Mirrors

I’ve become obsessed—this isn’t too strong a word—with Arvo Pärt’s Spiegel im Spiegel, which I’m preparing for a recital with Jovanni de Pedro. I know that it’s become a bit of a cliché from being on so many movies, advertisements and so on, but every time I play it, I find something new and astounding in it.

What makes it particularly hard for me is that Pärt purposely didn’t put any dynamics, articulations or other expressive markings in there. Does this mean we should add our own? I don’t think so. One of the biggest challenges is just keeping a steady tempo of 100 to the quarter note, which is as painfully difficult to do as it is in that other famous slow cello solo, “Louange à l’éternité de Jésus” from Messiaen’s Quatuor pour la fin du temps. Even though Spiegel doesn’t have the same hard shifts and high playing as the “Louange,” I find sticking to 100 extraordinarily hard.

And yet, if you can pull it off, the effect can be exquisite. Alluding, maybe, to Bach’s C major Prelude, or the Moonlight Sonata, the repetitive broken chords in the piano part, the bell-like high Cs, the austere economy of material—Pärt’s “holy minimalism”—are mesmerizing. Trance-inducing, I would say.

I was delighted to find that my haphazard piano skills were up to the task of playing the piano part, which allowed me to sing the cello part while I played. But somehow the human voice sounded wrong here. So much of what I do as a cellist is invested in “singing” with tone and vibrato, but the natural variations of the human voice are too, well, human for this music. It’s quite a challenge not to sing on the cello, but rather to maintain as perfect an equilibrium as I can. The tone doesn’t need the warmth and humanity of the voice, but rather the same feeling of pure, miraculous, otherworldly objectivity as the piano’s harmony.

Pärt’s title alludes to the infinity of images you can see in parallel-plane mirrors. The symbolism seems obvious—we’re summoning the Infinite. Not a noisy Veni, Creator Spiritus, but something more elusive.

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Cello Tips

2nd finger

The first post in the Cello Tips section of my book website is up! In today’s post, Intonation and the Opposable Thumb, I write about how the position of your thumb on the neck of the cello can help your intonation, vibrato, shifting, and general relaxation.

While composing my post, I experienced the amusing challenge of trying to take selfies of my hand. This is probably an activity best performed by two people, not one! Next time I need a photo like this, I’ll try to time it around when my husband is home.

Cello Practice, Cello Performance is published!

I am delighted to announce that my first book, Cello Practice, Cello Performance, was published today by Rowman & Littlefield. I give my heartfelt thanks to the editorial team, the designers who made the beautiful cover, and everyone who inspired and encouraged me to write down ideas from my teaching career. To my teachers, my students, my colleagues, my family: this one’s for you.

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My book and I

Book website!

Check out the website, launched today, that ties in with my book, Cello Practice, Cello Performance! It’s hard to believe that it’s going to be published on Tuesday.

This site will feature short videos, photos, and short articles on topics related to the art of cello practice. I’ll keep this website for longer essays on all musical topics as the mood strikes me.

I’m getting so excited for my book’s publication!

Enjoyment

I love it when members of the audience approach me after concerts. (I mean, who hates compliments?) But I’m sometimes surprised and puzzled at the things they say. The most common one I get is some variation on “You look like you’re having fun!”

I guess I was really hoping that they’d say they’d liked the music, or my interpretation of it. Maybe they did, but lacked the technical vocabulary to say so?

Then again, when I’m teaching students who seem to lack energy, I often admonish them “Come on, look lively! You look like you’re attending a funeral! Would it kill you to make me think that you like music, or that music is fun?”

Perhaps it’s the same thing—the idea that we want a performer to look as if she’s enjoying making music so that we may be drawn into that enjoyment.

Then again, these days the main comment I get is “You have a black cello! What’s it made of?” (I sure do. Carbon fiber!)