Friday, August 26, 2016

For Cellists- What You Play On Matters

By Andy Fein, Luthier & Owner, Fein Violins, Ltd.

Have you ever attended a concert to hear a great cellist and wondered, "What are they playing on?" No, not the instrument, but the floor, platform, or podium beneath them. What a cellist plays on can make a huge difference in how the cello sounds. It's more than just finding a nice spot to jab your endpin.

Cellist Sol Gobetta on a podium higher than the conductor's
If you're a cellist, you know there are a few basic technical problems to solve with every practice session and performance. Without the right equipment, this can be a struggle. You have to set your endpin into something so that your cello is the right height, the right angle, and doesn't slide out from under you, AND you have to find a chair that's both comfortable and forward sloping.  Of all instrumentalists, cellists are prone to the highest rate of back injury due to improper posture. That's why I recommend our Cello Chairs!

Harp Cello Chair
Con Brio Cello Chair
Our folding Cello Chairs are lightweight enough to take with you, and have adjustable back legs to provide the correct lift and forward angle that Janet Horvath recommends in her book 'Playing Less Hurt'. With your own folding chair, once you're at the performance venue you'll have one variable covered. The folding Cello Chairs are made of wood with a cushioned, black vinyl seat, and they look classy on stage. It's a secure feeling to perform on the same chair that you practice on. Conversely, if you have an uncomfortable chair that's the wrong height and/or backward leaning, I don't think there are enough beta blockers on the planet to make you comfortable. I jest, but you get the idea.

Now..... what should you jab that very sharp endpin into? If the stage is made of wood, and the stage manager doesn't throw a fit, stab it in anywhere you like. But most stage managers are not so accommodating, especially after several dozen cellists before you have pockmarked the stage. So, at the very least, you'll need a suitable endpin anchor.

Unfortunately, most of the cheap plastic/metal/rubber endpin anchors available on the market today dull the sound of your cello - the exact opposite of what you want. An easy fix is one particular endpin anchor we've discovered - the Artino Endpin Anchor. It's made of wood, it's very secure, and it's probably the cheapest thing you can do to improve the sound of your cello.  I highly recommend it.

Artino Endpin Anchor

If the stage you're playing on is not wood but linoleum or some type of stone, then definitely use the Artino Endpin Anchor! A linoleum or tile floor will deaden the sound of your cello, while a stone or marble floor will reflect so much cold sound, that you'll feel like you're playing in an echo chamber.

And, if for some crazy twist of logic or budget the stage is carpeted, use a performance platform, an Artino endpin anchor, and anything else to enhance the resonance. It's really just best to avoid a carpeted stage. In the best design of concert halls, the stage is considered as a musical instrument itself and usually made of wood.

If you're the honored cello soloist and you get to sit in front of the orchestra or piano, then by all means insist on sitting where you feel best and put your cello endpin in anywhere you like. If the stage manager throws a fit, ask for a cello soloist's platform or performer's platform.

Watch cellist Han Na Chang performing on top of a cello soloist's performance platform.

Cellist's Performance platform from Kolberg in Germany
There are a few variations of a cello soloist's platform on the market. Unfortunately they're all fairly expensive and not very portable. But a good quality concert hall should provide one for you. Or have one made. But make sure the platform has some airspace between itself and the stage and a few sound holes on the part you'll be sitting on. There's at least one reported case of a cello soloist's platform EXPLODING! (UPDATE: 6/22/18: After a quick email to the author of the original exploding performance platform article, David Littrell, we've discovered that the article was false. It was just a joke in the Chicago Cello Society!)

Performance platforms of varying heights from
Watch this great video by Zuill Bailey, talking about the Dvorak's Cello Concerto - note the platform he's playing on as soloist.

Generally, look for a performance platform that has a hardwood top. Maple would be best, but oak, beech, and other hardwoods work well also. A hardwood laminate works fine too and is considerably less expensive. It wouldn't be too difficult to make one, either.
A folding performance platform from
By the way, if the tip of your endpin is dull and won't stick into the floor - Sharpen It! A standard metal file (called a 'mill bastard') of a medium fine cut will work. Or, ask your local violin shop to sharpen it. With some endpins, you can unscrew the tip and replace it with a sharper tip.

As a cello performer, be picky. You want to play your best and give your best to your audience. Make sure your accessories, performance chair, and the stage are up to your standards.

A few places where you can purchase a cello soloist's performance platform-
Kolberg Germany
Wenger- Their conductor platform can double as a cello platform. Good source for a heavy duty cello chair too.
Resonanzio Happy cellists playing on Resonanzio cello platforms

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