Did You Know? Musical Notes from the Penn State Laureate

April 14, 2009

Whoops, I broke my “G” String … and other hazards of playing concerts.

Musical performance does not come without its particular risks. A cellist can be in the midst of an intensely emotional passage, when suddenly “TWANG!” A string pops loose and you are forced to STOP, replace the string and begin again. Alternatively, the endpin (a metal rod at the base of the cello) can lose its grip in the floor and slide forward (sometimes dragging you off the chair with it). Once, when I was in high school, my endpin slipped in the middle of a performance, forcing me to hold the cello precariously for the rest of the sonata. After that, I went out and bought a metal file to sharpen the endpin for every performance. I still use this regularly (but every now and then the cello skitters off anyway). If your hand gets too sweaty, you can lose the bow. Pablo Casals, the famous Spanish cellist, lost his grip on the bow during his Vienna debut. The bow flew out into the audience, and it had to be passed back to him by the audience members. During a televised concert by Yo Yo Ma, his chair slipped off the back of the cello platform. Miraculously, he balanced on his legs until the chair was pushed back into place. I was amazed by the coordination and presence of mind that it took to recover from that.

Probably the most embarrassing story that I’ve heard concerns cellist Zara Nelsova. Her string of pearls broke in the middle of a performance. Some of the pearls dropped into the cleavage of her dress and others, one by one, dropped on the wood floor, creating a wild percussive accompaniment. Sometimes interpreting music is only half the battle.

Please send musical questions that you always wanted to know but were too shy to ask to Penn State Laureate Kim Cook at kdc3@psu.edu.

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Last Updated November 18, 2010