Page 1

Exploring My Relationship with the Cello The Process of a Self Portrait

Alison Servis Graduate Studio I Fall 2011, School of Design Carnegie Mellon

Contents Exposition Project Overview Brainstorming Development Theme 1: Musical Notation Theme 2: When Music Was My Boyfriend Theme 3: My On-and-Off Relationship with the Cello Recapitulation Final Poster Reflections

the Exposition The exposition is the initial presentation of the thematic material of a musical composition, movement, or section. The use of the term generally implies that the material will be developed or varied.

Project Overview In his book, Information Anxiety, Richard Saul Wurman identifies five ways of organizing data into understandable and accessible information: location, alphabet, time, category, and hierarchy (LATCH), otherwise known as the Five Hat Racks. After being presented with the hat racks, we were then asked to gather personalize data and use the hat racks to organize and visualize that information into lists and other graphics. From our personal information, we created a self-portrait as a large format poster that incorporate at least two of the five hat racks.

Brainstorming While using the five hat racks to gather data about myself, I noticed that amid the lists of books I loved, people I missed, places I’d traveled domestically and abroad, that music was a topic I returned to frequently. I made lists and graphs of my favorite musicians, my guilty pleasure music, which songs reminded me of different people or times in my life, my favorite composers, or my favorite musical instruments. At the top of my list of favorite musical instruments was the cello, which I’ve played the cello since age 9. Until college, my cello playing had been a main source of identity. I spent hours every week at private lessons, practicing, playing in a quartet, and in the school orchestra and met many friends through thes activities. I also spent hours upon hours in the privacy of my headphones listening to all kinds of music. Timbre refers to the quality of sound created by different intruments and voices.

Now, however, I rarely pick up my cello. I decided it was time to delve into my past musical experiences to figure out how omething that was once such a central part of my life had essentially become a party trick. My first instinct was to explore the music I had played and listened to for inspiration.

the Development The development is the process throught which a musical idea is communicated in the course of a composition. During the development, the initial material is transformed and restated. This process is carried out upon parts of the material being treated in different presentations and combinations.

Theme 1: Musical Notation An accelerando signals an increase in tempo. A ritardando signals a decrease in tempo.

A crescendo signals an increase in dynamics, while a descrescendo signals a decrease.

Pictured Left: An incomplete sketch of my original musical notation idea. Pictured Right: An unsuccessful attempt at turning my musical story into a staff made completely of words, using the notes to bring out keywords.

Initially, I wanted to put my musical past into strictly musical terms using the staff. I tried to correspond the musical ideas of accelerando, ritardando, crescendo, and decrescendo to my personal progress as a cellist. Unfortunately, I found it difficult to find the right way to incorporate the personal story I wanted to tell. I then looked for inspiration in the heavy markings of my private teachers on my sheet music to remind me of dynamics, tempo, and fingerings. However, I was still concerned that given the inherent symbolism and the crowded space of the staff, I would have a hard time communicating the information in an effective, understandable, and aesthetically pleasing way. I was advised that I could turn the words and stories into the lines and notes of the music, but when I began that process, I found it uninspiring and word heavy. I decided I was forcing parts and details of the story that were unimportant, just to make sure I could bring out certain words of the story I wanted to tell.

While I discarded this concept, the process helped me hone in on the information I wanted to present, namely, the intense emotional range I experienced throughout the years.

Theme 2: When Music Was My Boyfriend My difficulties using the musical notation forms led me to consider other options. I considered the advice given regarding visualizing data: 1.When possible, turn words into pictures 2. Use macro/micro views 3. When possible, consider a timebased presentation My first idea had been heavily text-based, but I struggled with how to visualize something so auditory and rooted in symbol so that it was understandable to a wider audience. I’d considered ways to include a visual representation of myself playing the cello and I decided to return to that idea. I set the scene of my high school bedroom, where I most frequently practiced and reflected on my playing. Pictured: The original version of the “When Music Was My Boyfriend” concept.

