Category Archives: Uncategorized

Back to the Stage

This week I performed for the first time in a large group since the COVID shutdown in March 2020. It was exhilarating to feel the sound around me and feel the intensity of dozens of individuals working together towards a common goal. Also this week I dug into some tangos and cuban melodies with my heart on my sleeve. As I return to more frequent in person concerts after what ended up being the largest break in my performing career due to COVID cancellations, I am able to begin to integrate the powerful lessons from the past 16 months.

In 2020 cancelled concerts meant losing a sense of meaning in my life, and lots of free time to ponder. My dreams were filled with images of my cello or bow broken or rotting, anxious dreams where I was asked to go on stage but couldn’t find my cello or I had not practiced. As I moved through the grieving process with as much trust and presence as I could to the feelings of loss, I oscillated between sadness and long moments or even days of deep surrender into presence into the simple act of being. I allowed myself to enter into a grief process that stretched back through much of my life, where music had filled a space where human love was absent, to take a look at the shadow of my music making and any attachment that did not come from love. I worked to reclaim a belonging to myself beyond all external striving and identity as a musician.

I was deeply moved by the calls for racial healing, but responded in the way that felt more powerful and centered in my own experience rather than the external prompts for social justice that felt often scripted and intellectual. I searched into my own direct ancestry and discovered a revolutionary war soldier who had himself burned Haudenosaunnee corn fields and villages in the very area of New York where I had grown up. I wanted to hold energetic space to release whatever pain had brought him to these lands, or powerlessness and trauma that carrying out these acts as a foot soldier must have created in my lineage. And I wanted to offer reparations in a small way for the indigenous community harmed. Exploring this history with an open and courageous heart brought me to a place of deep compassion in all directions, including forgiveness for those in my own life who have harmed me and self forgiveness for how my own pain might have harmed others. I reached back to my distant ancestors who lived in harmony with the land in Ireland, or by the Rhine, and surrendered into a sense of my own indigenous lineage before Roman soldiers or other conquering forces broke these thousands of years of wisdom and earth medicine. I had lots of support from others as well as skills from shamanism and Buddhism to hold this work. As a result of this process, I felt an energy of light radiate back through my lineage and forward into the future, and this soldier relinquish grief and move on. This cycle culminated in video recording of the Frank Bridge Sonata with pianist Barbara Lysakowski, offered as a thank you for our fundraiser, and a cellomedicine zoom concert from my living room, virtually hosted by Dreamhive in NYC. The money raised was gifted to the Schagticoke First Nations Land Reclaimation Project. A tremendous thank you to Sachem Hawkstorm and Louisa Harpriya for holding space for this work. And many others too numerous to mention.

On April 1st 2021 our beloved poodle family member Alfie died suddenly from complications from Addison’s disease and medical error at only five years old. The pain of this loss was sharp and intense but uncomplicated. I played cello for him as he took his last breath. I stayed present to my heartbreak, to my resistance and fear of death and loss, I stayed present to my desire to hold onto the past. In that space I discovered a timeless and endless core of love at the heart of all of life beyond death, beyond form, and I bathed in this divine love. And I gave myself permission to have my human desires, my individual joys and to fight for what matters most to me. The balance of will and surrender, trust and power, individual and collective, are amazing facets of human dance. I have begun to identify myself not as a musician, or dog mama, or teacher or life coach, but a consciousness explorer, someone committed to holding in love and joy the full experience of our humanity. But looking back, this is nothing new. I have just remembered.

I will not say this time was easy, but I have a sustained an honest gratitude for the circumstances and my confrontation with loss on so many levels. I feel a renewed trust in whatever comes towards me in my life, and the wisdom to greet it with an open heart. I fully released music and even wondered if I would leave performing behind entirely for another career. While I maintained my base level of skill by practicing, I really questioned if my heart and the world was asking me to fully let go of this offering. In this space of surrender my music became a prayer for my ancestors, a conversation with the ocean, the trees and the roses in my garden. I felt held in such love with this animate community. I wrote poetry and my own music, poured over books, podcasts and articles around sacred ceremony, myth, transformation, plant healing, shamanism, etc. Our life then exploded into play and sweetness with a new puppy we named Jasper. I found myself surrounded by love from healers and priestesses, soul friends, my husband and family, and I felt truly capable of receiving this love. In this loving space my capacity to hold compassion for others expanded beyond the concert hall and into life coaching work and creating ceremony.

Now that concerts have returned and I have emerged from the cauldron of transformation I find I have woven a new life that is more balanced and nurturing at the roots. The bright blossoms of performances are supported by quiet space holding for others on their own journeys of awakening, and I feel supported by a community of folks who share my passion for nature. As I played this week I found a new level of passion, courage and power in my voice. I can honestly say I have never been more capable of joy and able to share my heart. Thank you COVID times for the lessons of trust and surrender, and for nourishing me to the core. Most importantly, thank you for teaching me to surrender to the truth of love that is truly all around us, in nature, in humans, in our own hearts. I hope that I continue to learn to trust the process of death and loss as merely a gateway to rebirth, and approach my own death, when it comes, with surrender.

The gift of loss lies in the potential to reveal the core of love, beyond attachment or the trappings of obligation. Loss cuts through the illusion of self, waking us up to all that truly matters: to celebrate the magic of life with an open and courageous heart, and greet death with trust and surrender.

Musical Offerings during COVID times

As we each adapt to a new way of living during COVID, music can offer a space beyond words and politics to support us to connect with our innate sense of wholeness while grieving what has been lost. Music acts on all areas of our human being, including the body through vibration, moving to where it is most needed. As such, intentional sound is one of the most gentle yet powerful of medicines. Live music especially can build community connection when physical connection isn’t possible, by holding a space for shared experience.

Musical Offerings:

1. Garden Concerts

2. Musical Enjoyment (spotify playlists and/or tips for listening )

3. Individual Medicine Pieces

1. Garden Concerts
Enjoy the sounds of cello while surrounded by nature. Bring together a small gathering of family and friends or simply for you, within a space that allows for you to honor the guidelines for physical distancing*. The concert will be 45-60 minutes in length and we can select a program together that fits your interest from the repertoire list below. Please note, this is not background music but rather an invitation to listen deeply together.

