As my cello and I travel around Toronto on the TTC, one of the questions I’m often asked is how long I’ve been playing. And I love telling people that I started playing cello when I was three. They’re always so surprised! They start asking how a three year old could possibly hold this massive instrument. And even though I had a 1/8 sized cello, it was still too big for me. There’s a picture somewhere in my parent’s house of me sitting on a Fisher Price stool with a fist around the neck of my cello, a fist around my bow and the biggest grin on my face.
I don’t remember starting lessons when I was three and I didn’t pick the cello myself. According to family legend, my mom told my dad when they were dating that she wanted to have a daughter who would start Suzuki cello lessons when she was three.
Why cello and why Suzuki? Mom studied music education at the University of Western Ontario when Tsuyoshi Tsutsumi was the cello professor and early childhood music methods were changing the pedagogical landscape. Kodaly and Suzuki were relatively new and Mom loved both of them. She ended up doing a Masters degree specializing in the Kodaly method and teaches elementary school music classes. And between hearing Tsutsumi perform and taking an introduction to cello course as part of her degree, she was hooked on cello. The result was a perfect storm for me: Kodaly classes to develop my early musicianship and Suzuki cello lessons with Tom Mirhady, a cellist in the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra.
Sometimes I imagine what my life would have been like in my mom had picked a different instrument for me? What if she’d picked the violin? Or the clarinet? What if I hadn’t started at such a young age (read our post "The Best Age to Start Music Lessons")? Would I feel the way I feel about the cello about that instrument? It seems impossible to me.
Playing the cello is part of who I am as a musician. Sometimes I get to be the baseline, the foundation everything else is built on. Sometimes I get to play that gorgeous melody. I can play solo Bach, all sorts of chamber music and symphonies. The cello’s versatility is one of the things I love about it.
And to answer that other question I get asked on the subway, no, I don’t wish that I played the flute.
This post is the second 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.
Originally from Strathmore, Alberta, cellist Sarah Steeves currently lives in Toronto where she performs with Sinfonia Toronto and the Ton Beau String Quartet (www.tonbeauquartet.com). She is also completing her doctoral studies at the University of Toronto with Shauna Rolston. When she isn’t playing the cello, Sarah enjoys cooking and dancing in the kitchen (often simultaneously), reading novels, watching figure skating, and camping & kayaking in the Slocan Valley.