A Look Back at the 2016 Cellospeak Workshops

The 2016 Cellospeak workshops have come and gone, but the memories are here to stay. The new and returning faces, invaluable classes, foundational studies, and wonderful performances are what bring us together in the summer, and their impact will remain with us throughout the year. During both workshops, sounds of individuals, small chamber groups, and large ensembles resonated in practically every corner of Goodhart and Rhoads: signs that Cellospeak was in the building!

The faculty and participants’ persistent dedication to learning their pieces always floors me. But, of course, this is what makes Cellospeak the unique learning and performing experience that it is. This is why participants come back year after year – to share in a similar purpose and goal.

I had a blast sharing my thoughts on basic cello technique during Skill Builder Workshop’s morning class session. From describing “SNS” (“Snail’s Pace Slow”) to explaining the concept of “Cellistic Geometry”, I strove to provide new ways of thinking about old technical challenges. My five-step “Practice Process”, which is a teaching method I use with my students to organize their practice habits, also proved to be something that participants found quite valuable.

During the second hour of the Skill Builder workshop, Kris and Marion’s class on rhythm provided a practical reminder of the importance of rhythm in the learning process. Music is the melodic, harmonic, and rhythmic organization of pitches, and Kris and Marion’s class sent participants away with the tools necessary for effective and efficient practicing. We are so lucky to have such wonderful pedagogues to teach such important concepts!

Cellospeak would not be complete without special presentations by our faculty and guest artists. Bob Battey paid homage to Bach by performing all six unaccompanied suites during Ensemble Week. Additionally, honorary board member Zuill Bailey graced us with a beautiful rendition of Bruch’s Kol Nidrei at the final choir concert. The faculty who accompanied him (all accomplished soloists in their own right) combined their wonderfully distinctive sounds to provide a perfect harmonic foundation. If you weren’t there, you really missed a very special performance – one that I will remember for a long time. Zuill also spent some time with us in a Q&A session, where we learned more about him, his perspectives on cello, and his views on the role of classical music in the 21st century (scroll down to read more about this event!).

At Cellospeak we also know how to have fun! I’m sure you will chuckle a bit if you witnessed this summer’s “Clef Hangers”. We had some VERY creative characters among our ranks! We even had a flash-mob ensemble presentation in the dining hall! I only can imagine what next year’s talent will bring…

And finally, the concerts! Both faculty and participants gave outstanding performances this summer. Many people told me that this year featured the very best performances by both faculty and participants alike. I have only a few summers under my belt, but I echo that sentiment and look forward to next year’s recitals already!

Cellospeak 2017 is already in planning stages. I would like to have record-breaking enrollments next year, and you can make that happen simply by bringing a friend with you to the workshops. The best types of marketing for us (but not the only type…we are working on that) are word of mouth and personal invitation. So please join me in starting the campaign early and invite those you think would enjoy the workshops. And regardless of whether we missed you this summer, we’ll see you next year!

Zuill Bailey Up Close and Personal

A Conversation with Cellospeak Workshop Participants on August 25, 2016

On the afternoon before the final concert of the Cello Choir at the 2016 Cellospeak Ensemble Workshop, a concert in which he was a featured soloist, Cellospeak’s Honorary Chairman, Zuill Bailey, spent an hour or so in a wonderfully personal and inspirational talk with Workshop participants. Often illustrating his points with hilariously animated stories, he answered questions from the audience and addressed many issues that concern cellists of all ages.

He first expressed his gratitude to Cellospeak Founder, Dorothy Amarandos, for getting him involved with Cellospeak, and in particular in producing the DVD, “Conversation With Zuill Bailey,” which has been so popular with Cellospeak members. (Each participant at the 2016 Workshops received a free copy). He recalled the conversation with Dorothy very fondly, making a point of remembering that he had asked not to know the questions in advance. His conversation with Dorothy on the DVD is totally spontaneous, and he enjoyed it very much.

He then launched into a short autobiography, describing how he had started on the cello. He grew up in the Washington, D.C. area in a family of musicians. His mother is a pianist and his father has a doctorate in both music and education. His sister is a violinist. The cello was always in Zuill’s life. In his youth, he studied with National Symphony Orchestra cellist Loran Stephenson, and also was profoundly inspired by Mstilav Rostropovich, who served as music director and conductor of the National Symphony Orchestra from 1977 to 1994.

