Sure, a child prodigy that attended the Juilliard School, Columbia, and Harvard, befriended Pablo Casals, and performed on 17 grammy-award-winning tracks – that is a person that should be celebrated. From the professional musician perspective, there isn’t much that Yo-Yo Ma hasn’t done.
What I enjoy about his career is how he has worked to make classical music accessible to everyone. Bach becomes less intimidating if you look at it through visual arts. Collaborations within many musical nationalities have changed how we view the soundtrack of our lives.
To the cellist that has helped to make our instrument more accessible to the world, happy 61st birthday! See below for an eclectic playlist of his discography…
Old dead white guys. Guidonian hand. Sturm and Drang. WAGNER. Every professional musician must go through what usually seems to be wading through hundreds of years of probably-important-but-I-just-don’t-see-why details called Music History. This collection of information is supposed to teach us where we are going based on where we have been, but we get so lost in “sacred music of the 17th century” that we fall asleep and forget to ask how this helps us to be better musicians. Knowing when Mozart died only helps you slightly.
What I want is more knowledge about why they did what they did. For example, when Rossini wrote lyrics to “Di Tanti Palpiti” and says “It will be happy – my heart says, my destiny – near you” does it help you understand it more knowing he wrote the lyrics while waiting for risotto at a restaurant? I think it would.
So after years of complaining that music history classes haven’t found a way to connect music of today that all humans understand and connect it to music history of years past I just about fell off my chair when I came across Switched On Pop – a podcast of a songwriter and musicologist that did just that.
The first episode I listened to really struck a chord (ha!) because a few months ago a student complained that her middle school music history class was just so boring and I said “wouldn’t it be great if they could explain it to you and connect it to current artists students today like, such as Taylor Swift?” And what was the first episode I listened to by these two smarty-pants? The Oeuvre of Taylor Swift. At a later episode they equate how primal dance beats of “boom, boom, pow” can be traced back to a French renaissance composition of a cappella. (Insert mind blown emoji here.)
So I thought I would list a few podcasts that I currently love learning things from, in hopes that something sparks that “what? I have to tell someone this random fact!”
I’d love to hear if there are any other hidden gems I’m missing out on in this new (to me) world of podcasts! Here I’m listing a fun one about the evolution of the Star Spangled Banner (origins up through Beyonce!)
Star Spangled Banner
**Just to be clear, check for any explicit language if you are concerned (should be marked on each episode.)
>> photos by @creativecoffee, filters by color story & afterlight
I’m a cellist. And I wouldn’t want to be anything else (except maybe a professional coffeehouse wanderer.) But every once in a while I can’t help but wish I could fiddle. It just sounds so fun, with the beautifully played complex string crossings, rhythms, and ornaments and I love the Irish melodies. (I must get it from my Grandmother Mitchell.)
But most of this incredible music isn’t meant for the cello – it is property of violinists. I sadly accept that, except those rare moments when I say “No! They don’t get to shut us out of this!” and I run back to the studio to try my hand at it for a few hours…until my coffee cup runs dry.
So, during these odd moments in my career I have collected a few books that I truly enjoy receiving inspiration from, and I’d love to share it with you!
Favorite Celtic Melodies – This I love for sight reading with my younger students. It is great for early book 2 and fun to introduce some drones and ornaments.
Castles, Kirks, and Caves – Wonderful for book 3+ students as they can get quite complicated. This is also where we can start to alter melodies to fit our cellos.
The Irish Cello Book: Traditional Tunes & Techniques by Liz Davis Maxfield – If you really want to know how to adapt the cello/use it properly with Irish fiddle music, this is your manifesto. I particularly love the parts about how to adapt tunes to sound good on our cellos without ruining the music.
So, there you have it. Until the fiddle bug attacks again, I will leave you with a wonderful fiddling cellist Natalie Haas playing with her sister:
>>photos by @creativecoffee, filters by afterlight
Well, why not? They seem to be enjoying it! (thanks to my pal Aaron for the share!)
I would say that humans today don’t listen enough. In music students’ cases, even if I have a student that listens to their assigned work, they listen to the Suzuki recording and call it good.
When I was in college I had the privilege of being accompanied by Dr. David Breckbill, a leading expert on Wagner recordings. Not only was he brilliant to work and make my playing more historically meaningful, but the moment he saw my repertoire for the season he would also give me 3 recordings each of every single piece I was playing so I could make my own choices. Everything we do comes down to choice, so why shouldn’t we put thought into choosing to play like someone or not?
I want my own students to truly understand their cello heritage and I think we will focus on that this year. Each student should be able to list their 3 favorite cellists, here is the first step: I can list my favorites!
Below are the cellists that inspired my life, each for their own reason – some for technique, others for bowhold, and a few for pure gumption.
- Pablo Casals – one of the ultimates.
- Pierre Fournier – so crisp, and has a great edition for the Bach Suites.
- Raya Garbousova – I love how she didn’t just play the traditional rep.
- Zara Nelsova – student of Casals and a delightfully aggressive player
- Janos Starker – has lovely left hand technique
- Mstislav Rostropovich – a beautiful cello player/composer playing the works of another incredible cellist, Boccherini
- Jaqueline Du Pre – expressive player, and I love how this short clip gives you the view of what a cellist looks like from the back!
- Julian Lloyd Webber – this was an inspiration clip when I was a little one – Paganini to a 90’s rock orchestra? Yep.
- Yoyo Ma – enough said.
- Mike Block – current cellist that enjoys experimenting with anything from folk music to Indian tabla duets
Who has inspired you?
Self-identifying suites invigorate the soul
inspires ruthless debates spanning hundreds of years
of which violists are jealous.
Sometimes you just need a little eye candy, and in this day and age it is just a click away! Here are some of my faves for inspiration:
JacobyFineViolins – the super fun Chris Jacoby gives you a daily view of what he’s working on!
Sarah Gray Restoration – Sarah has a beautiful flickr account to give you a look at what a luthier really does
KileHillCellos – How can I not post someone who loves cellos as much as we do?!