Melancholy, And The Rosin Story

I keep tearing up at random things. My throat swells shut and I feel the hot prickle of tears in my eyes at the oddest times. I had to turn a CD off in the car last night, and again this morning. I had to put Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist down when the early morning harmony thing happened. I’m just blue, and I don’t know why.

Orchestra was okay. I was so drained, though, that I had trouble summoning up the energy necessary for certain pieces. We sight-read a Hungarian dance and my fingers were like noodles during the pizzicato all over the fingerboard. My section leader, AKA my new teacher, gave me four pieces for the group lesson I’ll be attending later this month, and I played through them today, feeling very… I can’t put a word to it because it wasn’t exciting, really; more like I was quietly pleased that I’ve finally done something about lessons again. This is the first assigned lesson material I’ve worked on in ten years.

And it was mostly easy and pretty, three of the four accompaniment to early Suzuki pieces (some of her other students are very new cellists). Except there’s a set of double stops in the third part of the cello trio arrangement of a Brahms symphony movement that I can’t get to save my life. This is what teachers are for.

Finished The Graveyard Book. Wish I’d written it. This is becoming a more common reaction and I don’t know if it’s a good thing or not.

So very tired. I had a nap around lunchtime, after running around doing errands (my extra driver’s license fee is now paid [stupid retroactive fee increases], I am now registered to vote in my actual riding, we have necessary groceries, banking’s done, bread baked, the only thing I forgot to do was to return the DVD rental).

Oh, I mentioned the rosin thing yesterday. I should elaborate on that.

When I originally recounted my wonderful story about receiving the Mystery Cello in trust from my cousin, I mentioned that I’d forgotten a suitcase full of his grandmother’s music. My mother brought it up with her when she and my aunt (the mother of the cousin in question, actually) stopped by on their way to do the driving tour of the Eastern Townships. Monday night while HRH was putting the boy to bed I poured myself a glass of wine, settled myself on the living room floor, and opened it. It was exciting. Anything could lie inside! What kind of music did she like to play? Were there handwritten fingerings, or notes to herself among the pages of a favourite piece? What would I find?

It smelled of dust and damp, the kind of smell one associates with attics and antique stores. The suitcase itself is covered in textured brown leather, peeling away from the wood thanks to use and age. It closes with two clasps in tarnished brass, and her maiden initials were stamped on it in gold under the handle: R. B. B.. I popped open the clasps and lifted the lid.

The lining is that watered silk-looking fabric, possibly once a lovely rose colour, now faded to a tired shade close to that of an old pink school eraser. Inside was a black soft-side leather briefcase. I slipped my hand into the pocket of the lid first and pulled out some sheets of paper, loose photocopied pages of handwritten music copied from somewhere. Slipping my hand in again I found an unused Thomastik Permament cello A string in perfect condition except for the crumpled paper envelope.

I lifted the briefcase out and set it aside. Under it were dozens of partitions, sheet music for popular songs and dances and arrangements of orchestral pieces now forgotten, all for violin. Parlour music, for home music-making. The average price was fifty cents (sixty cents Canadian!) and the store stamps were of shops in Ottawa as well as Montreal. Pretty much the only things I recognized were the Mendelssohn violin concerto and the Beethoven violin concertos. At the bottom was a blue binder containing both violin and cello parts for quartet pieces, some of which I recognized (wedding marches, waltzes, arrangements of arias), some of which I didn’t. The paper was old and crumbling apart, yellowed and stained, and it all smelled like dampness and dust. There were no dates, but I guessed the sheet music dated from around the nineteen thirties, give or take a decade or so.

The briefcase held the cello music. On top was a familiar Suzuki book, the same book and the same edition I’d started with (lots of teachers use the Suzuki books but don’t teach the method). This gave me pause. Why on earth would she have had a Suzuki book? I opened it in hopes of seeing a date inside it. After all, I note down the date I purchase books and music inside the cover, and often note down the date I start or finish working on a piece. She didn’t (much to my frustration when going through the other stuff), but inside the book were two sheets of looseleaf paper, still white, with notes from her teacher written on them, that outlined how to hold the cello and bow, how to place the fingers, and a couple of things to remember along with some homework. And the second of these was dated Aug 31/95.

Nineteen ninety five? Wait — what?

Then I realized that I had no recollection of exactly when she had died. It was when my parents were still in Montreal, but I couldn’t remember if it had been before or after I’d moved out. Evidently, if she had a Suzuki cello book and had been taking her first lessons in the late summer of ’95, she’d died after I moved out. I had assumed that she’d started playing the cello much earlier, that her arthritis had made the violin unplayable at a younger age and she had thus been playing the cello for much longer. If she was still a beginner when she died, that would explain the very old tape on the fingerboard marking finger placement.

The next thing that occurred to me was: I started playing the cello before she did!

And hard on the heels of that thought came: Good gods, she paid her teacher five hundred dollars for the cello no one was using in the mid-nineties! No one knew the worth of the thing!

The rest of the cello music is old and crumbling too, which leads me to believe that her teacher gave it to her along with the cello. There’s nothing I can really use because again it’s all stuff that was popular at the time it was printed, written by composers I’ve never heard of. I suppose I could put some of it up on the stand and play through it to hear what it’s like, but I have enough work right now, thanks.

I put my hand inside the case and slid it along the seams to be sure I’d gotten everything and my fingers bumped into something. I drew out a blue silk cleaning cloth, a Ziplock bag with two used A and D strings, then a wooden contraption made of two foot-long slim pieces of wood an inch wide and a half-inch deep, joined together at one of the narrow ends by a hinge. On one of the pieces of wood opposite the hinge end was a narrow strip of leather in a loop stapled into the wood. I know what this is! It’s a homemade endpin brace! I thought, and opened it up to reveal a line of drilled holes along the unhinged end of the other piece of wood. The leather loop goes around the cellist’s chair leg, the unfolded wooden strips are laid on the ground, and the endpin is inserted in one of the holes so that it doesn’t slip on stone floors or mark hardwood. I ran my hands along the torn lining of the suitcase as well and found a set of violin pitch pipes and a brand new cake of Hidershine rosin. (Brand new in that it had been used maybe twice, not brand new as in purchased last week. The design on the box was decidedly outdated!) I tried the rosin last night and it’s dry, not as sticky as my Hills. My initial impression is that I like it; I’ll use it for a while. I thought I preferred a slightly sticky rosin, but maybe not. We’ll see.

I replaced everything in the suitcase and closed it up. I’m going to have to move it from my office to downstairs because the dust (and likely mold) in it is triggering my asthma.

It was a fascinating exercise to go through every single sheet of music, turning pages carefully so they didn’t crumble, feeling the dampness of the thicker books, breathing in the scent of years of music this woman made. I’m touching history a bit more, learning more about the woman who played the cello before my cousin inherited it, before I was given the wonderful opportunity to play it too.

ETA: It occurs to me now that the Suzuki book may have been my cousin’s, because he eventually took a couple of lessons to see if he’d like it. This would fit in with my vague thought that his grandmother had died before I moved out. Must check this with my mother when she’s back from her trip.

2 thoughts on “Melancholy, And The Rosin Story

  1. paze

    I’m sorry to hear about the melancholy. Could it be (partly) the time of year, and/or the very seasonal weather we had yesterday and today? Hope your mood improves.

    Loved the rosin story and your lovely, evocative writing about it.

    xox

    Reply
  2. lu

    Old Timey Treasure is always exciting in the Schroedinger’s Cat vein. I LOVE going through those kinds of cases!

    As for the melancholy, that random tearing up happens to me sometimes too. No worries, though, it’ll pass.

    Reply

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