Discounted COVID times Fee $300 (Barters accepted).
Weather permitting-a rain date is suggested. If cancelled due to weather, I will happily reschedule.
* I will wear a scarf while interacting before and after the concert and remain at 6 feet if law and safety requires, but will remove my face covering when I am performing (being sure to set up at over 10 feet distance) to accommodate the breathing required for athletic musical performance. I can travel anywhere within 200 miles of Holyoke, MA.
I can offer a list of pieces for a potential program, or you may choose from one of my three suggested programs

Sample program:
Monuments and Madness This program explores the movement between sacred geometry of form as well as the wild “in between spaces” of creative “chaos”. Hartka will play works tinged with a variety of influences including Spanish flamenco, celtic music, mayan music and Jazz as well two short compositions by Hartka herself. The concert will conclude with Bach’s magnificent E flat major Suite for solo cello.
Bagpipe Chanter Traditional?
Lord Galways Lament Turlough O Carolan
Keening: Song of Exile Rebecca Hartka
Flamenca from Suite for Solo Cello Rogelio Huguet Y Tagell
Bone Dust Star Dust Rebecca Hartka
Julie-O Mark Summer
Suite 4 in E flat Major JS Bach


2. Musical Enjoyment (playlists and tips for listening via zoom sessions) I can create a playlist to help guide and educate you through a certain area of Western Classical Music. Have you ever been curious about how Mozart Operas reflected the anti-aristocracy, revolutionary tendencies of the late 18th century? Or wondered how Bach’s love for sacred geometry informed his compositions? Do you have a love for French music? We can connect via zoom to give you suggestions on what to listen for in specific works. I can also create playlists via spotify to guide your listening in a particular style or period.
$70/hour (fee dependent on number of sessions and extent of request). (Barters accepted)


3. Individual Medicine Pieces Music is healing in a way that is mysterious, intuitive and global. If you are feeling like you need support to connect with your wholeness, grieve, or simply be inspired, I can create a short solo cello work with you in mind. After speaking together on the phone or zoom, I will improvise and explore sounds until they crystallize into a loosely structured composition that I can share through a digital recording.
Discounted COVID times Fee $200 (Barters accepted).

My passion has taken me to the threshold spaces between music, culture and healing. While gaining expertise in the Western Art Music Tradition, I have also expanded beyond these boundaries. This impulse can be traced to growing up in rural New York where my Ecuadorian neighbors often had traditional Andean musicians play at our neighborhood bonfire parties while we danced together. My experience of live performance is that it is ceremonial in nature, with the potential to be profound social medicine with participants experiencing their shared humanity through group listening. I am passionate about fostering cross-cultural connection through music, and have, for example, collaborated with Mayan musicians in the Yucatan. At the same time, I believe in the power of Western Classical Music to offer a reflection on culture and history, and I love to perform such composers as Bach, Debussy and Brahms. In college at Oberlin Conservatory I took non-required courses in African American Music History, West African Dance in Diaspora (where we had live drumming for each class), Ethnomusicology and Psychology. My passion for performing inspired me to earn a Masters and Doctorate in Performing Arts at Boston University College of fine arts. I continued to broaden my expression of styles to include Blues, Tango, Brazilian and Celtic music, and improvisation in courses at the Berklee School of Music and at summer festivals such a String Fling. Since 2007, while working to educate young musicians as a professor of music at Montana State University and currently at Keene State College, I ran a concert series, recorded three CDs and performed concerts nationally and internationally. My recent adventures have taken me to Cuba and Mexico, as I develop fluidity in Latin America styles with Cuban American guitarist Jose Lezcano. In 2019 I collaborated with acupuncturist in a group session. For twenty years as an educator with students and listeners I continue to learn how to better facilitate embodiment, empowerment and self-expression through music.

Full professional bio at
Tedx talk here


COVID Cancellations and Reflections on Race

This week I was scheduled to perform a concert at the Historical Piano Concerts with pianist Barbara Lysakowski.

This performance is one of many that have been cancelled due to COVID circumstances. One of the pieces we would have performed is the Frank Bridge Sonata. Consider listening to this recording- the slow movement at 10:15 is especially poignant.

Bridge was a pacifist writing this work from 1913-17 and despairing over the futility of war and the state of the world. This work is part of the program we were going to play entitled “Across the Channel” with music written 100 years ago during and after the First World War, and ironically during the time of the last pandemic. English and French composers were defining their unique styles and expression, declaring artistic independence from the long Germanic tradition that dominated western classical music for two hundred years years. They did this by incorporating regional folk tunes into their works, and by expressing their personal experiences. I planned this concert a year ago, well before the current pandemic. What a powerful resonance we might find in this beautiful music at this moment!!

Music forges cultural connection by expressing the broad ethos of a time, as well as the internal world of those able to reflect from a unique vantage point. Music touches in on the timeless and universal. Classical music in particular offers the opportunity for us in the western world to look back on history and grieve the wounds of our culture that seems to so often turn to warfare.

Music making is my whole reason for being, it feeds me because it is where I belong and where I feel joy. I know profoundly the power of art to forge compassion and connection in culture, something badly needed even before the pandemic. Contributing to society in the way that brings me joy is the only truth I can stand inside of. I can’t imagine life without this. Performing has been my constant even inside of a very challenging industry that suffers from extreme lack of support. How painful it is for me to not be able to offer this medicine for people to connect. How oddly cruel to have to process this loss without the one activity that has always helped me process best.

Several times during the past months the grief has overwhelmed any idea of how to move forward. What is different than previous lulls in my schedule is the unknowing as to when and if I will be able to perform in concert halls again because of social distancing. As I witness numerous large musical institutions cancel entire seasons, I wonder how much of this industry will survive the financial losses. As an entrepreneur I am more flexible and resilient than some, but I rely on a community of listeners and the ability for venues to be allowed to open doors. As well, my economic stability has been a chronic challenge.

As I confront these questions, and our country has been intensely focused on racial inequality, I am well aware from my many travels, including to Cuba and Kenya, and in my own city of Holyoke, that I have many privileges. I carry this power with awareness and responsibility. I am also urgently feeling how much compassion and forgiveness is needed at this moment in all directions. I am reminded of my college experience at Oberlin twenty-five years ago, on full need based scholarship, where I struggled to find belonging. My family was declaring bankruptcy at the time, and so I had no safety net. I was experiencing PTSD from a childhood trauma, and my rural background was an invisible cultural difference. I was in a highly competitive male dominated field with peers with more means than I. While I recognized the value in the calls to confront my privilege from students and teachers, in the context of the invisible and unspoken challenges I faced, it felt ironic. And I will admit, it hurt.

Even when I have been in pain, I have continued to do my best to contribute and learn. At Oberlin for example, I spent many hours outside of classes creating a community garden with at risk youth, with my friend Natalie. Our little project attracted the attention of song writer Prince, who then invested a large sum of money in expanding the project. I was motivated not because of an awareness of my privilege (which I really didn’t experience at the time) but from my joy in helping others, my exposure to other cultures and communities, and my love for sustainable agriculture. 

