image  I wandered out to pick the final raspberries of the summer on a gorgeous fall day. Zeke sent me behind his house to blow off some steam. The editing had been getting intense. The sweetness of the berries consumed my attention. They were plump and almost past ripe, dark red, but just right, at least on that day. I intended to fill the Tupperware in my hand to share with Zeke and Alys, but instead I became intoxicated by their flavor and ended up with only a token handful to share. In a way I regretted this token. I wanted every last berry in this patch for myself. Not because I was being selfish but because I wanted to feel completely uninhibited in the pleasure of the moment. It’s only with great self control that I saved any. The idea of compromise and the brilliant blue of the sky brought me back to the task at hand, as the air filled with the sharp clarity of autumn brought on by the cool of evening descending.

After seven hours we still had more editing to do. We had reached a moment in our decision over a particular section in Rachmaninoff where the age old question of passion or precision emerged, a choice between a performance with sweep and character, or a slower more careful one with every note speaking exactly. This argument offered me the opportunity to discover my core values, but it also stirred up an ocean of passion. Since we were at an impasse we decided to revisit the question after a dinner break.

Mostly the editing had been going well in terms of team work, but the decisions were not always easy. Since so much is possible these days with technology, it’s hard to know when to draw the line. We can splice in single notes or reconstruct whole passages measure by measure. Since it’s easy to lose the character of the initial performance in the process of editing away things you don’t want, we had spent most of the day hunting for the takes that were mostly good and using them as whole as possible. But as we grew tired, one or the other of us started wonderIng about this slightly swooped note, a scratchy tone, a missed piano bass note, ensemble mishaps and the edits began to increase.

It’s humbling to listen to 15 hours several times over of a your playing and natural to start to get bugged by little imperfections. While it’s true we don’t want to distract our listeners with bloopers, how do we know when we are listening with the microscopic ears of editing that inevitably magnify everything, and when a note is truly out of tune enough to justify possibly breaking up the flow of the passage? Could I have the strength to hear my imperfections set in stone, repeated, reproduced and immortalized?

My mom told me when I was a child that when artists in Islamic countries weave rugs they intentionally leave an error so as not too offend Allah. I always loved this idea. When I was younger it gave me permission to be imperfect. As my values have shifted over the years I hear another message in this story- a reminder that when we offer our art in devotion to something larger than ourselves, whatever God we may serve, we walk away from the conversation all together of perfectionism. As a musician I do always strive for excellence, but It is only when fear of vulnerability or embarrassment or pride, narcissism and a lack of humility take charge that a need for perfection trumps my music making. When this happens the joy disappears and I am in a hungry relentless search for positive self reflection. It’s a dead end.

imageAs I stood in the raspberry patch that day, I became aware that I had shifted to a new place of comfort and the resulting courage to embrace my strengths and weaknesses. To step forward owning both my light and shadow. And in my heart I promised that I could indeed bear to hear my imperfections set in stone, repeated, reproduced and immortalized if the result would bring joy to people.

I returned inside with my meager harvest of raspberries. Nobody seemed to want them anyway, so I devoured the rest. We took a long dinner break, then returned to our listening. We found the best compromise possible, and several hours later, at last, we finished with our edits. I carried the marked score to my car like precious cargo to be mailed in the morning to our recording engineer. Alys followed me as we wound in the dark down the long Vermont dirt road.

Recording Light and Shadow

image image imageI woke up on a brisk September morning one day before my recording date to the cry of a Raven. The voice was so clear in my dream that I believed the bird was just over my head. Half asleep, I asked my husband why there was a Raven in the room. I took the morning very slowly and nurtured every part of my being, body, mind and heart which included very light practicing, a trip to the farmers market and for fun, Wes and I wandered down to Mikes Corn Maze. To my amazement, the theme of the maze, the games and quizzes, were all centered around the minds of animals, specifically Ravens and Crows. As I looked at the aerial photo of the giant corn Raven, I knew it would be an interesting few days. Ravens are known to many native tribes as the ‘keeper of secrets’. Their black color is linked to darkness, where unconscious fear resides. Their medicine is of transformation, offering us the strength to illuminate those dark areas of ourselves, release our fears, thus allowing the authentic self to sparkle. I couldn’t imagine a more appropriate omen for our Light and Shadow cd.

On Sunday, the first day of recording, I dreamt that I was surrounded by about a dozen bears. In the room with the bears was a very wise friend of mine. She was unafraid and so I too became comfortable with a room full of bears. I got up early and headed over to the beautiful Mechanics Hall, breathing and allowing the intense energy of anticipation to wash over me, staying calm and centered in the face of this bear of a project. This graceful calm followed me all day and we moved with relative ease through a large portion of the Poulenc Sonata, exceeding our goal for the first day. I was elated.

imageBut that night I barely slept. I was way over stimulated, and the music was circling around and around in my head. I deliriously awoke for the second day only to discover my arms were tight and tired and nothing felt predictable, and the adrenaline had worn off. No amount of coffee seemed to make a difference. I spent several hours missing shifts, playing insecurely and feeling the pressure of the wasted precious and expensive minutes bearing down on me. I was forced to look directly at my fear. Every note felt difficult, and the more I tried to “get it right”, the more tight my hands became and the worse it sounded. I twisted and turned to try to find the way out of my maze of insecurity. At last I suggested that we play the third movement of the Rachmaninoff Sonata. In that moment, I moved out of my head and into my heart. I thought of someone I love very dearly, who has gone through a very painful few years, and decided to internally offer this as a gift to him. All of that frustration and energy transformed into pure passion, compassion and I became swept up in emotion, the tears streaming down my face. The rest of the day flowed much better.

imageI nursed my arm with heat, ice, arnica and massage, insisted on sleep with sleepy time tea, and awoke the final recording day with energy and calm again. I found myself enjoying the gorgeous Rachmaninoff melodies, the glorious sound in the hall, and the kind hearted folks who were on the team with me. Joseph, our recording engineer, with his array of buttons. Our quiet page turner Diane. Our humble and patient engineer Zeke and of course, the poised Alys.


