Sunday, April 14, 2019

My music companions on the cello journey

Music is the divine way to tell beautiful, poetic things to the heart. --Pablo Casals (considered to be the best cellist of the 20th century)

"Where words fail, music speaks." --Hans Christian Anderson

This is Sushel from India. We play in the Doha Community Orchestra together. He inspires me because he has learned the cello on his own. When I started, I at least knew the piano and could read music. He learned from books and found a violin teacher who could teach him in India. I am so impressed with his drive to learn the cello. Although I am much older, we  definitely speak the same language. I call him my "Indian son."

My cello journey is an unusual one. I started playing the cello when I was 52 because my son with autism begged me to play the cello. As I listened, sat in his lesson, and tried to help him, we both realized the cello was not going to be "his instrument." Instead, he surprised me by inadvertently putting me on "the cello path"--definitely not a road I was planning or aspiring for. I thank him often for igniting the match to ever prompt me to pick up a cello bow to play. If you want to read more about it, you can read these blogs: My Cello Love Story and The Voyage of Learning the Cello

When students or teachers speak of music education, they often comment about how music helps other subjects, like math, or how it teaches self-discipline or how music brings joy and even healing. Indeed, studying the cello has brought me incredible joy and a sense of accomplishment for tackling something, at least for me, that was difficult. But it has also given me a gift that I did not expect: a new sense of community and friendship--with people from all over the world. My fellow cellists have been from Yemen, France, Columbia, India, the Czech Republic/Philippines, Australia, and the UK. My cello teachers have been from the US, Bulgaria, Germany, and Russia. Each has taught me powerful lessons of not only how to be a better musician, but hopefully, a better person. 

To unite together and create feelings with the silences and space of sound has frequently brought a few tears to my eyes--when I didn't even know I was crying. It is a profound feeling to know that you do not make a symphony alone. Of course, playing cello solo pieces also fills me and gives me great satisfaction--even if I am the only person in the room. But knowing that each timbre of the sound is complemented by layers that everyone creates together is humbling. It puts me in my place. I am reminded of how much I need each layer of harmony that someone else offers to create the greatest beauty. 

One of the best gifts given has been an opportunity to play with musicians who are remarkable musical educators, one who was a professional cellist and then decided to go into another career, and other lifelong cellists. For me, the non-expert, to be invited to play with such outstanding musicians has given me courage, motivation, and the pluck to keep on trying. I wonder how different our world would be if we all would join together unitedly, with no divisions, and invite everyone to participate. I thank each of them for giving me a chance. 

So I would say to musicians: Just as in life, you are amongst amazing people. When you produce the beauty of music, each brings unique abilities. Be patient with them, learn from those who sit or stand around you. Smile, laugh and have fun with them. And I promise you will be surprised at how much the person next to you or behind will teach you. You will never be the same again. 

This is the Doha Strings, minus one cellist. We recently played for my son's solo art exhibit here in Doha. It meant a lot to me that these busy musicians would come together to play for Elias's exhibit. And I have to say, we sounded awesome. We are making a youtube of the event for those who want to hear the concert during the opening of Elias's art exhibit. I love these people!
This is the Doha Strings playing for a Christmas concert at the Ritz in Doha.
I am now also in another group called the Doha Community Orchestra. It used to be much larger, but this is us at a school playing for young musicians and their parents. It was funny to be on the stage with lots of junior and senior high school kids a few moments earlier than this picture was taken. 
My amazing cello teacher, Kirill Bogatyrev, from St. Petersberg, Russia. For my birthday, we went to watch him play a duet and solo of a Brahms concerto for the Qatar Philharmonic where he is the head cellist. I call him an Olympian of the cello. He has taught me so much and I will forever be grateful. I have to say it is marvelous to invite your cello teacher for dinner and have him play some Bach cello suites afterward.