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chas5131

Can people play a violin or a cello further into old age?

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Cello.  The reason is there's a much wider range of what sounds acceptable with cello than with violin.  I'm assuming you're talking about the reaction of an audience and about classical music.

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I'd have to go with cello too.

Violists shoulders & necks give out

Fiddlers have dexterity challenges as fingers thicken and arthritis sets in.

Intonation begins to fail as hearing in the upper register becomes more difficult.

Posture-wise the cello is surely more ergonmically friendly?

 

f_avito_the_cellist_d5398853h.jpg

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To answer the question you'd have to qualify by saying, "All things being equal..."  And all things are never equal.   :)  IMO, it is likely more a matter of individuals.  How a player has taken care of him/her self probably counts for a lot, along with genetics.

 

We just had a post about Stuart Canin, violinist, who is 90 or 90+.  He's about to give a recital.  Another violinist that I won't name is in his 90s but he can only noodle on the instrument because he can't remember any "tunes." I don't remember seeing any ancient 'cellists.  But surely there must be some.

 

If I had to guess, though, I'd guess the 'cellist can last longer, he just eventually can't carry his instrument to the gig.

 

And how about the viola and the bass?  The bass seems brutal to those of us who have tried a few notes on it, and the viola has to be harder on the neck and arms than the violin or 'cello. 

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We could start with Casals, Starker, Rostropovich and Greenhouse.

 

 I don't remember seeing any ancient 'cellists.  But surely there must be some.

 

If I had to guess, though, I'd guess the 'cellist can last longer, he just eventually can't carry his instrument to the gig.

 

 

 

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Good names, great players, Royce.  I don't know why I couldn't think of them this morning.

 

Remembering that Heifetz packed it in at 70 as far as public performance, it makes me think of a few who SHOULD have packed it in but didn't.   :)   And this whole thing leads me back to how we frame the question.  I suppose in the confines of the "Home for Retired Musicians" we'd find both violinists and 'cellists equally able to continue to play, but at what level.

 

The question might be made better by including "...at a level that a paying  audience would want to listen to..."  But even then there is a problem because I heard Mischakoff when he was 80 and they paid.  And Menuhin could not have passed the audition for the Bledsoe Philharmonic on some days.  But they paid.

 

BTW, I wonder if anyone else remembers the wonderful cartoon that shows an old "hoofer" with a straw hat, gaudy striped jacket, and cane.  He looks half dead yet the hall is S R O packed.  Behind him is a line of about 20 topless showgirls, with—shall we say—great smiles.  In the back of the hall, one fellow says to his friend, "What a grand old trooper...85 years old and not an empty seat in the house!"

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The Guarneri Quartet played professionally until they were quite old, but David Soyer had to be replaced. He as older than of the rest of them. 

 

Steinhardt is 79, Dalley 80, Tree 81- and they retired in 2009 after a 45 year career changing the cellist to Soyer's former student. Soyer retired in 2001 at age 75 in 2001. 

 

So all things being equal- here is a good slice . A quartet that performs for 45 years as a touring / recording group holding down teaching positions in some off seasons, but other wise busy for most of the 45 years, average retirement age about 74 or 75. 

 

With cellist and violinists, violist being about equal. All of them are or were, Soyer, quite strong players late into the history of the quartet. Soyer was particulalry strong, but he had had enough of lugging the cello across the globe. 

 

I bet dollars to donuts Steinhardt could belt one out even today, but what does he have to prove? Not much. 

 

As far as Slava....when he was young there was nothing like him, probably not even a violinist with such drive and intensity. He dailed it back over the years, but as late as the mid 1980's he was firey, but not like he was in 1958 or the whole 1950's and early 60's. He was from an other planet. 

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http://slippedisc.com/2011/09/new-longest-serving-orchestral-players-the-ultimate-list/

 

Speaking of having to haul cases around, the long careers of many double bass players kind of amaze me. In addition to those mentioned on  Slipped Disc, Dennis Trembly, the long-standing principal bassist of the LA Phil, has been at it for over forty-five years and probably will be for many more.

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On a statistical basis, looking at those who continue solo and chamber music careers, I think that, on average, cellists can maintain a high standard a good 15 to 20 years longer than violinists. The main problem for violinists is probably control of a 60 gram bow AND the demands of holding the elbow and bow at shoulder height vs. letting it rest on the strings with the elbow practically at waist height. Viola bows (weight about 70 grams) are a bit easier to control. Also, various injuries accumulated with age or degradations due to age eventually take their toll on all of us who live long enough.

 

I play violin, viola and cello (and have since my youth, 77 years since my first violin lesson, 67 since my first cello lesson) and I noticed that my cellistic skills stopped improving at age 72 (9 years ago). Damage to cervical disks made me stop playing everything for a year when I was 55 and although that spoiled my violin vibrato forever, I regained the ability to play violin reasonable after one year and continued to improve on cello in every way after that year hiatus and for the next 17 years.

 

I am still quite comfortable playing the cello and play chamber music every week as a cellist. However I have moved from violin (principal 2nd) to viola in the performing conductor-less chamber orchestra I am now with. In addition to me (now as an 81 year old violist) we have 2 violinists in their 80s, our principal cellist is a former professional about 87 now, and our bass player is about 83 or 84 (and he still plays professional gigs): I estimate the average age of our players to be about 70. We are a well balanced orchestra (i.e., all parts are covered by competent players) with a roster of about 34, specializing in music of the classical period, with 20 string players, we perform about 6 different concerts annually. You can see and hear part of at least one 2-year old performance by googling "Lucas Valley Chamber Orchestra" Our concertmaster who is prominent in at least one video is one of our "youngsters" and a grandmother of about 62 yoa.

