2019 Spring Recital

As always, students performed exceptionally well at our recent recital and I am of course, very proud of their work, dedication and smiles!

Two additions that I really enjoyed at this concert were the:

  1. Free-will donation of a shelf stable food item that went to the SOS ( South Oakland Shelter).

    I've always believed that recitals should be open to everyone at no additional cost. My sister is a dancer and her performances required tickets which limited who could come and be a part of the experience. I'm all about inclusion and community, so this doesn't sit well with me.

    In the spirit of helping others, however, I thought that perhaps a free will donation of a shelf stable food item (canned good, cereal, pasta, etc) that could go to one of the charities the church works with might be nice. Families that were able, brought one item per person to donate to the church. We collected these and made sure they got to families in need. So a family of 4 brought 4 cans of something, etc.

We had a wonderful showing of this beta trial, so I think we’ll do the same thing come winter. The picture is somewhat deceiving….there’s a LOT of food there!

Food donations

Food donations

  1. End of recital Play-in piece.

    At the end of the solo and small group performances, all the students, siblings and parents (who were willing and able) came up to the stage and played as a mass ensemble. This is cool for a whole bunch of reasons and made it easier for us to take a group photo to commemorate the evening.

I hope everyone had a great time and I can’t wait until our next recital in December!


Recitals...All the Vital Info!

DRESS REHEARSAL - The dress rehearsal happens a week before the recital and allows students an opportunity to have a trial run of their solo with the piano accompanist (Ms. Irene) prior to playing it for a large audience. Despite the name, there’s no reason to dress up for this run through…

RECITAL - The recital performance generally lasts about 90 minutes total in length. The goal is always to keep things moving since there are usually younger siblings in attendance. Students should dress nicely (no blue jeans) and all cellists should plan on wearing pants.  

Students are responsible for an introduction for their piece. Public speaking is a very important life skill and there’s no better time to start working on it then when students are young. There are 3 big rules when it comes to speaking to a large group -

  1. Speak slowly - the audience doesn’t know what you’re going to say until after you’ve said it. They need time to process the information so slow down!

  2. Speak loudly - the people in the back of the room needs to be able to hear you just as well as those up front. Speak in a loud, confident voice.

  3. Speak clearly - even if you’re loud enough, you need to make sure that people can understand what you’re saying.

Here are some guidelines on what to talk about...


Each student should please prepare a few words about the piece they will be playing. Some ideas on what to say: 

- what did you learn while studying the piece?

- is there a story behind the music?

- what do you think of while playing the piece?

- what does the title mean? what are some of the musical terms throughout and how do they add to the piece?

- who is the composer, when was the piece written, what was going on in their life at that time? 

- what technical challenges were introduced in the piece? 

If you have trouble coming up with something let me know and I can help guide you. This is not meant to be a huge stressful assignment, but rather a chance to dig a little deeper into the music and pass along what you've learned to the audience. Student comments can either be read from paper or told to the audience from memory. 

Also please remember that the goal is to present something substantive and relevant to the audience. 

One of the best ways to prepare for a performance is to make a video recording of your introduction and solo. Sometimes when we are focused on playing we don’t hear everything so this gives a chance to assess the things that are sounding good as well as the things we’d like to continue working on. Bring a recording to your lesson and I will give you my thoughts too. Good luck!

PBS...Television Worth Watching. Itzhak!

I love PBS. Everyone who has a show on PBS is a top contributor in their field. It’s not a commercialized beauty pageant, but rather is based on merit and quality. 

This past Sunday PBS aired a wonderful documentary on the life of Itzhak Perlman - one of the most wonderful violinists of our time. If you weren’t able to catch it, I highly recommend you check it out! 

Click the post title above to go to the video. 



Technology is a Wonderful Thing!

I find myself using technology all the time with my students and also in my own playing (and of course out in my workshop as well).

In my teaching, I find my iPad and Bluetooth speaker indispensable - thanks for the speaker Rice family! With the iPad, I have all the music I need to teach five year olds up through the most advanced young adults, right at my fingertips. There’s no downtime, no searching for CDs, etc. I also have powerful apps that are very useful tools for both myself and my students. I’d like to outline some of those below for those who aren’t using them yet...


