Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Sam and The Cello

I got a surprise last week. I came home from work to find one of those band folders, the
kind I hadn't seen since Jr. High School(before it became 'middle school'). I halted, turned, and saw sheets of paper introducing the conductor and signup sheets for music training. Seems Sam wants to learn to play. . . the cello. The Cello .I do not know what brought him to this decision. It was made without my advice. You see, I played the cello for three years, beginning in fourth grade. I had already had 3-4 years of piano lessons by then. The cello was my introduction to many things - stringed instruments, playing with a group, taking instruction and training from a leader in front of others, teamwork, performance, stage fright, the list goes on and on. I moved to bass in the 7th grade because - let's face it, it's much cooler - and I couldn't play the cello. To play a cello well (that is, among other things, to not sound like a seal being eviscerated without
anesthesia) is a difficult thing to do. It is more physically and sonically demanding than a bass, as I'm sure the viola and violin are. I actually asked to look at Sam's fingers, yesterday afternoon; fortunately he has not inherited my father's spatulate fingers and square palms, as did I. I hope this is in his favor.
Do not misunderstand, I think my strong hands are suited to a larger fingerboard, that's all. Unfortunately, musicianship is an alchemy of physical gifts, experience, and discipline. It is most un-democratic and often cruel. It is this cruelty that I fear the most for Samuel.
It is most interesting, this mix of emotions that I feel. We went to the music store - the school music store, where the guitars are in a small room, the drums are up high on the wall, and bins full of sheet music hold the prime real estate. The older gentleman that rented us the cello was very kind; and the instrument is so much better than the school-issued ones - it made me proud that I could provide such a thing for my son. We took it home, and carefully removed it from the case, and fiddled with it a bit. He didn't seem so interested as I tuned it and played a few notes, then handed it to him. He's still pretty apprehensive about the physics, so far, although he demonstrated an early technique for holding the bow that he's already been taught. I'll leave that stuff to his teacher.
I see so many obstacles for him. He has a lovely singing voice that I've only heard here and there - but I don't know how good his 'ear' is. He's never read music. He has a lot to learn about being part of a team. He's going to have to practice. He is a perfectionist. He may not be strong enough or coordinated enough, initially, to physically wrestle an instrument like this. I desperately want him to rise to these challenges, and find a joy in music as I have. It's brought up a lot of memories of my own frustrations and failures with this instrument, and I just fear that this may kill his desire if it doesn't work.
I realize that 85% of this is "normal" parental worrying, and I can't gauge if my nausea is just compounded by my own experience. I'm going to do my level best to not project any of this toward him - it will be a struggle, as it always is, to try and maintain the appropriate pressure for him to do his best, so that he can find the pleasure in it.
I hope he finds the magic that occurs when an orchestra plays beautiful music, to be in the midst of it, to contribute to something greater than oneself. To translate points on a page into music. The physical sensation of resonating wood, rosin, and string at your core.
It's just something I didn't expect, that's all. At least not The Cello.