GiveIt100: Let's just get this straight...

My students are brilliant.


and whether they decide to choose to stay with me for multiple years or just one year, I know they are capable of really fantastic stuff. Karen X Cheng is a former student and is no exception to that.

I look back on our lessons together as being a catalyst for both of us to embark upon deeply wonderful things. Even though I climbed 4 flights of stairs with a cello, I loved our lessons perched above Capitol Hill with a great view of the Space Needle. But only after I caught my breath.

Karen ended lessons with me when she realized she needed a pretty huge career change. There was something sucking the joy out of her life. She was feeling the pressure to make a change in her life and to make it NOW. Having been there many times myself I totally understood and sympathized with her predicament. 

Her resignation letter/song to Microsoft and Excel is below. ;-)

She moved to San Francisco, CA to work as a designer for a lovely company, Exec. While she was there she fell in love with dance.

And then she did something remarkable... 

she made a video of herself practicing dance every day. The end result was that she was now really good at dance and she had a her time-lapse video go viral on youtube with almost 4 million views. (Check it out below...)

Some of my favorites from

So now she's done something else unique. She's started which provides a platform for others to share their process of learning something new every day for 100 days.

I can't even begin to describe how excited I am for her and grateful I am to her.

My new online students and I are using the site as a way to keep them accountable to cello practice and getting better at ONE thing each day. 

I've even started on my own 100 Days of Artist Residency Prep by sharing some general thoughts and fears on what it's like to "step up and stand up as an artist" each new day.

And! I get to meet other wonderful folks from around the world that are really making great strides in their learning every day.

Many rounds of applause go to Karen for pioneering this facet of the learning process and community!

I can't wait to hear more from her in the near future! :-)

Project 52 Update

You might already know this, but I've been recording cover songs. I started Project 52 hoping to put out one recording each week for a year (hence the 52.) But life happens, as you know. So I don't get a chance to put all of them online.

Regardless, here's the latest go of it... Ultra-Pop Princess, Katy Perry, meets a cello choir (and my attempt at some Whitney Houston towards the end! eek!)

This particular arrangement is for 7 cellos, organ, & snaps'n'claps. (The Rihanna song I did awhile back was for 6 cellos.)

I don't normally spend much time on these recordings, but for some reason I "caught the bug" with this one. I started working on it Sunday at 11am and then blinked. BOOM! It was suddenly 7pm and I hadn't eaten or drank anything all day. I felt a wee bit looney walking through the grocery store afterwards. Yikes!

Bottom-line: I'm finding this Project 52 to be a really really great etude in recording and producing. I highly suggest to anyone wanting to learn a new skill to JFDI! (Just F***ing Do It!) But I think you already knew that. ;-)

Quote of the Week: "I did it myself."

Sometimes we get bogged down in the "can'ts" and "shouldn'ts" of art & music.

There are days it feels like such a luxury to learn and create. and there are days that the mountain of things to create and learn is so overwhelming.

But then there are days of necessity. Necessity that causes every bone in your body to ache for that learning and creating. 

Pushing through the "no's" and the overwhelming feelings we encounter in our artistic process makes the learning and creating that much more meaningful...

because in the end? You did it yourself.

  "I am thankful to all those who said 'no' to me. It's because of them I did it myself." - Albert Einstein

 "I am thankful to all those who said 'no' to me. It's because of them I did it myself." - Albert Einstein

[note: whether Albert Einstein actually said the quote above is often debated.]

Ira Glass on Storytelling & Doing the Work

Sometimes I hate facebook. As an artist, I know that I need  it, especially as my industry is constantly  in flux. It's a love-hate relationship.  But that's another post for another time.

Anyways, I woke up this morning, logged on to the Book of Faces for my daily devotional of social media overwhelm and found this gem of a video below... 

[Source audio is from this very seminal video by]

I seem to remember having this exact conversation with a couple of my students last week.  When you're a beginning adult cellist, your ears have decades  of experience while your fingers and muscles have weeks  of experience. Doing the work to make that difference even out, even just a little bit, is sooooooooo hard.  

