Today I’m grateful for Jacqueline du Pré!
Jacqueline du Pré was an English ‘cellist whose musical talent and emotive performance style inspired generations of musicians to pick up the ‘cello. Her career was cruelly cut short as a result of multiple sclerosis, which stopped her playing at the age of 28 as she gradually lost sensitivity in her fingers and other parts of her body. However, she recorded a large portion of the ‘cello repertoire, some of which was done so in conjunction with her husband, Daniel Barenboim, and that legacy lives on.
It was Jacqueline who inspired me to learn the ‘cello. I was walking around the York Minster Cathedral on my own, listening to Jackie play Elgar’s ‘Cello Concerto in E Minor on my iPod. For a while I attended York St John university and if you live in York you are able to visit the Minster without paying, so I frequently visited and wandered around in awe, sometimes with music as company. It was by no means the first time that I had heard the concerto but it was the first time that I seriously considered the possibility of learning the ‘cello. Again and again I was astounded by the sound that she produced and the emotion with which she played. I had watched recordings of her on YouTube and later devoured books and any other Jackie-related material that I could lay my hands on.
An assortment of circumstances brought me back home from York and 0n 8th February 2011 I had my first lesson. What developed from then was a deep love of the ‘cello and an almost desperate desire to play. I wouldn’t say it came naturally to me, however. I’m very left-handed and having to control the bow with my right hand, which has always been weak, was a real challenge. I felt tense, my grip wasn’t relaxed and my right shoulder would pull up unconsciously. 5 years on and these issues still plague me, especially with a lack of time to dedicate to playing. Whenever I go to a concert I hungrily watch the ‘cellos and vow to get mine out in the next week, although life and other university commitments usually get in the way. It feels like such a disappointment and a loss when I sit myself down and feel so rusty and inept. I used to be able to play. I haven’t picked up my ‘cello for the best part of the year and it saddens me to see her sat in her case beside my desk, gathering dust.
But today is Jackie’s birthday and she has been in my thoughts and heart as the day has worn on. I listened and half-watched her play Brahms’s ‘Cello Sonata No. 2 this morning and I listened to the Elgar concerto this afternoon. Afterwards I listened to the recording of Beatrice Harrison playing and Elgar conducting. It’s such a contrast to Jackie’s interpretation! It feels like Harrison and Elgar gallop through the piece rather than savouring every note, which is how I imagine Jackie to have felt when she played it. Still, it’s truly glorious and well worth a listen if you’re not familiar with it.
Instead of doing New Year’s Resolutions this year I decided to do a Monthly Mission – 4 achievable goals to complete before the month’s end. No. 4 on my list for January was to play my ‘cello. I’ve got 5 days left. Watch this space…