Cello


Childhood

At Briargreen Public School in Nepean, Ontario, I enjoyed our music classes led by Mr. Garbutt with his autoharp. When I was 10, a visiting music teacher asked us all to demonstrate separating our second and third fingers while keeping our first and second, and our third and fourth, together (like nanu nanu on Mork and Mindy, if you remember that!) Apparently a relatively small percentage of youngsters can do this. I passed the test, and was told this meant I was capable of learning to play a stringed instrument. On a school trip to hear the National Arts Centre Orchestra, I was enamoured of the cello section, and decided I would play the cello.

I was fortunate to attend a junior high school that offered instruction in stringed instruments. I began playing cello at age 11 in the strings program at Greenbank school in Ottawa. My string instructors were Ms. Southcott and Mr. Yensen, and I spent most of my spare time in the strings room. As I enjoyed playing cello and did well at it, I began playing cello in the orchestra of the local high school before I was old enough to attend that school.

My first private cello teacher, Steve Smith, was an inspiring teacher for me. I recall the sun streaming down on his cello where cigarette ashes fell as he played. He said I had the potential to be a cello soloist, and encouraged me to continue. Steve introduced me to the Ottawa-Carleton Summer Orchestra, the highlight of many childhood summers. I enjoyed our daily rehearsals with conductor James Wegg, and daily canasta games with a dozen players. Hearing Brahms' variations on Haydn's St. Anthony Chorale brings back fond memories of playing it with that orchestra.

 


Ottawa-Carleton Summer Orchestra

At age 15, I played cello in Sweden, Denmark and Norway with the Sir Robert Borden High School orchestra - a memorable experience. I enjoyed our strings classes with Harold Kaufmann, and was given the opportunity to conduct the orchestra in a school concert. I have very fond memories of playing cello in the Ottawa Youth Orchestra conducted by James Coles, including a trip to Kingston. Our cello section enjoyed a great camaraderie, skating together on the canal, and my OYO cellist friend Alison Stevenson (who also went on the Sweden trip) was my matron of honour 25 years later. Hearing Brahms' fourth symphony brings back warm memories of my experience playing it in that orchestra. I also enjoyed playing in the Ottawa Musica Viva Chamber Orchestra, conducted by Dr. Joseph Berljawsky.

At 16, my family moved to Saskatoon. I auditioned for the Saskatoon Symphony, and played well. They offered me a position in the orchestra but without pay, because I was young. The other musicians quickly decided that was unacceptable! After some intervention on my behalf, I became a paid member, and was soon assistant principal cellist. My stand partner was Malcolm Tait, former principal cellist of the Toronto Symphony. I learned some good habits from him, like always marking my part so all the conductor's comments were retained. Hearing Elgar's Enigma Variations, particularly Nimrod, evokes warm memories of playing it in that orchestra. Some of us from the Saskatoon Symphony went to play in the Regina Symphony as "import players," and I enjoyed the experience of being put up in a nice hotel. I took some cello lessons from Ed Bisha. As a winner of the local concerto competition, I appeared as a soloist with the Saskatoon Youth Orchestra, playing the Saint-Saëns cello concerto. I was also principal cellist of the Saskatoon Chamber Orchestra, and played with the Alberta Ballet Orchestra when they came to Saskatoon.

During the summer after finishing high school, I attended the Courtenay Youth Music Centre in Courtenay, B.C., enjoying my lessons with Ian Hampton and James Hunter and participating in various festival orchestras, including one that performed in Vancouver. The scenery in the nearby Comox Valley and Puntledge River was beautiful and inspiring.


A lesson with Ian Hampton, photo from the Courtenay brochure

Undergraduate years

Since I did well at most things that I tried, after high school there could have been many other potential paths for me, but it just seemed natural to go to university to study cello, and it didn't occur to me to do anything else. The Saskatoon Symphony's concertmaster, Bok Soo Kim, said he could get me into Juilliard in New York and made enquiries on my behalf, while Malcolm Tait, who I enjoyed playing with in the orchestra, offered to take me as a student at Brandon University in Manitoba. My parents decided they would rather have me nearby, so off I went to Brandon at age 17.