For me anyway, curiosity and connection has always been the best tool for opening my heart to the experiences of others and inspiring the willingness to act and contribute. Nothing could have done this more than my immersive travel (AKA a shoe string budget!) in over fifteen countries. Several courses in African American Music History, Jazz, African Dance in Diaspora, Improvisation and Ethnomusicology began a path of lifetime of learning about the trauma and resilience of the Black experience in America. I remember in one class having an “aha” moment of recognizing how hard it would be to feel any ownership or connection to the larger society if you grew up a person of color in America. I had a further wake up call when I realized this was hardly a revelation to the non whites in the class.
When I reflect on my life I realize that I have always had the impulse to expand from the narrow education of the conservatory by exploring and teaching improvisation, becoming skilled in a variety of hybridized styles, as well as directing the resources of my sponsors to those in greater need including bringing a cello and supplies to Cuba. Starting from a foundation of love and connection to the music of my ancestors and the comprehensive look at history a doctorate offers, I have a broad view of the development of paradigms, the impact of religion and the voices often on the front lines or sidelines of the Western world. From the inside view of music and composers reflecting on society and sharing their voices, I have an embodied and heartfelt sense for the traumas and brokenness of the western world, as well as the many gifts.

What I have noticed from performing across many states in America is a true lack of exposure to classical music.  In some liberal circles there is an unspoken sense from folks that my music making represents a form of elitist, conservative, white supremacy. I have had to work hard to not internalize a sense of rejection and distaste for “classical” music, while working to broaden the field to be more inclusive. I have felt inspired to reach for repertoire by underrepresented groups such as women and people of color, to increase the accessibility of concerts, while also educating people about the rich, soulful, and dynamic tradition with many composers at the front of cultural evolution. I have learned that, sadly, many white Americans are ignorant of and disconnected from their roots, and even ashamed of their European ancestors.

It is true that our history is filled with violence, conquest, religious persecution, genocide and I could go on. And it is true that classical music has left out many voices. On a deeper level, I have needed to grieve my ancestral disconnection from body and earth, the extreme shame and self hatred especially for women’s bodies, the violence and betrayal in hierarchical structures, and the resulting hungry ghosts of conquering and addictive consuming. I have done my own embodied release of trauma, and turned towards indigenous wisdom from various authors, as well as experienced ceremony from a variety of indigenous cultures. I have reconnected to the earth centered practices of Europeans, reclaimed belonging and forgiven the harm done by my direct ancestors. Its a continuous process of returning to wholeness,

My personal deeply held belief is that we can find our way forward towards racial equality and planetary healing by offering the skills, assets and power of the modern world in service to indigenous (including European indigenous) wisdom and practices of connection to earth. I believe that how we get there is unique to each of us, and that we each have our role to play. There are many gateways and pathways. My way is an integrated and embodied path towards racial equality with music as my primary tool.

Contributing from a place of joy, financial stability and self care has required some unlearning from the values of our culture (think burning witches, and the whole martyr paradigm of spirituality). Sadly, Western culture has had centuries of persecution towards creatives. Devaluing or even simply missing their contribution. What has that meant for the health and wholeness of our culture and for artists? I have had to confront these questions all of my life, but they have been more front and center now that I feel so voiceless. For example, I have experienced not only lack of support from the culture at large, but financially predatory behavior through all the layers of the industry. For those holding the shadow pieces of a community, the very act of sharing our voices is a contribution to society, an invitation towards more wholeness. Luckily my upbringing gave me lots of grit, and my creative approach to my career as well as the generosity of sponsors has carried me through. I do my best to keep an open heart and to move from love towards self and others, knowing that those who do harm have not even identified the wounds they need to heal. Compassion does not mean I allow the harm, but it means I try to set boundaries through self love rather than hatred for those doing the harm.

While my experiences of trauma and being an artist on the outside of society may provide a place of resonance and connect me with the urgency to make changes in our systems to better support the lives of people of color in America, without addressing the underlying pain of the perpetrators, the solution will be incomplete. Really we can do both, and some folks will be better equipped and more passionate about different areas of contribution.  As a musician I am gifted and trained to hold emotional healing space for other European Americans to grieve their profound disconnection from self and earth, with fragmented and broken lineages and loss of homeland and belonging. I am also aware that when I create concerts that intersect cultures with less privilege, I need to do my best to be financially supportive and make space for their voices. For example, when I planned this concert (pictured below) I made sure the mayan musicians were paid, and having acquired a small grant for my travel expenses, I was able to donate my portion of the proceeds towards an educational library that supported the Mexican community.

What would our modern world look like if we made more space for our artists as part of leadership in society (including each of us being guided by our own inner creativity)? What would happen if we were guided by their world-view of creativity, broad embrace of humanity, and interconnectedness? Would we move beyond our need to find an external enemy to blame? Would we begin living from love, rather than fear and survival? Would we remember our deep belonging to each other and to nature?

Music vibrates in all dimensions

And lives in all times

Yet we know her only

In this one moment


We are drawn in by her beauty

Her sacred geometry

Even as she resonates our bodies

To the bone

Reminding each cell

To come home


Her world is beyond words

Of archetypes and myths

She calls forth even the misshapen

And abandoned parts of our humanity

Into her compassionate embrace

Reminding us

We are whole and we belong


After the moment, when she is gone

We learn the timeless nature

Of her ephemeral being

That is deeply felt

But never seen

And remembered long

After the last notes sound.

-Rebecca Hartka 2019


Bach to Balam Back to Belong

“And now for something completely different!” as soon as the words left my mouth the room was punctuated by the explosive sound of glass breaking on the tile floor. The crowd roared with laughter and one of the kitchen workers scurried to clean up the mess this tipsy ex pat had made with his wine glass. What was “different” was the sacred geometry of Bach, which felt like a medicine of order in this party atmosphere of old hippies in the jungle in the Yucatan. I had been drawn to this Bach medicine as a child in a big family with hippie parents who were always searching and seemed intrigued and enamored with everything exotic and “other. Seeking a belonging to some single tradition, to some ancestral lineage, as well as a physical discipline, classical music held a space for me when my alternative community sought to transform and improve on convention. Also, my Dad is mostly German heritage (later I found out from 23 and me also Polish), and Bach felt right in line with the hard work ethic and a lutheran grandmother.

My maternal grandmother had ancestors who came over on the Mayflower, but lived in Mexico for 30 years. We visited her a couple times and my childhood home was decorated with Mexican art. The last time I was in Mexico was in 1997, over 20 years ago, when I was uncertain if I would follow the path of a musician.  So this tour felt like coming home, as there I was in Valladolid, Mexico surrounded by welcoming faces at the Casa Hamaca with the skill to fill the space with patterns and rippling sequences that I had befriended and mastered for decades. The joy in listening was palpable and augmented the joy in my playing. Then, in my emerald silk dress I did something in the company of 80 plus strangers that I had never done before: I allowed myself to take a massive risk and not only improvise at a formal concert, but do so inside a style of music I barely had any experience with and in collaboration with musicians I had met only 15 minutes before the concert. In black face paint, naked from the waist up and carrying drums and flutes, four Mayan musicians (a band called Box Balam pronounced Bosh Balam, meaning Black Jaguar) took the stage alone for several songs, then I joined them, improvising with their melodies and rhythms. The result was one of the most powerful experiences in my many years on stage, not because the music was polished or stunning, but that we in co-existing, had bucked the trend of hundreds of years of colonialism. HCJC6804 Video excerpt click here

On a personal level I had transcended the duality of western thought that had instilled in me the belief that I had to choose classical or folk; convention or innovation; modernity or history; hippies or tradition; me or them. Something shifted in me and something profound healed in the audience. We all felt it. Some woman yelled from the audience in the question and answer that followed the performance “you have quite a powerful voice, lady”. Indeed, this was exactly where I belonged-Bach and Mayan music.

