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>> Thank you for publishing your article about Bach's baroque cello music.
I'm an amateur pianist studying this type of music and learning the Allemande in C Minor from the French Suites for an exam. I was puzzled by the fact that the Allemande was supposed to be a dance yet I couldn't instinctively feel any particular rhythm that dancers would have used for steps. Worried that I wouldn't be interpreting the music in the correct style, I started to search on the web for information about the dances themselves and ended up at your article. Everything is clear now and I don't really have any anxiety about the style as a consequence.
>> I am a 59-year-old man who just took up the cello last April. At this point in my learning I am just beginning the Bach cello suites. In that context, I was very interested to read your article "Baroque Dance and the Bach Cello Suites" on your website (I am working my way through the rest of the site, too, and find it all great).
As your article began, I thought to myself, "FINALLY someone is going to admit that Bach knew what he was doing when he called these things dances." And you did, to an extent, but you finally concluded that the Suites were not meant to be danced to.
Perhaps they were not meant to be the baroque equivalent of a boom box at a sock hop, but that doesn't mean that the basic rhythmic structure of the individual dances is not to be present. In today's music if something is called a tango or a samba you'd expect to find a certain rhythm and pulse, even though certain liberties might be taken. I cannot believe that the same would not have been true in Bach's time.
I very much appreciate your effort actually to learn how the various dances were executed. When I went to college at Stanford back in the 1960s we had to learn all these dances as part of the BA in Music major requirement (I was a singer, but I still had to hoof through the galliards and pavans). Dr. George Houle insisted that baroque (and Renaissance) performance practice could not be understood without knowing how very much they were based on dance rhythms.
No doubt a lot of people have tried to reconcile the Bach suites with the actual dances, but, like you, eventually threw up their hands. Having failed to find a way to make the music danceable (or, like most players, never even trying -- or even bothering to research the dances at all), they allow themselves to forget the dances completely. I think that's too bad.
I blame the cello greats like Casals who "rediscovered" the suites but had no idea of baroque performance practice, so played (and edited and published) the suites not as dances but as vehicles for the sonority and unique tone inherent in the romantic manner of playing the cello. And darn if the music doesn't sound great this way.
But I think it sounds even better if you are thinking of the dances.
Here's what I wish somebody who is a lot better cellist than me would do:
Go visit a dance master or mistress as you did. Don't just watch; actually do the dances, preferably to music whose provenance as actual dance music is not questioned. Get the "feel" of these dances engrained in your body.
Then get yourself a score of the cello suites with no markings whatsoever on it -- especially no bowing. Forget you ever have heard a recording or a performance of the music. Just look at the title of each movement -- allemande, minuet etc. With this more or less blank mind take, say, one of the allemandes and mark it up and play it thinking only of the dance. Forget even trying to make the cello sound "good," trying to make it "sing" and all that stuff. Just play the dance. You'd find yourself in the allemande emphasizing the pulse of the quarter notes and thinking in eight quarter-note segments. You'd be thinking of the hop that the allemande has every eight beats. You certainly wouldn't be slurring upbeats to downbeats except in very rare circumstances. (I was looking at Starker's edition of the allemande of the first suite. I notice he slurs most upbeat F sharps to the following downbeat G. I guess he's thinking, hmm, G major, leading tone should be slurred to tonic. He forgets that Bach was thinking in modes, and in any case that F sharp probably isn't a leading tone anyway but part of a sequence of thirds walking up the scale in E minor.)
Is some of the stuff in some of the movements just plain too fast? Well, yes -- according to modern performance. But if you look at contemporary keyboard music you'll find that they really zipped through some of the ornaments and elaborations. That was, to them, a way of sounding virtuoso, I think. (If you don't believe me, just look at the keyboard English Suites where some of the movements have written-out ornamentation or "doubles." You know this has to be played at the same tempo as the unornamented version, but WOW it's fast that way. But this has to be what the guy wanted, since he wrote it out that way. It's also interesting to look at keyboard music by people like William Byrd, who writes a lot of "theme and various"-type pieces -- and the way he "varies" the theme is to add lots of notes: by the time you reach the end of the piece notes are ripping off like machine gun bullets.) This goes 'way back to the traditions western music inherited from the music of India and the East, where a basic melody would be highly elaborated with almost ululating ornamentation.
