Lots of us out in the the online cello world are more than a little impressed–and in some cases, inspired–by whiz-kid Joshua Roman’s Popper Etude YouTube project. He’s posting one of the 40 “High School of Cello Playing” etudes about every week, seemingly effortlessly dashing them off, playing them musically and from memory (up through #6 as of now). OK, Mr. Roman is 25 and won the Seattle Symphony principal cello seat at 22. I’ve heard that he’s leaving the orchestra to concentrate on his solo and chamber gigs, but that’s not confirmed on his website. To us middle-aged folks, 25 is a kid, and Joshua is a whiz, however old he is. (And as one Cello Chat poster put it, he looks 15 in his videos.)
Meanwhile, classes and exams are over, the DePauw seniors have commenced their new lives (see, that’s why they call those graduation ceremonies “commencements”), the others have gone home for the summer, and I have time to really practice. (Evidently that’s a sign that one really is a cellist–vacation comes and your first reaction is, “Oh boy, I can practice a lot!)
So I’m embarking on my own Joshua-inspired Popper Project–to restudy the ones I actually learned as a student, and to learn the ones I managed to avoid. It’s, well, humbling. I want to get them up to a level where they’re YouTube-worthy, and record them with some comments (especially for my own students) on what I found helpful in practicing them.
Something in me thinks I should be able to just sit down and rattle them off, flawlessly. We all have these self-critical monsters inside us, some more so than others. Mine can be very nasty. I am getting better and better at dealing with those dwelling in me.
At this point, I’m playing through the first eleven each day, working in depth on a few (I’ve been adding one or two a day). And guess what really works? Keeping calm, telling the monster to shut the heck up, practicing slowly and easily, hearing each note before I play it, and visualizing my hand on the fingerboard before I put a finger down (or up, or slide it somewhere).
One of the great things about slow, easy practice is that you can do it musically. I used to think that to play with physical ease one had to play without feeling, because emotion can trigger physical tension. As I teen I got myself into a situation where I could play calmly, efficiently, and very boringly (is that a word?), but if I played expressively, if I surrendered to my emotions, I was a tense and often very out-of-tune mess.
I could go on and on, and will soon. The cello, and Mr. Popper, are calling me back.