Cello Camp

June 19, 2013

Earlier today I finished this year's Cedar Vista Cello Camp — three half days of études, basso continuo, technique, cello orchestra, and solo recitals.

Every June for three years now, my teacher has hosted a cello camp in the circa 1880 one-room school house that serves as his studio. Cellists from beginners to accomplished participate for three half day sessions, culminating in a short recital on the third day.

This year's theme was basso continuo. Basso continuo, or continuous bass, is the musical accompaniment, usually provided by a cello, that augmented the harpsichord, for a soloist. The music my teacher plays to accompany my solo pieces from the Suzuki method is typically basso continuo.

Along with learning several basso continuo parts we discussed the job of accompanying; the need to speed up or slow down with the soloist, and to alter dynamics in concert with them. It was a fascinating look at a whole new aspect of playing for me.

We also focused a lot on technique, making heavy use of Louis Feuillard's Daily Exercises book. The volume is filled with hundreds of single measure études that focus on one technique. The idea is to play them over and over and over again until the technique is ingrained in your muscle memory. They are all deceptively simple. Once the notes and rhythmic pattern are learned you can vary bowing, focus on tonal production, focus on left hand shape, use alternate fingerings, and so on. Because most are just a measure long you can repeat the technical study many many times in just a few minutes.

The Schröder 170 Foundational Studies book provided us with four longer études. Ten cellos playing in harmony can really make an otherwise plain étude sing. Throughout the étude work we talked bout bow technique, and fingering options.

Since the cello has such a large tonal range, a cello orchestra is a wonderful sounding ensemble. In addition to individual recitals on Tuesday and Wednesday, we completed the camp today with a short performance of five or six short pieces. With three or four part arrangements of the music we were able to produce a rich, full sound, even though there were only ten of us playing.

As with the previous two years I feel like I learned quite a bit over the course of the three mornings. I have come away from the camp invigorated and wanting to practice more. In addition to Bach and my other solo repertoire, I now have the orchestra music for this seasons Gold Orchestra, so I have plenty to practice.

And more practice is just what I need as, in just a couple of weeks, I am attending a 3-day orchestra camp (also directed by my cello teacher) that will be quite challenging for me.

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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.