The really wild thing is that when the suites are played with the dance rhythm and pulse you suddenly start hearing the polyphony that is inherent in these pieces. That's when you really start to appreciate Bach's genius in making a solo instrument playing generally one note at a time sound polyphonic. Gee, he was good. Of course I can't play the suites like this, but I have heard it come out in recordings, notably Anner Bylsma's. Bylsma's performance doesn't do all the stuff I'm suggesting here, but the polyphony definitely comes out in his reading of certain of the movements. It's frustrating to me that he evidently didn't really know what he was doing, because then he would have achieved the same effect throughout.
Well, thanks for reading this little rant. I certainly am no expert on any of this. Nevertheless, like the man who didn't know much about art, I do know what I like. Maybe if you try some of these suggestions, you'll like it too.
Thanks for your great article and the thoughts it provoked.
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Grammy Award-winning Sara Sant'Ambrogio first leapt to international attention when she won the Eighth International Tchaikovsky Violoncello Competition in Moscow, Russia. As a result of her medal, Carnegie Hall invited Ms. Sant'Ambrogio to perform a recital that was filmed by CBS News as part of a profile about her, which aired nationally. Bernard Holland of The New York Times described Ms. Sant'Ambrogio's New York debut as "sheer pleasure." Ms. Sant'Ambrogio has appeared as soloist with such orchestras as Atlanta, Boston Pops, Chicago, Dallas, Moscow State Philharmonic, the Osaka Century Orchestra (Japan), St. Louis, San Francisco and Seattle; she has performed throughout the world at major music centers and festivals including Aspen, Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, Hollywood Bowl, Lincoln Center, Kennedy Center, the Konzert Huset in Stockholm, Marlboro, Mostly Mozart, Musikverein in Vienna, Ravinia, and Orchard and Suntory Halls in Tokyo. Recently Ms. Sant'Ambrogio collaborated with the New York City Ballet in five highly successful sold-out concerts at Lincoln Center performing the Bach Cello Suites.
Ms. Sant'Ambrogio started cello studies with her father John Sant'Ambrogio, principal cellist of the St. Louis Symphony, and at the age of 16 was invited on full scholarship to study with David Soyer at the Curtis Institute of Music. Three years later world renowned cellist Leonard Rose invited Ms. Sant'Ambrogio to study at The Juilliard School; within weeks of arriving, she won the all-Julliard Schumann Cello Concerto Competition, resulting in her first performance at Lincoln Center.
Ms. Sant'Ambrogio has won numerous international competitions, including The Whitaker, Dealy, Artists International, and Palm Beach competitions, and the prestigious Naumburg Chamber Music Competition with her chamber ensemble, Eroica Trio. Ms. Sant'Ambrogio won a Grammy Award for her performance of Bernstein's "Arias and Barcarolles" on Koch records and released in Fall 2004 a solo album entitled "Dreaming" on Sebastian Records. Ms. Sant'Ambrogio was featured on the Blue Note album debut of singer Angela McCluskey, which was released in 2004. Ms. Sant'Ambrogio has been profiled in Glamour, Vogue, Elle, In Fashion, Bon Appetit, Detour, Strings, Gramophone, Travel and Leisure, Fanfare and Swing magazines, as well as The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, CBS, ABC, PBS, Fox, USA and CNN networks.
Ms. Sant'Ambrogio is the subject of a feature length documentary, which had multiple airings nationwide on PBS in 2003-2004.
TJ: Where does the name "Sant'Ambrogio" come from?
SS: It's Italian. Sant'Ambrogio was the patron saint of the arts in Milan. I come from a lineage of Italian musicians that reaches back several hundred years. As far as I know, each generation had a professional musician.
My immediate family is full of musicians too. My father, John Sant'Ambrogio, is principal cellist of the St. Louis Symphony and my older sister, Stephanie Sant'Ambrogio, is concertmaster of the San Antonio Symphony.
My grandmother, Isabelle Sant'Ambrogio, was a concert pianist. She also founded a well-known music camp in the Berkshire Mountains --Red Fox Music Camp -- which ran for twenty five years. Earlier in my professional career it seemed like half the musicians in the orchestras I soloed with had gone to that camp and remembered me as the little baby who had been crawling around. I remember a conductor once said to me, "The last time I saw you, you were naked…." He had met me at Red Fox when I was five months old.
My grandmother was a respected piano pedagogue as well. She taught in the old fashioned style in that she would have her most talented student live with her so that she could influence the child about more than just the piano. She would talk about art, history, and life in general. She actually taught the pianist in the Eroica Trio, Erika Nickrenz, when Erika was 12 years old. That's when Erika and I began playing together, even though we had met long before then.
