Since I was about age 10, I though the cello would be the coolest instrument to play. Thirty four years later that hunch is confirmed. I’ve started playing cello and it is cool. Its like giving music a hug. Had my first lesson a little less than 3 months ago. Before that I hadn’t so much as touched a cello. I’m certain Janet and my friend Reed Bernstein (a violin maker) were the only people who ever knew of this secret ambition. Janet and I talked on occasion about finding a cello, but the opportunity never happened.
It’s partly an experiment and partly by design in keeping with this year’s “And now for something completely different.” theme. With my world turned on end and spun out of orbit, the opportunity is there for learning new things. Much of my thinking has returned to that childlike state of wonder where all things are possible and no rules apply. Fear not, I’ve retained my values and sense of what is right and wrong. Its just that many things I cared about no longer matter and space has opened up to be curious about anything that crosses my path. There are many grown-up attitudes that more than ever strike me as tragically sardonic, self imposed and needlessly limiting to the human potential. As adults, we limit ourselves unduly with “supposed to.”
I have played piano for many years and own a beautiful Petrof baby grand. Unlike piano, the cello is demanding a far greater awareness of my entire body while playing. The balance required is surprising and it makes the skill of such masters as Yo Yo Ma and Pablo Casals all the more amazing. All those years of piano and I never learned to read music and play anything I wanted at the keyboard on sight. I’d have to pick through the score and iteratively practice until the entire piece was committed to memory. With cello, I have the opportunity to do that differently. After about 3 months of lessons, diligent practice and efforts to read music while playing, the experience just keeps getting better.
My teacher is excellent. A cellist for the Colorado Symphony Orchestra, she fits my criteria for having attained a level of recognized mastery. She’s good with adults as well, another important criteria. It must be more challenging to teach adults as there are bunches of things which we must unlearn before new lessons and understanding can result.
About a month into my practice (I’ll give myself 10 years and then decide if I have a chance at being any good.) I hit my first plateau and wasn’t sure if it was related to my clumsy technique or the quality of the cello, a high school orchestra quality instrument borrowed from my neighbor while he and his family spend a year in France. My teacher suggested we find out and handed me one of her cellos (as a professional, she has cello stuff about the place like I have computer stuff). WOW! What a difference! Yes my technique had a part, but so did the instrument. She handed me another cello, “Try this one.” DOUBLE WOW! The good news was that my technique wasn’t so far off the mark and I had already begun to outgrow the loaner instrument after one month. The bad news was the first cello I tried was a 50 year old Italian cello worth $25,000. The second cello was a 100 year old Czech instrument worth bunches more. Ouch.
We talked about what it would take to acquire an instrument which would suit my emerging skill for the next couple of years. So I hooked up with a recommended broker and settled on a $5,000 instrument made last year. It sounds wonderful! Included a better bow in the mix as well. I figured to use the money from a small life insurance policy I had on Janet to finance my studies and cello upgrades. Seems like a good use and a way to honor her musical talents.