The Portugal Chronicles – Year One: The Cello

hurry-up-and-wait-1My dad always said that the motto of the military is, “Hurry up, and wait.” In our case, it was almost a year of wait followed by a summer of hurry up. One of the last minute foot-caught-in-the-door events was my ‘cello.

When I was in fourth grade, I started taking flute lessons. The lessons got derailed by my inability to play an e flat and my anemia. In fifth grade, in another school, the music teacher handed me a ‘cello, and proceeded to teach me how to play. Every week I walked into the music room to his rendition of “If you knew Susie.”

I wish I had a photo to post of the expressions on my parents’ faces when I walked into the house with the ‘cello provided by the school district. They were never truly reconciled to it because 1. it was a really big instrument, and 2. it wasn’t ladylike. Later, I took up the violin as well, but the ‘cello was my favorite.

I ended up studying and playing the ‘cello for about five years. During that time my grandfather, a fan of Charlotte Harris on Lawrence Welk, took it into his head that I needed my own instrument. He found a used student ‘cello and gave it to me.

I gave up my studies in eleventh grade when one of our many moves landed me in a high school that had only a marching band. Without lessons and performance venues, I had little motivation to practice and play. I have lived to regret that choice.

Plan A for the ‘cello as we packed to go to Portugal was to leave it in the states. My grandfather discovered this plan and offered Plan B: he guilted cellous into taking it.  We had to buy it a ticket. The sad truth was that I never went back to playing it, and eventually the humidity of the Portuguese winters destroyed it.

The day that our wait was over, our families drove us to JFK Airport to see us off. We boarded, and set our faces toward the sunrise. Years later, I learned that my mother had an emotional breakdown that day and ended up in the hospital.

Next post: Adventures in Frankfurt.

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5 thoughts on “The Portugal Chronicles – Year One: The Cello

  1. I studied/played the violin for 13 years, starting in grade school. I liked it quite a bit but didn’t actually have a passion for it, or maybe a “sense” of it, so I became proficient but never really GOOD, if you know what I mean. Had the same problem in high school, where I played violin in the little anemic orchestra but also took up first the glockenspiel and then, gloriously, the French horn (for which the band director told me I had a “natural lip”) so I could play in the much-more-cool marching band and concert band. In college orchestra I moved back and forth between second-chair violin and second-chair horn, depending on the needs of individual pieces! But once out of college I had few chances to play either instrument, and eventually stopped. I sold the horn to a friend of my sister’s, and I kept the violin, although on the rare occasions when I hopefully drag it out, thinking playing violin might be like riding a bicycle (it’s not!), I quickly become deeply sad and put it away. The funny thing is, my mother played the ‘cello and I WISH I had studied that–the same musical range as the horn, stringed-instrument techniques, and SOUL. My mother continued to play, a little, in community orchestras until she was about 60. We have her ‘cello, but none of us kids plays it (one of my sisters is woodwind–oboe–and my other sister and her daughter followed my father’s example into brass, both on trombone). My brother-in-law is a guitarist.
    As children we’re encouraged–steered–into learning an instrument. In school we have opportunities to see if we have both ability and desire, and playing is both art and social opportunity. But once we leave school, or when our circumstances change drmatically, unless we are truly musicians we let all those lessons and all that practicing and all those concerts fade into the past. What a shame. What a loss.
    Your post brings it all back.

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  2. Just to clarify–“Had the same problem in high school” means “had the same problem in high school that you did–not much chance to play a stringed instrument.”

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    1. Thank you! Sorry to be so long approving you. My cat had surgery this week in a teaching hospital an hour away. Three days traveling both ways and the wheels were coming off my train. (He’s recovering nicely.) Thank you so much for stopping by and commenting. I have my great grandfather’s violin, but it’s not been played for a long time. I took up the recorder a dozen or so years ago, but haven’t played that for awhile, either. I need to get back to it.

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