My grandfather was a violinist and violist. He was a violist in Joseph Gingold's quartet, and Gingold was the best man at my grandparents' wedding. I first learned of this after Gingold judged a competition that I had entered when I was 17. Gingold said, "Your grandfather was a good violinist, but he was the best violist I had ever heard. When he quit the quartet, I swore that I wouldn't play quartets again because I would never find a violist as good as him." My grandfather left the group because he wanted to be a violinist!
Some people are just born with a sound, I think, like I was clearly born with a cello sound, even though I started out on piano and my parents tried to give me a violin. I just wasn't a violinist and I would never been a good one. Luckily I was headstrong enough at four years old to give the violin to my older sister, who ended up being a professional violinist. I stuck with the piano until my parents finally gave me a cello when I was six.
(Click here for the complete transcript.)
A weekend to cherish
The University of North Carolina-Greensboro has slowly and quietly carved out a significant niche for itself in the cello world. Its Special Collections Division has acquired the complete musical collections of Luigi Silva, Fritz Magg, Janos Scholz, Rudolph Matz, Maurice Eisenberg, Elizabeth Cowling, and soon, Bernard Greenhouse. The school has also started a projected annual series of weekend-long celebrations, spearheaded by UNC cello professor Brooks Whitehouse, to honor historically important cellists. Last year they honored Silva. This year the honoree was Greenhouse; whether quid pro quo for his massive donation or not, no living cellist more deserves to be feted and celebrated for his contributions to the cello world.
I write this without total objectivity, as I studied with Greenhouse back in the 1970s. But this 90-year-old master's legacy is everywhere. In his pioneering work in modern Bach interpretation through his many years in the Bach Aria Group, in his standard-setting performances and recordings with the Beaux Arts Trio, and, above all, in his lifelong dedication to teaching at such institutions as Juilliard, New England Conservatory, SUNY-Stony Brook, Manhattan, Indiana University, and masterclasses around the globe, Greenhouse's ideals and spirit are a permanent part of our cellistic universe.
(Click here for the complete transcript.)
I'll forgo the typical biographical anecdotes for this spotlight; I just don't have time to delve into how I was born in the back of a tour bus for Iggy Pop and the Stooges, or my youthful experiences living on a right-winged, Latvian Orthodox commune in northern Mexico. Indeed, there is no time to spend dwelling on the horrific three year stint as a pre-pubescent child laborer in an undisclosed location near the South China Sea painting faces on My Little Pony dolls. Nor do I wish to discuss the events of August 1985, which is also known as the "Summer of Self-Love." No, this spotlight will be of a different sort.
I guess a logical starting point would be the origins of my screen name, Zen Lunatic. Yes, I study Buddhism and Zen Buddhism in particular. Yes, I can be a little nutty. But the term itself is a reference to a Jack Kerouac novel, The Dharma Bums;
This is a website dedicated to the Casals Festival in Puerto Rico. Check out the posters.
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>> Practicing Scales
Cellochick16: I was wondering if anyone knew about how fast and with what bowings students should play scales and arpeggios for college undergraduate auditions? I am unsure as to whether they are wanting pure clean tone and intonation, or a demonstration of speed and technique. Any help would be greatly appreciated. SvenW: I have to wonder here what the point would be to play fast but with a sloppy intonation? C I am not an expert regarding college auditions but common sense appear to dictate to work towards playing as fast as you can while maintaining proper technique and intonation. But I am sure others have to say more about that.
PatWhite: To tell you the truth, as a teacher this is a question I've also pondered. Many of my students go off to auditions where they are told ahead of time scales will be required. Often, the scales are never heard at the audition. So the first temptation is to tell the student they may not really be asked to play the scale, but then the teacher in me realizes, "Wait! If I tell them they may not have to play their scales, then they may not practice their scales as conscientiously as they ought..."
(People never do what is EXPECTED, they only do what is INSPECTED. One of my favorite little slogans to rattle off.)
Having sat on the panel at auditions, I know we would sometimes dictate to the student just how we wanted the scale. The orchestra director's favorite request was for the students to play a Gb Major scale with ricochet/spiccato. Nice request.
I always coach my students to prepare the rhythm of holding the tonic longer and playing the passing notes shorter, all separate bows. (In the Klengel Scale Books it is Var. 5 on page 5) I just personally think the scale has a good flow with that rhythm, and it shows both fluency and musicality when it is done well.
