Tag Archives: cello


Haven’t posted for awhile. Imagine that. It’s a little like coming home though, isn’t it? Maybe my exploration into humanism explains that to some degree. This is a human, not superhuman, exercise and exploration. I never knew it, but I was raised and live my life as a humanist. Not as anything else.

I guess I thought I could notate a couple of discoveries I’ve come upon lately. I unhinged some degree of relief from my left hand pain. I haven’t really verbalized it yet, so it’s a bit foggy. One thing is that the bottom of my hand must be an equal player in this whole exercise. It’s not all about the top. The first realization I had, which I shared with my colleagues, is that the neck is precisely where my thumb wants to be, should be. So I experimented with miming the left hand on thinner, smaller objects, and it seemed to prove my theory out. That was until I tried it on a guitar. Then I realized that there is something else which must be an impediment besides the height of the neck. As it turns out, the width is just as much of a problem, just as on a guitar. Just realizing and acknowledging this issue already helped. Negotiating the obstacle course which is the cello neck will continue to be my task. That is why I started by saying I must give the lower part of the hand great credence in all of this. That is the part which deals with this maze from moment to moment.

The other discovery is regarding another favorite pet peeve of mine – eating. I now see utterly clearly why there are so many fat/chunky people walking around. Restraining yourself from eating til you’re stuffed is just really fucking difficult. And finding that delicate balance between undereating and overeating is nearly un-do-able. I am saying this because I have realized the most obvious thing in the world, the thing I’ve been reticent to admit all these years. You must eat less and move more in order to get to a happy physical state. And when you eat less, you will feel hungry, or at the very least hungrier. So, how horrible is being hungry? Perhaps not so much. Perhaps at my middle age I have discovered worse sensations in life than hunger. Your weight is not a static animal, it is fluid. It is unfair to judge yourself, either positively or negatively, for something that is in a constant state of flux.

au naturel

Combining the two (or more) pursuits. Maybe it’s connected to the career path thing. I do one thing only. I guess I am in fact in the process of expanding my horizons.

I have put eating well and playing well at the top of my list. I seem to need lists. It’s an annoying grownup thing. Compartmentalizing. We were just talking about that with Cody. He doesn’t have to compartmentalize. He is just 6. He still has a pure connectedness to all parts of himself. Like a sinew. Everything is interconnected. They talked about that at Seacrest.

There’s an interesting question. Where (and who) would I be if I had been schooled differently. I suppose I would have had to have been raised differently in order to be directed towards a different sort of educational setting. So now I sit and journal, semi-publicly, in an effort to complete my existence which may have been stifled from early on. I feel a connectedness when I write. I could have written this way since the beginning. Was it something that wasn’t nurtured? Is that the problem?


I kind of decided enough was enough tonight. It’s not worth the pain. It’s not sensible or necessary. So then I really, seriously thought about the possibility of quitting. No more. Zip.

Then I thought, do I have a reason to be a cellist? Or to continue being one? An answer wasn’t immediately coming to mind. I guess I don’t really think deeply about that question. I just kind of do it. Maybe moreso in my old age? But I think I couldn’t even begin to address that question when I was younger and more naive. Life has given me some wherewithal to engage in productive contemplation.

So the meat of this thought process was occurring during the Brahms first piano concerto, with Grimaud and Andrey.

You see, last night’s concert found me in a different place at that moment. I was absolutely connected, in a semi state of nirvana, musically. I was in my typical state of discomfort cellistically, but I was soaking every bit of the Brahms into my pores. I don’t know if that gave me something in particular to draw on tonight. But I had been thinking this week about how I have spent much of my life as a listener to music, with the week’s program of the Brahms and the Schumann 4th Symphony as two of my favorites for cranking on the stereo. During the parts of the Brahms that the cellos rest, I was able to go into that state of immersion that I do when I listen off stage. I actually meditated to exactly that slow movement when I was in high school, during lunch period I think. I would lie down on the grass out in front with my walkman, and let Ashkenazy’s endless lines wash over me.