As the final hours drew near, we scrambled a bit to get everything we wanted, including wish list items. As the end of hour fifteen drew near, Alys suggested another take of the second movement of the Poulenc, as a benediction. As the opening chords sounded, time collapsed, and I felt the completion of cycle, from that moment on the plane when I first heard the Poulenc, after a painful family event, to this moment on this beautiful stage pouring my heart into the music, supported and held. I felt myself embrace that moment of pain in my life, my family, as memories of this family tragedy played like pictures in my mind, and poured into my hands. My heart opened wide and I began to sob with profound gratitude, relief, sadness, joy for this beautiful gift of music and life.

A tremendous outpouring of gratitude to all of you who have supported this project.


Recording project “Light and Shadow” : Avaloch Residency

Recording project Light and Shadow: Avaloch Residency

After releasing a cricket rescued from my studio back into the grass to rejoin the chorus of chirping, I find myself in my favorite Avaloch spot, sipping a sweetened and milky cup of coffee on the large porch overlooking flowers and a field, in a luxurious rocking chair. I soak up those late summer smells of goldenrod, ripening apples and mown grass, admiring the echinacea flowers in several hues in their final bloom, their leaves touched with brown from the chilly mornings. The fall hovers in the near future and so does our recording date. But I linger, like this afternoon August sun, hoping that some still radiance will call forth an effortless ripening and mastery after hours of intensive rehearsal and practice.

imageI reflect on the residency so far. Its been 6 days of 6-8 hours of work on the recording project pieces. With some evenings eating pistachios with new friends on the Avaloch porch inventing sonnets and reciting poetry. Alys and I explored and debated each moment of music, studying the score, singing our parts, determining the pacing, the articulation. Sometimes we were on a fun adventure, and sometimes we found ourselves struggling against technical limitations. We compromised when we disagreed, recording and listening to different options then choosing one, both able to admit it when we were mistaken or misguided. We put on the metronome and slowly increased the speed in certain passage, one notch at a time. Some of the work arose from the particular challenges of the pieces, but the most profound growth arose as the rehearsals slowly revealed the inevitable differences in musical personality.

It takes incredible courage to allow the uncovering of the differences and edges of each others personalities and how they find their way into the music and may limit us. Its easy to want to blame or run and hide. Shining a light in the shadow can be very scary.
As the week unfolded, Alys and I did our best to be gentle, kind and patient navigating these tense places between us, using compromise, space, and compassion. I watched myself grow and change, in that achingly slow pace that real growth happens. I celebrated inside. Ive been asking for this, as a cellist, as a person. Craving that next step yet resisting it a bit too, as the sweetness of apples is brought forth by the frost, a certain letting go is required for ripening, a death of that same summers warmth that gave the fruit its form. Sometimes we wish for that eternal summer, but here in New England a crisp sweet apple, or even a tart one, and the vibrant colors of fall have taught us the value of frost.

After my afternoon coffee, more hard work, we reflect together with other ensembles over delicious plates of food made by Avalochs fabulous chef Will Gamble. The apple crisp sweetens away the hard work. It is also refreshing and a relief to hear others struggling in similar ways. Our conversation lightens and brings insight to our shared yet separate experiences. We plan a workshop after dinner. Alys and I perform several movements for our newly found friends and colleagues, to put our hard work to the test. We share an open discussion of suggestions and feedback, and gave feedback to our friends when the play. Acronym, a baroque ensemble also in residence, returns from a day of recording. The evening transforms into an improvisation jam session consisting of two harps, an electronic instrument, saxophone, myself on cello and Alys on piano. Others weave in and out. I feel all the hard work melting away as I throw myself into pure responsiveness and spontaneity to those around me, making all sorts of sounds and rhythms, being a support for others, then bursting forth with a melodic solo. Across our ensembles, without written notes or worries, we connect in a language we all know, with music that never has been heard before and will never be heard again. I feel completely free, and completely connected in each moment to those around me, to the music to my cello. A beautiful ending to our week at Avaloch.

Rome in a Day

Rome in a Dayimage image image image

The shaded stone steps of the Basilica S. Agostino still radiate heat from the day and a pigeon pecks at the crumbs from my gelato cone. My legs ache from walking miles over cobblestones in winding zigs and zags and sometimes circles. From the river at the Trastevere shopping district I made an almost complete circle of the center city. I meandered to the Pantheon, the Trevi fountain, the Spanish Steps, then over to the Piazza del Popolo, then a quick subway ride to the Coliseum. I walked around the Forum, over through the park of the Domus Aurea, then back to the Trevi fountain, finally resting here in Piazza di S. Agostino not far from the Pantheon.

I notice a tourist with a guide book heading behind me into the Basilica. With curiosity, I poke my head through the doors. I am enticed into the sanctuary by breathtaking beauty and the relief of cool air. The interior is made entirely of rose, blue, cream and black marble, with bright blue vaulted ceiling, white sculpted figures of angels, gold decorations and magnificently painted frescos in soft pastel hues. It’s easy to imagine in the time, before air conditioning and modern living, especially in the heat of the Italian summer, that I might fall to my knees in religious ardor in such a luxurious and soothing architectural embrace. The structure naturally sends me forward to the alter, a point of focus at the intersection of the cross that makes up the floor plan. I muse at the display of wealth, and the blessing of the Church in supporting centuries of great artists and art work, as well as the preservation of numerous ancient structures. But I also think of what was repressed and replaced with the growth of the patriarchal religion.
Even so, in this city that is the seat of the Roman Catholic church, an unconquered architectural homage to pre-Christian religion has rested at the center of the city for over 2,000 years.

The Pantheon is the gem of Rome, with an immense dome that is the largest such structure made of brick, without supports. Modern architects admit they’d be hard pressed to recreate such a thing. The dome suggests the top of a perfect globe which could rest inside the vast expanse of the building, and at the very top of the dome a large oculus, or opening, bathes the large interior with soft light. This opening must have served a practical, as well as symbolic, purpose. Around the parameter of the space, the same width, 142 feet, as the height to the oculus, are alters in numerous directions.