To present other forms of information, like the pieces I played, the orchestras and schools I played for, the quartets I was a member in, and the trips I took with my cello, I looked for fitting visuals in the context of a room.

Musicians commonly decorate their cases with stickers to present both their musical “personality”, so I applied that idea to show the orchestras I belonged to and places I’d traveled to with my school orchestra or private teachers. The corkboard on the wall was meant to show my private teachers, and the close association I had with world-famous cellists through my relationships with them, as well as a “practice list” of pieces I played throughout my years as a musician.

Theme 3: My On-and-Off Relationship with the Cello

Pictured Top Left: The voices in my final poster with their varied typefaces and opacities. Pictured Top Right: An excerpt of the musical timeline and my personal notes on my most loved. pieces. Pictured Bottom Left: The corkboard used to show my relative proximity to famous cellist and my practice list.

Pictured Bottom Right: A close-up of some of the bumper stickers decorating my cello case meant to show my orchestral affiliations and musical travel.

Based on the feedback I received during the critique of my “When Music Was My Boyfriend” iterarion, I decided that I should better identify the different voices present in the piece by using typefaces representative of the characters — “teacher”, mother, and myself, as well as the level of resonance each thought or conversation had. I narrowed my focus to just playing the cello and rid of the headphones and sound blast coming from them. To make the title more informative, I changed it to “My On-and-Off Relationship with the Cello”. I also decided to return to the idea musical notation, so I added a a line of music coming from the cello itself, representing my years of progression and regression as a musician. In the timeline, I put measures from some of the most memorable pieces I played, as well as notes to myself about the pieces (feelings as well as playing instructions).

The notes to myself are all in my voice typeface. I hoped this would make clear to the viewer the idea that my feelings about the music might be separated from the experience of playing the cello as an activity mediated by my relationships with other people. To reinforce this idea, I also moved the memories and voices closer to my head, to better illustrate the psychological and emotional aspects of my cello playing.

the Recapitulation The recapilutation occurs after the development section, and typically restates the musical themes from the exposition.

Mr. Kaboff is such a jerk. Also, what’s with the teddy bear sweater?


If only you had come to me when you were younger, you could have been an louder! amazing cellist.

I don’t want to practice.

My On-and-Off Relationship with the Cello

I love this piece. I wish I were up there with the orchestra instead of here in the audience.

Ali, we found you a new teacher. His name is Mr. Yampolsky. Please just come with me to see how it goes. If you don’t like him, we’ll look for someone else.

This is unbelievable... How can Dr. McCormick seat Hannah in front of me? I’m a senior and it’s the last semester anyway. She’s a freshman, anyway. he wasn’ts me to play a “senior” solo.


COUNT!!!! I can’t believe it’s been over a year since I’ve practiced. My arms are killing me.

I wish I had more time to practice.

Don’t be so scared to be heard.


You know, most of You have perfect cello hands. I love Mr. Yampolsky’s stories. I’m so glad we my students have an You’ve got a right angle spread found him. I like that he focuses more on internalized sense of rhythm. between your fingers! musicality than just technique. You don’t seem to have that.

Watch the dynamics!

I wish I got more solos in cello choir.


I can’t believe how impressed Eugene and Jennifer were with my playing this afternoon. They’re such amazing violinists and if they think I’m good I must be.

Thank God I got out of the freshman orchestra. Your father and I bid Ali, I know you’re upset about I’m so glad Dr. McCormick thinks I’m on five private cello good enough to be in the advanced orchestra. Mr. Kaboff, but you should really lessons at the auction practice. and we won. The teacher’s Ali, name is John Kaboff. Most students come to me

Miron Yampolsky


John Kaboff

It’ll make you fingers strong and your grip looser.

I got an email from Mr. Kaboff. Because of your lesson today, he’s “fired” me as a cello mom. He thinks we’re not committed enough.

when they’re four or fiveyears old, so since you’re 12 you’ll be at a disadvantage. I’m so glad my parents

Q: What is the range of a cello? A: As far as you can kick it.

found Mr. Kaboff. I can’t believe I was going to quit.


