On Monday morning I woke up feeling exhausted and groggy, a hangover due to all of the emotion and tension surrounding the Presidential Election. I knew that I needed to get a good practice session in before I started teaching lessons in order to get my brain and body recalibrated. Practicing musical instruments is my meditation. Music is my Religion. It’s my mental health practice and how I perform works of good and service to my community. Normally when I sit down in the Practice Room, I start creating. It’s an improvisation that stems from a simple idea – usually some concept/technique that I need to work on – and then it grows organically from there into an exercise or system which I can play around in. I’ve been doing this since I can remember practicing. Starting in grade school, I’d always sit down, improvise and just explore the instrument and technique. It makes the Practice Room fun, creative, and exploratory – I highly encourage you to try it!
The resulting meditation on Monday is this new fingering exercise for to work on the evenness of tone and intonation no matter which fingering you may choose for a series of notes in a given passage. In this example I chose a few notes on the D string, which transition from the neck of the instrument to just over the shoulder [ A C D E ]. It’s a transition of technique that cellists are required to do often and something that I have been focusing on in the past few years. I want as many tools in my technique arsenal as I can collect to help me conquer the geography of this tricky section of the cello. There are immense possibilities of fingerings due to the overlap of neck position chromatic hand shapes and diatonic thumb position (& shoulder position) style hand shapes combined with the physical barrier of the instrument’s shoulder force us to choose when and how to transition between fingering styles. It’s an exercise in possibility.
Each line in the sheet music is progression through a system of fingering for the same notes A C D E. There are 15 fingerings here for you to try.
It’s hard for any Classical musician to show imperfection to the outside world, when the genre is so incredibly strict about presenting your highest level of playing possible. But social media to me is an opportunity to share our Process and Practice with each other. I love the sound of other people practicing. One of my favorite things to do in college was just walk by the practice rooms to hear people working on spots. Sometimes I’d politely pop my head in to ask about what they were working on. Everyone develops their own unique methods and techniques of practice, which I find fascinating. I’d love to see more people sharing how they Practice on social media, instead of only showing their most polished clips!
So in that spirit, here’s an Instagram post that is was my first full, continuous run through of this new exercise. It’s by no means perfect and it’s certainly not meant to be! It’s my starting point with a new exercise that I’ve just created. In this clip, I’m Meditating as much as possible, not thinking or trying, just observing. I do this to get out of my own way and simply notice what my natural tendencies are for these shifts. Which fingerings come easy? Which shifts am I missing? Is it just one finger in particular that is the problem? Or is it one position as a whole that isn’t locked in? I just want to collect the data, without judgement. Then from this initial run, I know exactly what to work on for the rest of the week as I practice this exercise. I can really target specific positions and fingerings based on what I have observed about my natural tendencies.
This meditation/practice concept should be used often as a way to separate your emotion and potential frustration from your playing. We need to be able to fail over and over and over and over again in the Practice Room. It needs to be a safe space for errors and “mistakes”. It’s precisely the mistakes that arise which become of value, because the mistakes let you know what you really need to work on. It takes the guess work out of the equation.
So fail, observe, and make small incremental changes in order to improve your playing (and mindset!). Once you nail it, keep on repeating it for consistency, accuracy, expression and muscle/spatial memory.
I’ll be updating with a couple of different versions of this exercise. For example, alternate bowings, different expression prompts, doing it in the same position but on the A string, etc.
Try out this new exercise and let me know what you think! Which fingering was the most helpful for you? Which was the most natural for you? Which did you struggle with the most? Have you noticed any tendencies about certain fingers or positions and the accuracy of your intonation?
Hopefully you will learn a little bit about your own playing this way! Happy Practicing! ~ Brian
Ennio Morricone‘s music has brought profound beauty into my life. In this video The Brothers Grimm pay tribute to the prolific Italian film composer, who passed away this year on July 6th, 2020. “Gabriel’s Oboe” is one of the hallmark pieces from his soundtrack to the 1986 film, “The Mission”. About a year ago, I had an emotionally intense performance of this piece, which has forever changed the meaning it holds in my life (read on below).
