In talking about life and emotional fitness, I talk a lot about having the right tools in your toolbox, and knowing how and when to use them.
It was in my Amity Trio rehearsal yesterday that I discovered it's a good thing to remember with many things in life. You see, we were rehearsing Beethoven's "Archduke" trio, which I've played many times before. But December 4 (our "Gift of Music" series concert at St. Luke's in Creemore) will be my first time performing it on Lady Jo, my beautiful new-to-me-but-275-years-old cello.
After over two decades struggling with my "old clunker" of a cello, fighting to simply get the notes to sound, I've finally got an instrument that responds to everything I ask her to do. It is heavenly.
Of course, after two decades with the clunker, it's often difficult to remember I don't have to try so hard. I still see a passage coming that used to give me difficulty, and can feel my body tense up and try to will the instrument into submission. I have to remind myself the very same things I tell my students -- if you fight the instrument, the instrument will fight you. Coax it, don't force it. (One of the reasons I love teaching -- often a student will hold up the mirror and make me see something that has slipped in to my own playing.)
And so, the fingerings that were awkward but necessary on the old cello can now be switched to something more elegant and, dare I say, musically-inspired on Lady Jo. I don't have to saw away to get the g-string to speak on the upper positions, I can just tickle the notes out (yes, that does sound dirty... you're welcome).
Of course, I can no longer blame a bad instrument and allow my left hand to get lazy on those blistering runs any more -- the strings WILL speak if I do my job properly.
When you have a musical partner like Lady Jo, you don't have to spend so much of your energy putting up a fight, you don't have to compromise musicality for reliability, you don't have to worry if she'll do her part, you just have to worry about doing your own.
I imagine it's like being the female half of a skating pair -- you do your job much better when you don't have to worry your partner is going to drop you on your head. :-)
What's that about art imitating life? Or life imitating art?
I spent so much of my life with no tools or bad tools. What a relief it is to finally be in a place where I don't have to try so damned hard. Life just works as it should. Music just works as it should. I am able to put more into the world, because I'm not spending so much energy fighting it any more.
My cello students are used to my endless "don't conform your body to the cello, get the cello to conform to your body" and "if you ask it politely it will sound better than if you beat it into submission" and "don't try to play like me, play like yourself" comments. Sometimes I wonder if I'm teaching them cello so much as teaching them life.
Either way, I hope they get it more quickly than I did.