A few days earlier I had played for a crowd of some of the wealthiest and most powerful folks in Merida and the Yucatan. One hundred and twenty seats had sold out and so we added a second night, which was filled with the warmth of artists and friends of the hostess. It was also a magical evening as Jose and I wove together melodies from Brazilian choros, Argentinian Tangos as well as Bach. I was a bit intimidated the first night, not expecting such a prestigious crowd, but still played well and it was well received. By the second night I was filled with pure joy. These composers straddled traditions and struggled to find their belonging, but in making their voice heard, they created a space for seemingly contradictory traditions and cultures to coexist.

Even in a culturally diverse community such as Mexico, I have been told, the classical music culture has remained mostly entrenched in a narrow range of music, rarely venturing into the 20th century or away from Europe. The immense popularity of our event was due in large part to a hunger for something that embraced and expressed something beyond this narrowness. We also realized that our incredible hostess Leila was very special and at the center of the Yucatan community with her beautiful space she held for art and performance called La Cupula. Inviting her friends meant inviting everybody. She had us stay in one of her vast guest suites, decorated with folk art, and we marveled at the pools and sculptures of jaguars in her gorgeous interior garden.

QJQO0290 Video excerpt click here
Between concerts my husband, mom and I climbed the almost completely empty ancient Mayan site of Xkambo (from around 400 AD) and I played to the birds and trees from the amazing view at the top. We ate coconut crusted shrimp, papaya and mangos; collected shells on the beach; waited in line for freshly made tortillas; got lost in tiny towns dodging dogs and speed bumps; and even managed to get stung by a jellyfish while swimming in the ocean. Despite jellyfish and speed bumps, the western part of the Yucatan felt safe and the people were welcoming and warm.

After returning home, skirting the edge of a massive snow storm, I floated on a certain cloud of euphoria for a couple days and then I collapsed with fever, chills, intense back pain, digestive distress. Breathing into my physical distress I began to sob. I realized that while all this belonging, embrace and joy was welcome, it was also a bit frightening and unfamiliar. Here began to emerge an historic pain from decades of struggling to find my place in the world. A long history of not belonging: not belonging, I felt, in the conservatory among lineage classical musicians from the city, folks who had never improvised in their lives or gathered newts from a stream; not belonging in jazz music or celtic music where fiddlers knew thousands of tunes; not belonging in normal society because of my unconventional upbringing; not belonging as a woman in a male dominated field; not belonging to my innate and profound connection to nature as my life took me into cities; not belonging in my nature based spirituality in a rational or christian society.

But somehow, among the chocolate and jaguar sculptures and Bach and mayan music it really sunk in. No, I didn’t ever belong to any of those things or places, I belonged to ALL OF THEM, and also, I belonged to myself. And here I am, with all of these many paths that have led me to exactly this moment, beneath the blood mood eclipse, finding my way home to this truth. I woke up from an illusion of isolation and found myself with skill and joy on stage surrounded by hundreds of listeners playing music that I have always been meant to play. The listeners, composers and my cello woke me up and I woke them up. We are all indigenous to this earth. We all belong.

Remind me of this when I forget again.

Balam means Jaguar in the Mayan language. The Jaguar is one of the symbols of the “Rainbow Lady’ goddess Ix Chel in the Mayan pantheon. The clothing and art in Mexico sing of this goddess of weaving and colors. The rainbow has all colors and is a marvel to behold, filled with light and illumination, but also with rain, the humility of heaven’s tears. Beneath the sunshine and the rain, in the warm soil of this beautiful earth seeds can burst open and new life can emerge.

A warm thank you to all the wonderful listeners and fascinating people I met, too many to name, but mostly thank you to: Jose and Ingrid Lezcano; Pearl and George Ashley; Leila Voyt; Yannik Piel; Joann and Jim Burns; Tey Mariana Stiteler; Denis Larsen; Ivan Cabaldon; Ronald and Dee Poland; Diana Castillo; and to my husband Wesley Fleming and mom Linda Hartka-Reiss.

Duxbury Concert

The houses were almost uniformly covered in light grey shingles, large with beautiful beach views. I saw a town filled with tremendous history, and privilege mixed with a working class making their money in service positions to those who wanted it all. I wondered where I belonged in this story. Was I just another amusement? Good enough for those who can have anyone play for them? Then I thought of my parents, one raised rich, one poor, each with their struggles, and each with their gifts and important set of values that make up my worldview; complicated, like this town. A struggle to integrate.

It was a cloudy and windy day, a cold April rain was falling. I got out of the car briefly to stare out at the water. I was half an hour early and wasn’t ready to be Rebecca Hartka, the cellist. I wanted to savor a few moments of anonymity by the harbor. The water was churning a grey green. It occurred to me that the residents of this town were divided by many things, mainly by how much money they possessed. But fisherman and lawyer might share an equal if different reverence for the power of the ocean. I returned to the warmth of the car to eat the turkey sandwich I’d packed for lunch and noticed that a forty something man had parked beside me in a large, fancy pick-up. He looked well to do, with warm brown eyes that were moist with tears. He had a look of profound sadness, as if someone had just told him his wife was leaving him. The layer of thin glass between us must have given him the illusion of privacy, either this or he was beyond caring, as his eyes filled with tears. Here he was, like me, seeking solace at the edge of this vastness of grayish green blue water.

I felt a profound kinship with him and all the other residents of Duxbury at that moment, drawn as I have always been to the water’s edge, willing to risk, or maybe even finding comfort in this power so much greater than my being. Centering myself inside of compassion for rich and poor, and the force of the ocean, I pulled out of the marina and headed toward my concert venue. When I arrived at the museum I was met with a thoughtful and caring community who take their role very seriously as supporters of the arts, and an informed and enthusiastic audience. Barbara and I had a wonderful time being swept up in the ocean of music. We celebrated at a little seafood joint with fish and chips and mixed drinks. Ahhh New England!

