Monthly Archives: October 2011

How do you like your Xanatini?

Shaken or stirred?

My tai-chi approach to practicing the left-hand pizzicati pieces for tomorrow night’s concert is working.

But I’ll admit that a couple days after my previous post, I was feeling dismal about it, and suggested to the composer, Gene Pritsker, that we not list the piece on the program in case it didn’t get together.  Gene, a great guy, said, “Don’t worry, we’ll make it work.”  And so he and Dan Barrett, my cello buddy of long standing and a cofounder of the International Street Cannibals, and I got together yesterday and went through it.  We slowed the tempo down a bit, found that some of the most awkward of the notes could be be omitted and keep the musical effect.  It’s basically a cello quartet Dan and I are playing, two arco (bowed) lines, two pizzicato lines, with the pizzicato being down by available fingers of the left hand.  And it’s working–it’s going to be fun.

Then another curveball from the universe.

At today’s big rehearsal for tomorrow’s concert, I played through what I thought was Dan Palkowski‘s entire new solo cello piece, Gayageum, for him (this is the other left-hand pizzicato challenge work). I finished and he said something about looking forward to the “the fast part.”

What fast part? I asked.

“What do you mean, what fast part?” he said, and he showed me his copy of the part, which was about four pages longer than the one I had.  Turns out I was mistakenly sent the PDF of an the early version, with only the slow part. Luckily, it’s something I was able to sightread a bit under tempo and will have learned by tomorrow evening. (We’re doing with added percussion in this concert, which I’ll blog about in my next post.)

It’s been a stressful week for personal reasons, aside from the left-hand pizzicato nightmares.  At our late group lunch after the rehearsal, I told Dan that I had joked to Gene that at one point I thought I might need a Xanax and a martini.

“A Xanatini!” Dan replied.


But I’ve practiced, so I don’t need one after all.




Filed under Uncategorized

Tai Chi Cha Cha and the Left-Hand Pizz Stress Challenge

(Or just give me a Xanax with a scotch on the rocks.)

So first the universe said to me, “and you will greatly expand your left-hand pizzicato skills this week.”

Last week and into this scores have been arriving via email for this coming Sunday’s 7:30 PM International Street Cannibals Tai Chi Cha Cha (how could you miss that?) concert at St. Mark’s in the Bowery in Manhattan.  (The New York one.  We probably have an Indiana one somewhere, along with our own Brazil and Poland.) It’s Fall Break, a whole week, at DePauw, and, having played on two of the Cannibals concerts while on sabbatical in New York last winter/spring, I invited myself to play in this one.  So I’m flying up there in the morning.

Two of the pieces have lots of left hand pizzicato.  If you’re not a string player, pizzicato is the fancy-pants Italian word for plucking.  (Classical musicians still use Italian terminology with each other because in the the 1600s opera started in Italy and became really popular.) 95% or more of the time we pluck with the right hand, the one that holds the bow.  But sometimes we are playing a note, or notes, with the bow and pluck other strings with the left hand, which is also holding down a string or strings.  This is just about as difficult as it sounds.  Maybe a bit more, especially if you haven’t done a lot of it for a while.

One of these pieces almost put me over the edge yesterday.  I can’t play this a voice said somewhere in me.  Keep calm answered another.  First learn the slightly awkward double stops and then figure out how to add in the pizzicatos. 

Took a break.  Laid down on the couch and Figaro, one of my cats, plopped down on my belly.  “Help!” I posted on Facebook.  “I took a practice break and now there’s a cat on my belly and I can’t get up.”  A friend added a comment to the effect that cat therapy is good for the playing.  Eventually the cat moved on, I got up, and returned to the cello.

Just did everything in  s  l  o  w    m  o t  i  o  n.

Very, very calmly.

My thoughts went quickly to Dale Stuckenbruck, the wonderful violinist (and musical saw player) who was my RA when I was a 16-year-old high school junior at the North Carolina Schoolof the Arts.  Dale would help me practice, bless him, and he taught me more about practicing (calmly, intelligently, methodically, and focused) than anyone else.  Thank you, Dale! (Isn’t that great . . . we can still be learning from our earlier mentors 35 years later?)

It’s going to be alright, it turns out. Just have to work out the choreography–which finger will pluck which string when.  And then it will speed up on its own. (And it just occurred to me that I’m practicing in tai chi-like slow motion for the Tai Chi Cha Cha concert.  Neat, huh?)

So that was handled.

Then the universe said, and you will be humbled.

