If It Sounds Good . . .

Carter Brey, principal cellist of the New York Phil, and I are still hotly debating left-hand cello position via email. It’s fun, and we both agree that “if it sounds good, it is good,” (Ellington, so often quoted by Schickele) and we really don’t care what sort of hand position a good player uses.

That doesn’t make the debate any less intense, of course. An interesting thought has come up. As objective as we try to be, arguing from our own experience and that of others, perhaps much of what “works best” for an individual player is related to how (s)he first learned to play well., and that colors one’s view of what works best in general. So our attempts to be objective are limited by some very subjective experiences.

I play with a more “slanted” left hand, Carter a more “square” one. For me to really see if a square hand would work better for me than my current approach, I’d have to unlearn/relearn how to play the cello. And I’d really have to find some way to turn the clock back to being 14 or 15 or younger. Otherwise, when I try to play square-handed, it is with a brain and body highly programmed to use a different hand angle. And the same thing for him.

Interesting, too, is that after study (including some study with the same teacher), we each went through a period of trial and error and settled on a way to play that to each of us seemed perhaps the way to play. But ended up with opposite opinions on this issue. Obviously some of this must have to do with the differences in our hands and arms, as well as certain types of sound, etc., that we prefer. But at this point (me in my late 40s, he the old man in his early 50s), I don’t think either could change if we wanted to.

Part of the fun of this for me is I haven’t argued like this, especially over technique, with anyone since I was an undergraduate. Eventually one grows up and focuses less on how one should play and than on simply playing well. I feel like a teenager again!

I go back to NY Thursday. My “quasi sister” Katherine and I will go to the Philharmonic concert, with Josh Bell as soloist in Corigliano’s Red Violin Concerto, that night. Good way to start off this trip, which for the most part will be focused on work with my friend and colleague modern dancer Robin Becker. It seems inevitable that on this trip Carter and I will try to convert each other in person. Hopefully it will end up with just some duet playing. Or, failing that, drinking. Or, even better, both.

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Lately I’ve been listening to a lot of cello music, especially since I have a new DVD of Pierre Fournier playing concerti and sonatas, and a new CD of previously unreleased performances by Emanuel Feuermann. The latter includes a video clip of a film made of Feuermann in the late 1930s. Feuermann was the greatest cello player of his day, at least in terms of technical control, the next breakthrough after Casals. He died due to anesthesia complications in minor surgery. Feuermann, so precise, clean, and effortless. Fournier: warm, free-but-elegant, and slightly impulsive. If I could go back in time and hear just one in person, it would be hard to choose. I’d be really curious to hear and see Feuermann live. I’d be more excited to hear Fournier. Either one would be fine, of course, if you happen to have a time machine.

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I’m really hoping my son hasn’t found this blog. His mom and I have imposed new restrictions on the amount of time he and his girlfriend can spend together on school nights (it’s Draconian: nothing after dinner, except for play rehearsals, etc.). He’s taking it fine–he knows he needs to study and sleep more. She, though, is melting down. So they are on the phone so much she might as well be here. Surely this will calm down soon, won’t it? Someone tell me it will.

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1 Comment

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One response to “If It Sounds Good . . .

  1. Scott Spiegelberg

    Sure, make fun of me listening to movie music, and you’re going to a concert featuring some!

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