Among many humbling lessons I've learned in this process, I had to part with a silly vanity I maintained for years. In the 7th grade, my music teacher tested the class for pitch recognition. He played a series of notes on the piano and asked students to identify them blindfolded. I was then taking piano, and I aced the test. Ever since, I had flattered myself that I had a good ear.
No more. If your fingers miss their mark by even a fraction of a fraction of an inch on the cello, you will hit the wrong note. I confess that sometimes I can tell, and sometimes I can't. Without a digital tuner on hand, I would sound like an old LP record being played at the wrong speed.
Still, there are compensations. If you do something with diligence, you will improve, natural talent or no. One of the reasons I started lessons (apart from wanting to play with my musical children) was to limber up a part of my brain that hasn't been busy in, well, several decades. The theory is that by keeping your brain challenged and stretching, you ward off the uglier possibilities of age. We'll see. But it is intriguing to be reminded of how the brain functions at any age. Some days I will play for 30 minutes seemingly missing every note, mangling the bow directions ("hooked bows" are tricky), and sounding like a crow trying to sing Bach. Yet the very next morning, having done nothing more than slept on it, I will play dramatically better. It's almost as if I'm a different player.
The other great compensation is that playing an instrument opens a whole world of appreciation to the student. String quartets? I used to find them boring. Discovering them now is like finding buried treasure in your backyard. The Bach cello suites? A piece of heaven.
My own playing? Well, it's better than it was yesterday.
To find out more about Mona Charen and read features by other Creators Syndicate columnists and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at www.creators.com.
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