The Art of Listening

Conversations with Cellists

by Anthony Arnone (Author)
©2020 Textbook X, 334 Pages


In The Art of Listening, Anthony Arnone interviews 13 of the top cello teachers of our time, sharing valuable insights about performing, teaching, music, and life. While almost every other aspect of twenty-first-century life has been changed by technological advancements, the art of playing and teaching the cello has largely remained the same. Our instruments are still made exactly the same way and much of what we learn is passed on by demonstration and word of mouth from generation to generation. We are as much historians of music as we are teachers of the instrument. 
The teaching lineage in the classical music world has formed a family tree of sorts with a select number of iconic names at the top of the tree, such as Pablo Casals, Gregor Piatigorsky, and Leonard Rose. A large percentage of professional cellists working today studied with these giants of the cello world, or with their students. In addition to discussing the impact of these masters and their personal experience as their students, the renowned cellists interviewed in this book touch on a variety of topics from teaching philosophies to how technology has changed classical music.

Table Of Contents


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I have been very fortunate to have studied with some remarkable cellists during my formative years. They were not only great teachers but also wonderful performers and thoughtful musicians, and what I learned from them took me years to fully digest.

I was also very influenced and inspired by other teachers and performers during that time such as Joel Krosnick of the Juilliard Quartet and Paul Katz of the Cleveland Quartet. Listening to their quartet recordings and hearing their sound made me fall in love with some of the great chamber music repertoire and eventually led me to want to become a cellist.

So why did I write this book? Most, if not all, of these great musicians have already been interviewed. My goal was to first document what they learned from their teachers. Their teachers were the “greats” of cello playing. People like Pablo Casals, Gregor Piatigorsky, Leonard Rose, André Navarra, Maurice Gendron, and others shaped the way our current generation of teachers play and teach the cello. I wanted to gather these stories before they were lost.

But I also wanted to preserve this time in history and have a way to collectively compare and understand how cello playing and teaching was viewed in my generation. Maybe I can let Arthur Taylor’s words from his book Notes and Tones say it better than I can:

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My predominant motivation in publishing Notes and Tones was that it was inspired by the real voices of musicians as they saw themselves and not as critics or journalists saw them. I wanted an insider’s view. These conversations may not always reflect how these artists feel today, but I believe their candid statements represent important insights into a very particular period in history.

I feel incredibly lucky to have spent time with these cellists, and to dig into their lives to learn how they first learned from their teachers, and then later how they learned to listen with ears that hear more than most mortal cellists. I spoke face to face with a group that in total have played thousands of concerts. I sat and had tea with Tim Eddy; went sailing with Steven Doane; watched Gary Hoffman teach and perform at Ravinia; and had breakfast, lunch, and dinner with Paul Katz.

I learned that each of these cellists approached music from a different background, had different goals and expectations, and found their path in very different ways. But one thing they all have in common is a passion for what they do and a desire to improve, no matter how old they are. They all still practice scales! They all are humble and believe there is still so much more to learn. There is respect for the cello and an art of listening.

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This book had been nothing but a dream for many years. The process was mysterious and exciting for me, and I certainly learned a lot along the way. And I could not have completed this project without the help of many people over the past few years.

I first have to thank the cellists that are in this book. They inspired me not only by their teaching and playing but also with their dedication to art and their sharing of their learning process and their lives. I am thankful to have had the chance to get to know them as people as well as learning about them as musicians.

I am grateful to the University of Iowa library for transcribing dozens of hours of interviews in order to give me a good place to start with editing.

And a huge thank-you to the people along the way that helped me edit. A thank-you to Rachel Gibbons and Brooke Steele for their help early on as well as Jean Littlejohn for taking on some big chapters. Thank you to my mom, Ann Arnone for her beautiful cover art! And a special thank-you to Sarah Hansen for all the editing and proofreading near the end as well as her incredible email to Bonnie Hampton. That will be a great story for years to come. I could not have reached the finish line without her help and support!

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  Richard Aaron

Richard L. Aaron presently serves as professor of cello at the University of Michigan, the Juilliard School, and the Robert McDuffie Center for Strings. Previously, he taught at the Cleveland Institute of Music (CIM) and the New England Conservatory.

