Sunday, February 14, 2016

Canon in D and cello players

My novel, Midnight's Sonata has a piano player and a cello player. It's kind of a tradition on my dad's side for everyone to take piano lessons. My father and all of his siblings play. I was the only grandchild interested in taking lessons, so I'm the only grandchild who plays. I grew up taking lessons and loved every minute of it. I practiced till my parents made me stop because it was time to go to bed.

When I went to high school, I went to a school with a strong arts program. I was taking piano lessons at the local university and I was also able to take lessons at my high school. I auditioned and wound up being the youngest person in my class. Everyone else had started in level one and progressed together.

My sophomore year, we got a new piano teacher. To grade us, there would be juries in front of the entire class. Sophomore year, our juries were to play something from the Baroque, Classical, and Romantic time periods as well as a contemporary piece. I chose things I was working on with my lessons at LSU because I got entered into a lot of competitions.

The rest of my class all chose the same pieces. I had to sit through Canon in D, Fur Elise, and John Lennon's Imagine about twelve times. I pretty much never wanted to hear those songs ever again.

I've always loved the cello and when I started composing, I wrote for it a lot. When I got the change to work with a live cellist, I realized I did not know a lot about ranges and what is possible on the cello. And I've always wanted to play it. So I signed up for cello lessons.

I started out in group lessons for a year. We were taught Suzuki method, which confused me because I've been able to read music since I was nine. We were only getting piece in C major, D major, G major, and a minor because they are all in first position and there are no extensions. When I compose, I frequently use keys like c# minor or b flat minor. I wanted to expand and learn other keys on the cello, so I switched to private lessons.

The cello is a beautiful, frustrating instrument. I bought things like bow hold buddies (It's a cute little elephant thing that sits at the end of your bow that is supposed to help your grip), I bought stress balls to squeeze at work to strengthen my hands. I practiced and attempted not to bang my head against the wall because it didn't come as easy to me as the piano.

When I was in high school and sitting through Canon in D so many times, I looked at the piano music everyone was playing. The left hand is essentially eight quarter notes, repeated over and over, either singularly or as an octave. Little did I know, when I finally started playing stringed instruments, that a composer would really do that to a professional musician.

The cello part in Canon is D is eight quarter notes, repeated over and over while the first violins, second violins, and viola's all get to have fun. I still, to this day, as someone who has taken cello lessons and as someone who has frustrated my cello teacher asking her to play my cello compositions, do not know why someone would do that to a musician.

Being a musician takes YEARS of practice. You essentially learn another language. There are symbols you have to learn and the rest of the notation is in Italian. There's math involved with learned the duration of the notes and rests. You have to fit your day and social activities around your practice schedule. If you're a kid, you frustrate your family trying to learn a new piece.

There will always be parts in full orchestral pieces where certain instruments don't have a lot to do or you're resting for long periods of time. But a good  composer will at least give you one good part. There is no good cello part in Canon in D.

If you ever ask a cello player to play Canon in D for something, at least tip extra or feed them

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