My Cello and Me — We Were Made for Each Other
I was twenty- two- years old and had just been accepted to Janos Starker’s elite class at Indiana University. My parents understood that I needed a better instrument. With trepidation they sent me to New York with a long list of dealers to see. (The only reason they even considered the idea was that my aunt lived in New York. I would stay with her.)
I decided to start at the top — why not? I happily traipsed to the famed dealership Jacques Français known to have the best selection of quality instruments. He was elegantly French — over six feet tall, impeccably dressed and haughty. A vast carpeted showroom appeared before me. The walls were lined with instruments and virtually all the small rooms to try them were filled to overflowing. Well that didn’t stop me. I introduced myself unabashedly to Mr. Français saying I wanted to try cellos — telling him a price-range that was higher than my parents intended.
Français brought me several cellos. I grabbed a chair, parked myself in the enormous anteroom and started to play. The place was packed — what else could I do? The first instrument I tried — Italian, honey colored, with a rich golden tone to match — was the one.
An older man came over. He said I sounded good. He asked me who I studied with. He mentioned that he thought the cello and I were a good fit. A few moments later a younger (and handsome) man came over. He too indicated that I sounded good.
But I doubted myself. “Here you go falling in love with the first cello you try. What are you thinking? You don’t have a clue what you’re doing.”
Despite the chatterbox in my mind I followed my instincts and I signed the cello out taking it with me to my aunt’s apartment.
I was thrilled that my aunt had purchased a ticket for me to the Boston Symphony concert that evening at Lincoln Center. She didn’t hesitate to put me in a cab and send me to the performance by myself. (My parents would’ve been appalled.)
I nestled into the comfy seats in the hall. As the orchestra members slowly filed in, I looked up from my program. Then I sank lower and lower in my seat. The older man who had spoken to me earlier at Français’ shop? He was the principal cellist of the Boston Symphony. And the younger man? He was also a cellist with the BSO. What can I say? I was young and cocky — with no inkling of the illustrious company surrounding me that day.
The beautiful music calmed me. I decided that afterwards I’d wait at the stage door to greet whomever came out first.
As luck would have it, the younger (and handsome) man came out. I tried to hide my embarrassment. He invited me for an after concert aperitif. (I could sense my parents’ disquiet.)
The young (and handsome) man suggested that I come to the hall the next morning. I could play his cello, which was a great instrument, (I had very little experience with playing great cellos) and he would play the cello I had my eye on for me to hear it from a different vantage point. What luck! I called home later that evening and told my parents about my day. They were stunned that I had found an instrument so quickly and dismayed at the price.
By the next day I was hopelessly in love — with the cello I mean. The young (and handsome) man who had taken an interest in me then spilled the beans. “Don’t let on that you know this information or where you heard it,” he cautioned. “The cello is being sold on consignment by Français.” The person selling the cello through Français happened to be another cellist with the Boston Symphony. He wasn’t selling this one in order to be able to afford another instrument. Français would make only a percentage of the selling price.
I was too naïve to know that one didn’t haggle with Jacques Français. But my mind was made up — I couldn’t do this to my parents. Put them in the poor house I mean. Either Français would reduce his price or I’d give up the cello.
The elegant showroom was once again packed with people. I stood there with my arms wrapped tightly around the cello as I tried to get up my courage. Français was dashing around accommodating the customers. He sauntered over. I gripped the cello more tightly and said as bravely as I could, “Mr. Francais. I love this cello but I can’t do this to my parents. Please give it to me for …”
Français yanked the cello from my arms and said to another customer, “You must try also Zeesss shello mademoiselle.” I stood there in shock tears streaming down my face. “What are you doing? At a time like this? When you need your wits about you? Cry baby! Pull yourself together.” Despite my best intentions, I knew I couldn’t leave without the cello.
Francais bustled around for a few more moments. Then unable to ignore the weeping young lady in his showroom, he grabbed me by the arm and led me into his office. He fumbled for some kleenex. “But my dear… My dear! Zeeesss ees not my shello! Take zee shello. I will talk to zee owner.”
And with that I walked out of the shop with my new love.
Français was so moved by the whole experience that he agreed to take one of my father’s bows in trade to help defray the cost of the cello and to let my parents take a whole year to pay him.
Now more than three decades later, through a long career, I still play the instrument of my dreams. My cello and me — we were truly made for each other.