joshua roman masterclass

Jr mc ivargasHe 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.

Jr mc asmith

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:Jr mc aruiz

  • 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!

Roman drawing

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



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.

Concert hallHere 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

Cellists prepping to playHere 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.)

Coffee working

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…