cello trials at William Harris Lee

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The story of my current cello:

Growing up, my mother knew it would be important for me to study piano to be good at school (and just a good human being.) So I did, and I loved it. In fourth grade, one of my best friends said I looked like a “cello person” so I joined the orchestra and played a school instrument. Cello was something that came easier to me at that time, and I asked for a cello of my own so I didn’t have to play one of the severely loved cellos owned by the school. And my mom’s response was “no problem – when you are 17.”

She assumed it was a passing fancy, but didn’t count on me dogging her to switch my lessons from piano to cello for years. Once I was able to drive, she finally agreed to drop piano lessons and let me drive myself to Carol Work’s every Saturday morning. Before my senior year I turned 17 and asked her how we went about getting this cello, and she admitted she hoped I had forgotten. (Don’t cry for my piano – I still have it and play it regularly!)

At the All-State conference in the fall of my senior year, I wandered through the exhibits and happened upon the William Harris Lee Co. booth. The 5 string cello was a big draw for a lot of us students, and we each took our turns drooling over it. But then I tried a few others, and fell in love with this Claus Deutscher cello that just sounded so aggressive. Being wonderful salesmen, they offered to let me keep it for the weekend and if I didn’t like it I was welcome to send it back to them in Chicago.

My incredibly giving mother agreed it was miles better than anything she had heard and we figured out how to pay for it, and knew I would grow into it a bit more and it would sound even better.

Fast forward 17 years later, and I didn’t grow an inch. My cello sounds even better today than it did when it was brand new in 1999, but my hands stayed as tiny so my ability to get around the fingerboard and to thumb position has been a challenge. I didn’t even know a 7/8ths sized-cello was a thing until years later. So now that I’ve been able to try a smaller size and things feel miles easier, I have committed to finding a cello I love as much as my own that fits me better. (Talk about an emotional change, y’all.)

Cody and I trekked to Michigan Ave in Chicago (a block south of where I used to work!) to the Fine Arts building to their shop and showroom. The building is seriously old-school – look at the elevator that needs to be operated manually:

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Whl 1Having 7/8ths or small full-size cellos on hand isn’t something most people just have lying around, so they only had a partially finished cello currently. As they finish it (and others) they will be sending them to me to try, and I can’t wait.

Given this rare opportunity I, of course, played nearly everything they had in stock of their full-size cellos and fell in love with a beautiful and powerful Gary Garavaglia cello that had such a beautiful tone and, if I’m being honest, almost had me saying “well, I’ve dealt with big cellos this long – I think I can just deal with it forever so I can buy this one” but luckily my pragmatic husband helped me keep my focus. But isn’t she pretty?

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(photo from whlee.com)

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They did give us a tour of the shop, including seeing the smaller cello in-process and getting to meet Gary who is meticulous in his work. Here are a few other pictures from our exploration:

I am lucky to also know a few great local luthiers in Nebraska, so I am excited to see what they have in their shops and on their benches that may work. So stay tuned, fellow cellos – I’m hoping to add a new member to the family soon 🙂

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>> photos by @creativecoffee, filters by a color story and  afterlight

the new concert hall

That’ right! It’s mostly done and ringing like a champ. Last weekend we had our first Winter Festival Honors Orchestra in our new concert hall, and I will say it feels rather fancy! Here’s the first string orchestra to play in the space and new equipment peeks:

Give me a bit of time and I’m going to do some awesomely terrible things with that sound board…

a dream that won’t die

BlarneyI’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!

Fiddle booksFavorite 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

rosin dust isn’t glamorous

You practiced! Congrats! (insert happy dance here)Rosin dust

Now what? Pack up? NO, sir. After a fruitful (or fruitful-ish) practice session what every good cellist needs to do is to wipe down those strings that you just finished rocking on. I know it may not seem life or death, but here is what happens if you do not wipe down your strings and cello of rosin dust each time you play:

  1. Rosin builds up and eventually will make you sound scratchy.
  2. It dulls the varnish on your cello
  3. Eventually it doesn’t come off.
  4. Ms. Candace will try to take it off with a cloth and make those terrible nails-on-chalkboard sounds until you cry uncle.
  5. It stains your case.
  6. Serious cranky face from Ms. Candace
  7. (Extreme:) Your will need new strings.

So, I am thrilled that you practiced. Now wipe off that magical dust.

why do i sound funny?

That question is asked by students and parents alike. Once we have ruled out the “I’m not using good technique” or “I dropped something in my cello,” the best thing to do is go in to your local luthier (magical instrument maker and adjuster) and 90% of the time they would be happy to listen to you play and help diagnose the cause of the sound.

My first questions to my students in this discussion are:

  1. When is the last time you rehaired your bow?
  2. When did you last change your strings?

If the answer is over a year, than those two things may be your culprit. Honestly, our bow hair and strings can only stretch so far before they truly stop working, and then the truly awful thing is that we end up overplaying to compensate. Don’t do this to yourself – your sore muscles and frustration is worth more than the cost of this yearly upkeep.

StringsFor my current recommendation for strings:

Young Students: Heliocore is fine.

Students 7th grade and older: Larson for A&D, and either Spirocore on G&C or Jargar on G&C. Or Larson for all.

For my local recommendations for shops for rehairs, visit my Studio Goodies page!

rockstop? endpin cover? anchor? strap?

Whatever they are called, the device that prevents our endpins from slipping across any flooring is vital. You just can’t sound good if you don’t feel comfortable.

Each design has its use, and one of my personal favorites is the Stoppin – Large Endpin Rest. You of course have the typical and professional-looking Black Hole,  the using-a-bathmat option, and the technique that saves many: using an old belt. I usually have one tied on to my cello case just in case my endpin stop of choice isn’t working.

However, what I prefer for most of my students to use the is the Xeros Endpin Anchor. This has the most flexibility that I have seen, allowing me to even tie knots in it when I teach a 2 year-old. The reason I request this for my students is that it allows you to set the right length and takes the guessing out of “is my kids cello in the right place/endpin long enough?” fiasco we all dance with from time to time. This adds stability, security, and hopefully ends the cello posture fight that occurs in some young students.

All of my students that are in their first year studying with me are asked to secure this anchor, as it really does make learning this complicated instrument a little easier by taking out one of the variables.

Best part: a student didn’t want to spend the money on a real anchor, so they use a sequined belt. Fashion meets function!

My anchor Anchor