Cello Choirs and Orchestra Study Groups.

Last week I read this great article about a New Zealand based Cello Choir and I got totally inspired.

Cello choirs have been popular since the 1970s when the 12 cellists of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra recorded Julius Klengel’s Hymnus for 12 cellos.

They formed a group and toured, commissioned composers to write works for cellos and gained an international following. But cello choirs existed before that, often the pupils of a teacher playing together and passing on the tradition.

Du Plessis inherited this tradition from the late French cellist Pierre Fournier through her teachers Daniel Grosgurin in Switzerland and Amit Peled in the US, who had been a pupil of Boris Pergamenshikov. More…

Remember my goal of playing with others this year? I’d pretty much thought I’d accomplished it by joining the orchestra, and I am really happy overall with the experience. But a lot of what I enjoy isn’t the performing but the collaboration of playing and learning in company. In fact, one of my favorite moments is when we’re tuning together at the beginning of rehearsal. I love hearing so many instruments come into line with one another. It’s the gateway to my own personal nirvana.

We’ve been having theory focused sectionals for the last few weeks of summer Orchestra rehearsals which have been really helpful for those of us who are still at the early stages of our musical journey. Each session we focus on a specific theory topic: tone, sight reading, rhythm, etc. We talk theory, discuss practical strategies (how to get back on track when you’re lost, count, adjust tone, etc) and work on some exercises that help develop the skill we’re working on. It’s a lot of information for two hours, and I’ve been struggling with the sight reading bits (specifically counting and time signature) in practice. I mean, I get a lot of this stuff on paper; put the bow in my hand and it’s a whole other story.

Inspired by the idea of collaborative learning/playing among cellists of the same teacher I organized a little “study group” at the house on Saturday to dig deeper into some of the theory topics. I wasn’t sure how it would all play out – I’m not even sure what I thought we would DO. It started among the cellos, but we even lured a violin (which turned out to be a major boon, as she has teaching experience and wound up providing invaluable structure to our session) I also coaxed another violinist -Sis, a recent transplant to our fair Emerald City – to join us.

I’m not a terribly good host – it brings out all of my latent social anxiety – but there was something about playing together that relieved my anxiety about occupying guests. Usually unpredictable Seattle weather hustled up a semblance of summer this weekend, so we set up on the deck. In the distance the lake glittered. All I had to do was provide a little shade, plenty of water and print out some exercises. Easy peasy. Sis even contributed a veggie tray for break snacks.

So it was I found myself experiencing a sublimely joyous moment sitting in the sun on the back deck with two violinists and another cello at the unremarkable noon hour on an otherwise unremarkable Saturday as we made our way through sight reading patterns and scale exercises. Hard work and focus was tempered by occasional bouts of laughter. One of the most important takeaways I got was different strategies for everything from warming-up to working through tough measures. We even did a little cross instrument education; comparing bow holds, fingerings and scale patterns between cousin instruments. The time flew by. I can’t remember having a nicer or more productive afternoon among friends.

Ever have a moment when you realize just how perfect life really is? Yes, it was that good. And all thanks to the cello. If you had asked me two years ago what the difference playing the cello would make on my life, I could never have touched on this. But enough of the waxing eloquent about how the cello has changed my life. I’m sure you’ve had enough of that already. (In case you haven’t, here’s the link to the summary version)

I’m hoping this will be the start of something grand – dare I say – tradition in my little circle of musicians. Or at least a good excuse to get together and work on our technique outside of orchestra. Eh, let’s go with grand tradition: I’m dreaming big.

Here are a few resources we discovered on the worldwide interwebs in the search for music theory tools:

Practice Sightreading
Without creating an account you can generate simple note and rest combos in various time signatures, at a range of levels. I’m sure the deluxe account adds extra features.
Music Theory Worksheets – Flashcards, fill in the blank and the like.
Soundswell Sight Reading

Other Resources
In The Express Lane -Best Article Ever on Being an Adult Beginner
The Cello Professor – Action Studies

What are your favorite tips sites or resources? Warm-up exercises? Any go-to sites for materials that help you get through your practice?


About Eddie

Watch what happens when you give a writer a cello.
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2 Responses to Cello Choirs and Orchestra Study Groups.

  1. trainingfor2018 says:

    Your music meet-up sounds wonderful. Like you, I love that moment when the orchestra tunes up. There is a special energy to it, whether I’m just listening or an actual part of it. To me it is an indication that good stuff is coming but it’s also a moment when life is blissfully perfect in the here and now- in one note- one note shared. It’s one of those joyous, simple moments both pedestrian and rare. I hope you are able to have similarly blissful get-togethers soon and often.

    • Eddie says:

      “Music meet-up” sounds much more inspiring than “Orchestra study group” – I might have to steal that! 😉 It is that moment of simple perfection in a world of chaos that’s a total balm for the soul. Thanks for stopping by!

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