Aaron has given master classes in Spain, Germany, France, Korea, Japan, China, and Australia, as well as at many of the leading music schools in North America, including Rice University, Oberlin Conservatory, Eastman School of Music, Mannes, the Hartt School, and the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto. Since 2003, Aaron has been on the faculty of the Aspen Music Festival and has taught at many other summer music institutes, including the Indiana University String Academy, Calgary Music Bridge, Peter the Great Music Festival (Groningen, Holland), Aria International Summer Academy (Massachusetts), Innsbruck Summer Music Academy (Missouri), Chautauqua Institution (New York), the Idyllwild Summer Program (California), Heifetz International Music Institute (Virginia), Marrowstone Music Festival (Port Townsend, Washington), and Encore (Ohio).

Many of Aaron’s students have won prestigious prizes at competitions around the world, including the Naumburg, Washington International, Johanson in Washington, Isan Yun in Korea, Cassadó in Japan, and Klein in San Francisco. Aaron himself is a frequent competition judge, having recently served the Beijing International ←1 | 2→Competition, Isan Yun Competition (Korea), Cassadó (Japan), Amsterdam Cello Biennale Competition, Schadt String Competition, and the Stulberg Competition.

Former Aaron students have occupied principal positions in major orchestras such as Chicago, Saint Louis, Seattle, Portland, and the Metropolitan Opera to name just a few, as well as playing among award-winning ensembles, such as the Biava, Fry Street, American, Penderecki, Linden, Escher, and Aeolus string quartets.

Aaron was a member of the Elysian Piano Trio at Baldwin Wallace College for 14 years; he continues an active chamber music performance schedule.

The Past

Anthony Arnone:Where did you grow up and how did you first become exposed to the cello?

Richard Aaron:I grew up in West Hartford, Connecticut, and actually I first wanted to play the violin because my brother played the violin. When I was about 7 years old, my parents said, “We can’t have two violinists. You have to play something else,” so I took up the cello. My first teacher was Sonya Missal (Brittin), who really was very inspiring and made the cello a lot of fun. Then when I was about 11, I started studying with Mary Lou Rylands-Isaacson, who was teaching at the University of Connecticut. She was a wonderful teacher and was the one who really inspired me to want to pursue the cello further.

A.A.Were your parents musicians?

R.A.No, my mother sings and my father plays the radio, but my uncle is Sam Adler, the composer from Eastman and Juilliard, and my grandfather was a composer. My parents weren’t musicians, but music was a very important part of our lives. My brother was a very good violinist and my other brother played French horn so we always had music in the house.

A.A.When did you know that the cello was something you seriously wanted to pursue?

R.A.I was pretty young. I just knew I enjoyed doing it as it gave me confidence and was really fun. I was also very fortunate to have very good kids my age to play chamber music with. I was in a string quartet with people like Nicki Danielson and Peter Winograd, who were wonderful. And, so we had a very young string quartet that was very inspirational.

A.A.When you were a kid did you enjoy practicing?

R.A. That was my favorite pastime. It’s all I wanted to do, and I was pretty good in sports and things like that, but my love was playing the cello. I didn’t practice well and probably wasted 90% of my time but I still loved it and would figure out how to practice much later.

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A.A. It sounds like you were very self-motivated. Did your parents ever have to push you?

R.A. My parents never had to ask me to practice.

A.A. You just practiced because you loved the cello so much?

R.A. I loved it and that’s why very often when I see a student that’s not totally motivated and working hard, I sometimes question why, because I was very motivated and worked very hard as a kid. So when a kid doesn’t work that hard, I have to learn about their motivation. I have to understand what motivates them.

A.A.Did you study with Mary Lou Rylands-Isaacson until college?

R.A.No, I studied with Mary Lou until I was around 16, and then I studied with Raya Garbousova and also for a short time with David Wells. They were at Hartt School of Music and so I met them both there. David Wells was very helpful. I went to Yellow Barn with him and he was an inspired teacher. Then I kind of wavered around a little bit and wasn’t sure about what to do next.

