Bathed in Fire
by Kenneth Rhoades
Keynotes, December 2009
When I walked into this lovely and spacious home, I could feel the tension building and wondered whether I had made a mistake. When I saw the grand piano and the people sitting in high back chairs and sofas, the cello I was carrying in its soft case felt heavier than I remembered.
When I glanced at the list of performers and saw my name listed, my instrument, the piece I was to play--a "Gigue" by Bach--I could feel a little fluttering in my chest. I was outnumbered, the only cello among numerous pianists.
Everyone was very friendly, and a few even commented on their nervousness. I should have felt more comfortable, but it could feel the tension rising.
The performers before me got enthusiastic applause, and it was genuine. But when my turn came, I had to set up my chair away from the piano and make sure my endpin didn't dig into the hardwood floor. Fortunately, there was a carpet for protection. I had brought my anchor strap (adjustable) but had never used it. To make myself less nervous, I commented to the others that it was probably going to take me longer to set up than to play my piece. It was short, no repeats. But I was told I could play anything for the solo, even an exercise.
I had been told by the gracious, friendly, and encouraging Prelude Coordinator that I would be among supporters and encouragers. Right before I played, I reminded myself about pulse, which my teacher stressed, but there was no metronome. My teacher said you had to feel it inside you.
And I worried about playing in tune. Those pianists didn't have to. And I worried about bowing properly.
When I am nervous the strokes are shorter than they should be and I play higher on the strings. I thought about something I had heard that said the bow should be a part of the cello and your arm and hand are just going along for a ride. Or, the bow should be digging into the strings like a boat plowing through a wave. But as I began to play, it was as if I wasn't in the room and my hand and arm felt like jelly. It was over, and then came the applause--enthusiastic and supportive.
Then came the greatest surprise. Several members shouted in unison, "Would you like to play it again?"
Wow! Certainly, I said. Thank you, thank you. I played the short Bach dance piece and it did seem my pulse had improved and my strokes were firmer, more confident. I got that second applause and a lot of smiles.
I actually felt relieved but happy that I had volunteered to play for the first time in front of anyone other than my teacher. Now I know why the AMSF exists. Whoever created this group knew what they were doing.
Thank you, thank you, thank you.
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