And by the way, I was very happy with the Bach and the Ballerinas - I had a couple of bad memory slips in the dress rehearsal, but both performances were stellar - I only made mistakes in my head, not out loud :)
This is kind of a long story so I'm going chronological -
E3Q has practiced two times since school is out. In and of itself that is remarkable. Mark has written a sweet chord sequence in C phrygian, and so I've been playing around ("fooling around") with the Phrygian. I love it - I think it's my current favorite mode. I have also been toying around with another progression that I wrote, and thinking about how to use the modes to write a Prelude for the Lullaby Project (recording soon!). At the same time, my friend Maria and I have been picking repertoire to play for a concert this summer, and I thought of the Cassado Solo Suite, which I have neither played or thought of in 13 years. Today I decided to play all the C modes (Major, dorian, phrygian, lydian, mixolydian...) to warm up, before reading through the Cassado to see what was what. And, low and behold, how does the Cassado start? First declamation, D dorian. Repeat that in C mixolydian, then c lydian. And so forth. The whole thing is modal. And I heard them, and was able to recognize them by ear and also by pattern for the first time. I didn't really know that before: I probably knew that he piece was modal in some way, but I didn't really KNOW it. Mind completely blown.
What sort of freaks me out is that apparently my ear knew, and nudged my sub-conscience ("remember the Cassado?"), but it wasn't until I actually played the piece that I realized how exactly the Cassado fits all the other things I am currently working through.
The things us classical instrumentalists hear from our teachers, "always practice with thought","don't just fool around but have intent" are certainly words of wisdom. I know that growing up, "fooling around" on the cello, and "playing without thinking" were somewhat synonymous. Now I am really questioning that. In fact, when I "fool around" with the modes or any other set of of parameters, I am thinking very hard and certainly, have just as much intent, if not more, than when I read music or practice music written down by somebody. I think "fooling around with intent" should be highly encouraged in instrumental learning! I really would love to see some brain imaging done on improvisers brain compared to a brain reading music...The two processes are incredibly different.
Also, I wonder how long it would take to play through the circle of fifths doing all the modes on all 12 notes...108 scales if you do all three minors.
This Saturday, I will be performing the Bach Bourrees from the 3rs Suite with 16 lovely ballerinas. This is at once an exhilarating opportunity, and something that scares me out of my wits. Solo Bach is notoriously difficult to perform correctly when memorized. I always tell my students when they get lost, that it's sort of an initiation and so many much more famous cellists than them have been tripped up by Bach - indeed, I don't think I have ever heard a complete Suite without any mistakes played live (with one notable difference: I heard Erling Blondal Bengtsson play all six Suites in one concert at University of Michigan, completely perfectly from memory). Most recently when I have had to (or have chosen to) play Bach memorized, it hasn't felt totally absolutely horrible because I am better at improvising than I used to be, and if I know the form and the chords, I can make up stuff until I get back on track. Not so much, when 16 people on stage are depending on me to deliver exactly the right count of beats! There's no room for doubling back to a wrong spot when taking the repeat, or playing in circles like often happens with memorized Bach.
My main concern is that I get so involved in watching the lovely dancers, or get so visually distracted, that I forget where I am in the form. So, I have enlisted the help of my kids. This week they are in charge of distracting me where I practice - today's session included ballet (obviously), and a round of "Q&A", where I had to answer their questions while playing through the piece. This should probably qualify for setting up an IRA for them, as my assistants?
I remember my teachers telling me that some people practice while reading the newspaper. I've always thought that it's a little silly, it's just playing not practice, but perhaps that kind of practicing has a point in some instances..."playing" and "practicing" being two very distinctly different things in the classical world.
So, come Saturday, wish me luck :)
Katri Ervamaa, cellist