I have a long-term student who has been very up, very down, all over the map in terms of her dedication to the cello. Of late, prodded on by the Galamian scales with martelé that every one of my students is slaving away at, she has made a tremendous amount of progress. I can always tell when a student is practicing correctly because they make sophisticated mistakes instead of rudimentary ones. She was really doing the hard work, and it showed top-to-bottom in her playing, from note reading to the increasing smoothness of her bow changes.

Leaving a lesson a week or two ago, I was flagged down by her husband. He asked me how she was doing, and with my usual evangelical fervor, proceeded to spread the gospel of her progress. I had to work very hard not to let my mouth fall open when he began giving me pointers and sharing how dedicated she was to this other activity, and that perhaps if I was “mean like her other instructor” she would progress more to his liking.

My students who read this blog will attest that while I am generally cheerful and positive, I am no push over either. Especially when they have not been working to their potential or ignoring my instructions in favor of their own byzantine machinations. To hear this guy gripe about his wife’s lack of progress after a near miraculous transformation was hard for me to take, but I am not eager to involve myself in such complicated transactions. I left after a civil goodbye, haunted by the knowledge that I have many students with the same dynamic flowing through their homes.

Taking on the cello (or any other instrument) as an adult is not a trifle or vanity: it is, aside from its own massive worth, a brave statement of the refusal to stop chasing dreams, a confirmation of the value of your time, a daring exploration of every possible issue in the self-help area of your favorite bookstore. Sometimes family and friends are surprised by this sort of thing: it doesn’t conform to the view of you they have in mind, and see it as a threat. While I don’t advocate a life that ignores the needs of your loved ones (golf widows will attest to the detriments of that lifestyle), try not to let the caustic fumes of the people around you corrode your relationship with the cello. I find that it is a direct reflection of your relationship with yourself, and as a result, with everyone else.