 

In my first year at Brandon, I excelled. I won full tuition scholarships, additional string performance scholarships and academic scholarships, and I won the local music competitions. I enjoyed playing the Rachmaninoff sonata for cello and piano. I continued to play with the Saskatoon Symphony as an "import" player.

In my second year, I felt my playing wasn't improving. I had the rare musicality needed to be a soloist, but didn't know how to focus my practicing to develop my technique. Mr. Tait spent most of my lessons telling stories of famous musicians he used to know, which was entertaining, but wasn't what I needed.

Michael Swan (now the concertmaster of the Saskatoon Symphony) strongly recommended that I return to Courtenay to meet Gisela Depkat and consider studying with her. She had been a soloist, so we thought she could show me what I needed to do. Back at Courtenay, I attended her concert, and was so moved by her beautiful playing that I cried, went for a long walk in the woods, and decided I must study with her. I had one lesson with her, and she seemed to know exactly what I needed to do to improve my technique. I asked if she would take me as a student. She said yes, and recommended that I attend Wilfrid Laurier University rather than other universities where she also then taught, as the academic requirements were less, so I could focus more on my cello playing.

In my third year, I transferred to Laurier to study cello with Gisela. When she first saw me there, she said she didn't think I was really going to come, in a tone of voice that made it clear she would have preferred that I hadn't. Since I transferred during the summer without long-term planning, I was now unknown, no longer the star pupil, and without the full scholarhips I had benefited from at Brandon. I did, however, win my second Saskatchewan Arts Board grant for cello and piano performance studies while at Laurier.

Three of us attended Laurier because our teachers and adjudicators had told us we could be cello soloists, and we thought Gisela could help as as she had been one - Marina Hoover, Geoff Lee, and me. We all became good friends. After one year of Gisela's teaching approach, we had all had enough. Marina left, attended major U.S. schools, then played cello with the St. Lawrence String Quartet. Geoff finished his degree studying with gamba teacher Peggy Sampson, then became the conductor of the Timmins Symphony. I changed my major to piano.

 


Marina Hoover, me and Geoff Lee

Graduate years

After completing my first music degree, I spent three years in Waterloo preparing for and attaining piano licentiate and fellowship diplomas, the second of which is considered equivalent to a doctorate.

Ironically, when I was working on my own with no cello teacher, I won the Edward Johnson Music Competition as a cello soloist. Winners were invited to perform in a recital, so I prepared the Barber sonata, op. 6, on my own, and performed it at the Guelph Spring Festival with math professor Sydney Bulman-Fleming on piano.

 

I was the principal cellist in the Kitchener-Waterloo Youth Orchestra conducted by Victor Sawa. Victor was an inspiring conductor who played great recordings for us, exciting us about the music. In this orchestra, we enjoyed an educational and inspiring trip to participate in a gathering of many orchestras at Banff, Alberta.


Playing principal cello in Banff under French conductor Marius Constant,
composer of the Twilight Zone theme

While completing my master's degree in piano at McGill University in MontreaI, I continued to play cello in a string quartet with friends from the Kitchener-Waterloo Youth Orchestra, coached by a McGill chamber music professor.

Life in Toronto

In 1990, I moved to Toronto to study law at Osgoode Hall. In Toronto, I studied cello with Clare Carberry. She taught the same Neikrug technique as Gisela had taught, with a pronated bow hand, but in a much more constructive manner. I quite enjoyed my lessons with her. I played in a variety of orchestras, some paying and some not. While some professional musicians will not play with groups that won't pay them, I found that some more worthwhile musical experiences have been with groups that don't pay. A few of the orchestras I've played with are the Hart House Orchestra, the Mississauga Symphony, Orchestra Toronto, the Timmins Symphony, the Pickering Festival Players, the Scarborough Choral Society, the St. Jude's Festival Orchestra, the Scarborough Music Theatre Orchestra and the Toronto Sinfonia of Nations.