Trial by Fire and Water

This late September I took my morning walk with the dogs down the road and marveled at the sparkling patches of frost not yet melted by the rising sun. Five days ago 90 degree heat and high humidity were bearing down on me during a concert performance which happened at 4 pm; the hottest hours of one of the hottest days in more than a month. A week before that I stepped on stage in my new job at Keene, with short notice, and performed before the provost and other important folks in the college. Both concerts went well. Both concerts were extra challenging for different reasons, and I transcended the challenges with nearly opposite approaches. Ferocious determination and stepping into my power for the one, and surrender, acceptance and letting go of ego for the other.

At the end of summer when the dam was released at the Zoar Gap in the northeastern slopes of the Berkshires, I put on a wetsuit and plunged down the white water in a raft with my brother, his girlfriend, a childhood friend and two young men I’d never met. We arrived at a class three rapid, called Dragon Tooth. The last time we had done this run I had been thrown out of the raft. I was bounced out of the boat into the waves of the rapid, then caught in the current, luckily remembering to go feet first, so as not to hit the rocks with my head, until my brother in law pulled me out by my life jacket. At the time I was exhilarated and laughed it off. But this August I felt fear. Maybe I should skip it?

The guide encouraged me to be courageous. Courage not being the lack of fear, but the choice to do something anyway. As we faced the pounding river waves and the white water hit my face, our guide yelled to keep paddling forward hard. Something primal was released at that moment and I let out a low and tremendous roar, a dragons roar,  and cut through the water with furious strokes. I looked that river in the face and said under no uncertain terms would I be defeated, that I had a right to be and that I was a strong warrior. The river brought forward my power to meet it and we navigated through the rapid with perfection. The others in the boat were inspired by my roar and affectionately called me dragon lady for the rest of the day.

Later on the stage as I stared down at a highly technical musical piece, containing several class three and four rapids, that river came up to greet me. The memory of my encounter with dragon tooth brought forth my ferocious primal power and I navigated through the performance nearly flawlessly. Aside from a few folks who approached me afterward, the audience seemed to be fairly neutral in response. However, I knew it was a success and was thrilled.

One week later, in the 90 degree heat I felt utterly defeated. My sense of control or power was undermined by the unpredictability of shifts from a sticky fingerboard, and beads of sweat dripping off my body,causing me to slip off. My cello was sweating, and the piano was going increasingly out of tune from the humidity. While playing I focused on being present to the music fully, but it took great effort. I drank electrolytes and wiped my hands and cello between each movement.

Most of the hundred people in the audience were lost in the music, but my several adult students suffered with me, they felt my pain. To survive the concert I had to accept the unpredictable, and be humbled by the limitations of my physical existence, and give myself 100% to the music, even if the offering was flawed by missed notes and technical struggles brought on by circumstances. This hurt my pride and I suffered from this as much as the physical oppression of the heat and the mental malaise and trouble focusing that it caused. When we finished the audience lept to their feet. After an encore we were brought back for a second encore. I didn’t understand. Was it pity? Did 100 people pity me all spontaneously at once? Surely it wasn’t such a great performance. The hosts and recording engineer seemed to reflect my reality, mentioning what a good and forgiving audience they have.

I suffered for days afterwards wondering if I’d humiliated myself, until I broke down and listened to the recording, figuring I’d just look my epic failure squarely in the face and get it over with. It’s true, I heard the bloopers, which seemed much larger in the moment, and an ever more out of tune piano, which helped explain the feeling of confusion. But most of all what I heard was a beautifully performed recital, with virtuosic, passionate and transcendent playing from both of us. I was shocked. Really shocked. I know my experience on stage isn’t always a clear picture of reality, but this disparity was the biggest I’d ever experienced. Listening to the recording  I heard thousands of hours of practice, the power of our duo connection and great music by amazing composers. I didn’t hear the sweat or suffering. A brilliant reminder that, even when feeling defeated, if we keep giving and offering music, our devotion and passion will help us transcend our pain. Such a clear reminder that music is much greater than me and my little worries.

Colors Couleurs Colores Cores

I have been knee deep into the Colors recording project and watching the hours of work and bills grow. I am anything but inspired. I am trying to remember the beauty of music, the profound sense of impact our Colors recording will have on the lives of others, possibly well past our own lives. I don’t expect it all to be a joyous walk in the park, but months before and after the final note was performed in the recording studio, I have devoted probably hundreds of hours to all the details of non musical stuff: editing, mixing, mechanical rights, fund raising, publicity, pre-orders, booking CD release venues, design, program notes and printing, not to mention practicing and recording. And it’s getting to me.

I can barely remember the magic of being immersed in the colors of Debussy, the sounds of Paris during the twilight of the Belle Epoque. I have been behind my computer making release timelines, recording schedules, marking scores for edits, editing cd booklet down to every last accent and period, creating a website, emails and emails and emails and meeting with the designer, the artist, the engineer.

It could always be worse. Way worse!

I am only just recalling the vibrancy of the Havana Streets, the thrill of being on stage, the wide-eyed look of reverence from students, the pure joy of the cello vibrating against my rib cage.  I try to remember that, if anything, this is an investment in my overall career as well as my musical partnerships; an investment that could make a difference long term in unforeseen ways. And it will. Truthfully, in terms of booking gigs, a video and good photos would have been money better spent if my business self were in charge. But then, that’s not the same as sharing this beautiful music with listeners. In the end, music, not money, will always be my master.

In my morass of frustration I press play. The music takes me back. I am swept up in the beauty of the sound. Tears are in my eyes. The final mix is DONE!! Mastering and a few more edits to the booklet and its off to print. FINALLY!!

I try to like this “extra” stuff of recording projects, I really do, and since SONY Records has yet to knock on my door, it’s either be an entrepreneur or do nothing. The creative force inside of me is undeniable, and the pain of denying this force is worse than the tedium of running my own record label. Making music, and releasing my music is a mandate in my life not just to have a meaningful, passionate existence but somewhat a matter of mental survival.

Knowing all this, I still found myself getting more and more impatient this summer as my cello Lorenzo sat in his case unplayed for almost a month.

I have never worked so hard on a project or been more central in all aspects of the production. As the producer I was the creative vision behind everything from the design to the musical selections. Truly, no CD has been as much my own personal statement as this one. On the other hand, Colors really is a collage of efforts from some of the finest professionals I have ever known, and is an expression of their brilliance. One of my engineers, Robin Moore records for The World, runs her own record label and was amazing at creating the perfect mic set up for my sessions with Barbara. She was also an absolutely generous, patient and steady force in the mixing of the CD-truly an angel. Antonio Oliart, also at WGBH, is a terrific engineer but also helped in the recording session to get the best out of Jose and my performance. The artist for the cover, Gayle Kabaker has had her work twice on the cover of the New Yorker. She travelled with us to Cuba, sketched the whole week and created the most amazing art for the CD cover in collaboration with designer Alexis Neubert. Jose Lezcano was nominated twice for a Grammy, and wrote an amazing Sonata that is included in the CD. His extra pair of ears were invaluable in the mixing. In addition to being a long time collaborator of the highest order, and one of the kindest human beings you will ever meet, Barbara played with such technical precision in our recording session that the editing process was a breeze. My student Mike Fein, a professional photographer, captured our recording session with some of these terrific photos you see here. And another student Vince Canzonieri assisted in keeping track of our takes and any missed notes during recording. Zeke Hecker looked through my program notes with a skilled eye for punctuation and grammar and how to simplify the text. Connie Clarke gave me amazing assistance in navigating the challenge of being both a musical colleague and producer for the CD. Norma Johnson is assisting me with publicity and mailing the CD to national publications. Numerous sponsors and other supporters of the project, too many to mention, while not covering the full cost of the CD, made a huge difference in my overall level of investment, allowing the project to be done without cutting any corners.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention my husband Wesley Fleming, who has been in the trenches with me and bearing my complaints and seeing the expenses rise that will impact him as well. He did website work for the project and more than anything, is doing his best to navigate this tricky business of being life partners, business partners and friends. He has stood by me through both success and failure.

