Playing by the sea

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

I mentioned that when Lucy was staying with us last weekend, she was sweet enough to take Fin and me on a mini love shoot, letting us see her amazing skills in action. What I neglected to mention was that said shoot took place outside. In a public place. In the middle of August. Next to three restaurants, a hotel and a bustling harbour. In other words, lots of people. Crrringe!

Of course Lucy, being the pro that she is, was quick to reassure us that nobody was looking at us. But seriously, what could be more conspicuous than a couple posing in front of a giant fancy camera, on a harbour wall, in the middle of summer?

I'll tell you what could be more conspicuous: a girl posing in front of a giant fancy camera, on a harbour wall, in the middle of spring, playing a cello. And wearing cream palazzo pants. Oh yes.

Remember ages ago when I got my hair cut, I posted a sneaky picture of me and my cello and promised that I'd be back with the full explanation the following week? Well, slightly (ahem) later than planned, here it is.

The images were taken by my talented friend Kristen of What Kristen Saw. Kristen is part of a photography group in her local area, and wanted something a bit different to share with her fellow photographers; specifically, she was after some pictures of a musician in action. She happened to be staying with the Hubster and me for the weekend, and it was just after she had sprung her lovely surprise on us, so I really had no choice but to volunteer my services. Well played, Kristen.

From the ages of 8 to 18, playing the cello was a huge part of my life. After I was deemed insufficiently musical by the school's violin teacher to be worthy of one of the three free spaces to learn the violin (HA! I showed her!! Not that I'm bitter about it), I was encouraged forced by my dad to take up the less cool and consequently less competitive alternative: the cello.

Thus I was doomed to endure a decade of back pain (those things are heavy), bad jokes ("Bet you wish you played the flute! Haha!" No, I don't. Please fuck off), callused fingers, endless rehearsals, the mind-numbing repetition of scale practice, exams, exams and more exams.

But in return, oh, the gifts I was given. From the tiny triumph of hitting a difficult note perfectly in tune, to the huge swelling of my heart as the first proper orchestra I played with struck up its spine-tingling opening chord. The prickles on my neck every time I listened to Elgar's cello concerto, and the heat in my cheeks when I found out the results of my Grade 8 exam (Readers, I aced it).

When I think back to those years, playing the cello was such an enormous influence on how I spent my time, who my friends were (Kristen played in the school orchestra too - clarinet, if you're interested), how I perceived myself, who I was, that it seemed impossible that things would ever change.

Then, life intervened. I went to university, where opportunities were fewer and the temptation of other, less cultured activities was irresistible. Playing the cello meant less time for studying and, more importantly, less time for partying and drinking and flirting with my future husband. Playing in orchestras meant auditions (scary) and walking alone into rooms full of complete strangers (scarier).

I did try, for a while. I even took my cello to France with me when I studied abroad, but a miserable experience in a small, dark French classroom with three violins, a flute and a tuba, accompanied by the unfortunate discovery that the notes have completely different names in French, was enough to consign the cello to a dusty corner of my room for the rest of year. And then it was finals, and then it was training, and then, and then, and then...

Nowadays, the cello is still sitting in a dusty corner of a room, silent and forgotten. The tips of my fingers are soft and smooth, their rosy plumpness untroubled by its sharp metal strings. Words that used to flow freely now sit lumpenly on my tongue - rosin, vibrato, harmonic, rallentando. But when Kristen asked if I would play it for her, what could I say but yes?

I will spare you the details of the hour it took us to construct a suitable outift from the random contents of my wardrobe (cream trousers? Really?). I won't tell you how horribly out of tune the poor instrument was when I finally removed it from its case, or how I managed to snap a G-string (not that kind, thank you) trying to wrestle it back in tune, or how I couldn't remember how to play anything, or how strangers stared at us, perplexed, as I sawed away making terrible noises while Kristen darted around me, snapping away.

I will tell you that I felt completely ridiculous. And I will tell you that, despite the indignity and the sad realisation that I was rustier than the crusted rings in the old harbour wall, playing again felt absolutely bloody brilliant.

But I haven't played since.

Life intervenes.

{Top image by me. All other images by What Kristen Saw}

21 boats moored

  1. Those are some pretty impressive heels there! I know what you mean about life getting in the way, I was in 2 choirs in my school days and I really miss singing, but finding an evening to fit it in? And working out what choir to join? And what to do if all the people in the choir are weird/they don't sing the stuff I like?
    Top marks for getting your cello out tho.

  2. I'm so jealous of your musical abilities. I was 'lucky' enough to play the violin in P7. I hated it and never broke through the pain barrier to toughen my fingers up! What a wuss

  3. Cello is such a beautiful instrument and more humble than a violin I would say. more feminine as well. I used to play the piano when I was younger, sometimes in a duet with my little sister.. good times. Now all I can play is some Christmas songs and the Bohemian Rhapsody. I still find myself lusting over grand pianos..
    and you looked beautiful playing the cello Kirsty, you should record something and post it on your blog!

