Review by Chiddler, Internet Cello Society

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A review of Cello Playing for Music Lovers
From: Cello by Night forum, Internet Cello Society

I was curious, so I got the book and here’s what I think:

Cello Playing for Music Lovers by Vera Mattlin Jiji, Ph.D., is an attempt to bring the complex and daunting task of learning to play the cello down to earth and approachable for adult beginners. Unlike the typical beginning cello book, CPML contain easy-to-read explanatory text matched with simple, short, playable examples that illustrate the point of the text. The target audience for the book is a typical adult non-musician who might feel intimidated by technical-looking cello methods and etude books, but who, through life experience, is already familiar with many of the melodies and fragments of classics that make up the book. The learner can relate the point in the text to the already-familiar example; and then perform the example.

While introductory books for adult beginners abound for violin and other instruments, I don’t know of another book like this one for cellists with this mix of adult-beginner orientation, conversational style, widely-known examples from popular culture, a demonstration CD, and introductory discussions of concepts such as relaxation, dynamics, factors in choice of bowings and fingerings, modulations, and modes. The closest would be Louis Potter’s Art of Cello Playing which has many more exercises and scales, a little explanatory text, just a few commonly-known tunes, and no audio CD. CPML frequently relates the discussion to specific pages in both Art of Cello Playing and Alvin Schroeder’s 170 Foundation Studies for Violoncello, suggesting a student would do well to work from all three books.

The book addresses the primary issues for cello beginners: parts of the cello, posture, bow hold, hand position, rudiments of scales, notation, positions, etc, assuming no prior knowledge on the part of the student. It contains several fingering charts, progressively covering more of the fingerboard, from 1st position to 4th position, including ½ position. The fifty “songs” include Some Enchanted Evening, A Mighty Fortress Is Our God, My Funny Valentine, Hava Nagila, Shenandoah, and Old Dan Tucker. The twenty-four classical excerpts are short extracts of a major theme, or just a few phrases, not necessarily in the same key as commonly performed. Examples include themes from Pomp and Circumstance, J.S. Bach’s Arioso, and Tchaikovsky’s Song Without Words.

The audio CD contains 97 tracks demonstrating the simple exercises, scales, and melodies notated in the book. All the songs and classical excerpts are melodies that, of course, adapt easily to cello. Just the things to have ready when Uncle Glenn and Aunt Helen visit and ask, “So, play us something!” The audio CD tracks were recorded by Erik Friedlander (Personally, I would have preferred to hear Dr. Jiji, even if the performance were not at such a high professional level). The melodies as presented in book, often (but not always) use open strings, lower positions, and (early in the book) no vibrato, as befitting the level of the student, and Friedlander plays them well, fingered as notated, and at tempos suitable for the student . However, on the last track of the CD, labeled “Encore,” Friedlander reprises nine of the melodies, letting loose with a large dynamic range and full vibrato on more professional-style fingerings. Yep, those simple tunes sound so absolutely gorgeous on cello.

Dr. Jiji does not pretend to be an expert, only a veteran, so she also relates personal stories of setbacks to which the reader might relate. One thing that is not so unusual in some books but I’ve never seen in a cello book: At several places, the author suggests names of tunes at an appropriate level that the student should try to figure out on his/her own. She provides the key and the starting note. I have to think an early beginner that has figured out tunes by ear on the cello will have increased confidence in his or her ability to hear and learn (Didn’t Pablo Casals start out that way on his gourd cello?).

CPML’s foreward was written by Dr. Diliana Momtchilova, who also reviewed the book for accuracy and comprehensiveness. Dr. Momtchilova received her doctorate from the Juilliard School, where she has won the Haydn D Major Cello Concerto Competition. She is a member of the Alaria Chamber Music Ensemble, serves on the faculty at Mannes Music College; and has won a number of International competitions; so presumably she knows her stuff.

I certainly did not find anything in the content controversial or likely to lead a beginning student astray. However, I can lay claim to finding a couple of errors. On page 86, the photo labeled backward extension is actually a forward extension from first position. And page 147 says, “Now play a ballad from Oklahoma! using fourth position. Here’s You’ll Never Walk Alone.” Actually, You’ll Never Walk Alone is from Carousel. Remember? Billy dies, Nettie comforts Julie. Then it’s sung again at the end with full chorus. It might seem like a nit, but Carousel was one of the great ground-breaking musical accomplishments of the 20th century! The adult beginner that knows that sort of musical history is the kind of adult that will appreciate what Vera Jiji has done in CPML. [Dr. Jiji will issue a corrected version.]

The way I see it, the more a student knows outside of lessons, the more the teacher can cover other things during the lesson. For less than the price of a single lesson, CPML covers the basic cello-facts through 4th position, and can be a source of inspiration for individual enjoyment and exploration. But perhaps the best use of the book would be by teachers. My teacher, who has quite a few adult students, has looked through it, was favorably impressed, and expects to borrow it when I come back for my next lesson. I wonder if I’ll get it back.

Oh, and do catch the story of the Weeping Camel at the end of the book.

– Chiddler
Member, Internet Cello Society, Cello by Night Forum
Originally posted Oct 2, 2007