Last night after Liam went to bed, I sat down and played the cello for seventy-five minutes. I had no idea time was flying the way it was.
Late that afternoon while the boy was playing with cars and trains I had sat down to page through one of my copies of the six solo cello suites by Bach, looking for something new to play. I thought I’d try the first movement of the sixth. I was fine for the first two systems and then things started sounding not quite right, so I put it aside and made dinner. When I came back to it I tried it again and it still didn’t work. And then I looked more closely at the clef. I’d assumed it was tenor, but something began to nibble at the edges of my mind, so I turned and pulled out my other edition with the facsimile manuscript opposite the printed page. Sure enough — the edition I’d been reading from was set in alto clef, instead of putting it in the more familiar-to-cellists tenor clef. (The facsimile looks like it’s in alto too, which would make sense as it wasn’t written for a regular cello.) What I had assumed was tenor was actually alto. No wonder things sounded odd.
And then I looked at the rest of the piece and saw three pages of alto clef moving into treble clef and said to myself, Self, this is just going to frustrate you. So I paged back to look for something else to play and found the Gigue of the third suite, which I’d never played before. (I haven’t played most of the solo suites, actually. Half of the first and one or two bits of the second is all, really.)
And I played it pretty much off the top of my head.
I stumbled in two places and worked them for a while, because they’re theoretically simple but my intonation was wonky because I wanted to play in higher positions to avoid an open A string (bars 50-58 and 104-106, if anyone’s counting) and my shifts weren’t secure when I sight-read it. And if I’m in a position I want to stay there as long as possible, so I ended up making fingerings up for the surrounding bars too. Then I played it a few times over because it sounded good, really good, and it was welcome balm for my self-esteem. When I tired of it I moved to playing the two trouble spots in the Faure Pavane (again, if anyone’s counting, bars 62-63 and 69-73, the phrases where the celli are supposed to sound soft and beautiful but not like they’re working at shifting at all, argh) and worked out yet another set of fingerings that may actually succeed this time.
It felt so wonderful to be able to just sit down and play something I’d never played before, and to hear it sound good. My tone was nice, sound production was good, shifting was pretty secure (except in bars 104-106 of the Bach, damn it, where I begin in first, shift to fifth to play the A, then shift down to fourth on the B flat of the following bar — it’s the shift from fifth to fourth that is usually not far enough, or I get frustrated, overcompensate, and shift too much), and everything felt right.
I really like working with this remodelled bow. I was playing with a full practice mute and it still made the strings ring very nicely. It makes the Gigue and the Pavane really sing. Wednesday night at orchestra my hand cramped a wee bit near the end of the evening because the frog and stick are slightly larger than my previous primary bow and I was still getting used to adjusting my grip to it, but apart from making minute adjustments for the heavier weight needing less speed at certain places, especially in both Pavanes, it went well. I had no problem with it at all last night. I like it a lot, and I’m going to keep working with it as my new primary bow. I showed our section leader at rehearsal and she was somewhat impressed, I think, at how successful the remodel had been, lifting an eyebrow in mild surprise (but not horror!) when I told her my husband had done it. It’s still on the heavier end of the scale, but it’s much better balanced and easier to handle. She ran it through some spectacular quick exercises that made me wish I could just throw things like that off. Someday, perhaps.
I’ve been toying with the idea of maybe starting lessons again this summer. It would be a better use of my money than a new instrument at this point.