Canadian-based WestJet Airlines, to my knowledge, is the only airline with an official policy of not allowing a cello onboard, yet they seem to have no problem selling a seat for a cello and then denying boarding at the gate! Read in the Boston Globe how this happened to me in 2013. The situation has been suffered by cellists numerous times since, the latest being Juilliard student Nathan Chan, who I applaud for fighting back!
By contrast, competitor Air Canada recently adopted a a “friendly skies” policy towards musical instruments as cabin baggage, and in the United States, the Passenger Bill of Rights says that airlines must allow the purchase of a ticket for a cello. Lets get behind Nathan and send letters of outrage to WestJet! Use your Facebook and social media pages to publicize WestJet’s outrageous behavior.
– Paul Katz, Artistic Director and Founder, CelloBello
Reprinted from The Strad Magazine, January 26, 2016
WestJet refuses to allow cello in the cabin – despite musician buying extra seat
Juilliard School cellist Nathan Chan has shared his story in the hope of shining a light on the airline’s policy
Following Norwegian Air’s refusal to transport Helsinki Philharmonic violinist Ari Vilhjalmsson’s $200,000 violin in the cabin – and the airline’s subsequent promise to review its policy in the wake of public condemnation – Juilliard School cellist Nathan Chan (pictured) has published a blog on his website describing a similarly upsetting experience on West Jet.
The young musician booked a flight from Vancouver to New York via Toronto on American Airlines – however, the first leg of his journey was operated by WestJet. Although he had booked an extra seat for his cello for the entire journey the Canadian low cost carrier cited its rule of not allowing cellos on bard because they don’t have ‘specialized tie downs’.
Chan recalls: ‘In what was a very stressful moment, I had to abandon my instrument and leave it with family in Vancouver and board the plane on my own. This was a “sold out flight”. Hope the person on the standby list wasn’t mad that there was an empty seat on the plane due to WestJet’s maddening and confused little policy.
‘Because of this, I’ve had to spend more money to have a 3rd party to fly the cello to me in New York. I still have not been issued a refund for the abandoned seat.
‘Cellists. Never. Fly. Westjet.’
Nathan Chan Comments: Since a month has passes and WestJet has not yet made any moves toward changing this policy, I feel it is important to share my disheartening experience with musicians and artists. WestJet doesn’t allow cellos in extra, purchased seats due to a very specific policy targeting musical instruments. I have yet to be issued a refund for the extra seat and believe WestJet’s policy in question should be reconsidered for the betterment of travelers everywhere.
Love this poster so much. Can’t wait for the concerts to start this week!
Congrats, Aoife on the release of “In the Magic Hour” !!
Jose Luis Hernandez is now appointed as The James and Mary Barnes Foundation Director of Sistema Tulsa! The Barnes Foundation Trustees are pleased that their support will "enable the Boston Avenue United Methodist Church to offer children in Tulsa a chance to enrich their lives."
"I am proud of the work we do at the Boston Avenue United Methodist Church and Sistema Tulsa," says Jose Luis. "Our program focuses on excellence, community, and partnerships to grow a more prosperous youth. I am delighted of this appointment that allows me to share my passion for music and education!"
We are learning to do consciously what Nature intended.
– F.M. Alexander
Spending a week remembering Bernard Greenhouse on CelloBello brought back memories of many hours of lively conversations and shared experiences. Bernie had naturally what we call ‘a back’ in the Alexander Technique, and there is no faking or pretending to have a back…you either do or you don’t, and the evidence of it is felt in the power of presence. The back mediates all our responses–a strong and expansive back gives one the ability to speak and act from a place of natural authority. Bernie’s quiet but strong presence when playing, teaching or just conversing emanated from that central core that Casals spoke about, and which no doubt magnetized Bernie from far away and moved him across an ocean in search of the master. Like recognized like.
One day I said to Bernie, ” You know, you have naturally what we all work to develop in our practice of the Alexander Technique –over many years of study.” He asked me for a lesson, and I obliged. I started off by giving him what we call a ‘table turn’, after lunch. Having had a substantial meal, he soon was asleep on his back, but later said that he recognised the benefit of it. I am not so sure…I think he was being kind! But he did show me his way of using his back at the cello, with the swing of the bow arm in opposition to the back, exactly what I teach in my Alexander lessons. I break it down into smaller steps so that students can acquire it eventually as a natural part of their technique.
Being ‘in the back’ as we say, not pushing forward or collapsing, but allowing the back to expand and lengthen, means as well that our perception of time falls into place. We are neither pushing or rushing time nor dragging, because the back maintains a firmness which is effortless and produces a sense of ease, allowing for expression which is unhurried.
