So Why Is Improvisation So Important?

Like so many classically trained cellists, improvising was never something that I felt very comfortable trying. And although most of my professional life has been in the world of new music, improvisation was not something that I had explored in depth until a few years ago.

My improvisational journey began literally the day after my final day with the Kronos Quartet when I played a concert at The Stone in New York with John Zorn and several others on one of his monthly improv nights. For those of you who have never been to one, the way that these concerts work is that everyone sits downstairs in the basement and one by one people decide in the moment who plays with whom. It can be duos, trios or quartets – you literally have no idea what you are playing or whom you are playing with until two seconds before walking upstairs. Everyone then comes together at the end to play in one giant improv. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was taking my first step into a new world that, over time, has increasingly become a large part of my performing life. Continue reading

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A Chamber Music Concert is Worth a Thousand Words

One of the goals of good teaching is assisting students to develop into interesting, compelling and communicative artists. Of course, there are many influences that create artistic musicians and many of them can be discussed and demonstrated in lessons. However, one of the factors that I believe is extremely important is also one that cannot actually happen in a lesson. For it to get done, you must often rely on the parents of your students or, for collegiate students, the student themselves.

That factor is getting students to attend concerts to hear and watch professional and artistic musicians performing “live”. Continue reading

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100 Cello Warm-Ups and Exercises Blog 21: Alexanian Exercises

Today’s Blog is devoted to some thumb position exercises by Diran Alexanian that my teacher in Freiburg, Spanish cellist Marcal Cervera, gave to me in 1972. These exercises are not in included in Alexanian’s seminal book on cello technique, Traite Theorique et Pratique du Violoncelle  (Theoretical and practical treatise of the violoncello).Alexanian’s book includes several pages of other thumb position exercises (pages 125 ff.) which are well worth practicing, but I believe that these 13 exercises have never actually been published.  I do not know how Cervera got these exercises, but I copied them from his notebook, and studied them with him.  I find them to be very useful.

Alexanian was born in Armenia in 1881. He became Casals’ assistant at the École Normale de Musique in Paris. His treatise was endorsed by Casals (on the cover it says “compiled in complete accord with Pablo Casals”), and in the preface Casals writes: Continue reading

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What?….I have to listen too??

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For seven long minutes he stood. Then he stirred
And he said to the bear, “do you know what I heard?
Do you see that far mountain…? It’s ninety miles off.
There’s a fly on that mountain. I just heard him cough!
Now the cough of a fly, sir, is quite hard to hear
When he’s ninety miles off. But I heard it quite clear.” Dr. Suess

In Dr. Suess’s story, “The Big Brag”, the rabbit goes on and on about how well he can hear. Of course, that is not the point of the story, which is about how dumb it is to brag about how great you are. (That is a possible topic for another article…not that musicians ever do that!). But it does have an important message that many musicians, especially younger musicians need to learn. Our ears are remarkable and can hear at an amazing level of detail. But it is also remarkable how poorly many music students really listen. Continue reading

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The viola and 2nd violin (The Unsung Heroes of Chamber Music Groups!)

When violinists are asked what part they prefer to play in chamber music, there are often just two answers. I wish more often that there were three common answers, but more on that later.

Some like to feel like they are the star, and so they want to play 1st violin. Others are either unwilling or unable to take on the 1st violin part which often features the most virtuosic part writing in the strings and so they choose 2nd violin.

