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New Students, New Dog, Summer Plans

Deb and Lundy in the woods

Deb and Lundy in the woods

These past months have been marked by the welcome addition of several new aspiring youth and adult students, all eager to embrace the cello and tackle the first challenging months of learning. It delights me to hear just how many people arrive at my studio saying that the cello has always been their favourite instrument!

My studio has been much improved by the recent timely installation of super efficient and nearly silent air conditioning. Along with the studio/house humidifier we now have perfect climate control for everybody; students, me, my new dog, cellos and the piano!

Yes! I do have a charming new dog, Lundy, adopted back in January from Klamath Falls Rescue.He came with a broken front left leg encased in a hefty cast. Being supposedly 1/2 Golden Retreiver, 1/2 Cocker Spaniel, he is officially a “Golden Cocker Retreiver.”  (Seriously, look it up: It is an official hybrid! Try saying it really fast….) Lundy, named after a traditional family haunt in the Sierra Nevada, quickly settled down to cello playing, cello lessons and was a superbly behaved, people magnet at our spring recital. (He loves everybody; people, dogs and especially cats.)

Portrait of Lundy

Portrait of Lundy

This dog with a broken leg had nine weeks of constant nursing and plenty of time for the two of us to fully bond. I think we experienced love at first sight followed by great companionship and understanding. His broken leg mended perfectly and this has enabled us to go for increasingly lengthy walks twice a day, up to 5 miles as I write. (I never knew a dog could lift its leg so many times in one hour!) He is currently disappointed that it is just too hot to take the second walk later in the day, even though I take him out to show him just how hot it actually is!

In about a week Lundy and I will be going backpacking in the Wallowas, then a second trip to a yet undecided location. He’s got his custom-sewn sleeping bag, his booties and many more small backpack-specific items, all of which I will need to carry for him to prevent possible strain to his long back and short legs. Since being close to me is his main motivation in life, sleeping in a tent together will be his idea of heaven. As for the wilderness: Dog bliss. Squirrels galore! (Also, of course, deer, bears, endless variety of rodents, possible mountain goats, stealthy wolves and not-so-stealthy coyotes, to mention a few.) My dog has one unique, high pitched squeal reserved solely for squirrel sighting and alert. I think it is an F sharp 1.5 octaves above middle C. Squirrel having been sighted in tree, he must be restrained from attempting to climb said tree.

We recently visited friends in California and I was able to see just how brilliantly my fully web-toed dog swims–something resembling a Golden-haired Otter, sleek and smooth. Down in California, in a friend’s private pool, he cruises without causing any ripple in a sort of synchronized swimming display, accompanied by a 130 lb. St Bernard! While I was holding him above the water all four legs were already initiating the dog crawl.

As ever, over this past year I have been very busy creating cello arrangements. These are always included in performances at our recital and have proven to be popular hits for both student performers and audience. These arranging projects will continue to be a part of my work week and will hopefully become available on my website once fully road tested, dusted and steam cleaned.

I am truly enjoying the variety of students who now study with me. They range in age from 11 rs. to into their seventies. Amazing people! All committed to their study, all making great progress, all having a loads of fun.

I know that I will return from my annual mountain treks refreshed and with renewed momentum  for my forthcoming teaching, playing and arranging. Barbara Johnston (my sister-in-law) and I are planning to re-ignite the Johnston Duo with some autumn performances which will hopefully premier some of my arrangements. It is always a great pleasure to play and perform together.

As I close, my thoughts are with all my friends, family and students. I wish you all a safe, healthy and life-renewing summer break. Have fun! Oh… and practice, practice, practice!


Summer Within Sight

Created: Wednesday, 26 February 2014 14:32

This summer is cheerfully anticipated. I have a recently acquired new truck bedecked with Deb Johnston custom shell, especially purchased for forays into and adventures in the wilderness and mountains!

Some folks will know that I had previously been driving a very old Toyota station wagon, courtesy of my father, over these last 6 years in Bend. The upgrade to “Truck Chick” is still a very exciting new experience. (Still working on the appropriate wardrobe style.)