But do it. It's possible to give up on yourself. But it's also possible to successfully push through this. Both can be done. It is  possible to be a success, if it weren't then I wouldn't be teaching, at all.

So don't give up on yourself. Okay? Good. I'm glad we had this talk. ;-)


Tacoma, WA: How Arts Education Supports a Community

Tacoma, WA is a city that I have adopted as a home. A real live(ly) home with people and ideas that are really  creative and inspiring. One thing Tacoma does pretty stinkin' well is supporting the Arts. (and it's growing too! Yay!)

I'm honored to be a witness to the love that Tacoma shares and in how the community supports each other. Because I'm a musician I've seen this act of supporting the Tacoma community up close and personal. Yes, I'm biased and reporting this from the trenches, but the fact remains true. Supporting your community by supporting the Arts is worth it.  

I don't care from where you're reading these words today. If you have the chance to support the Arts in your area, DO IT.   And on behalf of those who work with those who benefit from your support. Thank you. The world is truly a better place for it. Truly.

Below you'll get a few more comments and points of view on this topic in a mini-documentary funded by the Laird Norton Family Foundation. and shh... You might  even see a brief cameo of yours truly! ;-)

Memories from a March wedding...

One the great honor's I have as a musician is being part of a couple's "Big Day." Below you'll see the film short from Adam and Courney Ydstie's wedding in March. This wedding was particularly fun for this musician, since they invited all my good friends to celebrate too!

Peter and Sarah Berkley of The Heart Dept did a perfect job capturing the joyful community that this couple share with our lovely group of friends and family here in Tacoma.

Thank you Adam and Courtney - you guys sure do make this cellist's heart beat a little larger and stronger!

March 16th: NWSO performs Dvorak, Wagner

Yay! I'm back in the world of orchestra!

I didn't realize how much I've missed it until rehearsals started up last week. I'm lovin' it. And I would love it even more if some of you got to enjoy it too! So here's the concert information...

March 16th - Northwest Symphony Orchestra

 Cara Gabrielson

Cara Gabrielson

NWSO performs Dvorak's 8th Symphony, Wagner's Entry of the Gods Into Valhalla, and select arias performed by soprano, Cara Gabrielson. 

I have access to $7 tickets ($10-15 online or day-of) so email me if you'd like to get in on that deal. Oh, and the best part is that STUDENTS GET IN FREESo grab your niece/nephew/neighbor kiddo - these pieces of music are terrific for kiddos. 


Kye Alfred Hillig's "Together Through It All"

My friend Kye Alfred Hillig, who some of you may remember performed at our last cello recital (Thanks again Kye!) just release his new album "Together Through It All."

This is one of those albums that I'm completely honored to have been asked to help with during the recording process. I love doing string arrangements on the spot and singing some solid bgvs, but sheesh, when it's for really good music and songwriting and for really awesome folks (including the album's producer, James Resch) well, I'm just humbled.

Below are my two favorite tracks, one of which I helped with some cello... (I would encourage you to get out your fancy headphones or plug in a pair of stellar speakers, you'll thank me.)

So now that your socks have been melted and your soul healed, go and download the whole album. It's free. Seriously. Go do it. Now. and then go "like" him on Facebook.

Working With What You've Got (& That's A Lot!)

Let's go all the way back to square one for this one, which is often needed when we're working on posture related cello technique. I believe ALL my students (and in fact anyone) has what it takes to be a beautiful musician and cellist. This may sound hoakey but it's true and it comes out in the very tiny ways I approach my instrument and the ways I want my students to approach their instrument.

My students are capable and resourceful.

When it comes to the cello, they most certainly aren't handicapped, victims, or bullies. They already have what it takes to become the kind of cellist they want to become.

From my experience both playing and teaching the cello, when it comes to inefficient cello technique, there is often a tie to the ever-popular and definitely not innovative "scarcity mindset." 

Pictures Speak a Thousand Words

As with most other methods of communication, body language speaks volumes. This is the reason why I don't just aim to fix someone's bow hold. I aim to improve the way they think about how their body interacts with the cello. Doing this empowers a student to improve their bow hold on their own in the future, without me.


