Bows and Barbells
In 2017, Cody and I put together a vision board. We began with images of Israel and Italy, my Mini Cooper that needed selling, an engagement ring I had picked out, an art studio we hope to have, and a written list of all the other things we had in mind. It hangs in our kitchen now. One of the many ambitions listed was for me to one day play the cello. Having had a barbell in my hand for the last eight years didn’t make much room for other hobbies, and musical instruments were regarded as past life failures.
I begged my mother for piano lessons, I begged her to rent me a flute, and I borrowed my college boyfriend’s guitar that I proudly hauled across campus, but reading music and resonating with the music never really clicked for me. I’ve always loved the look of the gorgeously crafted instruments though… I danced to Fantasia as a baby and grew up peering into the orchestra pit when my mother took us to see the ballet during intermission.
I didn’t know much about the cello other than its lovely lines and warm sound. The movement was elegant and refined in a way I knew I wanted woven into me. I knew whenever the time came, learning to play an instrument at 29 would be a tall order. Dusting off my long time struggle to read music on what I now understand to be a musical staff, can be enough of a reason to stay well away. I expected it would shake my confidence – all of these years in gyms of familiarity, community, and achievement were once foreign to me. It has been a long time since I had been a beginner at anything.
Knowing that the winters up here in the mountains are a slow and sleepy time, I figured that this would be the season to get to it. While we were living in Portland, Cody had always raved about David Kerr Violin shop where the walls were dawned with wooden beauties, so I already knew where to rent my cello from. I began to follow cellists on social media knowing that having a hero goes a long way in developing a love of one’s pursuits. In weightlifting, it was always Donny Shankle – an American lifter deeply moved by the experience on the bar and his blog reads like a gospel. I pieced together the rest of my gym-bag-for-cellists (maybe there’s a real name for that?) as I exposed myself to more of the musical world that I had mostly been an audience for. I ordered rosin to grease my bow, downloaded a metronome and a tuning app, and bought a book to navigate teaching myself this foreign object (Cello Playing for Music Lovers: A Self-teaching Method).
I knew that finding a cello teacher in Wallowa county in a time where services are already limited would be a stretch. When I began weightlifting in 2011, it was on my own time in gyms alone – an exploratory setting that gave me the room to be curious and fall in love with it. Inevitably my coaches, later on, had to correct many of the bad habits I had developed during that time (too fast off the floor, chasing the bar forward, recovering back foot first…), and I know that I’m likely setting myself up for the same fate.
But I don’t want a teacher just yet. I have spent the last eight years working under a coach, jumping as high as I could when they asked and even when they hadn’t. Even having found coaches as neighbors here in the mountains was both miraculous and daunting… I quickly became resistant and gave myself every excuse not to go. I just needed a break from being told what to do. Do not get me wrong, with the guidance of a coach I have achieved more than I ever thought possible, and I made it my profession to be that role for others. My coaches were great friends and even better crushes, but a girl can only take so much criticism and power struggles. So for now, I have given myself enough tools to navigate on my own. See how I feel about it, if I like it, and if it’s even for me.
Just as I suspected, the start of it all has been sloppy and full of feeling… just lost! I didn’t know how far to set my endpin, I still don’t know how to hold my bow without my knuckles cramping, and if my posture has any of the issues it had in my lifting, then there’s a lot to be corrected. I’ve forgotten what it’s like to question your every move, to look up for feedback and all I have for reference are pages to flip through. It’s like being dropped into a country where I don’t know the language (I’m also currently learning Italian, and that’s coming to me more easily!)
When I began lifting in 2012, I played. I built blocks out of stacks of plates and chased PR’s up and down ladders before I knew what waves were, learning to make sense of it in a way that only I could facilitate. I fostered my own curiosity and once I was ready to take it to the next level, I recruited the right eye and help. My taste for nuances and finesse began to deepen then, a thing I’m certain comes with every discipline from chopping wood to painting… There’s timing, balance, coordination, tension, nervous system priming to develop an awareness for, and then a personal strength and flare to layer in. I always strove for grace in my lifting and developed an understanding and appreciation for my leverages and shortcomings. It all began as an experiment, fieldwork for my job, and it turned into my time, my social life, my worth – discovering that I loved to compete and perform in front of a crowd.
I’m not trading my barbell for a bow entirely – I will always be a weightlifter and the experiences, lessons, and the people are forever a part of me. I’ve invested in a lifting set here at home to keep up my skills and strength, but in pursuit of being a renaissance woman, my focus is bound to shift to octaves, pitch, rhythm, keys, and scales. Moving on to another discipline feels a lot like a new beau after a major break-up. – I wonder if I’ve made the right choice, attempting to keep the good and leave the bad. But I know to live more, to be more, requires walking away sometimes, letting go of friction, and feeling out what makes sense for me now. What would weightlifting mean to me without a coach? Without a team? Without competition? For now, it’s for fitness and fun.
I have no idea where my work with the cello will lead. Practicing the waltz this week and using all of my tools I got a glimpse of the pieces falling together, where at first it was too far over my head to see the path ahead. I have all the right stuff. Wonderfully, I have a husband with a history in musical theater and theory who answers all of my questions and doesn’t seem to mind the screeching starts of my practice sessions. I do love classical music -movie scores and the ballet – but I mostly look forward to playing well enough to explore and break the rules, expressing myself in a new way. Though I am painfully aware of the challenge ahead, I have faith to keep going, knowing that consistent effort goes somewhere.