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’
Sun, 6/2 | 7:30pm, $7 @ Art In, Madison WI 1444 E Washington Ave, Madison, Wisconsin 53703
Two electric cellists Uncle Valentine and BC Grimm come head to head for a duo set at Art In + sound scaping analog electronic sets from Madison’s own Raj’r Taim and Tarek Sabbar!
Uncle Valentine (Philly, on tour) + BC Grimm duo set The solo project of Rachel Icenogle, a versatile cellist based in Philadelphia with a mind for new and interesting sounds. Uncle Valentine thrives in the scratchy, creaky, whirly sounds the cello can make, layering diverse musical textures in a lush groundwork for wild fables about insects and impressionistic stories about human batteries.
Rachel also composes music for puppet shows with Company Aiello, and is also a member of the Philadelphia band Upholstery. Rachel has performed improvisation with Roscoe Mitchell and has collaborated as a musician with several independent theater and dance groups in Philadelphia (BRAT Productions, Ombelico Mask Ensemble, Transmissions Theater, SWARM, and Birds on a Wire). She also often records cello for other bands, including in the last year on new albums from both Eric Slick and Hop Along. With a passion for the unique and unexpected, Rachel sets herself apart as a performer, always seeking opportunities to diversify and discover new artistic expression.
Raj’r Taim (Mad) Live P.A. All analog electronic soundscape. Unique rhythms and catchy synth melodies bring otherworldly yet familiar moods that coax the listener to contemplate the complexities and texture of sound.
Tarek Sabbar (Mad) Austere electronic music combining motorik drums, bleak ambience, and angular synthesis.
…and I am still using all gut set ups on both my concert cello and “sarangi-cello” (more on that cello in a future post). I have spent a lot of time thinking about strings, calculating gauges for tension schemes, experimenting with different combos of various brands and string makers. I have a much better idea now of what I like, don’t like, and need from a gut string. Almost a year before I had purchased any gut strings, I had reached out to a couple of viola da gamba playing friends for advice on the subject. Niccolo Seligmann, a fantastic gambist and early music super-nerd, gave me some advice, which I followed:
“Start with getting a couple different gauges of each string from Gamut, which is probably the best for its price. Once you’ve figured out what weights (diameter and tension) to use, then you may want to switch over to something more expensive and longer lasting, like Aquila or La Folia… the try-out process is expensive, but you can keep all the not-quite-right strings as spares. It’s always wise to have at least one spare of the top two strings and at least two spares of the top string.“
This advice was for open gut strings, but it applied to the wound gut audition process as well. For instance, getting all three gauges of a Eudoxa a-string is expense, but now I know what works and I was able to re-purpose or keep settled-in spares of the gauges which weren’t right for my instrument or the music I was making at that time.
I have found that I spend more time caring for my cello, making sure the tailpiece, bridge, nut, and peg set up are all staying “healthy”. As a result of learning to play on gut strings, I have made huge strides in my bow technique and left hand precision. Gut set ups have helped me understand how interact with the strings on a much deeper level. There is a greater subtly required when drawing the sound, as a result a wider range of tone and expression. It has taught me how to open up my articulation palate and push through to a next level of playing. Of course, it might not be the right fit for all types of music, instruments, or aesthetics: that comes down to (1) taste & importantly (2) the conditions of performance. I have used wound and open gut string combos for classical, traditional/world, contemporary, jazz, experimental, etc and have found these set-ups chameleon their way through all of these genres very well!
Over the course of this year, I have tried wound gut strings by Correlli (don’t waste your time), Damian Dlugolecki (Ni/Ag gut) and Pirastro’s Eudoxa, Oliv, and Gold (older wondertones) line strings. I have also tried plain gut strings by Dan Larsen (Gamut), Damian Dlugolecki, Toro (venice and high twist), and Aquila & Pirastro’s Chorda (not impressed for A-string, but I don use the e’ string for Sarangicello because it is so smooth). Maybe in another post I will examine these comparisons further, however this post will remain focused on Eudoxa and Oliv strings. Again this is for the first time buyer. I have certainly had some frustrating and expensive moments this year, my hope is to let you in on those insights so you don’t have to make the same mistakes.
Bonus Tip: try out a number of different rosins to find out what works best with your various string combos. Especially important if you have a mix of plain and wound gut or a combo of different brands/makers.
EUDOXA VS OLIV
I find the Eudoxa tone to be sweet and delightful, like dessert. There is a joy and playfulness in my playing, especially when I’m using the a and d string.
Oliv has a hearty, deep, complex tone which feels more like the main course. My playing is more serious and mature, especially when playing on a full set of Oliv.
I can’t get away with playing on a full set of Eudoxa, (as nice as that would be) unless maybe with medium A, D, G + a heavy gauge C; *but I haven’t tried that yet*… In contrast, I am definitely satisfied when playing on a full set of Oliv. In the last article, I gave a few examples of Steven Isserlis playing on his Eudoxa set up with Oliv C. Here is a good example of the tone capabilities of an Oliv set from Gary Hoffman (with an Evah Pirazzi A-string, from what I can see). A Hoffman is a very different player than Isserlis. I think their personalities are well captured by the tonal differences of these string setups.
