Oh, internets, how I missed thee! I seriously hugged my laptop just then.

Due to a screw up of epic proportions, it looks like your friendly neighborhood cellist will be sleeping on the floor in her swanky (vacant) new place for an additional ten days. Last night marked my eighth as a member of Floor Sleepers Anonymous, and as I woke from a serene and comfortable rest this morning, I remarked on the change in my physiology. The first three sleep attempts in LA sans lit were terrible. Convinced I was doing permanent spinal damage, I’d get up around 5 with eyes that were swollen and pink and stagger to the coffee shop for a life-giving transfusion of caffeine, muffins, and gay baristas telling me I’m fierce despite my ragged appearance. Now I bound out of bed at around 6, right as rain. 

If you thought you were escaping this post without cello technique, my friend, you are mistaken! This whole experience has reminded me of how doing something, even correctly, for the first few times, can feel like it’s wrong, even injurious. Half of the world’s population sleeps on the floor (or on something that is much closer to floor than a pillowtopped mattress) and do just fine. It’s clear that the floor itself is not at fault: I’d just become conditioned to something else. The same is true of adjustments in your technique. You would not believe the resistance students offer me when I try to make their hands (or shoulders, or whatever) resemble a tried-and-tested axiom. 

“This is really bad.”

“Are you kidding?”

“Does Ron Leonard do this or is this something you made up?”†

“I think my body must be different.”

Emotional resistance to change has the ability to influence the body’s limberness as well. Once I was resigned to the floor, excited about my new place, it became easier to live with the arrangement. What you have to do as a student is find a way to trust your teacher’s instincts and resign to the changes we ask you to make. This does not mean that your gripes are never valid. But you have to really lean into the process of making a change and accurately duplicating the new shape, position, or gesture before you take a weed-whacker to it. The spirit of the thing is important, too. The next time you have to square up your hand, or stretch farther than you’d like, or find your blood pressure rising instead of your thumb relaxing, see if you can’t find it in you to see the larger arc: you’re on your way, at this very instant, to becoming a better cellist. What an exciting prospect.

† My personal favorite!

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3 Responses

  1. Where do you find these students? Are we really that difficult? I can't recall feeling something I was taught by a cello teacher being wrong. I don't necessarily understand it right away, and need to question my understanding. Or, reconcile different teacher emphasis or takes on the same issue. But that's more me than the material. Maybe my memory or self-awareness is faulty.

  2. I think the place is called "Los Angeles". hahaa!

    No really, I'm not sure, but I think my cheerful demeanor sometimes gives people the impression that I'm winging it or not serious about what I do, so they feel obliged to give me a hard time. In the end, it makes me sharper at my craft, so I don't mind like I used to.

  3. For beginners, these instruments are profoundly unnatural, really. Music comes naturally, but playing a musical instrument is an extremely unnatural act, which is why it takes ten years to learn to hold one's hand properly to do it but one year to walk. To a beginner, the start of the process of mastering an instrument feels like the teacher has just asked one to bend one's legs backward at the knee.

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