I’ve read about the superimposing of Christian myths and rituals over the old religions as a way to convert, but never have I seen it demonstrated so poignantly as in the Pantheon, renamed the church of Saint Mary and the Martyrs by the Roman Catholic Church. I notice the name didn’t stick. Perhaps I am reading something into this here, but the metaphor of the feminine seems pretty blatantly illustrated by the vast womb like space with a opening. Only, this womb births us into the heaven, out of our earthly womb. In the context of this architectural metaphor, the 2,000 years of superimposed dedication to Christian martyrs, statues, an alter, relics, seem completely superfluous. The feminine principle overpowers, an unwavering truth beneath the surface attempts to mask or reattribute the spiritual symbols. A plaque suggest the structure was a temple dedicated to Venus and Mars, and the emperor, created using Pythagorean principles.

Strangely, superfluous or not, the mixed in Christianity somehow doesn’t clash, the through line of feminine spirituality finds expression in the abundance of paintings and sculptures throughout Italy, dedicated to the biblical Mary. Paintings of her often pictured alone, as well as with the Christ child in her arms. Sometimes she is pictured standing, in blue and red with the glow around her. It’s not difficult to imagine the funneling of the sacred feminine, the goddess devotion, into the image of Mary, and then also, Mary as mother, virgin and mother of the divine, or perhaps goddess religions also, in a way, as mother to Christianity itself.

I wouldn’t mind however, seeing this structure as it originally was, without bleeding statues of Jesus, the creepy relics and images of martyrs. There are thousands of Churches, why not one temple without martyrdom and masculine superiority? We could raise our eyes to the blazing and beautiful light above and imagine the soul of the sun and blue sky radiating into our hearts. We could clasp hands with flanking community members, connecting around a circle of hundreds, maybe thousands. From within the safety of this round, spacious, sunbathed temple, we could stand in a balanced devotion to the principles of inclusivity, enlightenment and community, the balance of separate and together, masculine and feminine. Interestingly, while standing in this way the posture of each body takes the shape of a cross. But I digress.

I’m back on the streets of Rome looking for a stylish present for my husband. Its a good place to be stylish. Romans are beautiful, they dress impeccably and do urbanism with much more artistry than Americans. Even the middle aged man on the park sleeping on the bench is stylish, as he nods off, he cools his sweaty foot by resting it on top of his leather shoe. But it’s gritty here too. At the corner of Dior and Gucci a dark skinned man roasts chestnuts, a line of street vendors with purses race down the street hotly pursued by caribinieri, while tourists lick multi colored cones of gelato with disinterest. The oppressive heat makes us indifferent and sends us flocking into Gelaterias and to cool alleyways with misting, umbrella covered tables. I find myself wandering, half delirious, among the crowds, caught in a wave of walking humanity, looking for a cool place to rest. Gelateria di Roma boasts 150 flavors, and I brave the multilingual crowds, catching snippets of German, French and English, to march proudly out with two scoops, coffee and lemon. It’s not very good Gelato, not silky and smooth, but it is cool and sweet. The open doors of air conditioned shops cool me in intervals as I wander to Piazza Novano, where a large shaded fountain draws admirers.

After hours of walking, I eagerly devour a bag of fresh yellow plums and apricots. As the sun descends I shower and rest my feet, looking forward to my last supper in Italy. Ciao bella.

Dolce Vita


We toast with aperitifs overlooking the piazza, my drink with Campari, a thin slice of orange and ice is surprisingly refreshing in the heat of July in Siena. The four of us span many cultures and countries and speak seven languages between us. But at the moment we are keeping an Italian tradition of afternoon rest away from the midday sun. The day is indeed blazing hot with a hazy blue sky setting off the 13th century sandy colored buildings. As I swallow a delicious antipasto I gaze at Torre del Mangia tower in front of me, named after the bell ringer whose laziness “ate the profits”. The tower and the Duomo are equal height, an intentional architectural reflection of the medieval desire for balance between civic and religious life.

The narrow winding streets and ancient buildings are a walking museum of medieval Tuscany. After our drinks we wander into shoe shops that smell of leather, stores brightly colored pottery, curious corner markets with sausages hanging in the window. The mundane and profound mix in a maze of arches and narrow streets. Earlier we found ourselves at the Duomo. The grandeur rendered me speechless. This enormous cathedral is supported by a row of zebra striped black and white marble pillars, filled with gorgeous painted frescos, one by Michelangelo, and bathed in rich blue and red light from stained glass windows. Outside, a flamboyant violinist plays on the street corner accompanied by a recording of the Swan and a street vendor sells T-shirts, hats and other souvenirs.

Surrounded by Russian musicians on the patio back at the hotel, another bottle of wine, fruit and dirty jokes are passed around for hours. I’m surrounded by four pianists who argue about the recent competition winners and the judges and who is the newest, greatest talent. My eyes glaze. The violist, who has performed with many of the greats, immediately saves the party by returning to dirty jokes. The laughter is hearty and unabashed. For once my boisterous laugh doesn’t sound above the crowd, but blends. I seem to be an honorary Russian tonight. After a successful performance of French music, Ravel and Debussy on a poor Italian/Chinese cello with a Russian pianist in a one thousand year old Italian church, we are celebrating. Russians love to laugh, and laugh and laugh. There is never enough of laughter or drinking, and we do so into the morning hours. My brief russian study in high school of Russian Folk songs and the Russian version of “who stole the cookie from the cookie jar?” affords me the opportunity to add to the merriment. They are amused at my accent and knowledge. “This is why she plays so well” Yuri shouts, “Russian school!”. But mostly the humor has a darker and dirtier edge, and tragedy descents briefly as the older generations reflect on the soviet era. Then this too becomes a joke and the laughter rings again.

The Italians and Russians both have a great sense of humor. But it is very different. One is light, quick and filled with irony and amusement. The other, dark, complex and large, boisterous, filled with tragedy and comedy all in one. Powerful and resilient, and from the belly. I’ve heard more Chinese and Russian from fellow musicians in this festival than Italian. But our common ground are the Tuscan hills and three hundred years of music from a dozen cultures. I spend my days surrounded by people, at meals, at coachings, in the spa baths, at concerts.

