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Friday, July 25, 2008

My teacher Orlando Cole

During the 90's I had the wonderful pleasure of studying with Orlando Cole at Temple University. The highly intense doctoral program there allowed me to have lessons with Mr. Cole for 3 years. I recall my unconfessed concern about his older age - 84 yo at that point, hoping that he would stay healthy so I could take advantage of every lesson together. Who would have known that even today, in 2008, he'd still be teaching. The lessons were very different from my previous teacher, who was much more hands on about my private life (including interfering in one my relationships by lecturing my then fiance that she should not be making a commitment to a cellist who is one of "a-dime-a-dozen"). Mr. Cole was all about the music, no declarations about what I should be doing after graduation, or philosophical lectures about music and practicing. I the lesson I'd play the cello, he'd make a comment, and then play some more. Maybe 50 minutes of the lesson I was playing; that was a great example for me of a true teacher. Let the student play, don't lecture him/her because you like hearing yourself talking.

So the relationship with Mr. Cole was different then with other previous teachers. Getting little feedback about how I stacked myself against other cellists felt unsettling, I thought maybe Mr. Cole did not like my playing. Eventually I understood that he respected my playing and ideas and it was really about getting things done in the lesson, not talk. In time, more feedback came, and some of my most inspirational moments were his comments about music and how I should look at a cello career in a contemporary context.

Mr. Cole was not able to demonstrate much. He'd already developed a tremor in his hands, and I am sure he was a bit self-conscious. On occasion, he'd demonstrate how to move the bow on the string, how to use more of the right arm, and how to better match the bow speed with the placement. We searched for a certain tone, more velvety, and I think this concept came from his teacher Felix Salmond. He played the piano, accompanying me in all the pieces I did, and he played quite well. I remember him playing through the whole Dvorak Concerto in a spectacular way. So, we covered a lot of repertory, some of which I had done before: Elgar, Dvorak, and Shostakovich 1 concerti, Schelomo by Bloch, Brahms Double, then sonatas: Barber (which he wanted to make sure it was the first sonata I did with him), Beethoven A Major and D Major, Brahms F Major, Britten, Kodaly Solo Sonata, Bach 6th, 4th and 2nd, and other shorter works. In addition, many studies, including a review of some of the Popper, then Grutzmacher vol. 2, and Paganini Capricces. If I think about it, that's a lot of material for 3 years. That's what happens if you talk less and play more.

In any case, I came across this interview on His personality comes alive, it's like hearing him talk. If you can, go read it, but you need probably at least 10 minutes:
Mr. Cole's life bridges several generations, and he brings history together with wonderful prospective and spectacular memory.


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