Cello Teachers: Towing the line of right and the heck

Growing up in an Asian household meant I had to adhere to several stereotypes. Get good grades, extra math homework on weekends, know how to play the piano and learn the violin, Suzuki method. Learning the piano was heavily emphasized as both my mom and grandma were music teachers, filling my Saturday afternoons with dull lessons. In seventh grade I decided to pick up the cello and fell in love. Since I was the only member in the family to play the cello I was sent to various teachers to take lessons. And from all four teachers, I recollect having an uncomfortable encounter with two of them.

Let’s call the first teacher Ginger. Ginger was a unique person. He had bright red hair, flamboyant like his personality, and a handlebar mustache. Pale complexion and a wiry frame with glasses magnifying his beady blue eyes. He was recently divorced and envied the full family environment as he remarked how happy our house seemed. Ginger would often comment to my dad about our “happy family” while peering into our living room and kitchen space. Our lessons were conducted in the piano room during which I was forced to play in full fortissimo, regardless of whether I was reaching the right pitch and his boisterous nature left me wary.

After one lesson Ginger asked me about my plans later that night and I mentioned, “Oh, my boyfriend’s coming over later to hangout.” A normal person would respond with “That sounds like fun” or something along those lines, but this guy was not normal. His actual response was:

“Oh he’s coming over tonight? Well you two have fun, don’t do anything bad” *winks*

I stared. He freaking winked. Maybe I misinterpreted the wink after that statement. Or maybe he needs to learn how to talk to a 15 year old girl appropriately. You be the judge.

A couple weeks later Ginger came over for another loud and exhausting cello lesson. Before I continue with this part, here’s a little information about the cello. The cello is held up by an end-pin to balance the instrument on the ground. The end-pin typically has a rubber stop at the end, however, the rubber stop often likes to slide on wooden floors. To prevent the end-pin from sliding the cello away from the player, some sort of stopper is used. Now back to the story

As Ginger was blabbing about today’s lesson, he realized there was no stopper for his cello. Without context, he stood up and placed his hand on his belt. I was rooted in my chair in horror. He silently removed his belt then sat back down. Stunned, I shifted away and he commenced to explain how he uses his belt as a stopper for the cello by wrapping it around the leg of the chair. Now let’s look at this situation out of context. A grown man staring at a teenage girl while removing his belt is something I’d expect in the Lovely Bones, not my piano room. He secured his cello on the end of his belt and began the lesson. The entire time I was disturbed by the sudden removal of clothing with lack of context. That was our last lesson.

A couple years later I joined an out-of-school orchestra. Since my dad broke his leg and couldn’t drive, I was unable to join many practices. The conductor was understanding and insisted I still play at the concert but I would just have to sit in the back instead of at the first stand. During the dress rehearsal I had a nasty shock when I saw a tuft of red hair poking out from the back of the cellos. Ginger was my conductor’s ex-husband and he was joining the cello section during the concert to help lead us. A reunion I could care less for even if we did sound a tad bit better.

….

My last cello teacher was my favorite, I’m going to nickname him Wasabi. We generally got along and he focused on my technique. These techniques included finding the right pitch, hand placement, and how to properly play vibrato. Why does this matter? Well in one instance Wasabi had me change the way I played vibrato on the cello.

Wasabi had me hold up my left hand in the air as if holding a drink. I was to slowly move my hand down, as if I was sliding down the neck of the cello and back up again. I repeated this motion slowly several times until I was instructed to go faster. By the end just imagine using a Shake Weight with only your left hand, moving vertically. If you’re in public do not do replicate the hand motion as I described. Yeah… just exactly what you are thinking. And my dirty mind immediately made me uncomfortable until I was in a fit of laughter. Wasabi didn’t find this particularly funny and asked me why I was laughing. “My arm hurts, that’s all.” This is why I never went in to acting.  I never followed this technique and to this day wonder if Wasabi knew why I was in a laughing fit all lesson.

At the end of the day, I learned two things from my experiences. One, you can MacGyver a belt to have multiple uses just warn the people around you in advance. Or realize the context of the situation and not use it at all if stripping is involved. Two, when teaching vibrato try having the student practice the technique on the actual board of the cello and use the rainbow technique instead of the Shake Weight technique.

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