The purchasing of this vehicle, my first ever vehicle purchase here in the U.S., was sheer, unadulterated purgatory (expletive deleted). And, unfortunately, I now believe and can attest to all the horror stories folks tell about car dealerships and car sales persons. When the deal was finally done and my truck arrived I definitely felt a miracle had occurred! Hallelujah!

The Master Plan: The night before my backpacking trips I will sleep comfortably in my extra high shell and get off to an early and relaxed start on the hike. This surely beats taking down a possibly rain drenched tent and struggling to re-pack it into my backpack before the start of my hike. One proviso: I will need to take extra care in campsites now that the bear-attracting food and I share the same residence at night.  I may resort to hanging my food in the tree (as when backpacking) while staying in campgrounds.

Driving this new vehicle has been much improved by Sirius XM radio. Since I can receive stations inside my garage where I park, I am frequently very reluctant to exit the car, sometimes nearing the climax of a favorite opera or cello piece senza advertisements!  I look forward to great music on a regular basis and especially in remote mountain places! I can also look forward to the odd S. F. Giant’s baseball game when away from home. (I did not mean to imply that Giants baseball is “odd,” although . . … ) OK. True confessions: I admit that since living back on the West Coast I have become totally hooked on my father’s favorite team. You should (or maybe, would not want to) hear our phone conversations during the regular baseball season!

To all cellists: Keep practicing the cello a lot and have a great time loving music!


Ahha Lane

Created: Wednesday, 26 February 2014 14:17

On the lighter side …… . I am grateful and relieved that my two beloved feral (PC: “community”) cats, “Scherzo” and “Segue” (he arrived on my door step after Scherzo, the female) did triumphantly survive near entombment by ice during the recent snow storms. Like my cats, I can sense spring around the comer, deck chairs dusted and ready to go. (Too optimistic?)  The cats appear to be behaving a little “kittenish” and playing silly games reserved for safe weather and longer days.

I have fought a continual and Royal Duel with precocious raccoons who seem to think that the cat food outside is labelled “Food for cute little hungry raccoons.” To visualize all this, you need to understand that the raccoons seem to understand English and are entirely undaunted by being shouted at or targeted with a well-stocked, at-the-ready supply of small Central Oregon volcanic rocks. They must also carry wrist watches, they are so good at timing, and have preferences for certain types of food meant solely for my cats. 

As a consequence to the frequent, unwanted visits from these neighborhood raccoons (I am trying to nurture the cats and I cannot feed the entire wild life population of Tillicum Village), I am sometimes forced, like an under paid short order waitress in a crowded fast food place during peak mealtime, to “yo-yo” cat food in and out off my deck all evening, in between whatever else I am attempting to do. Although I do believe in taking regular breaks from work, this would not necessarily include juggling cat food dishes every 20 minutes or so!

As a consequence of my diligence, the cats seem to be healthy and are most certainly well fed. This pleases my animal welfare instincts greatly.

Sixth Anniversary of Cascade Cello

This month I celebrate the sixth anniversary of opening my cello studio in Bend, Oregon. Many of my students have gone on to celebrate musical successes, at college, in the professional world and in life. I’m proud of their achievements and pleased to have been a part of their musical growth.

With this sixth anniversary of my studio comes the realization that I have not increased my teaching fees in all that time, yet my own expenses have inevitably climbed. Thus it is with some regret that I announce that fees will be increasing, effective at the end of the summer (September 1, 2014). Lessons will be $55 per hour for regular weekly lessons. For lessons scheduled less frequently than weekly, the fee will be $65 per lesson. For children 11 and under, who wish to have 45 minute lessons, the fee will be $45 per lesson. It may also be possible to schedule group lessons (2-4 students) for children 11 and under.

In this very cold time of the year, I think about the winter and summer pleasures of the Bend area. The mountains are beautiful but icy, and I look forward to a time when I can once again set out to backpack among the trees, lakes and peaks of our beautiful corner of the Earth.

Bob Armer was instrumental in bringing me to Bend at the outset. I have been grateful for his support and guidance as I settled into the High Desert life and nurtured my Cascade Cello Studio. He was involved with coaching chamber music in which many of my students participated, and was part of my inspiration to compose new music and make new arrangements of compositions for cello ensembles. Most of you will know that Bob passed away on December 5, 2013. I will miss him.

