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Iseut Chuat's Master Class

On October 5, 1995 a cello master class was conducted by Iseut Chuat at the University of Washington. Ms. Chuat studied at the Paris Conservatoire, at Yale University with Aldo Parisot, and with Janos Starker at Indiana University.

She is currently professor of cello at Indiana University. What I found particulary interesting about the class was that I recognized clearly the teachings of Janos Starker in her approach. I found it deeply gratifying knowing that Starker's legacy will live on for many many years.

Four cellists played for Ms. Chuat. The pieces played were the Francoeur Sonata in E Major, the Shostakovich Sonata, the Dvorak Concerto, and Tchaikovsky's Pezzo Capriccioso. Due the to students' need for technical advice, the focus of the master class was on technical issues. A lot of emphasis was placed on eliminating points of tension is one's playing.

An analogy was made by an experiment. Hold your arm out bend up at the elbow with a very tight fist. Now try to open your arm. Now do the same thing with a relaxed hand. Note how much easier it is to move without tension. She also mentioned that the body doesn't move in straight lines. It moves naturally in a combination of arcs. So all our motions should be done with this in mind when playing the cello.

The following concepts for the left and right hands were discussed:

Left Hand

1. Always play with spaces between fingers in the left hand to avoid tension. Don't squeeze the fingers together.

2. Moving the thumb back in thumb position gives the left hand more power.

3. Always play with a flat wrist.

4. Don't play with the fingers perfectly perpendicular to the fingerboard. A more natural and tension-free method is to let your fingers naturally angle away from the finger board (the pinky the furthest away). Then when you need to use a finger, move your whole arm to allow the finger to reach.

5. Don't play on the tips of your fingertips. Play with the fleshier part, though not with flat fingers.

6. If you play a note with tension, you must give back with a note with no tension.

7. Open your hand when you do vibrato. Don't squeeze your fingers together.

8. Change fingers by rotating your whole hand, not by poking your fingers as if typing.

9. Don't bend your wrists.

10. Never stop the movement of the left arm when shifting. During a shift upward, lift the elbow first and as the arm does a natural circle downward in a clockwise motion, release the hand and shift to the note. Use the weight of the arm to go down the fingerboard.

11. When shifting back, let the elbow do a circular motion counter-clockwise. As the elbow naturally rebounds upwards, shift back.

Bow Arm

1. Use the weight of your arm to create pressure with the bow. Don't press down. Different dynamics are produced by changing the amount of weight put on the bow. The weight of your arm is channelled through your fingers. To experiment with this, place your fingertips on the top edge of your bridge and experience transferring the weight of your arm onto the bridge through your fingertips. Then try to get the same feeling when you use the bow.

2. Bow movement comes from moving the elbow first. The elbow anticipates the bow change and leads the bow arm motion. The bow arm should look more like a snake or a wave in its motion.

3. You should feel the 3rd finger on the bow at the frog. You should feel the 1st finger on the bow at the tip.

4. When you have three fast sixteenth notes on a downbow and one sixteenth on an upbow, let the natural spring or rebound action of the arm play the single sixteenth note up. It is not necessary to do a deliberate up bow.

5. When doing fast short bow strokes, move the whole arm. Don't do it with the wrist only.

6. The right elbow should always be higher than the lower arm unless you are digging in at the frog on a lower string.

Tim Janof

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ICS Staff
Tim Janof, ICS Director
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