by Patrice Carbonneau

Currently teaching cello at the University of Toronto, Shauna Rolston is one of Canada's leading young cellists. Born in Banff, in the Canadian Rockies, Miss Rolston took up the cello at the tender age of two. She has since won numerous awards and toured world wide. Miss Rolston was in Quebec city in late March to play an earthshaking 'Schelomo' with the symphony. On the following day, when everybody got their footing back, she taught a masterclass to students of the Quebec city music conservatory and of Laval University's school of music.

The main theme of the class was posture. Miss Rolston's education has given her a unique perspective on this topic. During most of her teens, the town of Banff had no permanent cellist, so she had to continue her studies with other musicians, taking many master classes with people such as Rose and Starker in order to get some 'cellistic' input. The absence of weekly cello lessons led her to approach the cello with a very open mind. Miss Rolston always feels free to experiment and ask 'why?', and she never accepts the idea of feeling uncomfortable with the cello. This attitude led her to experiments which evolved into a unique way of holding the cello in order to solve some technical problems. Many cellists try to put the cello directly in front of them, since this isn't possible we move the cello's head to our left and very often we also move our head to the right. Miss Rolston demonstrated how this unbalanced position can have many consequences on our playing.

First off, this tense posture hinders breathing. Second, it makes it more difficult to use arm weight, the left arm either goes too low on the side or rises up to high in which case many cellists will squeeze their thumb. With the bow arm, a straight cello makes it harder to use arm weight, especially with up bows on the A string. In this instant the arm must come up so high that the cellist has to push down rather than use the weight of the arm. Miss Rolston's personal experiments led her to the following solution: by moving the endpin to her right by two or three inches, the cello's head moves away. Instead of being in line with the upper body, the cello now intersects it. This makes it easier for the cellist to get good upper body position. In such a position the legs take on a more important role, the left knee is moved towards the back and the right knee towards the side.

When changing strings, the legs are used to get the cello at the right angle. This greatly reduces the height at which the bow arm must go to play the A string. And the weight of the bow arm can be used more efficiently. Since the cello's head is more to the side, the right arm can better balanced if one doesn't think strictly 'down'. By sending the weight of the arm slightly backwards, the force is just about perpendicular to the neck, giving the fingers a better contact with the board. The result is a very fluid style where the whole body participates in playing. Above all, it has to feel right.

Far from trying to impose her own solution on others, Miss Rolston merely encouraged the students to experiment, saying 'I think we need to break all those mysterious rules'. This healthy and personal attitude towards playing definitely struck a chord with this writer. Even though we love the cello dearly, that doesn't mean that we have to accept it becoming a source of pain. I have a feeling that many cellos in Quebec city are going to tilt this spring!

Direct correspondence to the appropriate ICS Staff
Webmaster: "webmaster" Associate Webmaster: webmaster
Director: John Michel
Copyright © 1995- Internet Cello Society