My Cello Story

It’s around this time of year that I celebrate my ‘cello playing anniversary’. I don’t remember the exact date of my first lesson but I know it was in the run up to the Easter holidays in 2008 so perhaps I’m a bit late. Regardless of when the actual day is, I have now been playing the cello for ten years. I did start this blog post back in late January/early February when I was thinking of things to write but have ignored it till now. With it being somewhat of a significant time in my cello history (despite it currently being the present) I felt that it would be nice to pick up where I left off and reminisce over the hours I have hated playing scales and arpeggios.

In 2008 I was eight years old and halfway through Primary 4. I was desperate to play an instrument so when the opportunity for piano lessons arose, I jumped at it but because so many of us wanted to play, we had to sit a little listening test to determine who would get the lessons and the kids that had the best results got in.

I was not one of those kids.

I was a little disheartened because I had failed but I was a determined and somewhat fiery youngster so I wasn’t about to give up and a month or two later, more music lessons were on offer. It was the same type of test as before so given my experience of it, I thought I would pass and play the violin.

I did not.

A few people in my class got through, specifically one girl called Lisa, whose name you may recognise from previous blog posts. Finally, cello lessons came around and this was my last attempt. If music didn’t want me, then I didn’t want music; evidently, I was more stroppy than I was determined. I wasn’t completely aware of what a cello really was or sounded like but I was so desperate to play an instrument that I took the test anyway.

As you can tell, I passed. Third time thankfully was the charm.

I and four other pupils passed so we had group lessons instead of individual ones throughout Primary School. Part of me feels like I could have maybe passed my grades 1 & 2 earlier if this wasn’t the case but it might just be because I didn’t have a very good teacher who didn’t push me or explain things very well.

I almost quit playing the cello about six years ago when I hated playing every single time I picked up the bow. This was probably down to the teacher because they replaced her a month after and I loved to play again. My new teacher was called Mr Wiltshire and it was him that truly changed the way I played and understood music. I finally knew what a key signature was after four years and how they actually worked; I hate to think how bad I was playing beforehand. I sat two grades with him, 3 and 4 before I got another new teacher because Mr Wiltshire was retiring. I cried during my last lesson with him because he truly was a friend to me and such a lovely, kind man.

I only had lessons from my new teacher for six months because there was a sort of swap around the schools. In that time I still managed to pass my Grade 5 and briefly start the horror that is thumb position. It was also the beginning of my powering through exams because I passed four, including music theory, in two years even though it took me six years to pass the same amount before. The main reason I sat so many grades in a short space of time was to get into university. The requirements for my course meant that I had to have passed ABRSM grade 7 which I did a fortnight before I submitted my application. I don’t think my teacher forgave me for putting him through that much stress over those two years but it worked out considering where I am now.

This also means that I haven’t sat a practical exam that wasn’t for the SQA in over a year which is rather nice. The longest period I’ve probably gone was around two years and that was between sitting grades 1 and 2. I would love to pass my grade 8 this year because it’s getting to the point where it’s starting to bug me a little but that all depends on how much I practice through the Summer. Since I am currently in an orchestra where everyone is a significantly better player than I am I’m getting the push I need to improve, specifically in horrendous keys.

Using that as a slight tangent, orchestras have given me some of the best memories from the past decade. I joined a junior string orchestra about a year and it went from there. Lisa and I would get the bus every Saturday morning at 9am to Inverurie Academy for two hours of rehearsing split by a 15 minute break. I’d never played for such long periods of time before and it was exhausting, though nothing compared to what I do now.

Lisa and I loved our weekend orchestra so much that we wanted one in school too. Our teacher agreed to supervise and we ”rehearsed’ once a week during lunchtime. There were a few somewhat major issues with this as we didn’t really have any music that we could all play. We were made up of two cellos, three violins and three pianists (with only one piano) and a “conductor”. The only music we had was Twinkle Twinkle Little Star because Lisa and I had basic trios of it in our first music books and our teacher copied the violin part for the pianists as they could only read treble clef at the time. After a few weeks there was only three of us left in the orchestra and we managed to survive for a small while before, we too, gave up.

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From Primary School Orchestra to Secondary School

I moved up through Junior Strings to become principal cellist which I was very proud of and then did the same in Intermediate Strings. After six years of getting up early to catch a bus at 9am, Lisa and I moved to the Senior Orchestra on a Friday evening which was made up of more than just a string section. Our first concert included playing a medley of some of the music from Man of Steel and was my first experience with Hans Zimmer music which was an experience, I’d never seen so many semiquavers and demi-semiquavers in all my life.

