A belated cello recital entry! I’ve been putting bits of this down as the week goes on. There’s been a lot to catch up on.
The boy went up to take his place with confidence, watched his teacher carefully, and played his piece with gusto. He got a big whoop at the end from all of the cello families, who know that the first recital is a big thing, and also from his godfamily who had just made it in time to hear him. (The grin on his face in the picture to the left is him hearing his godfamily, in fact.) The Suzuki mum in me is very proud of his confidence in his bowing and his poise. The cellist in me is very proud of how good his sound was – no wishy-washy sound from this boy! – and of his steady rhythm. In the interest of full disclosure, his piece was a pre-Twinkle piece called ‘Carnival in Rio’ from Joanne Martin’s Magic Carpet for Cello, a series of pieces that use the Twinkle bowing variation #1 on the open A string, so he was focusing on rhythm and sound alone, not fingering. This was, you may remember, a last-minute change from his descending scale pattern with the same bowing, AKA ‘The Monkey Song,’ which he’d been preparing; his teacher asked if he’d be more comfortable playing a duet with her instead of playing alone. It was a perceptive and sensitive suggestion, and I think the substitution was very successful in building his confidence in his ability to survive and enjoy a recital. I’m so thankful he had a positive first experience.
As for my own piece, I have never been so pleased with a recital performance before. I played the first two movements of the ‘Suite Française’ by Paul Bazelaire, a piece that no one knows, but let me tell you, a bunch of cellists asked both me and my teacher for the music after the dress rehearsal and the concert! My teacher introduced it to me during our last chamber orchestra session, where she showed me how to pizz an arpeggio or double-stop with the thumb away from me, then immediately hook back with the forefinger to catch the quick note following. She demonstrated with the series of pizz chords and single notes in the first movement of the Bazelaire, then played a bit of the theme for me. It’s a piece she played back when she was studying at school; she said that I might really enjoy playing the whole thing, perhaps for the recital, and we looked it over at our next lesson and decided it suit my study very well for a variety of reasons. (Cellofamily: If you’re interested, the first two movements are also found in Carey Cheney’s Solos series, in book four, I think.) I love this whole suite; it’s kind of stompy, which is a style I do not usually play, and it has some terrific folksy themes. I was planning to do the first, second, and fifth movements, but we ran out of time to properly prepare the fifth.
The ensemble pieces had ups and downs. Four of us pulled off the ‘Elfintanz’ from Cheney vol. 2 as a tight ensemble piece, which was fun. The Goltermannn ‘Romance,’ in which I played first cello, sounded okay to me when I was playing it (possibly because I was focusing so hard on my part, which wasn’t terrific but was passable), but came off as a garbled tangle in the recording, one of the perils of live performance where your ears tell you one thing and the more balanced recording tells you another. The Schubert ‘Impromptu’ arrangement was okay. The pieces that brought in the younger kids were better: ‘A la Claire Fontaine’ was lovely, for example. After missing his entrance cue in the previous kids-only canon song because his eyes were wandering, the boy played air cello or open strings in this one, swaying back and forth as he watched his teacher play, and it was really charming to see how into it he got. The video shows him looking back over his shoulder at me to see how he was doing in this piece and me smiling back at him, something I would have forgotten if it hadn’t been captured on film. (He may have missed his cue in the canon preceding it because his eyes were wandering, but also possibly because his partner, a six-year-old girl, had fallen asleep on the front pew of the church during the adult solos, and didn’t appear in the ensemble half of the concert as scheduled; they had partially relied on one another during the dress rehearsal for their entrance cue.) The finale was a full ensemble of Joanne Martin’s ‘Calypso’ from More Folk Strings in which the boy played percussion, counting and watching his teacher very carefully.
We were thrilled to have most of the special people and families he’d invited to his debut there. Thanks go out to both sets of grandparents, the Preston-LeBlancs, Marc Mackay, and Marc Leguen for sharing the experience with us and cheering him on. I have to thank my dad for taking pictures (these are all his), HRH for videoing parts of the recital, and Scott for lending us his digital video recorder for the purpose, too.
We are tremendously proud of our boy. Most of the time he was cheerful about the whole idea of the recital, but a couple of times he had small crises of self-confidence and worried about what would happen because he had no idea what to expect from the experience, or indeed any kind of similar experience to which to compare it. In fact, at his second to last lesson he got upset when I moved to sit in front of him and pretended to be the audience, because that wasn’t where I usually sat. We switched things up at home after that, playing in the kitchen, for example, to show him that you could play anywhere and didn’t need to rely on the same setup in the same places every time. The group dress rehearsal on the day before the recital was very helpful too, because he sat and listened to all the other kids do their pieces as well. (Group lessons have been fabulous for him. He so admires the older girls he’s watched grow from book 1 pieces into book 2; in fact, when they brought out their Suzuki books and tucked them under their chairs for reference if necessary during the last group lesson, he instructed me to do the same with his book, despite the fact that we’re pre-Twinkle and don’t use book 1 yet.)
I love helping him discover things. We took Monday off from cello practice and let him sleep in a bit after a later bedtime on Sunday night, but Tuesday morning I gave him his ten-minute call for cello. “I thought cello was over,” he said, puzzled. Ah, no, small child! If you take the entire summer off, you will be very, very upset in September when lessons begin again and you have to start from scratch! So he played a couple of exercises, and then I set him a musical riddle. I told him to play his Twinkle bowing variation #1 on the D string; then again on the A string; then to put one finger down on the A to play it on a B (which he has already encountered in an exercise); then to play his Monkey song, which is a descending four-note pattern of G, F#, E, D on the D string, with the same bowing rhythm. He repeated the sequence aloud to make sure he had it correctly, then played it. “Congratulations,” I said. “You’ve just played the first two lines of ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.’” I thought his eyes were going to fall out of his head. “I didn’t know I could do that!” he said.
This has been a wonderful introduction to music-making for him, I think. Not every five-year-old will cheerfully settle down for fifteen minutes of practice every morning at seven-thirty before school (most days it’s cheerfully, anyhow!). He may get discouraged sometimes and say it’s hard because he can’t match what’s in his head, and he wishes he’d never started, or when he forgets about his left elbow being up a bit when he’s focusing on his right one dropping, but you know what? Learning any new instrument is hard, and you still have trouble with those little things after years and years (and years) of playing. I wish I could explain to him how much he has already learned, all the tiny muscle movements and balancing and timing required to just get sound out of the instrument, and get him to understand how proud he should be that he has come this far already. Although he did say “I am very proud in myself” with well-deserved satisfaction when we asked him how he felt after the recital, so maybe he does have some idea. And he is very, very excited about the possibility of acquiring his very own cello for him to keep always, too.