I first heard Morricone’s soundtrack for The Mission (1986) while I was studying composition in college. I was struck by the simplicity of the musical themes mixed with clever orchestration to leverage emotional climbs. I also loved that the sound of the symphony orchestra was blended together with traditional instruments of the Guaraní tribe to create such a wide ranging sonic and emotional journey. Awe and Divine Inspiration, Pain and Devastation, Unconditional Giving vs Inexcusable Wrong Doings, the Great Contradictions that reach across time are all present here. And as a cello player, it didn’t hurt that the two main themes, “Gabriel’s Oboe” and “The Falls” showed up as the first two pieces on the album, “Yo-Yo Ma Plays Ennio Morricone“. As the movie deals with events tied to racism, slavery, and religious subjugation in 1700’s South America, so will this memorial dedication meditate on grief in modern America around the persisting systems of Racism.
A special thank you to my brother AJ, who took time out of his busy end-of-semester college teaching schedule in Tokyo, Japan to record this piece with me virtually.
I will always have a special place for this music in my heart , thank you Ennio Morriconne ~ Brian Grimm
For the full length dedication to friends & families from my home town community who have lost loved ones in the past year, plus a dedication to the Black Lives Matter movement and the communities across the country who have lost their loved ones due to the ongoing American tragedy of Racism (with some options for donating to the cause); read on to the end…
Why I will be inextricably linked to this piece for the rest of my days
Last year, while in the middle of teaching cello lessons, I received a phone call from a man who had just lost his 12 year old daughter, Anna. She loved music and played french horn, but her favorite instrument was the cello. He asked me if I would come to Iowa that Saturday to play at her funeral. Of course I said yes, it would be my honor to do so. I have many students around that age and I couldn’t help but think of how sad it’d be to lose any one of them. My original plan was to head over to Iowa on Saturday to play for Anna’s funeral and then head to Chicago on Sunday to visit my Grandma Nerren. She had been in the hospital for over a week at that point and it wasn’t looking good, so I wanted to go down and play cello for her one last time.
On Saturday morning, just as I was heading out of the door to drive 4 hours and play for a 12 year old girl’s funeral – that’s when I received the call from my mother that Grandma had passed away in the night. I was devastated. I summoned my strength and concentration to make the long drive, alone, to play the funeral. Towards the end of Anna’s service, I played “Gabriel’s Oboe” by Ennio Morriconne. It was the most emotionally raw ‘performance’ I’ve ever given, I barely made it through that piece without falling apart. It was everything I could do to hold on and just play to the end. I was playing of course for Anna, who was loved so much by her family, but simultaneously I was playing for my grandma, Therese – saying good bye to her with my heart through a musical prayer. It was heavy. After the service, I found a pew in the church and had myself a good, long, messy cry. It was a very tough 4 hour drive to get back home afterwards.
About a week later, my Mom’s family gathered in Orland Park, IL for my grandma’s funeral. It was bittersweet, but we were all able to be there together to share our love for the matriarch of our family. At the service, my brother AJ and I played “Gabriel’s Oboe” together on guitar and cello. It felt so nice to have AJ’s guitar supporting my cello melodies, especially after having to do that piece solo at Anna’s funeral the week before. We don’t get to play together much anymore, so that made it even more special to me that we could play for Grandma, which she always loved.
After Grandma’s funeral, we were all heading over to the cemetery, next to the church where she had been baptized 96 years ago, to lay her to rest with the rest of her family buried there. On the drive over to the cemetery, we heard Saint-Saëns “The Swan” on the radio, which AJ and I had played at her memorial service, just minutes before. After the family luncheon we headed back to the funeral home to pick up our instruments and go over to Grandma’s house to continue spending some quality time together. My parents pulled the car up to me and my brother in the parking lot and rolled down their window, “Gabriel’s Oboe” was playing on the radio. It seemed that Grandma was letting us know that she was there at the service and had heard it all; our elegies, poems, tears, and music & she was giving some love back down to earth to comfort us in that moment as we said goodbye one last time.
Dedications of this performance to Friends and Families from my community
There are a number of families from my hometown church and music communities who have lost family members this past year. This performance is dedicated to:
The Sevallius, Finke, Zajdel & Rittmann families who I grew up with at church. To Erin and David who lost their sister and Jackie who lost her daughter, Alaina this year. This one stopped me in my tracks when I found out (directly before a gig), I was shocked and saddened to hear of Alaina’s death. It’s hard to comprehend a loss such as this seeing as she was still so young and leaves behind a family. Also that it should come so close on the heels of losing a grandfather & father, Bill Finke last year. I’ll always remember Bill’s big smile & laugh and how Alaina kept us younger kiddos in line, she always felt like a big sis to me.
