Alongside his interview for The Strad Podcast, the cellist shares the manuals and resources that have informed his playing and teaching career so far


Cellist Guy Johnston

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It was a pleasure to speak with Davina during our podcast chat. Following on from our conversation, here are a few thoughts as well as a list of books that have influenced me in recent times.

When I arrived back at Eastman to teach, I reached out to my mentor, colleague and friend, Steven Doane, to ask what manuals he might recommend. I wanted to further my knowledge and have more ideas to share with the students. I have since been digesting many materials that I wish I had the time for when I was younger. But it is better late than never!

From the initial suggestions, one thing led to another. Violin manuals have been around a lot longer, but the cello contributions to pedagogy have been increasing a tremendous amount over the last century. The earliest manual I have is by Jean Louis Duport (1749-1819), Essay on Fingering the Violoncello, and on the Conduct of the Bow, followed by Dorian Alexanian’s Complete Cello Technique published in 1922. I have also been influenced by some non-music related books that have helped inform my playing.

In terms of playing our instrument, we want to simplify everything, which is easier said than done! There is a whole web of connections that need to happen in order to find our flow. Breathing, posture and motion have such a big influence on our fluency around the instrument. Centering our mind and ourselves in a meditative way, keeping our awareness open, helps us to listen and indeed make the connections instinctively and intuitively. If we can just get out of the way, the music will guide us. We can start to interact more healthily and positively in the act of playing and doing. Playing is an important word. We are at play with our instrument, the music and ourselves. We want to be free to explore, as if the fingerboard is some sort of playground. Coordination and listening between the hands is part of a good balance, not only being present in the moment, but also anticipating what is to come.

We need to find out the message, whatever that may be, for ourselves. Take on the responsibility ourselves, and only through experience can we learn. Those ‘a-ha!’ moments often occur when we recognise information and it finally makes sense to us, or we are finally able to recognise the importance of the idea. Wisdom. It is a patient journey, not a sprint, but a marathon.

Those ‘a-ha!’ moments often occur when we recognise information and it finally makes sense to us

Here are some manuals and books that have influenced me:

Steven Doane, Ergonomics

Maurice Eisenberg, Cello Playing of Today (incidentally written for The Strad)

Diran Alexanian, Complete Cello Technique

Eugen Herrigel, Zen in the Art of Archery

Takuan, The Unfettered Mind (following on from Herrigel)

Ivan Galamian, Principles of Violin Playing & Teaching

Paul Rolland, The Teaching of Action in String Playing

Shin’ichi Suzuki, Nutured by Love

William Pleeth, Cello

David Blum, Casals and the Art of Interpretation

Paul Tortelier, How I play, How I teach

Anner Bylsma Bach, The Fencing Master, Droppings and the Happy Few

Steven Isserlis, The Bach Cello Suites

Gerhard Mantel, Cello Technique and Practising Etudes

Fred Sherry, A Grand Tour of Cello Technique

Evangeline Benedetti, Cello, Bow and You—Putting it all together

Millie Stanfield, The Intermediate Cellist

George Kennaway, Playing the Cello, 1780-1930

Steven De’ak, David Popper

Anthony Arnone, The Art of Listening

Christopher Bunting, Essays on the Craft of ‘Cello-Playing

Vivien Mackie, ‘Just Play Naturally’

Hans Jensen, Practice Mind

J Corredor, Conversations with Casals

Feldenkrais, Awareness Through Movement

F.M. Alexander, The Use of the Self

Bessel van der Kolk, The Body Keeps the Score

Stephen Cope, Yoga and the Quest for the True Self

Theodore Dimon, The Body in Motion—Its Evolution and Design

James Nestor, Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art

Percy Buck, Psychology for Musicians

Barry Green with Timothy Galwey, The Inner Game of Music

Eckhart Tolle, The Power of Now

Richard Alpert, Remember Be Here Now

Federico Garcia Lorca, In Search of Duende

Carol Dweck, Mindset

Helen Keller, The World I Live In & Optimism

Robert Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance – An Inquiry into Values

Henri Bergson, Creative Evolution

Susan Langer, Problems of Art

Emile Coué, Self Mastery through Conscious Autosuggestion

Clive Brown, Classical & Romantic Performing Practice 1750-1900

Listen to Guy Johnston speak on The Strad Podcast here

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