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Lisa and I at our last orchestra concert together

The best concert that we did was just over two years ago in March of 2016. It was my favourite because we performed in Aberdeen Music Hall and is the biggest and grandest place I’ve performed in so far. We played Montague’s and Capulets, Robin Hood Prince of Thieves Theme and Pomp and Circumstance. 1812 Overture was also a part of the programme but was cut due to a lack of time to rehearse and I was gutted as it was and still is one of my favourite orchestral pieces. We were going to try and get the cannons in too which would have been so fun.

After we’d finished playing the Music Hall

Being part of SCAMC (South Central Aberdeenshire Music Centre) for so long meant that I made so many friends throughout the years. We laughed about the Christmas Cello Curse for years, Amber tipped my water over me at an Open Morning in front of parents as I tried to have a drink. We were stranded for over an hour because the bus driver lost his keys so we played our instruments on the grass. Lisa, Amber and I also drove Miss Cook (now Mrs Terry) nuts when we were younger by running through the corridors shouting far too loud and then being told off. We ate chocolate from the vending machines at breaks when we were younger and pizza from Domino’s when we were older.

The past two summers I’ve been a part of AYO (Aberdeenshire Youth Orchestra) which involved me auditioning for the first time and then going on a residential course for four days, practising for up to eight hours a day. It was brutal and amazing all at once but coming home I was exhausted and begging for some chill time. I preferred it the first time around (2016) because we played better and more impressive music including Rachmaninoff’s 2nd Piano Concerto and I was more sociable. I also played Cards Against Humanity for the first time and I won which I am unnecessarily happy about.

AYO 2016

Now that I have left Aberdeen to study in Edinburgh I am part of the Edinburgh University Chamber Orchestra. It’s by far the most difficult music I’ve ever played to the point where I probably mimed half of the time during our last concert. I just can’t play in hard key signatures of four or more flats/sharps at fast speeds yet, it’s one or the other. We have another concert coming up on Tuesday (3rd of April) which I think I can actually play pretty well and like the music so much more. It is free so if you are in Edinburgh, it starts at 7:30pm in the Reid Concert Hall, Bristo Square.

My sixth and final year at school seemed to be a significant one for playing, not just because it was my last year in orchestras and such. Every year at my school there was a Young Musician of the Year Competition. There was a junior competition and senior competition hosted by the local Lions Club in the church. I really wanted to win that year and thought that I could because the piece that I chose I knew really well and had successfully played it at an audition. I botched it up significantly on stage and didn’t win first or runner-up. I was disappointed in myself and the embarrassment of playing badly made me really hot and dizzy.

What I forgot about was the award for most improved. They hadn’t awarded it to anyone the previous year for some reason so I kind of assumed that would be the case again. I don’t remember the exact name of the award and I can’t read it off the photos I have of the trophy but it was given to the musician who had improved the most from first to their sixth year. Nobody was more shocked than I when they announced my name. My biggest regret is being all flustered from my little meltdown from before and looking a complete mess in the photos.

My school didn’t have a proper graduation ceremony, it was called the Record of Achievement Evening. During the event, all the leavers went on stage to shake hands with the head teacher, receive a folder whilst a slide of them was out onto the board with a baby picture and our plan for the future, etc. There were also a few speakers and some musical performances to break up the constant list of names. As I was studying Advanced Higher Music I was asked to play and reluctantly agreed. For some reason beyond me, I chose to play the same pieces which I botched up during Young Musician and told a bad joke onstage which wasn’t heard by the principal so I had to repeat it, not my finest moment. What was a good moment was when I actually played the piece well and with no mistakes. I was so nervous beforehand so I’m just happy that I managed to get through the evening in one piece, even though the slide for a different Rebecca was put up when my name was called.

I could have written so much more about the music I’ve played, my school exams instead of grade exams, my results and the different cellos I’ve had but I would think that it might be even more overboard than this already is. I will write a separate blog post on my current cello, Leonardo but more specifically on my case and the stickers that cover it which look amazing if I do say so myself.

If you are somehow still reading then I’m impressed. This blog post is definitely the longest I’ve done, I just wish I could write essays this fast. I probably spent half my time asking Lisa what we’ve actually played over the last decade and listening to the orchestra pieces than focusing on my blog post but it was nice to take a little trip down memory lane.

I don’t own all of the photos but they were just saved on my phone so unfortunately, I cannot give credit to the owners as I don’t know who took them.

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