I auditioned to play cello in the Toronto subway, and won a licence to play that helped me pay my law school tuition. I played in the subway for a few years while I was in law school, and I still meet people who remember hearing me play there! Initially, I played in the subway with a string quartet, including fine violinists Indulis Suna and Yuri Zaidenberg.

 


Playing in the subway with violinists Susan Cosco
and Indulis Suna, and violist Chris Shelley

The quartet always wanted to play Pachelbel's Canon, since it pays the best, but although all the other parts are beautiful, the cellist only has eight notes, repeated over and over and over. I moved on. Next, I played with guitarist Bruce Schachinger, a friend of my guitarist friend Rick van Wyck from Laurier. I enjoyed the relative freedom of playing with Bruce, partly because I got to play the melody! He kept saying that I would make better money playing alone. One day he couldn't make it and I felt like playing, so I tried it. He was right.


Après un Rêve by Gabriel Fauré

I found I really enjoyed playing alone. Sometimes I would get into a "zone," creating a kind of effusive glow that people could feel and loved. Since I can play by ear, it felt great to sit there for a few hours and play whatever came into my head, and know that people enjoyed it. It was a great antidote to classical music studies where you practice a two-minute piece for a whole year before you're ready to perform it once, and then it's over. Playing in the subway for those few years really gave me back my enjoyment of playing solo cello. It was also great public exposure, as people who heard me play in the subway asked me to play solo cello for their weddings. While I had played for weddings and receptions for some time with various groups like the L'Estate String Quartet from Toronto, the Worden String Quartet from Kitchener-Waterloo and Laura Nashman's Montage Music, I began playing solo cello for these kinds of events as well.

I played cello with the Toronto band Maris, enjoying the combination of cello with guitar and mixed vocals, and working with interesting musicians including soprano Maria Thorburn, guitarist Alberts Vitols, Viiu Varik on bass, Ansgar Schroer on harmonica and various percussionists. We played excellent original music by Alberts Vitols at venues including C'est What, Club Umurkumurs, the Indigo Café and the Free Times Café.

I've played cello for musical theatre shows including North Toronto Players productions and Carol Shumas' The Tale of Maureen at the Toronto Fringe Festival. I played improvisational cello with High Xposure Rock Climbing Dance Theatre for a multimedia event in a barn in rural Ontario at Livestock.

 


Jane Litherland, me and Sue Gemmell
 

My compositions for two female vocalists, two cellos, piano keyboard and drums, performed at Walter Hall at the University of Toronto, were very well received.

Forgotten Passages and The Care of a Soul feature text by Vancouver poet and actor R. David Stephens.

In February 2003, pianist Marianne Gast and formed Trio Amabile, working with violinists including Mehdi Javanfar and Yuri Zaidenberg, and playing for some weddings and a funeral. In July 2003, Marianne and I formed a group of all women, the Bellamusica Chamber Ensemble, with violinist Ines Pagliari and soprano Maria Thorburn. Bellamusica included various duos, trios and quartets, and played for weddings and special events, and in public concerts. In 2006, I researched and gathered Argentinian tango music of Astor Piazzolla, José Bragato and Carlos Gardel for soprano, violin, cello and piano that we performed in concert.


Marianne, me, Maria and Ines

I enjoy writing music arrangements for string trio, and performing for weddings and special events as the cellist in a string trio. My string trio plays music by Ennio Morricone, Journey, U2, Aerosmith, Coldplay, Sigur Rós and Norah Jones as well as classical and romantic music.


Ines, Tamara and me

I have been playing solo cello and piano for weddings and special events throughout Ontario for over 20 years. I offer both solo and ensemble music at my website www.michellekyle.com.


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