Musical Meanderings

This is a blog centered around some of the musical encounters and experiences that I come upon in my daily life as a musician.

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Location: Alameda, California

Sunday, September 17, 2006


Okay, so this is the thing about playing weddings and such in California: it's always freezing here. Everyone thinks that the weather is so nice because there is no snow and the sun shines. But what people don't realize is that is that there can be no snow and there can be sunshine and it can still be freezing. The people that know this are those that work outside, like me!

It always looks beautiful on the water but the wind is so cold it is unbelievable. We have to use heavy stands that can hold up in the wind and big heavy wind clips to hold the music down and, believe it or not, I always bring black winter mittens to wear when I am not playing, to try to thaw my hands out in between musical selections.

So, I played a wedding yesterday afternoon on Treasure Island. It's a gorgeous spot in the ocean, between Berkeley and San Francisco. To get there you have to take an exit that is kind of halfway across the Bay Bridge. Why was I not surprised that the wind was gusting and everyone was freezing? This happens all the time. The bridesmaids were trying to stay warm by hopping up down and blowing on their hands while running around in their halter dresses and high heels and trying to look elegant at the same time.

Meanwhile, I was wearing a great outfit that I picked up at a thrift shop here in Alameda a few weeks ago. It's a long black velvet jacket with matching pants and it's warm. I was also wearing these cool black patent leather shoes that are really pointy that I got on e-bay. So I felt really on top of things. I actually felt kind of like Paganini in that slick black outfit.

I had on tights, a pair of long socks and then another pair of warm socks on top of that. I had forgotten my scarf, a nice woolen green plaid thing that I have worn for years, but I was sitting right in the sun, so it was okay.

This was actually a fun wedding. The quartet was well organized, thanks to Mary Tanios, our first violinist, everyone could read well enough, we didn't get lost or anything like that, and we we didn't have to play at the reception. (Yay!) So we were out of there within the hour...

Saturday, September 16, 2006

It happened!

Well, it happened! It has been a long time. But every once in awhile, you play with a musician that really makes you listen. And you get all happy and all inspired and you just feel great.

That hasn't happened to me in a long time. I can sometimes get inspired by people playing other instruments, but I think that some of that is the unfamiliarity with the particular sound that they are getting, or often it is their technical ability that is inspiring. Like for example, if someone can play really fast, that's inspiring usually, as long as they are playing something that is interesting too. Or if someone has a large repertoire and knows all kinds of different scales, that can be fun.

But it is rare that someone hits me with the simple beauty of music itself, and with the expression of feeling on an instrument that is similar to mine. I am so familiar with the strings sound that I didn't think it could excite me anymore. Wrong!

The violinist that I played with Thursday night, for a three hour party gig beside a pool, is an extraordinary musician! His name is Chris, and I met him the other night at my Flamenco gig. He was really good and seemed very kind and interesting, so I hired him for a gig that came up this week. It was a great move.

Three hours is a long time to fill with duo music, but the time flew with Chris.

First of all, he showed up in a flashy, Liberace type vest, which was perfect for this party. He's kind of tall and stately to look at, and he's got the Kevin Klein debonaire kind of look going on.

I had told him to bring some music if he had any. He brought an amp, two pickups and an orchestra recorded so that we could play some popular favorites along with them backing us up!

It was really fun playing some overplayed, romantic tunes like the Titantic theme, Pachelbel's Canon, and a couple of the Puccini arias...Everyone loves to hear these kinds of songs.

But, anyway, back to my new inspiring friend. He plays beautifully! His sound is so soulful---and he puts everything he has into every little melody. I have to say that I was blown away by his artistry and his musicianship. And even when we read some classical Stamitz duets, he was a master. His comments, too, were very humble: "This is so difficult to read and play well," he said, after ripping through an allegro perfectly at a fast tempo. But it wasn't just the tempo, it was how well he played this thing musically. The expression of it all.

I walked away, changed.