Only once I find myself alone, but I am still surrounded by community. In the Tuscan hill town of Sante Fiore I dine on chestnut filled Tortelli (large tortellini) with local mushrooms. The family at the table next to me offer me a glass of wine. The ristorante is filled with the music of the Italian cultures. Wine bottles line shelves against the wall. Families sit for hours as plate after plate arrives. Even the children sound colorful and musical when they speak. I find beauty around every corner here, not beauty in a precious or overly intense form, but blossoming effortlessly in the full enjoyment of life, effusive and generous. Integrated into the fabric of every day. The stone buildings feel like they have grown out of the land itself, and even flowers bloom between the ancient stones in the streets in splashes of fuchsia. In one moment, briefly, I felt overwhelmed with the fullness of it all. Something in me felt I could lose myself in sensuousness. It is true, time turns in all directions here, the antique with the modern, the hours like minutes filled with the small pleasures like the foam of a cappuccino, or almond biscotti dipped in sweet wine, or the rolling hills covered with vineyards. The Bus schedule is more poetic and hypothetical than precise, they only arrive when they are in the right mood to, after asking for a bill it could be another 20 minutes, and people smoke at will wherever they please. But in a way, it doesn’t matter here. Italians have mastered the art of pleasure to the point of mysticism, and perhaps because the abundant land and history, rather than indulgence, their way seems to be a generous celebration of life in all moments. Instead of losing myself, I find I sink deeper into my body, my humanity, my heart, and the tears well up spontaneously, and oh how very, very Italian of me!


Brave Women in the Jungle with No Map

I am beginning to realize my life is no longer on the map. Or certainly not on the media map. I scroll through netflix: story about a male hero finding his destiny; a cute Rom Com about an ambitious young woman who finally comes to her senses and settles down to the real work of having a family, now that she’s found the absolute perfect man who has won her over; a cautionary tale about an older woman who is a power hungry and ambitious cold bitch; an action flick with a skillful female sidekick, who nonetheless either defers to her male partners or rebels and ends up suffering.

After fifteen minutes of looking, my husband heaves an annoyed sigh. What was I looking for? I wanted a movie with a female protagonist whose gifts are rewarded and honored by society, who is the center of the story, who has dreams and visions of greatness, who knows she has a destiny, an important role to play in the world that doesn’t have to do with children,or supporting a man in his greatness. Yes, I know! Why should I expect this from Hollywood? On the other hand, is it me, or have the female roles become even more narrow than they were just ten years ago? Or maybe as a younger woman I took for granted the freedom and power afforded me by my beauty and age, and now that I’m closing in on my forties…?

All of my accolades and achievements were fine for a young woman, because we have an acceptable narrative in our culture now for late childbearing, and super educated working moms. But there’s an unspoken assumption that at some point I would get down to the most important work a woman can do, and that this would take a central role in my life. While I don’t wish to dismiss or undermine the value in motherhood, or those who make this central in their path, or ignore those women who bravely try to have it all, I cant help but wonder, children or not, why is it still so taboo that a woman should wish to continue to follow her dreams passed her 30s, 40s and beyond? Do we not wish to have women in positions of leadership in the public sphere?

As the years passed and I have now reached my late 30s, even my family seems a bit confused. They no longer had a narrative to understand me in the context of our society. I cant find myself either. A nun? Nope, married. A whore? Nope, too much integrity. An ambitious cold power hungry business woman who is disconnected from her femininity? The shoe doesn’t fit. A kept woman? No, I work hard and help pay the bills. The virgin queen, the evil step mother, the 13th fairy, the witch. No, no, no and no? Well, maybe, but a good one! Maybe I’m just a diva? But why does that have a negative connotation?

In truth, this is nothing new. I have always been a free spirit who charts her own course. And I have always been ambitious. As with all things, there are many sides to the passion I have for my work. As I have been having conversations with my friends and family, I have found the words to articulate and begin to explain my ambition, my passion. Since I can’t find a story that tells mine, I will tell my own, and share the deepest insights I have so far discovered about my work, for the record, and for those who may resonate with my story.

I knew for sure when I was a teenager. I was lying on my back watching the shafts of sunlight filter through the trees above me. My boyfriend and I were talking about our dreams and hopes. In that moment the sparkling wholeness of my life filled me with vibrant and nonnegotiable unfolding. I was not aware of a wish or a dream for a certain specific future. Instead, I felt myself sip from the vast basin of my own souls destiny. Destiny as both a force of my own willful breathing forth the promise of the full manifestation of my gift, and the surrender to a force beyond my knowing working through me. My boyfriend beside me at the time, witnessed and validated my knowing, he felt the brightness of my future. Yet, despite his presence, I found myself utterly alone, though  rich and complete in that solitude. When the premonition left, I was engulfed in an almost unbearable desire for greatness, overwhelmed by what I must do, and so were sown the hungry seeds of my ambition.

Flash forward twenty some years. A Doctorate, a professorship, a performance career, but I’m not done. I’ve checked for high testosterone. My levels are actually on the slightly low side. These days the daily meditation of practice, and teaching, and refining my craft focuses and soothes the intensity of ambition. In performance, I find moments, even hours of rapture and peace. But when I walk off the stage, maybe a day passes, a few, and I know, I have not done enough. Not for fame or fortune or narcissistic reasons, though sometimes I imagine these might fill me, but because that basin of the human soul is still more vast than what I have shared. I used to imagine that by now my ambition would ease, that success, or a Doctorate, or money might fulfill me, but it has only grown, along with, ironically, my sense of completeness. I feel what was a trickle of ambition has become a river. And the seeds of potential, they are now full grown trees with blossoms, with ripening fruit whose sweetness I can begin to savor. I sensed this ripeness as a teenager, I am now tasting it.

