on dancing while playing the cello (part 3: Performers as Co-Creators)…

Vendil3-2

A recent piece by  Sugar Vendil titled Performers as Co-Creators at NewMusicBox discusses a current piece using musicians as dancers and brings up many of the issues I’ve discussed in my previous two installments of this on dancing while playing the cello series. The Nouveau Classical Project is developing a piece, Potential Energies, which will premiere in Brooklyn at BAM Fisher on May 29.

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Reveling in Ravel while Lost in a sea of scores…

Duo Parnas

As I search through the duo violin/cello repertoire I’m finding so many interesting gems as well as polished turds.  Not that the latter are bad things but when you’re working with others you obviously just can’t take your own taste into account.

The past couple of weeks Thursday afternoon I’ve been reading through movements of the Ravel Sonata for Violin and Cello.  It’s a work I never had the opportunity to publicly perform though I did spend some time learning and performing in a masterclass with members of the American String Quartet.  It’s a delightful piece which requires the player to be somewhat agile.  But for some reason back then (and now) I find it fits much of my skill set very well and I really don’t find it that cumbersomely difficult.

I’m remembering back then and the resources I had–a taped copy of Jaime Laredo and Leslie Parnas (ironically, I couldn’t remember who the cellist was and had to look it up) from a Marlboro Festival recording and a couple of other recordings of artists I can’t even recall now in the Music Library of my music school.  It’s doubly ironic as I loved the live video (which seems to be no longer available on Youtube) of duo Parnas (granddaughters of Leslie Parnas).

Despite the absence of the Duo Parnas video, that is something that has changed–there are tons of videos of this work by artists of various skill levels.  In some cases, the videos are just stills of recordings with the audio as a soundtrack.  The wealth and ease of information we have in this day and age is just astounding!

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on singing while playing the cello (part 2)…

Jon Silpayamanant singing with il Troubadore at Tribal Revolutions Bellydance Festival in Chicago (June 2010)

This is a topic I explored a little bit in a past blog post but what got me thinking about it again was an experience during a lesson I was giving last week.

One of my students, who also plays in a rock band (electric bass guitar) had brought his bass in as it was left in the student’s parents car after a gig the student did the previous night (the other parent was picking the student up after the lesson, hence my office being the transfer space). Yes, I’m being deliberately vague with the student and parent’s gender in the interest of protecting privacy.

We talked a bit about the band the student plays in and I asked about the other members (drums, guitar, vocals–standard instrumentation). But I remarked about the vocalist being, well, a vocalist but not also playing an instrument. The student says that occasionally the drummer won’t be able to make it rehearsals or gigs and the singer, who can also play guitar and drums will sometimes drum while singing–doing it with some difficulty.

So we started talking the mechanics of singing while playing and I eventually asked whether the student has tried to sing while playing to which the response was a yes while also indicating the difficulty had trying to do the two at the same time. The student said either the cello line or the vocals will be lost.

So I ended up giving some pointers in singing while playing. I talked about the levels of difficulty between doing pizzicato or bowing while singing and that for some types of playing the difference is negligible (repetitive rhythms or ostinatos) while doing sustained bowing of melodies or harmonies while singing a sustained line is the most difficult of all. The student only seemed mildly interested until I demonstrated all the differences with songs I sing and play–after the first tune I used to demonstrate, the student’s eyes grew wide in what was, for all intents and purposes, slack-jawed awe.

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Performance: Ahel El Nagam @ Sweet Surrender Dessert Cafe (Louisville, KY)

Ahel El Nagam

Ahel El Nagam performing at Shiraz Mediterranean Grill in Louisville 24 July 2009

If you are reading this, it’s because it was written earlier today and set to future post as I will be performing at the Sweet Surrender Dessert Cafe in Louisville  (KY) when this autoposts.  The group I’ll be playing with is Ahel El Nagam, a Kentuckiana based Classical Arabic music group.

Ahel El Nagam’s bio:

Ahel El Nagam means, “people of the tune.” We are a new Middle Eastern music band in Louisville, KY. We were founded in April of 2007 and we are working hard to develop a repertoire full of traditional and classical Middle Eastern songs. We are available for cultural events, private parties, and shows at restaurants and coffee houses around Louisville as well as the greater tri-state (Indiana, Kentucky and Ohio) area.

More info about us and my relationship with the group may be found in a previous post.

Sweet Surrender is having a fundraiser for for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.  Details for the day long event follow:

On Thursday, March 24, Sweet Surrender Dessert Café will host a fundraiser to benefit The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. All day, from 10 AM to 10 PM, a sampling of 10 desserts will be offered for $15 per person. Coffee is included. A portion of the entire day’s proceeds will be given to The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society Team in Training.

A whole 10” cake and other prizes will also be raffled off. Tickets for the raffle can be purchased for $2.00 each throughout the week. All of the proceeds from the raffle will go directly to The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.

In addition to great desserts and great prizes, live music will begin at 8 PM.

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Sunday Spotlight on the Non-Western Cello: The Cello in Arabic Orchestras

Jon_AhelElNagam

Cellists in Umm Kulthum's firqa (orchestra) photo ca 1965

This week’s installment of the Sunday Spotlight on the Non-Western Cello will focus on the cello in Arabic Orchestras.

Stringed instruments have long been part of Middle Eastern art ensembles.  Whether the kamancheh, djoze, rebab, or eventually the Western violin, bowed strings have nearly always played an integral role in the sound of the ensembles from that region.  Once western instruments, especially the violin, were introduced many of the folk instruments began being replaced by the violin.

By the 20th century, and especially after the first Cairo Congress of Arab Music (1932) the rest of the Western strings began to be incorporated into the traditional art music ensembles of the the Middle East (due to the influence of Muhammad Fathi) and eventually larger orchestras started to develop and composers from the region started writing music for these larger forces while also adapting some Western composition techniques and music ideas and fusing them with the indigenous art music traditions.

The difficulty with incorporating Western strings into the Arabic Orchestra has nothing to do with the instruments themselves, per se, but with the tunings and scales (maqamat) and the standardization of ornamentation for a whole section of strings rather than one string soloist in a smaller takht ensemble.

Arabic oudist, Saed Muhssin, lays out some of the fundamental differences in tuning at his blog post, The Arabic String Section.  The primary difference for the cello is the A would be tuned to a G which gives the four string tuning CGDG rather than CGDA.  While it is possible to play Arabic music with a Western tuning, which I generally do since I prefer not to retune my instrument much, as he notes

While it is possible to play the notes in the alternate tuning, the resonance of the instrument is different. Furthermore, from string players who’ve done the switch after trying to play in western tuning, the fingering of some maqams is a lot more cumbersome in western tuning, and Arabic tuning lends itself to playing Arabic music.

he is correct in that the Arabic tuning is far less cumbersome for a lot of the maqams.  Once I get any of my spare  cellos set up for playing I will likely leave one in Arabic tuning specifically for my performances of Arabic music.

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