However, I also coach them that they may well be asked to try something else and they should of course practice a variety of bowings/tempi.
Finally, though, there is no one universally correct answer. You don't know ahead of time what the situation will be, so you need to prepare with that in mind. And obviously, obviously they should never be played faster than they can be played well.
>> What makes a great musician?
AKC1:I'm curious out there to see the different criteria you all have for qualifying great musicianship. Do you think you need to be a virtuoso instrumentalist (or even skilled for that matter) be a "great" musician? If not what is the difference between being a famous virtuoso (or highly skilled instrumentalist) who plays "musically" and a "great" musician. Do you need to be a skilled communicator (musically and verbally, i.e being a great teacher) to be a "great" musician?
batmanvcl: Your question is very broad. One thing is obvious, though. you needn't be a virtuoso on any instrument to be a musician on the highest level imaginable. (Pierre Boulez and other composers come immediately to mind.) Music is basically about hearing and listening -- both to others and one's self. the musicians I personally would call "great" (such an overused word, yes?) are all people who have immense dedication to STUDYING music (not the same thing as practicing music on an instrument), good instincts, and an unerring ability to hear/perceive what it is they are actually doing.
Do you have to be a "skilled communicator" to be a good performer? Depends what that means. Maybe more like a skilled translator, because in the greatest performances, isn't the composer really doing the communicating? The performer is bringing the vision of the composer to life. This involves different things than being a great "communicator", a la Martin Luther King, for example.
There are many famous virtuosi who play "musically" enough to be before the public on the world's stages, but what does "musically" really mean? Success and greatness aren't the same, though they aren't mutually exclusive. If we hear a virtuoso play something with amazing technical flair, this is impressive on one level. But if that person also disregards the score, doesn't give any regard to the music's inherent structural beauty, and only plays the way they personally "feel" it -- then what is that?
Everyone who listens to music is willing to accept different things from the performers they hear, and we all know that many people are wowed by things which in reality have nothing to do with music making on a high level. This is why performances which would make the composer turn in his grave (but which might happen to include playing at a high technical level) are sometimes mistaken for "great" music making.
cbrey: Who could argue with these noble sentiments? But here's one of my all-time favorite quotes, which I think originated in Boston, circa 1980: "The fact that you play out of tune and with a bad sound does not make you a great musician."
>> Pitch and Vibrato
Quidam141: I'm just learning vibrato on the cello. When I learned it on violin I was taught to start on pitch and vibrate back and forth between that and a lower pitch, since the human ear, when presented with variations in pitch, will supposedly hear the higher more readily. Thus, the pitch is perceived at the high end of the vibrato. But now I'm reading Mantel's Cello Technique and he says the pitch is perceived at the midpoint of the vibrato. The shape of the vibrato is quite different in these two cases. I don't have a teacher who can clarify this for me. Can anyone shed some light on this or share your personal preference?
servais: I'm amazed how many people think it is the upper end of a vibrated note which is perceived as the pitch. If this were true, it would be necessary to place the fingers slightly higher when playing senza vibrato than when playing with vibrato in order to attain the same intonation. I do not find this to be the case.
Christopher Bunting, "Essay on the Craft of Cello-Playing" (vol. 2, p. 50), for one, agrees that the vibrato must equally move above and below the center of the pitch.
(Diran Alexanian, p. 97, has the interesting idea that, "Every note attracted to another note, should be played vibrato in the interval that separates it from the note by which it is attracted," giving the example that a D-flat should be vibrated down toward C, while a C-sharp should be vibrated up toward D. This idea seems to derive from Casals's idea of expressive intonation, which is usually at odds with any concept of harmonic or just intonation.)
I believe the research regularly supports the idea that it is the mean pitch (i.e. the center of the vibrato) which the listener perceives as the actual pitch, not the upper end of it. An interesting article on violin vibrato an perceived intonation with references to other research can be found at: http://www.music.mcgill.ca/~ich/research/icmpc98/icmpc98.vibrato.pdf.
chiddle player: "It is important that the vibrato always goes to the flatted side of the pitch. The ear catches far more readily the highest pitch sounded, and a vibrato that goes as much above the pitch as below makes the general intonation sound too sharp. The finger should fall in tune on the string. The vibrato should slightly lower the pitch by swinging first backward, and then should re-establish the correct pitch by its forward swing. Whenever a distinct wavering of the pitch occurs, the reason for it may be one of the following: the vibrato is either too wide or too slow; the fingers are too weakly placed on the strings; or, there is too much sharping of the pitch by the vibrato motion itself.
