Adventures In Cello Shopping

I recently had the daunting experience of having to buy another cello.  The one that I’d been playing on since 9th grade suffered a fatal sound post crack last year, and unfortunately had to be retired.  My old cello held such sentimental value for me since my parents went through a lot to get it for me. They wanted me to have a nice instrument to play on when my high school symphonic orchestra took a trip to New York City to perform at Carnegie Hall.

Before deciding to buy a new cello, I first had to determine if it was worth it to get my sound post crack fixed. I took it over to a popular luthier in town named Stephanie Voss to get an assessment. Her assistant informed

Circular dowel in the neck block.

me that since the after rehab value of my cello would be approximately $6,000, it wasn’t going to be worth it to spend thousands of dollars to get the crack properly repaired. Especially, since one of the prior owners of my cello had a dowel nailed into the neck block as a part of a previous repair, which threw a few things out of sorts. For example, since the neck block couldn’t be adjusted due to the dowel locking it into place, my strings were always too high off the fingerboard in thumb position the closer that I got towards the bridge. Stephanie could only shave my bridge down but so far because then that would cause my strings to lay flat against my fingerboard in first position. That issue alone would have had a negative impact on the resale value if the sound post crack hadn’t already devalued it to something close to scrap wood.

With all of the additional challenges that my cello was facing, we all came to the conclusion that it would be best for me to invest in a new cello. This is when I had to get some help from an excellent cellist with the Atlanta Symphony who was coaching me at the time. She referred me to her friends at the Ronald Sachs Violin Shop who gently held my hands through this difficult process. Since my price range was on the lower end of the spectrum, and I still wanted to have a high end concert cello sound on a tight budget, they directed me to the Jay Haide and Frank Ivantie models. The Violin Shop was gracious enough to loan me two cellos for almost a month so that I could try them out at home and use one of them for a solo performance that I was scheduled to give at the Atlanta Southwest Fine Arts Center.

I finally decided on one of the Frank Ivantie models. This was the same cello that my coach from the Atlanta Symphony had used for some of her Symphony concerts as a temporary replacement while her expensive, antique cello was being worked on in New York. I figured that I couldn’t go wrong with that choice since it had already held its own at the highest levels of performance.

What I learned from this cello shopping experience is that, as in life, we all need the help of our friends sometimes to make it through the situations that get thrown our way. I’m glad that I had my coach, Dona Vellek, to lean on for guidance and solid advice. She helped me to find an excellent cello at a reasonable price with a few other perks thrown in since I was using professionals in her network. Hopefully, you will find some gems in this article that will be beneficial to you when it’s time to purchase your next instrument.

 

Movies Starring The Cello

I’m always game for a good movie with a compelling story line.  While volunteering for this year’s Atlanta Film Festival, I had a conversation with one of the patrons that got me thinking about movies that feature the cello.  If the cello is your thing, then below are some movies (or scenes) you might want to check out:

  • The Soloist (2009)

Untitled1This movie is based on the book, The Soloist by Steve Lopez, which is a true story about a child prodigy cellist named Nathaniel Ayers who developed schizophrenia while attending Julliard and later became homeless. Jamie Foxx plays Nathaniel Ayers and Robert Downey, Jr. plays the reporter Steve Lopez. Both of these men develop a profound relationship after Lopez hears Ayers playing the violin on the street and is able to get him a new cello and a cellist mentor.  This is an emotionally intense movie that will probably make you cry and smile as you follow this tragic yet brilliant cellist who had the misfortune of manifesting a severe mental illness in the prime of his life.

 

  • Take The Money and Run (1969)

Untitled2The cello only appears in the opening scenes of this Woody Allen movie, but those 2 appearances are very memorable and hilarious to me. ‘Take The Money and Run’ is a comedy satire about an inept criminal named Virgil Starkwell who takes cello lessons as a child and tries very hard at it even though his cello teacher doesn’t have anything good to say about him except that he loved his cello.

The interview with his cello teacher was probably the worst review one could ever give a student, but it was so funny that he made all of his disparaging comments with a straight face … ‘His cello playing was just terrible….. He would saw it back and forth and scratch the instrument to such a point that it would drive everyone who would listen to it absolutely insane… He had no conception of the instrument… He was blowing into it…. I think he stole to pay for his lessons, but he wouldn’t apply himself one iota.” I had to laugh. He said out loud what a lot of music teachers are probably thinking in their heads but would never have the nerve to say externally to their students or their parents. One scene shows the cello flying out of 2nd story window of the Starkwell household. Another scene shows Virgil rather humorously running with his chair and cello as he tries to keep up with the marching band and play at the same time. For me, that scene was worth the price of the download even though it was sad when the neighborhood bullies destroyed Virgil’s cello. The rest of the movie is funny in a dry humor sort of a way.

 

  • Hillary and Jackie (1998)

Untitled3And, of course, there is HILLARY AND JACKIE, which is supposed to be the story of sibling rivalry and dedication between Jacqueline du Pré (who was arguably one of the world’s greatest cellists) and her sister Hillary, who was a talented flute player. It must be mentioned that the truthfulness of this film has been vehemently challenged by Jacqueline’s teachers and others – even though it was based on conversations with her brother and sister. My cello teacher introduced me to some of Jacqueline du Pre’s recordings somewhere in the midst of my high school years. It was very inspiring to hear how great she willed herself to play even though her MS had taken away most of the feeling in her fingers.

