Word Winding

attempting to spin cacophony into sanity

Archive for the tag “cello”

Unphotographed Moments – Catchup Round (Days Twenty-Two Through Twenty-Six)

(This post is part of a series for August 2013 entitled “Unphotographed Moments.” Read the intro to the series here.)

Thursday’s Unphotographed Moment:

Without forewarning or fanfare I schlepped my cello over to my beloved friends’ house for a planned gathering, answered queries with a vague “yes, I am going to play something later,” and parked it against a divider wall between living room and kitchen. A few glasses of wine later, my hosts’ curiosity finally got the better of them, and they asked more specifically, what? And when? I love a good surprise, but this was not the time for one, and I awkwardly admitted to having written a piece for solo cello in honor of, in memory of, in mourning for the brilliant light that was their three year old son, diagnosed with JMML a year ago, lost nearly seven months ago, who ought to be turning four years old next week.

I warmed up with a piece I’d been meaning to share with them for awhile: “Mashed Marley,” a Bob Marley medley written by request of one of my students, written around the time they lost their Marley-loving son. A piece easily memorized by proxy during lessons, and quite fun to play, if I do say so myself.

Then my piece. Their piece. Written for their son, and them, and the tremendous jagged boy-shaped hole in their lives. A piece I do not yet have completely memorized, and thus Rapunzel volunteered herself as human music stand. And I began to play. And my music stand began to cry. And it was horrible and lovely and I didn’t do a terrible job, despite the wine.

I know their hearts felt my intent. In the hand clasping, the eye welling, the glistening silence after the last percussive tap on my cello’s resonant surface.

I treasure these friends, who do not need to recapture the momentum of conversation, who can allow a moment to be uncomfortably beautiful and sad, who do not mind the restlessness of my post-performance hands entwining fabric in purposeless loops, like rosary beads or daisy chains.

Friday’s Unphotographed Moment:

Sharing a playground with a horde of teenagers, approximately freshmen in high school. To my surprise, the boys were the most considerate (rebuking “Don’t swear! There’s a little kid over there!”) while the girls were heedless — one even stole the tire swing from Owlet while I was catching a wandering Platypup and declined to see us standing five feet away until I said, “excuse me,” in my best stern mama voice.

Saturday’s Unphotographed Moment:

Tricycling home from a solo-parent dinner out with my little ones, a warm-turning-cool breeze ruffling our hair, a cloud-smeared sunset glossing our cheeks. Feeling the essence of “unphotographed moments” ringing deep within me.

Sunday’s Unphotographed Moments:

Driving a preteen child whose parent is ill to UU. Listening to her bright alto sing to my poopy-fussy Platypup the whole way there. Wanting and not wanting to share my knowledge of our shared experience having a parent with cancer, seeing as mine turned out so devastatingly. Hoping her story is brighter, preparing myself to be a pillar of empathy if it is not.

Taking hopefully our last trip in the Jetta as a family on the way to meet my sister to pick up her car (we are “car-sitting” while she is in Shanghai and lending the Jetta to friends). There is nothing like a car without AC to make you wish you had just stayed home, but getting out into the delicious bay air and promptly to a nearby playground went a long way toward erasing the painful memory of sweltering stop-and-go traffic. As did the sushi we inhaled for dinner before rochambeauing to see who got to drive two exhausted grumpy kids home in the old car and who got to zip off solo in the new car. I won the first round and we tied the next several rounds so I declared myself the winner in light of the increasing impatience to be on the road from the younger set, got only token protest from Thor, and enjoyed a blissful 45-minute silence only slightly tinged with unfamiliar car anxiety.

Monday’s Unphotographed Moments:

Turning on our solar system! Enjoying guilt-free AC, refrigeration, computing, and all the rest, not to mention the singular joy of charging the electric company for supplying them with power. Yes, friends, our meter is running backward.

Admittedly, we did photograph the inauguration of our solar system:








(Platypup assisted Thor in figuring out which switches needed turning when.)

Bile-inducing shock and disgust upon learning that some white members of my favorite online breastfeeding support group The Leaky Boob were bizarrely opposed to the first annual Black Breastfeeding Week. One member wrote an excellent rebuttal to their bigoted hate-explosion entitled “Dear White Women: Top Five Reasons Why We Need a Black Breastfeeding Week” which I encourage everyone to read.


Today’s one-shot photo:


The beginnings of our tomato deluge, accented by our ongoing cucumber onslaught.



I stepped briskly across the melting frost yesterday morning. Chill breeze, warm sun. A wakeful blend. I was headed to yoga, but instead of dancing out of the house, light on my feet without bags or babies, I was anchored slightly by an old friend: my cello, along for the ride.