  4. I really love the palazzos! The whole neutral swishy thing is very 70s chic... VERY Elle McPherson.

    I dumped my classical and jazz training to play in noisy bands, and I still feel guilty about it every day. Sam paid for my saxophone to be put back together for my birthday last year, and I still haven't dared go back and play properly. I was a grade 8 girl too, and I think when you've had such a skill at something there's that awful sinking feeling of how rusty you'll be now.

    Plus saxophone in a terraced house = neighbour hate!


  5. JEALOUS have always wanted to be able to play the cello. It is far more awesome than the puny violin could ever be. And of course Elgar's Cello Concerto makes me fall over and twitch, but it does that to everyone, yes?

    I live for the day I have enough money to have my piano shipped over from NI...

    Lovely pics, I especially like the way the light catches the brass... screw? thingy? on your bow in the first image. Like the light through the palazzo's.... maybe you should do an autumn reshoot when the leaves fall in your red jeans?

  6. Erm, your writing is so good. I know I've said this before, but it is. I love these pictures and I love the story. Don't beat yourself up about not playing. You'll wear your fingers out again when you're ready and when you really need to.

  7. I had no idea you papped me whilst I was taking Fin's are one sneaky sneaky lady. I now will not be able to hide the photo of you giving me your "energy" face when I blog your shoot.

    You can thank me later x

  8. Well, even if we can't hear your playing, you look awesome doing it! BTW, I happen to think cello is the sexiest sounding instrument in the whole orchestra, so you/your dad chose well. Someday the time will be ripe for you to pick it up again, and even if your fingers are rusty, you'll have so much more life lived to express through the notes.

  9. These are incredible!

    I'm jealous that you have such an amazing skill.

  10. Ah string instruments. I wish I played one. The violin specifically because it is both portable and versatile. I plan on making my kids learn how, and if we do Suzuki then I get to learn too. Bonus! The cello leg-spread thing always felt awkward to me, but Kirsty, you make it look BOSS.

  11. You forgot to mention that whilst I was busy snapping away as you played, another girl with a SLR camera also appeared to take photos/embarrass her friend who was carrying an accordion! What are the chances?!

    Cannot wait to see the photos from the love shoot Lucy!

    k x

  12. I really enjoyed this post for so many reasons. The Elgar concerto kills me. I played flute for years, and over time began to wish that I had chosen the cello. It's still there in the recesses of my mind, I may someday try.

    Like you, my playing dwindled in university, and my instrument, which I once carried by my side daily, sits neglected and out of tune. Every time I pick it up, I'm both struck by what I remember, and what I forget. And the physical demands of playing - for flute, it's all about breath - are striking. I remember gaining those skills as a kid, and now to have them lost but still in my memory is a strange thing.

    The pictures are beautiful, and your outfit does rock. You look at home with your instrument, despite the years.

  13. I used to play the bass. Then my bus driver threatened to never let me ride the bus again if I tried to take it home with me one more time, so I switched to the violen. My parents were both professional musicians for awhile, but it was never something I had a passion for. You look very smart up there on the harbor wall. Very.

  14. I think that you look STUNNING whilst playing the cello and if I looked as such, I would play cello all the livelong day.

  15. on an entirely superficial note, I really like your fingernails and the little naked stripes on the edges

  16. Whoa, so many lovely comments today! You guys are the best :) Sounds like there's a lot of talent out there - maybe we should start a virtual orchestra?

    Anna - thank you so much ♥

    Lucy - nooooo, not the energy face!!!

  17. Oh to play the cello.

    Gosh (perhaps save a really very exceptional organist) it is the most beautiful instrument. Just the depth of sound.

    I played the clarinet badly. Then started singing and forgot you couldn't pretend not to be able to sing in the exams. Bugger.

  18. I used to play clarinet. Not a sexy instrument, what were my parents thinking? As if I don't already have the biggest cheeks in the whole world? But oh I do love the sound it made and I do also mourn the (albeit self imposed) loss of clarinettage in my life. Then again, like others here I live in a small house. With neighbours. They do not want to hear me get back up to speed. That's my excuse and I'm sticking to it.

    This is obviously far more of an issue than you thought it was Kirsty, look at all us "resting" musicians. Yes to the virtual ASM orchestra, no to the daily practice. Will there be cake?

    I have loved re-reading the comments again just now. Whilst listening to Elgar's Cello Concerto 1st Movement obv (not joking)


  19. I was in choir from age 5 through university. I can't tell you how much I miss it. Once I've quit moving all over Texas, I hope to join another one. We'll see, since life gets in the way and all.

    (PS - Cello kicks violin's ass. You can't get richness from a violin like you can from a cello. (I might be slightly biased against violins because of the suffering I experienced at the hands of the violinists in my high school's orchestra...))

  20. Still catching up on my blog reading, as you can see, but I wanted to stop in and say you look lovely in these! There is nothing like playing music...