 

By practicing weekly in the morning we pretty much limit our membership to  retirees and music teachers with adjustable schedules.

 

Still, Omobono is right on all counts!

 

Andy

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Andrew, great that still maintain that regime.

As they say, "use it or lose it!'.

 

One of the saddest moments I recall years back was seeing my elderly father trying to move his fingers on the fingerboard but without a response.

He was never any more than a rank amateur but always enjoyed taking a turn with a fiddle.

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Considering the long careers of many violinists and cellists both, reflect that the violin is lighter, but even solo cellists get to play sitting down.  :lol:

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On a statistical basis, looking at those who continue solo and chamber music careers, I think that, on average, cellists can maintain a high standard a good 15 to 20 years longer than violinists. The main problem for violinists is probably control of a 60 gram bow AND the demands of holding the elbow and bow at shoulder height vs. letting it rest on the strings with the elbow practically at waist height. Viola bows (weight about 70 grams) are a bit easier to control. Also, various injuries accumulated with age or degradations due to age eventually take their toll on all of us who live long enough.

 

I play violin, viola and cello (and have since my youth, 77 years since my first violin lesson, 67 since my first cello lesson) and I noticed that my cellistic skills stopped improving at age 72 (9 years ago). Damage to cervical disks made me stop playing everything for a year when I was 55 and although that spoiled my violin vibrato forever, I regained the ability to play violin reasonable after one year and continued to improve on cello in every way after that year hiatus and for the next 17 years.

 

I am still quite comfortable playing the cello and play chamber music every week as a cellist. However I have moved from violin (principal 2nd) to viola in the performing conductor-less chamber orchestra I am now with. In addition to me (now as an 81 year old violist) we have 2 violinists in their 80s, our principal cellist is a former professional about 87 now, and our bass player is about 83 or 84 (and he still plays professional gigs): I estimate the average age of our players to be about 70. We are a well balanced orchestra (i.e., all parts are covered by competent players) with a roster of about 34, specializing in music of the classical period, with 20 string players, we perform about 6 different concerts annually. You can see and hear part of at least one 2-year old performance by googling "Lucas Valley Chamber Orchestra" Our concertmaster who is prominent in at least one video is one of our "youngsters" and a grandmother of about 62 yoa.

 

By practicing weekly in the morning we pretty much limit our membership to  retirees and music teachers with adjustable schedules.

 

Still, Omobono is right on all counts!

 

Andy

Very cool...and very inspiring! :D

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The cello requires more physical strength of the hands, at least, it does the way I play it. On the other hand, playing the cello involves a much more natural body position. 

I know that a lot of older players of both instruments (including myself) find that deterioration of eyesight is a major problem. Normal reading glasses do not seem to help at the distance between eyes and music stand. With the violin one is somewhat closer to the music. 

Then there is also the issue of concentration. Most cello parts in orchestral and chamber music have long sections which are technically easy. The same is probably not true of violin parts, particularly first violin. So cellists can mentally relax for longer.

So it depends which deteriorates first: muscle strength, skeletal joints, eyesight or powers of concentration.

 

I still remember an incident from my youth. I was one of a number of youngsters playing in a 'scratch' orchestra for Dvorak's Stabat Mater. The cello part had some tricky sections which we struggled to sight read. A tiny old lady turned up, and, to our amazement, played it all note perfect. Very humbling. (But maybe she was not that old. From the perspective of a fifteen year old everyone over fifty is ancient.)

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One would think cello, by looking at the positions, but my observations/experience say violin can be played longer.  Cello seems to breed more back and tendonitis problems.  However, there are some new methods out there teaching cellists to play with much less stress.  Yo-Yo Ma benefited from this many years go after he had potentially career ending back surgery around 1980, but he was a very physical player in his youth - contorted and swayed, horrible on the body.  Of course my observations are mostly of amateur types, often without the best training/technique.   At the professional level, it may be very different as some of the previosu posts have stated.

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The cello is difficult in the upper registers and there is a lot of the solo rep that becomes probably out of reach of even great cellists after certain point as a piece they can perform in concert. The sitting thing is not as ergonomic as it sounds, the cello does need a good teacher what understands how to teach the way of playing that is the most stress free way for that person. 

 

I think the critical thing with cello is can the player maintain a good maximum projection as they get older?  It becomes not a game of force, it never was, but of understanding mechanic of body and cello.Today more teachers know really good ways to understand that stuff. Although it is pretty funny that cellists disagree on a  lot of it. It takes a long time to get a good sound if you don't have someone just sit on you and help you understand that very quickly. I like the story of the young girl who's teacher brought her from playing like a child to playing like adult in one session. The teacher probably got her to play closer to the bridge and find the spot that projects the maximum, and then grown up. 

 

The cello can be played a lot of different ways, but as far as different sounds being acceptable yeah sure you can say that, but as long as the cellist is truthfully projecting the sound by being in the moment about the sound and honing in on the place on the string that is right for that instant. The game is more about reflexes and being in the moment about projection. A long as a person can still do that and not just telephoning the bowing in they are playing with vitality. 

 

As far as I'm concerned awareness of the reflex and ability to produce good projection is the measure of how a cellist ages not raw sound.  Some older cellists don't play well by their younger standards, but if the core of the sound is intact that is being in touch and that is important.  

 

For cellists there is true projected sound, and manufactured sound, you can make it sound good more or less, but is it really in the pocket projecting the most for that note and range. 

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