Why bow technique?
I remember very clearly as a young cello student having my cello teacher, David Cole, speaking to me about the importance of developing my bow technique and how one of his teachers, Pablo Casals, often stressed the importance of the musical phrase. He would then go on to explain that the we develop our bow technique, the more we can communicate as string players. At that point and time, I just wanted to play as much repertoire as possible and not have to worry about practicing exercises and etudes. So at the age of 16, my biggest question was “Why bow technique?”. When listening to great works such as Dvořák Cello Concerto, Sibelius Violin Concerto, or even Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5, many string players overlook the amount of bow technique needed to bring the beauty of this music to life. Like I was, many string players remain left hand oriented; more concerned about getting the notes and playing with vibrato. These things are important, but a beautiful left hand technique coupled with an underdeveloped right hand (bow) technique will always leave both you and the listener wanting more.
Most people who listen to us perform have no knowledge of how the bow actually works, most of them could care less! It is not for them to know or to care. Just like when you go to a sports arena, most of us don’t care about the technique involved in a quarterback’s grip or batter’s swing…we want them to win! It is the same when a listener pays money to hear a live concert–they want to be moved by the music, they want to hear melodies played without effort, and they want to see the perform enjoying the music just as much as they are. The intricacies in our technique are not of any interest to them, so we must always keep technique in its proper perspective. With that said, when it comes to simple matters such as up or down bow it all has to do with which sounds better for you. Even if Hilary Hahn or Yo-Yo Ma plays it a certain way, you have to find what sounds best when you play it.
When it comes to bow technique there is a great deal of planning that is needed to achieve the best results musically. I have found that the musical phrase is more affected by what I do with the bow, than what fingering I use– however, both are important.
On June 7, 2014 in Port Elizabeth, South Africa I am presenting a masterclass that is focused on bow technique which I’m calling “Art of the Bow” . The idea for this masterclass came about because myself and my colleagues have noticed that in South Africa a lot of students (as well as teachers) do not have the opportunity to attend classes that will help them with their music development. Art of the Bow is a response to the current situation in South African cities like Port Elizabeth.
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