Friday, July 15, 2011

Starting Something New

Recently three of my adult cello students here at Mindport –who’ve been playing between 10 months and 3 years- have become proficient enough for us to play cello quartets together.  It’s a milestone of sorts, to go from having just enough facility with the instrument and reading notes on a page to play alone or with just one other person, to playing with three other people, all with their own parts.  Watching these students transition to being ensemble players,  I’ve been reconsidering the experience of starting something new, and the fears that can be associated with beginnings- the not knowing whether one will succeed, the idea that it’s somehow “too late” and maybe even silly to try. 

What these students have really reminded me of though, is how determination, commitment, and passion in the face of a new venture really can take a person where they want to go (given they have or can find some essential resources to put at their disposal.)  Initially, each of them showed up to the classroom saying, “I love this instrument, and I want to learn to play it – even if I’m nervous about it, and even if it’s just for myself,” and they’ve struggled, and have had doubts, and have been frustrated.  But they’ve also noted their accomplishments, worked out their strategies, and have kept at it.  The series of small "failures" that are a part of learning an instrument have not soured them on the process or themselves.  

Now, one Saturday morning a month, these students and I gather here at Mindport and sit down to tackle Mozart, Handel, Bruckner, and some folk tunes.  And though this is the first ensemble experience they’ve had as cellists, with some effort the pitches and the rhythms get played – together and in time.  Music happens, but beyond music, and perhaps this is integral to music’s power and beauty, what happens also is a testament to these students’ optimism, patience, self-acceptance, persistence, and love for this instrument.  They were brave enough to start something new, and determined to stick with it, and here we are – making music together. 

Tallie Jones 

Thursday, July 7, 2011

The Allella

John Ito, our newest exhibit designer/fabricator, has just finished a new piece that he's been working on down in Mindport's basement shop for the last several months. Here's what he has to say about it:

"To me the Allella is something of a sound travel device... if an instrument can be called that. I was going for kind of a Queen Anne furniture made for a DJ from Atlantis look.

My intent was to create something experimental that utilized a planetary gear system to drive an instrument that anyone could play, one in which all of the operative components could be seen in action. Such gearing allows for a variety of speed and oscillating directional movement. I figured something with strings could reflect the movements of the device.

I built two sound boxes, something in the fashion of a rectangular harp or guitar, with rounded bridges mounted on each side for consistent 360 degree rotation of all 24 strings.

I didn't know how the instrument would sound until it was entirely finished, as there was nothing in existence to compare it to. The end result, a surprise awaited during the three months it took me to build it, is more complex than I had imagined. The sound can be controlled in many ways, but there's a distinct aspect of chaos as well. 

Simple movements can produce unexpected melodies and rhythms, as the placement of the string plucking is intentionally non-incremental in location. As speed builds, the cacophony of sound develops its own shifting attributes. It can be melodic and atonal at the same time, a paradox.

The music that it makes is certainly strange, and does not conform to any style. If expectations are let go of, interesting and pleasant surprises abound.

The only way to play it, is to play it. "

There's a video of John playing the instrument here.

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