By Judy A Knox
ONE DAY in the spring of 2012 I was talking with my friend Marilyn. She played the harp and had been taking lessons for several years. She said it would be nice if the two of us could play some music together. “Maybe you should take a few lessons on your piano to refresh what you know, and then we could play our instruments together.” I told her I had never been good at playing the piano, I was not coordinated enough to get all my fingers to do different things at the same time while looking at the music.
“Well,” she said. “Maybe you should take up some other instrument where you only have to play one note at a time.”
We talked about different possibilities and ended up with the cello because I had once upon a time played the string bass in junior high. I thought it would be similar to that, making it easier to learn. I found a teacher who lived near me who enjoyed teaching adult students. She taught high school students mainly, but she said she really enjoyed her adult students. I rented a cello and went to her house for a preliminary lesson and get-acquainted session, and she agreed to take me on.
First thing I found out was that a cello bears little resemblance to a string bass. The way the notes on the strings are arranged, the finger positioning used on said strings, and the way you hold the bow were all completely different from what I had done on the bass 50 years ago. A cello is more like a large violin than it is like a small string bass. But she determined that I would be able to learn and play the cello so we scheduled the lessons.
Every part of learning this instrument was hard. You had to hold the bow just so, and move it across the strings just right, otherwise believe it or not even a cello can screech. You had to watch how you held your arms, where you put the cello between your knees, how high off the floor it was, and how to adjust the pin to hold it up there. Every part of your body was involved in one way or another and had to be doing everything just right.
After a few lessons I was pretty sure I would not be able to do this, but my teacher assured me that I was coming along very well, and that pretty soon everything would become second nature. I don’t know if that ever really happened, because I never did really truly master holding the bow. My fingers just simply would not do what they are supposed to do when holding and moving the bow. But I was able to get pretty good sound out of it, I was able to find the right notes on the strings, and I was moving along pretty well through Suzuki book #1and a book of exercises. Then came my first recital.
I had never had to play in a recital before. None of my piano teachers had ever required me to play in a recital. This was making me very nervous, although I was kind of excited because my family all wanted to come and hear me play. My daughter even brought some of her daughter’s friends along.
The day of the recital came, and I was understandably nervous. I had practiced and practiced and practiced this song, called The Hunter’s Song. I got about one line into the song, when I realized my accompanist was going faster than I could go. I had been told she would “follow” me, and was unaware of the fact that she was hard of hearing and could not hear the cello while playing the piano. We had to stop and start over. I got through the song OK after that. However I did not sound great. All the other students, most of whom were grade school or junior high age, were playing really well on much more difficult songs. It was the most one of the most humiliating experiences I have ever had.
I was ready to quit, but did I really want to quit in defeat? No. I was going to master this. That recital was in November, and in January I came to visit my sister, who plays the violin, in Arizona for a few days. My niece, who also plays the violin, was so excited that I was coming that she had rented a cello for me to play so that the three of us could get together and do music. They had also bought song books of very simple versions of Christmas carols for playing together in a group. We spent lots of time working on these songs. Because they were very simple it was fun. I thought OK, this is for me. If I can get into a group and play where the attention isn’t all on me, I think I might really enjoy this. That spurred me on to keep going with the lessons.
By the time of the next recital, I had advanced fairly well through the first suzuki book. I chose a song that I wanted to play for the recital. My teacher did not think that was a good idea because I already knew that song, she wanted me to learn something new. I function really well when people are encouraging me and leading me forward. I am not so responsive to being pushed. But I really did try to learn this new song she wanted me to do. This recital was also very embarrassing. This time my family didn’t even bother to come because of what had happened the first time. They probably thought they were making me nervous. I’m sure that my daughter and my son wondered why in the world I was even bothering to play the cello when I had so many other things to do.
By this time I thought if I could just get good enough to play with some group it would be fun. And it was shortly after that second recital that I was invited to join the worship team at my church. The key for me to be successful in playing the cello is to stick to music that is not really hard for me. And so this worship team experience was really good because it wasn’t hard, I felt like I was making a good contribution to the sound of the group as a whole, and the attention was never on me.
In 20 15 I became a snowbird. I would get together once a week or so with Kaylynn, viola-playing friend I had met through writers group, and with my niece who played the violin, so I was getting some practice even though I was only taking lessons when I was home in Illinois. I told my teacher that I would not play in another recital. She didn’t believe me, and I almost played in a third one, but was rescued by a huge snowstorm that caused the whole thing have to be cancelled. When she rescheduled it, I said I was not going to participate.
My second snowbird year Kaylynn had found a group of people who got together just for fun to play music and I joined that. It was called Desert Darlins. We had so much fun, and the group actually got good enough that we found ourselves being invited to perform at various nursing homes, birthday parties, even at Fountain of the Sun. Eventually I advanced to a certain point where I realized that this is probably as good as I will ever get. It’s good enough for the things I want to do with it.
I will never be playing in a Symphony Orchestra, and I will absolutely never perform solo in public, but I have this thing in my life that brings me great pleasure. It was worth the effort and time that I put into it in the early stages so that I could get to a point where what I do now is easy for me. I realize I am being very lazy as a musician, but I AM 80 years old and it is simply not a priority. I realize this is a mystery to real musicians who are continually trying to improve their technique and increase their repertoire. But that’s their problem. And Marilyn, who started all this? She moved to Oklahoma and I moved to Arizona. We never have gotten to play together,