The irony in that decision is that playing 2nd violin well in a chamber ensemble requires a skill set that is in many ways more difficult than what the 1st violin is required to do. And, it is very different than in orchestra, where the individual player can and often should blend into the section. In a chamber ensemble, the second violinist has tremendous responsibilities. Continue reading

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100 Cello Warm-ups and Exercises Blog 19: Cello Geography -Part 5: Thumb Position and the Upper Registers

Blogs #15 and #16 discussed the geography of the lower regions of the cello. In sorting out the “latitude” and “longitude” in this part of the instrument the main organizing principle is the knowledge and use of positions. We identify the positions by the location of the first finger on the string up through Seventh position, with “normal” and “extended” variants throughout. When the first finger is playing the A in seventh position on the A string the thumb is still behind the neck – so this is still considered neck position. Seventh position is a significant place on the cello, because it divides the string into two equal parts, and as a result we find the A harmonic there as well. Continue reading

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Breaking | Norwegian Air Announce New Violin-Friendly Cabin Policy

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Reprinted from The Violin Channel February 4, 2016

Read this wonderful news from the Violin Channel and then go change.org and sign the petition insisting  that WestJet Airlines also adopt Industry standards for accommodating musical instruments. Together we can make a difference – Thank you!

Norwegian Air has today announced a new official cabin-baggage policy – allowing violins and violas to be brought onboard as hand luggage.

The policy change comes after an expose was posted on The Violin Channel on January 20th – which to date has received over 160,000 page views, and more than 400 comments, 3000 social media shares and 15,000 Facebook likes. Continue reading

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WestJet Airlines: We Challenge Your Policy on Seats for Musical Instruments

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Edited by CelloBello from the Change.org petition of January 30, 2016

Read this petition and the two blogs below it, and then, please… go to Change.org and sign this petition. We must insist WestJet stop bumping cellists off its flights!

Nathan Chan, a young student cellist at the Juilliard School, was recently prevented from boarding a WestJet flight because he was traveling with his cello – even though he had purchased a ticket for the instrument in advance.

WestJet, whose policy is clearly out of step with virtually all other airlines, refuses to budge, and thus prevents musicians from doing their jobs.

Continue reading

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Famed Cellist Angry That Canadian Airline’s Policy Banning Cellos from Cabin Still Unchanged

Juilliard-trained cellist Nathan Chan says WestJet refused to allow his cello in the cabin during a flight from Vancouver to Toronto earlier this month, even though he bought an extra seat for the instrument. 

Juilliard-trained cellist Nathan Chan says WestJet refused to allow his cello in the cabin during a flight from Vancouver to Toronto earlier this month, even though he bought an extra seat for the instrument.

[Blogmaster’s note: If you are upset after reading this story and want to add your voice, please go to change.org and sign the petition!]

Paul Katz says he is ‘outraged’ after WestJet refused a cello in the cabin during a flight from Vancouver, four years after he received the same treatment.

Reprinted from the Vancouver Metro, January 28, 2016
By Thandi Fletcher

A renowned American cellist says he is “outraged” after hearing that WestJet refused to allow a young musician’s cello in the cabin during a recent flight from Vancouver, even though he bought an extra seat for the instrument.

Nearly four years ago, Paul Katz says he received the same treatment. “I get angry,” he told Metro. “I just think WestJet is so indefensible, and their attitude is so cavalier. They’re just so out of step with the whole airline industry.”

Continue reading

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Despicable WestJet Airlines Once Again Refuses Cello in Cabin!

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Cello boarding pass correctly purchased by Nathan Chan. (CBBG stands for Cabin Baggage.)

Canadian-based WestJet Airlines, to my knowledge, is the only airline with an official policy of not allowing a cello onboard, yet they seem to have no problem selling a seat for a cello and then denying boarding at the gate! Read in the Boston Globe how this happened to me in 2013. The situation has been suffered by cellists numerous times since, the latest being Juilliard student Nathan Chan, who I applaud for fighting back!

By contrast, competitor Air Canada recently adopted a a “friendly skies” policy towards musical instruments as cabin baggage, and in the United States, the Passenger Bill of Rights says that airlines must allow the purchase of a ticket for a cello. Lets get behind Nathan and send letters of outrage to WestJet! Use  your Facebook and social media pages to publicize WestJet’s outrageous behavior.
Paul Katz, Artistic Director and Founder, CelloBello
Continue reading

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