Here lies the paradox of my musical life. The desire to connect to and translate an immense and limitless energy, forms the deepest meaning of my life, yet also means that I will never arrive. The desire for greatness is really one way of experiencing and achieving a sense of oneness. Greatness is not an end point, but a journey with no end, so the desire for greatness is only half the equation. I feel this fullness of harvest when my passion for greatness has driven me to a point of mastery that allows me to surrender to the flow of the music. Without the drive I could not surrender. But without surrendering, there is no arrival. These moments are the place where the masculine and feminine become one, and that is when creation happens, when something from soul manifests in the physical realm. As the vessel for this integration, I am at once utterly alone, and yet one with all of humanity, and the joy is without words. I am both impassioned and in peace. All of that yearning has brought me to a place of surrender where greatness can find me. When parents have told me the utter bliss of looking into the face of their newly born child, the love that is indescribable, I tell them, I know this love, or at least something like it.

Despite all appearances, I’m not obsessed. I love to hike, to cook, I do yoga, I spend lots of time with my husband, I play with my nephews, and I enjoy movies. Well, sort of.  My life is really pretty amazing! I am a living narrative of a woman whose work is the central passion of her life, who is trying to avoid exploitation, and be careful about all those who unconsciously or consciously fear her power. I forge ahead,  despite the false projections I experience from some, and follow my instincts and my heart. I try to embrace my power while also being vulnerable and compassionate.

I want to count my blessings as they are numerous. I have a loving husband, many people who value and recognize my talent, wonderful colleagues and students. And best of all, lately, more women mentors have begun to appear in my life. Women with stories who have gone before me in making their work central to their lives. Some are mothers, some are lesbians, some are single, some married. All are middle aged or elderly and they seem to have appeared to help me create my own map and share their stories, and to support me. And looking back I realize they have always been there. Teachers, musical mentors and most of all, my own mother, whose power and courage in her life and work has always guided me, and whose support and love on my journey is priceless. At last, here is a narrative about women that fits my life! We have always been good at working together and building community around our work. Now, we can support each other to make the choices that are right for us, to find our power, to have unique voices, to chart our own courses, to be independent and leaders in the world.

It’s frightening but also kind of exhilarating, like a wild adventure. I am an explorer in my own life! I can’t find my map on netflix, but I can be guided by the stars, the paths through the jungle, my own heart, and those brave women who have gone before me, whose stories, maybe one day, will be told, not just behind closed doors, or Facebook, but on the big screen!

The Fairtrade, Humanely raised, Sustainable, Locally Grown Cellist…hopefully

This writing is interrupting my morning practice session. It was a particularly good session; I was savoring each note of the scales and slides in the Piazzolla Grand Tango and finally discovering exactly how I wanted to execute the glissando slides into the second note of a leap. But flashes of inspiration kept zipping through me like lightening, and I have had the insight from a young age to listen to these calls and to trust them. What emerges often isn’t exactly a perfect poem or piece of prose, but the very authentic voice of my experience, an act of self reflection that synthesizes and makes meaning out of the chaos of my life. I make no assumption that my self narrative has any necessary value to others. I post this in case you are curious. If I were a professional writer, I might edit and polish all of this, but, like my cooking, my writing offers an opportunity for my soul to breath in a moment of improvised, unedited creativity. With no one paying for these words or morsels, I can be unfettered and unburdened by responsibility. So, you can stop reading now if you like, and dinner is not obligatory! It makes no difference to me. This is that joyous for me!

I have time now to pick the daisies of my mind, to admire the day lilies in my yard and savor the abundance of what each moment brings. I love this. I really, really love this!This is the artist in me. The imaginative, colorful, free spirit that has always been there admiring and reflecting on the world with unabashed delight. This is the part of me that tosses together a dish without measuring, Italian style, with dashes and handfuls of this and that, and somehow the flavors are always just right; bold, spicy and full. Or you might find me simmering bones for hours, tasting and adjusting a Vietnamese Pho stew until it has just the right complex combination of dark and bright flavors, anise, cinnamon, lime and chili.

And yes, this is the part that savors each note in the sensuous and rhythmically driving sounds of a Tango and could do so for hours upon hours given the luxury. Or that might also wander off into some colorful soul garden and not necessarily come back for a long time. I can be that weird. Which makes grateful that as a musician I am only part artist. I am also equal parts athlete and diplomat. The physical and technical aspect of playing the cello requires repetition, patience and clarity of ideas while the fact that people pay for my playing brings an element of care and intention to my work. And then the fun part is that I get to be with people in my creative moments, I get to search for something universally human in my work. My creativity becomes a bridge, my music a conversation and this is most profound and meaningful at the end of the day.

BUT…the interesting thing I learned this year is that without the artist the diplomat and the athlete become completely pointless. The curse of success. As I have become more engaged in the professional world with an abundance of concerts, I have discovered that the artist is probably the least supported of these three characters in my field, but the most missed when she isn’t there. In a grand effort towards financial viability I performed close to 50 concerts this year. The athletic part of my musicianship thrived and developed. The diplomat too enjoyed the many connections with audiences and colleagues, the publicity and the growth of reputation. But the artist, she suffered. She really suffered! As I stumbled gaunt and exhausted through my final concerts in June I felt depleted in a way I had never experienced before. The curse of success.

I carved out three whole weeks without concerts. I didn’t really know what I needed. But I stumbled my way back to myself by cooking, planting lots of flowers and restorative yoga. Something in me wanted to slow down. Slow way way down. I’d lie in a yoga pose for 10 minutes and it didn’t feel like enough.

When I moved to our little house in the hills of Western MA my urban oriented colleagues wondered how I would make a living as a cellist. I didn’t care. I knew that the artist in me would not survive without the twitter of birds at dusk, the wild blueberry bushes or the delicate sound of falling snowflakes. As I write this I am watching bumble bees collecting pollen off of the purple colored phlox in my garden. The flowers are swaying in the breeze. No, I didn’t practice that shift 10 more times, but I will have time to tomorrow. Now I am collecting colors, moods sensations, experiences so that when I play that super delicate moment in the Ravel, it will be as gentle as that bee on the flower. My diplomat keeps the artist from wandering off, but the athlete and the diplomat both take orders from the artist. It works best this way. Then they work on translation; making the artistic delivery most comfortable and beautiful. When the sensitive artist, who needs lots of time and space to be heard, gets lost in the dizzy of concerts, the music becomes a bunch of black dots on the page, the concert an exercise.

