When I was five years old I told my mom that I wanted to play violin. My mom, assuming it was a passing phase, ignored me until I was six, but after a year of requesting violin lessons she decided I was serious and sought out a violin teacher for me in our hometown of Oakville. She phoned Pierre Gagnon, a well-known violin teacher, to ask if he had any room in his studio. Luckily, Pierre’s wife Susan answered the phone that day. Susan said that Pierre’s studio was full, but that she taught cello and if I was interested she could take me on as a cello student. I remember coming home from school one day and being told that I was going to take cello lessons. I asked, “what’s a cello?” My mom answered that it was “like a violin, but bigger, and you sit down when you play.” That sounded great to me, and off we went!
I have no doubt that had I actually started on violin I would have quickly switched to cello. First, the sound of the cello comes the closest to mimicking the human voice. The timbre is similar, and the range of the cello (being much bigger than violin!) is closest to matching the range of the human voice. When I play, I always imagine I am singing through my instrument.
I love feeling the vibrations of my cello against my body when I play. It is though my cello is speaking to me, and by the way my cello is resonating I know if my cello is happy (meaning, I am playing in tune), or unhappy (playing out of tune), as the vibrations are different.
Even better, the cello is so versatile! I can be the bass, or the melody, or put on my viola hat and be the alto voice. In a string quartet, the cello is the anchor that grounds the entire group; without a strong cellist the other three members have no support.
Another amazing thing about being a cellist is the camaraderie! Because a cellist is able to assume almost any role within a group (the melody, the bass, the middle voices, and even percussion sometimes!) it is possible to have large cello orchestras, cello quartets, and other all cello groups that do not exist with other instruments. I have only heard a “violin orchestra” once, and it simply wasn’t the same. There were no deep, rich bass sounds, and thus no support for the amazing high violin melodies.
Finally, the real reason my mom signed me up for cello lessons: she thought that if she was going to listen to me practice and play out of tune (as she assumed I would be when I started. She was not wrong) that she would rather listen to me on a lower pitched instrument than on a violin. It is much easier on the ears, especially in those first few years.
This post is the first in a series titled "Why I Play the Cello", in which professional cellists share their stories of how they were first introduced to the instrument. For more information on cello lessons at UBMS, visit www.upperbeachesmusic.com/music-lessons.
Nadia Klein is a freelance cellist living in Toronto. Originally from Oakville, she began playing cello at age six with teacher Susan Gagnon. She received her Bachelor of Music in Performance from the University of Toronto, and Master’s of Music from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. In addition to playing regularly with the Windsor and Niagara Symphonies, Nadia is currently working in criminal law and will become a licensed lawyer in June 2017.