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Practice, Practice, Practice: Caleb van der Swaagh


Caleb van der Swaagh is in the process of mastering the cello.
He loves to practice scales.

“Practice, practice, practice,” might as well be a moniker for Carnegie Hall. Yet, we spend very little time talking about the physical and emotional undertaking during practice. We’re accustomed to musicians presenting us with their seemingly effortless performances instead of the struggles and reality of practicing. Here, we dive into the world of practice: Musicians of Ensemble ACJW talking honestly, and realistically, about their relationship to practicing.

Do you enjoy performing or practicing more?
Oh, definitely performing more. Practicing is … practicing is just a lot of work. I think when I was younger I used to think that I’d reached this point where it just all came together and either I wouldn’t have to practice, which would be ideal, or at least if I did have to practice it would just kind of be fun.

But it is work, like you have to show up and do it. It can be enjoyable and it can be rewarding, but there is a certain element of having to be in there and putting the time in.

What do you not like about practicing?
There can be a lot of drudgery to it. It can have a real mechanical aspect to it. I don’t mean mechanical like you’re not paying attention, but it’s just stuff you have to learn and that can be work.

You’re also sitting by yourself in a room for a while, so that can get a little old sometimes. I mean, it’s just you in there, and you have to try to be productive and get work done. It always feels like a better choice to go out and get a coffee, you know, than to do the work.

What do you really love about practicing?
It’s a great feeling when you’ve figured something out. When you’re working on a piece you find interesting and you get a sense of exploration or you’re able to discover things about the piece—I mean that’s great too. A lot of the joy of playing music is exploring the possibilities and seeing all the music has to offer, and building a relationship with the piece. So there are times when it can be fun. But, the first five minutes are always the worst.

››Read the full interview here.

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