From “Principles of Violin Playing & Teaching” by Ivan Galamian (Prentice-Hall 1962)
Bob: One certainly doesn't have to be an idiot to espouse an idiotic idea. And saying that a competent string player vibrates only below the pitch is exactly that. Galamian's notion, accepted whole-cloth without challenge or examination by those who were in his orbit, is the principal source of this fallacy.
But let's look at the violin. Yes, conceivably vibrating with the 1st finger in half position might be mostly a backward motion. Fine. Now think about vibrating with the pinky in a high position, in forte. Anyone who seriously thinks the finger goes only below the pitch in that situation is either ignorant or delusional. Try this: gently curl your left hand in an approximation of a cello position and place one fingertip on the table (or laptop). Now start a vibrating motion. Look at it. Is your finger only moving to the right of center? Of course not. Go play a forte note (any finger) on your cello, with full vibrato. Just look at it. Do you see the finger moving only on one side, going in one direction?
Let's examine the premise that the ear only hears the top of the vibrato wave. Well, first of all, it's not a "wave." The top and bottom of the action are not smooth, rounded curves, but sharper ones; after all, you're hitting a wall (or reaching the end of a tether) and bouncing directly back. But retaining that term, what percentage of time of this "wave" would you guess is spent on the very tippy-top? 3%? 6%? Any way you slice it, it ain't a hell of a lot. But according to this notion, the ear "throws out" well over 90% of the total time of the note it hears. It just ignores all those other pitches in the wave. Make sense to you?
And think about the fact that no one vibrates on every note. So the ear is allegedly throwing out more than 90% of one note while retaining all 100% of the next one, but not noticing anything funny about that.
The best way to resolve these issues is empirically. It doesn't matter what teacher, performer, or theoretician you cite as supporting this or that notion. I certainly don't cite Mantel for anything. Unlike an earlier debate we once had about what the string actually looks like when it's vibrating, this is something that anyone can observe for themselves. Anyone can (or should be able to) apply common sense when observing ordinary, natural motions of the hand. If Galamian's statement is nonsensical, it's nonsensical, no matter how famous he was.
A natural vibrato action moves the finger above and below the base pitch.
>> Orchestra Excerpts
Quidam141: I'm looking for an excerpt book to begin preparing for orchestra auditions, though they are in the very distant future...I just figure the earlier I get started, the better, right?
I was looking for the Rose, International Edition, books, if only to just get the excerpts on paper, but I can't find them. Does anyone have suggestions for places to look, or for a better set of orchestral excerpts?
ahntyme: If I could send a message to myself back 20 years ago, it would be NOT to get those Rose excerpt books. I have the utmost respect for Leonard Rose, but getting the actual parts from Luck's Music and a score from your music library will do you a world better. More importantly, find a coach or teacher who will show you how to play each excerpt properly. He/She will also give you a list of excepts that show up on auditions. I found myself practicing a lot of stuff in the Rose book that will never show up in auditions.
Bob: Middle ground here. Yes, the Rose books are almost useless as far as preparing for a specific audition with a professional orchestra. There is no substitute for having the actual parts (and they're not that expensive).
However, the Rose books are a good way to work on sightreading, on learning the different composers' styles, on getting a broad overview of the literature, and on being ready if one of the pieces is coming up on a concert and you can't get the music in advance. I spent many enjoyable hours with those books as a kid. The original poster spoke of auditions in the "distant future." There's certainly no harm in fooling around with the Rose books as a preliminary activity.
cbrey: Don't waste your time with excerpt books. You'll have no context for what you're doing. Get entire parts from Luck's Music Library.
If you want the beginning of a basic list:
AKC1: cbrey, funny...I studied Don Juan (actually had to play the damn thing for a freshman orch. audition and sophomore jury) with your first NY Phil stand partner (I think)... and was taught to being down bow and open G string... What a strange world we live in!!
cbrey: My reference was a joking one to the time Kust Masur insisted, to the dismay of our entire cello section, that all string players start Don Juan downbow. In fact, given the fact that we had to bow to his will, my stand partner at the time (Eric Bartlett) and I sat down to try to make the best of a bad situation. Indeed, we found that the only way to make it half palatable, string crossing-wise, was to start on the open G in first position.
