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That’s What She Said – Postcards from Erica November 2020

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.

Welcome to the third installment of “That’s What She Said . . . Unaccompanied Cello Works by Women Composers.” 

This month I found three wonderful pieces to share with you. Want to know more about my digital postcards? See my first installment for more information.

November 2020 Postcards from Erica Pieces

Postcards from Erica November 2020 Pieces

November Postcard #1: Novice Level

This month’s novice-level postcard is about Elaine Fine’s “A Cellist’s Garden of Verses.”

    • Title: A Cellist’s Garden of Verses
    • Composer: Elaine Fine
    • Instrumentation: unaccompanied cello
    • Year Composed: 2020
    • Movements/Pieces:
      1. The Swing
      2. Foreign Lands
      3. My Shadow
      4. My Bed is a Boat
      5. Windy Nights
      6. Singing
    • Duration of Work: 14’
    • Number of Measures: (75), (38), (43), (66), (95), (37)
    • Number of Pages: 7
    • Tempo:
      1. Brightly swinging
      2. Andante moderato
      3. Moderato – quarter note = 84
      4. Barcarolle tempo
      5. Furious and mysterious
      6. Somewhat slowly – quarter note = 72
    • Difficulty Level:
      • comparable to late Suzuki Book 1 – Foreign Lands
      • comparable to Suzuki Book 2 – The Swing, My Bed is a Boat
      • comparable to late Suzuki Book 3 – My Shadow, Windy Nights, Singing
    • Highest Position Reached:
      • 1st – Foreign Lands
      • 2nd – The Swing, My Bed is a Boat, Windy Nights
      • 3rd – Singing
      • 5th – My Shadow
    • Technique Employed:
      • Foreign Lands – 4/4 time, no slurs, all closed first position
      • The Swing – 3/4 time, slurs, pizz/arco, extensions, 1st & 2nd position
      • My Bed is a Boat – 6/8 time, slurs, extensions, accidentals, 1st & 2nd position
      • My Shadow – 4/4 time, slurs, accidentals, extensions, 1st-5th position
      • Singing – 4/4, 5/4 time, staccato, slurs, accidentals, extensions, double stops, 1st-3rd position
      • Windy Nights – 6/8 time, staccato & slurs, extensions, double stops with open string, several bars of pizzicato triple & quadruple stops

Recording of Water:

    • Performance Notes: Six pieces for solo cello are based on poems from A Child’s Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson. Elaine graciously composed these pieces after I asked if she had written any unaccompanied works for beginning cellists.

Cellist’s Guide

  • Good bow distribution is key to playing The Swing. Fine uses 2-7 beat slurs throughout most of the piece, with many occurring on the offbeat.
  • Foreign Lands is a simple first position piece that can be introduced once the player begins using all four strings and the second finger on the A string, around the Purcell Rigadoon.
  • Chromatic figures and accidentals in 1st – 4th positions appear frequently in My Shadow.
  • My Bed is a Boat opens with the same rhythm and bowing as May Song and makes frequent use of the low first finger (1/2 position) introduced in Witch’s Dance.
  • Windy Nights is a dramatic piece that employs both on and off the string staccato.
  • Singing would be a good precursor to La Cinquantaine. At half the length, it is much more accessible and introduces the same bowing patterns used in La Cinquantaine and the Breval C major sonata.

November Postcard #2: Intermediate Level

Love Irish airs? Want to practice chordal playing? Try “Inch Strand” by Ilse de Ziah.

    • Title: Inch Strand
    • Composer: Ilse de Ziah
    • Instrumentation: unaccompanied cello
    • Year Composed: 2009
    • Movements: 1
    • Duration of Work: 2:35
    • Number of Measures: 64
    • Number of Pages: 1
    • Tempo: quarter note = 80
    • Difficulty Level: late intermediate
    • Highest Position Reached: 5th
    • Technique Employed: 3/4 time, bass clef, numerous double and triple stops, grace notes, 1st-5th positions
    • Publisher: Ilse de Ziah
    • Where to Purchase:
    • Cost of Sheet Music*: Pay what you wish.
    • Recording:

Performance Notes: “I moved to Ireland nearly 12 years ago and lived near Inch Strand for four years. There was such a beautiful atmosphere in the cottage and on the land, and I loved looking out to the sea from the kitchen window. Every day I would walk down to the beach and fill myself with sea wind. It was always worth doing the walk, even if initially the weather looked appalling! I made lasting friendships with people who live in the area. When we had to move it was very disappointing that there were no other available houses in walking distance of the sea! I had been playing a lot of Irish music and working on making interesting arrangements of Irish airs for solo cello, so when I had to move it was only natural that I wanted to express my sadness at leaving by writing an Irish air! I listened to the wind and tuned into the land, and the music flowed out. I still have the music to always connect me to the positive and wonderful feeling of living there.” – Ilse de Ziah

Cellist’s Guide

Though this piece is written entirely in bass clef and does not go above 5th position, it is filled with double and triple stops. Inch Strand is a great choice for those looking to practice chordal playing. If you are strictly a classical player, I highly recommend carefully listening to the recording to get the stylistic feel of the music. Students and professionals alike will enjoy playing this tranquil piece.

November Postcard #3: Advanced Level

Are you a fan of dissonant double stops and wide intervals? If so, try this poignant piece by Persis Parshall Vehar: “Two Ways of Being.”

    • Title: Two Ways of Being
    • Composer: Persis Parshall Vehar
    • Instrumentation: unaccompanied cello
    • Year Composed: 2014
    • Movements: By Myself, Walking Together
    • Duration of Work: (3:30), (3:10)
    • Number of Measures: (71), (134)
    • Number of Pages: 5
    • Tempo: (quarter note = 84), (quarter note = 120)
    • Difficulty Level: advanced-professional level
    • Highest Position Reached: thumb position
    • Technique Employed:
      • By Myself – 2/2, 3/2 time, triplets, quintuplets, sextuplets, septuplets, double & triple stops, bass, and treble clef
      • Walking Together – 3/8, 4/8, 5/8, 6/8, 9/8 time, double stops, triple stops, quadruple stops, bass, and treble clef, arco & pizzicato
    • Publisher: Persis Parshall Vehar
    • Where to Purchase: PPVehar(at)
    • Cost of Sheet Music*: $6.99
    • Recording:


Performance Notes:

“In Paul Elie’s ReInventing Bach, the unaccompanied cello suites by Bach are often mentioned. These suites reminded me of the beautiful, sometimes poignant sound of the cello. Shortly before reading the book, my Dear Husband Robert passed on. The combination of these two events resulted in the highly emotional, tragic piece, “By Myself.” I then realized that Robert’s spirit, love, and presence were still very much with me. The duality of bowed and pizzicato cello expressed this way of happily “Walking Together.” The title, TWO WAYS OF BEING, explores the choice of feeling completely alone, versus walking spiritually with a loved one [s] or Higher Power. Single notes coupled with duo, triple and quadruple stops provide a variety of rich sound that enables the cello to sustain interest and musical expressiveness in this unaccompanied suite, as in the Bach Suites that inspired it.”  – Persis Parshall Vehar

Cellist’s Guide

If like me, you are a fan of “dissonant” double stops and wide intervals, this is the piece for you.

Two Ways of Being is a high-energy work, filled with a wide range of dynamics and frequent time signature changes.

Though By Myself goes well into thumb position, it is not as technically demanding as it might first appear. Everything lies well on the cello and the tempo is quite manageable.

Walking Together moves at a faster clip and definitely requires a good chordal knowledge of the cello.

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