I wondered if the reason I am in this field is actually an extension of my love of listening to beautiful music, not really because I adore participating in its creation. This love has many physical and emotional side effects, mostly positive, but some negative, and I have frequently wondered if they are always an asset for the purpose of performing. Tonight I may have found a way through that question. It’s about passion. Finding my true passionate nature. It seems to be possible that my passion for letting music wash through me in fact touches a different part of my soul than the art of playing.

At the moment when these ideas streamed through my consciousness, something changed. It’s ironic, because the thought of quitting opened up something in myself that was trapped when I was supposedly sustaining my level of dedication, feeling I would never quit.

I have been trying to raise the bar on my overall level of well-being and happiness. Tonight was one of those nights where I felt the price was too high. The pain outweighed the pleasure. It’s possible that having now experienced the musical differentiation described here, I may find a way to live in tenuous balance with this art and craft.


2 things: I think I really let my physical attitude to cello get in the way. I was observing that I am really not just a performing monkey. I have a very nuanced sense of rhythm and pacing. I have a keen ear for colors and sound. What I was noticing was that I perceive essentially as much as conductors do. This is not something I am normally aware of in myself. It is in my mind and in my ear. And in my heart. And my spirit perhaps. Where does it start? That’s a good question. Even in my writing one sees a heightened perception.

So I would like to (re)consider my extra-cello possibilities for music making. But what it also reminded me of is that I don’t have to be so body-aware, body-conscious, body-obsessed. I am more that just a physical performer. There is much bizarre emphasis on entertainment around here. I don’t know if being in an orchestra heightens that or subdues it. Perhaps this has been a long time coming. Perhaps I’ve never really gotten in touch with my spiritual connection with music. Wow, why did I say that? Is that what this is? Is this from listening to the Big Book streaming? I always hate being cheesy, you know that. One of my many evadings from a sense of a higher power.

I’ll get around to the second thing, but not tonight.


The left hand is a busy guy. And a bit conflicted.

While you’re exerting pressure downward into the string, you are also doing a variety of other actions. Shifting, vibrating, bridging between strings, playing chords or double stops, and God knows what else that I can’t think of off hand.

How is all of this possible? By not doing any one of those things to the point where it overtakes the others. Hold on loosely, but don’t let go, as the rock song advises. That should be my cellist’s motto.

Of particularly frequent concern is combining pushing down notes and vibrating. Those actions are extremely contradictory. My friend tried to show me how they work together. You actually use the pressing down as an anchoring device, around which you can vacillate for vibrato. That has always been a problem for me. Maybe it’s too complex and my brain isn’t able to send the correct information to my hand. It gets shorted.

Recently I’ve been enjoying great benefits from practicing basic scale exercises. My guess is that it takes all of the musical layers and emotions out of the equation, so that my body functions in its simplest and most efficient manner. That’s my guess. There I am playing my Klengel — it’s interesting to think of how many cellists over the decades have played the exact same thing, including Klengel himself. I guess if it worked for them, who am I to question it.

The Nile

I now realize what a friend at IU was talking about. Sitting on the floor in one of the hallways he described a fingernail/cello quandary he was having. At the time I was still an avid biter, so I couldn’t see how normal length nails would undermine his playing. Now that I actually use clippers instead of teeth, I am running into the same difficulty. Don’t the left hands’ nails get in the way? I never limited my biting exuberance particularly in the days when I bit, but now I find a maximum shortness for comfort during clipping.
What seems to be the case is that there must be an tenuous alliance between the nail and the string. It primarily involves the first and second fingers. I haven’t worked out exactly which positions are affected. There does appear to be a further issue of extensions, which changes the angle of the finger and thereby the placement of the fingertip and nail.

Does vibrato work with the nail? Is there a limited dynamic range? Am I degrading the string with frequent scratchings back and forth when shifting? Is the scratching audible to anyone but me?

