Must be something about summer. We all kind of fall off of the horse in one way or another. Cellists stop practicing. Bloggers quit blogging (or go all sporadic, like me). L’s work parallels the TV season, and it’s interesting to see the strange stress of not working replace the maniacal stress of being overworked during the fall through spring. Summer is the winter of productivity, it seems.

I like to do a few things when I write. I like lists. I like anecdotes. I like making people chuckle. This time, I think I’ll just blurt a little, and see how that goes. For all of you who have abandoned your practice, been abandoned by your teachers, been forced away from your instrument by time, circumstance, or budget, it’s time to pick it up again. One of the things I am learning (from experience and also from my beloved Pema Chodron) is that no matter what you do, you are practicing that skill. Each day you don’t practice the cello strengthens the ability to not play. Each time you tell yourself “I’ll work on that tomorrow” invests in the habit of putting something off. By the same token, each time you beat yourself up for a lack of practice makes you a better beater, not a more conscientious cellist. I’ve talked along these lines before, that you want to make sure you invest in what you want because you always go where you’re pointed. What I’d like to add is that the road to being where you want on the cello is not paved with years of perfect practice and singular investment. The important thing is an overarching return to these ideas and a willingness to accept falling down as part of the larger experience of getting better.

I am constantly reminding my students that it is a skill in itself to continue after a mistake. Every practice session teaches us to get better at barreling through and getting back up. If you’ve fallen away from the cello for any reason, get back up. Strengthen the habit of getting back up. Sharpen your resolve, even if just for the sake of sharpening it. You’ll find the cello in there somewhere; and in it, perhaps a piece of yourself you thought you had lost.

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8 Responses

  1. i´m not the best english speaker, but what do you think is that makes the cello so unique, nostalgic, magnetic and romantic instruments? i´m a begginer player but i love it. i think the cello becomes the target of our lives

  2. Your English is just fine, my friend. 🙂 You should see how badly I mangle French when I post on one of their blogs! There certainly is something about the quality of the cello that creates a profound connection. Sometimes I think that the very sound of it, the fact that it is largely in the speaking range of the human voice, triggers a response. As if we are speaking (or being spoken to) with this huge, lyrical voice. Also, the fact that when we play it, the sound seems to come from our own body. From our guts and our heart, straight out. Something you might find interesting: when I ask other musicians if they could do it all over again, or take up another instrument, I often hear them name the cello, especially violinists. Considering the strength of the writing for the violin (the huge concertos, epic symphonic writing, great chamber music), this fascinates me.

    “The target of our lives”. I was about to say that it was more like the axis of mine, where all of my other activities are still influenced by the cello. But then I realized that the cello is still in the center: the target, if you will.

  3. For me, the summer has always been a time where I have more freedom and space – a time where my schedule is slightly less regular & there's less social immersion, and nicer weather and time to actually explore my own interests in a self-directed free-flowing way … so i get that chance to read some Norse Mythology or go for walks and enjoy the beautiful weather, and get as close to nature as I can while living in a city

    I love the way you look at the skills/practicing thing … one of the things we covered in adolescent psych was that in america we tend to believe that intelligence is innate & unchangeable & in other nations, they look at it as skill-based and highly changeable … (I'm not explaining it as well … we had a 4 corner set of axes and it was very awesome …)

    but anyway, I completely agree with what you're saying & how you're saying it …

    I've also decided I'm going to start a "cello bible" which is going to be a compilation of quotes/ideas/interviews/exercises/inspirations/etc. That I can use for myself and students … (and to help codify and solidify what I believe about cello playing)

    By the way, I'm sure you've heard of Margaret Rowell … The California Society just published a volume of interviews (basically a giant biography) for free viewing here:

    I'm not *that* far in yet, but it's really amazing…

  4. Hi! I stumbled onto your blog a few months back – I don’t remember how. I’m a pianist, but I do get a lot from the blog, especially today’s post. It really hit home for me, because I have had a hard time giving the piano the place it needs in my life, since I haven’t been studying regularly for the last few years after undergrad. Anyhow, I wanted to say hello and tell you that I appreciate your writings.

  5. I just got a better (for me) recording of the Saint-Saens and listened to it at work on Monday. I was reminded of how damn hard the piece is and started getting discouraged – “what’s the point? even if I practiced every day for like two years I still couldn’t play it well.” Then I thought for a second and wondered – “Um, have you ever practiced every day for more than a week? How will you ever know whether you could or could not have done so if you never tried? Dumbass.”

    So I’ve been practicing, and I have to say it’s sounding worse than my practicing did last month, but after 25+ years of faking it, I’ve decided to follow the instructions of every last teacher I’ve had in those 25+ years. Even if the only things I can play without getting cranky are scales. I mean, if I don’t practice every day for two years, I’m guaranteed not to play any better. This way I’ll at least keep the dog entertained.

  6. Nerdy: I only got that real after I had started teaching. Sure, I spent hours and hours playing in college….I had nothing else to do, and every single friend of mine was at the music building, too. Plus I had no car. Total captive practicing. That is the “brute force repetition” method I espouse; where you just sort of throw yourself at it over and over again, and it becomes part of the culture of your life. I won’t congratulate you yet. Let’s see what October looks like. (but know I am cheering for you, all the time!) See you next week. I’ll bring a practice mute for the dog. 🙂

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