Learning Cello

November 12, 2009

When I was in the 5th grade my class was taken by bus to one of the middle or high schools where we heard the student orchestra play. After the arranged pieces were complete, each instrument was demonstrated in a short solo piece and then explained by the conductor. It was hoped that this demonstration would interest some of us in to wanting to study music.

Starting in the 6th grade I played Cornet, not because that was the instrument of my dreams but rather since my mother’s friend Mrs. Lamb had a cornet we could borrow. I played all through sixth grade. Also during that year I started what would be four years of braces. Having my lips pinched between the rather small mouth piece of the cornet and my braces was no fun, so in the 7th grade I switched to baritone horn, or more commonly baritone.

At the time I was rather small, the baritone in its case was nearly as big as I was; it certainly dwarfed me I held it in my lap on the school bus to and from school every day. The music teacher was less than pleased with our 7th grade practice ethic and so she sent home a practice log to be initialed by our parents, a log that required 30-minutes practice per day. My school bus was full, so I was forced to lug the baritone and its sizable case on and off the bus every day, and to ride the bus with the thing in my lap all the way.

All of which made for good excuses to stop music altogether. This also being the year my sister died I think my parents weren’t interested in requiring that I stick band out for the whole year. Regardless of the excuses or reasons, that was the last formal, organized music instruction I had.

As a summer camp counselor I acquired a guitar and learned through rote memorization one strumming pattern and three songs. Through out college I tortured my pianist roommate with the opening chords of Stairway to Heaven. Endlessly. He now says, 30 years later, that he still has nightmares about my “playing.”

Fast forward to three years ago when Sibylle and I met. While she is a pianist and piano teacher, she had several other instruments scattered around her studio including a beautiful cello. I have always found cello music to be the most beautiful and evocative. Seeing one up close and in person made me wistful for the squandered opportunity in junior high and high school. I confided with Sibylle that I had always wanted to learn to play cello but I had never followed through with that dream.

Starting this week I have finally taken the step necessary to learn cello. The cello actually belongs to Sibylle’s oldest son, a musician himself, and he was willing to rent it to me. Searching for lessons I contacted the University’s cello professor and also the cello instructor at the local music store. I had my first lesson this past Monday with the music store instructor. Her teaching style and my learning style did not line up at all. I suspect without knowing that she has few if any mature adult students. Much of her presentation was aimed a someone much younger than I. Also, I found her materials to be disorganized, chaotic, and not very inspirational. The lesson consisted mostly of how to carry the instrument, and how to remove it from its case. We didn’t play at all. Learning even a simple open string song or piece would have been marvelous. It was like getting a whiz-bang toy for Christmas but no batteries to make it go.

Fortunately the contact with University’s cello professor paid off as I now have a lesson set up with a student of his for this weekend. My hope is that this young man will have a teaching style more to my liking. In the meantime, with Sibylle’s musical help, and my minimal understanding of piano, I’ve started to figure out a couple pieces to play pizzicato.

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Mark H. Nichols

I am a husband, cellist, code prole, nerd, technologist, and all around good guy living and working in fly-over country. You should follow me on Twitter.