September 15 Orchestra Notes

September 17, 2012

Saturday morning's rehearsal was good. David was out of town for a memorial service so the University's Jazz and Bass instructor conducted us for the day. We spent about an hour working on the first movement of Husa's Vier Kliene Stucke, then focused on a brand new piece called The Revenge of the Red Pepper, and rounded out the two hours with some time spent on An English Suite.

Vier Kliene Stucke

The first movement is a theme and variations. Each variation has a different time signature and in some cases a different key. The tempo changes are sometimes huge and one variation is in F# Major. There are plenty of changes from arco to pizzicato and back again, and one variation makes use of the mute. The piece keeps you on your toes.

Making the transition from arco to pizzicato is slowly getting more comfortable to me, but I still feel like I'm going to drop my bow at times. David said that often times you end up with a less than perfect bow hold after returning to arco, until there is a rest that allows you to adjust your grip.

While the grip changes required are one transition challenge, there are other transition challenges in all my pieces. Tempo changes, key signature changes, rhythmic changes, and page turns. My personal goal for the week, in addition to the practice assignment given, is to focus on transitions within the pieces. For page turns I need to memorize what follows the page turn so that I can find my place again after completing the turn. While at the KSU orchestra performance this week I watched all the pages turns to see how it's done. While there were some variations in how the bow or cello was secured, one commonality I found was that no one reached for their music while holding the bow. Either they placed the bow stick in their left hand, which also held the cello neck, while completing the turn, or they moved the cello neck to their right hand while completing the turn. I'll have to experiment on my own to find what feels most comfortable.

The Revenge of the Red Pepper

This piece was commissioned to honor the 40th annual String Fling this coming January. It was also dedicated to the Gold Orchestra so we are playing it as well. It's written in the Cajun Zydeco style, which is interesting to play. The cello part isn't overly difficult - hopefully I can master the basic lilt of it within a few days. Since this piece is new, and since David didn't get to hear us play it on Saturday, I'm sure it'll be on the rehearsal order for next Saturday so I've been working on it in my practice sessions.

An English Suite

This piece continues to be the most involved and difficult of all the pieces. There are so many challenges contained within its seven pages that I don't know where to start. Knowing that I tend to start at the beginning of a piece and slowly work my way through, lately I've taken to practicing it backwards. I start with the last line, and then the last two, and then three, and so on. Always starting at the beginning is a trap as you play the opening measures hundreds of times and the end ones only a few times.

As I'll be playing on my own music stand (there are nine cellos, so I'm the odd-man) I'll have to do my own page turns. As the piece has a fairly quick tempo I'll need to be prepared to find my place again after each turn. This is one of the transition places I need to start focusing on.

The piece also has some double stops that frustrate me. Getting one finger in place in time is one challenge, getting two or three in place in time on multiple strings is a much trickier challenge. When I'm not able to keep up I just play the bottom note of each chord.

I think I've "played" all the notes in the piece now, but I've still only practiced 4 or so of the 7 pages.

Practice Chart

Last week was the first of two practice chart weeks for the orchestra. Last week's goal was at least 60 minutes 5 out of the 7 days. David sweetened the pot by offering a pizza outing to the section that had the highest average daily minutes of practice. I did my part by completing 695 minutes (11 hours 35 minutes). We'll find out this week who is getting pizza.

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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.