Learning the Cello

It’s been on my list for a very, very long time: to learn to play the cello.

When I was little, I’d sit with classical music discs and a giant pair of headphones in front of the old stereo system we had. As I listed to the London Symphony Orchestra play Beethoven, I’d try to pick out each individual instrument before I even knew what the instruments looked like. My favourites to single out were the piano, the flute, and the cello.

In junior high school, I started music classes. On the first day, we were each given a choice of instrument to pick from. I remember when the teacher opened the door to the instrument closet – it was huge and full of so many options. She went over each one and then asked us to decide. I chose the flute. After that day, I spent hours every week practicing, getting better and better. It was so important to me to play well, and practice was key. I shudder to think of the noise my family put up with as I repeated songs over and over again until I felt I’d mastered them.

When we moved out to Calgary, I stopped playing with the school concert band after a couple of years. There were a lot of reasons for this, but to this day, I felt I should have persevered and kept at it. I let someone get in the way of my flute-playing and it all fell apart from there. I dabbled with guitar classes not long after putting away the flute, but beyond playing the intro to Crazy Train, I didn’t master much.

The last time I tried to learn a new instrument was a half-hearted attempt to learn the piano. My father and I enrolled in lessons at a local music shop, each of us hoping we’d learn enough to play a few tunes here and there. It didn’t really work out for either of us. Despite how much time I tried practicing, I couldn’t convince myself enough to keep with it after awhile. Other things kept taking precedent: rowing, studying for finals, being lazy. I didn’t feel that passion for the piano that I’d felt with the flute. Playing the piano was an easy thing to let go of.

This Christmas, though, one of the gifts Stephen gave me was a cello rental. When he told me he was taking me to Aeolian Strings to pick one out, I was so excited. Walking up the steps to the shop felt just like when my teacher had opened the instrument closet – beautiful stringed instruments were lined up row by row this time, though, and one of them was coming home with me, even if it was temporary for now.

Since getting the cello, I’ve sat and practiced every day until my hands get sore and tired. It feels similar to the way learning the flute felt. I can’t wait to find quiet time to reconnect with the cello every day, to sit down with it, practice what I learned the previous day, to identify what sunk in and what didn’t, and to take it all and move on to the next step.

It comes down to this: if you don’t have passion for something, you won’t get far. This is especially true of music. The first sounds you produce on an instrument aren’t very unlikely to sound good. The motivation to continue has to come from the desire to push through it, to hope and believe at some point you will be able to produce sounds that resonate beautifully, rather than shrilly.

Someone mentioned to me she saw a video compilation of a student’s first year of playing the violin, progressing from utter novice to intermediate player. I think I’m going to have to try this for myself! Now that I know the basic scale, I’ll take a video of it and then compare how much I can play (and how it sounds!) later on down the line.

If it doesn’t end up being terrible throughout, I’ll share it here. If it does, well, I guess the cello will be just one of those things I do out of sheer joy and not because I’m good at it!

2 Comments on “Learning the Cello

  1. Can’t wait to watch the video 🙂 I was thinking the other day (after you’d told me about picking up the cello) that I wish I hadn’t given up the French horn when I was young and impatient to do other things. I still love the French horn and can pick out its haunting tune. It would be lovely to pick it back up again, and complete the lessons I so happily skipped before.

    • You should do it! It’s never too late. Every now and again, I pick my flute back up and it sounds like garbage, but it’s still so familiar. When I don’t live in a fourplex, I’ll be back to playing that on a regular basis, too!

      My neighbours/cousins will be happy they don’t have to listen to me playing right now when they’re trying to sleep after working night shifts at the 911 line/hospital. 🙂

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