Now that I’ve had a bit of experience practicing and performing on both Eudoxa and Oliv strings, I may choose to string up my cello with different combos that suit the circumstance of a recording session or performance.
playing with piano or contemporary ensembles: Oliv set
playing with plucked strings (like Brothers Grimm): Eudoxa set
solo, unaccompanied: (1) Eudoxa A, D, G + Oliv C (2) Oliv D, G, C + Aquila A, Toro A, or Eudoxa A (3) Oliv G, C + Toro A, D
Chamber music: (1) Eudoxa A, D, G + Oliv C (2) full Oliv set (medium set link)
[ 2020 edit ]Favorite All Around Setups: (1) Eudoxa medium A, D, G + Damian Dlugolecki NiAg/gut C 38pm or Oliv C (2) Eudoxa heavy A + Oliv light D, G, C
For a long time, I used to use Jargar A, D and Larsen G, C; which you can hear on The Brothers Grimm 2012 album Redolent Spires (bandcamp / spotify) or on my 2010 original solo cello score for Mary’s Wedding OST (bandcamp). Often this set up was too powerful for violoncello + classical guitar. If the Brothers Grimm were going out on tour, I would most likely use a Eudoxa medium set (in this case the quieter C string would be an advantage!).
The warm blend on the Eudoxas with other bowed string instruments is insane, they are perfect for chamber music. If you need to blend inward, I’d go with Eudoxa. If you need to cut through or project outward I’d go with Oliv. For instance, during rehearsals with a pianist for a performance of Schumann’s Fantasiestücke, Op.73 using a Eudoxa set up: I simply could not sing out above the piano without pushing the strings harder than I wished to. For the performance later that week, I had switched to an Oliv set up and no longer had to fight to project. I was able to float on top of the piano sound with out over playing the strings.
My cello projects better with Oliv, than Eudoxa. If you really like the Eudoxa sound on your instrument, but know you need to more power… you may want to try a full set of heavy gauge strings. It will have more tension, bigger tone and might just do the trick. In general, don’t be afraid of the thicker gauges, just make sure that your instrument is set up to handle the width, and that the tension scheme makes sense from top to bottom (less of a problem with a set, more of a problem with mix and match).
Here is a great example of Oliv on C, G and Eudoxa A, with plain gut D from Lynn Harrell (with Orlando Cole). Go for the string sound, stick around for the extended lesson on bow technique!
WHAT’S IN A GAUGE?
Thinner string gauges are lower in tension, with a sweet, reedy tone. Thinner gauges have more treble tone and quicker bow response.
Thicker string gauges have more tension, with a raspy, husky, deep tone. Thicker gauges have more bass tone and slower bow response.
Less tension results in more flex in the string and a quicker bow response. But the more flexible the string is, the quicker it will bottom out when you push it with heavy dynamics. If you often need to play loudly for your style of music, try the heavier gauge string – it can take more bow pressure and give you a bigger sound. The caveat being that thicker gauges with more tension are slower to respond under the bow.
Set advantages – I really like how the full set feels in the left hand and under the bow. It’s very nice to have the consistency of bow response, tension, thickness gradient/feel, tone etc across the whole instrument from top to bottom. (~ with both the Eudoxa medium set and the Oliv light set)
The Eudoxa string response is quick and easy, I liked this for playing unaccompanied solos at events and concerts. When you mix and match, the response is a bit different for the bow from each brand of string, so you have to change your technique a bit from string to string. Olivs are stiffer under the bow than Eudoxa, but when using a full set Olivs, it feels very nice and consistent, I doesn’t really feel stiff anymore.
Here are some quick notes from each string gauge I’ve tried:
light – didn’t even feel like a gut string because it is so thin / easy to play all the way up the fingerboard / you may consider this as an option if the rest of your strings are steel / less of an aluminum sound than the medium and heavy gauge
medium – of the three gauges, this is my favorite thickness on my concert cello / great tone / easy to play all the way up the fingerboard / sometimes is a little sluggish to respond compared to the rest of the set
heavy – what I use on my Sarangi-cello / noticeably more tension than the medium gauge, especially up in thumb positions / more power yet it still retains the sweet tone of Eudoxa / very smooth left hand feel. Pairs very well with Heavy Eudoxa D and with Oliv Light D!
[2020 edit] Pros – easy to play, very expressive, beautiful tone Cons – winding is easy to damage, string doesn’t last as long as Oliv A, easy to blow-out with too much bow pressure
light – sweetest sounding, but didn’t pack enough punch for me
medium – really great d string, one of my favorites, very expressive / I love the mix of the aluminum and silver, and almost wish that’s what they did for the a-string too!
heavy – heavy A and D play really nice together – really nice balance of expression with a little more power and projection – was very happy with the heavy gauge top strings.
[ 2020 edit ] Pros – easy to play, very expressive, beautiful tone Cons – General problem I’ve been having with the Eudoxa D strings is that they tend to die and go faulty at the transition from Summer to Fall. With the extreme humidity at the end of the summer and the sudden drop in temperature and dry air in Fall, my D strings have been dying… So don’t change your Eudoxa D until after fall has settled in!
light – (did not try) medium – at first I was worried it wouldn’t be bass heavy enough, or feel too small in the hand going from the thicker Oliv C the to thinner Eudoxa G, but it really wasn’t a problem at all, and I enjoyed playing on this string very much / sometimes the sound didn’t project forward enough for certain styles – but created a really interesting inward-depth, kind of hard to describe, but was a really unique way to draw the listener in when playing solo.
