Magazine topic: 
Music

Taking my cello to France

by : 
HelenBlogger

The cello isn’t the most portable of instruments. Of course, it could be worse – I can’t even imagine trying to move a double bass to another country. But as I walked clumsily down the aisle towards our seats, I could feel the whole plane looking at me and thinking the same thing: she should have played the flute. (People say this a lot.)

I’ve played the cello for 15 years, since I was 7. Although I chose the instrument, for a while I didn’t like practising, and it took years just to sound acceptable.

My parents didn’t want me to give up once I’d started so I kept going, and, slowly, I began to love the cello. At my teacher’s insistence, I joined an orchestra, and loved that, too. When I went to Durham University, 300 miles from my home, I took it north to play in orchestras there. So I knew I had to bring my old friend the cello with me to France and find a French orchestra, too.

You have to buy a seat for your cello if you want to take it on the plane. Leaving it in the hold is asking for snapped strings and broken wood, and having it shipped over separately would be just as foolish. Luckily, I flew with an extremely cheap airline and the cello’s seat only cost an extra £20, so it sat happily next to me in the window seat, and we had a lovely flight.

Finding an orchestra, however, wasn’t easy. I emailed at least ten local and not-so-local orchestras, and only got one reply inviting me to audition. But I was lucky enough to get in – that £20 had been worth it!

The next challenge is French. Here, they use different names for the notes from the ones we use in the UK: rather than CDEFGAB, they have Do, Ré, Mi, Fa, Sol, La and Si. This is extremely confusing for me when the conductor tells us where to start playing: “start at the high Sol” means nothing to me. And it’s hard to keep up with quick, whispered French conversations between cellists during rehearsals.

But if my cello teacher taught me anything (apart from, you know, the cello), she taught me to just do it – in the words of Nike. Every time I said I didn’t want to practise boring scales, or I didn’t like the piece, she would reply sharply, “You don’t have to want to do it – you just have to do it.”

So, here I am, doing it. And, 15 years on, I’m pretty happy to do it after all.

Discussion

Do you play an instrument, have you ever played one, or would you like to play one – and why?