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That’s What She Said – Postcards from Erica March 2021

Trying to find unaccompanied cello music by women composers? Look no further.
Each month cellist and women’s music specialist, Erica Lessie, sends us three short “postcards” about pieces of three different levels: novice, intermediate student, and seasoned player.
Letters and flowers

Photo by Ranurte on Unsplash

Here is the March 2021 installment of “That’s What She Said . . . Unaccompanied Cello Works by Women Composers.” 

I hope you enjoy exploring this month’s pieces as much as I did selecting them. Want to know more about my digital postcards? See my first installment for more information.

March Postcard #1: Novice Level

Based on the 1936 book, The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf and illustrated by Robert Lawson, Elaine Fine’s “Ferdinand” is a great piece for students in the first part of Suzuki Book 3 or those playing at a similar level.

  • Title: Ferdinand
  • Composer: Elaine Fine (b. 1959)
  • Instrumentation: unaccompanied cello (or viola)
  • Movements: 1
  • Duration of Work: 5′
  • Number of Measures: 113
  • Number of Pages: 3
  • Tempo: Moderato espressivo
  • Difficulty Level: beginner, comparable to Suzuki Book 3
  • Highest Position Reached: 3rd or 4th position
  • Technique Employed:3/4, 4/4, 5/4, 6/4 time signatures; pizzicato; left-hand pizzicato; double stops with an open string; 2 quadruple stops; slurs; staccato; 1/2 through 3rd positions; triplets; accidentals
  • Where to Find the Score: IMSLP
  • Cost of Sheet Music*: Free
  • Recording of the composer playing the viola version:

Program Notes:

The Story of Ferdinand (1936) is the best known work written by American author Munro Leaf. Illustrated by Robert Lawson, the children’s book tells the story of a bull who would rather smell flowers than fight in bullfights. He sits in the middle of the ring failing to heed any of the provocations by the matador and others to fight. Ferdinand did not possess the more violent tendencies that bulls his age had. The Story of Ferdinand was published in 1936 by Viking Hardcover. After publication, the book was labeled as having an alternate political agenda following the Spanish Civil War.” – Wikipedia

Cellist’s Guide:

This would be a great piece for students in early Suzuki Book 3.

There are numerous 1st position extensions, both forward and backward.  Though Suzuki students first encounter backward extensions in early Book 2, extensions to low 1st finger in 1/2 position are introduced at the end of the book in:

  • “Witches’ Dance”
  • “Moon Over the Ruined Castle”
  • “Two Grenadiers”

Additionally, “Ferdinand” employs forward extensions to high 4th finger in first position, like those in the early Book 3 pieces such as “Gavotte” and “Minuet.”

Triplets, which are familiar to Suzuki Book 2 students from “Witches’ Dance,” are used effectively throughout “Ferdinand.” Students preparing for the Breval Sonata in C in Book 4 would do well to learn the staccato triplets in this sprightly and entertaining piece.

March Postcard #2: Intermediate Level

Kaitlyn Raitz’s “She, In the Dark, Found Light” is a beautiful composition that can transcend the notes on the page. One of the joys of this piece is that there is tremendous latitude to personalize it through the improvisation of ornaments and chords. In fact, the composer expects the cellist to make the performance unique.

  • Title: She, In the Dark, Found Light
  • Composer: Kaitlyn Raitz (b. 1989)
  • Instrumentation: unaccompanied cello
  • Movements: 1
  • Duration of Work: 3:28
  • Number of Measures: 105
  • Number of Pages: 2
  • Tempo: quarter note = 92
  • Difficulty Level: intermediate, comparable to Suzuki Book 6
  • Highest Position Reached: thumb
  • Technique Employed: 3/4 time signature; grace notes; pizzicato; false harmonics; double, triple, and quadruple stops; bass, tenor treble clefs; triplets
  • Where to Purchase:
  • Cost of Sheet Music*: $10

Recording by the composer:

Performance Notes

“This piece lays out the skeleton of a work that can be so much more than what is written on the page. I have written in chords so that the player can add in double stops and additional moving notes as desired. No two performances of this piece will, or should ever really sound the same. Enjoy!” – Kaitlyn Raitz

Here is the Langston Hughes poem “Helen Keller,” on which this piece is based:

In the dark,
Found light
Brighter than many ever see.

Within herself,
Found loveliness,
Through the soul’s own mastery.

And now the world receives
From her dower:
The message of strength
Of inner power.

Cellist’s Guide

To get the feel of this piece, I strongly suggest listening to the recording before looking at the score. The eighth notes are best swung; an exact reading of the score will net you a stiff performance.

If you aren’t comfortable improvising, definitely take time to write in the grace notes and double stops that are in the recording, but not notated in the score.

March Postcard #3: Advanced Level

Looking for a beautiful work that is also a tribute to essential workers during the pandemic? Be sure to check out “Seven – Song of Isolation” by Andrea Casarrubios.

  • Title: Seven – Song of Isolation
  • Composer: Andrea Casarrubios
  • Instrumentation: unaccompanied cello
  • Year Composed: 2020
  • Movements: 1
  • Duration of Work: 8:39
  • Number of Measures: 174
  • Number of Pages: 8
  • Tempo: quarter note = 70
  • Difficulty Level: advanced
  • Highest Position Reached: thumb position
  • Technique Employed: 1/4, 2/4, 4/4, 5/4 time signatures; bass, tenor and treble clefs; scordatura; false harmonics; harmonics; left-hand pizzicato; sul ponticello; sul tasto; triplets; quintuplets; sextuplets; double, triple and quadruple stops; glissandos; double sharps
  • Where to Purchase:
  • Cost of Sheet Music*: $16.99
  • Recording by Thomas Mesa:

Performance Notes: 

Seven is a tribute to essential workers during the global COVID-19 pandemic, as well as to those who lost their lives and are still suffering from the crisis.

The piece ends with seven bell-like sounds, alluding to New York’s daily 7 PM tribute during lockdown – the moment when New Yorkers clapped from their windows connecting with each other and expressing appreciation for those on the front lines. – Andrea Casarrubios

Cellist’s Guide

This gorgeous and haunting work utilizes scordatura tuning; in this case, with the C string tuned down to a B natural. The score is written in grand staff, with the upper line notating the reading pitch and the lower line indicating the sounding pitch.

Composed by a cellist, this piece lies quite well on the instrument. Seven is not terribly technically demanding but does require the player to be familiar with treble clef, harmonics, and the upper reaches of the G and C strings.

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