My cello "career" started at age 12 in a 6-week summer music class. Flute was my first instrument, but I thought trills were "silly" and didn't especially care for band music. As I recall, my best friend played cello so that may have been what inspired me to try it and forgo flute.
I played cello throughout junior high and high school and was invited to join my hometown's orchestra without ever having had a private lesson. "The Art of Cello Playing" helped me learn enough to get by -- thank you, Louis Potter Jr.!
Once in college I was able to study with a couple of cello teachers who helped me substitute proper technique for some bad habits. I even ended up with a cello performance minor after dropping my music ed major for political science. My "15 minutes of fame" came doing the Saint-Saëns concerto with the college orchestra. Looking back, it was a good experience, but it isn't anything I'd ever want to do again. Too much of an ordeal, plus, frankly, it sounded pretty bad. Oh well!
Besides cello I did some vocalizing and woodwinding. Learning flute as a youngster actually turned out to be a good thing. I was able to pick it up again and play in the college "bozo" band, and learn enough alto sax and clarinet to play 2d alto sax and auxiliary woodwinds in my junior college jazz band. To be honest, jazz band was more fun and taught me more about listening and phrasing than any other ensemble before or since!
After graduating I spent a year as a VISTA in California's Coachella Valley, home of the Date Festival (can you say medjool or deglet noor?), doing paralegal work in a Legal Services office and living on a poverty-level stipend, food stamps, and Medi-Cal. For some reason I went there cello-less; my dad was kind enough to ship me my cello. You should've seen the contraption the airline constructed for it, a huge wooden crate stuffed with excelsior. The cello was shipped in the crate in its hard case with no string loosening, no extra padding, nothing, and it arrived in fine shape. Judging from some of the cello-shipping horror stories on the boards, that was just plain dumb luck!
Fast-forward 20-plus years. Now I'm a cellist-by-night, playing in an orchestra, taking lessons, about to venture into the world of chamber music. This is all pretty cool, because for most of the 90's I wasn't able to play due to typing-induced repetitive strain problems in my arms. What a drag. Having something that is such a part of you suddenly taken away is an experience not to be wished on anyone!
For several years after having to stop playing I could not listen to classical music. At all. Waaaay too painful. I'd sold my cello, given away all my music, even got rid of my music stands, tuning forks, metronome, all the musical accoutrements one acquires over the years. Fortunately, eventually that passed and I started listening to classical music and attending concerts.
In 1998 Slava came to town to play a concert with the Seattle Symphony, and I decided to go, not without some trepidation, as he'd be the first cellist I'd heard/seen live in ages. Am I glad I went! Slava was wonderful, he really communicated with the audience, and we just lapped it up! That inspired me to wonder what would happen if I tried to play again. Would my arms hold up? Had I lost it cellistically? After pondering for a while, I rented a really hideous 3/4-size instrument, reasoning that if I couldn't play it was only a few dollars lost, and that a smaller instrument might not wreak havoc on my left arm. Well, it worked! I could play without pain or tendinitis, but sounded like, well, you can imagine... Shortly thereafter I found ICS, and, here we are. I've been playing again since December 1998, have been taking lessons for over a year (sporadically, as both my teacher and I have kind of crazy schedules, so we schedule lessons for what works for us, which is usually a couple a month), auditioned for and joined a local orchestra in September '99, which had been a major goal. All in all, a successful comeback so far. Oh yes, I forgot to mention, I bought a 7/8 cello and am very happy with it.
My struggle now is in coming to grips with the desire to be a really good amateur cellist and facing the reality that that isn't in the cards. One of the things I decided when starting to play again was that cello and music weren't going to be the be-alls and end-alls for me as they had been in the past. Who knows, RSI could rear its ugly head again and celloing could be over with for another nine or ten years, or forever. So, I'm trying to be content with being an intermediate/advanced player and of necessity limiting practice sessions to only 1 to 1.5 hours, four or five times a week. Makes it easier to keep up with baseball, salmon habitat recovery, murder mysteries (author recommendations always appreciated!), teasing the cats, sampling various microbrews, birding, and myriad other interests. One of the things I haven't done over the years is analyze what drew me to cello and kept me working at it, and why I'm working at it again today. It's just one of those things, similar to breathing. Sometimes I wonder if there's a single character trait that musicians, athletes, anyone who decides to develop an art/skill, etc., shares, and if so, what it is. Tenacity? Being goal-oriented? So much of what we do as cello-players comes from within. I know I'm not in it for fame or fortune or personal expression, but am grateful for the sense of satisfaction and well-being cello gives me. When it isn't driving me crazy, that is!
I think there's a definite difference between ability and talent and I know I have a fair amount of the former but not a shred of the latter. That's OK; there's a definite need for section players to make the principals and/or soloists look good (conductors are on their own!).
So, what would I do if I weren't playing? Hmm. During my nine-year cello hiatus I learned to ice skate, and played hockey on a women's no-check team. That was a gas! There's nothing like sitting in a post-game locker room sipping a cold beverage and rehashing a game and laughing a lot. (Too bad we don't have a tradition of similar post-concert wrap-ups!) But, the old bod won't take it anymore. It's hard for us middle-aged ladies to hit the ice for practice at 10pm and keep up with the 20-something speedsters! Anyway, with any luck I won't have to face the "what would I do if" question again!
Best of health and happiness to you out there in cello-playing land!
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