The campus has certainly been buzzing with excitement and anticipation as we move into our final week of classes here on the hill. The music department has been as busy as ever, with several concerts last week, and the iconic lessons and carols coming up this week! Personally, I performed in our chamber music recital, and soon will participate in the end of the semester student concert, and lessons and carols with the orchestra, which will take place in Brooks Concert Hall and St. Joseph Chapel respectively.
One of my final assignments for my Montserrat seminar, entitled “The Theology of Making,” is to tell a five-minute Moth-style story about something we made. I chose to tell mine about a decision I made — the decision to study music.
I started taking violin lessons when I was 4 years old, so music had always been a part of my life. However, complaining about music had also always been a part of my life. I typically spent more time figuring out how to get out of going to my lesson that week than actually practicing.
It’s no surprise then, that one day, when I was around 10 years old, before my lesson that week, my mom and I sat in the parking lot of the music store, where we were buying new strings and music. While she scrolled on her phone, I watched as a girl with a cello case — big and colorful, unlike my boring, black cloth violin case — stride into the store.
I thought that her case, and that she had an instrument that was as big as her was the coolest thing ever, and without thinking, I said, “I think playing the cello would be fun.”
The problem was, my mom thought I was serious. She turned and asked me if I wanted to play one. Ever the little schemer, I said “sure, why not?–” I was hoping that we’d go back in the store, waste some time, and maybe even forget about my violin lesson.
With no other planning on my part, suddenly I was back the music shop, trying out cellos. Then were driving to my first lesson. When my new teacher asked me why I wanted to play cello — after all, I had been playing violin for years — I just told them I liked the sound. I figured saying that I didn’t, and that it was all a big misunderstanding was a little too honest.
What happened next occurred so gradually that I didn’t even notice it was happening — like when you see a few snowflakes falling, and then you wake up to half a foot of snow the next morning.
When it came time for audition season that year, my parents encouraged me to try out for orchestras on violin and cello — they figured that I would be placed in a higher orchestra on violin, but that the audition would give me some good practice on cello.
To our surprise, when the audition results came back, I was placed in the same level orchestra on both instruments — I had made the same amount of progress on cello in 2 years that I had made on violin in 6.
That year, I played in orchestra on cello, eventually quitting violin altogether.
Finally, in December 2019, my conductor invited the front chairs of each section in the orchestra to play in a special nutcracker pit orchestra, accompanying the local ballet theatre in their winter production. I hesitantly said yes, and he made me the principal cellist, first chair.
Although covid put orchestra, chamber music, and competitions on pause the next year, I kept recording performances, and practicing — after all, what else could I do?
The next year we did nutcracker was 2021. I was made the principal cellist again, and this time, I couldn’t wait. I had become best friends with my stand partner in orchestra, and we talked every day. I looked forward to our rehearsals every night, watching the music slowly come together. I couldn’t wait to hear the cheering from the audience again, to look up from the orchestra pit at the dancers.
It took until halfway through our last performance to realize that I wouldn’t be coming back. It was my last time with that beloved music, that conductor, and those late-night rehearsals. It was my last time putting a Santa hat on my cello, and sightreading duets with my stand partner during the intermission.
I had promised myself and everyone around me that I would never study music, but in that moment, I knew that I didn’t want that performance to be my last. I knew that despite every vow and promise to the contrary, I had fallen in love with the cello — I had fallen in love with the blisters on my fingers from the strings and the rosin marks on my pants, with the hours of long rehearsals and with the constant critique and struggle to play better.
Much like my coming here, one of the largest sources of joy and meaning in my life came about completely by accident. If that isn’t something to be grateful for this Advent season, I’m not sure what is!