Going Up


Drawing by David Yu


The world is a ladder, which some go up and some go down.


–Gypsy Proverb


‘Think up along the spine’: five of the most important words in the Alexander Technique. It takes as much hard work, patience and humility to understand and live these words as it does to interpret great works of music, perhaps more, because thinking up along the spine means that every waking moment we can be conscious of ourselves, not only when we are making music.

For cellists, thinking up along the spine is going for the gold. So given its importance to us as players, what does this phrase tell us? Working backwards from the last word to the first, let’s see where it takes us. Continue reading

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A String Player’s Guide to the Ivory Ban

If you plan to travel abroad this summer, you may need a passport…
for your bow.


Horror stories have been circulating about the confiscation of string players’ bows at international borders due to the recent “ivory ban.” On Saturday, May 31st, seven bows belonging to members of the Budapest Festival Orchestra were seized at JFK Airport (these did not have proper documentation, and have since been released). More alarming – a bow owned by a double-bassist in the Bavarian Radio Orchestra has been held at JFK since the orchestra passed through in mid-May, as it was found to contain a piece of bone from Continue reading

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Reprint: Two Articles from The Violin Channel – Ivory Bows and US Customs

Below are two recent from The Violin Channel regarding traveling players’ issues with US Customs over bows containing ivory.


Trio Violinists Denied Access to Carry Violins On US Airways Flight [VIDEO]

Posted May 27, 2014 in NEWS

Violinists Zach de Pue and Nick Kendall, from the string trio Time for Three have today released a fly-on-the-wall YouTube video – after being stopped on the tarmac of the Charlotte Douglas International Airport, by ill-informed US Airways crew members – claiming their violins were impermissible within the cabin.

En route to the Artosphere Arts and Nature Festival in Arkansas, the Captain asked both men to exit the plane and wait on the tarmac, so the frustrated musicians took to twitter and their phones:  Continue reading

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Power Is Energy, Unblocked and Properly Directed

The words of truth are always paradoxical.  –Lao Tzu

Paul Katz was here recently in London giving a workshop on the bow to the members of the London Cello Society and raised an interesting point about strength.  His Tai Ch’i teacher once said to him, “Hardness is Weakness, Softness is Strength: Hardness is Death, Softness is Life”  This remarkable saying inspires this article. Continue reading

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Hit or Miss

“Under the ordinary teaching methods, the pupil gets nineteen wrong to one right experience. It ought to be the other way round.”

–F.M. Alexander

A young instrumentalist aiming for a professional life onstage puts in a staggering number of practice hours during their formative years.I heard the director of our Conservatoire recently state the figure of 8 to 10 hours a day for the 18-24 year olds at undergraduate and graduate levels. Does he think that’s what’s happening in the practice room or wish that it were so? Continue reading

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Last summer I was once again a participant in the Marlboro Music Festival.  As always, the school generously provided my wife, Dorothea, and me with a house off campus.    This time we were given the former home of David Soyer, the cellist of our Guarneri String Quartet for thirty-seven of its forty-five-year existence.   Dave passed away in 2010, his wife, Janet, in 2011.

I knew Dave and Janet’s house rather well, a charming, rustic old place set in the woods, and I looked forward to staying in it.  When people asked me whether I wouldn’t feel funny living in their house now that they were gone, I laughed and said no at first without really thinking much about it.  But then I began to wonder whether Dave and Janet would in fact have liked us to be sleeping in their bed, breakfasting on their porch, or inviting friends over for coffee Continue reading

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David Soyer, cellist and founding member of the Guarneri String Quartet, passed away on February 26, 2010- one day after his 86th birthday. Michael Tree, violist, and John Dalley and I, violinists, the other founding members, played in the quartet with Dave for almost forty years and we knew him for close to fifty. Peter Wiley, a former cello student of Dave’s and his successor in the Guarneri Quartet, has known him for easily forty years. Given the close musical and personal relationship that we had with Dave stretching over decades, it is hard to believe that he is no longer with us.

Dave and I first met at the Marlboro Music School- quite literally at a rehearsal for Brahms B Major Piano Trio. In the course of that two-hour rehearsal, I learned very quickly that Dave was smart, direct, even blunt, yet full of wit and charm. And from his very first notes, I knew that I was in the presence of not only an outstanding cellist and musician, but also someone with a distinctive and compelling voice. Dave’s playing could never be confused with that of a solid but generic cellist. As in everything about him, music included, Dave was an original. Continue reading

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Working With the Infinite Onion

Here’s a riddle for you:  I am like an infinite onion.  There is always another layer of me for you to peel back and you might feel like crying the entire time.    I am also like doing the dishes.  There is always another meal to eat and that means there will always be more dirty dishes for you to clean….forever!     What am I??

The answer is:  INTONATION!!

Great intonation in a chamber music ensemble is one of the most difficult technical aspects to achieve for any group striving for excellence.  It often requires a lot of rehearsal time, can test anyone’s patience, and all your hard work can seemingly disappear on stage, even for professional ensembles.  I would like to explore the reasons it can be so tricky and complicated, and also offer ideas on how a student ensemble can begin to tackle this thorny subject. Continue reading

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