04 December 2009

How to Craft a Cello From Parts You Have

I cannot take credit for that title. It is the title of a lovely poem by Tanya Laramie, which I first read when it was published in the Guardian's online workshop.

Within the confines of a solitary place, sit upright in a wooden chair.
Wait patiently while your hair grows to reach the ground....

Yes, that's how it feels, learning to play. Of course the waiting isn't passive, because you are playing. But you do have to be patient. And it does feel like your hair will end up growing to the ground.

Only I am not crafting a cello, but starting the process of buying one. So the real title should
probably be something like, How to Buy a Cello From Money You're Scraping Together. (And oh, how we are scraping.) But I am certain it is worthwhile. Ultimately the cello will be Helsinki's. I will be able to play it (and not have to continue to rent one) while she grows. Cellos, even student-level ones, are expensive (even the renting). They are usually hand-crafted and I believe the ones I'll be trying are. It is not about brand names -- in fact, I don't know what brands of cellos exist and don't want to. I will decide based on budget and sound and my teacher's recommendation.

Imagine the sound of spaciousness.

Lichfield wonders why cellos are so much more expensive than guitars and I think it is largely because (1) cellos are big; (2) they must be made of good wood, spruce and maple, on top, back and sides; and (3) craft is required. Cheaper cellos are factory-produced and can have laminated, lesser-quality wood for top and back. But the cello is all about vibration, and each kind of wood vibrates differently so it is important to have the good wood partout. Cellos are also fragile -- when I see how Lichfield handles his guitar compared to how we've been shown to handle out cellos, it's really hard to take! (Note to Lichy: if it makes you feel any better, apparently cello strings are also much more expensive than their guitar counterparts).

Imagine what you most long for.

I realized this the other day: the significance of this purchase is not just the cello, is not just Helsinki, but has to do with loving to play an instrument, and the Small Me that wanted so very, very much to play the piano. Small Me was granted the cello instead at the ripe age of 37 and I will always be grateful to Helsinki for opening that door, which I have to admit surprised me at the time -- my little Helsinki! that big, deep instrument!

The other day my teacher complimented my playing. It meant a lot because I've often felt he hasn't taken me seriously -- like I'm just another Euro-wank parent with more money than sense, who wants their child to play an instrument because they think it brings them status. Well, he's gotten to know me a little bit.... Has seen the worn lining of my pocketbook.... Has seen the choices I've made. What would I rather have done with all those half-hours, those fifteen- and ten- minuteses? He said, "If all of my students played their Dotzauer like that, I would be so happy."

Invisible to him, deep down inside me, Small Me felt positively shiny.

image credit
Cello Practice IV - Jenny Armitage

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