I am looking forward to the joy and meaning this music will bring to others. And a little joy for me too!


DANCING & MOJITOS We were a surprisingly boisterous community brought together by classical music, celebrating with mojitos and dancing. I was surrounded by family: blood family, family by marriage, chosen friends family, colleague family and near strangers turned instant friends family. I could barely contain my urge to dance as the five man Cuban band feet from our table pulsed with polyrhythms and melodies. The vibrant, urgency of the Cuban resilience distilled, like sugar cane into rum, a perfected balance of African, Spanish and European elements electrified every cell in my body. This music was at once ancient and incredibly contemporary in our global society. On most street corners, cafes and almost everywhere music was a daily soundtrack. But this group was especially good.

Earlier in the evening Jose and I performed in the cultural center next to the Cathedral, an ancient monastery repurposed, with a garden courtyard, arches and vast white hallways. We played a program as eclectic as Habana with music by Brazilian composers Gnatali and Bandolim, Lezcano’s own sonata infused with tango and Cuban dance rhythms, Spanish songs by Da Falla, Bach, Villa Lobos and others. What was a unique and possibly exotic set of pieces in the states felt perfectly resonant in Cuba with the mixed culture all around. I had moments of insecurity when I recalled the powerful, rhythmic playing of the cellists at the festival from a rehearsal I had attended the day before. These cellists had been raised with these Afro-Cuban rhythms baked into their everyday life. As a white American, I also wondered what was the line between embracing this music and appropriating something that wasn’t mine. Beneath my fears, however, I know this music was exactly where I belonged and that various threads from my life had been pulled together into a beautiful integration at the concert: the trips as a child to Mexico to visit my grandparents; the African dance in diaspora classes at Oberlin; the Spanish pieces my mom played on guitar while I grew in her belly and through my early years; practicing Bach as a teenager, my sanctuary from the noise of a loud family.

In the restaurant, as if she read my mind, Mayte, Alejandro’s wife, offered her husband as a dance partner as proof that I was welcome in their world. We two cellists hit the floor with the one-two-three syncopated step of Cuban dance. There wasn’t much room between the singer and a long table in the small upper floor of a two story restaurant, but we tore up what floor there was and they reassured me that I was a really quick study. Next I pulled Carina up, the adorably sweet Afro Cuban caretaker of our air bnb, and we did some extra hip shaking to whoops and applause from our table.

Carina was dressed to the nines. After sitting and listening to me practice back at the house for most of an hour, the day after my arrival, she had proudly attended Jose and my concert that night fully decked out with her boyfriend Jasmany, and listened rapt with attention and throwing me reassuring glances from the audience. Five days later when I pressed my cd into her hands, we kissed goodbye on each cheek, tears in our eyes. “I will listen every day”, she said. “It is so peaceful”, said her boyfriend, “it is my first concert”.


Our Casa Particular with a large fenced garden courtyard, tile and canopy covered bench, arbor, tables and a trickling fountain, provided an oasis of air conditioning and warm showers after the tragic comedy of the daily confoundingly beautiful and painful paradoxical experience of the Havana streets.



To say that Havana is gritty is a laughable understatement, yet the profound and colorful vibrancy of humanity also dances and sings on every corner. Having my mom and husband around me, as well as friend and terrific artist Gayle Kabaker, her husband Peter and brother David offered a cultural buffer that was wonderfully soothing amidst wild Havana and helped me take it in within a community setting. I was also pleasantly surprised when my student Charlotte and her partner and partners mom sailed into Cuba to meet up with us! We traveled in our entourage with folks helping with logistics and organization. We shared stories around breakfast from our previous days adventures, and shared a wonderful mutually supportive atmosphere.

Walking down 15th street through our neighborhood, called the Vedado, took an act of courage and care, as we dodged headless chicken carcasses; human sized holes on the sidewalk; garbage; begging, emaciated dogs; wild cats fighting in every alley (these same cats made the most wretched yowling sounds at night and we had to keep our barred windows closed to avoid unintended visitors).
There was a seemingly endless parade of antique cars of every shape and color (pink and turquoise and yellow) belching exhaust with a small taxi sign on their dash boards; horse carriages; a couple wheeling an old couch on a dolly, or a singer machine my grandma might have used; someone selling something starchy and fried. Colorful houses lined the street some pristine and abundant, the next dilapidated with piles of rubble and garbage with architecture here Soviet inspired, next Spanish, with fragrant blossoms in the yard, dog poop at the next. Children laughed and played baseball with a tennis ball, a man, pawning broken guitars, large mural of Castro and Che and other colorful propaganda messages and images covered cement walls, smells of cigars lingered in the damp air and the heart beat of drums pulsed tirelessly. In one of the old Havana squares with a massive, Spanish colonial cathedral towering over cobbled streets, archways and expansive courtyards we sipped our overpriced, bitter
cortaditos, probably made with canned milk, while a man power washed from a balcony in a narrow street while school children squealed in glee trying to get him to spray them from the sky.





Days were filled with desperate attempts to cmmunicate. No cell service for Americans meant plans and back up plans and places to me that reminded me of a bygone era before texting. Internet was a magical and mysterious possibility that required a card, and a hot spot and still somehow didn’t work. Cuban, guttural Spanish spoken at a break neck pace with half the consonants missing often defeated the possibility of my weak skills getting me very far. I learned to use hand signals and very simple sentences.

