This article is part of a staff series on embarking upon new endeavors in honor of the new year and decade.
Once upon a time, I was a cellist.
I played first cello in my high school orchestra, and after graduation I was admitted to a prestigious music conservatory. I had plans to become a professional musician.
Then, reality hit.
By the middle of freshman year, I knew I had made a mistake. Though I was one of the best cellists at my high school, I was one of the weakest players in college.
While I enjoyed playing Bach’s cello suites, I preferred listening to the Grateful Dead. Fellow classical musicians seemed stuffy to me, and I spent most of my time hanging out with the theater people.
Moreover, it was lonely spending eight hours a day in a practice room by myself. (By then, it was clear that the only way I was going to make a career as a cellist was by practicing at least eight hours a day.) So within a matter of weeks, I decided to quit. I also ruled out the idea of playing the cello as a hobby. If I couldn’t be a professional, I vowed, I wouldn’t play at all.
After breaking the news to my parents, I sold my cello, went to Europe and didn’t look back for many years. I finished college as a literature major and then went to social work school.
When I was about 30, I realized I missed music. I rented a cello expecting to pick up where I had left off 12 years earlier. That didn’t happen. I sounded awful and couldn’t bear to hear myself play.
The cello sat in the corner of my apartment and made me feel guilty for not practicing. Eventually, I returned it to the store.
Fast-forward a quarter-century or so and my partner and I were listening to classical music together. I told him about my senior year in high school and the demanding solo in the “William Tell Overture” that I performed during the spring concert.
“I can’t believe I was able to play in front of so many people,” I said. “I could never do that now. I was silly to give it up.”
“But you can play again,” he said.
It wasn’t the first time that someone suggested I return to the cello. But somehow, this time was different. That night, I fell asleep thinking about playing the cello. It seemed like there was no time to waste.
The following weekend, we went to Perrins and Associates Fine Violins in Mount Vernon and rented a cello. This time, I rented with reasonable expectations. I knew I was a beginner. I knew it would take practice to sound halfway decent. But I wanted to play music again, and perhaps gain the proficiency needed to play with other amateur musicians. I couldn’t wait to get home and try the instrument.
As I started to play, I was pleasantly surprised to find that I could still read music. Within a few days, I was playing the simple pieces in the Level 2 Suzuki book that I purchased at Perrin and Associates.
My hands, now stiff with arthritis, made it hard to play for long periods of time. But gradually, I was able to play for as long as an hour without pain. With regular practice, I was improving. But there were certain things I couldn’t remember — bowing technique, posture and basic music theory to name a few. These shortcomings were holding up my progress.
It was time to consult an expert. So, I contacted a young cellist who works at Perrin and had previously offered to give me lessons. I’ll begin studying with him sometime in the next couple of weeks.
It’s a scary proposition, but I think I’m ready to go for it. Here’s to a musical 2020!
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