In my work with the Evolutionary Collective, I use the timer on my phone a lot. When we’re done a practice, here comes the sweet melody of a cello, soaring in the air. Samsung says it’s called “Schumann Fantasy”. It brings me back.
I played cello from Grade 6 till Grade 13. How I was picked at age 11 for semi-private, after school lessons was beyond me. Our teacher was Mr. Sturm. He played cello in the Toronto Symphony Orchestra! I felt so important. Each Friday after school, four of us were passengers in Mr. Sturm’s car as we headed downtown to some rehearsal space. I remember gawking out the back window, making faces at the driver behind.
Over the years, I came to love my instrument (which really wasn’t mine). I loved the whole idea of “orchestra”, which I discovered in Grade 9 on entering high school. At Lawrence Park Collegiate, there were about 80 of us string, brass and woodwind players recreating symphonies from Mozart and Dvorak. I had tried out for the football team, and flopped. Playing in the orchestra gave me the family feeling I wanted. I was often in awe as I gazed at all those musicians giving their all during a piece, while I diligently played my part.
In Grade 11, I was selected to be a member of Toronto’s All-City Orchestra, composed of the best players from local high schools. I still remember our concert on Nathan Phillips Square in front of Toronto’s shining New City Hall. I was near the front of the cellos and watched the wavering path of Sir Ernest MacMillan as he walked to the podium. At age 72, he led us in a rendition of “Land of Hope and Glory”, a stirring melody accompanied by rich harmonies. He died eight years later.
Summer, 1967. In the fall, I would be heading to the University of Toronto. There was the question of whether to audition for U of T’s orchestra. My response to this possibility still saddens me:
I’m not good enough
Just like that, my cello life ended.
Over the decades, I’ve thought of resurrecting my playing. The cello has deep, rich tones. In the hands of a virtuoso, such as Yo Yo Ma, it sings. Just listen to him play The Swan. I, Bruce Kerr, could make beautiful music again. Nowhere near professional, but nearby London has a community orchestra which no doubt will return after Covid is done.
I feel the spark. I feel my youth. I feel the camaraderie of the Lawrence Park Orchestra. Still, I think the answer is “no”. I am plowing new fields. I’m hearing the melodies of the human spirit, and playing in that collective. What was important to that teenaged musician was to express beauty with my fingers and bow. What’s important to this gently aging fellow is to do the same with my eyes and heart.
Play on …