You’re Better Than You Think You Are: Life Lesson from a Cello Lesson

Near the beginning of cello playing with certainly many things wrong here

I have been playing piano for 49 years. One year and a half ago I began cello lessons. I have attempted other instruments through the years, but this was the first that I took seriously enough to go beyond buying the instrument and a few books and then letting it all collect dust. I got a teacher. And, boy, did I get a good one. I scheduled weekly lessons. I practice most days. Some days are better sessions than others.

Now, this may be obvious, but playing cello is different from playing piano. Much more than I thought. It’s humbling to have been a trained musician for nearly 50 years, having a master’s degree in music, and currently teaching over 40 piano students in my studio, to basically start all over. My fingers look like my young students as they awkwardly try to find the right place to be. It has definitely made me a more understanding teacher.

So here we are 18 months later, and I’m still making sounds on the cello that sound more like a moaning cow than the beautiful, rich tone that inspired me to want to play this instrument. I come into my lesson, and while my teacher greets me very warmly and asks me how’s it going, I generally answer with, “Okay,” and I suspect my teacher hears the hint of a sigh, and he says, “You say that every time.”  I get my instrument out — and, boy, what a different process that is than just sitting down at the piano — and we proceed to play a little piece, which has been preceded by yet another sigh, and probably words of where I think I’m failing. We finish said piece, and he says to me, “That was nice. You know, you’re better than you think you are.”

This evening I was walking up the steps to our home, weary from an emotional few days full of alarm and disappointment at the actions and thinking of others for whom I would have expected better, and I recalled how a few weeks ago I had been thinking, “I wish I was a better person. I wish I was kinder. I wish I was more patient and thoughtful.” And then I thought of all the mean things that have been said and done this weekend, and how it hurts me because that’s not the kind of person I want to be, and then I thought — even before I hit the last step — that’s not the kind of person I am! “I am better than I think I am!” I will always be an examiner of my heart and strive to be better, and while one shouldn’t feel good about themselves simply because there are meaner people in the world, this episode has shown me more of what I’m made of and what I had forgotten is there. I still hope to grow in kindness every day. My model is Christ. I have a ways to go. But at the same time, I will fight the mental demons that tell me that I am less than I am. I am on the right path. The narrow one that, sadly, few find. I will never deserve it, but I’m there. I’m going in the right direction, and I am a-okay.

I’m pressing on the upward way,
New heights I’m gaining every day;
Still praying as I’m onward bound,
“Lord, plant my feet on higher ground.”

My heart has no desire to stay
Where doubts arise and fears dismay;
Though some may dwell where these abound,
My prayer, my aim, is higher ground.

I want to scale the utmost height
And catch a gleam of glory bright;
But still I’ll pray till heav’n I’ve found,
“Lord, plant my feet on higher ground.”

Lord, lift me up and let me stand,
By faith, on Heaven’s tableland,
A higher plane than I have found;
Lord, plant my feet on higher ground.

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