Tag Archives: cello

Arranging Bruno Mars’ Just The Way You Are for Violin and Cello

An old friend of ours is getting married this week and asked if we could provide music.   She specifically requested for a few modern pop tunes.

I’m always a bit apprehensive about playing pop repertoire with classical instruments.  Is it going to sound really corny and crap?  Will it still convey the same emotion without singing or lyrics?

A bit of Googling and I found U2’s Beautiful Day [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X5ZkVYXguhQ] as well as Bruno Mars’ Just The Way You Are [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MpqJjasrD7I] arranged and recorded by the Vitamin String Quartet.  Seems like this US based quartet has done a heap of pop and rock covers, and they don’t sound too bad either!

Unfortunately, our instrumentation for the wedding is going to be keyboard/piano, violin and cello.   Still, I used a combination of the  recording by the original artists together with listening to the Vitamin String Quartet arrangement to come up with my own arrangement – for piano trio!

I hope it will be OK for the wedding!

But the whole exercise on this Sunday morning has made me appreciate how much effort goes into arranging music.  Just these 2 pieces took nearly 4 hours – and that’s just for a pretty rough draft version.   I’d estimate I’d need another 4 hours to polish it up.   And then do an actual run through to see whether it sounds OK and is playable!

Miss 11’s AMEB Cello Exam

Oooo..  AMEB Exams.

What a lot of muso kids dread.

Whilst we were helping Miss 11 practise (read…  forcing Miss 11 to practise), she asked, “Why do I have to do the exam?”

Wifey and I looked at each other, wondering how best to answer.

Yes, why?   “It’s a good goal to work towards so you can keep on improving.”

Not a very convincing answer for Miss 11.

It’s just a lot of work for no apparent reason.  AMEB Grade 4 cello is quite hard!  Lots of scales, some 3 octave ones that go into thumb position.  The pieces themselves are hard with double stops and shifts.

This is definitely a step up.

And poor Miss 11 was feeling it.  She’s reached that stage where, yes, she does have some “natural” talent, but she has to work hard too.  And working hard is often just repetition.  Practising the scales right, and repeating them even when you get them right.  It’s only that way that your brain will remember and form the neural connections to repeat it correctly the next time.    Part of that whole 10,000 hours to become an expert thing.

In the final week before the exam, we got her to practise everyday and she even had extra lessons.

And then suddenly it was the day of the exam.   I met up with Wifey and Miss 11 at the AMEB office.


A bit of a warm up, and then she was in.   For what seemed like quite a long time too!   Afterwards she seemed relieved in her non-emotional way, and then we went to a cafe for afternoon tea.

But the good news came yesterday – her teacher had the results and she got an A+!    Wifey and I were elated!  Definitely a great reward that shows that hard work does pay off in the end and I hope Miss 11 learns from this experience.   As for Miss 11..  she didn’t seem terribly fussed about the whole thing.  Maybe it’ll sink in later?

First AMEB cello exam

It’s all happening for our Miss 10.  A couple of weekends ago she had her first WAYMA audition.  Today is her first AMEB cello exam.

It’s really quite hard!  She’s struggled to get her head around the different scales, harmonic and melodic minors as well as get all the exercises and pieces up to exam standard.   Her hands and fingers are still relatively tiny so shifting and extensions are even harder on the cello.   And there’s so much exam work that to get through that it takes over an hour to get through it in a practice session!

But the hardest thing I’ve noticed is trying to get her to not stop playing when she makes mistakes.  When she makes a mistake, Miss 10 will repeat the couple of notes again.  In an exam or performance situation, you just have to keep on going.  Sounds easy, but it’s something that has to be learnt and to get used to.

I know she can’t wait until it’s over so she can have a small break from cello.  Unfortunately, she’ll be diving straight into a school production performance, then her dance school concerts next weekend.

Wish her good luck!

Miss 10’s first public cello performance

There’s some sort of weird parent bias bubble that gets created when you watch your child perform.  The joy and pride mixed together with nerves is a strange cocktail of emotions.   But that’s what I felt when Miss 10 played Bach’s Minuet 3 this week.

Driving to the venue, I was thinking that I was more nervous than her.  But when I sat next to her and held her hand, no – her hand was already clammy.  I whispered to her, “Squeeze my hand as hard as you can!” which she did, and grinned at me.  I think some of the nerves disappeared.

And then it was her time – we quickly checked her string tuning, she walked to the little stage, announced her name and piece, and then played with a great tone and intonation.  No wobbly nerves or shaking.  She remembered her extensions and shifts into 2nd position.   A small slip up at the second repeat but she recovered fine.  

And then it was all over.

I was proud of her – for getting up and playing very well, but more for just having a go even though it was a new experience and she was nervous.

Now she can concentrate on working towards her AMEB Grade 3 exam!

Playing the notes vs Performing

We entered our Miss 10 into a performing arts festival – her first one playing on the cello!

She’s not on until next week.  The piece is pretty under control – she’s been playing it for a while.

But what we have been rehearsing on in the last few days is performance.  Walking onto stage, bowing, making sure she’s seated comfortably, thinking about the right tempo, making eye contact with the accompanist to make sure they’re ready, lead the beginning of the piece.   Then play the piece as she does.   Then once it’s over, holding the bow for a second before getting up and bowing and smiling.

I think we’ve got it across to her that performing is not just about playing the notes.  It literally is “performing”!

The Elgar

It’s an amazing experience to be able to play a concerto with a full orchestra.  Even more special is the chance to play it in a large concert hall.   And even more daunting is tackling a large romantic concerto! The nerves, playing in front of a large audience, playing in front of your peers, wondering if you can execute those tricky passages that you only “get” one out of every two times at home.

Well, Anna Pokorny, winner of this year’s WA Youth Orchestra Concerto Competition did just that.  She played the Elgar cello concerto on the weekend with the full WAYO orchestra in the Perth Concert Hall.

I tend to cringe when I hear about kids playing large concertos – I mean, it’s amazing that they have reached a stage that they can get their fingers around most of the notes.  But they’re usually not quite there yet, both technically and emotionally.  There are usually heaps of other concertos in the repertoire that could be done first.

However, I was pleasantly surprised when Anna started the Elgar.  She seemed to play with much confidence.  Yes, some of the runs did get her, but she soldiered on – overall it was an impressive effort.  If our 9yo could play like that in 10 or so years time, I would be a very proud parent indeed 🙂

Unfortunately our 9yo wasn’t able to attend with us to get inspired.   She had a sleepover party to attend – she was meant to be my date for the night.  But when wifey dropped her off at the sleepover party, she asked her “Can you video it?”.   Awwwww…. so cute…

More info here:

http://www.wayma.asn.au/calendar/event/87.aspx

http://www.wayma.asn.au/