Cello Thoughts

It’s recital day. I’ve had a rocky season with lots of downs and not very many ups.

At a lesson in early May I got not one, but two bad pieces of cello news. As if cello hadn’t been hard enough for me (I’m having a really difficult time understanding and settling into musical lines lately, and it’s driving me up the wall), it suddenly got way worse: our principal cellist and section leader (who also happens to be my teacher) had been invited to teach at CAMMAC summer camp, and so she couldn’t play in our annual Canada Day concert. She would be replaced by a guest principal… who also happens to be the conductor’s wife. She is a lovely person, and a terrific cellist whom we’ve worked with before, but all of a sudden I felt like I had to work even harder on pieces that were already somewhat challenging, because there would be someone judging me (I know, I know, it’s a community orchestra, this doesn’t actually happen, everyone plays to the best of their ability, except argh). My confidence relies on my teacher’s presence a lot. And even worse, as there are only four celli in the section now, I am the second cello playing the upper line when it’s divisi, which means I’m playing a line with the principal cellist. Just her and me. And the top line is traditionally the crazier, more difficult one. No pressure.

The second bit of bad news I got that day was my teacher suggesting that maybe my piece wasn’t in good enough shape this close to the recital, and perhaps we should pull something else out and dust it off. We hadn’t worked on it for a couple of lessons, focusing on the group pieces and orchestra music instead, and since I only have biweekly lessons, that means a month. But I didn’t have anything else, because I don’t work through the Suzuki books the way others do. Every piece I work on is my next recital piece. I have orchestra and Sparky’s lessons and group pieces for both the younger and the older groups, and so my efforts are spread over a broader field. I don’t measure my progress by how quickly I move through the Suzuki repertoire. (And a good thing, too, because I don’t need any more stress.) So I came perilously close to tears, and we worked through the rest of the lesson. I got home and tried to be objective, going through the few collections of music I have, and found a transcription of Wagner’s “Song to the Evening Star” from Tannhäuser. I didn’t have the piano accompaniment, though, so I did a bit of sleuthing online and tracked down an even better, more faithful transcription of the song on IMSLP. I sent it to my teacher as an alternate suggestion.

She liked it, and we have it lined up for my Christmas recital piece. She apologized for making the suggestion at the time she did in the lesson, and said that by the end of the lesson my piece had already improved to the point that we didn’t need to substitute anything new. It was a hiccough along the road, that’s all, but it was hard while it was happening.

Orchestra is… well. It’s feeling like a triage every week: What am I worst at that I need to beat into some kind of acceptable shape before next rehearsal? It doesn’t help that I don’t enjoy playing two of the pieces because I don’t like the music very much. Sometimes I grow to enjoy pieces I’m not fond of because playing them provides a whole different kind of appreciation, but not this time. On the other hand, we’re playing the very first piece of Tchaikovsky music I fell in love with as a young teenager, the waltz from Eugene Onegin, and the third act prelude from Lohengrin, which are lovely. But everything else I am either ‘meh’ about or actively disliking, which is a very odd place for me to be in. I’m not particularly looking forward to this concert.

Sparky has been growingly sulky and whiny about cello. Part of this is nine-year-old self-expression, I know, and part of it is a general ‘I’ve had it’ with school and lessons; it’s that time of year. But he has asked to stop, has flat out said “I’m not doing cello any more after this recital,” and I’m of two minds. I would really like my cello time back to myself, to stop wasting money and energy on something that isn’t appreciated. (I could enjoy lessons and group class again! I could afford to have my own lesson every week!) But he does enjoy it when it’s going well, and he’s good at it. He’s at a point where things are improving rapidly, and dropping it now means that he won’t really see all the work he’s put in reaching a rewarding fulfillment for him. And yes, there’s also the fact that if we let him stop, he has gotten what he wants by whining and being disagreeable enough that I don’t want to deal with it any more. If he drops cello, he wins, and that’s the part I don’t like, because I don’t want to reinforce whining = getting what he wants. It just grates on me, especially since I’m with him every second of his cello life. In the end it’s the behaviour that’s unacceptable, and that’s what I’m struggling with. I am never going to force a child to go to music lessons if he actively dislikes them, but that’s not the case. He’s trying to avoid the work and focus, and the tactics he’s using irritate me a lot. If he presented me calmly with valid reasons for stopping, I’d be more okay with it.

At the moment, I’ve said we’ll talk about it during the summer. Time off should help. We’ll see. If he decides he wants to stop, then he’ll be the one who tells his teacher, and presents his reasons. I’d be fine with him taking a season off, too, going back after Christmas. But if he decides to drop it completely, then he has to choose another extra-curricular activity, preferably one HRH could do with him. There’s a great karate school near us, and he’s always been interested in that; maybe he could try a session of it.

Anyway, we just need to get through the day. And last lesson, my teacher suggested that we play through what I’ll be working on this summer…

The last time I worked on these with a teacher was about seventeen years ago. (Hey, did you know that as of this summer, I will have been playing the cello for twenty years? That’s pretty awesome.) The Bach solo suites. It’s like being handed the key to the inner sanctum of cellists.

2 thoughts on “Cello Thoughts

  1. Michael T

    Interesting conundrum; how to discern how much of your son’s desire to quit is end-of-school year fatigue, and how much is real. We go through that a bit here with the viola. It’s like the dread pirate Roberts; always threatening to quit at the start of next season.

    Oh, and I remember you were giving me some pointers on the first chord of that minuet, for which I still grateful, so thank you again.

    Finally, happy 20th cello-versary. I’m happy to see you still playing on and writing about the cello.

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  2. Autumn Post author

    As a parent, this is such a tricky thing to navigate. I want to support him and I certainly want him to be happy, but I also want him to think through his decisions and make them for the right reasons. Unfortunately, he crashed and burned at the recital yesterday, with two false starts and getting himself stuck in a repetitive loop in an A1/A2/B/A2 structure, and I wonder how much of it was a self-fulfilling prophecy, as he’s been stressing about making mistakes and people laughing at him. He stuck it through to the end, though, and his applause was deafening, but he didn’t hear it because he was red-faced and trembling and not absorbing anything, though he held back his tears until I’d whisked him out the side door. Poor kid. The experience has just underlined the whole ‘I want to quit cello’ vibe.

    Did I really give you tips on that first chord? Wow. I wonder what I said, because I can’t manage chords properly, ever. Maybe I passed on a coping technique.

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