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Archive for the ‘Cello Talks’ Category

Approaching the one-year anniversary of the completion of his Cello Talks, David Finckel shares his observations and some of the feedback he has received on a project that is still without parallel. You can view all the Cello Talks at www.cellotalks.com, as well as search the Talks by topic.

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In David’s words
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When I learned, back in 2009, that I could actually post a video online with relative ease, a whole new world opened up.

Since the beginning of our association with Isaac Stern, first in Israel in 1997 and in subsequent years in New York, Japan and the Netherlands, he had made us acutely aware of the necessity of good instrumental technique for the successful performance of chamber music.

We watched, time and again, as Stern made speeches to workshop students about how he was not going to teach them how to play.  And then, within one coaching, he HAD to teach them how to play, because they couldn’t well enough to execute the musical ideas we had for them.  It was as simple as that.

I have spent a lot of time trying figure out my cello playing over the years.  I know that I can explain how I do what I do (not that it’s the best cello playing there ever was) well enough so that others can do it too.  I have had a pretty good life in music, to say the least, and if it works for me, I should at least share it.

That is why I made the Cello Talks videos.  I have never advertised them or promoted them.  Yet, in this season of 2011-12, there is not a city that I go to, anywhere in the world, where I am not approached by someone after the concert who thanks me for the help they have received through the Cello Talks.

Highlights have included: a group of students in Zug, Switzerland, who all watch them; the cello teacher from Santiago, Chile, whose entire class watches and who volunteered to help me with Spanish subtitles; the older gentleman from Western Australia who has just started the cello in his senior years and finds them helpful; and most recently, the faculty and students of the Beckett School in Kitchener, Ontario, who sent me a bottle of good wine and the following card:

On the heels of this touching message came my meeting last week with a 7-year-old from Pittsburgh, who is watching the lessons.

In short, a project that was largely created for my own satisfaction has turned into something that is being used by musicians globally, to an amazing extent.  I am frankly astounded at the number of people, far and wide, who approach me to relate the ways in which the Talks have helped them, to identify their particular favorites, and to encourage me to continue with more video music lessons.

The creation of another video series such as Cello Talks is definitely on my mind.  What I am dreaming of would require some significant funding, but could potentially be helpful for many musicians. Stay tuned.

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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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