Since graduating from Juilliard, Zuill has crafted a singular career as a professor of cello, international concert soloist, and recording artist. He is also known for founding and leading several festivals, including the El Paso Pro Musica (Texas), the Sitka Summer Music Festival (Alaska), the Northwestern Bach Festival (Washington), the Mesa Arts Center Series (Arizona), and the Bach Suites Cello Workshop (with our own Bob Battey) (New York). His abiding goal as a professional is to share, including to promote the non-competitive enjoyment of other cellists. He is aware of, and appreciates, alternative cello repertoire when done well -“Good is good”. But his music of choice is always classical. And his style is always to play the music as written, to be as faithful as possible to the markings. And with respect to Bach, who left no markings, he advised “Just play the notes; the expression will emerge.”

Zuill pointedly mentioned, however, that as busy as his exhausting schedule keeps him, he spends even more time engaging with the community, playing for free at retirement homes, schools, hospitals and prisons. One of his more inspirational comments to the group was his exhortation to engage, to play anywhere for anyone to share the pure joy of music, and particularly the cello. It’s very fulfilling, both for the player and the audience!

In that vein, he addressed the common issue of stage fright. He admitted to always feeling nervous before performances. He described how sometimes, while enduring a long wait for a solo entrance, he will hold the cello away from his body – so it won’t give away how hard his heart is pounding! He always has a towel available in case his hands sweat. He also has learned how not to get psyched out by other cellists sitting in the audience (whom he said he can always pick out)- telling a story about how he once chastised Lynn Harrell for sitting in the third row with a score and a pencil!

But he advised that stage fright is “all in your head”. He reminded the group that no one is ever perfect, and that it is very important to try not to pressure yourself, and to try to just enjoy the moment. He has been through difficult periods in his life, and has sometimes felt that the pressure was oppressive. He recalled one period in his thirties when he was especially stressed and he wanted to get the advice of his 106-year old grandmother. But then he thought better of it, realizing that the response of an elderly sage to the problems of a thirty-year old would probably be “Eh!”. He has since learned to manage the stress by putting things in context.

One dramatic experience in Alaska illustrated his point. Before a scheduled concert inAlaska he was invited to go ice climbing on the Mendenhall Glacier. He took the invitation and helicoptered off to the icy wilderness with a guide. They came upon a large crevasse and the guide invited him to climb down. Zuill stared into the abyss, terrified of the inability to see the bottom. He asked how far down it was and what was at the bottom, and the guide assured him that it was only water. Zuill agreed to descend, trying to obey the instructions. After tightly gripping the rope, as he was told not to, and finding himself being lowered into the crevasse head first (which he comically acted out, tilting back in the chair with his foot in the air), he did indeed reach the bottom and feel the amazement of gazing up at the slit of sky from the depth of the icy pit. Needless to say, Zuill and the guide managed to climb out and safely return to town. But he had barely enough time to change clothes before the concert, and had to play with rope burns on his hands. After that experience, he knew even more palpably that there are a lot more serious things to worry about than playing a perfect performance. He didn’t have time or energy to get stage fright that night – he had left it all on the ice field!

When asked what adult amateur cellists should focus on in learning the instrument, he said “Go for the tone.” He said that the most important thing is to play beautiful music, and to make a beautiful sound. That is what all cellists want. To get a beautiful sound, he suggested playing in front of a mirror to double check your technique. And he also suggested practicing playing easy, playable pieces to focus on getting a beautiful sound.

He told one final story to underscore the importance of tone. He once knocked a corner off of his famous Gofriller cello, formerly played by Mischa Schneider of the Budapest String Quartet. When the cello was being repaired, he had to choose a substitute cello for an upcoming concert. He was presented with a choice between a Stradavarius, a Montagnana and what he described as “an orange cello with a ‘Sunkist’ sticker on it!” He picked the orange one because it felt easier and better to play than the others. After the concert, Mischa Schneider’s widow, June, came backstage to tell him that hearing him play Mischa’s cello always brought tears to her eyes! Even on the orange cello, Zuill’s tone was unmistakable!

Zuill proved his mastery of tone in the concert that evening, when he thrilled us all with a luminous performance of Kol Nidrei, accompanied by our incomparable faculty.