The last time I was thrown into a state like this by a string player was when I first heard and played with Lei Quiang in the Cirque du Soleil "O" show. Leigh plays the Chinese violin, or "erhu", with a hauntingly beautiful tone. It was a tone that I had never heard before, but similar to a standard European violin sound. When I first heard it, sitting there in the audience at the Bellagio in Las Vegas, I just had to smile. I was so excited that I would be playing duets with this instrument and this musician.

After playing 600 shows with Lei, and sitting right beside him every night for over a year, I feel the same way about him and his musicianship.

Of course, one of the most fun things about Lei was jumping up from the sound booth when we both had a three minute break in the music every show, and running up and down the backstage ten flights of stairs four times, as fast as we could, and then skipping back into the sound booth, jumping into our chairs and coming in on our next melodic entrances with a heightened sense of energy and with a very fast vibrato! Now that was fun! Every night!

But anyway, I have diverted. I have to go practice.

Monday, September 11, 2006


Last night I played with a really cool Flamenco group. These guys were fun and interesting and good! The instrumentation was guitar, latin percussion, violin and cello. There was no rehearsal and it seemed that we played forever. (Four hours!) We played in someone's backyard in Menlo Park. The house was gorgeous and the party was very exclusive- so exclusive that we never even knew who was throwing it. Were they even there?

But the musicians were really great and I so enjoyed working with them. After a few hours, we were shoveled off into the garage to eat some dinner. (No mingling with the guests!) The food was really tasty, little sandwiches and pizzas and stuffed mushrooms and such. Then we went out to play some more.

Playing with these guys was the opposite of playing with symphony musicians. No rehearsal! Anything goes! Just play!

I enjoy the contrast between the different musical groups that I play with. Variety really is the spice.

A nice gig with great musicians who were nice guys too. After the gig, they helped me to carry my gear out. That's what I'm talkin' about! That certainly doesn't happen in my all women band, the Druid Sister's Tea Party, or in my all women string quartet Enchante'.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Pascal's Coffee Shop

Sunday morning. Today is my teaching day! But I get to write for a few minutes first with a nice cup of hazelnut coffee with cream. It's nice here in my treehouse teaching porch.

Yesterday I played at a coffee house called Pascals French Oven in Danville. I played solo cello. It was fun! Students and friends came and it was like a party. Isabelle was there. She has never seen me play before at something like this, because her father never comes, and so she can't uusually come. But yesterday we had friends there that took care of her while I played.

I really enjoyed this venue. I played classical favorites and jazz favorites and some new originals. Isabelle and her other little friends ran around and played with stickers and dolls and things.

I remember back in Tucson, when I was a freshman. My friend Wayne Smith was playing in a coffee house there. He was reading Bach Suites. At the time, I just thought it was the most amazing thing, that he could just go into that coffee house and play like that.

And now... I really felt a sense of community there, as though I was bringing my music to the neighborhood with kids and friends and good pastry and coffee. And I certainly need to do more of this kind of thing, because this feels good.

When I was in the Cirque du Soleil, we played two shows a night, five days a week, but we were behind glass up in a sound booth. The theatre held about two thousand people nightly, and it was usually always sold out. There were always famous people in the house. This was thrilling in a way, but, after the shows, we never got to meet anyone. So we would just quickly get dressed in the dressing room and slip out into the Bellagio. We walked out beside the audience, but they didn't know who we were. We almost never talked to anyone who had just seen the show. We never got any comments or anything. That was kind of a lonely way to perform.

Yesterday's performance was fulfilling in a different way.

This afternoon I will be playing a wedding here in Alameda with my friend, Lylia on the violin. We are going to play a duet rendition of the Mendelsohn violin concerto, the slow movement, for the bridal march...that should be interesting. Lylia is a fine player so it will be beautiful, and I will try my best to fill in some bass and harmony from the piano score. We'll see...

The next big musical venture on the schedule that I know of is the audition for the Marin Symphony. I have to get myself practicing for this. It is happening on September 12, so I have about nine days to prepare, but with Isabelle around, it is difficult to get any practicing done!

Well, off to my students this morning! And another cup of coffee!