This string is actually brighter than the Oliv G string! This is probably my favorite gut G-string that I’ve tried so far, along side the Aquila G-string. no wolf-tone issues, unlike the heavy gauge G string
heavy– held up really well with the Oliv C / big warm bass tone, rich sound / but I felt like the thicker gauge contributed to the tension imbalances on the bridge and caused issues for the surrounding strings with settling in to pitch / projected outward well. Eudoxa heavy gauge G string has a bigger issue with the wolf-tone, it’s quite prominent on my cello with this cello from e-f-f# in 4th position and b-c in thumb position. The medium gauge does not have the wolf-tone issue, so far.
[2020 edit]Pros – brighter and springier than the Oliv G, hasn’t died due to shrinking-core-syndrome in cold dry weather (so far!) like the Oliv G
light – (did not try) medium – tone sounded great, very easy response, but just didn’t cut it when it came to power / very big volume and energy drop when I’d go from the medium G to the medium C string heavy – (did not try) I plan to try this string with Medium Eudoxa A, D, G in 2020 and promise to report back if/whenever that happens… The hope is that the higher tension Eudoxa C would be powerful enough to balance the low end while matching the tone and response of the rest of the Eudoxa medium gauge strings… will update when that happens…
Cons – medium gauge was not powerful enough to carry the low end
First impression is that I love this set up, the first time I strung up with all Olivs, I thought, “ahhh finally, a full set I can use!” / they bring out a completely new mature sound from my instrument / I almost feel like a Character-Actor when I am playing things like Beethoven or Schumann / very bright for the first week, but then it mellows out, in a very warm way
[2020 edit] after a while the strings get a little too dull and dark, still powerful but the low end needs some of that brightness back to balance the high end…
light – great string, powerful – louder than Eudoxa for sure, but slower to respond on quick notes – more uniform but not as expressive as Eudoxa – more like playing a steel string.
light – very nice string, more pitch stable than Eudoxa, great tone plays well with Eudoxa A and Oliv A, no real complaints about this one. again, more like playing steel than Eudoxa medium – (did not try) heavy – I am using the heavy gauge d string on my Sarangi-cello and I’ve noticed with both the thicker Oliv (especially the heavy) D strings start to bring out the wolf tone on my cello more. This is something to keep in mind when finding the right balance in gauge/tension for your instrument. It hasn’t been enough of an issue to require a wolf-tone eliminator however.
medium – (did not try) heavy – (did not try) [2020 edit] Cons – G-string dies suddenly when it gets dry and cold outside, a very expensive and disappointing problem of shrinking-core-syndrome – more about this is Part 3
light – when paired with Eudoxa med set, this over comes the volume/energy imbalance of the Eudoxa C / but response and tone are quite different / can get nice and growly when you push it –
[2020 edit] G & C start to sound too dull to me after some time
I can settle the string up to pitch in two days. Meaning for the first two days, there is a lot of peg tuning consistently throughout the practice/restringing session. On the third day, when I take the cello out of the case, it’s usually pretty close to pitch and I just have to give it one little turn at the peg and re-tune a couple of times after it adjusts to the room. Most of these strings have fully settled into pitch after 1 week. I play every day, which I think helps to quicken the breaking in process (maybe I am wrong).
I perform 100+ shows/gigs per year, and often I found my self planning when to change a string by what type of performance was coming up the next week. In most cases, I changed the string(s) at least 1 week in advance of a concert. This was usually enough time to break in the string and not have any issues with stability during the show. There were a couple of times that I had to change the string 1-2 days before a performance…. This wasn’t ideal, but I was able to perform successfully in all of those cases. I carefully monitored if my pitch dropped, double checking my tuning quietly with a clip on tuner in between movements & pieces. A number of times I performed with the clip on tuner, just to be sure I could lock in my tuning on the new strings; no one complained.
It seems like the Oliv set is more pitch stable than the Eudoxa set. I believe it is due to the higher tension of the string.
Having the right gauges and tension scheme actually contributed more than I initially thought to stability. Having the bridge and nut properly widened is also important. You don’t want the winding to get caught on the bridge or the nut, especially with all of that peg tuning you’ll be doing. When I had the medium gauge Eudoxa a & d with the heavy gauge G and Oliv light C, I had a little trouble getting the low end to settle and stay in pitch. The tension across the bridge was not balanced. With complete set (medium Eudoxa set & light Oliv set) I felt the strings settle into pitch faster and hold their tuning better. I have experienced some intense pitch swings on the low strings due to weather extremes. In August, when it was very humid, I pulled my cello out of the case and my low C was down to AA! Sometimes I would put it away in the case, after having played in a’=440 and when I pulled it out of the case the next day, my cello would be perfectly in tune at a’=415! Another time, during rehearsal there was a very hot and humid thunderstorm happening but with the air conditioning on full blast and during the finale my C string surprised me by drifting up to C# (luckily the section was in Db MJ…). In my experience this year, if it is humid+hot the strings will drift flat, if it is dry+cold the strings will drift sharp. If it is humid+cold… things get really weird and floppy, good luck. On my cello the thicker lower strings are affected most by the humidity/temperature changes.
