I turned to see him carry it in through the front door. My family was exchanging Christmas presents at my mother’s house. My friend had gone out to his car, saying he had forgotten something. I was sitting on the couch with my back towards the front door, but turned to see him carrying in a large black case that looked like it might be housing a large instrument.
“Is that a cello?” I asked curiously as he carried it into the living room.
“Yes it is,” he said and set it down in front of me.
“You’re giving me a cello?” I asked, stunned.
“Yes, I am,” answered the man of few words.
“I’m going to play the cello?” My middle-aged mind raced, trying to make sense out of this interesting turn of events.
“If you want,” he shrugged nonchalantly.
My family watched as I struggled to unzip the case, my fine motor skills failing me in the midst of my excitement. The case finally opened to reveal a cello and bow lying in wait. Joy flooded through me and then I’m not really sure what happened. I’m told I spent the next 20 minutes or so manhandling my new bow and picking out Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star as my family continued opening the presents my friend brought for them…brain teaser puzzles he intentionally selected to give them something to do while I explored my new cello as he anticipated I would. I eventually laid my new instrument to rest as we continued our holiday celebration, but went to bed that night tingling with excitement…I was going to learn to play the cello!
During the two years since, I have been screeching and fingering and bowing my way through this whole new world. Once again, I am a beginner and once again, I am falling in love. I am learning scales and struggling through basic technique. I am becoming reacquainted with pitch. I am playing simple songs. I am working to develop finger agility and striving to coordinate my bow. I am frustrated and elated and inspired. And nervous.
I am about to play my very first cello performance as a member of Fort Wayne’s Terrible Orchestra! This orchestra gives adults playing beginner instruments an opportunity to play in ensemble with other beginning adults. The name doesn’t insult me; it reassures me. It reminds me that the expectation is low…very low. So low, it’s really hard to fail!
So low, in fact, that no one laughed at me when during my first group rehearsal my bow knocked the music off the stand of the person sitting next to me. (A cello is a large instrument that I am used to playing alone or sitting next to a teacher with plenty of space around us. When playing cello as a member of an orchestra, you sit close together! So close, that spatial awareness has become yet another facet of my learning curve!) Oh, most everyone in the orchestra, including me, did indeed laugh as our song was suddenly interrupted by scattered music cascading to the floor…but no one laughed at me! Everyone realizes that such things are bound to happen when playing in a terrible orchestra.
Attending orchestra has not yet heightened my technique or finger agility or intonation or quality of sound….in fact, those things are suffering because they are no longer getting my attention. Instead, I am learning the bass cleff. I am sight reading real music that doesn’t have fingerings written under the notes. My music at home has fingerings. When I was handed music the first day of orchestra, I realized I didn’t know the notes, much less how to play them. Some of them seemed vaguely familiar, but without the finger markings, my brain simply couldn’t make the transfer. As we played, I would sometimes ask the people sitting nearby, “What is that note?” They would give me a quick answer….which wasn’t particularly helpful because whatever note it was, I didn’t know how to find it on my instrument. But my eye was able to follow along the path of music and I excitedly played open strings whenever I recognized an A or D. By the end of our first rehearsal, I was doing this fairly consistently so all the As and Ds in the song were nicely accented regardless of whether those accents were part of the composer’s vision!
The first Sunday after rehearsal I spent several hours studying my new music and identifying notes and fingerings which I carefully marked in pencil (I’ve learned it’s not good form to mark music in ink!). When I returned for my second rehearsal, I was given new music and once again I was sight reading. But this time, because of my hours of independent study, I recognized most of the notes AND knew how to play them…I just couldn’t do it fast enough. I trust that speed will come in time. For now, I celebrate my progress.
So much so that I am excited (and nervous) for my orchestral debut. I have invited a few friends and family members and will show up in my performance blacks, ready to play what I can, confident that at the very least I can accent the As and Ds….most of them anyway!