If you feel practising the cello can sometimes be a bit isolating, reading cello blogs is a good way to stay in touch with other cellists’ enthusiasms and obsessions.
As with all blogs beware of believing everything you read! Everyone’s approach to the cello is different. What suits one person may not work for another.That said, I think it can be beneficial to hear others’ views, as long as you remember you don’t have to agree with them.
Here are some of the most interesting websites:
The Cello Internet Society – accessible through Facebook, easy to join and unpretentious. It’s full of ideas, suggestions, videos and enthusiasm, and if you have a problem you can post a question and get lots of replies fast.
Cello Bello – a fairly new website covering most aspects of cello playing including teaching videos, masterclasses and a legacy section about famous cellists from the past.
David Finkel’s 100 Cello Talks on You Tube ( see Talk 1 below) are fascinating. They present practical tips from a wonderful cellist with loads of performing experience.
On a lighter note Extreme Cello is hugely impressive and full of energy and fun!
Finally, if all this cello talk inspires you to want to learn some new duets why not visit our online shop on the link below: Cello Duet Shop
Following on from the last blog here are some examples of more narrative playing – that is, where there is a clear interpretation that is full of ideas and imagination.
Example 1: Casals and Bach
In Casals’ heartfelt recording every note speaks with total convinction and spellbinding drama .
Example 2: Vilde Frang and Lawrence Power
The supurb soloists here respond intuitively and expressively to create a fascinating musical dialogue that makes the music sparkle into life.
The cello duet arrangements of Puccini’s aria Your Tiny Hand is Frozen and Mozart’s Non PiuAndrai have a clear story line so lots of opportunities to play with narrative. You can hear and buy this music on the links below:
Music narrative is an essential part of great interpretation. By narrative I don’t mean something you could necessarily put into words, rather the performer having a clear idea of what the music is about and what it has to say.
Examples of Music Narrative
The example above – though crackly – is a superb example of performers who are completely at one with the mood of the music ( Massenet’s Elegie ) and convey its character wholeheartedly and beautifully.
Here are some relevant quotes from the great Russian actor Stanislavsky:
” Create your own method. Make up something that works for you. Keep breaking traditions, I beg you.”
“You’ll never see any two great actors approach a role in the same way.” “Play well or play badly, but play truly.”
The overall point is that if you come up with imaginative ideas that are true to you they will breathe life into the music – just as an actor hopes to breathe life into a character he portrays.
Opera has its own narrative
One of the easiest ways to respond to narrative is when playing opera arrangements, where there is a defined story. Our arrangements of Toreador Song and Habanera – from Bizet’s opera Carmen – are good examples of this.
Our filmed recording of La Cumparsita sheet music has just received 1000 ‘likes’ on You Tube. This great tango is immensely popular and our arrangement has now been viewed by more than 137,000 people.
We filmed the video in 2011 at Kirby Hall – a beautiful stately home owned by English Heritage.
About our arrangement of La Cumparsita
The setting for the film was a partly covered courtyard, which had caught the eye of one of our Lux Technical film crew who thought it would be especially suitable for the character of the music. Today our sheet music arrangement of La Cumparsita is the most popular piece we sell, and it’s also one of the least complicated to play. Our aim was to project the darkness and sensuality of the tango mood. I hope we have achieved some of this.
Roger has achieved music success by having his 15 Insect Songs accepted for publication by Spartan Press. The songs are based on a children’s story Roger wrote several years ago called The Quest for the Golden Orchid. The story features a bee called Hermia – and a variety of other insect characters- and their adventures in escaping dangers caused by pesticides.
About the songs
The music is fun and imaginative in illustrating the different characteristics of the various insects. The number of solo voices or choruses vary per song and there is a violin and piano accompaniment.
” These songs are ideal for use in schools, ” said Roger. ” Each song works on its own with or without the book – or all the songs and the book can be combined to create a children’s musical.”
Find out more
If you’d like to be kept in touch with up to date information about publication of the book and the songs please email Roger direct at firstname.lastname@example.org
And to find out how we can custom write and dedicate a piece of music for you, click below Gifts and Dedications
Can cello books – or music books in general – change your playing? My own feeling is yes. This doesn’t mean I think that any cello book can compensate for one to one teaching. It’s rather that my own teacher recommended certain books which resonated with me and have been a major influence on my life.
