C’ello. Nice tae meetcha.

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.

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