Square pegs and round holes

My first ‘cello teacher has recently passed away. Just like the euphemism ‘passed away’ (I’d much rather use the word ‘died’, but people seem to find that confronting), I have very mixed feelings about this woman.

She was a very well-known ‘cello teacher, who produced a lot of really well-respected students, many of whom have become professional ‘cellists. She was very kind to me when my dad passed away (there’s that euphemism again. I really hate it.) – I remember she gave me my first ever Du Pre recording, which started a life-long love of Jacqueline’s playing. She played at my dad’s funeral. She gave me extra lessons at no charge. She coached my first string quartet. She was really important in my life, and fostered a great love of music making.

But there were a few rocky moments in our relationship. Although she was very kind, I was mostly terrified of her. I wasn’t a good practiser. I hated scales. I hated being compared to other students, and she did that a lot (in particular, another ‘Rachel’ who she taught). And since her death (sorry – I can’t write ‘passing’. That is too twee for me.) I have been reflecting on our relationship.

It all went very sour when I told her that I didn’t want to do a 7th grade AMEB exam one year – instead I wanted to play the ‘cello in two musicals, tour with an orchestra and sing in the school vocal ensembles. In short, I wanted to make music with others, and learn everything that goes with that, rather than memorise a pile of scales and Bruch’s ‘Kol Nidrei’ (having used that piece as an example, there’s nothing wrong with it. I love it. But I remember it being held up as something I’d never ‘manage’….). I was completely dressed down by her. I still remember it. Years later. Where it was. When it was. And being told by her I didn’t have the ‘persistence’ and ‘dedication’ I needed to amount to anything musically.

Now, I’m glad I don’t have to teach someone like me. I would have been hard work. I deliberately pushed buttons of teachers, and questioned things and always wanted to know ‘why’. But if I loved you, and admired you, I would go above and beyond, if I could, in my high-school blundering ways.

And now, as a teacher myself, I look at what happened. Why couldn’t she see that I wasn’t going to always do what I was told? That being given a bunch of things to practise wasn’t just going to cut it with me? I needed to know why I needed to play these scales. Couldn’t she see that every time she told me that Melissa/ Karella/ Cathy / Rachel did something better than me, I wasn’t going to rise up to her challenge and try to play things better? (I would refuse to practise whatever piece I had been told that someone else played better….. in hindsight, I missed out on a lot of good music. But that was the only line of defence I thought I had!)

Why must teachers humiliate their students? Is it a power trip? Is it frustration boiling over? Did I really need to be ‘told’ in such a damning way by someone who had been a huge part of my life?

I still, after three days of musing this over, can find no real explanation of why she did what she did. Possibly I was just too much.

I won’t go to her funeral. I will remember her though – both as a great inspiration, and also as a warning to enjoy the ‘square peg’ children as much as I can. And to allow them to be as odd as they want.

Today, though, I did play a whole bunch of scales in her memory. And also ‘Kol Nidrei’. It seemed fitting.