INTONATION!!!! I should really practice This is a called a more. “bowpushup”.

n paratio s s of Se Degree mous Cellist from Fa Teacher te by Priva


Msitislav Rostopovich

Janos Starker


I don’t want to practice.

Q: What is Beethoven’s favorite fruit? A: Ba-na-na-naaaaas






G Major Scale 2 sharps, play as quarter notes.



The Ash Grove Play smoothly (legato) HAVE FUN!


St. Anne’s Reel Work up to faster speed by practicing SLOWLY first. DON’T RUSH!!







Pablo Casals




Jacqueline du Pre





Chanson Triste Peter Illyich Tschaikovsky

The Swan Camille Saint-Saens

The saddest song. What’s the saddest thing you can tap into while you play? While still bowing smoothly and not crying, of course.

FORTE! Play loud and strong. Very regal quality-- own it! You are a strong, independent (young) woman!

Suite No. 1 in G Major, Prelude Johann Sebastian Bach Practice slow. You finally made it to the quintessential cello piece. Remember smooth bow strokes to bring out beauty. You have to master this so you can show off to all your friends. Oh, and have fun at the end of the song when it picks up-but not too much fun.

Tarantella W.H. Squire

Danse Rustique W.H. Squire

Have fun to practicing! Just remember not to rush & work on the intonation in the higher parts of the piece. Messier shifts between positions are okay.

Good song to play when you have a lot of energy/feel mad. Practive reading treble clef.

40 Melodic Studies Opus 31 Sebastian Lee

Sonata in C Major Opus 43, No. 2 Bernhard Romberg

Elegie, Opus 24 Gabriel Faure

Watch fingerings but remember even though these are technical exercises, don’t miss the musicality. Emphasize the music in the notes.

FORTE! Play loud and strong. Very regal quality-- own it! You are a strong, independent (young) woman!

This is probably the saddest, most beautiful piece you ever played (and you know that’s your favorite). It’s even better than The Swan or Chanson Triste. Tap into all that angst, girl.

Concerto No. 1 in A Minor, Opus 33 Camille Saint-Saens Don’t give up and don’t listen to Jason. He’s a terrible teacher and even though he may not like you, that doesn’t mean you can’t do this. You’ve worked hard to get here, so PRACTICE!


Everyone is Golden Portugal the Man Do do do do do dooo do do do do do dooo. Oh crap, don’t forget to watch for the chord changes at the chorus! Why didn’t I learn the circle of fifths better? And why can’t I think of anything more interesting to play? Need to work on my improv.

Alison Servis, Grad Studio I

Reflections on my Self Portrait The process of creating this self-portrait was very illuminating for me. As I began, I wasn’t sure exactly what picture of myself would emerge. Recollecting the conversations and experiences, I was surprised by the amount of negative emotion that emerged.

Executing my ideas inevitably took longer than I anticipated, which is something I will remember to account for in future assignments. While I left myself plenty of time, this fact will undoubtedly be important to remember when I face greater time constraints.

Much of the joy I found in cello playing came from my friendships that were formed around music and the incredible catharsis and meditation music facilitates both for the player and the listener. I found it hard to put many of these things into words, which is perhaps why some of the negative emotions dominated the conversation.

Finally, I think I effectively used several of Wurman’s hat racks, including location, time, and hierarchy. Using the stickers on the cello case to represent both time and location, using my musical staff to show progress over time, as well as some personal hierarchy that may not be apparent to the viewer by choosing which pieces out of the many I played that I most enjoyed playing or found most memorable. Lastly, I used opacity and text size to show hierarchy in voices surrounding me.

During the process, I faced uncertainties about my design, as well as the limitations of Adobe Illustrator knowledge. I pushed myself to learn how to use the pen and paintbrush tools, to apply texture effects and drop shadows to add dimension. I feel more confident both with the program itself, but also with my ability to learn how to use new tools (and there are still so many to learn!) to make my work better.

Self-Portrait Process Book  

Self-Portrait Process Book