In more ways than one, I’m trying to get back to owning the cello. The 1-2-3 punch of surgery, moving and then grad school took some of the edge off of my chops. There were a few months towards the end of Hopkins where I only played in the context of lessons and gigs. Chops require time for repetition and meticulousness: practicing not until you get it, but until you can’t miss.
There was a time as a late undergrad and fledgling pro where I could improvise some fairly complex stuff and it would come out just as I had intended. I owned the notes. I knew where they were, automatically, via any number of routes. I studied a hell of a lot of jazz at Northridge, and the patient instructors there would allow me to take combo classes, harmony and arranging, even sit in with the big band for a few semesters. They used me as an excuse to review fundamentals- many jazzers fall victim to the “more notes is more better”[sic] philosophy. To tell the truth, I went in with the same idea. I came out with a revamped sensibility about all music, not just jazz. Play what you feel. Keep it simple. Research the music. Know it deeply. Open your ears. Be teachable.
I had time. I listened and transcribed. I practiced incessantly. I was playing with people who were vastly better at a thing I was starving to do. It was an extensive education.
Now that the dust from leaving LA has settled, my task is to take everything I’ve learned about life and try to live by those lessons. The two main lessons I’ve learned are:
Just because it’s a lonely road doesn’t mean you’ve taken a wrong turn.
You’re never as alone as you think you are.
So I’m going to own this cello. I will make it mine, with help from friends who have offered me help on the lonely path of the Not Quite Typical cello-y life. I will make it mine in the other way, too: by coming back to a more concentrated practice and owning the notes. Professional musicians rarely talk about rust or parts of their facility slipping away as circumstances necessitate favoring one aspect of playing over the other- but it happens. I’ve kept up much of my skill by sheer luck: I have a wide range of students, including a few burgeoning pros, so I can’t let my big repertoire slip. Now it’s time to revisit a different lexicon. I’m afraid my jazz vocabulary has become some kind of heavily accented pidgin dialect, and it represents a part of fluency on the instrument that I know is missing.
Still, it’s all part of the theme here. Losing something is the ultimate test of whether it’s important or not. I will admit that selling my cello last year was surreal. It was like I was watching myself go through with it and a small voice kept asking, “What if you don’t miss it?”
I missed it. All of it. And I’m going to get it back. I’m going to own this cello, in every possible capacity.
With two weeks left in the fundraiser and about $9k to go, I’m well aware of the miracle that will need to happen to reach the goal. It’s lucky that I will have time (though not an unlimited amount) to pay off whatever balance remains.
That said, I received a contribution in the mail from a dear friend, so the amount shown on the funding page should be about $3000 lower! The letter was actually addressed to Lucy, who is working on her own blog post about it as I type this.
Thank you to the most recent donors!
and 5 Anonymous sponsors.
Lonely road photo from here.