Monthly Archives: August 2015

Cello amusement, and children

A little bit ago I was practicing and realized that holy shit, I was actually playing the piece and it sounded good and felt good, and the realization freaked me out and I went back to sounding like shit.  Hmph.  But hey, 11 notes of feeling natural is an awesome thing to experience.  Maybe I can get it back in tomorrow’s practice again.  Or later tonight if Mom doesn’t turn in too early. Right now my hands need a break.

Awesome Niece and Nephew were over for a few hours this afternoon.  Nephew is weird.  But he’s seven.  Aren’t seven year olds required to be weird?  I actually took notes on some things he said because they were so funny.

  • He sang a song about “butt lips.”  Butt lips on eyeballs, butt lips on chickens, butt lips on earrings.  Butt lips everywhere.
  • People can also drink with their butts.
  • He spent an hour tying people up and asking them to tie him up in return.  Methinks he’s getting a healthy start on a bondage fetish.

I played “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” on the cello for the kids, at their request, because Nephew was eyeing my instrument and touching my music stand.  Despite me sucking, they were impressed that I could make non-screechy noises on it.  Nephew said my new nickname is “Cello Master.”  Like I’m going to argue with that one. (To be fair, though, he gives people new nicknames every half an hour or so.  Just in the time he was here he nicknamed my mother “Baby Chicken” and “Compost”. I’m sure I’ll have a different name next time.)

Niece is about to turn 13 and looks adorably goth.  (“Emo”, she said.  Still looks like a goth to me.)  Black nail polish, big boots, dyed hair, cute black dress.  I’m so proud.  She also has become the queen of innuendo.  Hilarious.  I love that kid.

Also, I had forgotten how hilarious it is to watch my mother eat sour candy, especially when she doesn’t know it’s going to be sour.  Ohmygod, her face.  Niece got it on video.  Sadly, we are not allowed to post it to YouTube…

I’m an idiot. But a productive one.

Tuesday night I almost stepped on my knitting.  Given that my needles are expensive ones, I shifted my foot forward so I wouldn’t step on them.  This led to my heel landing on the edge of my spinning wheel’s base.  Didn’t want to break that either, so I shifted again and found myself falling towards the couch.  Yay!  Hit the couch — and bounced off it, much to my surprise, crashing to the floor while scraping the side of the coffee table on the way down.  I am so very graceful.

I wasn’t seriously injured or anything.  It’s actually kind of funny.  The sad part is that I had used my left arm to try to break my fall, which is why it’s two days later and I haven’t been able to practice my cello at all.  Sigh.

I’ve been productive, though.  Yesterday by 10:30am I’d gone to the grocery and opened an account at a local credit union.  (My old one doesn’t have locations here, so I’ll be closing my account after my direct deposit moves over in October.)  Did some address changes online and did homework.  I also made a budget.  That wasn’t fun.  I wasn’t expecting to owe $200 a month for my class, and I’ve got a number of other bills to take care of with next month’s check.  I have like $100 a week for gas, groceries, and miscellany, after everything else gets paid.  Sigh.  No more meals out for a while!  (And yes, I included cello lessons in the budget.  I’d rather do without takeout than give those up.)

Today I’ve run errands, spent a few hours doing homework, and am currently doing laundry.  Mom’s having dinner with friends so I’m on my own for the evening.  Which is fine.  I have frozen dinners and some fruit.  I have been so good, diet-wise.  No sweets in days.  Go me.

Okay, off to eat something and read for a while.  And maybe try to play the cello, just a little…


Cello lesson #2

I asked a ton of questions at today’s lesson, and found out some stuff I really wanted to know.  My questions were mostly about form, and I feel a little more confident about that now. I have to practice it, but I know where I need to hold my shoulders and wrists better now, which makes me very happy.  In addition I learned that classic of music lessons everywhere, “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star”.  Such a milestone.  I did the variations, too, which is just learning what eighth and sixteenth notes and such feel like when bowing.  I learned another little piece where I got to start reading music while putting my fingers in the right places to start associating finger positions with notes.  Sweet.

My iPhone tuning app is off.  My strings were all too sharp when we tuned.  No wonder I thought they sounded wrong!  Trust the ear and not the tuner, in this case.  I do want to download another app and try that, just out of curiosity, while my cello is still in tune from the lesson.

Speaking of trusting my ears, Teacher says it’s very good that I’m looking for the right finger spots by listening instead of looking.  I do have to look to make sure I’m on the right string when I change to a different one, but once I’m on the correct string I’m able to tell fairly well if I’m too sharp or flat and adjust my fingers accordingly.  I’m not on perfect pitch all the time or anything, far from it, but I can at least hear when I’m wrong.

Oh, I forgot my bow.  Luckily Teacher had a spare.  I’m going to stick a note in my case so that every time I open it I see “TAKE BOW”.  I leave my cello out on a stand when I’m not transporting it, so I’m currently only using the case for when it’s time to go to lessons.  A note will help.  I did remember to take my mute so she could show me how to use it, which she did and now I won’t wake Mom up if I feel like practicing at night.  Woo!