For as much as I love these strings and highly recommend them, I have had an unfortunate winding separation issue on both Eudoxa AND Oliv A-strings. This has been the most expensive and frustrating part of the learning process. I already voiced not being crazy about the aluminum edge to the sound of the a-string in Part 1. There is a crunchy squeak sound on the surface if you don’t hit it just right with your bow. I’ve had a rough go at it this past year with the a-string winding separating from the gut core. From the very first string I installed, this happened, in fact some of the issues I ran into with the a-string going false (see Part 1) was actually the result of the winding separating from the gut core.
If you install the string and and the winding separates or goes false, even after taking the precautions of widening and lubricating the grooves at the nut and bridge and lifting the string occasionally at the bridge to reset the winding: contact Pirastro directly about getting a replacement string. I have been in contact with Pirastro about this issue and sent them my faulty strings to be analyzed. I have received replacements for all damaged strings, but I’d rather not have to do the international shipping dance over and over again…
Tip 1:Make sure the groove at the nut has a wide enough channel so it doesn’t pinch the winding – especially at the center point of the nut, where the string is bending the most. The winding is so thin and flexible on the A and D strings that it sort of ‘flattens out’ a bit where it bends over the bridge and nut. You can take your instrument to a luthier with your set of strings to have this done. Maybe suggest that they widen it out slightly more than the string width to give it enough space to move freely and not get pinched due to this slight flattening effect. Pinched winding will be the quickest way to kill your A string and lead to general tuning and pitch instability!!
For those who are DIY: I’ve been doing it carefully myself with 400, 600, & 1200 grit sand paper, strips of leather, blunt sewing needles, rasps, and graphite (maybe a luthier will comment suggesting otherwise – please do, we’ll all learn!). [ 2020 edit: Just go to a trusted Luthier and have them cut new grooves at the nut to fit the strings – maybe consider having a new bridge cut, a little bit higher than your steel set up (to accommodate and balance out the lower tension strings) with grooves that fit the wound gut strings. Keep your old bridge around, so you have one bridge for complete steel string set ups and one bridge for gut string set ups. Also have the luthier adjust the soundpost for a gut-string tension set up too. ]
Tip 2: Wrap the neck of the cello with a cushy cloth where the strap goes over the string (see pic below). I believe this strap-wear contributed to some of the separation around first position, which began the swift death for three of my A-strings.
[2020 edit: general wear and tear from playing will breakdown the winding in first position and any other commonly played area on the A-string, especially Eudoxa, because the winding is so thin and delicate. This is only an issue on the A strings. But anything you can do to protect the winding will help it’s longevity. ]
Tip 3: Peg Dope – use a peg lubricant like Hill Peg Compound. Available at most string shops for $10, this really helped my friction peg tuning. The pegs no longer “stick and jump”: I am able to turn the peg slowly and smoothly in a controlled motion without excess force to achieve very small and accurate pitch changes, like when using a fine tuner. Using peg compound in combination with winding the string close to (but not touching) the peg box wall helps to prevent peg slips.
CURRENT SETUP(late 2018- early 2019)
My current set up uses Oliv light gauge C, G, and D strings with an Aquila plain gut A-string (1.20mm), for a’=440Hz playing. I got to frustrated with the winding issues on the a-strings and needed a break from that. So I’m going with an open gut a for now and am very happy with the sound! The Aquila a-string is fantastic, shout out to Curtis from Aquila USA for helping me find a diameter that would match the tension of my Oliv set. …I haven’t given up on the Oliv a string just yet, I do plan on using a full Oliv set for future projects, but I’d like to have a luthier look the nut before I install a new one.
Which string combos have worked well for you with Eudoxa &/or Oliv? Are there other brands that you find pair well with these strings? Wound gut, plain gut, synthetic, steel core? Best rosin pairings? Please share your experiences, I’d love to hear about it! Also comment below if you have string care suggestions or helpful installation techniques.
I hope you found this review helpful! More details, thoughts and tips coming soon in Part 3. Thanks for reading & happy practicing!
Come enjoy live music, great coffee, and craft beer on the second Saturday of every month at Colectivo’s Monroe St. cafe in Madison!Second Saturdays @ Colectivo Monroe St.
Sat 3/10 | Brian Grimm will perform on guqin (an ancient Chinese zither) and acoustic violoncello, which he teaches next door at Monroe Street Arts Center. For more about Brian Grimm’s live set, visit Brian Grimm Classical/World EPK.
Detail 1: Three different ways to secure your gut string to the ebony tailpiece. C & G strings are looped, like viola da gamba or classical guitar. D-string is laced, with the knot catching underneath the tailpiece. Eudoxa A-stings have a ball end with a thick cushy washer, so I have it saddled in the fine-tuner.
I recently had a month away from my cello while it was being repaired for some damages caused by United Airlines (more on that in another post). During the interim, I was researching both plain and wound gut strings to outfit my cello(s) with. It became clear that a lot of my heroes – Pau Casals, Pierre Fournier, Jacqueline Du Pré, Daniil Shafran, Steven Isserlis, Pieter Wispelwey – have used wound gut string set ups. It was high time I gave it a try.
