A cellist-friend invited me to a cello master class last weekend. The invitation made me laugh. “Won’t I be a bit conspicuous as a non-cellist at a cello master class?” I asked. She assured me I would not be. And I wasn’t. There was an entire audience there and I’d like to think you could not tell me from the actual cellists. Verily, I sat among them in a row. My friend introduced me down the line as we took our seats. I said, “Hello, I’m Melanie, a Cello Enthusiast!” as my introduction. (My friend kindly added that I’d written a book about a young cellist.)
The Master at the Master Class was Amit Peled. He plays Pablo Casals’ cello! (Swoon!) His students for the afternoon were four brave teens. I am privileged to know one of them—she has played the prelude to Bach’s first suite for me at Giant Pumpkin Suite book events. (And she’s pictured above during her time with Mr. Peled.) It was a lovely surprise to get there and find she would be one of the students playing.
I say these students were brave because I don’t think I could’ve done what they did when I was their age. They played for Mr. Peled and then they sat for a half hour on stage in front of an audience while he worked with them on their piece, on their body mechanics, on their musicality, on their sense of self as a musician and cellist. He asked difficult sweaty questions. (But he did not shame them in the least when they did not know the answer.) He asked them to sing, to shout, to move in new ways that surely must’ve been embarrassing. And they did all of this in front of an audience.
Amit Peled is an extraordinary teacher—kind, encouraging, full of enthusiasm. He has the most creative ways of explaining things and such marvelous stories. This Cello Enthusiast learned much.
I was struck by how he talked about each piece. The students played such different music, but somewhere in his comments, one way or another, Mr. Peled asked each of them what story they were telling in the music. This writer’s heart skipped a beat each time. He talked with them about their posture—their lower back, elbows, and breath—and how it served the music. “Music is the language of the ear…” he said several times. And he talked with them about surprising the audience, about making us do that sharp intake of breath that happens involuntarily when a musical phrase or story is told in some new way. “I know you have the heart to play this,” he said to one. “You have already convinced me. Let me hear you play this story again.….”
Let me hear you play this story.…
Music and story.…story and music. They’ve always been linked for me. What a pleasure it was, though, to hear these two arts talked about in tandem—and with cello!
It is possible this is only my first cello master class. What a thrill it was!