I was just perusing the Chamber Music America magazine, and noticed that something strange had happened. I used to be pretty imbedded in the chamber music community, and so when I would read that particular publication I knew half the people, had gone to school or to festivals with them. This time around, they were all strangers. It's a little alarming, and in a few different ways. First of all, I really would like to be imbedded in the community, if for nothing else, for the sake of my sanity (I consider chamber musicians my kin, or my tribe or something like that). Secondly, obviously all of my friends didn't just stop playing their instruments. The faces that I see now are younger (and hipper...more image conscious?) and the conclusion I'm forced to make is that chamber music is not really a viable long term career path for many of us - some, of course, hit the jackpot and get to do it and get paid and have a good time at it for their whole career. But does there come a point at which the traveling, the rigorous rehearsal schedule one must have, the low pay is just not worth it? And how in the world do mother's make it work? I couldn't, and I know a lot of other mom's who couldn't either. It's hard enough to get out of the house to go to my regular job 5 minutes away...I guess being a chamber musician is a little like being in a band, except that the long term success looks different (get probably paid more per gig at first, but the ceiling comes up faster even with a lot of success). Most groups that stay together full time do usually have main teaching gig at some university somewhere. My conclusion is that on it's own chamber music is not really a viable career path at all...and that makes me really sad! BUT, can it be a great career when combined with other music-making? I hope so!
So, the Residential College is moving (for the next 15 months) and as usual, the process is at once absurd, exciting, frustrating and sad. I go through a gamut of conflicting emotions daily, and we have just started packing. I did earn my first gnome for having started my pruning process (I guess the little guys appear in our faculty mailboxes when we have made sufficient progress), so I guess I'm doing something right. I feel like hugging the old wood panels and lovely moldings and high old windows (none of which will be preserved) - it's like saying goodbye to a friend. I don't mind saying goodbye to the asbestos or the 100 degree heat in the dead of winter or dusty old type-written programs from the 70's (some older than me!) - the last of which will be preserved at the Bentley Historical Museum in the RC archives. For the next year the RC will be all over the place, or "everywhere" as we like to say (it's hard to put a positive spin on this, but we're trying). My office will be on the east side of campus at the Dennison Building, I'll be teaching at the bell tower which some other music classes will move to north campus: the students and the languages and the other things that actually make us a college will be clear across campus on the west side. The fragmentation is unavoidable (the RC "thing" is after all that everything happens at the same building...). Somehow, then, it is up to us, the faculty, to make the college hold together and make the experience meaningful to the students. I think the quality of instruction will not suffer - we are professionals after all - but we will have to work very hard to not get lost in the giant that is the University of Michigan. And how to preserve the essence of the Residential College when the residential part is not fully there? Something to ponder in the next year or two...
Why are we moving? Oh, the shower heads on the residential side are too low and a couple of other things. The Quad is getting a mega-remodeling to the tune of $116 million. Competition with the new luxury high-rises in the vicinity is heavy and the U is remodeling all the dorms. Considering that little has been done at the East Quad since the 70's (or before...) it's probably time. But I'm still going to miss our large office with a big window to the street and the ghosts that come knocking at the pipes at night and the stone staircases that make me fee
Somehow my schedule has a few spots here and there that allow me to practice - a good thing. So maybe this will turn into a cello blog, a little ensemble stuff thrown in? Still remains to be seen. Nerdy things to share, to be sure. But I think at the core all classical musicians are nerds...of the very best kind :)
Ever since I was little (well, young) I've known that one day my left third finger is going to give me trouble. The first joint is really small and weak, and since my grandmother had really bad arthritis, I'm pretty sure eventually I'll have problems with it. Like I mentioned in previous post, I took some time off over the break, and for some reason my left hand hasn't recovered from the break as fast as it usually does. Specifically, the third finger...ugh. We played Kodaly Duo and the Shosty Trio in one concert, and those are some hard playing pieces: lot's of fifths (hard on the joints), loud music (hard on the joints) and stuff. My left hand hurts! Double ugh. So, I'm recalling all the wisdom that I once knew in my REALLY hard playing days when 10 hours a day was the norm every day for 10 years: Tiger balm (luckily I found a stash of extra strength from a friend who went to China a while back). A regiment of muscular finger exercises. Stretches designed for string players hands. Duport 7 and Popper Etudes (Piatti Caprices when I'm ready...) for strengthening. Ibuprofein and ice for swelling.
No more time off. For the rest of my playing days. The muscle conditioning is ON!
