I’ve been taking cello lessons off and on for about nine years. I consider myself a ripe beginner. Growing up, I played the piano. That was my go-to instrument. Sitting in our corner living room, the light streaming in, I played lots of Neil Young, CSNY, Simon and Garfunkel, Joni Mitchell, Carole King, Cat Stevens, Stevie Wonder, a few classical pieces, and lots of free-floating improv. In my 40s, though, I was ready to embark upon a new musical adventure. I’d seen a band play in Ireland a decade earlier, struck by the woman on stage and the bold sound she produced with her cello. I told myself someday I’d learn that instrument.
During my cello lesson today, my teacher asked in what direction do I send my music when I play. In what corner of the room do the waves emanating from my C, G, D and A strings land? I sat baffled. When I play, I told him, it’s just me and my cello. I think not about context! I’m just trying to get things right, the fingering position, the bow hold, the bow stroke, playing the correct notes. I never thought about sending out waves of music. That sounds so “out there” and when I play, I am so “in here” trying to master the damn thing. In fact, I could draw a metaphorical box around myself as I practice this beguiling instrument. Cozy, but confining?
I’ll never touch the stratosphere of Yo-Yo Ma; my natural ability and confidence level remain multiple light years away. Still I appreciate the wisdom in the words of my teacher. Rather than focus on my lack of proficiency and my goal “to arrive” musically, I ponder the possibility of sending music out into surrounding space as an offering of my passion and grace, as an invitation to the dance, inimical to the Bach minuet I’m learning. Imagine circles, not sharp angles. Imagine ripple effects. Imagine emotion.
Learning the cello is a metaphor for my heartstrings, too. To what corner of the room, or world, can I send bold waves of love? Far from heavenly skies of stellar perfection, what bold sound can I produce that resonates with another aspiring creative soul out there? Music is the yearning to connect with the intimacy and mystery that resides within us all.
And so it is: another day of practice. May it be so, boldly.