Now, I don’t know which gauges British cellist Steven Isserlis uses… but I know that his set up is Pirastro Eudoxa for a, d, G & Pirastro Oliv for C. [ Edit from Steven: “I use 21 ½ gauge A’s , and normal for the others. I use the A strings for c 6 weeks, others till they break!” ]
Isserlis is a benchmark among modern cellists for the tone he draws from the cello. He is famous not only for his wonderful performances of cello repertoire, but also for his decades long use of Eudoxa strings, handmade by Pirastro in Germany. If it’s good enough for him, then it’s certainly good enough for me!
||>> 2020 edit (see Part 3 – coming soon)
I suggest starting out with Medium Gauge Eudoxa A, D & G with a Light Gauge Oliv C string. Then work from there if you need to adjust the gauge of any string individually to balance your instrument’s sound and response.
The new strings have been on for a three weeks now. I love the tone they produce, there is a complex, vocal quality to it. They feel nice under the fingers and allow you to sculpt each note. This is exactly the sort of color and depth I felt was lacking from my steel string set ups. It’s a robust round sound, rich in harmonic content and full of resonance. Quite honestly, they are much louder than I anticipated. I know the stereotype is that gut strings are quieter than steel, and maybe this is more to do with projection or is about steel vs plain/open gut … but I must say that on *my cello, these wound gut strings are actually louder than the steel string set ups. *Loudness results may vary from cello to cello… I’m having the opposite problem, I can’t seem to play quietly enough. So much so that I’ve had complaints from my upstairs neighbors about the volume being too loud when I am practicing.
Initially, the G/C strings seemed too stiff and limited in their range of expression via variation in tone. However, they have since opened up a lot. Now it is easier to bow near the fingerboard and activate the string quietly. At first I felt trapped into pushing towards the bridge for every note, just to get it to speak. There is a limit to how aggressively you crank on these strings, especially on the low end. You can’t bend the string to your will with crushing down bows. It won’t respond the same way, it certainly won’t give you the sound you want. There is a lot more subtlety to be explored in the sound and the technique.
Detail 2: Here you can see the “ball end” with cushy “washer” on the a-string. My a-string was and friction peg were fighting the tension a bit when I had it threaded underneath (like the d-string). So after a week, I switched to saddling it in the fine-tuner and it hasn’t given me any trouble since. This may have to do with the added downward tension behind the bridge when threading in the tailpiece vs saddling in the fine-tuner – where it sits higher. I looped the low strings, because they held tension better and were more secure on my cello that way. You can keep it simple though, and thread all of the strings like I have the d-string, just let the knot catch on the underside of the tailpiece.
Pros & Cons
The tone is incredible (see video above). Many of my adult students (and student parents) being more familiar with what a cello sounds like, immediately remark at the Eudoxa’s beauteous sound. With a nice ebony wood tail piece and the gut string set up, it feels like I turned on a super wet reverb inside the cello!
Gut strings have been the sound of bowed string instruments for centuries! Steel strings only came into prominence in the 20th century during WWII when sheep gut was hard to come by and steel was cheaper to use. Playing on gut puts you in touch with centuries of tradition and helps you understand the repertoire of the past (from 1940’s back to the 1600’s) in a deeper tactile way.
Eudoxas are uniquely flexible all the way up the fingerboard! I feel more relaxed when playing in thumb position. Planting the thumb and fingers down to the fingerboard two octaves up the A&D strings is easier to do than on steel.
The staccato and spiccato bow strokes sound is unreal on these strings. I truly feel I’ve never executed a proper sounding staccato or spicatto stroke until using gut. The bite is there, but it’s still a round note unlike steel where it can sound only like the bite and nothing else.
Pizzacato feels/sounds AMAZING. If you are a jazzer or get into chordal playing, definitely give these strings a try. It makes me feel like I’m playing fretless bass guitar, Jaco style. Pizz has never sounded so lush on my cello!
Shifting is very enjoyable and fun to do on this set up (which I can’t say for most strings).
Eudoxa strings are not as expensive as one might think! A full set of Eudoxa is about $250, whereas an equivalent set of Larsen Magnacore (steel) or Thomasitik Versum (steel) runs about $350-$400. These are professional, high end strings used by such greats as Isseralis and Jacqueline du Pré. While Du Pre was transitioning from plain gut to steel strings, she used Eudoxa C4, G3 and Prim (steel) d2, a1 – as you can see and hear in the video below. Again, if Eudoxa is good enough for THE Jacqueline du Pré, they are good enough for little ole me!
The obvious one (no getting around it) – gut strings have a longer break in period. New steel Larsen Magnacore strings are said to break in within an hour. It has taken two full weeks for my Eudoxa strings to settle up-to pitch and into tension. I spent hours playing in the strings everyday, tuning constantly throughout each session. My (friction) peg tuning skills have much improved as a result! – Update: For this entire 3rd week I haven’t had to peg tune my strings once, they have held steady at A=440Hz! Wohoo!
More subject to temperature and humidity changes.
Animals definitely died in the making of these strings… they are not vegan-cellist friendly.
The Intonation Game
Sometimes it feels like you are chasing intonation around the fingerboard for the first couple of weeks. The strings are all going out of tune at slightly different rates. Because the strings are thicker, rolling your finger from back to front results in a much larger sweep of pitch. There is a bit of retraining for how to place the finger and correct the intonation. Some of these issues are break-in period ones. Now that the strings have settled in and relaxed, it feels mostly back to normal when placing and adjusting the finger to achieve good intonation.
