Why Bring a Cello to English Class?

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I have brought my cello to various classes over the years, and I remember these occasions. But today was one of the happiest of them all. In one of my ninth-grade classes, the students have been practicing songs from The Wizard of Oz for a possible short performance: not a full play, but a little concert of songs.

I promised them that I would bring the cello this week. In between the promise and the fact, I purchased it. It is the first time that I have bought one for myself; my other cello, now in storage in New York City, was purchased by my parents when I was 14. I got a good case to go with it: a hard but lightweight one with backstraps. Never before has it been so easy to carry.

I have been out of practice, so it will take me a few weeks to get back into shape. But that isn’t the point. The sound of a musical instrument changes things in a classroom. Everyone starts to listen in a different way; the room becomes quiet and relaxed. I wouldn’t bring it to every class every day; we have many other things to do, and the lessons are short. But there are times for this. We sang, and then I invited them try the instrument (no one had tried to play a cello before), and then we sang some more.

 

In the afternoon, I brought it to one of my twelfth-grade classes. In the last ten minutes of class, we sang (or I played, or both) “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and then, at their request, I played Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.”

But that wasn’t all. Before the twelfth-grade class, I had a free period, and it occurred to me to find an empty room (in the annex) and play for a while. It has been years since I was able to practice without worrying about bothering the neighbors. That’s essential for a musician, even an amateur;  you need a place where you can play without worrying at all: where you can sound bad if you have to, repeat passages again and again if you have to, and find your way into the music.

 

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