Cello update

I am a professionally trained cellist, though I’ve never made my living at it (never tried to) and haven’t played much at all in recent years.

I’m playing more now. But there are some circumstances surrounding this that might interest at least some of my friends and family.

In 1977 — at a time, I might add, when the British economy was incredibly favorable to middle-class Americans — my parents bought me a beautiful cello, a Joseph Hill instrument from the 1770s. (The last digit of the date on the label is illegible, but the first three are 177.) It was a stroke of great good fortune for me.

But there was a snag.

The very first time I played the Hill, I learned that to play it, I had to pull my left hand back toward the nut (the pegs, basically) what felt like almost a half-tone. So playing a D felt like playing a C#, and so forth.

I have played the Hill for over forty years, and never has my left hand felt comfortable. I always feel like I have to adjust, and have to think about adjusting — and have very little confidence that I’m going to find the notes, especially when shifting to the higher registers.

Not a bad problem to have, I know. But here’s the thing: in getting back to playing, I feel I need a cello that my left hand can deal with. Call me inflexible, cowardly, whatever. It doesn’t matter. I’m not young any more, and if I want to play, I need to accommodate my own preferences.

I am renting a not particularly great cello, and having a wonderful time. Actually I’ve now got a different cello out on consignment, it not being out of the question that I’ll purchase a lesser cello that I’m more comfortable playing than the Hill. Kind of strange position to be in, but there it is.

And another thing…. These cellos I’m connecting with now are strung with steel-core strings. I was trained to play on gut strings (and no, not just baroque music either). But I’m not going to walk into a string instrument shop and find them renting cellos with gut strings. If I do buy a second cello I will investigate converting it to gut. But I absolutely refuse, at this point in my life, to let the composition of the string blockade me from playing. Playing, you see: that’s the important thing.