I started playing the cello when I was 6 years old.
Mrs. Rogers was my first and only cello instructor, and she was, and still is, the sweetest lady. Lessons started with eating strawberry bonbons — a tradition I carry to every audition, concert and recital — and ended with three octave scales.
But my first cello lesson didn’t involve the cello at all; in fact, I didn’t even open my cello case. Instead, my first lesson was on a Suzuki Cello School book.
I wish I could say I fell in love with the cello as soon as I felt the deep resonance and vibrations, heard the rich tone quality or even played the open C string (which is truly a transformative experience), but it was the moment Mrs. Rogers gave me my first cello music book.
My mom likes to tell everyone that my favorite book as a kid was anything from Alfred Music, the company that publishes Suzuki Cello School. I vehemently deny this every chance I get, but deep down, I know it’s true.
As a kid, everyone had a journal or a diary, a sacred space that served as an emotional outlet to hold every secret and crush. Although I had a journal per se (it was filled with stickers), nothing could beat the semiquaver triplets and music theory found in Suzuki. My free time before tests and during recess was spent hunched over the method books in an attempt to memorize scales and arpeggios.
When I finally got to play the cello, it was heaven to my ears. Though I wasn’t Mischa Maisky or Yo-Yo Ma, the ability to communicate my emotions and passion through a line of bass clef notes was fascinating. I would spend hours practicing concertos, listening to concertos (favorites: Elgar's Cello Concerto in E minor, Op. 85 and Dvořák Cello Concerto in B minor, Op. 104) and dreaming of playing concertos (specifically in Carnegie Hall — how predictable).
If I haven’t made it clear, the cello was, and still is, a big part of my identity. In high school, repertoire only got harder and practices only got longer, but I didn’t mind. It was something that I loved, and spending every waking minute thinking about creating music brought me joy. In a way, it was grounding. As I learned how to navigate relationships and venture on the path of self-discovery throughout high school, Clément was always there (yes, I named my cello, and yes, he is French).
I don’t really know what happened, but some time into my junior year, I slowly started to lose interest in the instrument that had been my driving force for years. Perhaps it was the stress of testing, classes or the ever-so-present pressure of college apps, but the cello started to fall into the background of my life. I went from practicing hours a day to a few hours a week, classical music suddenly sounded stale and corny and moments in the orchestra room felt like a chore.
I remember trying to figure out what exactly went wrong. Cello was something that always resonated with me and connected intimately with my feelings; cello was my medium to express and live through my emotions. It had the power to make me feel like I was dancing in sunshine, surviving a tragic heartbreak, reliving old experiences and existing in a constant state of utter despair all at once. I simply couldn’t understand why I had let go of years of dedication to something that allowed me to experience everything life has to offer.
In August of senior year, I remember getting ready for school and packing the cello in my car. I was horrified. I picked up the cello and immediately noticed the thin film of dust formed on the carbon fiber case. I had gone virtually three months without playing my cello, and I hadn't even noticed. I was devastated. I nearly skipped the first day of senior year out of sheer embarrassment and disappointment.
I had forgotten that playing cello and creating music was inexorably inside of me. I missed the thrill of playing to a thumping metronome set at 170 beats per minute, the feeling of clutching onto the fingerboard until there were divots on my fingers and my fingertips felt raw, the adrenaline as I felt my cadenza cut the ambient atmosphere of a concert hall. And that’s when I made the decision to go back to where my love for the cello started: Mrs. Rogers and Suzuki Cello School.
I remember telling Mrs. Rogers this entire story before moving to Baltimore, and can you guess what she did? She laughed. Laughed! She told me that she knew this was coming and that “hiatuses are healthy” and slipped a new concerto right into my hands.
If life were absolutely perfect and full of sunshine and rainbows, I would be able to say that I have completely rediscovered my love for cello. That may not be true, but it has gotten better.
I have gone back to listening to Elgar as I study for midterms and practicing my vibrato as I listen to lectures (Mrs. Rogers would be proud of me for this one).
Learning how to love Clément again has taught me two things:
1. Breaks are okay and healthy, and
2. when you’re ready, Suzuki and strawberry bonbons will always be waiting for your return.
Aashi Mendpara is a freshman from Orlando, Fla. studying Cognitive Science and Sociology.