A Talk with Amahl
Updated: Feb 11
Three years ago, my youngest and I went to a children’s concert in Stirling, Ontario. This was our first experience with QSCM and his first time hearing Chamber music live. He was fascinated by what he heard. One aspect of QSCM’s concerts that I really like is that they always make time for the audience to interact with the performers. We were even invited on stage and he got a chance to play Amahl’s cello. We recently decided to contact Amahl to ask him some questions we had about life as a professional cellist:
Hello Amahl, I heard you were going to have a concert soon. I wonder how much practice you have to do every day to get ready? That can be a bit of a complicated answer! When I have something to prepare for I definitely practice more during the day. Typically I try to practice 2-3 hours daily regardless of concerts. If I have things to prepare for – which is often – I will usually end up working for 5-6 hours, with 5-10min breaks every hour and maybe a slightly longer break at the 3 hour mark. Wow, that’s sounds hard to keep up. It also must be hard to play the cello because it is so big. Do you have any funny stories about travelling with your cello? I’m not sure if I would call any of my stories funny as much as annoying, especially when travelling by plane! I’ve been left off a flight and had my cello travel without me and also had a flight delayed by over an hour as a direct result of travelling with a cello. I suppose the only funny story would be the time my cello flew first class and I was left behind in economy. I was travelling home from Germany and had purchased a seat for my cello. A flight attendant approached me and asked if I would try and help accommodate a larger woman who was having a hard time in her seat – I would take her seat, she would take my two seats and my cello would go somewhere else on the plane. That somewhere else ended up being in a first class seat – I hope it took advantage of the complimentary drink services! That IS funny imagining a cello with hands. Speaking of hands, I noticed that sometimes you use a bow to play the strings and sometimes you only use your fingers. Why is that? This is simply to achieve a different sound! Playing with the fingers is a technique called “pizzicato”. This allows me to get a more percussive, articulated sound similar to a guitar or a mandolin. It depends what the music or composer calls for. That makes sense. I also noticed that you hit the cello with your hands sometimes. It makes a really neat sound. I like it but I wonder where you got the idea to do that? The cello is a big, hollow wooden box, very much like a drum! Sometimes when we don’t have drums but want to mimic the sound, the best way is to just treat the cello like a drum. This technique is used a lot more in contemporary music and I was really happy to discover that! Just be careful not to hit the cello too hard. Yes, when music is exciting it is difficult to not get carried away. Some of the music you play is REALLY complicated and strange. Who taught you how to play like that? A lot of people like to describe music as a language. I look at different styles of western music as different dialects of the same language. The best way to learn those dialects is to expose yourself to them and become immersed in them. This is pretty much how I learned the “dialect” that is contemporary music. I had a few teachers who were very experienced with it as well to help guide me in the right direction, but it was mainly due to my own interest in it and devouring as much content as I could. Well, the first time I heard you play I was AMAZED how it sounded. I definitely look forward to hearing you play again. Thank you for spending time to answer all my questions. (Even though I have a million more!) Good bye for now - F.
For more information about Amahl Arulanandam & the Kindred Spirits Orchestra's performance of "Dark and Light" please visit: https://ksorchestra.ca/2020-21-season/