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

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epic twinkles!

twinkle-marathon-dayY’all. It has been an INCREDIBLE 24 hours in the studio. In order for one of my students to graduate from Twinkles, they have to finish the Twinkle Marathon: play all 6 Twinkle variations, in a row, with me accompanying them. It’s like 8 minutes straight of playing, so a huge feat for a tiny cellist.

AND 3 OF THEM COMPLETED IT IN 24 HOURS!

Students work on this with their parents for quite some time; they practice a few in a row at home over weeks/months, and then like marathon training play 6 in a row. (Come on, marathon runners don’t run 26.2 miles to prepare for it…) But seriously, that much music is almost the same length as a sonata movement. Oh, and while I play a harmony part, so add 30% confusion as they can’t visually watch me at all.

So I wanted to shout their stellar accomplishment from the rooftops! There’s something in the air in my studio – and I can’t wait to see what we can do with it.  I know it is Groundhog Day, but I feel like we lived the perfect day on our first try.

Big shout out to littles K, C, and L – stellar job, tiny cellos!

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2017, you are mine.

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But never too busy for you, friends!

2nd semester is here! It makes me want to check goal sheets and see if we are on track. I want millions of to-do lists to be sure I’m not missing anything. (It also doesn’t hurt that my online checklist shoots a unicorn across the page when I check something off the list!)

So…let’s get prepared!

As a reminder to my studio:

SIGN UP FOR YOUR GROUP CLASS.  Either repertoire or chamber music this semester – go and make some new cello pals. (I guess other instruments are ok, too.)

SHOW ME WHAT YOU CAN ROCK.  Be sure to have your 1 best thing that you improved over break to show me.

JOSHUA ROMAN MASTER CLASS.  February 18th @ 10:30am. Attendance is required.

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Alright 2017, let’s do this!

halloween studio fun

img_1641Motivation comes in many forms, and one of the whimsical ways it currently shows itself is the “Ninja Hunt” in the studio.

Each week ninjas show up in random (and hidden) places and the students get a chance to look for them at the end of the lesson – if they didn’t locate them already. Sometimes it is easy, other days is hard. The fascinating thing is that the older students are equally invested in the fun (maybe even helping the ninjas hide some weeks.)

These “Practice Ninjas” look at the students from all angles, checking the bow hold, bow path, posture, and those hidden thumbs that students can conceal if you aren’t careful.

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With recitals this Friday, it has been helpful to inject a bit of posture-oriented-fun into the lesson without having to be the teacher that is the enforcer 🙂 Enjoy the day everyone, and Ms. Ella Fitzgerald (or Lobster Fitzgerald) wishes you a happy and safe all- hallow’s eve!
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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…

upcoming concert (playlist #2)

Concert hallGOAL:

  1. Help my students to attend more concerts and
  2. Encourage students to listen to more orchestral music

HOW?

I’m going to post some playlists to help get us pumped up to explore new musical events! Welcome to the first one.

Saturday, October 1: Conservatory Camerata and Orchestra Omaha present Coming to America.

This is a beautiful show of an introspective Bloch Concerto Grosso no. 2, the roiling Dvorak Symphony no 6, and featuring my lovely colleage Yulia Kalashnikova on Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto no 1.

See you Saturday!

 

>> photos by @creativecoffee, filters by color story & afterlight

 

today’s music history

Ear budsOld 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. History books

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!)

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**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 storyafterlight