3 years ago

This is your cello. Here, take it. Hold it gently, by the neck, like this. Not too tight. Make sure don’t break the strings; they’re the most important part. Okay, now sit down. Sit at the front of the seat, and hold it at arm’s length. Like that. Now let it fall to your left. Perfect. Keep your back straight, remember. You and the cello are in a dance; it’s important that you both have perfect posture. It’s made of wood, so it’s your job to keep the dance alive. Now we’re going to play the strings. This one is C, then G, D, and A. To play them you just pluck them with your finger. Gently now, the cello knows what you want to do, and it’ll respond to even the smallest input when it understands what you’re asking of it. This way we can play quietly. Try playing even quieter than that. That’s it. Feel the vibrations of it humming through your body. A dance, of sound. Here, now take this bow. Tighten the strings like this, not too tight though: the bow is itself a part of the dance, an integral player in the movements, a thing to be cherished. Put your fingers here, and here. I know it feels strange, but you’ll get used to it, I promise. The way you’re holding it now, your hand is too tense; you only need to caress the bow, it can take care of the rest. Like this. See, it’s like it’s holding itself up, with only the slightest help from you. Hm, yes it’s a bit like a handshake I suppose. Now let’s try playing with the bow. Again we can play even the slightest sound, the bow and cello can talk to each other, and you can join in the conversation: tell them both to follow you. Everything vibrates to the same sound, you, the echo chamber of the cello, the strings of the bow, right back through your arm into your body again. A loop of sound. Did you know the strings of the bow are made with horse hairs? That was C; let’s try shifting into a G, that’s this string. Oh don’t worry about that squeak: this is your first time playing, you don’t expect to be an expert at everything immediately do you? With an instrument it’s even more so. It takes years to get as good as you’d hope, and there’s always things to learn. But don’t look so down, we’ll have you playing in no time, then it’s only uphill from there as you get better and better, and play harder and harder pieces, and your love for the instrument and the music grows until it’s your entire life like it is mine, and perhaps you’ll be sitting in the same position I am right now, and see the light in your students’ eyes appear as they realise that they’re producing a sound, them, not the instrument — them, and the instrument; or you’ll be a performer. It’s impossible to understand the elation that one feels on that stage until one is there, drinking in the applause from an enraptured audience — that pause just after you played, and you know you did well because it’s like 2 seconds long; wherever you go from this lesson, even if you never return, you will have learnt an important thing about treating things with respect… Hm? Oh yes, it’s important to know that the instrument is a partner in the dance, but it’s also a tool. A machine designed to house four strings that cause vibrations in the air. You can make it do whatever you want. But treat it with respect and you will go far; too many students think that if they force it to their will they’ll produce a great sound, and while it’s possible that some players do that and become some of the best players in the world, the true beauty in music comes from that dance, and sure the dancers may not be the best players but they will find the joy that music can bring, a far more rewarding thing, which is why I tell all my students about it now. Hey, that sounds good; how about we go on and try to play a scale. Something simple like G major will do for now I think.

See the way I hold it. The way I caress the bow, and the way in return that they caress me. Together, and separately, we produce the sound we both desire most to produce, a cacophony that should be discordant and yet isn’t, simply because the sound we both want is the same. Yes, all this seems a little over the top for a G major scale but it’s still equally important as in the hardest piece. I assume you’ve heard cello performers before, to make you want to learn this instrument? You’ve heard them, but have you seen them? Next time you get a chance, watch them, any performer of any instrument — you can tell the simply good from the great from how involved in the music they are. Usually if they close their eyes and look away from their sheets then they’re really good: they’re not playing the music anymore, they’re feeling it, allowing the instrument to take them where it needs to go, and it knows best, under only the most basic guidance from the player itself. Anyway, I definitely think I’ve rambled enough about this for now, you’ll hear plenty more of me talking about music in the next lessons that we have together. Oh, I know you’re coming back, even if you don’t know it yet yourself; you have the look in your eye, I know you’re hooked on the sound, the magic of music. You’ll be back.

The End

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