learning progression: Dotzauer I, Dotzauer II, Gruetzmacher (1st book), Stephen De'ak (2nd volume), Popper Preparatory Etudes, Popper High School, Piatti, Gruetzmacher (2nd book), Paganini Caprices.
- Cole -- Always be aware that notes are almost always going somewhere.
- Cole -- Playing beautifully involves the mind and the heart.
- Cole -- Some parents are only interested in the competitive aspects of music, which does their child more harm than good.
- Schoenfeld -- A teacher's job is to teach a student the wisdom to recognize his or her own needs, as well as to conceptualize.
- Schoenfeld -- Practice the hard parts. Don't keep practicing entire phrases. Isolate the problem areas. Practice in small segments.
- Schoenfeld -- Memorization should happen automatically when at least one of the following happens: (1) the ear learns the tunes, (2) the structure of the music is understood, (3) the muscles memorize the feeling, (4) the music is seen somewhat photographically.
- Schoenfeld -- Two lessons per week is optimal, since energy is lost after a few days. One lesson per week is too long of an interval for young people.
- Schoenfeld -- Rhythmic sense can be improved with clapping, singing, or speaking the rhythm.
- Schoenfeld -- Desire and character are the greatest talents of all. Joachim said that success is based on three ingredients: 1/3 talent, 1/3 character (i.e. knowing when and how to practice, discipline), 1/3 health.
- Schoenfeld -- Be aware of what you practice, because what you practice is what you learn.
- Schoenfeld -- Parents should stop going to lessons soon. Parents should always encourage, never criticize.
- Schoenfeld -- Competitions are good motivators for self-improvement, but they shouldn't be an end unto themselves.
- Schoenfeld -- The Dvorak Concerto isn't something that one learns once. You keep coming back to it.
- Litrell -- Suggested cutting holes in pieces of paper sized like windows around certain parts in the music. This will help the student to concentrate on the hard parts instead of continuing to play through the entire piece.
- Litrell -- Part of a teacher's job is training the parents. The payment schedule must be established. Music must be ordered well ahead of time. Establish absence and make-up lesson policies. A good book is Mimi Butler's Complete Guide to Running a Music Studio.
- Litrell -- Be loving and kind to the student.
- Litrell -- One's job is more than teaching cello, it's to be a role model.
- Young -- The hand takes on the shape of the object it is picking up. This can be instructive when teaching the cello. Picking up a hamburger is similar to the hand position used when placing the left hand on the neck. Picking up a mint is similar to the bow hold.
- Young -- Every person has something uniquely beautiful. Teachers don't create it, they set it free. What untold beauties are behind the door? The teacher must have lots of keys in order to find the right one to unlock the various doors.
- Young -- Teachers are givers. Winston Churchill said that we make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.
- Young -- Teachers are trying to release a students feelings. When we are helping a student find the best way to hold a bow, we are helping them to express themselves.
- Young -- The person with the hands is called a "laborer." The person with the hands and mind is called a "craftsman." The person with the hands, mind, and heart is called an "artist."
Orlando Cole Master Class
- React to the harmony, which means you have to be more aware of it.
- "The Bach Suites are our musical bible."
- When the music goes up in pitch, go up in dynamics, with exceptions.
- In Bach, the C Major Prelude is the only one in which the pedal is loud.
- On downbows, the tip should point a little upwards. On upbows, the tip should point a little downwards. Bow in figure eights on long bows.
- There is no single position to sit because the spine prefers motion. Change your sitting pattern throughout each practice session.
- When you press with the bow hand, the rest of the arm doesn't really exist or do anything since it's under tension.
- Use the feet when playing too.
- The slower you play, the greater the artistry one needs.
Hans Jorgen Jensen -- Galamian Scale System
- Every note counts, including each one in the sextuplets in the Brahms F Major, first movement.
- Rachmaninoff Sonata -- Try playing the opening on the a string as much as possible.
- The d string always needs a little more "encouragement" compared to the A string.
- Rachmaninoff Sonata -- To the pianist, "Can YOU hear the cellist?"
- Musical performance should be somewhat exaggerated, like the face paint that actors use. Without a little exaggeration, the performance will not project to the audience and seem bland.
Orchestral Players Round Table
- He learned of this system from his studies with Leonard Rose. The first volume concentrates on scales, the second on double stops.
- The cello is catching up with the violin, technique-wise.
- If double-stops are practiced too much, the hand will tire out.
- Practice 10 minutes on technical work and then do more melodic work.
- Practice 5 minutes on octaves, 5 minutes on 6ths, and 5 minutes on 3rds per day.
- There are two kinds of hurt: the hurt from over-use or bad technique and the kind that is the result of a good workout. Be sure your hurt is of the second kind.
- When practicing double-stops, be aware that the center of the palm, just below the knuckles, is the center of gravity of the hand.
- The 4-1 fingering for thirds is good for strengthening the hand.
- Get out of extended position as soon as possible.