With Cuban people I noticed an incredible capacity for warmth and community, with an undercurrent of hopelessness and maybe deeper still, a bubbling feeling of desperation. Most folks showed a resilience and perseverance and this sometimes burst into rage. For example, our experience with a cab driver one of the first nights in Havana. We set our rate at $8 CUCs, roughly $10 to go 10 minute across town. The old black car was a gas chamber of fumes, the windows cracked, the door handle fell off in my hand and the two men in the front seemed sketchy at best. When we arrived and gave the $8 CUCs the man said we owed him $10 CUCs. When we disagreed he flew into a rage with all sorts of threats in a thick dialect that I am grateful I didn’t understand. We gave him the remaining two CUCs and rather than feel swindled I felt such sorrow for him. This was the rage of a man who had spent his entire life fighting to survive. For sure, an entire cash and trade economy has developed in Cuba to avoid the government stealing their meager income. We saw people waiting in lines for rationed potatoes, and menus at restaurants constantly changing to adapt to shortages of various food items, and with tourism picking up, some of the best food is diverted to them rather than the Cuban people. I saw first hand example of what colleagues who grew up in soviet occupied Poland or Ukraine had related to me: stories of waiting in line for hours for rare food items or goods.
Another cab driver chain smoked and deftly avoided pot holes while sipping out of a paper bag. I tried to forget that we had neither seat belts or air bags as we hurled down the highway. His blood shot eyes and slumped back told of a rough life. We had agreed on a set price and he drove to the south side of the island. He sat in the shade and watched as everyone played in the gemstone blue waves of the Caribbean. He was afraid of sharks. Later, around a shared meal of plantains, rice, and beans, fruit and fresh fish that we offered to pay half of, he seemed to soften. When we gave him his cash and said goodbye, he kissed me on both cheeks and urged me to return. His tenderness was sincere, and quite unexpected.

A tremendous line up of talent was presented at the concert of students. I could barely believe the skill and musical passion and yet the instruments were some of the poorest quality and worst cared for I have ever seen. I felt sadness and at the same time such joy to see these students over come these odds and play so beautifully. I was grateful for the privilege to be in a position to offer small support. In the over air conditioned university building right near the main square of Old Havana students from all over Cuba showcased their talent, and I, with my offline google translator app and help from Jose, cobbled together a speech in Spanish. The audience of cellists and family of cellists beamed with gratitude and appreciation as I stumbled through my pronunciation and shared these thoughts: “This cello is a token of gratitude for being welcomed here and a symbol that music knows no borders and we are all human. Cuban musicians have a gift to offer the world of music and I am honored to be able to assist in my small way, thank you to the many sponsors who made this possible”.

Three days later I coached the most talented students from the group. At first it was six but they kept coming and pretty soon I had been going for almost three hours and had worked with ten students ranging ages 15-21. It was pure joy! The thirst for outside input and knowledge was palpable and after an electrifying, humorous, fun and intense set of sessions, photos and kisses and celebration followed. Maestra Hartka had hopefully made a positive impact.







The style of cello playing in Cuba reflected the machismo and the tender loyalty of the Cuban spirit. It was gritty, passionate, rhythmically intense, romantic, virtuosic, but could improve on delicacy, nuance, musical pacing and shades of darker colors. I worked with the students to build intensity over a longer line, to explore softer dynamics and not always rush the tempo. With my fellow musicians theirs wasn’t just a poverty financially but one of isolation and frustration with lack of opportunity to be exposed to other musicians, or the global musical conversation.

As someone educated and performing with colleagues in such rich centers as Boston and NY I was aware of a certain privilege and power that I had to carry with care. I had to walk the fine line between acknowledging their talent, but pushing them to grow, supporting them with gifts, but not to the point of being humiliating. I had to consider what conditions I might have attached to my gifts to fellow musicians or what expectations I might set up with these, and work to mitigate any negative effects. I never felt resentment or hatred from any of my a Cuban friends, but instead, a wonderful sense of gratitude and welcoming. Perhaps they sense the possibility of a future as more active members of a global community, and are eager to discover how to get there. My hope is that in the process they hang on to the beautiful spirit of their culture.

I have no idea how my music fell on their ears or what it said about me. Elegance and fluidity were words I heard. Maybe I sounded like royalty. Maybe I sounded washed out, pastel, compared to their vivid playing. While I was technically in the position of maestra, I know that their voices and sounds will impact my playing for years to come.
As I continue to integrate my adventure, my own rainbow of sounds will expand to include the vibrant pinks, reds and fuchsias, the rhythmic intensity of Habana. I have a sense that this is only the beginning of my Cuban adventure. I never brought up politics, but it did find its way into our conversations. Alejandro related to me how he saw American friends weeping after our election. “The people”, he said, “are not the same as their government”.



THANKS I would like to thank so many people, I hope I don’t forget anyone. Jose Lezcano for opening the door to this beautiful world through his music and musical partnership; Alejandro Martinez and wife Mayte for organizing the festival; my husband Wes for his incredible moral and logistical support on the trip; my mom for helping me process my experience, for being a witness to the beauty and tragedy and speaking better Spanish than I when it was crucial; Gayle, Peter and David for enriching the experience with visual reflection and stories; all the amazing student musicians who shared their playing with me; Jasmany, Carina and Iris for the beautiful air bnb experience; the many sponsors who financially supported this adventure with donations large and small; the institute for the musical arts; UNEAC (the Cuban National Union of Writers, Artists, & Composers; Achello; Boston cello Society and Robert Mayes; Johnson String Instrument; anyone else I have neglected to mention

Artwork: Gayle Kabaker
Photos: Wesley Fleming and Peter Kitchell









Sacnite: White Flowers in the Zócalo

Sacnite: White Flowers in the Zócalo

Even in the vast expanse of the central square, (the Zócalo) of Mexico city, the Metropolitan Cathedral was massive and imposing. I stepped out of the cool sanctuary into a square filled with the complexity that is Mexico; tourists, groups of children in muddied traditional costumes selling tiny packets of Chiclets, colorful booths with piñatas, smells of fresh tortillas. The square was packed, but all the life around me, the colors and vibrancy felt empty and I couldn’t find my place in it, in the world.

At 20 I had temporarily dropped out of Oberlin College/Conservatory. My cello teacher was angry when I announced that maybe I should be a farmer, and that I was leaving school to find out. After discovering how terrible I was at farming, I wandered through the ruins and pubs of Ireland, weeded gardens in rural NY and hitchhiked and backpacked through the Lacandon Jungle during the Zapatista rebellion in Mexico. That is how I found myself in the center of La Cuidad De Mexico. That is also how, from the deepest part of me, I yearned for belonging and the knowledge of self.

My plea was answered swiftly and definitively. Standing 30-40 feet from me was a woman shaman, in her 50s, tall, regal and beautiful. She had been blessing people in the square as they approached her, with a pungent incense. The day was drawing to a close and she picked up a large shell and sounded out a haunting call to the four directions. As she began ceremoniously wrapping up her feathers and other sacred objects, including a vase with three stalks of white flowers a disheveled man, groaning and drooling, began to approach her. A wide swath in the crowd opened up around his chaotic movements. He stumbled and groaned and the woman shaman bent towards him and placed one stalk of the flowers into his hands. After a brief pause, the man returned to his angry and crazed moaning, and slapped the flowers against the stones, until they were shredded. The crowd began to part again, as the shaman walked through the people, stopping to stand in front of me. She placed her hands together with mine, looked me in the eyes and spoke Mayan words. She placed the second stalk of white flowers in my hands. I reflected at that moment my capability, every human beings capability, to be either shaman or madman, and the fine line that can separate these two. I was moved by her poise and compassion in this act of honor to these two lost souls.

