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I thought that mid-life crises were about reinventing ourselves. Now I think they’re about finding ways to express the things we lack words for.
BY MAGAZINE COLUMNIST SUSAN BLOOD
I started taking cello lessons in January. It’s part of my mid-life crisis.
When I decided to take lessons, I imagined doing something akin to Cello Meditation, where I sit with perfect posture and play études to unwind after a hard day. It is comforting and repetitive. The whole house benefits from the tranquil practice and deep reverberation. My vision does not include an inability to hit the notes with any accuracy, or the shrieking sounds a string makes when you hit the wrong one. I’m working on it.
I thought that learning to read music would be the hard part. It is not. I thought that playing the cello would be intuitive and “just feel right.” It does not. I assumed the cello and I would hit it off like we were lovers in a former life. We have really, really not.
It is work, this relationship.
A grasp instead of a grip
My cello teacher is always telling me to relax. She points at my hands and remarks that they look like gargoyle claws. If you’ve ever watched any musician playing any instrument in any symphony, you will notice a distinct lack of gargoyle claws. I tell my teacher I cannot relax because I never know when the cello is going to attack me. My cello teacher earns her money.
Yesterday I told her she was rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. I grind my way through a piece of music, sawing away sturdily and making it abundantly clear that we’re all doomed, and she points out that the music is marked tranquilloand that it goes all calando at the end. As if there is some hope for musicality.
My cello teacher, who is in line for saint-hood, tells me to play music the way I would sing it. She has obviously never heard me sing, but I understand what she’s asking. The cello is just another voice. She’s asking me to stop making it speak like a robot.
My multilingual life
A few months ago, after years and years of listening to piano, violin, cello, oboe and xylophone concertos, I realized that what sets a musician apart is his or her ability to make the music speak. When music moves us, it speaks to us. It says something that hits home.
Maybe that’s why I wanted to learn to play cello in the first place. There are things I have no words for, and I want to learn the words. I want to be able to express those unspoken things at the end of the day and comfort myself, and my family, in the process.
I also take ballet lessons – which I am not quite as bad at but only because I’ve been at it longer. I’m adding languages. I speak English, ballet and pigeon-cello. I think the more ways we have to say things, the better.
This concept of “voice” is not new to me. When we read, we like imagining someone’s voice in the words. We like words to sound as though someone is speaking them. It just didn’t occur to me that it’s a concept that crosses disciplines.
Voices that speak without words
When I realized I was stacking up cliches fit for a proper mid-life crisis, I was a little horrified with myself. First, am I really mid-life? And am I really having a crisis? I thought that mid-life crises were about reinventing ourselves. Now I think they’re about finding ways to express the things we lack words for.
I sometimes feel guilty spending money on these lessons when there is obviously no hope of making any kind of living playing the cello.* But think of the ways I can say goodnight to my kids once I rid our house of gargoyles. Think how great it will feel to finally say thing things that have no words.
Think how much more expensive a sports car would be.
*Or maybe I could make a living playing cello. Once when I was in Spain a violinist followed my group around town until we paid him to stop.
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© 2011, The Magazine of Yoga, LLC.