Current mood: sad
On Monday, I turn back in the cello our family has rented for several years. My son began playing it in school back in third grade, and now that he's graduated and moved on to other things, this marks the end of an era. I'm sad.
I clearly remember how the cello came to be. All the third graders who showed some sort of musical promise were given a chance to try out several different instruments, both stringed and wind. He said he liked the cello because when he played it, the vibrations made his ear buzz.
There was, however, more to the story. It all started with Harry Chapin.
For those too young to remember, Harry Chapin was a singer-songwriter. His heyday was the 1970s, but his songs are timeless. While he only had a couple of Top 40 hits, most notably "Cat's in the Cradle", anyone who got to know some of the stories he sang on his records – that's what they were, stories – knows that there was something special going on there that no mere words such as mine can hope to describe with any trueness of feeling. You don't listen to a Harry Chapin story, you live it, and what helps drive that message home is that omnipresent cello.
"Taxi" was the song I was playing the week my son tried on a cello for size. When I say playing I mean it three ways: (a) Yes, I was playing the record on the turntable; (b) I was trying to figure out the lead guitar part, a slightly intricate finger pick; but most importantly (c) I was playing "air cello", like some people like to play air guitar. I played violin in orchestra back in school days, but never cello. This, however, has never prevented me from playing air cello.
In "Taxi", the emotion carried forth by that cello part is what makes the song. The words tell the story, but it's the cello that brings the longing to your soul, the anger to your heart, and the tears to your eyes. Take seven minutes, find a quiet room, and play the recording, wherever you can find it, and you'll hear what I mean. (Having the lyrics also helps.)
In any event, my little eight year old evidently thought highly of the instrument that was almost as big as he was, and so, for the last ten years, we've had a cello in the house. In recent years, though, the cello rarely came out. He played it in school, but getting him to practice at home was like pulling teeth. He sounded wonderful if we could get him to play, but it gathered dust. Months would go by while it sat, untouched, waiting for the next school concert. He had a different one to play in school, since cellos and full school buses are mutually incompatible.
The last glory of the cello was his playing in a string quartet a month or so ago. A local Girl Scout in his high school orchestra took it upon herself to form the quartet as part of her Gold Award project, the Girl Scouts of America's equivalent to Eagle Scout for the boys. She had the quartet practice for many weekends, going back to when the snow was thick and fierce. Then, over Memorial Day weekend, the quartet played a little concert at a half dozen or more area nursing homes. To call it very nice would be a gross understatement.
I considered buying the thing anyway, since I've never stopped playing air cello. I think a cello would be a beautiful addition to any church's praise band, especially with the addition of an electric pickup. But, as with anything, money is an issue. We're looking at four digits a couple times over, and, well, sorry, but if I had that kind of scratch available, it would be spent on several other things before I got something that, more likely than not, is going to sit unused 360 days out of any given year. My wife disagrees, saying that we've built up over a grand in rental-towards-purchase credits, but even with that, we're still out nearly two grand. It just ain't there. Even if it was, we're still going to be short almost ten grand in school and other expenses in the next year, just for him, and there are three other people in the house. Even if I got a job (right now there are a couple of serious possibilities in the wings), I'd almost certainly need a second car, and that's going to eat the first few months' paychecks before that ten grand (and then some) gets spent, so, still, just never mind. Can't do it. Just can't.
So, goodbye, big beautiful brown box with strings. I will remember you fondly. I hope my son does, too.