I think most of us have arriving at work rituals. Every morning when I get to work, the first thing I do after brewing a coffee, is check my email for new photos from Chaudiere. It is like a quick visit to a shrine of cellistic hope before getting on with the various tasks of the day.
Today, this photo of the belly of my cello arrived. The beautiful craftsmanship and the sense of expectation and becoming in the wood are inspiring me along with my practice. Whenever I see a photo of the cello, I have a renewed sense of expectation and anticipation about playing on the instrument in October. I am also strangely moved by seeing the cello in bits that is going to be sharing the rest of my life once it is fully formed. It is like seeing an ultrasound of a yet-to-be born baby, except this image has more definition and colour. There’s also the knowledge that this cello in becoming will be completely my own, and will move through the rest of my life with me as an extension of my happiest self. Babies are born to become their own selves in life. Yes, it’s happy, amazing and incredible – but they should be loved and never owned.
It has not been an easy ten days for finding practice time. Tingleman has had several container loads of books and catalogues raining down on our warehouse in Springvale, and along with the never-ending pile of administrative stuff that goes into keeping the business running, I have traveled the length and breadth of Australia attending to the clients who entrust printed representations of themselves to our firm. Mostly, my clients provide interesting and stimulating encounters, but they all have expectations and demands which must be met if we are to keep their business, and being more professional than our competitors takes energy and attention to detail. I always get home intending to play cello, but the intention often gets deferred due to tiredness. The next month or so looks pretty good, and I am looking forward to some solid cello time.
I have decided as a contingency, to work first on the cello suites I will perform in Montpellier in October. This will give me longer preparation time for the concert works. They are suites one, three and six. I have decided that because the event is such a happy one, I will stick to the suites in the major key. There are four in major keys and two in minor keys (numbers two and five). I could also have chosen number four, which is in E flat major. However, I will not be all that familiar with the new cello, and E flat is a tricky key at the best of times on the cello. I will leave the E flat suite for a concert later in the year when I have had time to grow into the new cello. I might play it on Bach’s birthday – March 21 – now there’s an idea…
So here is the plan: I’ll prepare three suites to performance standard on Betty (the John Betts cello I am using to get my fingers ready), and if there is time left over before October, I will upload the other three onto the alfredcello blog to keep my fingers moving and my musical mind challenged. If I run out of time, I might upload suites 2 and 5 on the new cello after October.
The uploading of suites has been great way staying on track and keeping me honest. It’s not only a public commitment that’s keeping me working even when Tingleman has stolen most of my energy. It is also a true snapshot of my progress and standard at a set point in time. Once a performance is publicly available online, you can’t get confused between reality and hope. I have to admit it’s a bit humbling. It would be easy to soar away on the cello, leave the rough bits for later, and imagine it sounds just like it used to. But in committing to complete performances of a work, I am having to face the reality that although the bones and foundations might still be there, in places the flesh has wrinkled, and there are flabby spots. The hardest thing, I am finding, is getting the intonation reliable. Although the fingers are happy to play all the notes, a lot of them seem to be randomly a millimeter or two out of place. I’m working at it, its improving; but I may have to accept that the two percent gap between can-play and really polished might require an extra three hours of daily practice. I will do my best to get the tuning really polished with the time I have available, but I may have to accept that this is about getting things as good as I possibly can, rather than working for the absolute standard that drove me when I was a professional player. Let’s see how I go.
The other aspect of my musicianship that is not coming back immediately after eight years without a cello – is stamina. When things are in very good shape, playing for longer and holding a deep musical concentration is easier simply because body and mind are more relaxed about the task of playing. That’s both a benefit and consequence of being fit. I am finding the fitness is improving the longer I play, and I believe it will be just fine well before the concert in October. To keep real about this, once I have uploaded all the movements to this site one at a time with each blog post, I am uploading a complete performance end-to-end of each suite. With this post, I have uploaded a complete play-through of suite one (below). Unfortunately I could not upload it in one file, as it is more than the maximum file size for WordPress, so if you want to hear the complete performance, you will have to download the first and second section one at a time. It’s actually much more gratifying playing the whole suite in one sitting, as the movement flow from one to another, and it’s easier to get good mood and tempo relationships by moving through the transitions and taking on the completeness of each suite.
Lastly – I have received lots of encouraging messages and remarks via the site, Facebook and Email. Thanks everyone! I have had the occasional flat spot about this whole thing, and the positive comments are a great help in keeping me going.