“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people together to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea”
– Antoine de Saint-Exupery
A couple of days ago I flippantly asserted to a friend that classical music was kind of like golf: much more fun to play than to observe. I also made a comment on a blog somewhere about the trouble with having listened to classical music while going to sleep as a kid is that a pattern has been established that’s tough to break. While I deeply admire the great cellists and composers – especially now that I’ve stuck my toe in the four stringed waters – I’ll be the first to admit that it was the sound of the instrument that drew me, not any particular piece (Bach or Beethoven = “shrug”) or style of traditional cello music. And I’m sure you can tell from the wild variety of videos I bring you every Friday that my interest in cello is largely in “alternative” musical endeavors.
However, lately I’ve been trying to listen to more classical music featuring the cello, because it occurs to me that 20+ have passed since I turned NPR on before climbing into my twin sized bed. Lots of things have changed. I’m now playing the cello and dating a classical guitarist. I have more language to talk about music, and experience with which to appreciate it. I may still rock out to Kings of Leon or Common on the commute, but that doesn’t mean I can’t start developing a more sophisticated ear for classical music. My favorite “venue” is NPR’s Classical Sessions, mostly because I can search sessions by keyword (“cello”) and get what I’m looking for.
Today I happened on cellist Wendy Warner and pianist Irena Nuzova performing music from their recent recording “In a Russian Mood.” One piece – swear on four strings – made every hair on my body stand on end at once. I quit writing mid-sentence to toggle through seven windows to find the NPR music player and restart to segment to catch the intro. Then the song started again and the same damn thing happened. Hair. On. End.
There I am: perched, swooning, with my fingers clenched on edge of the desk to keep from falling out of my chair and the thought struck me like a semi truck: “I want to learn to play THAT.”
The piece is Sonata for Cello and Piano No.2 Op 81 by Nikolai Myaskovsky. You can hear Warner and Nuzova’s performance on NPR, here.
I get all giddy and poetic just trying to describe it. There is something so subtle and lovely and rich about this piece. I can feel and see it, as well as hear it. It’s got the faint fragrance of a windswept moor, somewhere cool and overcast, with bursts of sunlight through cloud breaks.
For a long time I’ve pooh pooh’d the idea that I needed a goal piece – something so wild and inspiring and far out that would carry me through scales and etudes and folk songs (cough cough, Zuki). At first, the technique was challenging enough. I have occasionally become so enamored of Schroeder etudes that I keep them in my back pocket to play when I’m feeling merry. Don’t get me wrong, the technique is a dragon* I have many years to keep facing. But for the last few months technique and etudes haven’t been enough to keep me going and, actually, have been making me feel less enthusiastic about playing. Turns out, I forgot to fall in love with the “endless immensity of the sea” having spent so much time focusing on all the hammers and nails.
Hearing the sonata fixed all that.
So here I am, humbled before the interwebs and declaring my unconditional love to 21 minutes worth of cello and piano singing sweetly together. As soon as I got home I bought a copy of the recording from Amazon (hooray one click ordering and instant download!) and have been delighting myself ever since.
Do you have a goal piece? Something that you see yourself playing when you are an accomplished cellist/musician? Do you feel like having a single piece to work toward is boring or two much pressure?
*HA! Funny I should think of technique as a dragon. Reminds me of one of my other favorite quotes – this one by Rainer Marie Rilke:
“Perhaps all the dragons in our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us act, just once, with beauty and courage. Perhaps everything that frightens us is, in its deepest essence, something helpless that wants our love.”
I’m pretty sure that those shifting exercises want to kill me, but for the moment, it’s a nice thought that maybe they mean me no harm.