happy birthday, yo-yo!

ma-yo-yo-eventSure, 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.

yo-to-elmoWhat 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…


CSI day 1 & 2

Hello studio and friends! Ms. Jess, Ms. Ayumi and I are at the Chicago Suzuki Institute watching so many incredible students and teachers! 

I have some homework to do, but we have had a blast so far! I’ll leave you with some photos and best quote of the day:

I know it isn’t easy, but I’m willing to listen to the complaining because it is worth it 

-teacher about a challenging exercise 

why summer camps are important to musicians

I know my families can zone out when I start talking about how wonderful summer camps and institutes are, mostly due to my inability to articulate the insane benefits. BUT THEY ARE IMPORTANT. To clear up any fogginess, here is are more succinct explanations:

Why Music Summer Camps are Vital to Student Growth:

  1. All students have FUN. Even the shy ones. Even the ones that think they aren’t good enough to hang with everyone in the ensemble, they all have fun.
  2. Your confidence will never be boosted until you find your little spot of the world in a music community. Rocking out in your room on the cello until 3am each morning can only go so far – if you have a fear of not measuring up to others the only way is to enroll in something like this and see you CAN HANG WITH EVERYONE. I don’t care if you started at 3 or 33, you fit in at a camp and bring something special to the table. (And to be honest, everyone is so much more concerned with how they sound/what they are doing no one has time to compare themselves to you. So calm down.)
  3. Your private cello teacher is amazing – I’m sure of it. But sometimes you need another teacher to say it in a different way and that one technique thing you have been working on for months FINALLY STICKS. This teacher is no better or worse than your teacher, you just needed it said from a fresh perspective.
  4. Teachers at camps are ridiculously fun. We pull out all the stops for these camps, and even I love to sit in on other teacher’s putting on the most elaborate song and dance for their classes.
  5. You hear amazing sounds being created, and that inspires you to try them as well. HUGE motivator.
  6. Private lessons are essential, but they need to be supported by group class. Having your student in a fun tech/rep class with other cellists having the time of their lives shows them they are a part of a community that values exactly what they do, and they are not the only 5 year-old cellists that thinks Happy Farmer is tricky (because they all think that until they get it.)
  7. Parents use this time to talk to other parents and exchange inspirational and hilarious tips! Other parents have been in your shoes – use them to your advantage as they truly want to help.
  8. OCMI has a teacher vs. student dodgeball tournament. ‘Nuf said.
  9. Students get to play music they would never otherwise see! OCMI 2015 is filled with video game music, so if you can’t respect using the theme of Zelda to get kids excited to practice, then I don’t know if we can be friends.
  10. Because your teacher knows you and what you need to grow, so do what your teacher says.

Me at campSo…go! You know it is worth it. Most camps have financial aid. And kids remember this family time you gave them, so reason #46: do it to look like a Super Parent!

Here is a photo of me in between classes at a camp last year. Those eyes are 60% camp adrenaline and 40% coffee. If you want to attend a camp that I teach at, visit OCMI 2015 at the Omaha Conservatory of Music in July!

ah-ha experiment #1

A brilliant friend recently clued me in to one of her creative puzzle-mind games she uses to solve problems. Each day she reads a bit from three books (non-fiction) and then tries to find the correlation between them and locate the thread that reasons why she read those particular words that day. I know. She puts my problem solving skills to shame daily.  

 So I’m trying it, but with only two books to ease myself in. I am reading Manage Your Day-To-Day: Build Your Routine, Find Your Focus, & Sharpen Your Creative Mind by 99U, and How Music Works by John Powell. These are technically not related, but not apples and oranges either. (Baby steps.)

What I see from my passages today is a vision of action and not to fear self-promotion (initially.) As musicians we enjoy avoiding conflict, unless our skills are being questioned – then we are a mama bear viciously protecting our egos. I can say from experience that it is both helpful and infuriating when playing next to someone that has perfect pitch in an orchestra; yes they are correct on all pitches, but if the starting pitch the oboe player (or out-of-tune piano) gives you is not 440, then you are in for a rough ride. 

Most musicians find themselves in the category of not putting themselves out there enough. Seth Godin explains that we are truly professional creatives when we choose to create even when you don’t feel like it. And the reason we tend to attain short-term goals but fall flat on the long term ones ones is fear – fear of criticism and fear of being labeled that you actually know what you are doing.   

…it puts you into the world as someone who knows what you are doing, which means tomorrow you also have to know what you are doing, and you have just signed up for a lifetime of knowing what you are are doing. (Seth Godin)

So the thread I’m choosing to see today is to not fear being labeled – as a person with partial-perfect pitch (thank you ANTS song!) or to be labeled as knowing what I’m doing, when I know I will eventually have moments everyday where that will not be true. 

To close I leave you with Powell’s imaginary argument between two pre-1939 perfect pitch singers:


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

small wins

There are all sizes of wins, right? If you set out a goal of sight reading through a new piece, that is a “do it or don’t” kind of win. But what about the big battles, like learning a new sonata or getting control of your vibrato? Those are hard-core journeys that take time.

But who is motivated by “it’s going to take me 10 minutes a day for 2 months to conquer this thing?” Not most. So how do you motivate yourself halfway through this waging war?

Small wins.

Finding what you now can do that you couldn’t do before is quite a shot of adrenaline. You my not be able to play the entire sonata yet, but you have a good grasp of the first page. The vibrato sounds more like a sick cow, but it is an improvement from the “Janis from Friends laugh” that it was! Small win!

So when it feels like you are wading through the mud battling towards the thing you want, take a quick look behind you and see the path you have overcome to get here. And then keep going.


practice recipe #9: go fish!

Fish1Games are fun – I don’t care how old you are. One of the favorite games I had as a tiny child was the fish game, and I remember never tiring of it. In the last few years I’ve heard of teachers using it in their studios, and I thought I’d give it a go. And…I LOVE it. Like Mr. Potato Head but a smidge more challenging for the student. Here’s how I use the mechanical fish game:

Each color of fish represents a section of our lesson (or could be used for sections of practice at home.) Example:

RED: review
LIGHT GREEN: technique focus (maybe finger dexterity)
YELLOW: theory
DARK GREEN: current piece

This creates a wonderfully quick way to structure home practice for littles! It helps students to see how many things they have left and they tend to forget what the colors mean and keeps the element of surprise! This can be used for older students as well to decide which technique to practice if they are dragging their feet.

So, go fishing (even though it’s January.) Fish2