Still, the fact remains that starting downbow forces you to play the opening 16ths in the upper half because of the ensuing half note-- fine for fiddle players, not for cellists trying to play with clarity on the lower strings.
zambocello: IMHO the sum of the advice here is right on. Don't trust your understanding or future success to excerpt books. On the other hand they can have value; I got the Rose books in high school and they were my first glimpse at many of those pieces, sparking my curiosity to hear them and learn more about then unknown-to-me composers like D'Indy, Vaugh-Williams, De Falla, et al. Also, for those audition passages for which there are no perfect bowings or fingerings, at least we can justify our befuddlement by throwing the Rose book editings into the mix.
Don Juan on a down bow: done it that way ever since my New Orleans days. Of special note, my stand partner there didn't mind the open G string. In fact, he played 7 open Gs before the E half note. Sounded great and looked even better! (He could play the sixteenth note passage with the added flourish of simultaneously gesturing with his left hand in the air.)
David Sanders: I agree with Bob. The Rose books have their place. I spent many, many hours practicing out of them, sightreading by myself and with friends, but as I got more and more serious, I started getting complete parts. (I always had complete parts for Don Juan, Heldenleben, Zarathustra and 'Til.) I agree with Carter...mostly. We had to start Don Juan downbow with Barenboim during his first year as music director, but only for one rehearsal. John Sharp actually got him to let us do it starting up. I think that was the last time he let anybody change anything, 15 years ago.
I don't like starting Don Juan on the C string, mostly because I don't want the extra string crossing, and, if I can get my cello in tune, I know that at least one note in that passage will be in tune.
>> Teaching Children
sarah schenkman: I'm teaching some young children -- 2nd and 3rd graders, and I've not taught such young ones before. I'm wondering how other teachers feel about tape on the fingerboard. My feeling is that students distort their position to look at the tapes, but they seem to really want it. Any thoughts?
Wells C: Yes...definitely use tapes. I've probably started 200 plus kids on violin, viola, and cello and I have learned that tapes are absolutely essential for class instruction and very helpful for private instruction. It makes finger placement MUCH less confusing for the kids at the stage when they are most likely to get discouraged.
The only disadvantage is that they learn to look at their fingers while playing so you have to be careful not to let them.
MsCheryl: I use little dots of white-out on the fingerboard - one for first finger, one for third finger and one for the thumb. I prefer this because they are not as obvious as tape -- the student can use them just to check their position, rather than as a constant guide. It also tends to wear off over time -- gradually getting them used to flying solo! Another good tool is to tell them to put their thumb in the middle of the neck and spread the fingers evenly around it. This might work better later, after they've learned to feel the spread of the fingers.
violoncelliste: I use colored smiley face stickers on the fingerboard (a different color for E, F, G, B, C and D) and then I give them the colored printed music where the colors of the notes correspond to the colors of the smiley faces. They learn the pieces amazingly fast this way, and I even have a 5 year old that can already read notes without the colors!!! They just need to learn the colors of the open strings. About compromising their position, I teach them to use "sneaky eyes", which means rolling down their eyes instead of turning their head (and usually their whole body) to see where their fingers are supposed to land. In my opinion, teaching kids to play the cello without tapes or stickers would be excruciatingly frustrating for them. I'm all for it. Eventually they stop looking at the tapes.
noviere: My cello teacher and I discussed how we would teach a beginner, we both had very similar ideas. Teach theory almost right away as long as they aren't too young. Don't use dots but let the students ear find the notes. I have begun teaching like this and within half an hour my student who could hardly play 'Ode to Joy" could do thumb position with bazaar accuracy. He's now working on 'The Swan.' I removed the dots his school teacher gave him and he played better. I think the problem with dots is really that they are always looking at them and not really playing the notes, with dots the music is mechanical without them you actually trust yourself.
Victor Sazer: "I am so opposed to the set hand…it is the greatest enemy of freedom… What we want…is a feeling of release, of letting the finger go. Most sour intonation…comes because they attempt to keep as many fingers as possible down."-William Pleeth
William Pleeth is right on the mark!
Tapes on the fingerboard are a hindrance and do more harm than good. It trains the student to respond to the wrong signals. Keeping the fingers over the tapes guarantees tension and poor intonation.
Don't blame the student for poor intonation. It is mostly caused by teaching methods that many still use, asking students to always keep their hand in a "position" with their fingers spread apart (keeping as many fingers down as possible) and their thumb always opposite their second finger. If one starts this way, the hand and arm are tense before he/she plays the first note. With tension present, it is very difficult to perfect intonation.
