In 2011, declaring that "our art is passed from one generation to the next, not by books but by mentoring," NEC faculty member Paul Katz launched CelloBello, a website designed to connect cellists of all ages and performance levels. Among the site's resources are "Cello Lessons," consisting of footage filmed in Katz's studio with NEC students; "Legacy" videos from Katz's own mentors; and the blog streamed through this page, and coauthored by more than a dozen prominent cellists.

An Interview with Paul Katz on “Talent Has Hunger”

Talent Has Hunger is an inspiring film about the power of music to consume, enhance, and propel lives. Filmed over 7 years, the documentary offers a window into the mysterious world of the artist, and focuses on the challenges of guiding gifted young people through the struggles of mastering the cello. The film features the mentorship of master teacher Paul Katz, the founder of CelloBello. He joined our website blogmaster, Francesca McNeeley, for an interview to discuss the film and its impact:

For people who may not realize the connection between this film and CelloBello, would you mind briefly talking about their shared history?

About 10 years ago there was a cellist who went to Harvard and did her doctoral dissertation in legacy and mentoring; she made myself and my class the subject of her paper. She spent two and a half years filming my lessons, interviewing me, interviewing my students, and then she wrote a 250-page dissertation for Harvard—with added video clips. From that the idea of making a DVD for cellists developed.

We took this idea to the WGBH Educational Media Foundation and they liked what they saw in my teaching, etcetera. They then came back and proposed a PBS film. They also suggested that instead of a DVD, a better way to go, pedagogically, would be a website. This was back in 2007; a lot has happened in the last 10 years, but at that time that was pretty cutting edge thinking. So they pushed me in that way.

The idea first was to make a film, but after we started filming we ran into budgetary problems when the stock market crashed. The film was put on hold, but from that footage—there was about 80 hours of footage at that point—we got the idea that maybe we should do a website before the film. It had originally been thought of the other way around.

So CelloBello, with the help of WGBH and the New England Conservatory, was created in 2010. Then in 2014 Josh Aronson, the producer of Talent Has Hunger, came back and said “let’s finish the film.” In the end there was this four year period where there was no filming at all, which actually works out very well for the movie. We were able to see my freshman class coming in and then graduating and going out into the world—which Josh felt made a better film than if we had shot it all in a two-year period.

Director Josh Aronson at work.

Would you say that this film is exclusively for cellists?

A lot of people think that this is a niche film for cellists, but Josh made this movie for a broader PBS audience. The phrase that I remember always being passed around when the film was started was that this would be “a window into the mysterious world of the artist.” The general public—people who go to concerts—they always wonder, What do we do? What is it like to play an instrument? How do we achieve? So for the non-player, this is a really interesting movie. The cello is ultimately a metaphor for the whole process of striving for excellence and mastery of almost anything.

The first time you saw the finished film, was there anything that took you by surprise? Was there anything about your portrayal or your students’ portrayal that was surprising?

Josh was very good about showing me rough cuts along the way, but when I saw the first one I think my heart was in my mouth the whole time. I’ve seen it so many times now that it’s a little hard to remember, but I immediately admired what he was doing. I couldn’t imagine how he intercut this thing and made such a quick-moving narrative out of it.

He did very willingly give me two veto powers with the film, which were that I could veto anything that I thought was detrimental to my students, and I could veto anything that I thought was not reflective of my educational philosophy. We caught many musical moments that were inaccurate: some bad splicing, or there would be a little out of tune section that I asked to be eliminated because I didn’t want my students to be embarrassed. Things like that. But basically, it was his film and I helped him refine down the musical choices—and the rest of it is really him.

Did the film illuminate anything about yourself as a teacher and cellist?

That’s a good question. Well, I think he made me look good [laughing]. And of course I’m very grateful for that.

I felt like I was watching myself in a very true way. It’s the way I like to think of myself, actually. But I think it was fairly realistic and candid. The amazing thing about Josh is that he made everybody—myself and my entire class—comfortable, so there are truly candid moments. When Sebastian was very upset after his promotional and we were able to talk, we sort of knew the camera was there but we didn’t care. I think that moment was a real moment. I felt like that’s honestly who I am, and it’s honestly who Sebastian is. So in that way, I basically feel flattered, and I get great comments from people that admire my teaching and all of that. But one thing I always said to Josh was that I did not want a vanity piece. This should be about teaching and learning, and this should be about larger issues than any single person in the film.