Now I just need to find where I put my music stand…

More thoughts on learning music

Another thought about child versus adult musical learning: A high school kid (for example) may spend a zillion hours practicing guitar because they’re young enough to believe they could be a rock star. Would they put in all that practice if they knew their biggest audience ever was going to be 10 of their friends? No. So maybe realism works against us adults a little. Also (as someone else pointed out) kids are more likely to have free time.  True, but I still think the kid wouldn’t work so hard if the idealistic motivation wasn’t there.

Muscle memory: When I first got a spinning wheel I was fucking clueless. These days my muscle memory for it is so good that I’m more likely to mess up if I look down at my hands, so I have to read books or watch videos while spinning. My hands just know. And I learned that just a few years ago, so the feeling of learning muscle memory is still fresh.  It also makes me feel better to know that in my mid-thirties I was able to learn something so well that way.  (Have you seen my yarn? I’m amazing. Not bragging either.)

Transgender flag yarn

I have set myself a goal, by the way. The local community orchestra holds tryouts every October. I wanna be good enough by next year to try out. I have a friend who plays in it already, so it would be even more awesome because Social Time. If I don’t make the cut, fine, but it’s good to have a goal in mind.

My sister’s sweet.

My sister, a Buddhist, has started attending a super-liberal Christian church.  Like, so liberal they have an atheist on the board and she’s treated just like anyone else.  Sis feels very comfortable there and wants me (an atheist) to go with her occasionally.  She’s apparently been telling the minister about how awesome I am.  She’s sweet.

The church is in the process of building a respite house for people with mental illnesses to come when they need some quiet time but aren’t in the need of medical inpatient care.  I would really, really like to volunteer with them if they’ll have me.  I’m about to finish my psychology degree, I have two years of experience as a peer counselor for a community mental health organization, and I can definitely relate to the people staying there because I’ve dealt with similar stuff.  I’d be a very good fit.  If they’ll have me.  fingers crossed

Sis told me today that they’ve put someone on their welcoming committee specifically to help transgender people feel more comfortable in the church, and they’re putting gender-neutral signs on the bathrooms.  LOVE.  Can I go hang out there and skip the sermon part?  :D

Update (five hours later): Sis says I don’t have to go to the sermons, if I want to come just hang out and talk to people between services.  Also, she told them about my wanting to volunteer with the respite house, and that my counseling focus is on GSMs with mental illnesses.  They were delighted to hear it.  Also, apparently it’s possible to become a certified peer counselor.  It takes 500 volunteer hours, and they would be happy to have me do my hours there.  Holy shit.  I’m going next week to meet with the person in charge of it.  So excited!

Cello practice, days 2-3

Day two was a bust.  Well, not entirely, but I hadn’t taken my morning meds, wound up sobbing because I felt overwhelmed while practicing, and it ruined the rest of the day.  I was supposed to hang out with Mom and Awesome Niece, and then go have smoothies with my friend S.  (I really need a nickname for her for my blog.  Hm.  I think I’ll call her the Butterfly, because she loves bright colors and is delicate-looking.  S, if you’re offended or want something different, let me know.  And if she’s Butterfly, her spouse should be the Dragon, because it will make Butterfly laugh even though it’s not quite perfect.)  I wound up falling asleep, exhausted from sobbing my eyes out, and didn’t wake up until like seven.  So I stood everybody up and felt awful about it.

However!  The day was not completely a loss, cello-wise.  I realized that I was probably holding my bow wrong, because it shouldn’t be painful after 5 minutes.  So I hit up YouTube.  Learned that I was right about holding it incorrectly.  I also learned how to curl my left fingers better on the strings, and I found a few exercises to strengthen the fingers and make them more flexible.

Because of the videos, today’s two practices went much better.  I warmed up with finger stretches.  I worked on curling my fingers properly, which made it easier to splay my hand wide enough to hit fingers 3 and 4 on my without moving finger 1 out of place.  It’s still a struggle, but less of one.  I also experimented to get the bow hold right, and knew I’d gotten it (or at least close to it) when I stopped having to hold it in a death grip.  It suddenly felt natural.

My mother, who was in the room on her laptop as I practiced for the second time, actually helped me with a couple of things.  She mentioned being sad about Yo-Yo Ma’s back pain, which reminded me to sit up straight, and she asked me if I should try turning the cello very slightly because I was having such a problem bowing the A string (which is the furthest away from my bow hand).  Both these things helped immensely, and I felt more comfortable.  AND she started humming along when I played “The First Noel” without me telling her what I was trying to do.  Woo!  So it was a really productive practice session.

I hope I’m getting everything a bit more correct now — cello angle, bow hold, finger positions.  I’ll find out at my lesson Tuesday.  It was so nice for things to feel a bit more natural, enough so that I could play a simple song without sounding too dismal or off-key.  I was slightly concerned about how rushed my first lesson felt, but maybe Teacher felt it was best to give me lots to do just to get me excited?  I’ll have to ask her.  At any rate, I’d like my next lesson to go a bit slower and really focus on how I’m holding my body and hands.  I feel a great deal calmer about my potential as a cellist now that I have seen a bit of progress already.  So maybe that was her goal all along.  I know I have a ton of stuff to learn, that I’m only just beginning, but I feel like maybe it’s possible for me to get reasonably good.

