As far as I can tell, I’ve now been playing cello for three years.
That’s not completely accurate, though.
I really started some time in 2009. I had wanted to start playing an instrument after a fifteen year hiatus from drums. My brother had played cello when he was a kid, which meant his old cello was at our parents’ house. If I was really into it, I could buy a new instrument for myself.
It wasn’t the free cello that made me want to start. I’d always enjoyed the sound of it. Who doesn’t hear the Prélude to Bach’s First Cello Suite and think of life and joy and light?
Monsters. Dead-hearted, unfeeling monsters. That’s who.
Where was I? Right. Cello.
So, I picked up my brother’s old Kay, took lessons for a bit, and it was hard. I could read rhythms just fine, thanks to all those years of playing drums. But learning bow control and fingering and melody and trying to write and work at the same time? It was a lot. I got frustrated. I got callused fingers.
When Grace was born, I had to put cello aside. I was bummed, because I felt like I was making progress. However, I knew that, in order to get good and stay good, I’d have to practice consistently. And those first couple of years of stay-at-home parenting, the only thing I could do with any consistency was be tired all the time. Cello was out.
Except it wasn’t. I wanted Grace to grow up in a house filled with music, especially music that Anne and I made, even if it was just us singing nonsense songs. The cello (whom I named Norman, because why not?) sat in the corner, reminding me of the little bits of progress I had made. Couldn’t I play a couple of scales every now and then, at least? I could, and I staying in this stasis. I didn’t have enough technique to try anything harder, and I didn’t have anyone around to teach me technique.
Jump to February of 2012. Grace had turned two. I was getting a grip on parenting. I was starting to write in earnest again. And I decided that, yes, it was time to start lessons again. My teacher was a touring musician, so she was on the road. I did my Googles, found the Santa Monica Conservatory of Music, and set up a trial lesson John Redfield, the cellist who founded the Conservatory.
It was embarrassing. Oy, was it embarrassing. I ground my way through scales, I played what had been my trickiest étude, and I could tell from the look on John’s face that I had long, long way to go.
Well, it’s been three years, and now John’s getting me ready for a spring recital where I’m going to play the first three movements of Bach’s First Suite. My brain itches when I don’t practice, the same way it itches when I don’t write. Both crafts fuel each other, though I can tell when I playing well a lot easier than when I’m writing well. Of course, I can edit what I write. If I screw up a note, everyone knows it. I love getting that instant feedback, but it’s still maddening when I flub a passage and wonder: how the hell do I make it sound better?
Of course, I do the same thing with writing, so what the hell.
Anyway. Happy Celloversary to me. And to you, if you play or write or draw or make carved wooden figurines of minor historical figures. Life’s too short not to find one’s voice. I’m glad I found mine through a keyboard and a big wooden box.