• Catherine Gates

Life Lessons from the Cello

Updated: Mar 24

I recently decided to pick up the cello again, after not playing for 27 years (right after my

son was born). My goal was to enjoy whatever I was able to do – not to put any pressure on myself to perform, but to use this as a way to relax. I had no idea that the cello would be a means of learning some powerful life lessons as well!

I got off to a good start, but then days went by that I didn’t touch the cello. My schedule was packed. I was planning an event at work along with my other responsibilities, I started a college class, and I planned my husband’s birthday.

The day before the work event was stressful. It felt like things were coming at me from several directions. I decided I needed to take a few minutes to pick up that cello, but discovered it had gone way out of tune. Tuning a cello can be a bit challenging and I was struggling. I started with C, then G, the D. As I was tuning the A string, the peg for the D string slipped and the A string snapped. There would be no playing that evening.

I took the cello into the shop on Saturday to get a new A string. I explained my challenges with tuning the instrument to Alan, the string person. While I was at it, I also shared some difficulty I was having keeping the bow on one string at a time.

Alan gave me exactly what I needed to hear. First, he informed me that I had tuned the strings too high. That is a sure way to break a string. He suggested I use a tuning app specifically for cello so I hear the correct tone and don't stretch the strings too tightly. The second tip he gave me was to play the cello for at least five minutes every day. He explained that as I practiced bringing the bow across each string, just 5 minutes a day would help my brain and muscles work together to remember how to do it well so that it would become second nature. He emphasized to do it every day. Just 5 minutes.

It turns out that breaking the A string was a blessing. I really needed Alan’s advice to make progress on the cello. But as I reflected on this experience, I realized there was so much more to learn from it.

  • Not too tight: For one, I had allowed myself to get wound up a bit too tightly. My type-A personality still shows up from time to time, even if I have tamed it to some extent. And if I’m not careful, I will break. (It’s no accident it was the A string that broke!)

  • Five minutes every day: Second, I reflected on how even five minutes a day in God’s Word can transform us from the inside out. But we have to spend time with Him every day. Ideally, we will spend time with the Lord throughout the day. But if five or ten minutes playing the cello can help me create a better sound, imagine what being in God’s Word can do!

  • Choose joy over performance: Finally, playing the cello for me is not about performance. I’m not stressing over how quickly I am able to get back to playing the Bach Suites for cello or even how great my scales sound. I am doing this simply because I love the cello. Of course, I want to play well, but I am not putting any pressure on myself. And I know that I need to bring a similar freedom and joy to my work. Putting pressure on myself is not going to help me perform better – it’s exhausting, which only diminishes my ability to bring my best self to my work.

I am constantly amazed at the way God speaks to us through everyday events and things. He truly does work all things for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28). What stand out for you?

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