 

 

  •  Truly, Madly, Deeply (1990) 

Untitled4The main character, Nina, is beside herself with grief after the passing of her boyfriend, Jamie, a cello player. While Nina is in deep despair, Jamie reappears as a cello playing ghost and the couple is temporarily reconciled. Nina is ecstatic, but Jamie has a heartbreakingly beautiful reason for returning. He’s actually trying to help Nina let go and move on with her life.   He turns up the heat, moves furniture around and invites his ghost friends over which gradually infuriates Nina and causes their relationship deteriorate.  She meets someone that she is attracted to but is hesitant to become involved with him due to Jamie’s continued presence. Nina continues to love Jamie but is conflicted by his actions. Jamie eventually decides to leave to allow her to move on. By the end of the film, we see that Jamie wanted to tarnish Nina’s idealized image of him so that she would feel free to move on.

  • Love In The Afternoon (1957)

This is an older romantic movie starring Audrey Hepburn as a young cellist femme fatale who gets herself caught up in a love triangle while trying to prevent her future love interest from murdering his cheating wife. Supposedly, Audrey did the basic cello playing herself.

These are just some of the movies whose cello features really piqued my interest. There are definitely others out there that I’m still planning to watch – starting with this list of recommendations below:

  • Gauche The Cellist, a 1934 short story by Japan’s Miyazawa Kenji
  • Micki and Maude (Blake Edwards, 1984. Starring Dudley Moore.)
  • If I Stay (2014)
  • The Living Daylights (1987)
  • A Song from the Heart (TV Movie 1999)
  • Departures (2008

 

What’s In My Cello Case

***This article was originally written for the D'Addario Orchestral Behind The Bridge Blog.

image

When I’m out and about with my cello, there are a few key items that I almost always carry with me either in my case or bag. This is the checklist that I follow to make sure that I’m prepared for whichever musical activity I’m participating in.

  1. Cello and Bow – These two items are the most important of my essentials and are the first things that I check for before I leave home. I’ve never forgotten my cello before, but I have left my bow behind when I forgot to double check my practice stand. As a professional, that’s the type of mistake that I can’t afford to make anymore, but it does make me laugh now to remember how horrified I was to open my case right before a school concert to realize my bow was missing. Luckily, I was able to find a violinist who had a bow to spare.
  2. Tuner / Metronome – I like to use the tuner and metronome that are combined into one device. It’s more convenient and gives me one less thing to worry about packing. I use the tuner for my solo gigs and for tuning up my cello students. The metronome is a great practice tool for myself as well as my students during their lessons.
  3. Rosin – I use rosin on my bow every time I practice or perform. I find that a properly rosined bow makes things so much easier on my bowing arm because I don’t have to bear down as hard to get the sound quality that I want.
  4. Rockstop – Cellists and upright bass players need to use a rockstop to anchor their instruments so that they’re not sliding all over the floor while playing. I’ve used both disk rockstops and those with adjustable straps. I prefer the latter type because disk rockstops tend to lose their grip over time while the strap rockstop lasts forever since all you need is a chair leg to secure it.
  5. Pencils – From my early years of playing in orchestra, it was ingrained in my head that it’s considered unprofessional to write on your music in pen. That’s why I carry plenty of pencils for myself and others.
  6. Cloth – I use a clean, soft cloth to wipe the rosin and fingerprints from my instrument and bow when I’m finished playing. Removing rosin buildup and oils transferred from my fingers helps to preserve the varnish.
  7. Spare strings – Hopefully, you will never find yourself in a situation where one of your stings pops or fails at an inopportune moment, but it has happened to me one too many times for me not to be prepared now. What I sometimes do is install a new set of strings and then keep the old strings as my backups.
  8. Mute – I always keep my plastic mute handy in the event that my music or performance venue calls for it. I was really surprised when I was asked to tone it down at a wedding where I was hired to play on solo cello. The wedding planner had me positioned on a 2nd floor landing overlooking the cocktail hour below, and apparently, I was drowning out the party.
  9. Technical Etudes & Exercises – Since I don’t have a lot of down time to practice these days, I always keep my Popper Etudes and Feuillard exercise book with me so that when I do get a break, I can work on some technical exercises to keep my fingers sharp.
  10. Post-it Notes – I keep sticky notes around just in case I have to mark a passage that I want to look at later or if I have a very last minute set change that I need to remind myself of.
  11. Paper Clamps – During the spring and summer months, I get quite a few requests to play for outdoor weddings. When playing outside, I add some weight to my sheet music by placing the individual pages in the plastic sheet protectors, but sometimes that’s not enough if there’s a lot of wind. That’s when I pull out my paper clamps to hold my music down.
  12. Gig Book – This is just my black 3-ring binder that I use to organize my music for my gigs. After my clients decide on a playlist, I put everything in playing order in my binder so that I can move easily from song to song.
  13. Motivational Stickers – I keep stickers in my bag for my youngest cello and piano students. This is their reward for successfully completing their assignments and practice charts. It makes them feel great and keeps them motivated to continue practicing.