When we had the premier at the Museum of Fine Arts and I had all my NEC colleagues sitting out there—Yeesun, and Larry and the whole violin faculty, and everybody—I was flattered to be up there, but I just represent everything that all of them also do, and what they do as wonderful of a job at as me. So I hope that my role in the film is not so much about me as it is just an example of someone who teaches well and cares about their students. It’s representative of hundreds of wonderful people who do the same thing.

Paul Katz at the Los Angeles premier of Talent Has Hunger.

Technological advances have expanded our resources for learning today. Even just through CelloBello, we have access to hundreds of masterclasses, Youtube videos, blogs, and all of this other great content on learning the instrument. In spite of all of these great educational tools, why is one-on-one mentorship still so important for mastery in your line of work? 

Well there’s just no replacement for one-on-one teaching in the studio. There’s the getting-to-know-your-student aspect, the personal interaction that you see in the film; the conversations that I would have with Emileigh, or with Lev or Sebastian—none of that interchange is possible otherwise.

When I started this project, I thought that this would be easy. I’d been teaching all my life: I would just teach and someone would come in with a video camera, and that would be the end of story. It actually hasn’t been that way at all because I quickly realized that anything that I put up on the web had to be understandable by anyone from many different schools of cello playing. I don’t have the advantage of seeing how they interpret the information. I can’t watch their hands, and I can’t immediately get their feedback.

So I basically took a hippocratic oath for the cello that I would “do no harm.” I try to put up material that’s helpful without coming between the viewer and maybe their own teacher. A certain amount of that is unavoidable, and I certainly think about it a lot—so there are certain specific topics that I haven’t gone into in the lessons.

The other part of this is that one major motivation for the website was to be able to help people that cared about the instrument who didn’t have the opportunity for a conservatory experience. When we were creating the website I did some focus groups to ask students whether they felt that this would be valuable, whether they could imagine using it, etcetera. There were some really inspirational answers that came from people in small, out of the way places—somewhere in Latin American or a small town in North Dakota. These people were so excited about the idea of having a resource like this. So while I do in fact send my class to CelloBello sometimes to view a lesson, I think the more important value would be to all those areas in the world and to cellists who aren’t in major schools.

The film has poignant moments where we see your students grappling with musical growing pains, so to speak. From your own experience as a teacher, what’s the biggest thing you’ve seen hold back your students’ success?

I have to say that at this point in my teaching life, I’m very privileged to be in a school like NEC where virtually everybody that goes out is going to be able to get a job and have a life in music. When I was younger and teaching at maybe less high-powered schools, that wasn’t always the case. Some people have internal pressures: fear of failure, performance nerves, lack of confidence. However other people are supremely confident but maybe they don’t interact well, so they’re not attractive to a college faculty. I don’t think one can generalize about why people are successful or why people fail.

Another way to answer this question would be to look at what’s needed for success: and there I would say for sure perseverance, and a positive outlook—just understanding that it’s a competitive world but it’s also a subjective world. Just because you lose an audition or just because you don’t get a college search position doesn’t mean that you are less qualified; it doesn’t mean that you’re not ready. It just means that there was another taste or another need that you didn’t quite fit as well as they thought somebody else did

One of the most wonderful cellists I ever taught—the guy is a monster cellist—he now plays in the Chicago Symphony but I think the Chicago Symphony was his 13th audition—he kept failing. He would make the finals and it didn’t work out. He failed in Cleveland, in San Francisco, and then all of a sudden he winds up in Chicago. And that’s probably where he belongs, because Chicago is a more extroverted, let-it-all-fly kind of orchestra. He certainly plays well enough to be in the Cleveland Orchestra, but the moral if the story is that you’ve just got to keep doing it and believing in yourself. I think that’s what’s most important.



Extra: Hear more on the documentary from Josh Aronson, the director of Talent Has Hunger:

Talent Has Hunger is now available on Amazon and iTunes. For more info on the film, please visit Aronson Films and the Talent Has Hunger Facebook Page

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The Most Erogenous Region of the Cello — by Stefanie Buller

Search for resistance—enjoy the friction!

I have been considering the topic “sounding point” (contact point, in German) for a long time now. Where bow hair and string meet is where everything we have to offer—regarding material, technique, power and ease—is channeled. This is the origin of the sound! This is where the action is!

Isn’t the sounding point therefore the most erogenous region of the cello?