    That was a weird time in my life. I was visiting my brother, who was in a rabbinical program in Israel one December around Christmas time and there was an opening in the orchestra and I won the job. I never really went to university or a music school. My education was playing in the Jerusalem Symphony.

A.A.How old were you when you went there?

R.A.I was 18 and it was very lucky. I was at a laundromat doing my laundry just a few days before I was going to leave, when I happened to meet a violist named Richard Wolfe. I said, “What do you do?” And he said, “I’m a violist in the Jerusalem Symphony.” I said, “Oh, that’s really cool,” and he said, “There are Cello auditions next week.”

    So I took the audition and I won the job, and it was the luckiest break because I feel by having that experience of three and a half, almost four years of just being a professional, my skills of reading improved, as well as my skills of understanding different musical ideas. They would usually have a different conductor every week. That was a really wonderful education even though I was only paid $103 a week.

A.A.I can relate, I don’t have a doctorate, but I worked in the orchestra in Nice for two years and I worked with Paul and Maud Tortelier at the same time, so I consider that worth a degree of some sorts.

R.A.It’s a real education.

A.A.I agree. It was real live education and a beautiful place to live. So you were there, you said three and a half years.

R.A.Almost. I left just before I was drafted.

A.A.You were drafted?

R.A.Yes, into the Israeli army. I didn’t want to do that. I was also very interested in studying the Alexander Technique while I was in Israel. I had three different teachers. And every morning before orchestra I had an Alexander lesson.

A.A.What drew you to learn about the Alexander Technique?

R.A.It was just a very enjoyable art form and I thought it helped my cello playing a great deal. After Israel, I decided to move to Switzerland and take an Alexander Technique training course. It was a three-year training course, but I only did it for two and a half ←3 | 4→years and didn’t graduate. I didn’t feel the need to be a certified teacher so I just did it for myself. Then I moved to London to continue learning Alexander. I studied with a guy named Patrick McDonald who was a very fine teacher. So there I was in London studying Alexander, working, and playing cello and enjoying life.

A.A.At that point, what was your sense of what you thought you wanted to do?

R.A.Well, I had no interest in teaching whatsoever. The first time I ever taught was in Israel. There was a lady who had an instrument foundation to give to children who couldn’t afford instruments. They had me teach ten students and after one year the kids played worse at the end of the year than they did at the beginning. I only did it for one year and I remember saying to the lady, “I don’t think I should be teaching your kids.”

    I was very excited to teach them but back then I just didn’t understand the process of teaching and when I was in Switzerland and London, being a teacher never even crossed my mind.

A.A.Did you think maybe you’d be an orchestral cellist or at least making your living playing the cello?

R.A.Yes, I was working a lot in Basil. I was subbing in orchestras and doing a lot of chamber music. In London, I did quite a bit of playing and I always thought I’ll just have fun and play. I always thought it was fun, never work.

A.A.And, then after London?

R.A.I moved to North Carolina. I had an old girlfriend from Switzerland who was in the North Carolina Dance Theater at the School for the Arts. So I decided to move to North Carolina where I lived for six months. I enjoyed living there very much but shortly after I was there, she had an injury and couldn’t dance so we traveled all over America. I went to Minneapolis, and I really liked it there, with the MacPhail School and everything, I talked to them and then I said, “Oh, let’s just keep on going.” I literally traveled for about four months around the whole country in a red Subaru station wagon just deciding where to live. It was great! I remember I really liked Albuquerque and San Diego and I was almost going to settle in San Diego but I thought, “Oh, if I live here I’ll never practice, it’s way too nice.”


X, 334
ISBN (Softcover)
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2020 (October)
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Oxford, Wien, 2020. X, 334 pp.

Biographical notes

Anthony Arnone (Author)

Called "a cellist with rich tonal resources, fine subtlety and a keen sense of phrasing" (Gramophone), cellist Anthony Arnone enjoys a varied career as a soloist, chamber musician, conductor, recording artist, composer, and teacher throughout the country and around the world. Mr. Arnone is an associate professor of cello at the University of Iowa School of Music and is also on the faculty of the Preucil School of Music in Iowa City, where he teaches and conducts. Mr. Arnone received degrees from New England Conservatory and Wichita State University.


Title: The Art of Listening