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.


AMSF publishes Keynotes, a quarterly newsletter containing articles that educate, that explore issues of technique, performance, and practice, and that inform readers about the AMSF organization and its members. Click here for more Keynotes articles.