If you hold a rubber band between the thumb and forefinger of each hand and repeatedly expand and release it, it is elastic. If you expand it even only part way and hold it there, it is no longer elastic; it is tense. Your hand has similar elasticity. If you release your hand (allowing your fingers to move toward each other) as much as possible when you play a note, and expand it to reach the next note, the elasticity is preserved.
Here are a few suggestions that might be useful when starting beginners.
Have the student play is a G on the D-string with his/her second finger, using down-bows alternating with up-bows on the open G-string. Since the octave is the easiest interval to hear, this makes the student aware of intervals between notes. The next step is to have her/him practice the upper G with each of the other fingers. The student might then play the G on the D-string an octave higher open G, which is now two octaves lower.
The lesson is that "you can play any note anywhere on the cello with any finger (omitting the fourth finger in the upper registers for starters)." Also, the lesson is, to listen for intervals rather than to seek fixed mechanical "positions". Most people already know the sounds of many intervals from the culture around them and the tunes they know. For example, The Mexican Hat Dance starts with a fourth and My Bonny Lies Over the Ocean with a major sixth. So, intervals and not foreign to students they just need to be awakened, expanded on and related to past experience.
The next step is to again establish the G on the D-string with the second finger and then play a slurred triplets of G-F#-G using 212 on the down-bows, followed by up-bows on the open G. This is followed playing the same notes using 323 and 434. In the upper octave using 212 and 323 fingerings.
The most out of tune notes played on the cello are the half tones, which are too generally large. This approach (naturally, supervised carefully by the teacher) nips this in the bud, so that there is an awareness that all half tones are not created equally and the intervals from the 3rd to the 4th, and the 7th to the octave, in a major scale, must be close together, etc.
Notice that the suggested initial bowing reinforces the feeling of the clockwise, circular bowing patterns when alternating down-bows on the upper string with up-bows on the lower one.
A further step might be to have the student play four note scale fragments: first 4313 to establish the major scale pattern and then 4212 for the minor (3212 in the upper registers). The suggestion is that the students be encouraged to play these patterns randomly, exploring all regions of the cello without concern for the name or place of the starting note. The point is to learn the relationship between the cluster of notes, and to move around the fingerboard courageously.
"The problems that we have created cannot be solved by the level of thinking that created them." – Albert Einstein
Matthew Tifford: It's always interesting to see all the different opinions and techniques which this question invariably raises. Here are some things to consider:
- starting a string instrument is an amazingly difficult proposition, and those of us who have been doing it for a long time tend to forget how hard it really is. Playing a simple song or scale involves coordinating many skills which are difficult enough to learn by themselves. When analyzing how you yourself CURRENTLY play, are you really considering how you got there in the first place?
- children are different, some have excellent relative (or even perfect) pitch with no training whatsoever, others have difficulty discerning the difference between notes a half-step apart- they DO however know that the song they are trying to play doesn't sound like Twinkle Twinkle. With the latter, if you let them flounder without some kind of guidance to help them learn what is wrong they will quickly become disheartened and eventually will quit.
Human fingers do not naturally conform themselves to half-step spacing in first position. One way or another they have to be trained to do that. Then they have to be trained to conform to half-step (and whole -step) spacing in all the other positions. Whether or not you are going to leave your fingers down, the finger you are going to play next must know where to go in relation to the one currently being used- what else is there, GPS?
While Pleeth is (of course) absolutely correct, I think that sometimes you have to teach something wrong before you can teach it right. In order to play in tune, you must have an innate knowledge of how far apart the notes are. A beginner does not have this. The "set hand" is useful in developing this knowledge, That is the whole point of position training in the first place.
Victor Sazer: In my opinion, position training is the problem!
If you are inclined to explore the approach suggested in my post, you will find that at the earliest stages, the student can already be playing in different locations on the cello, focusing on musical intervals rather than "positions."
I prefer not to teach students "positions". With proper guidance, they are encouraged to use their ears to recognize intervals that most already know and to keep their left hand/arm in a released and balanced state as much as possible.
Tthecellist: How does one do sautille?
Bob: The sautille is the smallest, fastest bow-stroke there is. It's called for in such pieces as the Schumann 3d Symphony, the Mendelssohn D major Sonata, and the Ravel Trio (typically "doubling" each note). The two most notorious solo works are the Popper "Elfentanz" and the Davidoff "Am Springbrunnen."
