I have played the cello since age 5 and credit the cello for my finger dexterity, love for music, and math ability. Although playing the cello got a bit more difficult as my muscular dystrophy progressed, I was able to do and learn a lot by playing a musical instrument.
In elementary school and junior high I took lessons once a week during school and had summers off. I probably never practiced as much as my mom would have liked, but what kid does? I did like playing though. It was fun to learn new pieces of music and my teacher hated that I would jump ahead in the Suzuki books and learn songs my way, thus making it more difficult for her to teach me her interpretation of the music. I regularly played in recitals and competitions, usually doing quite well.
In high school I started playing in the school orchestra. This class was the first class in the morning and a great class to wake up to. I met a lot of great friends in orchestra and the other cellists and I usually had a nice rivalry for solo parts. During high school we also competed each year in local and state music competitions, playing solos, duets, trios, quartets, and larger group pieces and being judged. Since I loved competitions this was a lot of fun for me.
Senior year, I was fortunate enough to play a solo piece and be accompanied by the rest of the orchestra. It was one of those things in my life that I look back on and am so thankful I had the opportunity to do.
Throughout high school I also played in string quartet gigs with my mom and her friends. We would play for an hour or two at a wedding or church event and I’d get $75 or $100 just to play the same quartet music over and over again. It was easy and fun money even if I never wanted to get out of bed on a Saturday to go do it.
I auditioned for the college symphony at Stanford and made it in even though I couldn’t sight read worth crap. I think they just needed cellos. At the time I was having a lot of difficulty standing up from a chair let alone when I had a cello in my arms, so it would get nerve wracking when a piece would come to the end and I’d have to stand up and bow. In hindsight I probably could have stayed in my seat but I made the effort anyhow.
After one semester in the symphony I realized that I didn’t have the time to spend practicing that the difficult music we were playing would require. For some reason they really wanted me to come back and play (they must have been desperate!) but I did not. this was about the time that my arms would get tired after playing for a while. So I decided to play for fun from then on. Unfortunately I haven’t played that much since.
But a few years ago I decided to try again. It was disappointing at first because I could not hold the bow properly or high enough to be able to move it and make music. I was going to pack it up and forget about it. However I came across this kid on the internet who could play the cello with his feet and decided there MUST be a way. I just had to figure it out.
So one day while I was at physical therapy, my PT was setting up those stretchy rubber exercise bands for me to use and it hit me — “What if I string these up from the ceiling and stick my arm in it to make it easier to move the bow?”
I rushed home, set it up, and it worked. Not only would the stretchy bands hold my arm up but they would move enough to allow me to play the same old music I’d played before.
So now, even though it takes a bit of work, I do play every now and then and it’s not frustrating at all because of the rubber bands. It’s just tedious. But the thing I learned from all this is that even though you might lose the ability to do something one way, there might just be another way to do it if you put your mind to it.