I stood frozen and wide-eyed for several moments, transfixed and blessed. The woman quietly returned and wrapped the third stalk in a cloth and left the square. I looked at the flowers in my hand. They had a pure citrus like sweetness.

When I finally moved from my spot and rejoined my friends, I carried the flowers with the greatest care and love, as if they were a candle in the wind that might be extinguished with the slightest breeze. I felt profoundly moved yet also a deep sense of responsibility. I realized at that moment that I needed to stop running from myself, I needed to stop slapping my gift against the stones. I thought about music, about cello and the hard work of practicing. I thought about all the people who had told me with awe, how I had moved them with my playing. How gifted I was. I never believed this. I never felt I really was anybody special. But also, I was overwhelmed by the work required to be a cellist of any skill, the daily practice and devotion. Rejecting my gift felt easier than this work. In that square, I began to recognize that the gift was not my choice. Beauty had found me. It would keep finding me. What I did with it, THIS was my choice.

Six months later I returned to Oberlin and majored in music. I practiced and practiced and got into a masters and then a doctoral program in Boston. I became a professor and I became a performer. I became a cellist. Today, I do my best to care and honor my gift every day of my life, and to pass it on to others. It’s not always easy, but on that one day in the square of Mexico City, one white stalk of flowers, a madman and a shaman showed me the way.

Chasing Rainbows

As I am reflecting on another year coming to an end, and looking ahead to 2016, I’ve been thinking about one of my beloved cello teachers Leslie Parnas and how he used to warn me about chasing rainbows. He never said this within a context, so I didn’t completely know what he meant and I was too shy to ask him. Like any unanswered question from a mentor, this phrase has circled around in my head over the years. Did he think my dreams of being a professional musician were unrealistic? Or were these the regrets of an old man facing his death and coming to peace with his own choices? It seems to me, as a soloist with an international career, he must have chased enough of his own rainbows. In those rare moments when he spoke about his life, he always asked me if I’d heard of such and such a musician. His colleagues, it seems, were better than any pot of gold to him. His words return to me as I wonder: What does it mean to dream big, without losing ones footing with reality? It’s worse, I think, to not dream at all, for fear of failure. What really matters most in ones career? The people we connect with? The quality of the gigs? The music we play? The recognition we receive? Being compensated enough to pay our bills? The ability to keep growing?

Leslie Parnas had large, thick hands and rarely played in lessons. He challenged me to make choices about the way I played each note. The precision and detail of his listening was intimidating, but his words were wise and calming; there’s a certain peace in getting right down to the honest truth. I could feel the depth of his caring in each musical passage he untangled with me. He really left a lot of room for creative freedom with his students and challenged me to find my own voice. It was with him that I first learned and performed the Debussy Sonata. After my recital he came back stage and told me that I played it in a way he had never heard before. I could tell he meant this as a very high compliment. At the time I wished for some other compliment-that I had great skill, or my bowing was excellent. But he was right, I was a gifted performer, who needed to improve her practicing and technique.

Two weeks ago I did a video shoot with the same Debussy sonata at the WGBH Fraser Studio in Boston. A beautiful space and a great team with Antonio Oliart as engineer, Christopher DeSanty on video and my virtuosic polish pianist, Barbara Lysakowski. As we listened back in the control rooms, I approached it with that crystal clear honesty Parnas had taught me. The performance wasn’t perfect. But still, it was beautiful. Very Beautiful. It has come a long way since that first performance. Last week, practicing Bach 5th suite, I had the realization that I am currently the best cellist that I have ever been, both expressively and technically. I practice with much more patience and clarity than in my college years. I have more passion to share from life experience. And I know I haven’t peaked yet. How did this happen?

Video shoot

Among my successes, I also spent the last few years making numerous mistakes. I took the wrong kind of gigs, putting myself in positions that weren’t good for me. I overbooked, I underbooked. I worked with too many colleagues, or too few, or ones with clashing personalities and mismatched goals. I performed in underpaying concerts with too much driving. I aimed too high, I aimed too low. I chased a lot of rainbows that led me nowhere career wise, or even had me falling on my face a few times. And then this year I just said “enough!”. I spent several months musically alone. Three months without performing, without colleagues or audiences. Just me and my cello in the woods. I focused on practicing for the pure sake of being present with music. And I took a careful look at what I really wanted with my career. I began planning forward with this vision.

As a result, 2016 promises to be a year of deeply fulfilling and challenging performances, with incredible colleagues and nice venues. I created my schedule with care. And as more opportunities arise to fill 2016, I know I’ve finally learned the discernment needed to make good choices. But I don’t fear the bad choices either. Maybe they didn’t lead me to Carnegie Hall, yet, but they did bring me to where I stand today- the best cellist yet, with a clear vision for my future, and good gigs coming my way.

So my dear Parnas, while I do intend to move forward in a more thoughtful manner, I can’t promise that I won’t be tempted occassionally into chasing rainbows.  I can, however, promise that I will do my best to fill my practice room and concert halls with a myriad of colors and golden sounds I’ve gathered from the chase. Armed with that crystal clear listening you taught me, and my own courage to keep growing, I know at least these are rainbows I can call my own.

2016 concerts

(extra)Ordinary Concerts, Apple pie and Solitude

apple_pieThe fall colors seem extra brilliant this year. But I don’t think they are. This ordinary annual occurrence is extraordinary to me every year. I walked today down our little dirt road bathed in the slanted warm autumn light glowing through the bright hued canopy of leaves. The awesome beauty embraced me from head to toe. I felt joyous, like a cinnamon scented apple pie out of the oven, exuding sweetness and heat. I also felt a profound sense of solitude. In these woods, I was alone all day with my cello, my metronome, my tea, my potato leek soup, my dreams, my long dirt road, my house that smells of chimney soot when it rains, the dead leaves in the yard, the life everywhere pulling back into its roots. Then suddenly, next week, without much warning, I will be on stage, sparkling under the lights, surrounded by humanity, colleagues on stage, sounds of our hearts pouring out, people coughing, sighing, listening, not listening. There is a certain solitude in performance too. It takes courage to break the silence of the hall with imperfect passion, to be vulnerable and exposed. Surrendering to the exhilaration, the swirl of activity means surrendering to solitude while at the same time belonging 100% to humanity. This terrifies me regularly. This ordinary experience that I have had for over 15 years is still extraordinary. But with the fear also arises the potential for joy. Apple pies only get juicy when they bake in a hot oven. Here we go!