Seriously, no matter what I do, this instrument keeps following me.
I started playing cello in fourth grade, when the elementary school orchestra teacher came around to give us the annual lecture on why we should join. She allowed me to come up and “play” the cello. The instant it came into my grasp, it fit so perfectly, it was as though the instrument was a part of me. It molded to my body; it sank into my heart. The sound of the first note, squeaky as it was, was thrilling.
So I joined orchestra.
It was horrible.
Two other kids in my grade became cellists as well, and, because they were taking private lessons along with orchestra, they saw fit to tell me that they were far better than I was and that I was therefore third chair and didn’t really deserve to be in orchestra anyway. I spent most of the next two years between two older guys, a cellist and a bassist, who threw stuff over my head to each other and made stupid jokes.
I felt worthless. I cried, a lot. No matter how hard I begged, however, my parents would not let me quit.
“6th grade,” they said. “You can't quit until 6th grade.”
When 6th grade came around, however, I decided to stay one more year: my crush was going to join.
But in orchestra that year, everything was different. There was a new conductor, and the two other cellists had quit, leaving me, finally, in peace. There was only one new cellist, who I did dislike at first out of jealousy, thanks to the whole crush situation.
Not much changed at first. I’d had it pounded into my head how horrible I was, so I started the year tripping and falling on the notes as usual. But instead of laughing, the other cellist treated me with respect, like I was her equal, and slowly, I began to believe in myself as a cellist. In turn, I started to play better. By the end of the year, my confidence was up, the worst of my depression had passed, and the girl and I were said by some to be the best cellists that elementary school had seen.
This was my first introduction to the real “magic” of cellos--the healing power of community.
Despite all that, I decided to quit. It had been fun, but cello was never a big part of my planned future. Furthermore, one good year couldn’t make up for the two awful ones. How would I know if it was going to get bad again? Our original orchestra teacher was teaching at the middle school now.
When registration came, I didn’t sign up for orchestra. But somehow, by some serendipitous mistake in the computers, I was put into orchestra anyway.
I sobbed from fear when I saw my class schedule.
However, middle scohol orchestra began surprisingly well. The teacher was glad to see me, the kids from the other elementary schools liked me, and I did enjoy being with the cello again. During our first ever real chair placement auditions, I earned second chair, despite the fact that I had learned the wrong posture for cello playing and would have to relearn the next year.
Instead of cello, I quit piano. I never regretted that choice. Piano might be a great instrument for some people, but I feel the true power of music when playing with a group. As far as I know, there's never been a piano orchestra.
When I moved on to high school, I signed up for orchestra with resigned good humor Clearly I couldn’t quit, because the cello was just going to stalk me back into submission again. Plus, I’d had a lot of fun the past two years and developed new friendships.
My first year of high school turned out to be difficult. All of the different grades were combined in the high school orchestras, and when I placed first chair again, the older cellists became cruel. Like the kids in elementary school, they told me that I was horrible, that I could never live up to level of the pieces they'd played in the past, that I didn't deserve to be there. It was a fluke, a trick, unearned, and they would not respect my authority as section leader. That made me cry, of course, but this time, I was stronger. I was determined to fight through it, even with all the bullying and my low self-confidence. By then I had learned that bullies, most of the time, don't speak truth. People are cruel because of jealousy or insecurity or some other struggle on their part, not because the victim deserves it.
As I write this, I'm preparing to move to the highest orchestra at my school, which I auditioned into this year. It'll be difficult. I probably won’t be first chair anymore. Raw talent isn’t going to be worth so much this time, not when playing with those who have greater experience and training. I’ve also begun thinking about college, and I don't know whether or not I'm going to continue playing cello there. It's not my priority or my dream or my goal; it's something I keep getting pulled back into, despite myself.
Through orchestra, I have learned many important lessons, about self-worth and community, about the power of talent. As time passes, it's increasingly obvious how much the cello works for me. From the beginning, it kept showing up even when I threw it down.
So for now, I’m along for the ride. I don’t know where this path leads, but I'll accept whatever unexpected magic my cello has for me. Fate seems to have destined me to play this instrument, and I’m not going to fight it.
I've rarely felt so powerful and eternal as I do when the sound of our orchestra's instruments combine.