To Katie, Jason & Joe Rohn who just recently lost their father, Gary. He was kind of like a gentle giant to me growing up, it was always a pleasure to talk with him. You all have the best laughs and I can rarely think of a time that we weren’t laughing together! So it is especially hard to know that you are all going through the pain of losing a father.
And to the show stopping, dynamic comedic entertainer Nick Daering, who AJ and I both had so many good times with over the years, I was very sorry to hear about the loss of your father this year. We’ve been thinking about you buddy and are long over due for a proper catch up!
To one of the sweetest people I know, Sarah Jane, who was my stand-partner in high school orchestra, I was sorry to hear of the loss of your mother, Theresa, last year. I know she faced many challenges throughout her life and that she was very special to you. I can’t believe it’s already been a year, time seems to slip through my fingers these days.
I had the honor of playing cello at both Sarah and Katie’s weddings in past years, I’m glad that I was able to be a part of those joyous occasions.
And to another one of my cello stand-partners in WAYO, Andrea and her mother Lauren Beale, who lost their father/husband Marshall last year. Again, I can’t believe it’s already been over a year and I know the relationship with that grief starts to evolve and change after that ‘year of firsts’. I’m especially sorry that he won’t be around to see Gabriel continue to grow and share those experiences with you. I’m glad our families have shared so much good music together over the years.
Andrea and I had the same private cello teacher, Janet Marshall, who passed away in November of 2019. Janet, I owe you so much and there aren’t enough words to describe the impact you had on my life! I will love and miss you forever, you were like a grandma to me.
To my bandmate Chad Canfield and his family who lost his Grandma this year, I know she played a huge part in your life. Rest assured my friend that she’s keeping watch over you and Marcus too.
My heart goes out to all of you and your family members, grief can come in waves and be unpredictable. You’ve all played a meaningful part in my life, so AJ and I would like to dedicate this music to you.
Dedications of this performance to the Black Lives Matter movement
All of the people listed above were folks from my own community that I grew up with, but my mourning doesn’t just stop at the edges of my personal community. My heart also goes out to anyone who is still mourning the unnecessary deaths of the recently taken, like Elijah McClain, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Atatiana Jefferson, Aura Rosser, Stephon Clark, Botham Jean, Philando Castile Alton Sterling, Michelle Cusseaux, Freddie Gray, Janisha Fonville, Sandra Bland, Walter Scott, Tamir Rice, Michael Brown, Eric Garner and many countless others. I dedicate this performance to you, your families, and your local communities. I hope this music can bring to you a moment of comfort, whether brief or lasting, and a reflective remembrance of a loved one’s impact on your life.
To anyone in the white community at large and specifically anyone from the community where I grew up: if you are having a hard time understanding why we have needed a movement like Black Lives Matter or your immediate reaction is to reject the movement, I challenge you to open your heart and find an empathetic understanding through grief. Grief is a universal human experience. Whatever grief I feel when we have lost a loved one in my community is the same grief I feel when I hear about someone in the black community loosing their brothers and sisters, uncles and aunts, fathers and mothers, sons and daughters due to the many persisting systems of Racism. Especially when many black people are struck down so publicly and without hesitation by those sworn to protect. However the communal grief and mourning surrounding these deaths is compounded by generation after generation after generation after generation after generation after generation of unjust and unfair treatment from the white community and the US government and law enforcement and the legal system and housing discrimination and education discrimination and lack of employment opportunities and food inequity and all of the systems of racism woven into the fabric of this country. No matter how hard I might try to imagine, I can never truly understand the depth of grief a black person feels in these situations. But as is clear by the family and friends dedication listed up above, every community loses their loved ones – and for white people who don’t yet understand that Black Lives Matter: grief and community-mourning is certainly one way to begin to understand what the African American community goes through every time there’s another public murder of one of their community members (especially when those responsible not held to account). All of the people we’ve lost this way are family members too, not just some abstract black person that the news media chooses to paint one way or the other. Their absence causes a heavy ripple effect, touching many lives, just as losing anyone in your community does.