I made a quick trip to the DePauw recording studio this afternoon, to record the Prelude and Gigue of the Bach G Major Suite for a doctor friend who is making some educational videos and needs some music for them.  Oh, I’ve played these movements a zillion times, it will be a piece of cake.  Ha!  As I listened to the playback of the takes, I kept thinking, man, I’d like to give this guy a lesson!  We’ve got something useable, and I may like it better a year from now, but I really need to do a lot more recording of myself. Holy fuck, this music is amazing and needs something more than me winging it.

OK, now back to practicing that left-hand pizzicato.


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Filed under International Street Cannibals, North Carolina School of the Arts, practice techniques, sabbatical journal

Painting to Music

Here’s a painting-in-progress, done to a recording of songs by Indiana folk musician Joe Peters.

I’d never seen someone do a painting live, with a music performance, until I saw it done at Joe’s CD release party last year (on which I played).  Then I saw it done on one (or was it two?) of Mike Block’s GALA NYC concerts last spring, and at the opening Summer Stage concert by Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble in New York’s Central Park (Times review here).  It’s a fascinating collaborative, creative component for a concert. Does it add anything to “the music”?  Not really.  To the overall human experience?  Sure!  I definitely want to program it this coming summer on a Greencastle Summer Music Festival concert.

Anyway, I love Joe’s music.  Enjoy.

(BTW, if you like the cello playing in the intro, the player’s initials are “E.E.”  If you don’t, then, uh, I don’t know who the guy is.  The wonderful violin/viola playing is definitely my dear friend and former spouse, Allison Edberg, who did the string arrangement.)


Filed under Allison Guest Edberg, Folk Music, GALA NYC, Greencastle Summer Music Festival, Joe Peters, Mike Block

GETFOOG, and learning how to balance

Elaine Fine announced she was taking time off from blogging and two days later started right back up again.  Whew!  Because hers is my favorite blog related to classical music. When I read her “I’m taking quitting, ok, taking time off” post, one of my first thoughts was, “I better start blogging again to help fill in the gap.”  (Interesting reaction.)

And Roger Bourland, another favorite blogger, recently wrote about how little he’s been blogging as he’s gone through professional and personal transitions and started a sabbatical. And then his blogging picked up.

I just looked at my list of posts and realized how little I’ve blogged since last spring.  It was so exciting, writing about my explorations in New York, and then once I came back home to Greencastle (I’d been on sabbatical) I found it hard to write. While school’s in session, I find it hard to summon the mental energy to write blog posts–there’s usually just too much to do and I am stressed by all the things that seem at times more than I can handle.

It was hard to write even before I left, though, because I’d fallen so in love with New York I was sad about coming back and, frankly, depressed.

Now I’ve just begun 9 days of fall break, counting the two weekends, and find myself in a reflective mood.  The end of the sabbatical from teaching brought a sabbatical from blogging, I see.  So who knows how long this will last.

One thing I’ll say is that I’m happier than I can remember being.  A year off from teaching, and when I started again I discovered, to my delighted post-burnout surprise, just how much genuinely I love it. I love teaching cello and teaching classes, and that there’s a special magic in sharing with others the special magic of playing in and leading drum circles, and in improvising music in a supportive environment.  My job is great.  Much of this fall I’ve felt, “I have the best job in the world!”

I absolutely love New York and for quite a while I was dreading going back to the small town of Greencastle, the supposed “nowhere” which is an hour’s drive from the “somewheres” of Indianapolist and Bloomington, which many people regard as “nowheres” anyway.  But Greencastle is a wonderful small town and it has gives one what New York can’t–a sense of true community, where almost everyone knows everyone else, and where you can run into friends wherever you go (while delightful, this can be annoying , it turns out, to someone you’re dating who is new to Greencastle and can get a little impatient when nearly every dinner out or trip to the market is interrupted). And it’s not insanely, absurdly expensive, like Manhattan, where I rented a large room with a private bath, in a large Upper West Side apartment, and paid, at a slightly below-market rate, more than my mortgage, taxes, and insurance combined for my nearly 3000 sq. ft. 1888 house in Indiana.

What I’ve found is the secret is balance.  I love small-town life and need the big city, too.  So I’ve started what I call my “GETFOOG” project: Get Eric The F–k Out of Greencastle.  Just now and then.  Labor Day weekend I spent in New York.  A couple weeks later, an overnight trip (with a wonderful friend) to Chicago.  Later this week, 5 nights in NYC, including playing a concert.  (Which, I guess, will make it all tax deductible, too.)

Sabbaticals are wonderful things, a colleague mentioned to me after asking how mine had been, and I’d told him both how stimulating the sabbatical experiences themselves were and how much I was enjoying being back.  Among other things, it brought me a clearer sense of who I am, clarity about what I love doing and am good at, a renewed sense of purpose, and an understanding of what kind of balance I need in my life.

More, I hope, to come.


Filed under and everything, sabbatical journal