I was lucky enough to experience some excellent string teaching.My cello teacher was the inspiring Christopher Bunting, and he recommended I read Stanislavsky’s Systems and Methods of Creative Acting – much of which relates directly to music. As well as helping me develop a secure technique, Christopher constantly focused on the difference between being an instrumentalist and being an artist and the importance of interpretation. Roger and I generally agree on this approach when we work together in Fedora Strings – and La Cumparsita is an example of the results. Christopher Bunting
I haven’t always been able to be true to these ideas in the past – for various reasons – but I have always known that they are right and they have given me something to steer by. Another major influence for me was the well known violinist Manny Hurwitz, whose down to earth, characterful playing and approach to performance I still remember – and even today it helps my confidence.
What would they think?
If I could sum up the most important thing that I took away from all this, it is that to be an artist you need to find your own voice. And you need to project your ideas with all your heart in performance. Last week an American cellist and scholar who is researching Christopher Bunting’s cello books came to my house for a chat. I found myself wondering what Christopher would think of my playing now. I know for certain he would not interpret things in anything like the same way I do. But I hope he would be glad that at least I am following my own instincts and ideas and projecting them as confidently as I can – something he always, always emphasised and that I regard as his greatest legacy to me.
Remembering the past
Good teachers are almost like family. How much you wish you could see them again and talk to them. And how much you hope that they can see you and know what a positive effect they had on your life. Ultimately good teaching – like good parenting – gives someone the freedom to be fully themselves. It’s beyond price.
To get some idea of Christopher’s superb playing listen below…
This is his cello duet based on the Bourees from Bach’s 3rd cello suite: Bunting Cello Duet
Composing music is something we spend an increasing amount of time doing. Our focus is usually string duets in their various forms.
How do you start composing string music?
For me, the easiest way to start composing string music is to have a focused idea of a feeling you want to create, a mood you want to evoke, or a visual image. I then decide on the form of the music – which gives a clear structure – and the key and time signature. I have found that structure itself can be inspiring. Ternary form and Variation form – for example – are ideal for creating short pieces of music in different moods. In Variation form or in a Chaconne there is also given series of notes.
Trying it out
Trying out tunes on your own instrument and experimenting with harmonies on the piano is, for me, the next step. And have a good understanding of the instruments you are composing for, what sort of patterns lie under the hand most effectively, and what special effects can be achieved is also a huge help.
Some super new composed string music
The video above is an example of a beautiful string orchestral piece written by Andrew Lowe Watson – a composer and pianist I was at music school with. It uses all the best traditions of string orchestral music and shows a deep understanding of string sound. I think it should be much better known.
Warming up on the cello used to be quite a boring process for me. I would usually try a few scales and shifts or perhaps technical exercises. While there is nothing wrong with any of that, I now begin warming up by inventing a tune or playing by ear and then improvising – including improvising in thumb position. I have found this to be 100% more beneficial. For me it reinforces the pleasure of feeling at one with your instrument, of realising that you too can compose – and that interpretation is most effective if you make the music you are playing sound like it is your own.
If you want to practise a particular type of bowing when warming up on the cello , why not invent your own series of chords to try it with? If you want to practise a particular shift – say a major 6th – why not also invent a short piece based on that particular interval? In the past I’ve found that if you give a first performance there is a relaxing sense of freedom. None of the critics or audience know how it is meant to go, so you have a completely free hand as long as you look confident! Why not apply that same confidence to unaccompanied Bach?
Escaping confines within the classical
Have you ever been struck but how much more relaxed folk and pop musicians usually look in performance? Some of this is because the music is easier and more repetitive. But is it also because a lot of the music has been composed or arranged by the performers themselves? How wonderful it would be to be able to carry that sense of pleasure in performing into the classical world.
Our own improvisation
Roger and I have found that improvising and composing music definitely helps our arrangements and keeps creativity alive. You can hear some examples of our arrangements on our Moonlight and Music cd which you can buy by clicking the link below: https://www.fedorastrings.com/product-category/cd-sales/
Does style matter in unaccompanied Bach? This may seem an almost sacrilegious question, but I think strong feeling is far more important than style.
Apart from the fact that no one knows exactly what baroque style was, there is no such thing as perfect interpretation. Like Shakespeare – Bach is good enough to cope with any number of imaginative ideas.The key thing is to have creative ideas and project them strongly.
What makes a performance hold the attention?
There are so many wonderful performances on unaccompanied Bach around, and each one is different. Those using early instruments could be said to be more authentic – but what value is style if you don’t feel the music that way? Who says Bach would not have loved rubato and passion, and didn’t play like this himself? Listen to Casals’ performance of Bach and the idea of authenticity goes out of the window. Ultimately you can only play as you are and be guided by what is true to you.