White people need to step up and do the work. White people need to seek out ways to listen & learn so we can create lasting, positive, anti-racist change within our communities and professions. I am saying all of this as a white person who has lived with immense privileges. This message is for me too, there’s always room for improvement and growth. We have to keep the conversation going and continue to put in the work.
I believe in the power of beautiful music such as Ennio Morricone’s to bring positive change in this world. If you agree and appreciate the performance of this piece that AJ and I have given, I encourage you to donate to any of the following organizations or any Black Lives Matter related causes you know of which will impact your community directly.
9pm – 12am No Cover | Five Points Jazz Collective Live at the Mason Lounge
416 S Park St, Madison, WI 53715
After 7 years of keeping the time in-line at the Mason Lounge every Tuesday night with the Five Points Jazz Collective, our drummer Eric Shackelford is stepping down. Come join us tonight to celebrate his seven years in service of the groove! Also, we’ll be celebrating the birthday of our fearless bartendress, Kate!
It’s been so much fun playing bass in the Five Points Jazz Collective with Eric at the helm of the pocket. Famous for his “buh-da-dun dun dun, _ duh-nunt!” endings and exciting solos, Eric has been the bedrock of the the Five Points sound for 7 years! In that time, Eric and I have developed what I would describe as an effortless groove. It’s easy and it just goes… You don’t have to think about it or calculate, you simply play. And for me, that’s when it’s really fun. If I ever throw a funky surprise at Eric, he’s ready to catch it and throw it right back at me. And when it’s time for a drum-and-bass-trade during solos, I know things are gonna get interesting because of his careful listening and conversational style. In fact, some of my favorite memories during my time with “the Tuesday Night Squad” have been those drum’n bass trades!
A versatile drummer, Eric also plays heavy in the blues trio Aaron Williams and the Hoodoo. It’s actually not common nowadays to play with a Jazz drummer who can bust out a solid blues style. Well, Eric’s got a whole bag of blues baby. I’ve always enjoyed hearing the blues side of jazz come out in The Shack’s playing. Sometimes just for a chorus during a solo, always in good taste.
One of my favorite memories playing with Eric and the Five Points Jazz Collective happened this past Fall 2019, when we collaborated with Music con Brio at the Barrymore Theater (pictures below). It was a crashing together of worlds for me, because I also teach cello at Music con Brio! Eric did such a fantastic job playing fun drum beats to fit the children’s songs and the kids had a great time. The cello group’s favorite moment was performing the surf-rock edition of “Drunken Sailor”!
Eric has the unique gift of an experienced drummer who know’s how to play-the-room. It’s a rare thing indeed for a drum set player to keep the volume at a low, manageable level yet also hold up the energy and create an exciting group sound. The Shack-man has always found the sweet spot at the Mason Lounge and never overplays the room. Quite a feat! This is but one of the many reasons why Eric will be leaving some big shoes to fill for the next drummer of the Five Points!
We tip our hats to you Eric and raise a glass… or two or three. We’ll miss you and your drumming at the Mason Lounge each week. It’s been a blast and we cherish the friendship & music we’ve created with you over the last 7 years!
We wish you the best! from solid-blue-Brian, the Five Points Jazz Collective & The Mason Lounge
Composed, Recorded and Premiered in August of 2018 by BC Grimm (b 1986) for the 2018 Madison New Music Festival. All instruments performed by BC Grimm. Available for Download on September 20th, 2019 to mark one year since Grandma Joyce’s passing. This release is also in remembrance my Grandma Nerren who passed away this summer, her 97th birthday would have been on September 17th. Much love to both my Grimm and Nerren families.
[About the Work] Those who have passed away continue to pop up in the everyday moments of our lives. This work explores the modern dichotomy of navigating grief and mourning whilst carrying on with your work day and life obligations. You’ll hear field recordings of my day-to-day experience fused with instrumental composition and sound design. These “scenes” reference and even recreate real life moments I had in 2018 while in the wake of a series of close friend and family deaths. Many scenes are embedded with inside jokes or nods to the loved ones who passed. In addition, some scenes imagine what may be taking place for the dying at the transition between this world and the next. I felt that I didn’t give myself permission to truly process my grief publicly when this was all happening – how many of us are quietly carrying around these feelings at the same time?
