He may look like a cello rock star, but don’t let his headshots fool you. I mean, he is – totally – but he’s also a giant cello nerd just like the rest of us.
This past February my studio was lucky enough to watch and participate in a masterclass with the famous Joshua Roman. After seeing him perform the Tchaikovsky Rococo Variations in a velvet suit the evening before, students were sufficiently nervous to impress him.
Intermediate through advanced students walked nervously in front of the crowd and Mr. Roman and put themselves out there – which is a victory in itself. He worked with them on Beethoven, Breval, and Bach (as well as a few other non B-composers).
It was an incredible two hours to spend together, and I am so proud of the students for the work they did that day – and beyond. Here are a few notes from the day:
- Improvisation makes you a better cellist. Sometimes things get forgotten, and you must get through so make it up until you can find it again.
- You MUST hear your piece in your head. Some of Mr. Roman’s practice time is sitting and hearing it in his head exactly how he wants to execute it.
- Pitch accuracy is paramount. Drone it up.
- If you are concerned about something, it will go wrong. Being worried about forgetting a portion of your piece or intonation of a specific shift means it will happen. (My addition: because you didn’t work it enough to feel like you conquered it.)
- Bonus tip: avoid greasy foods right before a performance. It makes your fingers feel like they turned into curly fries.
There were many more wonderful moments and quotes from the day, but to save the students I’ll just say you had to be there. So be sure to come to the next one!
I leave you with this wonderful artistic rendering of Mr. Roman that my student Ariana created! Special thanks to the incredible Omaha Conservatory of Music and the Omaha Symphony for making this possible for the students!
>> photos by @creativecoffee, filters by a color story and afterlight
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
In the spirit of the olympics, I am taking this week to reset, not work a million hours, and prepare for the mindset of a new academic year that begins on August 20th.
This summer I gave my younger students the challenge of tracking their practice minutes by connecting a dot-to-dot page for each minute they practice. The best part is IT HAS 1000 DOTS! A few of my littles have turned them in and it is so inspirational to hear stories of them asking to practice so they can figure out what in the world this picture is supposed to be. Adorable!
Next week I will prep the new practice charts, goal pages, and start planning the epic cello class that starts in September. Oh, and buy new stickers! You can see the beloved sticker bones that students ravaged this week.
See you on the 20th!
Sitting through hours of teacher training at the Chicago Suzuki Institute brings to light a few important things: I am a good teacher > I don’t know everything > my studio families are amazing > and I can help them more.
My incredible teacher trainer Carey Cheney had us do something very inspirational: she asked us to write ourselves a letter of the things we want to do when we get home to improve our teaching and studios, and in 6 months she will mail it to us. That is called accountability, my friends. So here are a few things I included in my letter to inspire myself.
- Help parents more. I think my studio parents have a good understanding of what their child is asked to show me for the next lesson, but I think I can help more with the structure of practicing at home with their child. Parents, this family activity is not easy, and I want to help make it simpler.
- Expect more. There are moments where I don’t want to push a student too hard to discourage them, but you do not grow unless you find limits you must push past. Humans are capable of incredible things, but great skill only comes after being asked/encouraged/demanded to get there.
- Preview more. I can honestly say I am not a teacher that expects students to perfect everything about a piece before starting to work on another when they are in the beginning stages, but require review to get us there eventually. However, I want to be more strategic about what review is assigned and how to do it, as well as preview very small parts of upcoming songs to make them easier. I do this, but I want to look even further ahead to make skills feel more natural.
So, there is what is essentially my “cello teaching resolutions” for the year. Perhaps I should put them up in some kind of beautiful way in my studio to keep me on course…
[photo below: Carey Cheney teaching a master class to a 5 year-old student playing the Breval Rondo from book 6. She rocks that 1/10th size cello!]
Too many good things guys! Hopefully a giant post tonight, but for now great stickers:
This week I hosted a concert where nearly 700 tiny cellists and violinists age 3-6 to play in an arena with the Omaha Symphony. TRULY AMAZING. What is even more amazing is that I have 0 photos from the actual event, only this delightful one of all the lead teachers getting ready for the kids.
Huge day, full of proud smiles and beautiful music. How to improve the week? Have our last Sprouting Up concert with my cello kiddos! They are beyond adorable, and have learned so many wonderful cello (and non-cello) things this year.
Good week, right? But then…it was my birthday! Life is good, guys. Especially when you have students that know you so well that you are given a coffee mug that is a camera lens.
Finish that off with losing rhythm shoots and snakes to a student when I was a ninja and she was a moose. #worthit
You prepare. Hours of practice, shift-to-shift management, phrasing focus, and so VERY memorized, you take your piece to contest – – and do well. Then perform at school, and everyone is raving! Then it happens. During a performance you forget everything.
What cruel twist of fate has occurred to punish you in such a way? We all know that if we don’t focus and prepare our pieces well enough unthinkable things can happen. But what we tend to forget is how we perform it after the first performance goes well. Here is the hard truth:
If you don’t keep you piece up, it fades away.
Scary and terrifying, but if you think about it you can’t honestly say that you work up a new and sparklingly amazing piece to just play it for one day, right? You learned for the love of it (and because your teacher thinks you should) and have the obligation to let it live in your life for the year on your season program of Pieces I Can Rock In My Sleep. Just because you played a piece in performance well once or twice, doesn’t mean you stop practicing it or you rely on muscle memory alone as it will fail you eventually. A brain empty of notes will trump your muscle memory given the chance, so don’t let it.
Here are a few practice techniques I have students utilize when they are still trying to keep a program fresh:
- Practice jumping to the next section (never jump back – you will just encounter the same section that blanked out on you)
- Focus on the easy spots, as this tends to be the part we forget
- Make it harder – practice amongst distractions, or if that is too easy practice with someone saying nothing but watching your every move
- Have someone ask you questions (not yes or no answers) that you have to answer while playing
Here is the best part of the whole story: even if you bomb, you will survive. Your cello value doesn’t go down, friends and family will still love you, and you will not be struck down by lightening (unless you are hanging out somewhere stupid, so don’t do that.)
Life goes on. Prepare more, perform more, and it gets better. (And more coffee helps.)