I’m loving little serendipitous happenings and trying to hold onto them as tethers to this life… trying with deliberation not to let them slip by unnoticed, unremarked. As such I want to relate the serendipity before explanative background. I’m chuffed and a little bewildered.
This morning in the last 10 minutes of Sunday worship practice it was decided that I should have a go at playing a cello part for the special music during the offering. I was delighted and a bit terrified (though surprisingly not troubled by jitters). We played a song I’ve long wanted us to play, Your Glory as performed by All Sons & Daughters and I was privileged to join the beautiful piano, guitar and drums of Ingrid, Adam, and Stephen, and beautiful (During practice, beautiful. On stage, I’m not certain I heard them at all.) vocals of the first two and our Glyn holding down the low end of the vocal spectrum.
I’m honestly not certain how good it sounded, but it felt good and it did seem people were worshiping, and several were deliberate in giving affirmations afterward.
So, to the backstory. I’ve always loved the cello. I feel it has a physical resonance with the human body that allows it to touch and penetrate and stimulate and comfort where other instruments do not. That said, in all my other musical affections, the cello has always felt a bit beyond grasp. I’ve had Great Highland Bagpipes. I’ve built a practice set of Uilleann Pipes. I have three early system flutes, two of which for certain were built in the 1800s. I’ve gotten to own and have enormous pleasure from all sorts of whistles, recorders, guitars, banjos, a concertina, mandolins, a violin, a Bodhrán, a Glockenspiel, pianos, clarinets, and a bouzouki.
At university, I studied flute and bassoon and played in community ensembles. Unfortunately for ensemble work, I’ve always struggled with getting lost, confused, and muddled if playing anything not holding the core shape of the melody.
For some reason, the cello seemed beyond grasp of my silly hobbyist’s desires to make music with all the beautiful clever contraptions that have caught my fancy.
Then, a couple of years ago something very unfortunate happened. A good friend and musical mentor passed away suddenly leaving the church bereft of a bass player to lay foundation and harmonically underpin the melodic texture of the other instruments. Also, by serendipity, a young man of our church had moved on to different missional adventures, leaving behind a beautiful Ibanez 5-string electric bass, and every time I’ve inquired if he wanted it back, he has responded by saying, “If it’s being used to further the kingdom, I think it probably where God wants it.”
I started teaching myself to play the thing while sitting at the soundbooth during worship practices, without much hope of being able do the harmonic thing where I’ve always tended towards the melodic. It turned out to be surprisingly easy and fun and not the bugbear I’ve always made it… I want dots on a page, not Alphabet figurings. I fear the abstract and cling to the concrete.
I do love the bass and it’s growling percussive sometimes smooth voicings, but it put me back in mind of yearning for the beauty and resonance of the cello. Each year I would attend our association of churches’ Faithwalkers Mid-west conference and be joyfully transported when Lucas Shogren of Clocks & Clouds would lay down his bass and pick up the cello. As the bass began to seem within my reach it seemed to draw the cello along with it. If I could teach myself to fill a role on one instrument, perhaps I could do the same on one very similar in many respects.
I did not think to have the opportunity to try as cellos are very dear and I could never justify the initial outlay just to journey down a road a piece to see how I got on. I talked to friends about looking for one, but only in a vague wishful way. Enter Facebook Marketplace. I try not to look so that I don’t find a bunch of things I didn’t know I need to have. In one of my rare moments of weakness, I found what looked to be a beautiful used full-sized cello here in town when I happened also to have a few unbudgeted kopeks rattling around in my pocket. It seemed a rather low price for a lovely student-model instrument in a very good hard-side rolling case with not much more than a small f-hole crack to provoke concern. I felt bad about talking the owner down to a price I could afford, but which probably could not have purchased the case new.
Of course, I quickly found it to be unplayable with a tuning peg that had no affection for the pegbox to which it should adhere, and a bridge that was placed nowhere near where it should be and had been inexpertly carved to uselessness so that if the bridge were to be positioned correctly, the strings would lay on the fingerboard. I had to find a skilled luthier and save my shekels (They seem to hold value better than do kopeks) for a while to engage him to stop the crack, replace the peg with one stout enough to stick properly, and carve a new bridge.
I got the work done but life intruded for a couple of months, and I never got a chance to get the thing out and play with her now that she was a playable instrument. It’s been growing on my mind for a while that I need to put down the bass guitar, which is fun and relaxing to play, and start the hard work of the neophyte learner. Halfway through this last practice I remembered that determination and got my little girl out and tuned her. She tuned. Right away, things were looking up *chuckle*. I started figuring out where notes make their home. I had hoped that I would have this under my fingers somewhat considering that the Mandolin, Violin, and my Bouzouki are all tuned to GDAE. Nae. A bit of a mental rearrangement as the cello lives a perfect fifth below but doesn’t quite make it to the low B I love on the Bass. In the middle of the song they were practicing, they asked me if I was going to play with them Sunday morning for the special. I thought they were havin’ a go, as this was pretty much the first time I’d done more than fight to tune and saw out a few scales.
This morning during practice, things really sort of clicked into place. One of my friends on the stage has told me in the past that she values boldness so I decided that I could either stay silent and wonder and wish, or be bold and risk doing poorly. Risk was rewarded. As vague and wishful as the cello has always seemed, and as surreal as playing it during worship felt, this morning it was made solid.
The potential was made solid. Before me lies a good deal of work and frustration; to pull from various sources to try to learn good technique and not practice in poor habits that will hold me back further on. Before me lies the investment to make as familiar and comfortable, the notes of first-position of the cello as they have become on the bass, and to build a toolbox of techniques and ornaments to add richness and variety.
My goal is feasible. I want only to do what I’ve been doing with bass, but do it with an instrument that makes me want to simultaneously hold my breath and weep. I want to use this instrument and ask God to use me as His instrument as we seek to worship and facilitate the worship of others in our family.