I find it takes courage to center myself around a self and a home that most people speed by. And some people miss what I bring. More and more I am becoming okay with this. To contribute something truly meaningful an artist needs to go just beyond where others feel comfortable going themselves, and sometimes this means risking rejection, or being feared. Slowing down, way down.

Being a musician sometimes means risking not being financially rewarded properly for ones work, not playing enough concerts to pay the bills. Or playing so many that you lose touch with your soul. Its tough, really really tough. But its also incredibly juicy.

Ultimately this exploration seems timely to me. As I examine this balance of overextending vs becoming lost in a self obsessed lost in self obsessed musing, it strikes me as a pertinent modern narrative; a core question we face as a culture. How do we embrace all of the ambition and hustle of modernization, profit, efficiency without losing touch with that deepest voice of nature, or self without becoming dehumanized? We can’t and shouldn’t go back so some kind of innocent tribal living. Forward needs to be forward. It seems we are beginning to explore the creation of healthy companies, sustainable, fair trade, locally grown, organic etc.

I want to be part of this solution simply by finding this balance in my own life, by being my own sustainable, local fair trade musician. Standing here right at this intersection, it’s a great vantage point. Luckily, I have the financial where with all, and had the insight to follow this inner artists voice when I did lose connection. And I am blessed also with recognition and success. Its a luxury to be able to explore this intersection between self and society. As such, I am determined that when I figure this out, I will be a bridge for others; reminding my fellow citizens of vast inner worlds with also a growing engagement with the outer world, that sometimes it is time to slow down and be in beautiful stillness, and sometimes we need to wake up from our creative day dreams and join the world in a conversation.

Speaking of which, its time for me to head back to practicing! The world is calling.


Slow and subtle change, when it reaches a saturation point, can all at once feel sudden and unexpected, but really it is a gradual process of transformation that is ignored until ignoring becomes impossible. This is how I awakened to the need for a new bow; slowly and then suddenly and urgently all at once. For ten years I tolerated the slightly wirey sound on the A string, the lack of connection through notes, the way the bow didn’t quite grab the string, and the brightness of the sound in general because I assumed these were my own technical faults to be improved. I assumed the aggressive quality of my accents were my own musical personality tendencies. I worked extremely hard and transcended these limitations day after day and hour after hour in my desire to improve. It never crossed my mind that these limitations were anything other than my own short comings as a musician. Instead I learned how to ask the most from the bow that it could give. The truth is it was both the bow and myself that were responsible for the results I was getting. And when I first chose the bow, these qualities were attractive to me.

The first clue came when a fellow cellist played on my cello and he got that same pressed sound in the upper register that I had struggled with.  I had colleagues make subtle comments after concerts about my bow, and though many people commented on the warmth of my tone, I noticed in recordings a certain edge to the sound that bothered me.

A conductor related to me over drink how a cellist colleague of his had recently taken out a second mortgage on his house to purchase a fine old French bow costing in the tens of thousands. The conductor related to me how he was himself quite skeptical, but in listening without knowing which bow was the French one had been blown away by the difference in tone. At the time I scoffed at the notion of plunking down such a fortune for a mere piece of wood. It seemed completely narcissistic and reckless to throw so much money into a bow, all simply for a better sound. I also had the very valuable belief that it isn’t what we have, but what we do with what we have that makes the difference. Part of me wondered secretly if this man was making up for a lack of technique with a fancy bow. I prided myself in believing that the instrument didn’t matter. I could do anything with my modestly priced American bow.

In defense of my good old bow, it is very finely crafted and has been quite adequate for many years with much clarity and grit. While of course there are varying levels of quality of wood and craftsmanship in bows, and very expensive great old bows stand out, the key seems to be in picking the best bow to match both the personality of the cello and the cellist. Even the best of bows can sound crummy on certain cellos.  And some bows in the high price range are more desirable as collectible items, antique objects of beauty with gold and tortoise shell and pernambuco.

As I began to experiment with bows and consider what I was looking for, I had the opportunity to reflect on how I had developed in ten years as a  musician that had brought me to this place of needing a different bow, and how, only two years after that discussion with the conductor,  I have now found myself on the other side of the fence doing my best to explain to family and friends the value of a fine bow and why my career and my musicianship deserve such an investment. While my budget for bows is not nearly at the level of the doubly mortgaged cellist, the price for moderately fine bows is enough to raise some eyebrows.

Since our values are so wrapped up in how we spend our money, this hunt for a bow has revealed some cultural expectations for a woman at my age and place in my career. Shouldn’t my ambition be diminishing and my focus be turning towards having a family? Why can’t I simply accept my place in a more subordinate role in my field?  With some of these questions explicitly and implicitly stated, it occurred to me, with a certain sadness, that few would question the exorbitant cost associated with raising a child, if this was something I chose. I do not mean to discredit the value of parenting and the cost associated with raising children. However, I did wonder why I suddenly found myself being judged for wanting to invest in a much -less-expensive-than-a-child cello bow, a tool not only valuable for everyday use, but that can also be a good financial investment as they appreciate in value. I was puzzled.

Describing the profound and subtle changes that can happen as a musical voice transforms over time is no easy task, especially in having awareness and articulateness about this journey I am on. It is even more challenging to explain to a non musician why having the ability to grow and develop as an artist, (something a fine and well matched bow provides), above some more practical needs, deserves financial investment. As a creative artist, I find my development as a human being deeply tied to my art and as I transform, so does my music, while in turn my music transforms me. My artistry reflects but also shapes this new voice that is emerging, and this transformation is nothing less than a profound shift in my identity and my relationship to the world.

