The weekly report, or, call me Captain Try Hard
So, this week I did 5.5 hours on the cello, 5.5 on the accordion, 2 hours on the banjo, and three hours of studying music theory for a grand total of 16 hours! Note: I have not given away my kids or quit my job. I did put my Chinese studies on hold so I could focus on my music. After all there is only so much free time every week.
To me, the different instruments have different moods associated with them. The cello takes enormous effort and concentration to play. If the bow is not at precisely the correct angle and speed, the music sounds terrible. If your mind wanders and your fretting finger on your left hand is just a smidgen off, the music also sounds horrible. It is so intense that I frequently use an electronic tuner to check how close my music is to the ideal. It is the most exhausting instrument to play, due to the requirement of total concentration at all times. But at it’s best the cello is majestic, sweeping. To me, it sounds focused, serious, deep. It is the instrument of geniuses who passed away centuries ago: Mozart, Beethoven, Bach. It is the eternal. It is the instrument you would play at a funeral, the instrument that is the solo soundtrack to the tragic death of the hero in the movie. It is a classical music instrument at it’s best.
The accordion is complex. There are lots of buttons that need to be pushed, and the bellows need to be worked. It is not as hard as the cello, but still takes some real effort. To me the accordion is the music of the busker, the street musician, in the Old World. It is folk music. It is a cold day in Berlin, the music of the Russian steppes, the streets of Serbia, the mountains of Italy. It is a sad instrument, and it reminds me of all the hardships of Eastern and Southern Europe. I play the cello and accordion alone, in my bedroom, in a quiet atmosphere.
The banjo is what I play for fun. It is happy music. It is bluegrass. It’s funny, the banjo is the polar opposite of the cello in sound and also in the attitude of the people who author books on learning to play it. The guys who write books on the cello have lots of initials trailing after their last names and are currently an adjunct professor in cello studies at the University of the Sorbonne, following their three years teaching at the conservatory in Vienna. The guys who write books on the playing the banjo all have nicknames, like “Pappy” or “Hot Sauce” and hail from down round Virginia way, where they are they have nine kids, three dogs and five pickups, two of which work. The cello book discusses the focused pedagogy of the masters of the cello; the banjo book says “there are lots of ways to hold this thing”. The banjo is what I play in front of the TV while my babies play with toys at my feet.
Give me three years. In three years, I will be awesome at all three.