But at first a little anecdote:

After the Christmas mass the priest stood at the exit, shaking the hands of the parishioners and wishing them a Merry Christmas. What a nice gesture! So I took his hand in return. But it felt like a rubber glove filled with jelly. By intuition I tried to get a grip. (“There must be bones somewhere in this hand…”)

This is how our little encounter turned into an embarrassing moment.

Contact needs resistance.

Resistance is the force an object puts up against the attempt to be set into motion. We need this counterforce to get into contact. Although the hand of the Monsignore approached me, it didn’t put up any resistance against mine. My hand therefore missed its mark.

No contact without resistance. No sound without contact. What a pity.

This is why we use rosin—instead of oil—as a “friction agent.” We need the resistance, the substance. We need something that answers “No” before it consents to getting into friction and vibration. In Tango the dance becomes exciting when the Follower reacts with a minimum of delay. If this positive ductile elasticity succeeds it can become a “high voltage dance.”

Resistance does not equal conflict or fight.

It is just a force opposing mine and giving me resonance to my actions. Isn’t a successful handshake in which two persons meet a terrific thing? When two people truly meet each other—not flinching—not squeezing? Amazing intimacy and closeness is possible in these moments. What if we would appreciate resistance and friction, possibly asking for them instead of judging them as negative?

Anyway: friction at the right spot is a blissful thing, isn’t it?

What does this have to do with sound production?

Well—casually said: You’re “pleasing yourself” when you play the cello. You are responsible for both sides of the contact point.

You are responsible for both sides of the sounding point.

We are bothering about our bow technique in great detail—but how about the opposite side? Your bowing skills can unfold their true magic only if the strings offer a decent counter-contact. And this counter-contact is created by your whole body (especially legs and torso). This part is equally important and should be considered with the same accuracy and attention as the bowing technique.

Why? More than 80% of the cellists I have worked with (more than 300 by now) are flinching their cello away from the bow in the critical moment. Why? Because the combination of a backwards dropping pelvis with an extended bow arm preparing for the great attack leads to a slumping of the ribcage area. Unfortunately that’s where the cello is supported. And similar to what I did when I wanted to shake the hand of the Monsignore, the bow arm grips tighter in order to achieve the contact.

The consequences: A tired bow arm (searching for contact but missing the mark) and back pain (because intuitively we try to regain the stability).

Vice versa the majority of these cellists created a better, juicier, more controlled sound after achieving more stability from the perspective of the strings.

You want a sound that is red hot, exciting and interesting? Take care of the other side!


1. Observe!
Video yourself as you practice from a side perspective and observe the movement of your body with the cello. Especially when you play high notes or want to achieve a huge sound. Celebrate everything that you notice.

2. Explore!
Play some long notes on open strings. As you do this let your pelvis slowly rock backwards and forwards WITHOUT adjusting the bow. What happens to the sound? If you don’t notice a change, make a video.

ATTENTION: This is not a license to do weird things with your pelvis! It is an exercise to increase your awareness of how you can influence the quality of the sounding point through body movement.

3. Focus on “counter-contact”!
Put your hands on yourself! e.g. put your hand on your leg and sense the leg with your hand. Now change the perspective and sense the hand with your leg. Which one is easier? What happens if you intend to sense both sides equally at the same time?

Find infinite opportunities to play with this principle.

4. Change your perspective!

Notice how your cello contacts the bow, as if the cello were playing the bow—not vice versa. What is your intention for this “love affair”?  Do you want a nice handshake, a gentle teasing or hot sex? Remember: “It takes two to tango.”

Whatever you’re aiming for, as with a successful handshake suddenly an intense intimacy can occur when two partners really surrender to their touch.

We often wish for contact but if it’s there we flinch. Renewing contact ever again and staying with it sometimes needs more courage than we think. That is my experience. And what is yours?

I too am looking forward to resonance—e.g. by receiving your comment, a share or a newsletter sign-up! In return you’ll receive even more tips and ideas on how to achieve more sound with less tension. Friction and resistance is also welcome – but not obligatory!

And now: Have fun with your sensual practicing!

More details on sitting with the cello here.

Visit the author’s YouTube channel for more in-depth videos.

The German performance coach and Alexander Technique teacher Stefanie Buller fell in love with the cello at age five when she heard “The Swan” for the first time. She had to become 37 to eventually take up the cello herself in 2013 and started to learn to play it. At this time she had already finished her 4-year Alexander Technique Training and specialized in working with cellists, such as members of the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen.