I recently saw an article by Yo-Yo Ma about the role of arts and creativity in our lives. His thoughts mirror my own, and I commend the article to you.

Please join me in welcoming the coming spring, with the green growth and much needed tumbling cascades of water which we are all hoping will come soon, to replenish the water resources in these western states.

I encourage you to all practice hard and enjoy the pleasure which music will bring.

Bass Camp

Bass Camp

Copyright: Bronnian Comics.  Reprinted with permission – Torstar Syndication Services

Out of the Freezer

Deb with Unalaska Children

Deb with Unalaska Children

Karen Shepard and I have now been home for 10 days with plenty of time to reflect on our successful recital and teaching trek and visit to Dutch Harbor, Unalaska, courtesy of the Aleutian Arts Council.

Dutch Harbor Church and Waterfront

Dutch Harbor Church and Waterfront

In Dutch Harbor we were surrounded by imposing, snow covered, barren mountains. There are only about a half dozen dwarf pines (apparently planted by Captain James Cook).  Eagles are everywhere and content to let you get close. A large, lone fox took his morning promenade along the pebble beach outside my hotel window. He/she was huge compared to the the British foxes (small and orange) which I was used to seeing in the suburbs of London. Margaret’s Bay seemed to be relentlessly battered by wind with a loud accompanying howl next to The Grand Aleutian Hotel.

There are two schools in Dutch Harbor: Elementary and Middle/High school. We gave five seminars, including sessions with pre-schoolers. I was impressed and delighted by the intelligence and personality of these wonderful children. Some of the most imaginative questions about music and the cello came from the mouths of the 3 and 4 year olds. There is a wonderful mixture of ethnicity and cultural inheritance.These schools work hard to include everyone. Many of the children have never left the island, however (approximately $1,000 to fly to Anchorage and back) This creates some challenges for kids who have just passed their driver’s licence test: The maximum speed on the island is 30 mph, there are 17 miles of road and no traffic signals. When these young drivers eventually attempt to drive on the mainland they are sometimes overwhelmed by city signs, congestion, traffic lights and highways.

We were told that going to college on the mainland is also challenging for many of the brightest students:  Dutch Harbor has under 4,000 permanent residents. Attending a big university and living in a large dormitory at college is sometimes just too much.

The hospitality we received during our stay was outstanding. The Grand Aleutian Hotel also has some of the best food I have ever eaten anywhere, especially on Wednesday evenings when they offer a grand seafood buffet! The hotel also graciously provided a conference room for me to use for cello practice.

On the Saturday evening, the day before we were supposed to depart Dutch Harbor, we gave our recital. Although small, the audience was incredibly enthusiastic and appreciative. We received a standing ovation and our audience truly seemed to love the concert.

Juvenile Bald Eagle on a Dumpster near the Dutch Harbor Airport

Juvenile Bald Eagle on a Dumpster near the Dutch Harbor Airport

Getting off the island turned out to be our greatest challenge!  I would not wish to argue with Mother Nature, nor the highly qualified pilots who are at HER mercy.( By the way, a hard shell cello travel case barely does fit into its purchased passenger seat. However, there is no chance of reclining the chair by the human being sitting in front!  It also needs a seat belt extension to be safely anchored.) It took us an extra two days before a plane could depart Dutch Harbor for Anchorage. These two days were dominated by multiple expeditions (fully laden) back and forth from hotel to airport. The airport is very small, apparently with no loud speaker system. We apparently weren’t tuned into the local methods of announcing weather delays and cancellations, so we spent more time at the airport than we needed to have done, waiting for any announcement that our plane might be departing.

When we were finally able to depart, the take off was breathtaking, skirting through all these mountains above dramatic and turbulent seas. It is certainly one of the most awe-inspiring flights I have ever experienced!

So Spring is now officially coming to town here in Bend, Oregon with the accompanying outdoor pleasantries. My adult students are all busy preparing for the big recital on June 3rd.

I am happy that Karen and I did this Alaskan adventure and grateful to her for her support, both musical and social. She now has first hand experience of what it is like to travel with a CELLO and may possibly wish to work with a flutist or singer next time (?) ……………….


