Here we go with our second essay for the week! This one was originally written at the beginning of my high school career. It's been featured on Teen Ink more times than I can count. I'm preserving my high school version partially because of laziness, and partially because I like it the way it is.
Playing cello has always been a sort of magic to me--it’s like Harry Potter and his wand. I didn’t choose the cello, the cello chose me.
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 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.
“Sixth grade,” they said. “You can't quit until sixth grade.”
When sixth grade came around, I decided to stay one more year. After all, my crush was going to join!
Staying in orchestra was one of the best decisions I ever made. Sixth grade was a bad year for me; I had a severe lack of self-confidence, something that continues to this day. Visits to the counselor didn’t help. My doctor even tried some holistic methods of anxiety reduction, but that just made things worse.
In orchestra, however, everything was different. There was a new conductor, and the two other cellists had quit, leaving me, finally, in peace. There was one new cellist, who I did dislike at first out of jealousy. 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, 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 cello--the healing power of community.
Despite all that, I decided to quit. Cello had never been a big part of my planned future. Furthermore, one good year couldn’t make up for the two awful ones. Our original orchestra teacher was teaching at the middle school now.
When registration came, I didn’t sign up for orchestra. But by some serendipitous computer mistake, I was put into orchestra anyway. I cried in terror when I saw my class schedule.
But middle school orchestra began surprisingly well. The teacher was glad to see me, the kids from the other elementary schools liked me, and I enjoyed being with the cello again. In my first ever chair placement audition, I earned second chair, despite the fact that I had learned the wrong posture and would have to correct it across the next year.
Everything those two young cellists had told me was being disproved. I rose to first chair the next time auditions happened, and I remained there almost my entire time at middle school. 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 had developed new friendships.
My first year of high school turned out to be difficult. All of the different grades were combined, 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 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 own low self-confidence. By then I had learned that bullies, most of the time, don't speak truth.
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. 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 dream; it's something I keep getting pulled back into despite myself.
Yet through orchestra, I have learned many important lessons about self-worth, community, and 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 it 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 sounds of our orchestra's instruments combine.
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