The center of her work is that the human being is a magnificently integrated overall system in which all aspects such as body, emotions, thoughts and environment constantly interact. To distinguish what we can train and control and what we should instead hand over to our inert self-organizing potential is key for efficiency and high-level performing. Trusting in the power of ease and the intelligence of our nervous system is a process. Stefanie understands how to set an empowering environment in which this trust can grow.

The main ingredients of Stefanie´s coaching/teaching are the discoveries of F.M. Alexander and how we approach our goals as human beings, a great knowledge of functional anatomy, and her versatile experiences in music and dance, injury and recovery, success and failure. Having been a high achiever herself as a Key Account Manager in Plant Engineering, she had to experience the painful consequences of a constant aim for perfection, extreme willpower, the neglect of self-care, ignoring all signs of exhaustion, and the necessity to ask for support.

The art and music teaching she had been exposed to in her childhood turned out to be her strongest and most resilient resource for recovering. Musicians and music teachers can have a huge impact to the life of people. So supporting them in finding their own individual voice and strategies to take care for themselves is more than “just another job” – sometimes it seems like a tiny contribution to world peace.

For five years now she has been co-teaching a master course with Stephan Schrader, cellist of the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen. She offers group classes, individual lessons and online consultations. Her own workshop format CelloBliss for adult amateurs opens a non-judgemental space to experience the physical pleasures of cello playing as well as learning to practice in a joyful and stress-free way.

Her passion for supporting high-quality performers also led to her working with the Swiss Olympic rowing team (men’s quadruple sculls) and other high-potentials athletes in German rowing. (German and English)


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Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s Forgotten Masterpiece — by Brinton Averil Smith

With over 200 film scores to his name, it’s more likely that you’ve heard Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s music than his name. Castelnuovo-Tedesco was born in Florence in 1895 into a family that had been in Italy for generations, since the expulsion of Jews from Spain in 1492. His career as a composer began with conservatory study in Italy, and by the 1920s he was beginning to garner attention in greater Europe. In 1932 Mario began a lifelong friendship with the guitarist Andres Segovia, who inspired perhaps his most famous work, the Guitar Concerto No.1, and became an important champion of his music. It is largely due to Segovia’s influence that Mario wrote over 100 works for the guitar, which today form an important and frequently heard part of that instrument’s repertoire. At the same time Mario forged friendships with other notable musicians including Toscanini, Heifetz and Piatigorsky. With the rise of Mussolini and the racial laws, Mario sought shelter in America. In 1939,Toscanini sponsored his immigration, and Heifetz procured a contract for him at MGM, scoring films, as Korngold and Rozsa were also doing. Until his death in 1968, Castelnuovo worked prodigiously, scoring hundreds of movies (many uncredited) while simultaneously composing a surprisingly large number of classical compositions as well, including his second violin concerto, commissioned by Heifetz. Though Castelnuovo was not as famous as some other studio composers, perhaps his greatest Hollywood legacy will be as a teacher, with students that included Henry Mancini, Nelson Riddle, André Previn. Jerry Goldsmith, and John Williams. Today, as we continue to re-evaluate the merit of works by once disdained composers like Korngold, Castelnuovo’s reputation as a classical composer is also on the rise. It is certainly true that something doesn’t have to sound beautiful to be great art, but finally we are also considering that having a melody doesn’t necessarily mean it isn’t art, either!

Gregor Piatagorsky and Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco, August 1935

Castelnuovo-Tedesco met Piatigorsky in Florence in 1932, when Piatigorsky’s accompanist fell ill. Mario stepped in and they became fast friends. In his autobiography, Mario relates that Piatigorsky said to him “Castelnuovo, a great many cellists play your works as well as I do, but nobody loves them as much. Write a concerto for me!” and Mario obliged. In the Spring of 1933 Piatigorsky had the score as he boarded the SS Rex bound for Italy. His fellow passenger was Arturo Toscanini, and when Piatigorsky mentioned the concerto, Toscanini immediately demanded the score and disappeared for the evening. He re-appeared at seven the next morning with the score at his fingertips, full of enthusiasm to program the concerto’s debut with the New York Philharmonic. The premiere took place on Jan 31, 1935 (Piatigorsky relates that at the premiere, he and Toscanini shared a green room in Carnegie Hall. As Piatigorsky warmed up, Toscanini paced and cursed under his breath. Suddenly he stopped and exclaimed to Piatigorsky “You are no good. I am no good!” and resumed pacing. As they prepared to go onstage, Piatigorsky replied “We are no good. But the others are worse. Come on, caro, let’s go!”) 

