September 3 Lesson Notes

September 04, 2012

Orchestra rehearsal was held on Friday evening last week in order to keep the holiday weekend free. Since we normally utilize one of the university's rehearsal spaces, and since all rooms were in use that evening, we rehearsed in the conductor's yard, under the shade of a large elm tree. Even though it was on the warm side and breezy enough to require clothes pins to secure our sheet music, we had a good rehearsal.

In addition to the music for our program, David wants us to be able to play all 12 2-octave scales back-to-back in two minutes or less. Our assignment for last week was to prepare all scales with 3 or fewer sharps or flats (C, G, D, A, F, Bb, and Eb). The time I spent working on those was well spent as I was not only able to keep up, I was able to play in tune at speed. On my own I have started working on the next two scales, E and Ab -- only three more to go.

Orchestra rehearsal is the most intense two hours of my week. The level of focus and attention required is amazing. David only has 12 two-hour rehearsals plus one weekend retreat to prepare us and our music for the November concert dates. He makes use of every single minute during our time together. Toward that end instructions are rarely repeated -- you are expected to be paying attention. When I was active in karate-do years ago I looked forward to the disappearance of everyday cares and concerns during our workouts. Orchestra rehearsal is the same way; during those 120 minutes nothing else exists.

For next week's rehearsal we are to have focused on 4 specific pieces or movements: Saber Dance, the prelude and Frolic movements from An English Suite, the first page of Adagio for Strings, and the Furiant movement from Vier Kliene Stucke.

Saturday evening I spent about 90 minutes working on the first page of the Frolic movement - it's three pages in length. It alternates between pizzicato and arco and has a tempo marking of "Vivace". After 90 minutes hard work I was able to play the first page at a metronome setting of 100.

On Sunday I focused on the Barber Adagio. The first page is all half, whole, and double whole notes in 4/2, 5/2. or 6/2 time. The pace is dead slow and the long notes are surprisingly hard to play. With a complicated piece of music you might get away with a muddy note here or there, with something as spare as this adagio there is no place to hide. And there are several places where the inner and outer parts are a perfect 5th or 4th apart and you need to have accurate intonation to pull off what the composer intends.

At my lesson yesterday we touched on all four assignments for the week. I had looked at Vier Kliene Stucke at all so we took some time to play through the first part of the Furiant movement. Written in 3/8 time and utilizing rests to define a slightly syncopated rhythm it proved to be difficult to sight read.

Working on the Adagio for Strings next I did better. David made a couple of minor fingering changes for me. The duration of these notes are all long enough that I can really start to practice my vibrato while playing.

My work on Frolic from An English Suite paid off as I was able to play through it reasonably well for David. The second and third pages are similar to the first. He did point out one patch of sixteenth notes on the third page I need to be wary of, otherwise I think I'm in good shape on this movement. I haven't spent any time on the Prelude in a while and it showed in my lesson. Being able to play a piece of music is a bit like boiling water, as long as you keep it on the heat (practice) it'll boil. Once you remove it from the heat it starts to cool off. I've kept Prelude off the heat too long. In addition to focusing on each weeks assignment I need to play through all the other pieces just to keep them simmering along.

To round off my lesson we played through Over the Rainbow, easily my favorite piece. It sound absolutely wonderful, and I was able to play without being distracted by David's accompaniment. Best of all, I got my first initial. David initials each orchestral piece once you've mastered it. The initial means I don't have to present it to him again. One down, six to go.

For this week then,

Adagio for Strings

Continue to focus on the first page, but don't ignore page two. The cellos have the melody on the second page, switching from half, whole, and double whole notes, to quarter notes. There is a lot of shifting to master, and several time signature changes to be aware of.

Saber Dance

This piece isn't as daunting as I thought it would be at first. The pacing of it is furious and that is the real challenge. The cello part of relatively straight forward. Counting through the repetitions of some sections will require lots of focus.

Vier Kliene Stucke: Furiant

After my lesson yesterday I spent about an hour working on this movement. By slowing the tempo way down and using a metronome I was able to play through it. I've started to speed the metronome up now - hopefully in the next 5 days I can reach performance tempo.

An English Suite: Prelude and Frolic

While I had the first page of the Prelude well in hand a couple of weeks ago, the lack of recent attention has hurt it. I need to refocus on this piece and I need to venture off the first page - there are still two unexplored pages in this movement. The Frolic is also three pages long. I need to capitalize on the good progress I made over the weekend with the first page and continue on to pages two and three this week.

Practice Times

My practice times increased dramatically over the weekend. Usually I practice about an hour every evening. Following Friday's rehearsal I practiced for about 50 minutes. On Saturday I put in a solid hour and 35 minutes. Sunday I practiced three times, totaling 2 hours and 15 minutes. Yesterday, in addition to a 60 minute lesson, I practiced 2 hours. A total of 9 hours and 50 minutes in four days.

Some of the practice sessions (the last 30-minute one last night) were frustrating, others were excellent. The music I am learning is a huge step up from what I had been working on in the Suzuki books so I am understandably struggling at times. However there are times when I unlock the mystery of a new section and suddenly can start to play it. I can definitely see my ability to tackle new music growing as a result of this experience.

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Mark H. Nichols

I am a husband, cellist, code prole, nerd, technologist, and all around good guy living and working in fly-over country. You should follow me on Twitter.