- Tortelier mentions two fingerings for thirds in his book, 2-thumb, and 3-thumb. Practice them both.
- Brahms F Major Sextuplets -- Try 3-thumb instead of 4-1.
- Old-fashioned fingerings don't use the thumb in lower positions.
- He used to start beginners in thumb position. He found that they had a lot of trouble playing in lower positions because of the larger spacing between fingers in lower positions.
- He suggests that teachers create a book of all the hard passages in the literature. When a students expresses a desire to play a certain piece, have them work on the hard parts as an exercise before giving them the piece.
- Analyze a problem, fix it, then forget about it.
- Use the arm weight that you need, and no more, though many people play just fine without worrying about this.
- Practice fingered thirds, and fingered tenths. Play melodic and harmonic minor keys too. This will help with pieces like Prokofiev Sinfonia Concertante (Symphony Concerto).
- In octaves, most people think that the lower note controls the shift, not the upper note. He believes that the upper note should control the shift.
- When practicing tenths, say out loud, "small," "large," or "same," depending how the fingers need to move relative to each other.
- When you play out of tune, play louder, not softer. It is better to play double stops out of tune and loudly than in tune and meekly.
- Practice 4ths too, since there is no room for error.
- Practice different vibrato characters by narrating a story with different feelings and moods. Paint the picture with different vibratos.
Ron Leonard, Louis Lowenstein, Sam Cristler
- It used to be that a teacher would be ashamed to say that his/her student joined an orchestra. Now it's one of the more lucrative jobs one can get in music.
- Don't start preparing for orchestral auditions after you graduate from college. Make it a part of your college studies.
- Listening is key in an orchestra, just as with chamber playing. Playing chamber music is good practice for orchestra playing, perhaps better than working on excerpts.
- It is best to learn excerpts by playing them in an orchestra, even in a bad orchestra. Learning the context of the excerpt is key.
- Get a recording of the orchestra you are auditioning for. It helps you get a feel for what they are looking for … maybe.
- Orchestras are looking for perfect intonation and rhythm, and a sense of style and ability to blend into a section.
- Send tapes, or preferably CD's, that are good quality. Don't have extraneous noises on your recordings, like clanky pipes or whirring air conditioners.
- Note that you may be dealing with people who have perfect pitch when you send in a recording, so make sure you choose a good a>, perhaps 441 or 442. Never play with an a that is too low, never lower than 440. Record in a large room, since this helps with the sound quality.
- Practice playing behind a screen so that it isn't a shock when you audition behind one.
- Play for anybody who will listen to you ahead of time, especially other colleagues.
- Try to eliminate as many unknowns as possible. Bring a second bow.
- Ron Leonard never liked to listen to people too close to the date of an audition. His rule was to not listen to anybody less than one week before the audition.
- Use bowings that the orchestra uses, even if they are terrible.
- Ron Leonard doesn't like starting Don Juan on a down bow.
- Should cellists match the concertmasters bowings? It is more important to match the character instead of the bowings, since the mechanics of violin playing are different from cello playing.
- The one bad-bowing exception Ron Leonard granted was with Guillini. His bowings were terrible, but they sounded wonderful.
- Opera vs. Orchestral Playing -- Opera playing is much different than orchestral playing. The repertoire in opera is much more difficult.
- Know the entire first movement of the Dvorak Concerto, not just up to the development section.
- Get a great instrument that projects a round, even sound.
- Be sure to stock up on Power Bars before an audition. You don't want to run out of fuel.
- The use of Enderal is a personal choice. It helps some, hurts others.
Phyllis Young on Teaching Vibrato
- Vibrato is the heartbeat of the cello.
- "Lower your wrist watch," works better than "lower your wrist."
- Discovery turns frustration into fascination and work into play.
- Holding a cup in the palm of the hand can result in a good position for the left hand.
- Feel the magic glue that helps your fingertips stick to the string, and keeps the fingers from sliding up and down the string.
- If the teacher tugs on a finger in the left hand, the finger should spring back. If it doesn't there is something wrong with the student's alignment.
- "Eraser motion."
- Rotating the wrist when doing vibrato is not good, since the vibrato can't speed up when necessary.
- When playing with a continuous vibrato, change the balance of the hand when you go from finger to finger.
- "Brush your teeth" -- This puts the left arm in a perfect arm position.
- Matchbox with rice grains. Attach to wrist with rubber band. Shake the rice!
- Don't push with the thumb.
- We don't want hills or valleys in the wrist area.
- The thumb doesn't have to be opposite the playing finger.
- When learning vibrato, find your favorite finger and stick with it for awhile. Don't keep trying different fingers, since this requires the hand to be re-balanced.
- The most vibrato noise is made when the wrist is straight.
- Attach something to the upper arm. Experiment with shaking the arm in the playing position until the motion is found that shakes the object the most.
- The upper arm should feel like jello.
- Margaret Rowell and Phyllis Young invented the "siren" exercise independently.