Twenty Years of Cello

In July of 1994, I found a cello teacher, met with her, started working on rhythm and reading music, and with her help bought a secondhand cello from one of her other students who had just upgraded. There’s a loose note on the inside cover of my notebook that reads 30 July 1994: C major scale *pivot and thumb, Schröder pp. 4+5, Suzuki #2+3, which would have been my very first bit of cello homework.

On the sixth of August, I had my first actual lesson entry in my notebook. It looks like my homework was practicing a C major scale both up and down, being careful about the position of my first finger on the A string, remembering to pivot the arm and keep the thumb loose but in place behind the neck, and to cut my nails. It’s telling that these are all still things I have to think about, even after twenty years. Plus ça change…

Aww, Schröder etudes nos. 5 and 6, and Suzuki 4 and 5 (AKA Song of the Wind and Go Tell Aunt Rhody) — and all in pizzicato, because we didn’t start with the bow until November of that year.

This is what I just finished playing in Suzuki:

As you can see from my numerous notations, there’s a lot more to be thinking about, mostly to do with interpretation. A lot of these notes are more holistic than prescriptive, like “visualise leaves,” and would be useless to anyone else trying to decipher them, like “wahm wahm” and “poof poof poof poof.” Others are actually scribbles by Owlet, with bonus tiny owl stickers because she loves me. My teacher asked me if I wanted a clean copy to play from at the recital, and I said no; I like this one just fine, messy scribbles, stickers, and all.

The chickadee sticker at the top of the left page was placed there by Sparky, actually, carefully chosen from our teacher’s extensive sticker collection. We always get a sticker on our recital piece, in celebration. I may be in my forties, but a sticker on my recital piece still makes me very happy.

Twenty years. So much has evolved. I have had to revisit certain pieces of technique over and over again — the left elbow, the right wrist — because as something else is modified, the changes cascade and you have to relearn how the muscles and movement interact again. Right now I’m struggling to figure out how to get my left fingers just right for thumb position. I have really long fingers, and while this is great in general for playing, thumb position requires fingers to bend and pronate to be just right, and I have a lot of length to bend. It’s uncomfortable. But then, just about every bit of technique is when you start trying it. I’ll get there.

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