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Imagination only limit to where cello can go

Gideon Freudmann - Gloria Kelman photo
Gideon Freudmann
— image credit: Gloria Kelman photo

Cellist teaches classical young performers to

‘play with’ music.

Since he picked up the cello at age 8, Gideon Freudmann has been improvising – or as he thought of it, procrastinating from doing his scales and exercises.

He made his share of beginner mistakes, like pressing too hard and dragging his bow across the strings, creating an unpleasant, crunching sound.

“But instead of recoiling in horror,” Freudmann said, “I’d get this big grin on my face. I would spend time trying to re-create the sound so I could bring it back when I wanted it.”

He could make his cello cry like a sea gull or scream like a nose-diving plane.

“My friends thought (the cello) would add a cool element visually (to their band),” he said.

At first he was reluctant to join his high school friends in a jam session and did feel lost at first, but after encouragements like, “Hey, this might be a good point to do that sea gull sound,” he ran with it.

The Portland, Ore.-based cellist comes to Bainbridge Island to play his unique style of cello, CelloBop, at 4 p.m. on March 19 at Island Center Hall, in a concert sponsored by Cellomania and the Bainbridge Island park district. Proceeds will help island cello students attend summer music camp.

Freud-mann developed CelloBop from all the sounds a cello can produce and from blending classical, blues, “British invasion” rock, folk, jazz, swing and other musical genres.

He has appeared at the Montreal International Jazz Festival, opened for They Might Be Giants and Phish among others, is frequently heard on National Public Radio and has recorded 12 CDs.

From his band buddies, Freudmann learned how to think in chords instead of just playing from note to note

When his still-immature cello technique became a block, he started taking lessons again in high school after he had quit for a few years. But this time learning Bach was not an end, but a means to an end.

Earning a degree in cello performance from the University of Connecticut bolstered his improvisation skills. He was the school’s first non-composition major to play a senior recital where half the works were his own.

Although today he sometimes plays the electric cello and uses digital effects, he was producing similar effects acoustically before the digital technology existed.

In college, he and a guitarist became known for their improvised gigs at a local coffee shop.

“I remember somebody coming up to me and saying, ‘Wow, really cool sounds. What (electric) effects are you using?’ I said, ‘None, it’s acoustic,’” he recalls.

Playing very close to the bridge and changing strings while sliding the bow away and toward the bridge – normally a huge no-no in classical music – produces a phase shifter effect.

While a teacher would quickly stop that kind of bow sliding in a student, Freudmann learned to use it to effect.

To most classically trained musicians, the leap from following notes on a page to improv seems like an improbably large gulf. Yet, Freudmann points out everyone improvises on a daily basis.

“Most conversations are improvised. They aren’t new words. You’re drawing on what you know,” he said. “It’s the same thing with music. If you can play these notes and scales, you can assemble them into phrases. Most composers whose music we play were improvisers, Bach and Mozart.”

A frequent performer at schools, he starts improv workshops for kids with the basics, like holding the instrument correctly and then asks each student to play the same one note, but differently, changing bow speed, articulation, rhythm or loudness.

“Improvisation is not about coming up with fancy phrases,” Freudmann said.

After a 30-second improv on one note, participants “go from fear of having to play too many notes to a desire to play more notes,” he said. “A lot of it is being assured you can do this and taking the baby steps.”

“There’s not just one right way to play a phrase,” Freudmann said. “In fact, I find this can really make you a stronger player and you can go back to playing your scales (and ask yourself) how many ways can you play it. It builds your technique.”

Improvising can be invigorating, too. Whereas starting a new instrument is exciting, the seemingly endless fine tuning can make it monotonous.

“Cut yourself a little slack and know that you can take breaks. Take a passage and find 15 ways to play it. The creative part is coming up with new ways to play, and then it’s a technical challenge to pull it off,” he said.

* * * * *

CelloBop

Gideon Freudmann plays his original compositions 4 p.m. March 19 at Island Center Hall. Get advance tickets at Winslow Drug and Glass Onion for $15 adults or $20 at the door and $10 for youths. For information on a pre-concert workshop, call 842-0124. See www.cellobop.com for more on his workshops and performances.

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