Self Discovery

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. [...]

Behind the Scenes with Brannon Cho

We are thrilled to introduce you to Brannon Cho, First Prize Winner of the 2018 Paulo International Cello Competition.  In this conversation Brannon takes us behind the scenes offering insight into his preparation, mindset, and aspirations.   Blogmaster: Can you give us insight as to how the competition felt for you?  Did you play as you aspired to? Brannon Cho:  The competition was quite exhausting.  As opposed to other competitions I’ve done in the past there was almost no time to rest between rounds. In some ways I appreciated it because it was similar to the concert schedule of a touring soloist.  As a soloist, every two days you have a big concert. In contrast, in Belgium last year I would sometimes have a week before I played the next [...]

Sing. Paint. Dance. (Part 2)

Sing. Paint. Dance. (Part 2) Yes, we can place the bow one inch above the bridge and play various phrases for the purposes of mapping and sensory awareness. We can also take one step back and go about it from a different angle. As we listen to repertoire we can place a brush to canvas or a pencil to paper and emulate phrase length with our hands. We can isolate passages in the score and literally paint them. Feel the duration of notes, their inner lives, through your brush. See the color sustain or fade. Watch the brush as it moves up and down according to contour. For me, although away from the cello, this type of association is the most direct connection to gesture. Let’s be clear, this does [...]

Sing. Paint. Dance. (Part 1)

Sing. Paint. Dance. (Part 1) Sing. Paint. Dance. I am often reminded of a statement made by Tabea Zimmerman that alluded to the idea that all instrumental problems have non instrumental solutions. With that in mind I often advocate a number of non instrumental solutions to any issues that may arise in the course of music making. Each can be connected to one of three wings : Singing. Painting. Dancing. On the occasions that I played with the LA opera, I was around Placido Domingo as both conductor and singer. The latter is clearly his identity in spades. But to hear him sing every vocal line in a rehearsal always echoed quartet life for me. Listening with a sense of integration -each voice existing within the context of the whole. [...]

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 [...]

Presence on Stage (Part 1 – Introduction) – by Ruth Phillips

Introduction Many people ask me on Breathing Bow retreats if stage presence is something we can practice, if it is possible to find a way to be exactly where we are - in a concert hall with an audience right here and right now, about to share what we love? I believe that the answer is yes. Musicians’ preparation on a concert day can range from taking beta blockers to eating bananas. However, as soon as we are on stage we feel fear. Fear of losing control or mental focus, and above all fear of judgement. Our muscles contract, our heart rate speeds up, we go blank, our bow shakes, we sweat….the list of symptoms for ‘stage fright’ is endless and for many of us, coping with them simply isn’t [...]

By |2018-09-14T13:57:00+00:00September 12th, 2018|Categories: In the Practice Room, Self Discovery, Performance|Tags: , , , , , |

Emanuel Feuermann and the Art of Phrasing — by Brinton Averil Smith

There has been a long-running debate in the string-playing world regarding the 'Golden Age' of string playing, generally considered to span the 1920s to the 1960s. While many today are happy to listen to and model their playing on more contemporary players, there has been a persistent argument made that the players of that era—Heifetz, Feuermann, Kreisler, Oistrach, Casals, and numerous others—played in a different way than more recent players. It is easy to dismiss this argument as the eternal 'nothing is as good as it used to be' meme and, when painted with too broad a brush, such generalizations quickly fall apart. The string players of that era were, after all, a group of vividly different players with different approaches—as are today's players. Yet when one begins to examine [...]

By |2018-07-10T05:39:50+00:00May 18th, 2018|Categories: Artistic Vision, Self Discovery|Tags: , , , , , , , , |

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: , , , , , |

Vowels and Sound Production on the Cello — by Gregory Beaver

Originally published on gregorybeaver.com.   For many of my student years as a cellist, I struggled to achieve a fully resonant sound on the cello. The ever-elusive goal would seem within grasp, and then I would start trying and tension would squelch the sound. Or I would finally achieve relaxation, and look down to see my bow gently dusting the edge of the fingerboard with rosin. Rarely was I able to fully engage the core of the string while releasing energy through my body. As a teacher, I found producing a great sound to be a particularly interesting mission. I learned early on that telling students to play close to the bridge simply doesn’t work. If a student doesn’t naturally play close to the bridge, the bow will hover near [...]

By |2018-08-05T06:29:22+00:00January 29th, 2018|Categories: In the Practice Room, Self Discovery, Teaching|Tags: , , , |

Turning on Your Musicality — by Gregory Beaver

“You can teach how to play the cello, but you can’t teach musicality!” I can’t tell you how many times I have heard this old chestnut espoused, both by teachers and by students. For many years, I believed it. But is it really true? Let’s start by asking the unasked question: what is musicality? Can we even agree on which performances are musical as opposed to “technical?” After years of performing, teaching, and carefully observing both my own playing and that of others, I’ve noticed a curious phenomenon: everybody sucks at answering this question. Many times I have been upset at myself for playing a wooden performance, and then upon hearing a recording of that performance, was moved by what I heard. Many more times, the opposite was true. Very [...]

By |2018-09-06T05:05:20+00:00October 30th, 2017|Categories: In the Practice Room, Self Discovery, Teaching, Featured|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 [...]

Practicing, Some Practice Advice (Part 1) — by Michael Haber

I've written this brief essay for purely selfish reasons: I like to see my students improve. When they do, I feel happy, they feel happy, I go home for dinner a happy man. What follows is intended to help you organize your practicing, and your thinking about your practicing, in an effective way. Your progress, mine too, depends on the quality and quantity of this work. It's also intended to encourage you to practice, period. Not all of my students are always inclined to work as well and as much as they should. I should confess from the beginning that I have always loved practicing. It is the royal road to instrumental mastery and the incomparable satisfaction of playing music as well as it deserves to be played. I have [...]