Sunday, March 6, 2011

Visit to Parikrma School in Bangalore

I've been remiss in writing - yesterday I returned home after a week in India. I spent the week in Bangalore for work. The best part was the last day, where we volunteered at a school that serves the poorest children in the slums of Bangalore. It was an amazing experience that made me ashamed of how much we take for granted at home and disgusted with how students in the US squander the opportunities in front of them.

Parikrma has 850 children in 4 schools. They have diverse backgrounds but common stories include abuse, neglect, lack of food and medical care. The school feeds them, provides medical care and outreach programs into their communities, and supports them through university if they pass the entrance exams. The school has 96% attendance and 100% attendance for parent-teacher conferences. The children take a demanding curriculum that includes English and university preparation classes. What impressed me the most was that the children are also transforming their communities: the director told us stories of parents who came for their conferences and signed the report cards with a thumbprint, but over time started initialing and then writing their names, thanks to their child's tutoring.

I was assigned to the kindergarten class with 2 of my colleagues. The classroom held 30 kids and 2 teachers. The kids sat on the floor in designated spots - no desks. They were happy, cheerful, and completely engaged with as we shared songs, asked them to spell, and told stories.

Other colleagues were assigned to other classes. We all agreed at the end of the trip (a long week at work) that the visit to the school was the highlight of a busy week.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Happy New Year!

I added up my practice hours in 2010 and it totaled 561 hours. It is almost the same number of hours as last year! I was pretty happy because I traveled so much more this year - nearly 120 days - taking out nearly 4 months of practice time. Each year I've set a goal of averaging an hour a day for the year. Maybe this year I could try to break 600 hours, which would be a worthy stretch goal.

I looked back at the year and am happy with my progress and am looking forward to next year. Some of skills I'd like to improve this year:
--better vibrato. My teacher called the current state of my vibrato "acceptable for ensemble playing" but I'd like to get more of a "solo vibrato" and be able to keep it going.
--a singing line more often. One of the biggest improvements I made this year was that sometimes I can actually hear phrasing and a musical line. I'd like to turn that "sometimes" into "most of the time"
--control the volume. Would love to control those crescendos and decrescendos!

My Dungey cello is starting to develop a wonderful tone as it goes through its terrible twos - in February it will be 2 years old. In early December I was able to see Christopher and have him do some overdue work on the cello. I met him at the house of Ken Finch, a member of the Portland Symphony and owner of an older Dungey cello. I asked for and got a lesson from Ken! It was very exciting to play for him and get his encouragement and tips on what I could do better. I also got to hear him play my cello. He was loathe to give up both my cello and my bow :-) He's agreed to give me additional lessons if I make it down to Portland again!

So here's to 2011 and happy new year to all!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

It's been ages since I posted

....but I've been busy, playing, traveling, working. I had to go to Singapore for work a few weeks ago and was able to fly my husband over to meet me. We went to Bali for a few days before returning home. That was wonderfully relaxing but coming home has been hard. Going from 12 hours of daylight to around 8 or less has been difficult. My travel for work has picked up again, so it's been hard to get consistent practice time.

This summer I hit a lull in my cello playing but the travel break seems to have done me a lot of good. My cello teacher commented at my lesson that my tone has improved and that I am starting to play lyrically. That felt good!!! I noticed the improvement after my trip...think I'm more relaxed. After expending so much effort to learn I forgot that I didn't have to work so hard as my skills improved. Last night we worked on vibrato and the basic message was to not work so hard at it. When I relaxed my left hand it immediately sounded better. I'm also working relaxing my right hand while keeping pressure down on the string; working on a smooth change of bow direction. Occasionally it's hard to tell when I'm switching bow directions (wish that could be any time I wanted it!).

My cello teacher started a group practice log where many of his students post practice times. It's pretty amazing what competition will do. I find myself playing a little longer because everyone sees my time. The good news is that when I'm home I'm getting in at least 1 hour a day, which is my goal. I've also started playing the piano more frequently. I finished reading through all of the Beethoven sonatas and am now reading Schumann's piano works. So now what, it's time to go play ...hmm.. piano!