The Chinese have a wonderful saying: Tension is who you think you should be, relaxation is who you are. Bernie was just who he was, and perhaps that’s why we all felt happy around him. Finding your back and living ‘in your back’ is being who you are.
They’ve made some progress on the new building since you’ve been away…
Jazz speaks for life. The Blues tell the story of life’s difficulties, and if you think for a moment, you will realize that they take the hardest realities of life and put them into music, only to come out with some new hope or sense of triumph.
This is triumphant music.”
- Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on Jazz and the Blues
When students come to study cello with me in college they often arrive with problems in their fundamental technique which must be addressed: issues with collapsing fingers, bow angle, underlying tension, weak sound, etc. Most of these basic problems can be dealt with fairly quickly once the student becomes aware of the issues and knows how to fix them. However the bad habits that seem to be the most intractable are problems regarding the curvature of the thumb. In pedagogy classes and in talking with teachers I always emphasize that young cellists should be taught to train their thumbs correctly in order to help avoid excess tension and to allow maximum flexibility. Teachers need to be vigilant about this in the early stages of a cellist’s development in order to prevent future problems, including tendonitis. The incorrect usage of the thumb is one of the most difficult problems to correct later in a cellist’s development. It is crucial that students learn it properly from the beginning, and that teachers monitor it constantly throughout the student’s career.
In playing the cello the thumbs on both hands should be bent outward (some teachers say a “bumpy thumb”), not squished in.
The reason for this is that when the thumb is bent inward it is designed to grab onto something like a hammer or other tool. It maximizes the grip and enables power and strength from the arm to manipulate a tool. However in playing the cello we do not need that kind of force – in fact, we need to reduce tension to facilitate the flexibility of the thumb and fingers.
It turns out that the thumb has more nerve connections to the brain than any other part of the body – except the tongue. I think that this is interesting in that what separates Man from other animals is that humans have the ability to speak (tongue) and the ability to use tools (thumb). So, evolutionarily the prehensile, opposable thumb was intended to be used for holding things and using tools, while at the same time it can be amazingly sensitive and dexterous.
The thumb should be across/behind the second finger on both hands in playing the cello. Although some cellists advocate the thumb connecting with the middle (3rd) finger on the bow, I think it is preferable to use bilateral symmetry, with the same thumb-2nd finger relationship in both hands, so that one side of the body is similar to the other side. It is especially important for the left hand thumb to be under the second finger in extensions. One of the major problems with young cellists is that they don’t release the thumb before making forward extensions, so the hand position becomes distorted, tension is increased, and intonation suffers.
Although it is sometimes difficult for students to train the thumb into the optimal configuration, it is important for teachers to help them get this right. That means being vigilant, determined and also thinking creatively about how to build good habits.
Students are also often confused about the placement of the left hand thumb in neck positions for playing on different strings. When playing on the C-string, the thumb should be under the A-string; when playing on the A-string, the thumb should be under the C-string. The entire arm moves up when going from the A-string to the C-string, and the thumb moves around the back of the fingerboard so that the whole mechanism works together as a unit.
The left hand thumb needs to be well organized in the neck positions before a young cellist starts playing in “thumb position”, where the thumb is used as a finger up on the fingerboard. In “thumb position” the structure of the left thumb is opposite from what was previously described. In “thumb position” the joints are reversed: the distal phalange (the part with the nail) should be bent inward and the joint at the base of the thumb should poke out. I call this the “inny” and the “outy”. In establishing the basic “thumb position” (creating an octave between the thumb and third fingers across the strings, or a Perfect Fourth on the same string), the knuckles should not be squashed down, and there should be a C-shape between the thumb and the first finger as you look down the fingerboard.
Using the thumb with this configuration adds strength and stability to thumb position, and prevents the thumb from wobbling when moving up and down the fingerboard. To help strengthen the thumb you can use isometric exercises, as described in an earlier blog.
Paul Tortelier “How I Play, How I Teach“, page 28
There is some disagreement among professional cellists whether the thumb should be on one string or two strings in thumb position, but I recommend first creating a stable thumb across two strings in the octave position for young cellists, and then later using it on just one string in order to reduce tension in passages where the second string is not being used. However, most pieces which require “thumb position” employ octaves and double-stops. In those situations it is best to have the thumb across both strings.
In next week’s blog, I will discuss a way of thinking about geography in the upper registers of the cello. We will also look at tetrachords and the configuration of the hand.
Panama Jazz Festival!
It was so great to see so many NEC alums at the JEN show in Louisville!
Rostros de La Gala, 2 / PJF16PhotoTeam | Jose Rovira