Six Months

May 10, 2010

Yesterday marked the six month anniversary of the first time I picked up a cello and played it. Tomorrow will see the occasion of my first studio recital. I am a bit amazed at how far I've come in 24 short weeks and even more amazed at how very far there is to travel.

The first couple of weeks of my cello playing saw me try out two different instructors, both of whom would have been okay, but neither of whom I was entirely satisfied with. Fortunately I managed to gain entry to a very good studio here in town and I will celebrate six months with David as my teacher later this month.

Tomorrow, David is hosting a mini recital for the handful of his students who aren't college students of his: myself, and four grade school through high school aged cellists. Without having met any of them formally I suspect that I have the least amount of playing time even though I am considerably older.

One of the aspects of being a beginner as an adult is that I am accomplished in nearly every other facet of my life. In my profession, in my private life, in my relationships, in every thing that I do I bring years, if not decades, of experience and knowledge. As a cellist I'm barely six months old. I've learned to crawl and maybe stand and take a tottering step or two. It is humbling to be a rank beginner in your middle age.

I will admit that the thought of playing solo (or accompanied with a second cello) in front of any sized audience at this stage of my playing is daunting. Being used to being good at the things I do, the thought of sharing something I'm still learning is scary. The thought of sharing it and making a mistake or forgetting the music altogether is terrifying.

In my martial arts experience I was able to overcome my natural reticence and fear of making mistakes. But my martial arts career started nearly 20 years ago, when I still had the brash confidence of inexperience to shield me from my inner doubts. Now that I am older I have fewer illusions about myself and therefore fewer delusions to hide behind. Also, in the dojo there was also a shared camaraderie from having worked out together; even when testing by yourself, you had your mates cheering for you. Thus far in my cello experience it has been me, myself, and I, alone with my cello and once a week my teacher. The other students in the studio maybe my mates, but I don't know them as intimately as I did my dojo friends.

Performing music is somewhat unforgiving. Once you've played a wrong note, or missed a bowing change, or forgotten the next measure, there's no going back. As a computer nerd I make good use of Ctrl-Z (or undo) to back up and try again. There is no undo in music. The best you can hope for is an audience who is knowledgeable enough to realize that playing in front of others isn't easy, and that mistakes happen.

The experience will be good for me, and hopefully I'll make a decent showing in front of my peers. Knowing that they are peers, fellow cellists who've struggled with hooked bowing, and string-change slurs, et cetera, helps tremendously. However, I still want to spend the entire evening replaying everything I know to perfection.

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Mark H. Nichols

I am a husband, cellist, code prole, nerd, technologist, and all around good guy living and working in fly-over country. You should follow me on Twitter.