I helped a friend try out bows on Monday night, which was really fun. Also reminded me of the days when hanging out with four cellists talking shop was the norm, not the exception. I found out that my favorite etude of all times (not just in the top 10, but no1!), Duport 7 is much admired/hated in the current UM cello population! I guess it is one of the favorites of one of the esteemed professors here. I'm a bit of a nut for scales and etudes, and get a little nerdy and neurotic, possibly even over-analytical about this stuff so it was fun to hear that this particular piece of music is in high demand. I think I'm going to try to pick some brains around here for more information. Which bowings are we talking about? The possibilities are so many...
One of the only musical pieces I've ever written, the Lullaby Prelude on Tuu Tuu Tupakkarulla, uses a lot of stuff that this etude taught me. I think it was subliminal, started out as a structured improvisation. It's a good one. So for any cellists out there, Duport 7. Do it.
Ah, everybody knows the piece. It's one of the most famous, and arguably most important chamber music pieces of the 20th century. How many composers these days use artificial cello harmonics in their writing? MANY, I can assure you. But as far as I'm concerned, nobody has topped the ghostly passage at the beginning of the trio, even close. Unbelievable! (the passage, not that nobody has topped it yet). The story about Shosty's relationship with the communist party authorities and the role his chamber music played in his defiance (?) of the party has been told many times. The 8th String Quartet ("dedicated to the victims of fascism") is ripe with symbolism and double meanings (some say) and the Trio uses a lot of the same materials.
The first time I learned the trio was for one of my DMA recitals in Ann Arbor in 2000: when I think of the piece, I also think of violinist Sasha Margolis. Sasha's sound is perfect for the piece - dark, lush, passionate, multifaceted... and completely and totally his own! It's amazing how the music transports us in time and back to a totally different life pre-kids, pre-job, still in school playing the cello 8-12 ours every day...
I was also a very lucky girl to work on the 8th String Quartet repeatedly: the Owla Quartet learned it first, studying it with the Borodin Quartet (particularly the cellist Valentin Berlinsky). The Borodin Quartet, of course, played it for Shosty himself, who (as the story goes) left the room without a word when they were done with the performance. As the Quartet was leaving, Mrs.Shostakovich ran after them and said that the maestro was so moved by the performance that he was incapable to speak. So the stories and the sounds I associate with the piece come straight from the source: bomber planes, bombs dropping in Moscow, assembly lines of machines... horrifying things, powerful music. The trio is the same way. Like I said, I am a lucky girl! I think just the fact of getting to play this music is cause for celebration, and to have repeats is just perfectly amazing.
_ It’s pretty typical that I take breaks from practicing – after all, I do have a full time job and little kids to take care of. I tend to make myself practice by scheduling performances when I know that I might feel the urge to not practice – like summer time. So, I didn’t practice for the last week and two days, and boy did it feel good. The usual knots in my back were not there at my monthly massage this Wednesday: I take it as proof that not practicing on occasion is healthy. Today I started working my way back in with a good 45 minutes of warm-ups. There’s something so very soothing and comforting about the warm-ups: in the best possible situation I do the same routine daily, as I have for the past 25 years…
So I’ve picked these things up here and there. Mostly there, since I wasn’t here yet. Open strings to start with, always. Finger exercises from Seppo Laamanen (My first Liminka music camp, maybe 1984?) and Sevcik. Shifting exercises from Lauri Laitinen, my first major teacher with whom I studied for ten years. Scales in thirds, courtesy of Kazimierz Mikhalik, Poland (1991).
This got me thinking: I started playing cello in November or December, 1981. Exactly 30 years ago!! My first concert was in the spring…I better ask my mom for the date, even if it’s just an excuse to bake a cake and celebrate the 30th anniversary of my first performance :)
So people keep telling me I need to start a blog instead of using my first page as one. I guess I can see the sense in that. But isn't it just a totally self-serving thing to blog about upcoming performances? This is going to require some thought... The function of the web page is to tell people what's up with the concerts and stuff - true. It's hardly interesting to see a list of performances and a stagnated page with no context. I play so many different kinds of music that I feel like the calendar requires a companion, glossary or something, which is what the first page ramblings were meant to do...to keep things alive a little bit :) The blog could do the same I suppose - but it feel it's more official in some way! So maybe I'll keep the first page for a bit and let the process evolve, see if I can think of anything interesting to blog about that has remotely anything to do with music, cello, teaching or whatnot. And not too much about highlighting the next performances...
I read a lot of those interesting mommy-blogs that say everything that needs to be said about motherhood and working. I don't want to talk about politics publicly. I have some ideas, though, about new music blogging, or string quartet blogging, or just writing about those things. It'll be interesting to see if I can find my voice, and what better way to do that than in the eye of the public...on the internet (And yes, I am trying to get rid of the habit of using the "..." at the end of every sentence.)
Katri Ervamaa, cellist