Also, remember this post about the pessimism I was seeing in an adult beginner cellist community?  I had a counter-argument from an acquaintance that made me feel a bit more optimistic.  Adult learners have better fine motor control and the ability to focus more than a child beginner.  According to her (and she’s an experienced pianist), adults can actually learn faster than children in some ways.  What trips adults up is frustration — feeling like you should be better than you are because you put pressure on yourself.  Which (she says) is why adult learners should take more breaks while practicing, in order to keep from feeling overwhelmed like I did yesterday.

And, thinking about it, a lot of the people on that cello forum were saying things like “I’ve spent $1500 on lessons, I don’t sound good enough to play concerto solos so why am I even bothering?”  Ummm… that shouldn’t be the point of learning.  Goals are good, but isn’t the journey supposed to be fun?  Can you really say “I should reach level X by the time I’ve spent Y on lessons?”  I had a delightful time today trying to problem-solve as well as fucking around with a Christmas carol.  I feel I’m better than I was yesterday, and shouldn’t that be the point of practicing?  And I expect some days to suck like yesterday did, but with luck I’ll have more sessions like today.  I’m… happy.

Cello practices, day one

My first session yesterday lasted a whopping 15 minutes.  I realized I was rushing myself, got frustrated, and took a break.  An hour later I started again and tried to relax. I found myself enjoying it more when I wasn’t trying to just march through the assigned exercises. I’d do one, a bit, then fool around with playing an actual song (not like a real song, but snatches of things that I heard while doing my exercises — you know, “hey, this bit sounds like the middle of Silent Night, let me see if I can play a little more of that”) before going back to the exercises. It made practice a lot more enjoyable, and to hit the right notes on the fooling-around parts I was having to put my fingers into the right positions anyway, so I count that as valid practice too.

Also, I managed to do a full C Major scale without fucking up too much, so I was happy about that. I’m looking forward to trying it again today to see if it feels the same in my fingers…

The pessimism of amateur cellists

I was poking around the interwebs, looking for a cello forum, and came across a thread about “how far can adult amateurs go with cello?”  The thread was terribly depressing.  “If you’re lucky you can do very basic chamber music but nothing fancy.”  I know I’ll never be Yo-Yo Ma or anything, but the pessimism on display was dreadful.  And nobody seemed interested in making their own compositions, or alternative cello music (read: anything not classical).  It made me sad — not for myself and what I can someday do, but for the forum posters who think they can’t accomplish anything.

My personal goals are to be able to write my own music, play the pieces of existing music I love best (most of which are rock songs, like Cello Fury and Rasputina and the theme from Angel, but also Vivaldi cello sonatas and such), and enjoy myself.  I would also maybe like to join the local community orchestra at some point, if I get good enough.  But I’m not going to sit here and accept limits placed on me by sad internet strangers.  It kinda pissed me off, frankly.

Update from the hometown

I don’t really want to talk about why I’m in my hometown, really.  I’m having marital troubles and will be staying with my mom for a while.  Let’s leave it at that.  What I want to write about here is the things I’ve been doing while in my hometown.

The first thing I did was reconnect with an old friend from my days hanging around some other friends’ yarn shop (which closed a few years back, sadly; it was an awesome store).  She and I went for papaya smoothies last week (because who needs coffee when you can have smoothies at your favorite pan-Latin restaurant?) and then I had dinner Sunday at her house with her and her spouse.  Both outings were absolutely lovely.  She’s awesome, and so is her spouse (who I don’t know as well but would like to fix this).  She’s also a good cook!

Speaking of food, I am eating my way through town, practically. Lebanese, the pan-Latin place, vegetarian sandwich bistro…  Hometown is full of cool little indie restaurants.  If I had the money I would eat at them all!  Also, there is a Trader Joe’s here.  The freezer is now full of frozen dinners like lamb vindaloo and cheese/green chili tamales.  YUM.

Also, I am reading many many books.  Simply because I can.

And saving the best for last: I found a cello teacher who doesn’t require a long-term commitment for lessons, since I don’t know how long I’ll be here.  I had my first lesson with her this afternoon, and it was fantastic.  The time went by far too quickly, but she sent me home with a list of exercises to do and I’m going to have a blast doing them.  I posted on Facebook that I learned to attack a G string, because I am twelve and it made me giggle.  (My mother, being a tart, replied that she’s known how to do that for years.  Heh.)  Teacher’s cello is from the 1700’s.  The tone was beautiful.  And I am happy to report that the tone on my instrument isn’t half bad.  Not 1700’s quality, but I’m pleased with it, and Teacher likes it. Leagues better than a cheap plywood model!

Lots of rambling about my cello lesson follows, behind a cut for people who don’t care.

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