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Archive for April, 2011

On tour in Corpus Christi, Texas, David Finckel posted the Cello Talks series’ final nine videos, hitting the one hundred mark and concluding his groundbreaking course in cello technique. Still a one-of-a-kind project, the Cello Talks, filmed by David in locations from Japan to Europe to Russia to Scandinavia, are viewed in growing numbers by cellists all over the world. (Photo: David with his famous pink camera that filmed virtually every Cello Talk)
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in David’s words…
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Sometimes, the most important things one does have not been asked for, nor are paid for, nor are necessarily well-known or high-profile components of one’s career. But what makes these projects or ideas important is that, for some reason, one feels it essential to do them.

When I was not even fifteen, I had private cello students. I learned to teach music like my father, on Saturdays at home. He had his studio and I had mine. He charged four dollars per hour and I charged two. It seemed like I was making a fortune.

My students were my age, younger, and older – some of them much older. I learned to pass on immediately what I myself was learning: one could say the turnaround time for my acquired knowledge was extremely short.

A requirement of my teaching at that early age was the ability to explain things that I barely understood or could do. I often stayed one lesson ahead of some students. I gobbled up enough expertise in theory that I could stay about a week ahead (one of my most gifted students, Michael Curry, had off-the-charts perfect pitch and that made the appearance of expertise difficult). I quickly discovered that my students progressed if I explained things clearly and simply. If I confused them, or had no clear answers for their questions, they stayed in the same place.

After I left home to go to college for a year (where I was taught or learned almost nothing), I stopped teaching and never taught regularly again. It was not that I lost interest, only that I was focused on making a performing career for myself. And the learning I did – especially in regard to technique – was mostly figured out on my own, as my great mentor Rostropovich offered only musical inspiration.

During the 1990’s I became increasingly interested in the possibility of working again with young cellists. I had opportunities to hear talented students in the summers in Aspen. They wanted to study with me, and I wanted to teach them, but I could not find a school to teach at. I offered to bring an extremely gifted and accomplished cellist to the Manhattan School but was turned down as a part-time cello teacher – they already had enough adjunct teachers. I still can’t believe that.

Since the 90’s my professional career has taken other turns – the artistic directorships have lead to being able to administrate entire education programs, serving multitudes of students of many instruments, and I have found that extremely gratifying. I also had peak experiences coaching chamber music with Isaac Stern and his stellar faculties in Jerusalem and New York.

I was teaching, but still not the cello. Chamber music coachings often lack the minutes and hours necessary to explain or solve technical problems – extra time is seldom available. It’s ultimately frustrating not to be able to be more helpful in practical ways.

So, with countless concerts, mountains of experience, and a growing sense that someday I might get hit by a bus and take it all with me, I decided to teach via the Cello Talks, without being asked, or paid, or even much noticed – for the meantime.

The Cello Talks are pretty much all I know about how to play the instrument. I’ve left it where people can get at it, and that’s what’s important to me, and hopefully, to others. If there is even one cellist out there who can play better because of something I’ve explained, it’s been worth it, and it’s been a lot of fun.

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For the final Cello Talk I went to Jordan Hall in Boston’s New England Conservatory to let you hear the difference between French and Belgian bridges, and between three different A strings. Cameras on the stage and balcony captured sound close up, and distant – which is so much of what really counts.

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It seems to me that what I’ve posted in this series makes up a School of Cello Playing. Here, I argue my case.

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Vibrato: What is it? What does it mean? What is it for? In this Talk I put forth my own theories. And once you’ve mastered all the different vibrato types and variations I’ve illustrated in these Talks, how do you apply them? Here, I give some examples with playing demonstrations.

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Musical atmosphere is as important as the music itself. Every piece music creates its own feeling in the room, and it’s our responsibility as performers to ensure that music’s magic reaches our audiences as powerfully as possible.

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Musical knowledge certainly encompasses instrumental technique and the music itself, but knowledge of history, cultures, styles, composers’ lives and related subjects is just as important, if not in some cases more so.

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In an earlier Talk I spoke of the importance of breaking your routines, so as not to become dependent upon them. In this Talk I tell a story from a Rostropovich class many years ago that made a lasting impression on me, and I also make recommendations of ways to practice that will help prepare you for the unexpected.

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