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Videos from our last concert

These are 2 videos from 2 concerts (same program). What a fun program, including selections of music from the game Halo, Rossini's William Tell Overture (I got to play cello 2 in the opening cello quintet!), selections from Star Trek, and patriotic music. Unfortunately I was traveling and didn't get to play until the second concert, at the Ballard Locks in Seattle. It was surprisingly fun to play the music from Halo, which you can hear in this video:

Our principal trumpet player did a solo, "Trumpeter's Lullaby" and did an excellent job! Below is the video from the first concert, which I missed because of traveling for work....

My poor cello didn't fare very well with the outdoor concert. It has a 3" crack from the top of the f-hole to the purfling. Fortunately it isn't in a horrible spot, but still I was *not* very happy to see that crack. Next week I will take it to get fixed. I was happy that I brought my older cello, not my new Dungey cello.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

it's been a while!

I haven't posted in a while...been very busy with work and travel. I'm still trying to keep up with practicing but it's much harder now that my travel has started picking up again. My favorite Hertz attendant at the San Jose airport told me that he believes that business is picking up because rental returns are up to 1/2 of their pre-downturn levels, after dropping to about 1/4 the rate at the worst.

I'm continuing to work on the same things, mainly on bowing. I think I've finally found a bow grip that doesn't hurt my thumb. I had to work on getting my pinky to be supple and to be an active part of bowing. It felt like it took forever. I spent lots of my practice time just bowing on open strings trying to get a feel for the string. Thank goodness my sound started to get better; it was getting very discouraging when I felt like I had started all the way back at the very beginning. Now I'm working on making my tone sound great while I'm changing bow speed. Also I'm trying to keep a steady vibrato when I'm changing bow speeds...once I get more comfortable with that I'll start trying to vary my vibrato speed too. But one thing at a time.

Orchestra had a concert a few weeks ago and I finally listened to part of the concert. I traveled the entire week prior to the concert and came home the day before - not optimal for getting back into playing. I practiced the morning of the concert and by concert time was feeling better about my playing. In one piece, Sibelius Spring Song, my stand partner and I opened up the piece with the melody, which we held for quite a while. The violins came in and doubled with us, but it took quite a while before the cello section was together. I thought we did a good job.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

570 hours

Last year I started logging my practice time with a goal of averaging 1 hour a day for the year. I added up the time for 2009, and voila! I had reached 570 hours! This includes piano and cello time, rehearsals, and basically any playing time. I figure that even performances are 'practice' of some kind - just the kind where there are no 'do-overs'.

I'm happy with the results, and have begun logging my time for this year. I still have the same goal - averaging 1 hour a day. This year I expect to travel more than last year, which really impacts my playing time. Last year I traveled 50% less than the previous year, and didn't travel at all for the first 5 months of 2009.

I didn't set specific playing goals last year because I'm not sure how to quantify 'playing better'. I am happy that my playing has improved, and the longer I play the more amazed I am at how much there is still to learn.

Some of the things I'm working on now -
--arm weight, all the time!
--vibrato, getting more control over speed and width
--crossing strings, making the sound more even and reducing the gap in sound
--an even sound..working towards being able to really control dynamics
--getting rid of all of the pain in my right thumb

and a random one, just because
--reading through all of Beethoven's piano sonatas

Why? I've played many of them but not all I started from sonata number 1 a few weeks ago and have been working my way through. I played sonata number 8 yesterday. I hope to make it through by the end of the now starting to hear him enter into his middle period and losing the heavy Hadyn influence of the early works. I'm also hearing how much playing chamber music has helped me steady out my rhythm. I'm finding that playing the slower movements is much easier because of all of the practice counting.

So here's to 2010! Happy New Year to all!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Holiday concert report

we had 2 holiday concerts last week, playing the same program. The second concert was at the Seattle Center. We were supposed to play there last year but our concert was canceled because of the snow (how quickly we forget...last year at this time we were on our way to 3 feet of snow at our house)

We had 3 weeks of rehearsals prior to the concert. Most of the pieces we had played during previous seasons, so getting ready was pretty straightforward for most of us. I thought we played better during the second concert. It was an all-holiday music concert, including favorites like "Have Yourself a Merry Christmas" "Sleigh Ride" and other arrangements of holiday music. My husband's favorite was the arrangement of Channukah pieces we played, with a great viola solo played by our principal violist.

Now we're off until the new year! Happy holidays everyone!