Cello Lesson

21 Feb

Cello bridge2Miss E arrives for her fourth lesson, sets her cello on her instructor’s living room couch, and lies down next to it. I am mortified. She is nine. I do not – cannot? – comprehend. “Up!” I say. “Not cool.”

I am certain there’s another way to handle this, a way that avoids that smoldering look she aims at me before she stands, slowly, before she unzips her cello case slowly… slowly, slowly… without looking at her cello, without looking at her teacher, without looking at me. I imagine there is a better way to instill self-discipline, but I don’t know what it is.

Why does she want to refuse?

There is silence in the room now. My daughter finally shuffles over to the music stand with her bow in one hand, her cello in the other, both precarious, and this is how it happens…

The cello instructor nods as Miss E approaches her chair, and quietly, matter-of-factly says, “I know. It’s so fun and exciting at first. Then you realize it’s a lot of work. And it’s hard. And then, you get to start playing things you like… and it gets fun again.”

This. This is the other way to handle it. 

“Really? How?” She is dubious still, but perhaps willing to be convinced.

Her instructor then plays the cello. Beautifully.

When she pauses, Miss E (now enthralled), blurts out, “That sounds good! What IS that?”

Her instructor replies, “It’s in your book.”

My book?”

“Let’s tune you up, and I’ll show you where it is.”

Miss E straightens her back and asks if she’s holding her bow right.

For me, it was acting – theater – developing a play for performance, building a character, memorizing lines. I opened myself to the people around me. We relied on one another – failing, falling, finding the low-burning flame from within, fanning the flames, finally filling ourselves with the fire, trusting, trusting, trusting.

I found myself. I found structure. I found pride. I found community. I found passion and purpose.

What I learned in the theater, I applied to my life.

I want this for my daughter.

I don’t know if cello will be that opening for her. It may be something else. But I long for that drive, that hunger for something larger than herself that will strengthen her tenacity, teach her to risk failure, and trust in herself.

Towards the end of my daughter’s lesson, a high school student enters the house with a cello strapped to her back, and smiles at each of us. “When did you first start playing cello?” the instructor asks.

This older girl considers the question, swinging the cello off her back, unzipping her coat. “Um… when I was in fifth grade. I think. Yeah, fifth grade,” she says.

My daughter stands with her mouth open wide. She’s heard this young woman play. I watch her do the math in her head. She’s in fourth grade now.

I don’t know if this will make tonight’s practice easier. Or harder. I don’t know. But I see my daughter set her sights on something as we walk out the door.

#CelloLessons #LifeLessons #This


Image by Turidoth (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-2.5], via Wikimedia Commons


13 Responses to “Cello Lesson”

  1. Marianne February 21, 2014 at 8:21 am #

    Love this. And Year One of music is ALWAYS a mother-f*cker. Not that it gets much easier after that, but once the fighting diminishes and the music starts sounding recognizable, everyone is a little happier. I’ve been told by every adult musician that they fought their parents tooth & nail, but are so appreciative that their parents never gave up!

    • Shannan February 21, 2014 at 8:40 am #

      Even if it isn’t her passion, there are so many benefits from music lessons, including but certainly not limited to the fact that reclining on the couch isn’t ideal. 🙂 That instructor sounds like an absolute gem – so glad you both have her. Marianne is so right that the first year is rough. We’re on year 3 of flute and have our first “competition” tomorrow and there were definitely days I never thought she’d get to this point.

    • RoiAnn February 25, 2014 at 2:35 pm #

      Apparently I’m more prompt responding on FB – but thank you! Honestly, this is the sort of kick in the pants I needed last week. And Miss E’s playing, or attitude towards playing, has shifted incredibly since this lesson… For the past few days, she has actually been PLAYING, and not just putting in her time. I MUST remember this feeling – so that later, I can remind us all.

  2. Shannon February 21, 2014 at 9:19 am #

    This is a really awesome story. I love how both you and the teacher handled it, and that high school student couldn’t have better timing.
    None of my kids are musical and I kind of regret not starting them on it when they were young. My fifth grader tried the trumpet this year, but decided she didn’t like the sound of it. I mean really didn’t like the sound of it, so I guess there was no fighting that.

    • RoiAnn February 25, 2014 at 2:39 pm #

      I agree – no fighting that! For mine, there’s been a shift in her as she gains confidence with the cello – I feel as if it’s spilling into other areas of her life – and it’s worth all those days – as Marianne says – of meeting her resistance with an iron will. Totally worth it. Even if I need you and Marianne and Shannan and everyone else to remind me of this now and again!

  3. helendimas February 21, 2014 at 2:17 pm #

    brings back memories of a long time ago. Now I listen to my nephew practice his trumpet upstairs and makes me feel melancholy remembering my grown music teacher son struggling on his shiny new trumpet. First chair seemed so far away at that time. 🙂

    • RoiAnn February 25, 2014 at 2:40 pm #

      I so appreciate your feedback as a mom of grown – and very musical – children. And as my colleague, As a woman I respect. Thank you for reading, Helen, and thank you for responding – in person, and out here in the blogosphere.

  4. Larry Fondow February 21, 2014 at 4:21 pm #

    I pictured the entire scene from Bumble laying on the couch to you both walking to your car with her still “doing the math in her head – to music?” What a wonderful, fun story you tell our RoiAnn! LOVE YOU

    • RoiAnn February 25, 2014 at 2:41 pm #

      Thank you! I bet you CAN picture it – Our strong-willed girl, asserting herself any way she can 🙂

  5. haridasgowra February 22, 2014 at 4:06 am #

    Hillarious@ This is really like it feel better!
    Piano piano@

  6. pepibebe February 22, 2014 at 5:40 am #

    Brilliant instructor, did you write her a thank you note? I would’ve sent chocolate!

    • RoiAnn February 22, 2014 at 7:05 am #

      We’ll see her again today. What a good idea! Thank you.

      • pepibebe February 22, 2014 at 11:50 am #

        Thanks 🙂 Having just started working with our local school I see how much teachers go above and beyond all the time, how nice (& I bet unexpected) for them to receive a little personal thank you for their efforts.

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