Reviews of the premiere were mixed, with some praising the concerto’s tunefulness while others, like Olin Downes, dismissed it as “second rate music” for its traditional melodic values and tonal language. Piatigorsky performed the concerto a few more times in Europe, with critics continuing to split between praising and condemning it for its ‘old fashioned’ nature in a time of ascendant modernism (Korngold’s music was similarly dismissed, as was Rachmaninoff’s. History has offered a different judgment). Piatigorsky was active in commissioning for his instrument but unlike Heifetz, he rarely devoted great energies to promoting any of these commissions once they had been premiered, and quickly moved on to new projects. Castelnuovo-Tedesco insisted that Piatigorsky alone have the performing rights, and with the work never having been recorded and the music available only by rental, it quickly lapsed into obscurity. I first read about the concerto as a boy in Piatigorsky’s autobiography Cellist, and was already searching for information about it by the time I was a student at Juilliard. Finally, in the Fall of 2015, I connected with the proper rental agency and received a trial score. The only way to find out what it sounded like was to learn it and play it with the piano reduction! It was a new experience for me to learn a score with no recording to reference, no metronome marks, no ability to ask the composer, and only musical intuition and general markings to go by.

The piece quickly grew on me, and the dream of bringing it back into the public eye grew with it. I propositioned Aurelie Desmarais, the Houston Symphony’s Artistic Administrator, who was kind or perhaps foolish enough to not immediately hang up the phone, and joined my enthusiasm for the project, programming it for our subscription concerts on April 13th, 14th and 15th. After 80 years the concerto will once again have a chance to be heard from a professional orchestra. However, as Fritz Kreisler once quipped, “One should never play anything for the first time”, so my wife and I spent a great deal of time learning the piece with the piano reduction. Castelnuovo’s piano reduction unfortunately loses some of the best elements of his work—sweeping, powerful orchestrations, and creative use of orchestral colors. (In many cases he has written four melodies simultaneously on four staves but, like many pianists, my wife has only two hands…) Here are Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s own words on the concerto:

“…the first movement is quite regular in form with the character of a capacious and fanciful monologue, in tone somewhat Biblical. …the second movement, which would be, in most cases for the cello, a lyrical Adagio, is instead an Allegretto gentile. I believe myself to have been the first one to invent this “epithet”, and the music truly has an unusual grace and gentleness, in both the orchestration and in the agile counterpoint. It also has a brief, but curious cadenza accompanied by a celesta and timpani. …the last movement is impetuous and bright, typically romantic, but it is peculiar in that it begins (against all custom) with a long cadenza for the cello, which condenses the thematic material prior to the orchestra exposition.”

As we prepared for the April concerts, I asked our Chief Operations Officer, Vicky Dominguez, who was talking regularly with Klaus Heymann of Naxos, to ask him if he might be interested in the cello concerto. I knew they had the largest collection of Castelnuovo recordings and had heard that Klaus was personally a Castelnuovo fan. He wrote back in minutes, eager to find a way to record it and, thanks to the generosity of Vicky and all my colleagues in the Houston Symphony and staff, we are indeed going to try to record this live from concert in April. However unlike most ‘live’ recordings we will have no patch session to fix things after the concerts, so our success will be dependent on getting what we need in concert- hopefully not when someone is coughing! Since Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s original works for cello and piano have already been recorded several times, we agreed that the remainder of the CD would comprise mostly rare and mostly unrecorded transcriptions that MCT arranged for cello and piano.  Two pieces from Ravel’s solo piano suite Miroirs: La Vallée des Cloches (Valley of the Bells) and Alborada del Gracioso (Morning Music of the Buffoon) are fairly straightforward transcriptions, while the Serenade from Don Giovanni, and Two Cherubino Arias from Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro (the latter originally for violin) are more free fantasies. His arrangement of Rossini’s Figaro Variations is fairly well known to cellists and violinists. Mario had originally arranged his version of Figaro for cello, but Piatigorsky feared he would be laughed at playing a work that was neither wholly original music nor pure transcription. Heifetz saw the music and asked for an arrangement for violin. Mario made a considerably harder version for violin, which Heifetz then played to great success. Seeing this success, Piatigorsky also began performing his version, and this cello version is still frequently performed. However the version I play is largely a re-arrangement (‘de-rangement’) of the harder violin version, because I like it better and I can’t leave well enough alone, or as my mother says “we spend our lives trying to solve the problems we create for ourselves!” Finally Mario’s original composition Sea Murmurs, in the transcription of Heifetz, will close out the CD, which will be released in early 2018 if all goes well. Sea Murmurs was Heifetz’s only encore in his last public recital—the last notes he played on the professional stage, perhaps an indication of Heifetz’s high regard for Castelnuovo-Tedesco.

