About Bears and Honey

Recently, one of my former students sent me a long and detailed book on how to play the cello, by a great virtuoso cellist. Half the book had every page titled, “THE RIGHT FINGERINGS”. To me, all those “right” fingerings were the wrong fingerings if I wanted to sound good and be comfortable.

Since I did regard this cellist as a great virtuoso, I checked out his recording of two Beethoven Sonatas and the Brahms E Minor. Without sounding egotistical, I would have to say that my renditions of those pieces were just as accurate and very much more satisfying both in tone quality and general conception.

All of this stimulated some thinking about Bears and Honey.

I don’t know any bear who needed to read a book about how bees make honey and what the best way is to climb a tree to get at it. They just smell it and GO. They don’t care whether there’s a swarm of bees buzzing around their heads or stinging their noses while they devour all the honey in the beehive. Maybe…we should just do the same thing. Take a piece of music that moves and excites us, and find a way to make it sound as good as we think it can sound. If, for chance, there’s some passage that we can’t make sound as good as we would like, we should find a way to finesse it so it doesn’t sound bad.

I had an interesting experience editing a number of my recordings. In one place, there was a passage that did not sound awfully distinguished. I did get the least offensive rendition possible, and when I listen to it now, I don’t hear anything that bothers me. On the other hand, there were many things in those recordings that put a smile on my face every time I listen to them. I don’t believe that any book on cello playing could’ve made me sound better on any recording that I’ve done. That is not to say that books by great cellists have no value, or that their authors were less than wonderful performers, who had and continue to have my admiration. BUT I think we all need to write our own books on how to do it.

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