"Anticipation in music making is the most important element. Have you realized what happens if someone doesn't anticipate why speaking: this - is - what - happens. There is no fluency, no continuity,"
cellochan is a program for cellists created by Director/Teacher Suzanne Smith that has thrived and evolved for over fifteen years. Located in Ann Arbor, MI., it represents a coming together of her life experience, teaching, and performing for almost thirty years. The program provides an especially supportive and enjoyable environment for study while pursuing excellence, personal fulfillment, and artistic growth. This unique Ann Arbor cello school offers a number of optional activities that are designed to enhance the private lesson and can be found on the Event Calendar. Some of these include: frequent performance opportunities, master classes, cello ensembles, home concerts, and other concerts we present to the community. * We recently created a retreat style cello camp called "CelloChanWoods" located in southeastern Michigan. Its theme of "well-being and the arts", as applied to cello playing, creates an opportunity for a special type of musical community by combining the traditional fun of summer music camp in the afternoon and a more focused, retreat like atmosphere during the morning. You may learn more about it on this site.
Playing the cello involves all facets of a person: physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual. From one perspective, music is a kind of language of the self. Finding our musical "voice" can open us up to greater levels of awareness, self-acceptance, and personal satisfaction. In fact, music can bring enjoyment on so many levels that there is truly something for everyone regardless of age or level. Students in cellochan come to value and understand their unique learning styles and clarify their cellistic goals. Pablo Casals, one of the greatest of teachers, once said, "I always practiced as if I had forever." The mindset this suggests is one of confidence, patience, love of the cello, self-acceptance and a passionate commitment to the work at hand.
The word Chan comes from the Chinese word Ch'an, meaning insight. The three parts of the cellochan mission statement are mutually reinforcing with the sum often being greater than the parts.
The cellochan program: The following activities enhance private study and participation is optional.
cellochan teaches the cello from a wide perspective. The following are some thoughts related to the cellochan philosophy:
What are some differences between cellochan and other studios?
I think every studio is a combination of the particular teacher's artistic temperament, training, and perspective on people and life. Here are a few things a student would find in any good cello studio:
But there are other things that, (though they may be involved in all good studios to one extent or another) I am perhaps more interested in emphasizing. Here is a list of those things the cellochan studio is especially interested in:
I have been interested in Eastern philosophy and psychology for many years. These interests have contributed greatly to my teaching style. The cello is seen almost as a tool for meeting oneself as well as for creating beauty. I often say, music is not in you.... it is you. So, to recap, I believe the whole person has to be taken into account when learning the cello because people, more often than not, have resistances and other issues that block their expression. Many times these blocks are misinterpreted as lack of ability or talent. My goal is to optimize the chance that a person can find a way to his/her music through a combination of techniques I use in my particular approach. There is a kind of "doing"(that is far too common in my view) without being fully present. No matter what level of mastery one is aspiring to on the cello, or anything for else for that matter, one can benefit from the process of being fully there and fully engaged. The rewards, as one might imagine, go way beyond cello playing.
Is there a perfect age to begin the cello?
I believe that every situation is unique in life from moment to moment. The same holds true of people. We are all different. So nailing down a one size fits all "best age" cannot really be done without first seeing the child, as I see it. However, that said, a few children may be ready at age 3 or 4, while some are not ready until around 8 to 10. Isaac Perelman, the famous violinist, likes age 5 as a general starting age and I basically agree with him in general. Parents should certainly take the child to concerts and expose him/her to music in all sorts of other ways. To quote Pablo Casals (my teacher's teacher) once again: "I always practiced as if I had forever." Think about that. It gives one a feeling of a lot of space around the project doesn't it? There is no rush to start a child before age five. And if this child starts at age 8, they are not "behind." Starting at age 10 is perhaps a tiny bit late......but again, everyone is different.
What are some characteristics and knowledge that future cello majors should have?
More thoughts from Suzanne:
Mastery, for everyone, has inevitable ups and downs. An ebb and flow is part of the learning process. Too much pressure from outside or inside for that matter, can lead to unrealistic demands and jeopardize the entire process. And it is a path. To put it more simply, a lot is solved if one continues to come back to the path after occasionally getting frustrated or stuck. In Zen they say: "fall down seven, get up eight." If a student can sit at the cello and hang in through all the various fears, impatience, and self-doubt, the chances of success have just more than doubled. Hanging in builds personal confidence. There is excellence but there is not perfection. As Janos Starker says, a young musician needs to learn to walk before learning to run. If a student is talented, it can be tempting for a teacher to move too quickly. In other words, one can successfully "spoon feed" a piece to a talented student that is far above the student's actual technical level but is a short-term trade off not worth the price. The result will be a student without the foundation to play from a place of solidity and comfort.
