Someone once asked me why I play the cello so well. I had been playing in an auditorium that night and after the concert, she approached me. She had told me that I played like a man who was truly in love with the music, like I was possessed by a spirit you could not find anywhere else. She told me I had an overflowing passion and she felt it when I played.
I paused. It was the first time anyone asked me that question but I already knew the answer. If you wanted me to tell you the truth, I do not love playing the cello. Do not take it the wrong way, I do not hate it either. It was just something I do.
I grew up in a musical family. My father was a guitarist. He loved music and he constantly pushed everyone to play music. My brother and two sisters all had piano lessons. My mother had a voice like an angel. I was the youngest in the family and soon it was time for me to play an instrument. I wanted to play something different from the rest of my siblings and when I saw a violin at a store in Hong Kong, on a whim, I told my father it was what I wanted to play. It cost father an arm and a leg, but he bought it for me. I had violin lessons and I had recitals every year. I practiced diligently, not because of a genuine love of the music but because mostly I wanted to make my father proud.
When he died, I stopped playing for a year. I took up playing again after a year when my mother asked me to play for an aunt’s birthday. I played well but there was something different. They told me I played beautifully but the violin sounded shrill to me that day. Some part of me knew that the violin stopped reflecting what was inside of me at that time. I had changed, so my instrument had to change.
I asked my mother if I could use part of my father’s insurance payout to buy myself a cello. It seemed like a natural progression, the lower register and the powerful sadness of the cello felt more appropriate to what I felt. It was not easy however. The transition from playing the violin to the cello was not the problem. I felt that I played perfunctorily, without any real passion or emotion. It was all technical proficiency.
Like in most of things, it took a girl to change all that. I was in high school and I had fallen in love with a girl. Her name was Liane. She was a classmate of mine and suffice it to say, she looked enchanting. She had this gravity around her, and she pulled at you like the Earth pulls at the Moon. She was also my friend and I was afraid to tell her how I really felt.
It was a school event and I was asked to play the accompaniment to the Corrs’ Runaway. Nevermind that the Corrs played with a violin or the cello was totally inappropriate for that song, something lit a fire in me that day. I knew I had to play for her. I would play my heart out and then I would tell her how I really felt. I practiced like a madman. I would play the cello until my fingers were raw and bleeding and my back ached.
On the day of the performance, I stood up on stage and I searched for her in the crowd. There she was in the crowd and I waved at her. I sat down and I played the cello as a love song for her. For the first time in my life, I knew my music was truly alive. It was a simple melody but my fingers wove a spell on that day. The normally raucous crowd at the auditorium was listening in rapt attention. When I finished, I was sweating buckets. I stood up to applause, but for the first time, I knew that I had touched something in everyone.
I saw her after the performance. I was ready to pour my heart out. I had the words I would say prepared in my head beforehand. I wanted to tell her that I played for her and only for her. I approached her after the performance. She smiled at me and said hello. That was when I lost my nerve. My words had left me and I stood there for a moment dumbfounded and that was when I remembered where I was. I smiled back and asked her if she liked the piece. She nodded enthusiastically. That was it. I never got to tell her how I really, truly felt.
From that day forward, I kept playing for her and everytime I would not tell her about the very real emotion in my music. Every performance my cello would make people cry, laugh, sing, and she would tell me how wonderfully I had played. Always my words would fail where my instrument succeeded.
When college came around, we went to different universities and we drifted apart, my cello performances dropped back to the passionless technicality that it had before. I went through the motions of playing a few emotionless concertos as a part of a string quartet.
One day, I saw this girl in the crowd while I was playing a solo performance. She had this hair dyed a vivid blue. She was pretty in an unconventional way. I did not know her but I fell in love anyway. I played for this blue haired mystery girl I never knew and the emotion had come back into my music.
It all clicked. I had to fall in love to play the cello. I never saw blue haired girl again but ever since then that is how I play every night. I look for a face in the crowd and I fell in love. Every night I would fall in love with a different girl and I would play my piece like a love song for whoever she was. It did not matter if the piece was a dirge or a song of praise. It did not matter if I was playing DeBussy, Mozart or Yo Yo Ma. All that mattered was that I played for my muse for that night. I played with a magic that I could never truly understand.
Once I played to steal a girl from her date that night. When she looked at me, a part of my mind registered that I had succeeded. Last night, I played for this beautiful lady in a red dress. She was alone and I made her cry with a Vivaldi piece. A few times, Liane watched me play, and I performed for her. Every night a different girl. Every night an emotional one.
So when this girl approached me after a performance and asked me why I play this way, I was stumped. You see, this girl who asked me that night, I was actually playing for her. I was drawn to her smile that night and I knew she was my inspiration for that moment. Once again my words failed me. I told her it was all just practice. Then I politely excused myself.
Tomorrow I am performing again.
Tomorrow I am going to fall in love all over again with a stranger. Tomorrow I would make someone else fall in love with me. I wonder who she will be.