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