When you have a large number of adult students, it seems like everyone takes turns being injured. It’s hard on everyone involved, especially because most people hurt themselves after a breakthrough. A simple case of overuse gets ignored to the point of very serious physical impediment because at long last, when all seemed lost, the student gets a taste of what they came for: beautiful tone, or maybe it’s reliable intonation, maybe a vibrato that begins to rotate on its own.

So you play yourself right into a 6 month hiatus, or worse, the hospital.

And then it begins. No, not The Beguine! Although it would be pretty sweet if some crooner would come sing to your busted hand or sore shoulder and distract you from what’s actually going on: questioning the whole thing, and your place in it.

One of my students has this taped to her cello.

It’s a humorous coping mechanism in the face of an ever more painful right thumb and wrist that is slowly eating into her productive practice time. We’re experimenting with things she can do to minimize or entirely eliminate using her injured paw. So we were finishing up the lesson the other day, her hand wrapped elaborately in KinesioTape and a prescription for rest and gentle pizzicato sight-reading on the docket for the upcoming week, and she said,

“Some day, I’ll be a cellist. Some day, I’ll actually be able to play this thing.”

This is for all of you, in case there was any doubt.

You are a cellist. 

You are a cellist if you’re injured and can’t play. 

You are a cellist if you’re rehabbing from surgery. 

You are a cellist if it sounds like ass. 

You are a cellist if you are convinced it’s a farce. 

Riding high or low in the saddle, you are a cellist. 

If you have delayed gratification, ignored phones and ticked off family and neighbors, you are a cellist.

If you practice, you are a cellist. 

If you enter competitions and never win, you are a cellist. 

If you sit last chair last stand, you are a cellist. 

If you have been in Suzuki book 2 for 3 years but live for Elgar, you are a cellist. 

If the cello means something to you, and you have done your best, you are a cellist. 

Are we clear?

ed: Printable version available here.

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12 Responses

  1. *sigh* I've been telling myself this about viola lately. I just started. Like, JUST. Seriously. Four lessons. The only reason I have any musicality or can read music is because I've been a pianist since forever … but I still can't use the word violist for myself. I'll know when I can.

    It's especially hard at weeks like this past one where I've held the thing for maybe four hours tops, have another lesson tomorrow night, and haven't got anywhere near to getting everything done. 😛 Thank dawg the thing sounds pretty even when a total idiot plays it, and thank dawg it's fun to frob around with even when it sounds like garbage, or else I'd have come to my senses by now.

  2. This made me cry … I have been dealing with some wrist issues for a couple months now, and I've been playing the cello for half my life, so it's really hard to deal with. Thank you for your words.

  3. Emily,
    A really fabulous, moving post! I know so many adult students that are so hard on themselves which in a way, makes them great students. But it can also take a toll and drag them down in spirit. Thank you for this uplifting, encouraging post. I have already passed it on to several cello friends!


  4. She became a cellist at 10. Through all kinds of trauma both physical and emotional, she and her cello were one. Today she is a writer, a teacher, a friend, a daughter but most of all she is an incredible CELLIST!

  5. I think I get it…I'm a cellist even if I've only been back playing for 1 year after 15 years away from the cello.

    I also think I'll print this out and tape it to my stand.

  6. Hey guys! I'll whip up a nice looking one to print out ASAP.

    Much love,

    PS: Way to go, mom. Make me cry on my own blog. 🙂

  7. So true!!! It took me forever to get this into my head~even after attaining a bit of "cellistic" (is that a word?) competency. I was thrilled to hear my daughter's cello class teacher call the students "cellists" from day one. My 6 year old refers to herself as a cellist, even when all she wants to do is play the open string songs!

  8. oh wow. thanks. that came at the right time because I've just started on Monn cello concerto in g minor and been working my way through but I totally feel like breaking my cello apart and killing myself afterwards. 🙁

    but thanks thanks thanks. those words have somewhat stopped me from doing the unimaginable!

    i shalllllllll persevereeeeeeeeeeeeeeee

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