A month after the premier of this work, I felt like I’d had a chance to process and contextualize my feelings and was scheduled to perform the piece a second time on 9/20/2018. Ironically, that was the day my Grandma Joyce passed away and the themes of this piece played out in front of me once again, in real time. I received “the call” right before leaving for work in the morning and had 3 jobs to work that day… run to the next run to the next run to the next. But on that day, I told everyone of the news I’d just heard and what I was going through internally. It helped me to get through that day without breaking down. I just couldn’t believe it had happened again, like clockwork. I’d like to thank Taralie Peterson, who performed a set of free improvisation as a duet with me that night. It was the first time that whole day I was able to let out and explore my feelings about my Grandmother’s passing.
[Dedications] The 2018 composition, recording and performance of “They’re Still Here” is dedicated in loving memory to Patrick Kelly, Ross Sutherin & Brian White-Stout and to the Grimm, Sutherin, Kelly, Morrow, White-stout & Brethauer families. I’d like to dedicate the 2019 public releasing of this music to my Grandma Joyce & Grandma Nerren, and to my Nerren and Grimm families. Both grandmas passed away in the last year since the making of this piece. I miss you both very much and think of you often when I play cello now.
[Album Art] A special heartfelt thank you to one of my Art heroines growing up, Aunt Jean (daughter of Grandma Joyce) who made the Album Art for this release. I’m so glad we were able to collaborate on this special project.
[On Listening] “They’re Still Here” is meant to be listened to and contemplated in one continuous sitting. Therefore the movements haven’t been separated, to facilitate the best listening experience (as it was performed live).
[00:00] SCENE I “Passing of a Friend, The Work Day Begins”
Tenor Viola da Gamba with field recording
[02:31] SCENE II “News Cycle On Fire: Rbt. Mueller’s Lonely Russia Probe”
Gaohu Cantonese fiddle with foley, field recording, 1940’s radio broadcast, singing bowls, violoncello, dizi flute, bawu flute, xiao flute, sheng mouth organ
[04:25] SCENE III “Do I Tell The Children? No, Teach On.”
Violoncello with field recording, pipa lute, tenor viola da gamba, contracello
[06:27] SCENE IV “Fluorescence Hums The Harmonic Order of Nature”
APC40 (electric hum in Just Intonation)
[10:31] SCENE V “Morning Routine, Scrambled Brains”
Field Recording with foley
[13:00] SCENE VI “A Call With My Brother, Wise Counsel”
*Sarangi-Cello in pipa tuning with claps, cajon, Tyler’s motorcycle
[14:55] SCENE VII “Ask The Corn Spirits”
Bawu flute with gaohu fiddle
[17:28] SCENE VIII “Hermie’s Chimes, They’re Still Here”
Guqin Zither (tuned to Hermie’s chimes) with pipa lute, gaohu fiddle, dizi flute
[21:07] SCENE IX “Funeral Grave”
[22:22] SCENE X “Temple of Ancestors”
Sarangi-Cello in pipa tuning with pipa lute, synthesis
[24:29] SCENE XI “Transfigurations”
Guqin zither with pipa lute, Russian folk harp, singing bowls
[27:27] SCENE XII “Schoolyard in Snow; Children Play On”
Tenor Viola da Gamba, APC40 (electric hum in equal temperament), field recordings,
“sarangi-cello” (d, g, a, d’) is tenor-violin (normally G, d, a, e’ or G, d, a, d’) tuned in pipa lute tuning with alternating wound and plain gut strings. I use a Nakatani-Kobo bow to help create a ‘sarangi-style’ on cello. The bowed Sarangi of North India and Pakistan is normally tuned to Sa=E (e, b, e’). I have my cello modeled after this tuning but a wholestep lower where Sa=D, where my guruji pt. Sugato Nag tunes his sitar. The sarangi has 3 melodic strings and the cello has 4, so I have tried a number of different tuning schemes and have settled on the Pipa Chinese lute tuning – as it is the most settled and advantageous one I have tried: d wound gut, g plain gut, a wound gut, d’ plain gut or silk. Alternate tunings I have used: (1) d, a, g, d’ (2) d, g, g, d’ (3) d, a, a, d’