The Walnut Tree Inn, Blisworth
I am writing from the camper van in a campsite in Oxfordshire, This is definitely a superior affair compared to the scene of our adventures in Grendon: hard, gravelled standing, clean bathrooms with spacious cubicles and running (truly) hot, a laundry, a pool, a sauna, WiFi (which comes and goes) and an unbelievably helpful staff. I am relieved to learn that it will not be necessary to practise in the van in the morning; there are communal spaces that can accommodate a cello a cellist and music stand.
The day began, however, in a hotel overlooking Blisworth Railway Junction, as was. The Walnut Tree in Blisworth comes across as a charmingly isolated Bed and Breakfast at the end of a long lane beside the railway, but in its heyday, Blisworth Junction was one of the most important in Britain, joining trains from London to Birmingham with local services from Peterborough to Northampton, and Towcester and Banbury. The station became a ‘First Class’ station; every train coming through stopped there. The hotel was built in 1850, to house overnight travellers, and had pleasure gardens. The station closed in 1960 but the hotel continued to thrive as a music and dance venue through the 80s. It seems now a lovely but quiet inn (although the bar seems to function as a ‘local’), with an excellent if leisurely-served breakfast, and makes a nice contrast from the Ibis at which we stayed the previous night.
Today’s excerpt, the sixth line of Dotzauer, features the continuation of the string-crossing sequence on which I started to work yesterday. I am still have problems problems with the same finger in same position on the next string, both with the tuning and with accidentally touching the neighbouring string with the finger. I seem to be able to ameliorate some of the string-crossing problems by using a smoother weaving motion with the bow arm, especially playing from D string to A string, and even more so, of course, from G string to A string. It needs a bigger, freer circular motion, and actually, it feels great. I could be a junky for this.
In order to develop more consistency of sound, I am practising the crotchets in pairs : strong, weak. This gives me a chance to manipulate the differing amounts of crunch at the beginnings of bows.
Having tackled yesterday the problem of needing to suddenly use half the bow to play louder, at the top of a crescendo, today’s fragment poses the reverse problem: suddenly having to use more bow at the bottom of a decrescendo, as the instruction to use the upper half for a crotchet going into a piano semibreve comes after a sequence of decrescendo crotchets in the middle of the bow. It’s difficult to do, without elongating the last crotchet. I then have to start a whole note in piano, a semibreve F on the C string. Here I need the bit of bite at the beginning of the note, to get the string in motion, which is tricky without causing an accent.
Having struggled earlier to place the first finger in first position correctly, I seem now to be having difficulty nailing my second finger. I wonder if this has something to do with the width of the finger, and the need to place it very carefully, consistently.
Having made adjustments, over the last few days, to the length of my spike, partly in order to adjust to this bigger cello, and partly because I keep changing rehearsal venues, I notice that perhaps through the strain of playing a cello with a dodgy string height, I am tilting my head forward over the fingerboard, and it is not only putting the tuning slightly out of kilter, the strain of keeping the large unbalanced object that is my head is being taken up by my back, and is feeding tension into my shoulders and therefore my arms. It’s taken me a while to get the box and pegs in a position where they don’t interfere with my head on my new, smaller cello (although in some ways it is easier because the cello is so narrow) and now I am having trouble readjusting to the larger, wider instrument.
Now that I have become aware of it, I am horrified to realise, every time I remind myself to straighten my spine, that I have not, over the years, gotten used to letting my shoulders slump, and my head drop forward, as I thought but I have, rather been clamping my shoulders down, and jamming my head forward. I am shocked at the amount of muscle power that has gone into squashing my spine out of shape. I have further realised that this is my natural walking position. I have started over the last few days, wherever I am, to remind myself to walk as if there is a piece of string pulling my head up from the back, and straightening the spine. I am literally unfolding from this unnatural, cramped position. I once saw a poster showing the skeleton inside a person both slumped and crammed forward over a computer keyboard, labelled ‘Severe Back Trauma at 0 miles Per Hour’, or something similar. This is presumably what I have been doing to myself over the years. I hope it is to some extent un-doable.