When I was a schoolgirl, I was Serious enough — and growing fast enough — to need a full-sized cello, not the smaller one I’d been practicing on. My parents, meanwhile, were in the church choir, where musical things got discussed even after rehearsals.
The conductor turned out to have a friend who was ready to get rid of her cello after it had been cluttering up her closet for 20 years or so… a terribly long time to a schoolgirl, anyway. She didn’t know what repairs it needed or how much to charge for it.
But there were two important factors: The cello was in Kokomo, Ind., and it was May.
My parents indulged my love of Chicago Blackhawks hockey, and Dad shared it to some degree, but May was special to them. They grew up in Indianapolis, and May was full of speculation about The Race — the Indianapolis 500. (If you’d heard them talk about The Race, it was possible to hear the capital letters.)
So we went to Kokomo, I tried the cello and fell in love, and we agreed to take the cello to be appraised and repaired. But it was May in Indiana… .
We went to the time trials with the cello in the trunk! It probably still holds the title of the only cello to have been in the trunk of a car at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. (It did need a great deal of repair, so even though I loved its sound already, I didn’t play it at “the track.” I’ve never heard of another cello being played there, and after this, I’d notice.)
We took the cello “into the city,” to a repair shop I still take it to. (I love their work and appreciate their care, but I don’t endorse here.) We were treated kindly and expertly, and my opinion as the eventual player, although not the bill-payer, was carefully considered.
I can still look at the restaurant on Wabash Avenue where we went after going to the repair shop and remember that day we knew what the dollar figures were. Back in the 19-forget-its, we had to find a pay phone at the restaurant to call the owner and report what the appraisal was and how much repairs would cost.
I thought about music as a career, but words were already its competition — and while the typewriter I had when the cello first “came home” was heavier to carry, writing isn’t the athletic endeavor that music can be. I used to leave orchestra rehearsals, remember it was just one hour until gym class — since they were usually in the same position — and want to scream about why I needed gym after orchestra.
After all, getting the cello out of its case was wrestling.
Tuning the strings and adjusting the bow hair was fine-motor exercise.
Moving the instrument was weightlifting… and, if the rest of the section (the other players) got in the way, it was track, too.
Then there was swimming along with the music — and keeping up with the coach, I mean conductor.
So what did I need gym for?
At least I didn’t wind up having to load the trunk when I eventually had driver’s ed. Who knows what kind of new repair job might have been needed for the cello if I’d decided to try putting it in the trunk of the driver’s ed car?
But the cello stayed part of my life, even when I started working. After a long day of editing, sometimes I wouldn’t even want to read a favorite book — I’d need something completely separate. When I finally cried “Not another word!,” that sort of night had the name it still carries. Sometimes I just say “Not another word!” and turn to music.
Only in May does it come back to mind that it all started with a trip “way down to Kokomo,” and a stop at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
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Filed under: Music and language