The Cello

I love the cello and I want to learn to play one. However, my musical skills are lacking, so it is not even a remote possibility. My personal history has taught me well. I took one year of piano as a child. Mrs. Sandifer, my teacher, endured it…barely. I could never remember the notes, and I wanted to, really I did. I can still see those flashcards with those crazy lines. I remember having to count each one to figure out what the note was. Later on, my music teacher aunt bought me a child’s guitar and tried to teach me. The key word is tried. The strings hurt my fingers, and I could never get the chords or remember which one was which. They say that music and math are related and therein lies the problem for me. Two instruments was enough for me to face the music. Pun intended. Still, on occasion, I have a burning desire to play something…tonight it is the cello.
I went to a lecture about music that was banned during the Nazi era. Fascinating. I knew much of the history, but the speaker had a depth of knowledge that was astounding. It is his expertise. He played clips from banned composers pointing out the “Jewish sounding” parts that caused the composer to fall out of favor. He played clips from Modern works, and Jazz which were unacceptable to Nazis. He showed us pictures from displays discrediting these artists and their life’s work.
Then he told his story. It was quite involved, with the final result being that his mother was the only living survivor of his family. I found it stunning that he became an expert in Holocaust music before he knew his family’s story. It wasn’t until he composed a piece of music, as a memorial for his younger brother’s death from a mental illness, that he found out all the facts. It seems that because of his work, when people heard the song they thought it was a memorial to Holocaust victims. He asked his mom about the family history, and it was only then that he heard the story.
It seems to me that the song within him was the truth trying to pour itself out. He had played and composed many pieces, he said, from other composers or from his own technical training. He was a life time musician, but this one connected to his heart in a way that he didn’t even understand at the time. It was later, at the realization of many others that he finally connected with who he was, and what he was called to do. If there is a song inside of you, it will come out one way or another…sooner or later…it cannot stay bottled up. Now he composes Holocaust memorial music, speaks, teaches, and does presentations all over the world. After he finished his story, a cellist sat center stage. The lights were lowered and the song began. I closed my eyes.
The soft tones began. Low, and deep. Rich. Sorrowful, but not sad. Sad is only pity. Sorrowful is respectful. Sorrowful has dignity. The cello is mourning. The dead. The broken. It tells their story. I can see them marching. Tattered, torn, cold. Faces downcast as they are paraded in humiliation through the streets. A few hold their heads up. In their hollow eyes I see questions. Do you know? Do you know where we are going? What will become of us? Fearful eyes yes…the eyes of the lambs being led to the slaughter. They make no noise, except for the silent questions and their bare feet shuffling.
There are jeers and taunts. Crowd chanting and raging on and on as they pass, but there is something else as they walk… spark of recognition which causes observers of the parade to turn their heads away for fear they will see themselves in the reflection of sunken eyes. They try to squeeze them shut but their own questions escape before the lids are closed. Could it be me? What if it were? How long before it is?
The encounter is profound. The pain is present in the depth of each note. The warmth of the sorrowful instrument demands a response. It calls out. The past is gone, but what of the future?
See why I want to play the cello?

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