Playing Healthy

Épaulement: Cello Playing Through a Dancer’s Lens

Not counting a negligible number of tap classes when I was 5 years old or so, my first real dance classes were at Indiana University, as a sophomore majoring in cello performance. I had long since forgotten my first fumbling steps as a cellist when I was not quite 3, but the struggle of learning a new skill was all too real as I would wiggle into my leotard and tights at 7:30 in the morning to make 8 A.M. beginner ballet class where I would, with my fellow well-intentioned classmates, attempt to contort myself into an elegant swan, but mainly try not to fall down. My teacher was beautiful; everything about her, her hairstyle, her smile, her hands, her long legs, even her voice, was the epitome of grace. [...]

Presence on Stage (Part 5 – The Breath) – by Ruth Phillips

The Breath "The bow must be a living thing at all times, and all living things need to breathe" - Steven Isserlis, cellist. For me, the breath is the thing that binds all of this together. No-wonder it is at the root of so many spiritual practices! It is inspiration and expression, tension and release, taking in and letting go, expansion and contraction. It is not ‘ours’ though it passes through us, and it connects us with ourselves, our bodies and the audience. With all living things. The ocean breathes, trees breathe….It is everything we are and everything music is. When we are aligned and in harmony, we feel as if we are being breathed, just as we can, in performance, feel like the music is playing us. Working with [...]

By |2018-09-16T15:11:40+00:00September 16th, 2018|Categories: In the Practice Room, Self Discovery, Teaching, Performance, Playing Healthy|Tags: , , , , |

Presence on Stage (Part 4 – Presence) – by Ruth Phillips

Presence "The mind in its natural state can be compared to the sky, covered by layers of cloud which hide its true nature." – Kalu Rinpoche   Once we learn to generate movement from our core and not interfere with it, once we start to follow rather than control the music, we experience an extraordinary new space. Presence. Like a city dweller suddenly finding herself under a huge desert sky, for some this space can be terrifying. What do I put in it? Who am I in it? In fact, it is there we find connection. With ourselves, the music and the audience.   Thought “In order to really be, you have to be free from the thinking… Non-thinking is an art and, like any art, it requires patience and practice.” [...]

Presence on Stage (Part 3 – Non-Doing) – by Ruth Phillips

Non-Doing The tennis player observes the ball as it leaves his racket and completes the trajectory he has sent it on. He is no longer ‘in control’ of the ball but rather relaxed, alert and watchful. Primed for the return. Once we have learned to initiate movement from our core, we must then practice not interfering in it. For those of us who have learned that playing is all about control, holding and doing, this is quite a challenge, and yet this is what allows us to replace fear of being out of control with freedom and ease.   Gravity “When the abandonment to gravity comes into action, resistance ceases, fear vanishes, order is regained, nature starts again to function in its natural rhythm and the body is able to [...]

Presence on Stage (Part 2 – Power vs. Strength) – by Ruth Phillips

Power versus Strength ‘When you have attained complete relaxation, you are able to be flexible and agile in your movements.’ - Zen master Yang Cheng Fu “To relax is not to collapse, but simply to undo tension….There is nothing to be done. It is not a state of passivity but, on the contrary, of alert watchfulness. It is perhaps the most ‘active’ of our attitudes, going ‘with’ and not ‘against’ our body and feelings.” - Vanda Scaravelli -  Awakening the Spine. Building strength through force only promotes the shortening of muscles as they contract, causing fatigue and strain. That strain goes against rather than with our body. Developing power is another matter entirely. Power is a natural state. It involves movement generated from our core, a great deal of relaxation and a [...]

What “Posture” Looks Like on the Inside — by Vanessa Mulvey

The perfect posture can feel like an illusive goal. It has the power to empower the performer and fuel expression or it can limit every aspect of a performance.  What is “posture” and how can it be perfect? The problem is that posture is often assessed by one’s appearance as they sit and play. This is far from a perfect or repeatable science. I offer you another way to understand and assess posture, and that is from inside the body.  From the inside, we can utilize the body’s amazing design for being upright and for movement. Forget Posture The first thing I want to do is remove ‘posture’ for your musical vocabulary.  Why you ask? According to dictionary.com, the definition of posture is “the position of the limbs or the carriage of the body as a whole.” Playing the cello or any [...]

By |2018-07-10T05:40:07+00:00March 21st, 2018|Categories: Self Discovery, Beyond the Traditional, Playing Healthy|Tags: , , , , , |

Practicing, Some Practice Advice (Part 2) — by Michael Haber

Frustration and Discouragement, Orchestra Auditions, Some Final Thoughts, a Final Comment   FRUSTRATION AND DISCOURAGEMENT: Now is the time to talk about our number one enemy. When I look back over all my teaching, one observation stands out above all others. It has not been a lack of talent or intelligence which stood in the way of progress for most students. It has rather been the fact that many people become both frustrated and discouraged by the amount of work and the unwavering discipline and persistence it usually takes to become an excellent musician. I have something simple to say on this subject: frustration and discouragement have been the common lot of most of the musicians I've known, born of the eternal gap between our dreams of how we want [...]

