FOR THE CURIOUS CELLIST

Celloblog Homepage

Former UK prime minister Winston Churchill declared:

when I die and go to heaven, I want to spend the first million years painting – so I can get to the bottom of the subject.

Rather than waiting such a long time, this “Celloblog” is a living attempt to understand and explain, as well as possible, the complexities of both playing the cello and making music. Here, can be found the knowledge, ideas and material – my own and from all other available sources – that have most helped me to improve over the last 35 years as a working cellist and musician. This is the very personal essence of all that I have been able to learn or discover in that time. It is the material that I would have liked to have when I was a young (and not-so-young) student and musician.

The title “Celloblog” is undoubtedly misleading as this is much more of an encyclopedia than it is a blog. The term “blog” is used simply because the material presented here is neither complete nor definitive: this is “work in progress” and always will be. It is a personal notebook of ideas that is in constant expansion, evolution, development, correction and improvement. Sometimes the image of a huge three-dimensional jigsaw puzzle growing both outwards and inwards seems the most appropriate description!

Although this “blog-encyclopedia” might look and feel like a labyrinth, it actually has a very natural form in which three central trunks spread out into increasingly finer branches. The central trunks are:

Instrumental Technique        Musical Language       Musicality And Interpretation

In our cello practice, it is very easy to mix up these three fundamental pillars of our musical competence in a way that ultimately hinders their mutual development. The wonderful italian cellist Enrico Dindo has a very useful idea with respect to the separation (and ultimate fusion) of the technical and interpretative sides. When we start to learn a new piece of music, he encourages us to consider these areas as being in entirely separate “rooms”. In one “room”, we work on the piece, at the cello, in a purely “technical” way (without any consideration of the musical aspects) while in another “room” – but without the cello – we work on the musical and interpretative aspects. I would add a third room, in which, also without the cello but with the score, historical information, a keyboard and our singing voice – we work on the intellectual skills necessary to understand and assimilate the work. As we gradually get to know the piece better, these separate rooms become more and more connected until ultimately they fuse into one large room in which a competent execution is combined with a well-thought-out interpretation.

As with a tree, each of these central trunks opens out into a rich network of ever-smaller sub-branches. Sometimes we need to work on the tiniest details of the smallest branches, but even then, we must never lose sight of the trunk. Normally, if the trunk is solid and healthy, the little branches will look after themselves. Certainly, when the trunk is unhealthy, the smallest branches will be the first to show it. And certainly, those tiniest branches (details) are often very revelatory. The following quote is again by Winston Churchill, but Albert Einstein would certainly have been in agreement:

“out of intense complexities, intense simplicities emerge”

As with any manual or reference encyclopedia, choosing in which category to include each subject is sometimes not easy. Just as in life, things often don’t fit neatly into boxes but rather tend to overlap. Often, the most interesting subjects are the most difficult to classify (categorise). For example, does “Sound” belong in the category of “Instrumental Technique”, “Musical Language” or “Musicality and Interpretation”? It definitely belongs in all of them! So it goes into the big basket of everything that doesn’t fit neatly in either of our three main categories. We will call this basket:

Mixed And Miscellaneous

It is this interconnectedness, these overlapping boundaries, that can convert an orderly “tree” type structure into a labyrinth, a spider’s web, or ultimately into a knot. But in fact, the knot is what we start with! In the same way that a philosopher tries to unravel (disentangle) the existential problems of life in order to live better, this “Celloblog” tries to unravel the physical, intellectual and emotional problems of cello playing in order to play better and get more enjoyment from our music-making.

One of the many wonderful things about “publishing” on the Internet is that there is no space limitation. This means that the same subjects can appear simultaneously in several different sections without the “book” weighing 20 kilos and becoming impossible to manage. Cross-referencing also is made easy and instantaneous with the click of a mouse. Throughout this website, everything that is highlighted on a green background is a link that will open up a new page if clicked on.

Playing better – making the cello feel easier – is a lifetime occupation, so take your time, and enjoy browsing through this labyrinth of material! I am very much enjoying writing it and I hope you will find it not only useful  …. but also, pleasurable !

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