Strings: To Perfect the Cello
To play the cello. To feel the rough friction of the bow across the strings – A, D, G, C in that order. To create melodies. To press down fingers and have the notes change. To create double stops, triple stops, intervals whether they be perfect, major, minor, augmented, or diminished. To be in tune. To hear and feel the ringing of the strings when two notes are played perfectly. To rid the ears of the oscillation of a misplaced finger even if it be off by a mere millimeter. To make music. To finish; to stand; to take the bow in your left hand (or paw), pointing upwards, and take the cello in your right; to bow; to walk off stage feeling the pressure of thousands of eyes on your back. To blink and see colorful lights remaining from the bright spotlight. To hear the thunderous applause. To know that you played and that you played well.
Kayla had long achieved all of these. But yet she felt unsatisfied with her playing. Kayla wanted more. She wanted to master the cello. She wanted to master music. Kayla had been playing for 19 years as of next Thursday. She was in the Neopian Harmelody, first cello. The Acara had experienced audiences of thousands, solo, chamber, and orchestral concerts. At first glance, Kayla was a prodigy. She was quite obviously the best there was. But, to Kayla, the best wasn’t good enough. While in comparison to others she might have been extraordinary, to herself she was never even “okay.”
It was like neoschool, many years ago. Though Kayla may have gotten the highest grade in the class, if the highest grade were to be a 74 she knew that she had gotten a C.
Kayla went over to her cello case. She undid the metal clasps on the side of her case and flipped up the plastic. Her eyes examined the wood. It was a dark maple, est. 1856. She ran her finger along the side. Near the bottom of the cello’s inward curve, she felt her pointer finger catch for a moment as it passed over a dent. Kayla remembered clearly the day that she had gotten the cavity: it was at a performance in Terror Mountain. After coming offstage, she had put the cello down properly, on its side. But, upon resting the bow down, she had dropped it tip-up and the ebony frog dented the wood. Kayla shook her head, disappointed. It was imperfections like these that made her stomach tense up and her body temperature boil.
The blue Acara gently lifted the cello out of the case and dusted it off with a scrap of old cloth. She slid her bow made of pernambuco (a tree found in the forests off Mystery Island) out of its velvet case and tightened the Uni hairs, before dusting them with a coat of rosin imported from Roo Island.
Kayla picked up the cello. She sat on the tip of her wooden chair, specially crafted for her by only the best woodsman Neopia had. After extending the metal endpin, Kayla began to play. It was the Prelude to Glaughbach’s First Cello Suite in G major. Beginning on an open G string, Kayla let the note ring out before moving up a perfect fifth to D. As she played, Kayla began to feel herself slip into a state of complete ease and pure bliss.
Suddenly, Kayla felt herself press down her second finger to play an F instead of the proper F#. She gasped at the incorrect interval and stopped the melody immediately. It was then that she began to feel a tear slip down from her blue eye and run down her cheek. It was not that she was a crybaby or a fragile pet as her peers in neoschool called her, but that she was a perfectionist. When making music, one cannot be a perfectionist or the magic is lost. It is impossible to play well without ever having one mistake and the harder a musician is on him or herself, the worse they become over time.
I’m terrible at music, Kayla found herself thinking. I’m absolutely terrible at music. I can’t play the cello well no matter how much I practice, no matter how many hours of work I put into it. I just ruined a perfectly good piece before because of my own foolishness. My mistake. Why, the world would be better without me playing the cello, making hideous sounds. No one wants to listen to me, they’d rather hear Benny, the second chair, play. Everyone thinks I’m bad and they’re right. I’m not good at music, the cello, or anything.
Kayla felt herself grow angry at her cello. She leapt up and threw down her bow onto the wooden floor and grabbed the cello across the fingerboard with her paw. The four strings made imprints through the palm of her left paw. She didn’t deserve this. She didn’t deserve to be called Neopia’s greatest living cellist. She was bad. She played wrong notes. She messed up Glaughbach’s Prelude. She messed up music.
Kayla was about to fling her beautiful cello across the room when something deep down inside herself stopped the action. Kayla took a deep breath, wiped away her tear with a clenched paw, and set the cello on the floor next to her. She eased herself back into her chair.
People said she was great. People said she was a prodigy. People said that she made music like no other pet could.
But was it the truth? To Kayla’s own Acara ears she was terrible. She was a disgrace. She turned well-composed lines and phrases into squeals and scratches. She was never good enough for herself, and that was all that mattered.
Kayla slowly stood up from her chair. She ventured across the room to retrieve her bow before coming back and sinking down into the chair, cradling the bow like her own child or petpet. Kayla nurtured the small bow, by pulling out a few broken Uni hairs and adding a new coat of rosin.
But, the world doesn’t revolve around comparison. Whether Kayla’s companion is better or worse than her at playing the cello, at making music, doesn’t matter. Whether or not Kayla is decent is all that matters. And, unfortunately, Kayla wasn’t to par.
Suddenly struck by a burst of anger, she took the bow and flung it. Kayla didn’t fling it to hurt it, she flung it to hurt herself. She needed a way of getting rid of her sorrow and anger. While some screamed into pillows or channeled their negative energy to do positive things, Kayla needed a way to scold herself inwardly. She would never, ever think about physically hurting anything, But, she needed a way to reach her inner self and teach it that what it did was wrong. In a way, it was similar to training a kadoatie. If it goes on the dinner table, you spray it with water to teach it that what it did was bad. While it never hurt the petpet, it was merely unpleasant.
Unfortunately, rather than hurting the bow or herself, Kayla wound up hurting the thing most dear to her: her cello. The tip left a second dent, about an inch away from the first. Kayla gasped, before sinking to the ground to nurse the wound. But nothing could take back the mistake. It would just be another wound in the war: Kayla vs. Herself.
A few minutes later, Kayla picked back up her instrument, and took the bow in her paw. She began to play again: First the resonant G, then D, B, and so on as Kayla made the beautiful sounds that create her unique music. The Prelude finished perfectly, not one mistake or out-of-tune note. Kayla moved on to play the next movement, an Allemande, precisely as she wanted it to sound. Kayla progressed through the following four sections as well as she did the first two. As she played the final descending G major arpeggio, Kayla smiled. Maybe she was capable of making music. Maybe she was a talented cellist after all.
And Kayla kept on playing.
* * *
It was the Neopian Year 45 and a young Kyrii named Carinne was backstage before her premier concert. She had a few minutes to spare before she was ready to go on, and Carinne was scrubbing down her cello with a used cloth. When rubbing the cello's side, however, she found two small dents next to each other. Carinne smiled knowingly.
Behind each those dents there must be a unique story, she thought to herself.