When I see what some teachers might call a "bad bow hold" I'm also seeing that this student is working with the resources they believe they are currently in possession of.  For example, when I see the bow hold on the left, I don't see a really difficult future-sautille. [Product-oriented] I see that this student is placing their body's momentum behind the bow, instead of towards/inside of the bow. [Process-oriented] This student is not exploiting the strengths they already have!

Don't fight it.

Working against what you have is also a way that scarcity eeks its way into body language. It's almost like saying, "What I've got isn't enough, so I'm going make it work, if it's the last thing I do!"

 (This is the same two fingers, I just mirrored the photo on the right for comparison. Notice how much farther you can stretch if you allow your body to do what it is meant to do!)

(This is the same two fingers, I just mirrored the photo on the right for comparison. Notice how much farther you can stretch if you allow your body to do what it is meant to do!)

Overlooking strengths and therefore using inefficient cello techniques make it easy to fall prey to a victim mentality, whether a student knows they're doing it or not. Especially as a beginner cellist, it's easy to practice with phrases like "Here goes nothing." or "I'm gonna make this hand/cello do this."

Those are fine and good places to start, but how is your body underlining that kind of mentality on a daily basis? And ultimately, do you want to re-enforce (daily) the idea that you weren't enough or too much to begin with? or that you're too short, too tall, too young/old, too ______, to play the cello? I should hope not.

I'm totally guilty these inefficient mindsets on a lot of levels throughout my personal life and within my approach of the cello. I'm way too familiar with them to ignore the signs. I can spot it anywhere. (Like I can spot a homeschooler a mile away!) and who knows, maybe I'm just unprofessionally projecting myself onto my students... (umm... self-judge much?) Woah. See how it snuck its way back in there?! It's wily. and it dies hard.

A teacher/coach who can help you discover what you already possess and plan the right way to act upon this dynamic potential? I've been lucky and blessed to have several. I would be honored to be considered one of them and share the wealth like they did. 

Because it's not about getting a bigger slice of the pie, it's about making the pie bigger so everyone gets a bigger slice. 

Am I right? or am I right? ;-)

Brain Stuff - Pt. 3: Rex Jung on Neuroscience of Creativity

In today's feature of To The Best Of Our Knowledge's series on The Creative Brain, we're looking at novelty and creativity where interviewee, Rex Jung, describes brain imaging studies of creativity in action. Listening to this interview I'm reminded of just how magical the brain still is to all of science. We still don't know that much about it. 

The interview also briefly mentions the "Ah Ha!" moment phenomenon. It is a beautiful thing. These moments happen at seemingly random times and can be really really powerful life-changers, but only if we have the capacity to listen to them and act upon them. 

In my musical practices, the "Ah Ha!" moment seems to occur when I assume the objective stance of a scientist of my cello playing. Often the emotional stances I see myself and my students take ("I'll never be able to do this!" "I'm such an idiot." "Why didn't I practice more this week?" etc.) are enough brain-noise to distract us from listening to what our "Ah Ha" moments are trying to teach us.

Our self-listening occurs when we can leave all brain-noise at the door in the name of science or self-observation.

In my experience, the emotional and communicative aspects of my performances are best seen by the audience when I allow my scientific-self to purify the sound/song objectively. After that purification is complete, the infusion of emotions and the message of the song, is so clear. Those are the performances that have the most impact.

Here's a great little video where Dr. Rex Jung becomes a Neuro-Myth Buster...

Some Fun Goldfinch Stuff...

Goldfinch, the band in which I sing and play cello, had a phenomenal album release concert last Friday night. (Thanks to everyone who came out to support!) As always, it was a breath of fresh air to share the stage with those guys - such a wonderful collection of artists/musicians on one stage.

Thanks to The Art Dept., here are a couple promo videos for that evening...

And here's the rest of the new album. Pay what you want to download it & share it with whoever you'd like!

*Cello Notes: "Long Road" is pretty cello-heavy in a symphonic kind of way. :-)