Learning this concerto, and having the chance to advocate for it has been one of the most personally meaningful things I’ve done in music. When I was younger I sometimes tried to accomplish difficult or unusual things, like playing Tzigane or Paganini’s 24th caprice, at least in part because I was trying to do something that had rarely if ever been done. But the older I get, the more I realize that my greatest wish is not to be admired, but for people to look at what I’ve done and believe that “If he can do that, so can I!” Obviously I approach music from a very  ‘old-school’ point of view musically, but we all have to try to take the music beyond where we found it, and that means you must advocate for the music and performance styles you personally believe in, and push the boundaries of the instrument in the service of music. The videos I’ve posted to youtube are almost always unusual repertoire that I love, and hope others will play. Some of them are difficult pieces, but I assure you that I was no technical whiz when I was younger. I just like to push myself, and over time it builds, as it will for you too. I promise you there is nothing I’m doing that you couldn’t do too. I wish you all a happy life in music—know what you believe in, work for it and protect it. I assure you that the moments of fighting for what you believe in will be the happiest moments of your career.

Hailed by Newsday for “extraordinary musicianship…forceful, sophisticated and entirely in the spirit of the music,” cellist Brinton Averil Smith continues to win rave reviews for virtuosic performances with musical ideals rooted in the golden age of string playing. His debut recording of Miklós Rózsa’s Cello Concerto with the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra won widespread international critical acclaim, with Gramophone praising Smith as a “hugely eloquent, impassioned soloist,” and his recording of chamber music of Fauré with Gil Shaham was chosen by numerous critics as one of the year’s best albums. As a chamber musician, he has collaborated with Yo-Yo Ma, Gil Shaham, Cho-Liang Lin, Lynn Harrell, Sarah Chang, Dawn Upshaw and members of the Beaux Arts Trio and the Guarneri, Emerson, Juilliard, Cleveland, and Berg quartets. Mr. Smith is the principal cellist of the Houston Symphony and a faculty member of the Shepherd School of Music at Rice University. He was previously a member of the New York Philharmonic and the principal cellist of the San Diego and Fort Worth symphonies. His performances have been broadcast throughout the world including, in the US, on CBS Sunday Morning and NPR’s Performance Today and Symphonycast. At age 10, Mr. Smith was admitted part-time to Arizona State University, studying mathematics, music and German, and he completed a B.A. in mathematics at age 17. He received his masters and doctoral degrees from Juilliard, studying with renown cellist Zara Nelsova and writing on the playing of Emanuel Feuermann.

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100 Cello Warm-Ups and Exercises Blog 3: Stretches – Part One – by Robert Jesselson


I think that most people understand the importance of stretching before (and after) playing an instrument. I like to say that we are athletes: we are “small muscle” athletes involving the fingers, wrists, and arms. But actually playing the cello really involves the entire body. Whether it is a matter of producing sound from the lower back, or being physically expressive with our movements, we need to make sure that we are using our bodies in the best possible ways. Just as with any athletic use of the body, we need to make sure that our muscles are warmed up well before we start playing – and that we “cool-down” afterwards.  Warming-up helps by increasing blood flow and oxygen to the muscles, reducing the possibility of soft-tissue injury, and lubricating the joints. The cool-down after playing helps by removing lactic acid and other toxins from the muscles, and it will help to reduce muscle soreness.

Here are a few of my favorite stretches, starting with some of the larger muscles of the back and shoulders, and then moving to the wrist and fingers. I like to alternate among these stretches, spending a several minutes a day doing a few of them with repetitions.

Many people do stretches as a regular part of their day unrelated to playing an instrument. Here are a few standing stretches that I find useful:

Since tendonitis is so prevalent among string players, it is wise to address the potential for this kind of injury before it happens.  I am proud of the fact that because of our focus on healthy ways to use the body in playing the cello, virtually none of my students have experienced tendonitis.  If students start to have any issue with pain we address it immediately by analyzing the cause – whether it is poor body usage, “kinks” in the arm or wrist, tension, etc. The “anti-tendonitis” stretch helps to prevent injury since it deals specifically with the wrist and forearms by stretching and warming the muscles and tendons before playing:

In Part II, next week, I will present some stretches for the wrist and fingers.