From a very young age and certainly during my Doctorate I operated from an unconscious notion that I needed to work hard to achieve my goals. While certainly this work ethic will always be a part of my being, something recently has shifted towards a place of mastery, integration, belonging and a desire to discover my deepest and most true voice and power beyond the decades of musical training, and some of the personality characteristics I have needed to take on in order to come as far as I have in my career. This change has necessarily translated into a quality of action that means moving towards my dreams in a more gentle, persistent and intelligent fashion. The hard work is still there, but there is more joy and awareness rather than brute force of will in the process of music making.

Five years ago I broke out of my Doctoral shell, and, in response to years of academic structures and discipline, needed to find my wild unfettered musical voice and to be left alone. I needed to feel free, to be bold and loud. The edginess of my bow suited me with the bright and forceful intensity of emergence.  Now my voice has aged as I have, and grown richer and more gentle, though the wildness is still there. I crave the community of ideas, flexibility and clarity of intention.

It is an incredible notion to believe that I can be myself and at home in the midst of such a tremendous tradition as classical music is, and within the brutally competitive field of music. But I believe it is not only possible but absolutely necessary for long term joy and success. As a natural leader, and as a woman, finding my place and my voice has had some interesting challenges. There have been times of loneliness and pain when I have had to fight to achieve my goals because of my gender and the consequent notions about my abilities or value. In retrospect I realize now that I took on a certain quality of aggressiveness to push through those tough places, choosing force over resignation. It has taken some conscious effort to soften this hardness of spirit. Additionally, with few female role models, how to have the courage to be successful, powerful and a leader as a woman. With mostly male teachers, though wonderful teachers I might add, I have had to teach myself more than just the practical aspects of adjusting techniques to smaller hands, but also finding my own voice.

My search for a bow is intimately tied to my search for a voice. As many bows have been moving through my life in the past three weeks, I have “blind tested’ dozens, not wishing to be persuaded by name or price. I have always ended up with a French bow. There is a quality of dark warmth, but also clarity and precision that makes these stand out. My old bow is bright, stiff and edgy. It cuts through with a fierce directness. Some bows I have tried are too flexible and I can’t articulate well. Other bows ride on top of the string and it is challenging to create a flowing and connected sound. My favorite so far is a bow from late 19th century Mirecourt region of France. It has a richness of tone that caught my attention the moment I drew the first note. I spent a week exploring the nuances and characteristics of which the bow was capable, and determined by the end of the week that this bow would be my teacher. Everything that I asked of the bow it could offer, and even sometimes I felt it magnified moments when I was careless in my expression. With this bow my cello voice became powerful, but wise, nuanced and delicate, dark complex and warm.

Is this the perfect bow? Of course not. Could I find the perfect bow?  Maybe if I had $100,000 to spend. But this Miracourt bow has much to offer and would be a big step up for me. With this or another equally fine bow I would still find limitations and have to work to transcend them. And it would take me time to adjust my playing to a very different tool. In the end, what matters most is whether or not this bow or any bow will allow my deepest and clearest voice to begin to emerge. As I approach the time to make a decision, I know one thing for sure, I will keep my old bow, as I will keep some of the fierce brightness of my earlier self. After all, they got me to where I am today.


The color of success

As I looked in the mirror at my slowly drying hair, it was distressing to discover that the image reflecting back at me was not that of the young, beautiful woman with lovely auburn locks pictured on the hair dye box, but a frazzled looking thirty-something with a mop of split ends that was beginning to take on a sickly dark maroon hue. Something had truly gone awry. My husband pointed out that at least it had not turned green like Anne in Anne of Green Gables. Under certain circumstances his tendency to focus on the worse case scenario can take on a comforting quality. What he might have missed in his concrete male mind was an unfolding identity crisis of a larger order than whether or not I wanted to be a brunette, a red head or plum head.

Persistent hard work and dogged publicity have finally begun to manifest into growing recognition and support for my music. I have had a growing number of concerts, often with better pay and lots of support from local papers. Last week I had a glowing preview of my concerts and an interview, with a feature and photo shoot, all translating into the possibility of real attendance for upcoming concerts. But instead of being excited, I was feeiling petrified and under pressure.

Three days and two hair color incarnations later as I sat across from my dear friend at an outside table at Bistro Les Gras sipping a delicious French pinot noir not far from the color of my hair, she lovingly laughed at my neurosis. She leaned forward with a twinkle in her eye, and with her usual insightful directness, she nailed it: “you’re afraid of success!”.

Her comment made me realize that I strongly identify with a hard-scrabble, hard knock life, the resilience, courage and persistence of character that have necessarily become a large part of my career personality. But at the same time I crave a better life and the kind of recognition that could bring me financial stability. Maybe I do not sport the green hair that Anne of Green Gables bought from the peddler on the street to try to hide her carrot colored locks, but I do share some of her orphan identity in my relationship my place in the music world, and her struggle to feel loveable in her authentic self. I am all too familiar with the strange hues my hair and my person can take on as I inadvertently contort myself in response to other peoples projections or expectations of me. I can relate to the sense of confusion and identity shift experienced by the other orphan, orphan Annie, as her fortune changed.

While it is humbling to discover my fear of success, in seeming contradiction to my strong diva-like ambition, it all makes sense when I redefine success by what it means to me on the core level; namely the ability and opportunity to be able to continue to grow as a musician, and to share this journey with others. From this perspective, it isn’t exactly success that I fear, but rather the external pressures and distractions that might take me away from this journey of musical connection and growth. As it turns out, protecting this authentic musical experience also fuels my drive for recognition and financial support, because, after all, getting a day job would be pretty distracting to my musical development.

The orphan story shows us that the authentic character has incredible resilience regardless of external circumstances, and reminds us that recognition or lack of recognition, money or lack of money, are equally auxiliary to who we truly are, but also equally challenging and distracting to the purpose of our true selves. We can undertake extraordinary changes in circumstances and still be ourselves, or be disconnected and neurotic no matter how much support we receive.