This is a fantastic free app that allows us to do two things: change the speed of music without changing the pitch and alter the pitch up/down if desired. For younger students, this is especially useful since the Suzuki CD tempos are notoriously FAST! By slowing things down 15-30% students are instantly much more successful at playing along with the recordings. Many parents tell me their child prefers to play without the CD. 97% of the time this will be remedied by slowing the speed down a bit...

Here’s a quick tutorial on using Anytune on the iPad. I haven’t used the PRO version - I’d recommend starting with the free version and going from there. I highly recommend this App!



If you have never added music - via CD - to a phone, tablet, etc it can be a bit confusing. The good news is it’s a very simple two step process. You’ll be a pro in no time! This is an older video, but the basic idea is the same. Using iTunes makes things pretty user friendly with prompts.



This is another App that is incredibly powerful and depending on the age of your device, might be completely free! Use it to create any type of music - an original composition, background music or a custom accompaniment for the solo currently being worked on. How cool is that?! There are a ton of tutorials on YouTube, but here’s one I found useful…

The above should serve as a way to get started using technology in at home practices to improve the student’s overall experience. I look forward to hearing how things go and what other great Apps and programs you discover!

What a Great Night for a Performance...

A little over a week ago, on June 8th, my students had the opportunity to perform solo and ensemble works for a very excited and supportive audience. It was a terrific night and it was such a treat to hear everyone play so well. 

Because I have so many students, I try to keep things moving along and limit how much I interrupt the playing with interjections on my part. I learned long ago that there is no such thing as a performance that's too short...there is, however, such a thing as a performance that's too long! To me, the night is all about the students, supporting them and helping them shine as much as possible. 

It would be very remiss of me, however, not to tell a quick story that I should have shared before my final student, Alec, played. In retrospect I should have told it at the recital, but he was facing the Prelude of Bach's first cello suite and I didn't want to make him nervous! 

I've known Alec a long time. I'm not exactly sure how many years? I do, however, remember the first conversation I had with his mom, Aly. I was on vacation with my family down in North Carolina. We have been going down to a small island off the Outer Banks (Emerald Isle) since I was a little guy. We were out to dinner and my phone rang. Aly was inquiring about cello lessons for her son and whether I might have room in my studio and be willing to teach him. We had a nice talk and I told her I would get back to her when I was back to Michigan and could sit down at my computer to find him a lesson time. She asked where I was vacationing and I replied, "A small island off the banks of North Carolina." She got excited and told me that she grew up in NC and her family in fact just got back from Emerald Isle the previous week! 

I guess at the end of the day it's a pretty small world we live in and sometimes we bump into each other in interesting, comical ways. 

As I write this entry I find myself tearing up a bit because I absolutely hate goodbyes. I don't even like it when a favorite TV show has its final episode. Anyway, I doubt very much that my students know how lucky and privileged I feel to teach them each week. When I have a long relationship with a family it's often bittersweet to see them go. I'm of course very happy for all the new opportunities my student will have, but what can I say...I hate goodbyes. 

Best of luck Alec and don't be a stranger. 

Pretty Cool!

“I’m a musician because of the public school system in Los Angeles,” says David Lang, the Yale School of Music professor who composed the original piece for Symphony for a Broken Orchestra. “I’m completely a product of the public schools. So when [Blackson] told me he had access to these 1,000 instruments, my first thought was that each one of those instruments was an opportunity to change the life of a student that wasn’t going to happen.”

Another Great Recital!

I believe in addition to the cello ensemble and group class, there were 28 solos performed last night.

Students all did a wonderful job even with instruments that weren’t cooperating because of the cold weather. Congratulations to all!

Nice work and have a great holiday break. See you in 2018! 


Some Nice Bow Work!

Here is one of my little students perfecting his bow distribution on Oh Come Little Children. Conquering the bow on this song is a huge achievement for a young player! He almost has it nailed - just one missing string crossing at the end of the song.

I like to start students on just the E string so they can focus all their attention on correct distribution, speed and location on the bow. Then on the repeat we add in the string crossings so it’s exactly as it will be played when the left hand is added.  

Double Stops and Chords...the Secret to Good Intonation!

To musicians, nothing is more important than intonation. It should be the one thing in the back of our mind at all times...

