I spend a lot of time sitting playing the cello. It feels different every day. Some days it feels physically very easy. My back is strong and straight. My arms feel long and lithe. Other days it feels not-so-good-physically. My arms are tired. My lower back grumbles. Unlike my physical body, my ears are less change-ful. After a number of years doing this (sitting and playing), my ears can just ‘switch on’, and I can hear glitches, mis-shifts, things I don’t quite like, things I feel like I could do better. And so the feedback loop opens, and the practising starts.
Most of the time, I feel like I am speaking when I play the cello. Well, kind of a combination of speaking and singing. It’s not really surprising I think this. If you feed a cello through an oscilloscope (that’s the science gadget that measures sound waves), the graph that is produced is the most like a human voice. And I think of my cello a lot like a person (I know. Weird.), so thinking of him talking and singing isn’t too much of a step in any direction.
I’m preparing for a concert with an actor. I’ve worked with this chap a number of times before – I really enjoy it. I love it for a number of reasons…. It’s a really intimate way of working – just words, and my playing (it’s also quite draining, I think for the same reason). He’s really open to different ways of fitting things together. Because he’s not a musician, he’s not aware of all the Classical musician ‘rules’ there are, so doesn’t mind breaking any of them.
But I think the thing I like most about this process is he shows me a different way of listening to things.
We’re preparing a Bach suite for a concert. I can talk to you about the phrases, or what volume I’d like it. I can easily understand harmonies, and where each phrase should go (in my opinion, anyway). But the other day I came home to find an email waiting for me from this actor. He’d listened to the same suite, and written down thought-grabs he’d had. He’d given me a story, a snapshot of feelings and gestures, a set of actions.
I sat down to play the suite the next day. And I turned off my thoughts, and read his ‘story’. And then I played. It was wonderful. Like drinking a new sort of drink – something kind-of familiar, but totally new. It was tremendously exciting!
We start rehearsing together this weekend. I’ll hear the poetry and prose he has chosen to go with each movement. And things will change again. We’ll talk and explore things – and it will excite and challenge me.
And I’ll love it.