As I have travelled on this musical journey I have always managed to find my way back to my core, though it has not always been easy. So I find comfort in recognizing that if my music and self survived and even thrived in times where I have not had adequate support, recognition, or community, there is no reason it should not continue to do so with ample support, recognition and financial abundance. The music will be there, as it always has been, as a beautiful constant, just the way my musical voice will shine through, as I span 300 years of stylistic musical changes, from Bach to Hecker and Bach again. Behind this musical rainbow is the light of my true self, illuminating the prism of our humanity, powerful and compassionate enough to embrace orphans with green hair and purple-headed cellists with good publicity.

Three days after the third hair dying attempt, as I walked down the street with my Mom, I pointed out hair colors, still awkward with the color on my head, and looking for my right shade. I admired the red and blonde hair, yet was strangely drawn to the simple brown with gold highlights. “What color do you think I should go?” I asked her. “I like your natural brown” she said. There is nothing like the love of a mother to remind us who we truly are! Two hours later she sat beside me as a sweet Puerto Rican American stylist skillfully put layers into my newly dyed hair. The color that began to emerge was a medium brown, nothing exotic or flashy, but very close to my own natural color. As I looked in the mirror I saw a radiantly joyful and beautiful woman with rich dark hair that matched her skin tone perfectly. It looked beautiful. Something in me shifted and I felt calm and at home.

I mused at the expense, agony and time spent on colors, only to end up right where I would be, naturally. What a long and arduous journey it can be for us to simply “be ourselves”. Sometimes, as in my case, we want to be any color other than what is most natural to us. In my practice room I have many “natural” bad habits that I work to undo, and I sometimes need to set aside my own musical personality to really take on the character of a work. This physical drilling allows for the final and most important process of natural mastery, which allows me to breathe my own life into the music and blend my own voice with that of the composer. At last, as I walk out on stage, I don’t go out as a diva, as an orphan, as Jaqueline Du Pre or Yo Yo Ma, but as Rebecca and Brahms, with plain old brown hair. The color of my success is whatever my color naturally is. All of this not only takes a lot of work before the performance, but psychologically requires a tremendous amount of strength to know that I don’t have to be more than who I am. often I need to resist the urge to hide my vulnerability behind a false sense of inadequacy, glamour or defensiveness. Sitting comfortably in my own skin allows me to be most present and joyful in the music and the moment and it is in these performances that I have found my audience feel most fed by what I offer. And, technically speaking, assuming I have practiced, playing my best often happens when I am just being me, just being my ordinary self.

Though I may not ever again reach for an on sale boxed dye, I am certain that I will wander into strange contortions of self on occasion, on and off the stage in response to pressures and expectations. Certainly not everyone will love my hair color or my playing and that is OK. In the end what matters most are those dear friends, family members, colleagues, and fans, who, like my mother, can help me remember who I am by simply saying, “I like your natural brown”.


From Bach to Shostakovich

As I write this I have a large ice pack on my right shoulder. It has been complaining a bit after a quick transition within one week from playing Bach and friends with a delicate, historically informed sound with few accents to pages of the cello equivalent of screaming at the top of my lungs with accents, loud chords and other such means by which Shostakovich asks his trio to depict violence, war and oppression. I resumed some of my forgotten back strengthening exercises in preparation for the physical endurance needed for this program. I am enjoying the challenge, and finding a way to pull the sound from my core, from my whole body.

It was only two weeks ago that I was working extremely hard to transcend the limits of my 20th set up cello, an instrument designed to cut across large concert halls, compete with a nine foot grand piano or an orchestra. Bach just sounded so aggressive with my steel strings, Belgian bridge and modern bow. It took much awareness to overcome my usual cellistic patterns of speech and to instead pull the sound and light up on off beats, to play with a delicacy and nuance that reflects an age when things were different. It would have come more naturally with a baroque bow and cello, but I am not so fortunate to own these at present. But the end result was very satisfying and through this process I began to explore the ways in which I might be set up by the modern world to be aggressive, accented and commanding in my presence and wondered what it would it be like to be gentle, graceful and warm. I considered a softer approach to the world at large, and resolved to release various grudges I had been carrying and lighten up.

My concert demands had me then jump almost 250 years forward to the 2nd world war as expressed by a small, oppressed Russian man with spectacles. In rehearsals with Trio Lumiere we are finding ourselves looking into the eyes of deep human suffering, violence, aggression, and the atrocities of war. Depicting this violence is cathartic on some level, as we give voice to the unbridled rage in parts of the last movement, sadistic joviality in the 2nd movement and utter hopelessness in the 3rd movement. All at once I am in the position of needing to discover as much physical and emotional intensity I can muster. I know how to do this. I know how to give everything that I have got and even push the limits of my instrument to capacity, even if it takes some adjusting for my small frame to adjust physically. Just as I surrendered to the delicacy of Bach I am surrendering to the horror of Shostakovich.

But somehow with the horror comes the best of humanity. Bach asked me to be gentle, eloquent and kind. Shostakovich tells me to transcend my fear, speak the truth but not to be alone in my suffering. In a strange way Shostakovich also calls forth tenderness, a communal grieving. He asks for compassion. As I imagine and express the suffering of other humans my heart opens. The trio violinist Klaudia grew up in Poland and the realities of this trio are still deeply embedded in her cultural memory. She describes the beginning of the first movement like people huddled in a dark cell with the light barely finding its way through the bars. Our Russian coach described the opening as depicting the early morning when the KGB were known to remove people from their houses, never to be heard from again. The early morning was also the time when Poland was attacked and the 2nd World War began. I see it as the barely human voice of trauma of any kind, when we feel powerless and too frozen and numb to cry with all the unspoken agony of what we have known. Our pianist says little but her notes express what she feels. All of us have our story of anguish, and so often we think ours is the most significant and painful story or deepest suffering.  But in exploring this suffering together, we discover we are not alone. This is not a lone cello voice here, but a trio of equals wailing together, holding each-other in the darkness as the bombs fall.

My mind moves to the small and frightened man who wrote such powerful music and I am in awe of one who had the courage and tenacity to speak such an unspeakable truth about human pain and all the while under the watchful eye of Stalin and the fear of arrest and banishment to Siberia.