The full tale begins last October at the fundraiser my friends and I put together for a rockstar of a child named Caemon. Caemon was diagnosed with leukemia at the end of last summer, just before his third birthday. He is currently recovering from bone marrow transplant and preparations are being made to ready home for his return. You can follow his story here.

I was lucky to receive a raffle item at the fundraiser: one month of unlimited yoga classes. In order to squeeze every ounce from this unexpected windfall, I waited until quiet January to begin my month of yoga.

Most mothers of young children do not take month-long yoga sabbaticals. No time! Cooperation from Thor has been essential and ongoing, and I know it hasn’t been easy for him to take on extra hours of solo parenting beyond our usual balance. It is a gift I will remember long after our children are old enough to put themselves to sleep.

I’ve enjoyed several forms of yoga over the years — Vinyasa, Iyengar, and Kundalini, as well as unspecified Hatha yoga — and anticipated a relaxing break and the chance to regain some semblance of shape after months of pre and postnatal sloth. I had no expectations beyond that, which is truly the best way to begin any adventure.

My toes sank gratefully into the heated entryway floor that first day, and my mind reveled similarly in broad bare floors spread beneath a high peaked roof adorned with silk and skylights. I gathered equipment together and, taking my cue from those already assembled, settled into the light meditation common to the first minutes of yoga.

Class began with guided attention to breath, again not unlike my past experience with yoga, but once we began moving I immediately felt a departure. Where other classes had either swung briskly from posture to posture in an effort to raise heart rates or stayed resolutely mired in a single pose with instructions to breathe through the discomfort, Triyoga moved slowly, lithely, deliberately from one position to the next. Those postures that were sustained were entered and exited with glacial grace so as not to break the serenity draping the room like fine fabric. Props were encouraged and frequently offered to avoid strain wherever the well-trained instructor’s eye saw need; clearly, pain was not revered as the route to yogidom here.

Somehow, yoga and tai chi had a love child, and I was only finding out about it now.

Immediately my composer’s fingers itched to depict the slow, graceful arc of class, to weave its flowing form into music. The recordings used in class formed a quiet, subtle ostinato; the melody was in our movements, a thrumming heterophony as each person followed the tempo of their own breathing, synchronized yet individual, like waves, or souls.

My inner musician already thus delighted, it was chocolate truffles after all-you-can-eat sushi when the chanting began. In the Basics level, class closed with three simple repetitions of “om,” which was invigorating enough, but in the Level 1 classes the teacher and more experienced students would soar confidently through an intricate melody while the rest of us fumbled behind, longing to follow.

I was hooked.

I went home and taught what I remembered to Owlet, and she was adorably approximate in her mimicry, her enthusiasm entirely unsuited to slow, precise motion, her small child’s flexibility more than making up for it.

Suddenly, I was hooked not just on my behalf, but for her and Platypup as well. Unobtainable visions filled my head of gentle little yoginis in moving meditation. It was akin to being handed a recipe for raising happy, fulfilled, peaceful children. I might fall short of the ideal in execution, or my cooking tools might be less than perfection, but with a good recipe one usually winds up with a good end result if your chef is moderately skilled.

I feel moderately skilled.

Gosh, I hope I am moderately skilled.

Before long I realized, with a flash of insight, that it might be a gorgeous thing to accompany Triyoga class with my cello. I wanted to suggest it, but the clear, open, nearly memory-free mindset I obtained through yoga combined with the need to fly back to my nest meant the opportunity never presented itself… until this past Wednesday evening, when I arrived to find a guitar player settling in to play for the class! It was very nice indeed to have live music, and afterward, a simple thing to suggest I do the same with my cello.

Of course, I have hopes of trading cello playing for yoga classes, who wouldn’t, but first I wanted to offer the studio owner a gift as thanks for the donation she made on Caemon’s behalf. I spend so much of my professional life as a musician fretting over money; it felt freeing to be donating my talents in this way.

Yesterday I arrived early to attend the first class of the day as a yoga student and play for the second class. I would gladly augment warmup time at the cello with yoga in the future! When the time came for me to play, I was loose, relaxed, and focused.

I began with a free improvisation somewhat based on the opening to Randall Thompson’s Alleluia crossed with a fragment of Triyoga chant. I eventually settled into a rubato version of Morten Lauridsen’s Les Chansons des Roses. I used the two movements I knew the best to form a large-scale rondo for the duration of the class, interspersed with my cello accompaniment to Thor’s version of California Stars, the G major Sarabande from Bach’s cello suites, and several original improvisations. I returned to some of my opening material toward the end and finished with long, drifting harmonics as the class settled into closing meditation.

Uncomfortable chair aside, it was blissful.

I may have been built for this, a thousand strands of personal history leading here. Or it could be one shining moment and that’s it. I don’t know.

It has been a long time since I’ve done anything that effortlessly and had it mean so much.

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