I could foresee a couple of issues for some players/cellos in respects to the low strings: they may feel too chunky; be slow to speak; have overpowering bassy low end; not bright enough lows for your instrument to cut through; vibrate too widely for your string spacing (I can get the C string to vibrate so widely that it hits my G string!); have trouble getting the edgy tone that one can get from a tungsten wound steel string.
My one tonal complaint is with the aluminum winding on the a1 string. It sometimes sounds tooooo much like aluminum. You get a gross sound sometimes when you portamento. The toothy crunching crinkle winding-tone comes out harshly if you don’t get the bow tilt and placement just right, especially without enough rosin on.
The sweet spot on a gut string during the break in period seems to be very specific. If you aren’t listening to the physical feed back loop of the string<>bow interaction, you’ll get a false sounding note, or it may not even speak at all. Certain high register notes are particular to speak; some of the wolf-tone notes of a string can go false or simply disappear on you – if one is not using the proper bow speed, placement, pressure/weight, tightness.
Wound gut strings demand respect from you, the player. With both left hand pitch and point-of-contact for the bow – the feeling is similar to having a feral cat or rescue dog in the house for the first time. You can’t necessarily predict how they will react and behave so you are on your toes, more ready for a slew of possible outcomes. With steel strings, it’s more like having a domesticated dog or cat, you can predict fairly accurately how they will behave in each situation.
On many cellos, the strings may be too wide/thick for your bridge &/or nut – you may need to get those re-cut or altered by a luthier.
The first recording I ever heard of the Bach cello suites was by Pau Casals. These recordings from the late 1930’s were given to me by my Classical teacher Janet Marshall. She was part of the generation of cellists following after Casals in the mid 20th Century. Both Casals and Marshall had an incredibly powerful yet simultaneously beautiful sound. When I play on this Eudoxa gut string set up, I feel that the sound of Casals comes out of my cello. I hear all of those lessons with Janet playing back in my head, how she sang phrases and demonstrated passages with the highest passion and musicality. Playing on these strings feels like being home.
In Part 2 & Part 3 I will review a Full Set of Eudoxa Meduim + Full Set of Oliv Medium Gauge strings with more thoughts on combos. Stay tuned and Happy Practicing!
…. is actually a question I am rarely asked! This overlooked cake of hardened tree-goop not only allows us to bow the string*, but also plays a large part in our tone production. Without rosin the bow hairs can’t grip the string, no matter how hard you bow… it makes no sound, except for a “fffffttt” noise.
I suggest that students apply a few coats of rosin (3 to 10 strokes, ΠV) before each practice session, rehearsal, & performance. Partly for consistency, but also to avoid injury. Without enough rosin on your bow, the hairs won’t properly grip the strings. To compensate for the ensuing bow-slip, you will tense up and over-work your right arm; resulting in an injury similar to tennis elbow. However, there is such a thing as over-rosining your bow. If it’s too thickly coated, your hairs will get stuck in the string. This results in a bow-tripping sensation much like stumbling from catching your toe on the sidewalk. We’re looking for that Goldilocks principle: not too much, not too little – a few coats of rosin is just right.
With so many brands and prices, which one do you choose? Thankfully, Johnson String Instrument Shop has made it easier for me to share the rosins I use via student wish lists! Here are some recommended cello rosins for: (I) Students (II) Professionals and (III) …surprise! Percussionists. [2020 edit: I am updating all of my product & gear purchase links across the whole website this year]
Pros: Generally used in Spring/Summer (humid seasons); for light, fast playing. Cuts well, can add an edge to your bow tone. There are a lot of Pirastro rosins to choose from (almost too many…), surely one among their variety should be ample to cover the tone and grip needed for your particular strings: see here.
Cons: Heavy powdering, can irritate sinuses. Sometimes tone is too bright and thin for classic cello repertoire. Doesn’t grip as deeply as I need for power playing.
Pros: *Rosin of choice for two of my go-to luthiers! Use as a final polishing layer in combination with other rosins; fine smooth feel with medium tone; not over-grippy.
Cons: For a professional cellist, this rosin doesn’t grip strongly enough to stand on it’s own. However, for students on smaller sized cellos (1/4, 1/2, 3/4, etc) it should do splendidly.
Hill Dark Rosin (green),the ultimate rosins, used by professionals worldwide. The Hill Brand rosins are wrapped in their own padded velveteen shell. This is the rosin that others strive to emulate. Used for violin, viola and cello, the amber (light) is slightly hard and has moderate powder. The dark (green) is slightly softer and grips better than the amber.
Pros: For the last decade this has been my favorite rosin! Generally used in Fall/Winter (drier seasons); for heavy, rich playing. More and more, I’ve been using it all year round. The tone is complex, gorgeous. Very grippy, results in a powerful deep sound.
Cons: This rosin may be too sticky and coarse for some sets of lighter gauge strings.
Kolstein & Sons, Ltd. produces an outstanding rosin using their Ultra Formulation Supreme recipe. Very minimal powdering and excellent grip equate to quick response and consistent sustain for both the veteran and beginning cellist. A good rosin for players with respiratory difficulties.
Pros: Wow, I love this Baroque cello/viol rosin. Though it’s made for traditional sheep gut strings, it still plays wonderfully on modern metal-core/wound strings. Incredible glide, with even grip from fingerboard to bridge on all strings. Lighter tone than Kolstein; plays smooth; a finer grade. It feels as if the bow hairs are melting into your string, like a hot knife through butter. No harsh squeaking sounds on the A string.
