The Musicality of the Cello

By Andrew L., 8th Grade

September 2016

Anxious, my palms were sweaty, my legs were shaking, and my stomach was hurting. I was clutching my several sheets of music and dreading the moment that my teacher would announce my name. I looked up to the stage, amazed at how someone at such a young age could play like he was Bach himself.  Before I even realized it, my cello teacher called me up to play. I felt like a convict due for decapitacion.  I picked up my cello, which now felt like it weighed 2000 pounds, and trudged up the stairs to the stage. I took out my music, tuned my cello, and then it started.

Before this dreadful experience, I thought I was a pretty good cello player.  My teacher’s name was Anna, and when I stepped into her house, the first thing I’d smell was the smell of fried food mixed with the bitter smell of Anna’s perfume.  I would walk down the basement stairs and maneuver around overfilled boxes with books, toys, and just junk.  I would make my way to the red chair with its ripped up fabric, the foam sticking out.  Anna would wobble down the stairs while holding a gallon of green-brown liquid that she would gulp down during the lessons.

“Take out your practice log,” Anna would holler.

Obediently, I took out the notebook.  Armed with a pile of markers and stickers, Anna would decorate my notebook.

I never really practiced too much and was never that serious about cello, but Anna made me feel like I was a star. I believed her and would always brag to my parents and sister about how well I was doing.

Then, one day, my dad decided to follow me down to the basement and observe the lesson.   My dad’s eyes opened wide as he saw the boxes, ancient, dust-covered paintings, and the piles of laundry in the hallway. My dad, being the very polite Chinese man he is, decided to ignore all the junk and focus on the lesson. Not much relief there. My dad’s eyes grew even wider as he saw Anna walking down the stairs carrying her gallon of mysterious drink. Then came the stickers. She started going crazy and almost completely covered my practice log with stars and smiley faces. I heard my dad in the background sigh. I looked over at him and saw him take out his phone and completely disconnect from the lesson.

When the lesson was finally over, me and my dad immediately got up, packed my cello, and walked out of her house. When my dad was driving away from her house, he said, “I really think it’s time to move teachers.”

“No dad, we’ve already had this conversation before,” I started to say, “I want to st-”

“I don’t care if you want to stay. You need to move teachers so you can become a better player and get into a good college.”

I knew that this conversation would end up with something about college, every conversation has. My sister had told me at a young age that most Chinese parents only cared about your GPA, what college you went to, and what job you had out of college. I always had to keep my frustration back or else my dad would get even more mad and then a huge argument would come. But this time would be no different. My dad, as usual, made the decision and I just gave in.

When I first walked into the house of my new teacher, all I could see were very fancy Russian glass figures that were playing cello and doing ballet. Next was the new teacher herself. She welcomed me and my father inside with a big smile and a thick Russian accent. As my father and her started talking about the basic things such as the price and schedule, I thought to myself, “Maybe this won’t be so bad after all.” At first, I thought everything was going to stay mostly the same. But after just a few lessons, I realized that what I was learning was much harder. Whereas before, I didn’t care much about the cello and was never passionate about it, she felt like I should be spending more time on it and actually listening to the music itself. When I first heard this, I thought that I didn’t need to do what she told me because I thought I was playing just fine.

I continued practicing the way I used to practice up to my first recital three months later. I was pretty excited when I heard the news, for I thought I would still be one of the best. I practiced a little more than usual, so I would play to the best of my abilities. When the big day arrived, I dressed up in my “formal” concert clothes and went to the recital. When I first walked in, I saw the whole room packed with Asians, Europeans, and basically a lot of ethnicities. My teacher gave my family and I the concert program and a few minutes later, the recital started.

When it was finally my turn, I set my music up onto the stand and started playing. The whole time, my strings were squeaking, and I was slouching in my chair which set me apart from all the other students who had perfect posture and played all the notes in tune. When I was finally done, everyone clapped, but I felt it was a pity clap. I was standing on the stage looking at everyone’s strained smiles, and I knew that they were not impressed. In the end, everyone there were chowing down on the delicious Russian baked crepes, cookies, and meats. But, I just wanted to leave and not come back.

On the way home, I realized that I should’ve listened to what my teacher had said and decided that it was time to start working hard. I knew now that I couldn’t only focus on my technique, but focus on the overall musicality of the pieces I played. After what had happened, I wanted to actually enjoy the cello instead of doing it just because my parents made me.

Now, being 9 months later, when I play the cello, I can finally enjoy it and actually express something when I play instead of just playing it plainly without any emotion. When I was playing just 9 months ago, I didn’t realize that music was more about expression than actual technique. Now as I play, I can tell a story with my music, and I’m actually in the music. I go along with how the music sounds now. While playing something more cheerful, I feel the energy, and when it’s something in minor key, I feel more of the sadness. Although I never wanted to move teachers and felt embarrassed at the recital, I now know that it was all worth it in the end.

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