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Travels with Ima – by Robert Jesselson

This year my cello is celebrating its 300 th birthday. Made in 1716 by Jacques Boquay, I call her Ima, as in “I’m A Cello” because whenever I fly with her I book the ticket as Ima Cello. That way I collect the frequent flyer miles and get a free meal! When I was younger it was a lot easier to travel with a cello – in fact when I lived in Germany I used to fly with Swiss Air and they usually just let me take Ima on the plane without paying for a seat. Later I bought a big Kolstein travel case – it is huge and bulky, but it has an inflatable “balloon” that surrounds the cello inside the case and is made out of Kevlar so you can shoot a gun at it and it won’t pierce the case. Ima traveled with me all over the world – to Europe, Asia, South America, Africa and New Zealand – but it always came out of the case in perfect condition. Sometimes I felt like it came out more in tune than when I put it in!

Jacques Boquay was the first important violin and cello maker in France. He lived from 1680-1730, and worked in Paris on the Rue d’Argenteuil, which still exists close to the Opéra Comique. The family lived in two rooms above the shop. His wife was Suzanne, and he had a daughter and a half-brother, Louis Guersan, who was also a luthier, as well as an assistant, Antoine Véron, and a worker, Treuillot. After he died, at age 50, his wife married his assistant Veron, and continued the shop. Boquay is better known for his cellos than his violins or violas.

I have had the cello for about 40 years. I was beginning my professional life, having already served as principal cellist of the Orquesta Sinfonica de Las Palmas, in the Canary Islands, Spain. But I needed a better instrument than the Ettore Soffritti cello I
was playing. I searched violin dealers in NY, Chicago, and visited Moennig’s in Philadelphia several times. But I never found the right cello for me. Finally on one visit to Moennig’s they showed me a few cellos but again nothing clicked. I was about to
leave, and asked if they didn’t have any other cellos I could try. I was told that there was one more – a small-sized instrument. They brought it out, and I fell in love! The Boquay had the warm, round sound I was looking for, and since my hand is not huge it seemed to fit me perfectly. I have been playing it ever since.

Some years after I had become a professor of cello at the University of South Carolina, I was told by a local cellist that he had heard there was another Boquay in South Carolina at, of all places, Bob Jones University in Greenville. I made an appointment to go there, and found that BJU had been given their Boquay in the 1940’s as a bequest. It had
been sitting in a locker for most of those years, and was not in good condition. Their cello was made in 1712, so four years earlier than mine, but it was clearly made from the same wood and had very similar proportions. It was really the long-lost brother of
my cello. I told the Dean at BJU what he had, and about how much it might be worth. A few weeks later I got a call from the Dean asking if I would be interested in buying it –which I did, for a great bargain price. Of course it was not in playable condition and needed renovation. I eventually had it restored, and used it as a Baroque cello for many

As I mentioned, I have travelled all over the world with Ima. In 1983 I spent six months in China, touring and teaching. I was one of the first cellists to go to China since the Cultural Revolution, and I had the opportunity to travel all over the country playing recitals and working with orchestras. (For a full description of that experience, go to an
article I wrote in the American Music Teacher journal, “Cellist in China”: ) In February I flew from the cold and dry northern city of Taiyuan to the very hot and humid city of Guangzhou. Days before the concert, I had shown my Boquay to Xu Fu, an up-and- coming violin maker in Guangzhou. They had never seen an 18 th century cello in person before. He and his associates studied Ima and took pictures. On the day of the concert, the cell suddenly cracked – and it continued opening a 6-inch gash on the top of the instrument during the concert. It was perhaps the worst experience in my professional life. As I was playing, the crack opened more, and the beautiful sound was lost. After the concert I had to decide whether to just leave China, or to let Xu Fu do the repairs. I decided o the latter – and I went across the border to Hong Kong for a week. When I came back the work was finished, and he had done an excellent job in repairing Ima. When I came back to the States I took it to Moennig’s and they said the crack was perfectly repaired – they only needed to do some cosmetic work on the top. Thirty years later I was in China
again with Ima in 2015, with a residency and recitals in Lanzhou, Baiyin and Beijing. It is unbelievable how much the country has changed during that time.