Its speed is such that there really is no issue of "on the string" or "off the string;" the bow-changes are so close together that the bow is almost vibrating back & forth. Although the only visible motion is in the fingers and wrist, the stroke, like all strokes, is initiated in the upper arm.
Practice it by doing a gradual accelerando on an open string, from big, broad strokes with the full arm, down through a detache with the forearm and wrist, down through a fast spiccato, and into the sautille. As the speed increases you will need to use smaller and smaller muscle groups. But try, no matter what speed, to maintain good form, bow-hold, etc. The hand always tends to tense up, which is why this stroke cannot be maintained for very long.
fparry4: Regarding, "The hand always tends to tense up, which is why this stroke cannot be maintained for very long." How long is not very long? I don't believe you need to tense up if the bow stroke is correct. For me the hair of the bow doesn't leave the string but the stick bounces. If you begin to seize up the stick will not do its job. I try not to think of what exactly my fingers or wrist are doing but concentrate on keeping my whole arm free just as in the bigger bow strokes. If that is working well the rest should follow, if not I'm buggered.
Bob: Depends entirely on the speed. If it's fast enough, yours and everyone else's hands will tense up. I am not speaking of a controlled, relaxed sautille at a tempo of our choosing. My point was that we are not always in a position to select the speed of the stroke; some of us play in orchestras, and there are numerous spots where, for example, double-note figurations take us outside our comfort zones. No one possesses limitless speed, and as we approach our limit we tense up.
David Sanders: I never learned the difference between spiccato and sautille. As a matter of fact, I don't remember ever hearing the term sautille when I was being taught, but it was the 60's and EARLY 70's, so maybe I missed something. I thought that when you wanted to do a really fast spiccato, you just did a really fast spiccato. The only difference was that in the really fast spiccato, the bow pretty much bounces by itself, as opposed to the slower spiccato, where you need to control each note individually.
lankyn2: I was introduced to sautille in college during the late 1960’s. This definitely is a different bow stroke than spiccato.
There are just two similarities I know between the two. The first is that the point of contact of the stick with the string is roughly at the same place - just below the balance point going toward the frog. The second is that both employ the wrist.
But that is where the differences begin. Spiccato uses a half rotation (or less) of the wrist in conjunction with action between the index and little fingers to raise the frog side of the bow and the tip, respectively. There is also a small sideways motion of the arm involved.
Sautille, on the other hand, is a slanted (from left to right “\\\\\“) up-and-down stroke of the wrist while keeping the upper arm at a particular level. There is no sideways motion of the arm. This stroke tries to catch the left side of the string on the down stroke and the right side of the string on the up stroke.
Tension should not be a factor at all. It is possible to play sautille for hours in a relaxed state.
David Sanders: Sorry, but if I'm understanding you correctly, you're saying that the sautille is done by the wrist? I learned that everything comes from the arm, and as Bob says "Although the only visible motion is in the fingers & wrist, the stroke, like all strokes, is initiated in the upper arm."
1. Cellist missing since tsunami
Markus Sandlund, the 29-year-old cellist from the Swedish ensemble Stockholm Strings 'n' Horns and the Tanarco Piano Trio, is among the thousands listed as missing in the wake of the massive tsunami that swept the Thai coast in December.
2. International Cello Congress in Kobe
The International Cello Congress in Kobe, Japan, will take place May 16-22, and will feature, among other events, the 1000 Cellists Concert, conducted by Rostropovich.
3. Prince Charles commissions a Cello Fantasy
British cellist Paul Watkins will premiere a piece "Reflections on a Scottish Folksong," will debut in early 2006.
4. Irene Sharp Cello Seminar
The Irene Sharp Cello Seminar will take place June 20-24, 2005, at Stanford University. This seminar is for students, professionals, amateurs, and teachers. Inspired by the teachings of the late Margaret Rowell, this seminar will survey the principles of artistic and healthy playing in morning sessions. Master classes will be held in the afternoons.
Sharp will also have a Sharp Cello Camp for cellists from 5 to 18 at the Mountain View Community Music School June 26-31.
5. New CD's
Natasha Brofsky has joined the faculty at the New England Conservatory.
7. Prize Winners
8. More Cello News
A cello news link has been engineered using Google.com's features. Be sure to bookmark it.
The International Cello Ensemble Society will host a festival in Kobe, Japan in May 2005. http://www.kobe-cello.com.
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