(Tip: You might want to play the above video while you read, to set the mood.)
There’s a cello in the corner of my bedroom.
It was a gift given to me with love (and absolutely no pressure, expectations, or obligations) from my husband and daughter. Two years ago.
I don’t know how to play the cello, but I’ve wanted to know how, for a long time now.
So here’s a question: Why am I not learning to play the cello right now?
I’ll let you in on a little not-so-secret.
I’m scared of not being able to do it, or maybe I’m scared of not liking to play it as much as I’ve imagined I might. Also, I’m painfully shy and the thought of taking lessons with a real-live teacher ties my stomach up in knots. Silly I know, but all too real.
Years ago, I played violin, then guitar. I took lessons as a kid and teen, and quit over and over. Not because I didn’t want to practice or play, but because the nervous stomach I got before every lesson turned into its own sort of terror. Rather than become more comfortable the more I played, I got more nervous. I quit, and then stayed quit. My guitar and violin and cello are silent.
Aren’t we our own worst enemies?
I was reminded of this Emily Dickinson line the other day:
Not knowing when the dawn will come, I open every door.
Is she being optimistic or impatient? I find it hard to imagine reclusive, introverted Emily being that optimistic, flinging open the doors to seek the first rays of the breaking dawn.
But, I’m warm tonight, drinking a nice glass of red wind, and in a mood to be generous. Let’s go for that first interpretation. Let’s imagine Emily waking each morning, carelessly throwing a robe over her nightgown, running barefoot down the stairs to throw open the front door, then the kitchen door, the back door, the door to the garden, waiting for the thin edge of sunrise to crest the hill.
Fearless and optimistic. At least in a poem.
And indeed there will be time
To wonder, “Do I dare?” and, “Do I dare?”
Time to turn back and descend the stair,
With a bald spot in the middle of my hair—
(They will say: “How his hair is growing thin!”)
My morning coat, my collar mounting firmly to the chin,
My necktie rich and modest, but asserted by a simple pin—
(They will say: “But how his arms and legs are thin!”)
Do I dare
Disturb the universe?
In a minute there is time
For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.
–T.S. Eliot, from “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”
I spend more time than I care to admit worrying about disturbing the universe. Offending someone. Bothering someone. Annoying someone. But who cares what I do, really? Who will be offended if I play the wrong note, or look foolish, or can’t hold the bow correctly?
What’s stopping me?
What’s stopping you from doing the thing you dream of doing?
Do we dare?
Wouldn’t it be awfully splendid to be able to play like Zoe?
You can do it!
Let’s just do it, Rebecca.
My fingers shake every time I sit down with my piano teacher. I’m slowly learning that these are MY lessons. If I want to pay him to sit next to me while I play the same note over and over, that would be fine. I also try to use my son as a model. He sits down and plays as loudly as he possibly can (even the songs that are supposed to be soft) even if every other note is the wrong one. Fearless. Confident that even if he’s not playing well, he’s playing with heart. That’s my goal every lesson: play with heart. And, I also remind myself that Mr. G has been teaching piano for over 40 years and I’m probably not the worst student he’s ever had.
Shyness can kill us if we let it.
If you’ve played violin and guitar, you know everything you need to know to start the cello. You’ll tune it. You’ll rosin the bow. You’ll sit down and make a note.
It’s a good thing my husband is tone deaf: my family only hears what comes out, but I hear how it sounded when the signals left my brain and traveled through my arms and fingers. Yeah, I know I missed that shift and my bow gave a depressing squeak. But, I don’t dwell on that part. I tell my kids, “See? It’s satisfying, and fun, and worth doing even though I’m not so great at it.” I play in the morning before work usually, because if I leave it for evening, it just doesn’t seem to happen.
Find a college student to show you some basics on the cheap in a practice room. No commitment, just a lesson or two. If it goes well, keep going. Find some simple Bach, and a nice, big, resonant farmhouse room. Wait until everybody else is at work, at school, off on a walk…and you’ll be glad you did. It doesn’t have to be a project; it doesn’t have to be perfect.
Thanks, Jean! It just so happens we live near a college… and I’m typing right now in a big farmhouse room… You’re right that it doesn’t have to be perfect. There’s no reason at all not to just do it.