On another trip, in 2001, I led a delegation of string players and teachers to Cuba as the past-president of ASTA. On that trip I almost caused an international incident. I gave a cello master class at the Conservatory in Havana. A student played Bach’s Saraband from the G-major cello suite, but he played it in duple meter by holding notes too long. I asked the student if he knew anything about the history of the sarabande dance. He didn’t, so I told him that the sarabande is in triple meter, with the accent on the second beat, and how it originated right there in Havana before being brought back to Spain. As I explained that it was considered to be a lascivious dance because men and women actually touched, I could see the front row of professors talking agitatedly with each other. After the class one of the professors came up to me and asked why I was giving such false information. I was shocked that they did not have this basic knowledge, and that night I called my wife and asked her to fax us a few pages about sarabandes from the Grove’s dictionary. Apparently because of the embargo, musicians in Cuba had not
had access to basic musicological information and research since 1959, and they had no idea about the history of the sarabande.

Ima and I have had many other adventures together – including losing her soundpost on a bumpy dirt road in Brazil while going to a festival near Porto Alegre, and playing the Tchaikovsky while on the Trans-Siberian railroad as we journeyed for five days across the Steppes of Russia. In fact, Ima has circumnavigated the world! We also lived through an earthquake and a sandstorm together, as well as spending several weeks in residencies in Taiwan, Korea, and England. Ima and I have played much of the cello-piano literature, including complete Beethoven cycles and all the Bach Suites. We have also enjoyed the company of other musicians in chamber music and concerto performances.

Ima and I have had a good partnership over the years. She has had a facelift or two, and maybe a tummy-tuck, but overall she is in great shape. However, a few years ago I felt that it was time to give Ima a complete overhaul. I asked luthier Damir Horvat to do the work. Damir is a violin maker and restorer, originally from Serbia, who lives in Columbia, SC. I asked him to write something about the restoration of the Boquay cello for this article:

It was a delight to be able to preserve the work of art which was crafted in Paris around the same time that famous Italian counterparts lived and worked in Cremona. This extensive restoration took about two months to complete.

Boquay is a very characteristic maker in his own merit. He does not use any particular well-established pattern. The overall size is very small for being a full-size instrument, the choice of maple for the ribs, back and the scroll is rather ordinary instead of carefully selected curly flame, the top plate has a very evenly grained spruce. The varnish is oil based, with rather dark brown tones. Boquay did not shy away from leaving a few minor visible tool marks.

Dr. Jesselson’s cello had structural problems that needed to be addressed. The arching and the bass bar had become deformed significantly due to forces of the bridge and strings. A couple of internal reinforcements and cracks have come unglued. The edge of the top has been weakened by numerous openings so that the edge needed to be reconstructed in the process called doubling. The internal restoration of the top plate utilized numerous advanced techniques including special arching, de-warping, installation of numerous patches, re-installing cleat supports, crack repair, and the newly properly positioned bass bar.

To our surprise, the most interesting part of the restoration was the discovery of the so-called “through patch” in the bridge area. As the warm sand bags were applied to the arching correction process, the heat from the sand had warmed the patch so it came unglued. The “through patch” refers to a new piece of wood inserted and disguised into the middle bridge area which has had a total sound-post or bridge protrusion through the top plate. The “through patch” was so well-hidden, but after the heating it was very visibly obvious. I ended up installing a new “body patch” to reinforce an entire bridge and sound-post area, followed by extensive varnish work to make everything look as if no “through patch” was ever there.

Attached to this article are some pictures from the renovation. I was delighted with the results, and happy to be reunited with Ima. Mr. Horvat can be reached at

A few weeks ago I celebrated Ima’s 300 th birthday by playing a recital with pieces from 1716, 1816, 1916 and we commissioned a piece from this year, 2016. The composer of this piece, Mandy Fang (Fang Man), listened to me play Ima and then wrote a work inspired by a lullaby that my grandmother, Oma, had sung to me when I was a baby.  Oma had made up a different lullaby for each of her grandchildren, and I still remember it more than 65 years later.

The piece from 1716, the year of Ima’s birth, was by Jakob Klein. I had never heard of Klein, but in researching the music for the recital I came across his sonatas. They are very charming and should be played more. They are among the earliest sonatas for
cello (and are a few years earlier than the Bach solo Suites), sounding a bit like Vivaldi or Marcello (although they were written earlier than those pieces also). They have never been published since the original 1716 publication, so I used that first edition, and we played it with harpsichord and bassoon continuo. Interestingly, these sonatas are written scordatura, so the cello is tuned to B-E- A-D in order to sound more brilliant than he standard tuning of today.

I have been privileged to have had a forty-year association with Ima, and hope to have many more adventures before I pass her on to the next cellist who will enjoy her company!

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