Rank Beginner

If you were ever a reader of this blog, you might remember that I wrote many, many posts about my kid playing violin. 

We started out strong. He was six or seven at the time, and a lot more suggestible than he is now. Time went on, and he wasn’t as excited about violin as I hoped. He was pretty good at it, but getting him to practice even a little bit took more and more effort as the years passed. Bribery was involved. Voices were raised. I think he actually started regressing instead of progressing. Arguing about violin became one of the hallmarks of our relationship. He finally stopped playing when he was in seventh grade, to great relief on both sides. But even now, I don’t like to use the word “quit” to talk about this. I think my word choice is a measure of how much more excited I was about him playing music than he was about playing music. 

Cut to a year or two later, when I finally got around to taking back the violin that we’d been renting. By this time we had rented it for so long that we almost owned it. The music store asked me if I’d just like to pay it off and keep it. Of course I asked John if he wanted to pick violin up again now or in the future. Of course he responded in the negative. He was polite about it, but could not have been more clear or firm in his position. So, there I am with ⅞ of a unwanted violin…


I have always wanted to play the cello. Whenever I go to hear classical music in person, that’s what I’m listening for and what I’m watching. Cellos make gorgeous sounds and they’re physically beautiful instruments. I played the flute for years and years when I was a young person and one of the reasons I never wanted to pick it up again is because the sound is shrill, especially if you’re playing alone. Cello is the opposite. Less portable, but more fabulous. I asked the music store if I could put my violin ownership toward a cello, and asked John’s former violin teacher if she’d give me lessons on this instrument instead. Yes and yes, so as of last July, this is something that I do.  

Learning something completely new has been humbling, to say the least. I can read music, but I’ve never played a string instrument before. I don’t even know the names of the notes on a bass clef. My hands don’t know where to be. Up close, a cello is enormous and awkward to handle. My teacher, Emily, uses the Suzuki method so here I am at almost 50 (yeah, I said it) playing Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star just like all the four year olds with their teeny tiny instruments, and playing it exactly as poorly as they do! It’s easy to think that little kids are screechy or awkward because they’re little kids, but I’m just as bad. This is what “new” sounds like. My only advantages are that I have agency over my free time and maybe slightly better fine motor skills. I practice every day, without even bribing myself with Skittles! So I’m getting along. 

Playing the cello (even terribly) over the past nine months has been a balm to my mind and heart. At a time where everything else in the world seems to be at a complete standstill, this is something where I can see progress. During a season when everyone in my state skis, hikes, and climbs, this is something that I can keep up with. On the millionth evening of not being able to see friends in person, this is something I look forward to. Of all the bonkers things that have gone on since the pandemic started, this is a bright spot for me. 

I have no illusions about where my cello and I are going, which is nowhere. I’ve played a little bit (and poorly) with a friend who’s great at it, but I’m not seeking an ensemble. I consider it a privilege of adulthood to decline any opportunities for recitals or performances. I don’t want anything more than just to play, and to see what each week has in store. That, particularly this year, seems like enough.

2 thoughts on “Rank Beginner

  1. I am so happy that you are back. I always enjoyed reading your posts. I have thought about you many times over the years and worried your MS had become really hard and that was why you stopped. I am so glad that you are doing ok!

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