17 (not so) Random Tips for Practicing the Bach Cello Suites — by Inbal Segev

1. First play the bass line. Then add the top voice. 2. Think about voicing. 3. Sequences. 4. Find circles of fifths and enjoy them! 5. Gestures on slurs—the Baroque bow is heavier at the frog and lighter at the tip and sometimes it's beautiful to show the tapering of sound towards the tip. 6. Show where codas happen. 7. Interrupted cadence? 8. Sigh figures. 9. Be aware of the underlying harmony. 10. Echo effects (not too much!). 11. Vary bow pressure—Baroque bow is heavier on the down bow, lighter on the up bow. This can shape a passage of descending eight notes for example. They are not all equal in length and strength. 12. Gigue—breathe more. Feel like you are about to skip before the start. 13. When playing [...]

The Spine: Our Very Own Superhighway — by Selma Gokcen

I only learned about the importance of the spinal column to cello playing as I was introduced more deeply into the Alexander Technique. Of course I knew the superficial facts about the spine and especially how vital it is to the health of the nervous system. But its particular relevance to cellists was not brought home until I began training in the work of teaching the Technique. Here are a few interesting facts about the spine to start off 1: The spinal cord is surrounded by rings of bone called vertebrae. Both are covered by a protective membrane. Together, the vertebrae and the membrane make up the spinal column, or backbone. The backbone, which protects the spinal cord, starts at the base of the skull and ends just above the hips. The spinal cord [...]

100 Cello Warm-Ups and Exercises Blog 21: Alexanian Exercises — by Robert Jesselson

Today’s Blog is devoted to some thumb position exercises by Diran Alexanian that my teacher in Freiburg, Spanish cellist Marcal Cervera, gave to me in 1972. These exercises are not in included in Alexanian’s seminal book on cello technique, Traite Theorique et Pratique du Violoncelle  (Theoretical and practical treatise of the violoncello).Alexanian’s book includes several pages of other thumb position exercises (pages 125 ff.) which are well worth practicing, but I believe that these 13 exercises have never actually been published.  I do not know how Cervera got these exercises, but I copied them from his notebook, and studied them with him.  I find them to be very useful. Alexanian was born in Armenia in 1881. He became Casals’ assistant at the École Normale de Musique in Paris. His treatise [...]

100 Cello Warm-ups and Exercises Blog 20: Thumb Position and the Upper Registers (Part 2) — by Robert Jesselson

In the first part of this series on thumb position (Blog #19), we discussed the basic techniques for understanding the geography of the upper registers of the cello. There are three concepts for knowing the “latitude and longitude” in this part of the instrument: 1. Using nodes and other fixed points for reference 2. Measuring distances: a) understanding and using intervals b) the “Configuration of the Hand” across string 3. Using the basic thumb position, as described above, and organizing  the finger spacing with tetrachords We looked at #1 and #2a in Blog #19. Next we will discuss the “Configuration of the Hand.” 2b. Configuration of the Hand Knowing the intervals and distances on one string is vital in understanding the geography of the upper part of the cello. But one still needs [...]

100 Cello Warm-ups and Exercises Blog 19: Cello Geography Part 5: Thumb Position and the Upper Registers — by Robert Jesselson

  Blogs #15 and #16 discussed the geography of the lower regions of the cello. In sorting out the “latitude” and “longitude” in this part of the instrument the main organizing principle is the knowledge and use of positions. We identify the positions by the location of the first finger on the string up through Seventh position, with “normal” and “extended” variants throughout. When the first finger is playing the A in seventh position on the A string the thumb is still behind the neck—so this is still considered neck position. Seventh position is a significant place on the cello, because it divides the string into two equal parts, and as a result we find the A harmonic there as well. After seventh position, the thumb is used as a [...]

Reflections on Bernard Greenhouse and the Importance of the Back — by Selma Gokcen

"We are learning to do consciously what Nature intended."  —F.M. Alexander Spending a week remembering Bernard Greenhouse on CelloBello brought back memories of many hours of lively conversations and shared experiences. Bernie had naturally what we call 'a back' in the Alexander Technique, and there is no faking or pretending to have a back...you either do or you don't, and the evidence of it is felt in the power of presence. The back mediates all our responses—a strong and expansive back gives one the ability to speak and act from a place of natural authority. Bernie's quiet but strong presence when playing, teaching or just conversing emanated from that central core that Casals spoke about, and which no doubt magnetized Bernie from far away and moved him across an ocean in search of the master. Like recognized like. One [...]

100 Cello Warm-Ups and Exercises Blog 18: Cello Geography Part 4: The Fabulous Thumb — by Robert Jesselson

When students come to study cello with me in college they often arrive with problems in their fundamental technique which must be addressed: issues with collapsing fingers, bow angle, underlying tension, weak sound, etc. Most of these basic problems can be dealt with fairly quickly once the student becomes aware of the issues and knows how to fix them. However the bad habits that seem to be the most intractable are problems regarding the curvature of the thumb. In pedagogy classes and in talking with teachers I always emphasize that young cellists should be taught to train their thumbs correctly in order to help avoid excess tension and to allow maximum flexibility. Teachers need to be vigilant about this in the early stages of a cellist’s development in order to [...]

100 Cello Warm-Ups and Exercises Blog 17: Cello Geography Part 3: The “Mary System” — by Robert Jesselson

This blog will be the last one of the year – but we look forward to starting up again in 2016. In the first two blogs on Cello Geography we discussed the basic neck positions, and extensions. Next I would like to focus on a tool that I feel is helpful for sorting out one of the most important fingering principles on the cello: the “Mary” System. […]