This issue came up at IU in particular because Starker tends to make adjustments to the angle of his students’ left arms and hands. He is looking for consistency all along the fingerboard which should aid in consistency of intonation. He is brilliant at finding overarching structural and musical truths which apply anywhere on the cello and within any piece of music. Personally I felt a lot less lost after my work with him, making practicing a much more efficient and productive proposition. I think now I am discovering that I will naturally replace some of the encyclopedic rulebook which colleagues and I imagined he kept somewhere (besides his brain), with a few short chapters that are more deeply me. But I could never have come to this place of trust in myself without his anchoring to spring from.

originally published on 10/27/07


I sit in orchestra and watch people. Or observe is a better word, due to my feeling of non-belonging. I see all sorts of bizarre movements and expressions that are solely a result of an individual’s idiosyncrasies. They are unrelated to the essence of the music being played. They are their egos. That is actually fine if they prefer to do things that way. My dilemma is that I cannot seem to get away with even the slightest departure from total discipline in body and mind without everything unraveling at the seams. All these other people appear to be humming along perfectly contentedly. And I have in fact asked people or alluded to the possibility that they are suffering from any of my same physical or mental symptomology, and almost always it is not the case. This is one reason why I have spent much time trying to look for answers to my cellistic issues outside the musical realm – I keep hitting a brick wall when I address it directly.
One other aspect to this is the question of whether others are striving for the same kinds of things I aspire to. If generally they are not, then it may be perfectly logical that they have none of the same problems I do. I assume people are on my page. I strongly wish that they are. It’s painful for me to even write that there’s a possibility that they aren’t. I despise being different, separate, and in the end isolated. I cannot believe the way people take all these human differences and/or commonalities in stride. I freeze up when I become aware of these things. And I freeze up if I try not to be aware. Maybe the only thing I can attempt to do is take my inability to take things in stride, in stride. That’s only once removed from other people, right? Not too bad.

originally published on 9/3/08

Why, oh why

The cello is a way for me to exhibit me, both to my own eyes and to others. I’m equally unpredictable musically as in real life. I am now surmising that most everything is equivalent. I was not trained to think that. But that doesn’t make it irrelevant.
When I play the cello I am thinking about and feeling the same series of ideas and sensations as in regular life. Why shouldn’t I be? Any energy I am exerting to heal myself is just as easily directed to music-making. And anything misdirected in real life also falls short on the cello. I have always suspected that but I have never received solid confirmation from outside myself, so I couldn’t take it seriously due to my difficulty individuating myself from others. Are some things the problem and the solution simultaneously? I can’t individuate, but I must.

The important aspect of this is how I apply this learning theory to my music. I need to be sensitive to how my feelings reflect in my performance. It’s all in there if I listen for it. If I am feeling unfulfilled, for instance, I will create music in a stifled way. But it’s not even that simple. Because like life, the music is in flux. The emotional journey and processes are more reflective than a momentary mood swing. It is trickier and subtler than what I might consider my surface state of mind.

originally published on 12/19/06

Of Dove

I practiced last week. I wanted to do some honing after hearing pristine violin playing the other week. It works, funnily enough, that practicing stuff. But I find it also carries with it a risk factor in orchestra, that being over-fatigue. But now I see that that is only in the short term. Over a few weeks as of yet, it is becoming easier to play. I tactily know where I’m headed on the instrument, and I’m mentally less second-guessy and trepidatious. But this typing is a killer.

originally published on 3/2/07


I’ve been trying to lighten up – with my left hand, that is. I listen to Itzhak Perlman and watch his videos, and there is such a relaxed, easy approach he takes. I don’t see the lack of effort doing him any harm, certainly, and it is probably quite beneficial. When I loosen up my vise grip it doesn’t always give me the sound that I am striving for. I believe that once I get used to this freer, gentler sound, it won’t bother me anymore. It also seems that by concentrating on my left arm, there is a spiraling effect to the rest of my body, and my mind, too. It’s almost as if I have made one spot the focal point for all of the tension simmering within me, and if I let that go, everything else falls away, too, like a domino effect.

originally published on 8/4/07