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Cello Stint

weather: raining
outside: 16°C
mood: happy
I had a picture taken of me leaning against a cello, sitting on a few steps somewhere around my highschool. Listening to Yo-Yo Ma reminded me of that two month cello stint and I was inspired to make a avatar doll of it, last night.

I had joined a summer music program run by the Vancouver School Board that used the classrooms at Eric Hamber Secondary. I was in Grade 6 or 7, still in Elementary school. I had been playing violin for a while and wanted to play in an orchestra with others. My parents and I were looking at the description for the program. There were two groups, a "Beginners" and an "Intermediate". I'd been playing for a few years and I had private lessons, so I wasn't a beginner. The Intermediate blurb just said, "for students with a few years of experience." So, I thought, great, that's me.

When I got there on the first day, everybody sucked. Seriously. "Beginner" meant "just bought the instrument this morning." There weren't enough Intermediate level students to make up a full orchestra. There were just enough of us to make a small chamber group, a Trio or a Quartet if we pulled Elizabeth out of the beginners to play second violin. And if we were lucky, one of the instructors' teenage daughter, Alli, would graciously come in with her big double bass and we'd have a Quintet.

So they just combined everybody into the Beginner's class. Naturally, I became the Concert Master. A few of the more advanced players would get pulled out and do chamber pieces for the end of program concert. But we still had to participate in the full orchestra stuff.

When your skills are head and shoulders above everyone else, you're bored as all get-out. I was never the misbehaving kind of bored kid, but the instructors could see that I wasn't in the best spirits when I was in the main class. I was so much happier in the chamber group.

Violins are a very popular instrument. Everyone wants to play violin. It's that "limelight" mentality that parents push onto their kids, I'm sure. No one wants to play viola or even cello because they were seen as background, supporting roles. So, there was an overabundance of violins and only two or three of each of the other instruments.

Because I was basically sitting there doing nothing, I decided to learn cello. In the cello section, there was James (Principal Cello), Amanda and Pansy sitting by herself behind James and Amanda. That was perfect, I could sit with Pansy. I borrowed an extra cello from one of the instructors. It was a beautiful German cello with a very rich, deep sound. Pansy was a beginner as well, so we both helped each other out. James and Amanda were fairly competent, so they practiced with us.

Vibrato comes much easier on the cello than the violin. Blessed, blessed gravity.

The hardest thing to get used to, for me, was not using my second finger nearly as much as I do on the violin. I nearly ripped my hand apart several times because I'd forget that I had to put my second and third finger down together to get that note instead of just stretching out my second finger. =D

At one point, I'd shift my whole hand into second position so that it would feel more natural to me. But when the music isn't written for the shifting, it's easy to get messed up and it sounds like crap if you can't get it perfect.

Reading the bass clef took a while to get used to. But eventually, I worked through all of that.

I played well enough that the conductor asked me to do a cello solo for the final concert night. My solo piece was Mendelssohn(-Bartholdy)'s On Wings of Song, Op. 34, No. 2 with piano accompaniment. It's not that hard, but it was just challenging enough for me... though, I played it a bit slower than that one and I don't quite remember it being that repetitive. And I also figured out very quickly that female cellists can't wear short skirts... long black flowing skirts only. =)

I didn't persue cello lessons after that one summer. We couldn't afford both violin and cello, instruments and lessons. I stuck with the violin because it was smaller and easier to carry around. Sometimes I regret not taking cello lessons further, but ah well. Maybe in the future when I retire, I'll take it up again.

Oh right, the picture. I don't have the picture because it was taken on the afternoon of the last concert. I was promised a print, but I ended up not seeing the person who took it, so I don't have one. The doll will just have to do. =)


( 8 comments — Leave a comment )
Oct. 20th, 2003 07:27 pm (UTC)
I played the cello from ages 9-11. I was never very good but there were only two of us cello players in the elementary school orchestra, so in hindsight I think the music teacher made some exceptions for my lack of talent. She really should have booted me out of the orchestra.

Anyway, one of the reasons I quit cello was because it was difficult to ride the school bus with it. I wasn't able to sit in the back of the bus with my friends on the days I had orchestra because the cello wouldn't fit back there.

Oh, the things that are important to an 11 year old ...
Oct. 20th, 2003 07:30 pm (UTC)
Hehe, clumsiness on a bus sounds very familiar =) I took the public transit to the from orchestra, so I kinda know what you mean.
Oct. 20th, 2003 07:45 pm (UTC)
Cute avatar. Is she holding a bow in the middle with her right hand, or is that simply a long, pointed hanging sleeve?

Hm. I knew quite a few people who played cello. I think a lot of people start on violin, but not necessarily continue to do so. In terms of people who stick with an instrument for several years, I think cello is one of the more popular instruments.

I only played violin for a year and a half or so, when I was 5 or 6 years old. I played flute for three years, grades 6 to 8, and only stopped because I didn't want to get up at 5am, attend all the sporting events, and sacrifice fourth class period in the middle of the day, to do marching band in high school. And then in college, I kept it nearby at school, practicing on-and-off when I had time.
Oct. 20th, 2003 07:52 pm (UTC)
That's my sleeve =) I put the bow down and was just leaning on it.

In terms of people who stick with an instrument for several years, I think cello is one of the more popular instruments.

That makes sense. People usually deliberately choose the cello instead of the parents making them play.

I was so envious of the flutists in band because their cases were so tiny =)
Oct. 20th, 2003 08:09 pm (UTC)
I think violin and piano are the big "forced to play by parents" instruments. And then there are they "omigod, this is so cool" instruments, typically, saxophone, trumpet, guitar, and percussion. Many of those end up getting dropped within one or two years. Most of the others are elective, especially when you get into unconventional choices. (oboe? bassoon? French horn? double bass?)

Flute cases are small enough to fit in the backpack, down the side, so I didn't even need to spare a hand to carry it. :) Clarinet was almost as convenient, fitting in the space in the backpack on top of the books.
Oct. 21st, 2003 12:35 pm (UTC)
No one wants to play viola or even cello because they were seen as background, supporting roles.

The viola is even more obscure than the cello. Face it, no one wants to learn to read alto clef!! But I like the viola. It has a very rich and strangely deep sound.
Oct. 21st, 2003 08:26 pm (UTC)
My music teacher self really liked reading this entry!!

I have a class of 7th and 8th graders who are taking an instrumental music elective. The only instruments we have for them to play (the class is called "band" but none of the kids play an instrument) are recorders. The kids I teach are not in a socioeconomic place where they could afford to buy or rent their own instruments. The school owns all of the band instruments. There are 15 brand new string instruments sitting in the closet that these kids would LOVE to play. However, they are all 3/4 and 1/2 sizes. The little kids, who would "fit" the instruments, are in reading classes all morning (because Spanish was the first language for most of these students), so we can't pull them out of that for orchestra. :( I wish I could find a way around it. Trade the instruments for bigger ones or something. :(
Oct. 22nd, 2003 09:08 am (UTC)
Agh... that's really unfortunate. Could you maybe find a local private music teacher and see if there's an organization (a music store?) that will accept trades on an ongoing basis.

I don't know what kind of deal you can arrange with a music store, but I do know that in general, string instruments will appreciate in value as they get used, they don't depreciate like other regular use items. If you pay the music store at all, it would be for their time and a little profit margin.

It would be good publicity for a store like that to make an impression on kids and make a potential life-long customer.
( 8 comments — Leave a comment )


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