deep cello rambling

In my most recent blog post, I lead with a photo of a cello. A couple of photos of a cello actually LOL  As I noted, it had been quite a long time since I had last played – life had happened, cello fell out of my brain and it was…just something from my past. I couldn’t explain it, it didn’t trouble me much, in fact the hardest part was letting the actual instrument and bow go. Of course cellos – and this is not very well known cello bows which can cost easily half the value of the instrument – are expensive. They are quite the investment of money. Even more than the cost issue, I had commissioned my previous cello to be made, with specific ideas in mine.  This wasn’t any big expensive thing, just a fluke of luck. Likewise my cello bow was another fluke of luck, found for less than half the market price – a jewel, a prize.

My previous cello was (to start shallow) a stunning gold-red with a soft velvet finish, a beautiful upfront really complex sound, and a light resonant body that sang with overtones at a simple tap on the wood. It was easy to make sound really good, and not too difficult to make sound amazing. The bow was a fantastic find, making the cello sound half again as good as it would have otherwise. This came home to me really clearly when I sold the cello.  The young man who bought it played it for his trial with his own bow, and my cello sounded lovely of course; but then just for fun, and because he had never played with such a good bow, I had him play with mine. And after just a couple of notes he stopped, stunned, and we stared at each other and then both just laughed. He negotiated with his father to purchase that bow with the cello – and I made sure that it went home with him.

A few weeks ago, when I realized that the cello part of my brain had woken back up, I figured I would look around and eventually, perhaps, maybe, it was conceivable, find – say – a carbon cello. Used, probably. So I went to one of my favorite websites just to look around. Because that website has really good sample sounds for their cellos, it was going to be very fun to listen to many different instruments – from student quality entry-level instruments, to a very nice carbon cello, to intermediate instruments, to young professional instruments, to an astonishing 300 year old Italian cello, which sounded like butter melting in a sweet springtime sun. Wow.

I never intended to find a cello I wanted. I never considered I might listen to a cello I would like to have right now. I never intended to get into a conversation with the owner of the business… and yet that conversation happened. And the next thing I knew, we were listening to and discussing cellos in an enjoyable 90-minute ramble that covered everything from playing Cello’s with hand injuries, to riding horses on beaches in warm sunny climes.

What amazed me was to listen, for a third time, to a cello that hadn’t caught my ear before, and realize it was a truly lovely instrument. I hadn’t noticed it on the first few listens because it was so very different than my beautiful beloved reedy, room-filling, gold-red cello. Where my old cello was bright and up front, this cello was buttery smooth, integrated as if it were a ten-year-old instrument, very even from bottom to top (which is very unusual in a young instrument and indicates a lot about its intrinsic quality) and complex in a very subtle way. It isn’t a cello that would stand out played in a group, but it is a cello that will rivet your ear listening to it alone. It is a cello that was arresting, and yet soothing, and yet fascinating.

Dear reader, need I say what happened next? Quite unexpectedly I had come into a small sum of cash, and while I was very happy having it in savings, purchasing a cello is almost never a loss. The more a cello is played the more mature the sound becomes and the greater its value….so purchasing a cello wasn’t throwing money away, it was just keeping it in savings in another concept.

Within 12 hours the cello was on its way to me, and after trying several bows I am enthralled in a way I did not realize I would ever be again. And certainly not in a way I could ever be by a subtle instrument as in contrast to an in-your-face, grab your attention instrument LOL I have been playing it for a couple of weeks, and am enchanted.

Cellos go through many stages of breaking in, the first being the first couple of months a new cello is played consistently. After that there is about a five-year stretch where the cello matures slowly, and then somewhere between that time and 10 years, there is a jump to a much more integrated consistent sound. After that, it simply gets better and better like a fine wine.

I have profound hand injuries, especially on the right-hand – which is of course the hand which takes the most strain, as it is the hand that holds the bow – through which a considerable amount of force will be distributed, even with the gentlest technique. My original instructor was quite the wizard at figuring out technique for my bow hand that would protect it from most damage. And I have been relearning, from many videos of the cellists who that bow technique drew on the most, how best to bow all over again. And, since my goal this time is very different than my goal a decade ago (which was to play concertos, at which I was very successful having been a classically-trained musician my whole life) this time, I am taking my time. I want to make sure my bow technique is as light and non-stressful and gentle and yet resonant as it can be, without further damaging my hand. In fact, I want playing my cello to be a consistent form of strengthening and physical therapy for that hand.

 These days what I most want to do on cello is play by ear (again, musician for my whole life, this is just part of my skillset – for which I am grateful, since it gives me another way to create!). Play with my spouse’s amazing electronic music, with which I do some nonverbal vocalizing to make lovely pieces, and which would work equally well with the human-voice-plus sound of my beautiful mellow sounding new cello. I want to play what is in my heart, rather than what is on a music staff. They are equally good goals, it’s an apples-to-oranges comparison to try to judge one over the other. I am simply in a different place in my life, in my creative career, in my creative goals, in my creative collaborations, in my current audio projects.

My soul wants to play the cello at this time, my soul is what responded to hearing a cello after all this time, and my soul is what wishes to sing through my lovely, red buttery instrument.

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