Teaching different aged cellists:
I enjoy teaching all ages. Each age, and each person for that matter, presents a fascinating array of challenges that I find interesting. And I like people. My desire is to help that person get where he/she desires to go with the cello. That may be to a conservatory, to play chamber music with friends, to have the cello as a refuge in the middle of a busy life, to play in an orchestra, and/or to express and learn things that this person cannot express any other way.
How do the cellochan principles and philosophies help students in other aspects of their lives?
I've spoken about this above but will try to clarify it somewhat. When we sit at the cello we are trying, in part, to gain control over something. Most people (if not all, given what it means to be alive) are somewhat insecure about controlling certain aspects of their lives. It's a common, natural problem that we all come by honestly! We fundamentally are limited in this life as to what we can control. If a person can learn how to "control" the cello while at the same time not forcing things, and learn to "go with the flow" that is a powerful metaphor for living and a huge accomplishment. Music is motion. Life is motion. We tend, as humans, to clutch at things for dear life sometimes and then we get stuck. We want to nail things down. So I think people can benefit from some of the ideas I've surrounded learning the cello with by accepting their own learning style, speed, and respecting the outcome of their best efforts. This is so much of the game as I've said before. Another benefit is the actual reduction of stress upon learning how to relax into an activity. This may sound like a contradiction, but activity and stillness are mysteriously interlocked! Connecting with one's musical energy, which is really one's basic life energy is such a fundamental need. Being able to then make music with others fulfills our need to be social.
Everyone is an artist to one extent or another. People are hungry to open up that side of them. I have seen this again and again. The satisfaction of putting one's hands to something and effecting and transforming it is the artistic process at the core. Connecting to ones medium (rolling up one's sleeves so to speak and diving in) and merging with it is a wonderful experience. That "something" we are merging with, in my view, is our very selves. Being an artist, I believe, is in fact a sort of dialogue. When we are in the dialogue of playing the cello, we are speaking out to someone or something (even to ourselves) in the hopes that it will be received. When it is received, a basic human need has been met. We can receive it ourselves.....even if no one else is listening. :)
An example of success:
Last year one of my students, of about 8 years, was one of the winners of the Pioneer High School Concerto Competition. She is a shy, sensitive, and special girl. Much of being able to play the cello well, in her case, had to do with learning to affirm who she was warts and all rather than waiting for some future perfect state. We worked on this a lot. She had fears many teenagers face unfortunately. Winning this honor had been a goal of this student for at least 3 years. After playing her audition she then had to wait to see if she made the second cut to be called back the following day. She was so convinced she would not be called back that she left her cello at home that next day. This was how frightened she was. She was trying to protect herself from the possible loss. In the morning of the call back day while at school, she learned that she was indeed in the second round of contestants and she basically fell apart. She called me and we hurriedly arranged a lesson in the afternoon before the second round of auditions. We talked of many things. We talked about what she felt she deserved, for example. I told her to draw a circle around herself while seated at the cello and decide what was allowed within it. To make a long story short, this she did, and she was able to maintain her poise and focus for the audition. She had decided to take control. Though she happened to win, I believe she would have accepted a loss having gained something very important about her ability to define herself due to how she prepared for the audition. cellochan students attended her concert and it was a wonderful performance.
An adult cellist's story:
I had an adult student while living in Princeton, NJ that was a cardiologist. He simply loved his cello and took it to the office every day, practicing during his lunch hour. He was extremely tense to the point of being like a robot at the cello. We were able to change that and when I moved to Ann Arbor from Princeton, he continued his study with the principal of the Philadelphia Orchestra. This was a dream come true for him.
My goals for my students, distilled:
I want my students to enjoy making music, to grow in self-acceptance, to learn new ways to share music, to be exposed to as many musical/cellistic resources as possible, and to reach the level of technical proficiency and expressive freedom they desire.
"Cello students come from a wide radius in Southern Michigan. We extend a warm welcome to you to join the fun and become part of the cellochan family!" ~ Suzanne
* Concerts and other activities take place at several locations including, Kerrytown Concert Hall, Shar Music, Genesis of Ann Arbor, and more.