Goodbye, Second Chair — For Now

Last night at orchestra I sat in the back of the cello section instead of as second chair.

I’ve been second chair since, oh, about four years ago, I think? Possibly more. It’s a somewhat terrifying position, because I’m right in front of the conductor, but it’s also a very educational position, because I’m next to our principal (who also happens to be my teacher) and I learn so much from absorbing her technique that way.

But it’s been increasingly less beneficial and more self-detrimental. Like last time I had a baby, I had no intention of dropping orchestra: cello is my one activity that gets me out of the house, my one thing that’s just for me. But unlike last time, this baby doesn’t nap placidly in a basket the way Sparky did in his first few months; she will not sleep unless she’s curled up on or with someone. If Owlet doesn’t sleep, then (a) I can’t work and make money, like I’d planned to be doing by now, and (b) I don’t get practice time. As a result, I’ve been showing up unprepared, and sitting where the conductor can clearly hear your unpreparedness is not relaxing, or even challenging; it’s just awful. Add to that the fact that I’m expected to lead the section if the principal cannot be there, which has happened once or twice so far this season, and it’s a recipe for disaster. I’m not doing the amount of work that’s required for this commitment, and that’s been increasingly stressing me out over the past couple of months. And while I can’t afford the time to prep for orchestra, I also can’t practice for my cello lesson. Heck, I haven’t been practicing at all. Which kind of makes a weekly cello lesson pointless, and made me feel like I was wasting my teacher’s time.

Then I took into account our general financial position at the moment, as I’m not working because Owlet doesn’t nap on her own, and the fact that it’s a forty-five minute drive both ways and a quarter tank of gas for the round trip… and all that added to the lack of practice meant that it was time to be Responsible. I am fully aware that playing the cello is a luxury. It is not a necessity, like food and mortgage and utilities are. Not working, and not qualifying for maternity benefits because I missed the minimum income required last year (never mind that I made more than enough the four years before that, grr), has really put a strain on our finances. Paying for the boy’s weekly lessons is one thing. Paying for my own on top of them makes for a monthly bill I can no longer cover. And finally, while our yearly orchestra dues aren’t high, it’s still a chunk of money I don’t have at the moment, and I’ve been feeling guilty about not having paid them yet.

So last week at my cello lesson, I told my teacher reluctantly that I had to drop to doing a lesson every two weeks instead of weekly, and that I might have to drop orchestra altogether, and explained why. I said I knew this probably meant I wouldn’t get to perform my solo for the Christmas recital, since we’d only have a couple of lessons before the dress rehearsal. I didn’t suggest dropping out entirely, because I’m in a lot of group pieces and my line would need to be covered somehow, and we only have a couple of group rehearsals left. Dropping out entirely and forcing everyone to rebalance would have been the less responsible thing to do.

My teacher, star that she is, proceeded to work out alternate arrangements for everything. My solo, she said, was in excellent shape already, and she felt it would be fine, although we could re-evaluate a week or two before the recital. As I’d still be bringing Sparky to his cello lessons weekly (he is much too young to drop to a regular biweekly schedule), she said I could play through my solo piece for ten minutes after his lesson on the days that I didn’t have lesson, just to keep an eye on how things were evolving to catch problems before they became bigger. She even considered letting me play her own cello on those days, so I wouldn’t need to bring my instrument for ten minutes of play, but they’re different sizes and the shift distances would be different. And then she suggested doing something similar for orchestra: since I had the music for the current concert and we’d done the work already, why not drop to every two weeks for that as well, and switch places with another player in the section until I was back on my feet and could return full-time.

I was so grateful. I’m very lucky to have a teacher and section leader who understands, and who is willing to work with me to allow me to still engage in an activity that I enjoy. And last night I discussed my fee payment with the person in charge of collecting our dues (who also happens to be the person with whom I switched places in the section, and a fellow student of my teacher’s with whom I’ve played duets and who has come up to sit with me when our principal has been absent) and we agreed that I’d just bring in ten or twenty dollars every rehearsal until my fee had been paid in full.

Sitting in the back of the section removed so much of my physical, mental, and emotional stress. I no longer felt like the conductor was hovering over me with a ruler, ready to smack my wrists if I made a mistake (which he wasn’t at all; that’s completely and totally my guilty conscience projecting my sense of failure onto the situation). I probably played better last night than I had for the last six weeks.

This was a tough decision, don’t get me wrong. I don’t like admitting that I can’t handle what’s asked of me. And I hate feeling like I’m letting people down. I’m so relieved that a solution has been found, one that’s even better than the only solution I could see.

And then today, Miss Owlet came upstairs with me and sat quite happily playing with dangly things in a bouncy chair while I practiced for twenty minutes. So there is hope for fitting semi-regular practice into my day again. I’m hoping we’ll be in a better financial position in the new year, and that I’ll be able to work for a couple of hours every day by then, and have enough money to cover weekly lessons and gas to them and orchestra.

2 thoughts on “Goodbye, Second Chair — For Now

  1. Lu

    I am so very, very glad that you won’t be giving it up. I know that I am not the most faithful of your concert attendees, but I think your playing is lovely and should be something you’re able to pursue. Yay!


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