Menuhin at Shemya

J. Richard Johnston 1915-2014

J. Richard Johnston 1915-2014

(Editor’s note: Since this blog entry was written, Rich passed away on September 6, 2014.)

Menuhin at the dinner table in Shemya

Menuhin at the dinner table in Shemya

We’d like to give the honor of this website’s first blog posting to Deb’s father, J. Richard Johnston (“Rich”), left.  The time is ripe for two reasons:  first is Deb’s upcoming recital and musical ambassadorship to Dutch Harbor in the Aleutian Islands, not too far from the place where this all happened.  Second is Rich’s birthday next week when he will achieve the magnificent age of 97.    Here’s what he wrote a few days ago, when asked to put pen to paper, accompanied by some of the pictures he took:

My first tour of duty as a newly-commissioned Navy ensign in World War II was on the tiny island of Shemya in the Aleutian Islands.  One afternoon, in November, 1943, Yehudi Menuhin, the world-renowned violinist, accompanied by his pianist, suddenly arrived at Shemya in our midst.

Menuhin playing for the assembled troops in a Shemya quonset hut.

Menuhin playing for the assembled troops in a Shemya quonset hut.

Sent by the USO (“United Service Organization”), he had been scheduled to play for the Army and Navy troops stationed on the island of Attu, the western-most island in the Aleutian chain.  The Navy pilot elected, instead, to land at Shemya because, as usual, it was snowing and the little island of Shemya, just a few miles east of Attu, was flat, while the runway at Attu had a 3,000 foot mountain at the north end of the runway.

The Navy unit at Shemya was tiny, consisting of perhaps only 20 or 30 personnel, while the Army had some 3,000 troops on the island.  But the Army didn’t welcome Menuhin, allegedly because the commanding officer was anti-Semitic, so Menuhin was our guest for dinner at the officers mess.  (One of our Navy cooks, a professional cook in civilian life, had sculpted a large ice centerpiece for the occasion.)

When the dinner was over, we all trooped down to a large Quonset hut, where the piano was in place.  I felt sure that it would be out of tune, because it hadn’t been tuned since it arrived by ship from Seattle.  When the pianist struck the first chord, it was clear that it was hopelessly out of tune.

Menuhin between pulpit and pinball machine, playing for the troops

Menuhin between pulpit and pinball machine, playing for the troops

But Menuhin and his pianist didn’t even hesitate.  At one point, when Yehudi stopped to tune his violin, he commented, “This is purely a formality,” but he continued to play (accompanied by the out-of-tune piano) until the end of the evening.

It was an evening that remains etched in my mind.

J. Richard Johnston

I have had the honor…

“I have had the honor and pleasure of being a Cello student of Deb Johnston for 3 years.  Being a retired music teacher with training in piano, guitar and voice, I decided to treat myself to learning the Cello.  I have had years of music lessons in different music venues. Deb is the best teacher I have ever had.

“Deb is a superb Cello teacher who has the magic gift of teaching technical prowess and musicality. She challenges her students enough to obtain constant improvement. She offers multiple solutions to difficult musical passages and has a masterful knowledge of fingerings and bowing situations. Because she is a World Class Cellist, Deb has high expectations and a drive for excellence that is passed on to her students. Her insistence of interpreting the passion and feeling of the music makes every lesson rewarding.”

— Ellen Logan

I began my study…

I began my study with Deb, having no prior musical education whatsoever. I could not read a note of music; I didn’t even know how to hold the cello. I have been going to her now for several months and I have to be honest, it was the best decision I have made in a long time. She sets out on journey with you and is determined to see you succeed. Right off the bat I had a very warm feeling from her, she carries herself in a way that really makes you comfortable. As a beginner I was very intimidated to even go and see her due to the fact that she has been a cellist for many years and can create such beautiful music, and I couldn’t even hold my cello without feeling like a fool, but Deb is very humble and knows what it takes to become a cellist and she is very patient with you. She is aware of the time and effort it takes and will work with you to ensure you receive the very most out of your experience with her.”

— Alexander Hansen