Scraping away

I can’t think of an appropriate equivalent to ‘fiddling’ (in a pejorative sense) to describe my unsatisfactory efforts on the cello. So maybe I will settle on ‘scraping’ and yesterday was a day spent scraping away.

In the morning I practised my Mendelssohn at home and felt quite pleased with myself at managing to play the two pages without stopping,  and ready for the afternoon at the Ecole de Musique.  Given I still cannot lift more than two kilos, my friend Christine comes at midday on Tuesdays to put my cello in the car.  Once at the école, people rush to help me, thank goodness.

My lesson with Anne went much better than last time.  She commented that it was clear that my right shoulder was getting more flexible, as I was coping better with the long slurred passages.  (These are particularly difficult for me on the A string – the one I play on the most – as it requires me to raise the arm more in the air than the lower strings.) I felt like commenting that the improvement was also the result of my putting in a bit more practice!

We then played some exercises involving shifting between some positions that I am not accustomed to.  For the benefit of non-players shifting positions is the way one moves the fingers of the left hand from one position to another on the same string. You do this, for example, in order to avoid playing an open string, which makes a different sound, to continue a passage on one string, or to be able to play higher and higher, on the A string in particular.

The most commonly used positions on the cello are 1st and 4th, so now I was practising, for example, jumping from the 2nd or 3rd to 5th. There is a whole technique to sliding up the hand (and not leaving the thumb behind) and not landing on the right note just by luck!  Basically it requires a good ear, good technique and lots of practise to train the brain where to shift up to.

Later in the afternoon I played the Mendelssohn with Jean Sebastian, the pianist.  That was a bit of a disaster.  I managed to get through the piece, but badly.  JS was very nice when he reported back to Anne, but I have to somehow make the Song sing with fluidity, rather than hear the evident attempts I’m making to hold onto the rhythm in syncopated passages! Two more weeks to get it right … …

My confidence was restored in the the final session, when I played with another adult pupil who is struggling to play in tune.  There I have a new challenge: Anne wants me to improvise on my line in a tune based on a Jewish prayer.  She plays a lot in bands playing jazz and modern music and is quite keen on improvisation.

I can see lots of the benefits of improvising  -to better communicate with other musicians, to truly listen to music rather than just playing the notes in front of you, to think ahead, to be creative – but it’s that bit I find scary.  I don’t think I’m creative.  We are playing this piece in the end of term session with beginners (the Mendelssohn is in the more advanced session) and Anne wants me to improvise in front of people.  No way!

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