The other morning, I woke up with a bee in my bonnet. That bee has a name, and that name is, “Emily, you need a better cello.”
I do not like this name, or the bee himself very much, but he tells the truth.
So I took my current cello and Mr. Bee down to The House Weaver in Bethesda and took my first step towards new cello-ship. I have guided many students through the process of purchasing a high-end instrument, and find myself strangely lucky to have been saddled with this particular cello, whose frailties echo my own and force me to practice in a concerted manner. Now that I am healed from the surgery and steadily playing, I can see that almost all of the dissatisfaction with tone and even technique is inherent in my current instrument.
No matter what A string I use (and I have tried them all), it is an entirely different, brighter, brassier character than the rest of the instrument. This has gotten much worse with the move east.
It is nearly impossible to get thumb position 5ths in tune, and 4th position on the D and G strings is torturous, due to the deep groove in my paleolithic fingerboard.
The pegbox has been re-drilled twice, and makes tuning (and staying in tune) a little tricky. Pegheds are not an option, because the guy who did the last drilling made the holes far too large. Even if we bushed them, they do not make Pegheds large enough for these abominations. Yes, I am trying to work on forgiveness. It’s a long road. Chop wood, carry water.
The C and G are warm, but not deep. Up high on the D sounds strained in comparison to even some inexpensive student instruments. This, too, has gotten worse in the move eastward.
Bill offered some fixes for these issues. Of course I can get a new fingerboard (and that necessitates a new bridge). He could take it apart and cleat the old repairs and put a new bass bar in. Try a new string configuration. I don’t think he saw me as a professional when I brought this instrument in, because he said, “Then it will sound just like all of these other good student cellos!”
I blanched. Sigh.
After that steaming plate of humble pie (which never killed anyone, so I did my best to look happy), I asked about the next level up.
“Well, then you’re looking at investment level instruments.”
I leaned over and showed him my left elbow. His face inquired. I said,
“I am a professional cellist, if you can believe it! A year ago, I had surgery to move my ulnar nerve so I could once again be taken seriously as a performer. The cello has been the center of my life since I was a child, but for the years leading up to the surgery, it seemed doubtful I’d ever recover. So buying a cello that costs as much as a Mercedes seemed like a lavish act of hope. I’ve been teaching, and writing, going back to school to broaden my skillset, and I will continue to do all of those things. But in the last 25 years, I have never gone more than a week without playing, or teaching, or in the days when I was injured or recovering from the surgery, longing for my instrument. I think, given all of that, and how lucky I have been to make a living in music despite these challenges…that perhaps the only cello that would be appropriate for me at this point is one that could be described as investment level.”
“Here. Try this Italian one.”
And I did. And I love it. More soon.