Cons: Have yet to find any, this stuff is near perfect in my book.
Melos Baroque Cello Bass Viol Rosin is superb for use with period instruments using gut strings. This Baroque version rosin is stickier than rosin for their modern counterparts. Melos founder Christos Sykiotis, himself a cellist, explains it this way: “The gut string sounds not easy as a metallic string. We shouldn’t press the bow in order to play so we need a stickier rosin to play easy.” Melos rosins are made in small batches from Greek pine resin and other natural ingredients.
Try a combination of their two modern cello rosins: Melos Dark (fall/winter) & Melos Light (spring/summer) Cello Rosin
Rosin for Percussionists
Kolstein All Weather Bass Rosin – I originally heard about Kolstein rosin a decade ago from a professional double bassist (and have loved it ever since). This past weekend, I premiered a composition by percussionist Garrett Mendelow. This duo piece included three sections: (i) guqin zither + pedal board, tape, singing bowls and crotales (ii) tabla and Indian cello (iii) bowed vibraphone. We tried my Kolstein rosin on the bass bows + my Tatsuya Nakatani beach wood cello bow on the vibes. The tone was delicious. The vibraphone bars played smooth and spoke well. OK percussionists, the secret is out! Get that Kolstein bass rosin, it’s even stickier than the cello version – you won’t need much.
Speaking of percussionist Tatsuya Nakatani… I had the immense pleasure of performing in his Nakatani Gong Orchestra this September. It was hands down, one of the most unforgettable performances of my life. What a tremendous honor to learn directly from the bowed gong master himself (thanks Scott Gordon of Tone Madison for curating)! I’ve been using one of Tatsuya’s hand made Nakatani-Kobobows for about 3 years. I love it. The tone, the bite, the feel, the articulation…. his bows are incredible. They are designed for gongs and cymbals, so I tried it on the vibraphone. The Nakatani-Kobo bow spoke much quicker and with less pressure than a (often over tightened) double bass bow. Percussionists, these bows are made for bowing metal, check them out. I asked Tatsuya which rosin he prefers to use, his answer was: Pops Bass Rosin.
Alright Cello Zone studio, that’s all for today’s post. I hope you find this helpful when selecting your next cake of rosin! Follow the blog, like us on facebook and share with other cello friends. Leave your comments below, what’s your favorite brand of rosin and why?
“Their sets embrace plenty of sinuous melody and conversational interplay, but can just as easily dive into minimalism and dissonance.” ~ Tone Madison
Experimental Jazz trio Brennan Connors & Stray Passage has been performing in Madison for the past 5 years, exciting listeners with a range of sonic capabilities. Their improvised music is directly linked to the atmosphere in the room and energy of the audience. The listener is such a crucial element in shaping the band’s sound that they recorded this album in front of a live studio audience – expertly captured by master engineer Steve Gotcher at Audio for the Arts. Listeners will experience a jazz trio that embraces both free and structured improvisation, original compositions, groove based experiments, and sound exploration. The breadth of a performance ranges from focused minimalism to fiery high energy music, all while maintaining a sense of narrative organization and compelling ensemble interplay.
The group is led by Brennan Connors on tenor and soprano saxophones. Geoff Brady orchestrates drum and percussion textures, while Brian Grimm rounds out the trio bowing cello, contra-cello, and electric bass.
We are ecstatic and grateful to setola di maiale records in Italy for officially releasing our first album!
We’ll be joined by a fantastic drummer & friend of mine, Hamir Atwal (San Francisco), with his trio Invisible Guy. The group features Michael Coleman on keyboard & Ben Goldberg on clarinet. We are very glad to share our CD release show bill with another trio that explores the dynamics of free-improv in full range!
“Mr. Goldberg is a clarinetist of range and curiosity.” – The New York Times
Ben Goldberg’s Bay Area-based trio looks forward and backward at the same time, creating both nostalgic reveries and modern statements. Goldberg is known for drawing on his Jewish roots and radical versions of Klezmer music and his clarinet work is always focused with an endearing lyrical quality. Pianist Michael Coleman leaps between stride riffs and electronic splatter. Drummer Hamir Atwall provides everything from a swinging undercurrent to a clattery rush.
As a trio, Ben, Michael, and Hamir are in strict pursuit of beautiful melody. Michael Coleman says: “Melody is the knife that cuts through to truth. Then there is the importance of breath, and personal expression.” Reviewing a 2014 concert, Howard Reich of the Chicago Tribune said the group is “an unusually focused ensemble inventing a musical syntax for itself.”