As a string player, we should be hypersensitive to our intonation. No one plays perfectly in tune - I don't, my students don't, Yo-Yo Ma doesn't. What we're after isn't perfection, but rather a finely developed ear and quick reflexes so we can adjust before our audience hears something they don't like. 

One of my favorite ways to work on intonation with students - once they get to an appropriate level of technique - is by using chords and double stops. Here we are working on the ending of Musette and trying to fine tune our left hand notes so it sounds very beautiful!


Backward Extensions and Shifts

As cellists, we are constantly feeling like acrobats...of maybe that we're playing a game of Twister on the instrument. We have to shift (move our hand) much more often than our violin friends. Another very important technique is what we call an extension. 

There are two types of extensions - forward and backward. They look the same, but are very different in nature. It's all about where we are coming from and where we are going to. In Musette, we use a backward extension to play a note (C) in 2nd position. It can be a bit tricky at times, which is why I like to introduce it to students in an exercise prior to learning this piece. This tends to set students up for success and make it easy. 


Starting to Learn a New Piece...

Here we are starting to learn a new piece - Musette from Suite No. 3 by Bach. We often learn a new song by starting with pizzicato (plucking) since using the bow adds a layer of complexity. Once our left hand is solid, then we can add the bow (right hand). 

I like to talk to students about the tonal patterns we find in music and also a methodical approach of how to go about practicing at home. Professional musicians don't play long sections of songs when they are working on them. Isolating the tricky spot is generally the best way to conquer it. Then it's all a matter of repetitions! 

A Quick Lesson on Proper Cueing...

As players it's incredibly important to be able to communicate non verbally with our colleagues during performances. Making sure the group starts together is probably the most obvious thing! Here's a short video where I help a young student with her cueing. 


Awesome performance guys!

On Friday, June 9th we had our annual Spring Recital at the church. Not everyone was able to attend, but we still had twenty four students play which was awesome. I'm constantly impressed by how professional everyone acts and the level at which players are able to perform. 

As always, students introduce themselves and their piece, working to tell the audience something meaningful about the music. It could be what they learned, something about the composer, an interesting fact or something the audience should listen for. I work with students on their introductions prior to the performance and remind them the three rules for public speaking:




Public speaking is an important life skill to learn and develop. Many (if not most) highly successful adults need to address large groups of their peers regularly. I like to get them started early! 


Performances are an invaluable learning opportunity. I have two recitals each year for students - one in the spring (mid June) and one in the fall (mid December). It gives each student a chance to prepare and play a solo piece and also for group class to perform as an ensemble. It usually draws a large crowd of parents, family and friends. Good stuff! 

I really enjoy working both with students in their individual lessons and also in the group class setting. Private lessons gives me a chance to tailor an approach and methodology to each individual student and parent. We form a "triangle" of sorts between myself, the child and the parent, all working together towards a common goal of advancement on the instrument. I also get to know students and their parents very well which is great! 

As musicians, we are almost always playing in a group setting - even if it's just a solo with piano accompaniment. There are so many skills that must be developed and fostered to be a successful musician. Group class affords us the opportunity to learn together (which is so fun!) and to develop our ears and technique as ensemble players. Group class is one of the hallmark differences between the Suzuki Method and a more "traditional" method. 

Getting ready for the upcoming recital...practice, practice, practice!

I generally ask my students to make several videos of themselves playing their recital piece in the weeks leading up to the performance. This accomplishes several things... 

1. They always record it a number of times before selecting one to bring to their lesson. Repetitions are good! 

2. They can hear the sound they are getting when not focused on the task at hand. In other words, as performers we often think it sounds a certain way or we're doing a great job of this or that. Sometimes in reality it's very different than our perception while playing!

3. We can silence the video and notice whether anything looks awry. For instance, are funny faces being made? Are we swaying back and forth like a snake charmer? Does our posture look good or is there room for improvement...?

Sometimes the best teacher we can have is a video recorder!

On making mistakes and failures...

“Failure should be our teacher, not our undertaker. Failure is delay, not defeat. It is a temporary detour, not a dead end. Failure is something we can avoid only by saying nothing, doing nothing, and being nothing.”
- Denis Waitley

Remember that when a child drops their bow, we pick it up and try again. We should always strive to be lifelong learners…