Featured Article, April 2020

Cello in the Time of Covid-19

In this stressful time of social distancing and covid-induced anxiety, we want to do our part to keep our cello-loving community strong and connected. We know that many of you are turning ever more fervently to your instruments for solace, comfort and joy – for yourselves and others. Some, like long-time faculty member Irina Tikhonova, have put on much-appreciated impromptu porch recitals for their neighbors. Yay Irina!  (See this local news report on her concerts). For more inspiration, please revisit some of our awesome faculty’s 16 Cellos performances on YouTube, such as this one of Bach’s English Suite No. 3 Prelude.
But playing solo cello can be lonely too. We want you to know that you are not alone, and that there are so many of us who are experiencing the same thing and thinking about all of our cello friends. And beyond a shared love of the cello, you are a wonderful and diverse mix of people all over the country with an enormous variety of backgrounds, interests and talents. Many of you are doing other things to help your neighbors during this crisis. We would love to hear your tales of how you are coping with the very strange world we all find ourselves in now. Below are a few such contributions. We invite you to send your own brief stories, with a photo, to info@cellospeak.org, and we will share them in future issues of Notes.
Petra Warren, South Carolina
I missed Cellospeak last year because I broke my arm, and now this year had to be cancelled. Ed and I are well. We are in the south so probably about 2 weeks behind other parts of the country as far as peak cases is concerned. As a retired physician, I decided I could best be used in the free clinic here in Spartanburg where I work daily, and am “on call” for the hospital should they need me. We have appropriate protective equipment and I feel very fortunate to be working with so many dedicated colleagues and staff. Ed is still working in nursing homes and hospice care, also doing well. The cello is a large part of my week, and it brings to me relief, escape from daily cares, songs for my head, and hopes for our future. The spring has been really beautiful here, with clear skies, less noise, and nature moving forward as she always does. I am optimistic that vaccines and treatment will be found. We must have patience. In the meantime, we must be careful and care for our neighbors. Thank you for doing just that when you reached out to me.
Jack Page, North Carolina
Since my cello debut at the 2008 Cellospeak, at Wilson College, it has become an ever- larger part of my life. I love the sound and the role it plays in orchestra. I love the people, literally from the Canadian border, to South Florida, to the Atlantic Ocean, to the Pacific Ocean that I have met and who have become my friends. I love, and dearly miss, our ability to bring our imperfect skills together to make such beautiful music where each of us plays a little better than we ever have before because we empower each other. But now is a time for some of the neglected, postponed skills we can work on. String crossings. I am finally trying to cut down the trash noise as I hit open strings as I pass them by. I am trying to get my vibrato to get and keep a steady pulse. I am building and keeping a thumb callus with daily thumb position practice. I am slowing down and counting rather than just playing by ear. I am listening for the resonance as I play on other strings that stimulate corresponding open strings.  I am remembering the goal is to make music; not just play the right note at the right time. The cello is a never-ending journey and I will never get to the end. But I enjoy the trip and the partners I travel with. Let us all enjoy and grow together as friends, partners and enjoy the music, the laughter and the love.  Our devotion to the cello is a privilege and a wonderful avocation during this stressful, scary time. Now, more than ever, make love to your cello. I have notified the medical board in NC that I am available if they get desperate. They haven’t called.
Aileen Pisciotta, Virginia
After not participating fully in the workshops – or even touching the cello – for a few years, I have found a renewed passion for the instrument. My retirement from the practice of law and the covid shutdown have left me with plenty of time to indulge myself. And my continuing involvement with Cellospeak, now as President, keeps cello on my mind. With awe and trepidation, I have started playing my mother’s (Dorothy Amarandos’) 18th Century cello – the one that was found smashed to bits in a bunker in France during World War I, that was later reconstructed by Michael Weller, and that my mother called “Napoleon Blownapart.” It is a luscious instrument. I’m not worthy of it, but it seems to like me and feels wonderful. I’m starting back at the beginning with Suzuki, open strings and scales, but I’m also daring to try to learn some Bach. It’s all wonderful and I’m determined to keep at it so that I can play with you all again someday – hopefully soon!!
Sheryl Smith, Virginia
I’ve been giving what I call a Front Porch Concert about once per week. Since good weather is essential, I schedule them just two days in advance. My neighbors know to watch for a sign on my mailbox. This picture is me playing at my Mom’s condo. Normally I play near my front porch. I play in front of a brick wall, and the sound bounces off the wall to me, so the sound travels really far – some of my neighbors listen from their own porches!  I play an easy mixture of pieces – Celtic tunes, Christian hymns, popular songs, and a bit of classical such as the Swan, Vocalise, Schubert’s Ave Maria, or classical bits from the Suzuki books. Being an arranger has really helped with this – I can quickly adapt a song for the cello for my next concert. I add and subtract pieces each time, so it’s never the same. These concerts have meant everything to me because I lost a lot of motivation for practicing with coronavirus. I was always practicing for a lesson or a next rehearsal or a performance. Also, I have been making 5 fabric face masks per day. I have supplied my whole family. I send them to friends, asking for a $10 donation for each mask, which goes straight to Doctors Without Borders. I’m also making them for a local in-patient psychiatric hospital.

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