From 1992, when his group New Klezmer Trio released Masks and Faces and “kicked open the door for radical experiments with Ashkenazi roots music” (SF Chronicle) to 2013’s simultaneous release of Subatomic Particle Homesick Blues (featuring Joshua Redman) and Unfold Ordinary Mind (featuring Nels Cline), which the New York Times noted for “a feeling of joyous research into the basics of polyphony and collective improvising,” clarinetist and composer Ben Goldberg has shaped a career through relentless pursuit of musical truth across many genres and styles, resulting in the Downbeat Critics’ Poll naming him the #1 Rising Star Clarinetist in both 2011 and 2013. In 2015 Ben released a recording of his songcycle Orphic Machine , sung by Carla Kihlstedt and performed by an allstar nine piece band including Nels Cline, Greg Cohen, and Ches Smith. The LA Times called Orphic Machine “knotted and occasionally spooky composition marked by dazzling interplay.” All Music Guide says “Orphic Machine is wildly ambitious and sophisticated, but also graceful, emotionally honest, and accessible. It makes the profound embraceable and, as a result, is a masterpiece.” Ben currently composes for and leads the following groups:
Unfold Ordinary Mind ; Go Home ; Ben Goldberg School ; and Ben Goldberg Trio with Greg Cohen and Kenny Wollesen.
Drummer/Percussionist Hamir Atwal is a Berklee College of Music graduate who
has taught at Music Academy International, and the Stanford Jazz Workshop. Hamir is an active endorser of DREAM Cymbals. Hamir has played with saxophonists Joe Lovano, Greg Osby, and Grant Stewart; Bassist/Producer Bill Laswell; and clarinetist Ben Goldberg.
Michael Coleman is a pianist, improviser and composer currently residing in Brooklyn, NY. He has had the pleasure of playing with many great musicians and recording with some of his favorite bands and people. Apart from leading his own groups (Beep!, CavityFang, Young Nudist), Michael has toured the world with Chris Cohen, tUnEyArDs,
Sean Hayes, Miles Kurosky and Jug Free America.
It’s a common question to receive as a cello teacher and quite honestly, a difficult one to answer. The gauge, tension, materials, and action of our strings make a significant difference in the tone and sound production of the cello. Each instrument has a different voice, which requires experimentation in what type of string is best to use. The same brand of strings on two different cellos will ultimately yield unique results. “String-Brand-A” may sound excellent on my cello, but be a totally wrong for yours…. With so many brands and prices, which one do you choose? Thankfully, Johnson String Instrument Shop has made it easier for me to share cello string combinations via student wish lists! Here are three sets/combos of strings to get you started, in order of low to high price. [ 2020 edit: I am updating all of the product and gear purchase links across my website this year ]
** All string sizes listed below are 4/4 Full Size. If you need to order 1/2 or 3/4 size cello strings, be sure to select that option when ordering!!
Pros: Affordable, yet still sounds good and plays well! I use them on my homemade electric cello (#frankencello) and I find them to be flexible and reliable. They have stood up to some extreme playing conditions encountered during gigs. The nickel winding helps the low strings pop out of your cello. If you need more brightness in your low end, try these strings (rather than the more dull silver winding of the Helicore).
Cons: Not as pitch stable as Kaplans or Helicores. The “center of pitch” feels slightly mushy… this is hard to describe and may be due to the nickel winding, which is on all strings.
Prelude 4/4 Cello Set A, D, G & C – nickel wound / steel core: Medium
Prelude (D’Addario) set – solid steel core string that is durable and not affected by temperature and humidity changes. Prelude strings have a clear, bright sound without the shrill sound of traditional steel strings, and have a quick bow response.
Brian Grimm D’Addario Kaplan-Helicore Combo
Pros: Great for multi-style playing. Holds tuning very well. Quick response. Fairly loud sound production. This has been the string combo on my concert cello from 2013 to 2017. They have proven to be suitable across many genres… however, I’m now moving on to some other brands of strings in search of a richer, mellower sound.
Cons: As the Kaplan A & D strings age, they get a bit metallic and scratchy sounding (especially in the high end). Not as subtle as Jargar, Larsen, Pirastro strings.
Kaplan (D’Addario) set – strings offer a beautiful, rich tonal palette and superb bowing response. They provide clarity and warmth across the registers and throughout the dynamic range.
Helicore (D’Addario) set –multi-strand, twisted steel core strings have a small string diameter, providing a quick bow response. Thanks to special manufacturing techniques, Helicore strings have a warm, clear sound with excellent pitch stability and longevity.
Pros: Powerful low end sound. Beautiful rich tone. I very much enjoyed this combo when playing Brahms and other Romantic era pieces. Jargar has since come out with two new lines of string that I haven’t tried: Thin/dolce & Thick/forte. There isn’t a huge price jump on those and are worth trying, depending on your #soundgoals.
Cons: Larsen strings are costly, you pay for that good sound; the C string itself is $100. Sometimes my Jargar A & D strings would be a bit unstable & drop pitch over the course of a piece.
Combo Set Includes:
Jargar Cello A & D – chrome wound / steel core: Medium
Larsen Cello G & C – tungsten wound / steel core: Medium
Jargar – Bright, full sound, quick response. Made in Denmark, these steel core strings are favored by many solosits. Jargar strings are known for their powerful, well-balanced tone.
Larsen– Made in Denmark, Larsen strings are aimed at soloists in need of a string with projection.
Cellist Brian Grimm is a composer, performer and teacher based out Madison, WI. Though Classically trained and studied in Jazz, Brian also grew up surrounded by Chinese instruments. This has pulled him into a life passion for learning music from all around the world. Brian’s teachers include members of Yo-Yo Ma’s Silkroad Ensemble, the Hong Kong Chinese Orchestra, the WuJi Ensemble (Hong Kong), the Buselli–Wallarab Jazz Orchestra, & Sitar virtuoso Pt. Sugato Nag (India).