I started playing cello when I was 36 years
old. Many of my friends
asked me, "Why the cello? What happened to you?" I did not have any experience in playing musical instruments before starting cello, so this was totally new for me.
In 1986, for my new job, my family and I moved to the city of Handa, in Aichi Prefecture, Japan, where a new community orchestra was being formed. In order to publicize the orchestra, the organizing committee invited a famous conductor to make a speech about symphony orchestras and classical music. Since I liked listening to classical music I decided to attend. After his speech, I noticed a poster at the exit that said, "Let's have our own orchestra. We are looking for orchestral players." I thought it might be good to play in the orchestra, but I suspected that only experienced players would be welcomed, though the poster said nothing about this. I expected that the orchestra would have some sort of training program for beginners. Only later did I find out that I was wrong!
I went to the registration desk and asked for an application. I filled in the name and address. Then the next blank asked which instrument I would play. At the time I had no idea which instrument I would like. A stringed instrument seemed good, but I thought the violin was too small, and the contrabass too large. I finally chose cello and wrote it in the instrument column.
A few weeks later, a letter came from the organizing committee inviting me to an inaugural meeting. The Mayor of Handa made a congratulatory address about the new community orchestra, and, after a few more rather boring speeches, we enjoyed some refreshments. At the end of the meeting, a member of the organizing committee distributed papers and said, "We will start orchestra practice on the 4th movement next week, so please start practicing at home." He came over and gave me a cello part to the New World Symphony! It was the first time I had ever seen a cello score.
I said, "I can't play the cello."
He thought I was being modest and said, "You can start with what you can do."
I timidly said, "I can't play at all. Actually, I have never touched a cello before."
His eyes seemed to pop out of his head. I suspected he wanted to say, "Then why are you here?" but he was smart enough not to. He said, "You need to buy a cello first. Let me introduce you to a friend who owns a musical instrument shop."
The following week, I went to his friend's shop. Of course, I knew nothing about instruments, including their prices. I said, "I am just a beginner. I do not need a brand new instrument, since they must be expensive. A secondhand one would be fine with me."
The lady at the shop said with a smile, "Well, generally speaking, a secondhand instrument is more expensive than a brand new one. For instance, the old Italian cellos over there are priced at one million yen."
I was confused, but quickly realized that instrument shopping must be totally different from something like a car purchase. "I understand. Which is the cheapest one?"
"There are two. One is made in China and the other one is Japanese made by Suzuki. The Chinese one was made with Japanese technology."
I was confused again. As far as I knew, the cello is an instrument for Western music, not Japanese, so I wondered how Japan could have such technology. My next problem was that I had no idea how to select a cello. "Which is better?" I asked.
"Theyre both good," she said.
"OK, Ill take the Chinese one." The reason
was quite simple --
the Japanese Suzuki cello looked too neat and clean. And the price of the Chinese cello was 160,000 yen, 20 percent less than the Japanese cello. I think my decision was correct since I still like playing on my Chinese cello. I asked what else I needed for playing the cello.
"You need a bow, instrument case, and rosin."
I said I would buy them and she asked what
kind of bow I would like.
Again, I had no idea and said that the cheapest one would be fine. I purchased a 15,000 yen bow, but later found it to be too soft. Now I have a French bow that is ten times more expensive. The price of the instrument case was also 15,000 yen.
After tuning my cello, she brought it to me in a plastic bag. I said, "Excuse me, I think I ordered an instrument case."
"Yes, this is the case you ordered," she replied. It was just a plastic bag.
"I thought I ordered a case like those over there," I said, pointing to a display of colorful cello cases.
She said with a smile, "Oh, you mean a hard case. I am sorry, but some of those are more expensive than your instrument. The case you purchased is a soft case." It was difficult for me to accept that the case could be more expensive than the cello itself, but I finally gave up on a hard case.
After this, I started taking private lessons from a player in the Nagoya Philharmonic Orchestra. The teacher emphasized the importance of learning the fundamentals. He discouraged me from playing in the community orchestra for a certain length of time. Now I realize that he was correct. For the next five years I concentrated on learning the basic technique of playing the cello.
In 1991, I moved again due to my job. I thought it might be okay for me to start playing in an orchestra. I am now playing in the Suruga Philharmonic Orchestra, which is a community orchestra in the city of Mishima, in Shizuoka Prefecture. I am also taking private lessons from a teacher who used to be a player in the NHK Symphony Orchestra. I am learning the Lalo Concerto.
I was fortunate to have the opportunity to learn to play the cello, even though it came accidentally. I enjoy playing in an orchestra as well as on my own at home. Now the cello is much more than a musical instrument to me, it is my friend.