Howdy friends (and enemies)! While a lot of you may have already heard, I wanted to share a life update with everyone: over the last month I have been learning how to play the cello!
I've been asked a few times "why cello" or "what made you decide to learn now?" The answer is almost embarrassingly simple: Daph reminded me I could! The conversation went something a lot like this:
Me, reminiscing on some story of old: "Sometimes I wish I had learned cello back when I was picking an
Daph: "...you know, you could now!"
Me: "....you know, I could, now!!"
And.. well, that was pretty much it!
OK ok, if you're here and you don't know me personally, it's probably worth backing up a little. I didn't decide on cello in a vacuum; I played violin from around 2003 (~3rd or 4th grade, I forget which) until ~2013 (around when college was ending and my Real World Job™️ was kicking off for the first time). So there were fortunately plenty of skills that transferred- but also a few "violin habits" I have to consciously fight against. But the point is I didn't develop vibrato in one day! (I actually have a little bit of trouble turning it off, which can get very annoying during lessons where clear intonation is more important.)
At any rate, once Daph had helped me make up my mind, I picked out a cheaper cello and "asked for it for Christmas." The cello itself needed some work; first it arrived unbridged, but after getting it put together, I realized I also needed to replace the tailpiece and fine tuners. I opted to do those improvements myself as a way to get more familiar with my new instrument. I actually still need to replace the strings! Of course after the instrument, I needed to find some music to study; I decided to start with the Suzuki Method Book 1 because I had worked with it before on violin (and, well, because it was easy to find on the internet :P )
Armed with a workable instrument and some music to learn, I started searching for a private lesson teacher. (I probably could have roughed it with some youtube videos for a while, but given how much of playing an instrument comes down to muscle memory, it was important to me to not set myself up with lots of bad "violin habits.") I pretty quickly decided to try a few sessions with Steven Moncado, which ended up being really lucky for a lot of reasons. First off, working with Steven is fantastic! His musical journey is remarkably similar to mine, where we both started on violin and found our way to the cello later on, so he really understands a lot of my questions & struggles; he went through the same things! He is also funny and fun to work with, patient when I'm lost, quick to move past material I've mastered, and finally he sets strong (but achievable!) expectations for me to work on at home between lessons.
After a few lessons with Steven, I was feeling pretty good about my progress and feeling eager to get some more material to practice with, so I asked if he knew of any local community orchestras or similar that I could work towards trying out for, etc. He told me about the Pierce College Community Orchestra that had been meeting in Puyallup, actually just a few miles from my house. Rad! Except, through a series of recent misfortunes, the group didn't have a director this season and might not be meeting until they could find one... Not rad! I exclaimed a missive of frustration, and sighed something about having to look for something a little further.
Then at the next lesson (I think it would have been our third session), something amazing happened: Steven asked if I wanted to join the very same orchestra, under the direction of their new volunteer conductor: Steven Moncado! I don't claim to know what pushed him to volunteer, but it sure feels like he did it so I would have a group to come together with, to learn from, and to perform with. I really am so so grateful to him, to the group for having me, and finally to Pierce College for letting this little tiny miracle happen. Steven has only led two rehearsals so far, and while both of them have been extremely challenging for me, they've also been a lot of fun. I'm 100% committed to seeing this trial by fire through. (This site is definitely a way to keep myself motivated on doing just that!)
Amidst the tumultuous seas, filled with eager opportunity, my working material has been... a little all over the place. (Prior to getting the music selections for Orchestra, Daph had even found me a book of Phantom of the Opera songs transcribed for cello.) But now that we have music selected for the Orchestra, I'm really going to focus there and really only deviate from that material if Steven has meaningful exercises for me to practice or learn. Otherwise I think it is going to take every minute of my practice attention learning and mastering the Orchestra pieces alone. (Sorry, Phantom!)
I've also decided to try to record myself practicing every day (or, every time I practice). I probably won't upload all of the sessions, but I like having them as a record of where I was each day (and I will do my best to upload at least a few a week). Maybe my progress won't always be as dramatic as the first month has been, but I am excited to have the record of it nonetheless. Maybe I will even start "rating" my recordings (or I might even try my hand at writing some code that could do so automatically). At any rate, this space in particular (https://cello.spencer-hawkins.com/) is VERY fresh, and of course subject to change. (You might have even noticed there's not even a way to go home... we'll figure that out later. For now you have a back button :P )
Of course that will come after the important part: actually practicing and learning the pieces, and the instrument. I have lots of technical commentary about the pieces and techniques I am learning, but this is already shaping up to be a pretty long entry, so that is something I think I'll like to reflect more on here in the future. For now I'll wrap up this post with this: my personal theme for this year is all about how mastery comes from those magical "ten thousand hours." Actually, my theme for this year is just the opposite, that those ten thousand hours aren't magical at all. You just have to decide to do it, and then... well, do it!