Cello Pops:
Released Repression Reaps Raw
Rewards in Resentful Recital

“Twenty-two years I've played the cello. I never played a sport in my life for fear of damaging my hands. Never once been bowling. Still, I got tendonitis at 17. Arthritis set in at 24. I spent seventeen thousand dollars on this instrument. For the past two months, I've been locked in a practice room, mastering three diverse and astonishingly difficult pieces. I just finished a thesis paper on Debussy's use of the cantilevered mezzo forte in his early works. I mailed out two hundred invitations. And a dozen people show up for my goddamned doctoral recital.”

Twelve friends and relatives swallowed uncomfortably. The lights flickered.

“I mean, thanks and all, but, Christ, look at you,” Beautiful but awkward in her black evening gown, Susan Doherty, PhD Candidate at the University of Colorado, wedged the cello between her legs, “You're pathetic. I've seen bigger crowds at the pauper funerals they used to hold back home on Staten Island . And I suspect you'd all rather be at a pauper funeral than my doctoral recital.”

A man, once tall but now bent and tired from sixty five difficult years of wishing he was somewhere else stood up, “Sweetheart, maybe you should play your cello.”

“No, Dad, maybe I shouldn't play my cello. Maybe I never should have touched this thing.”

Woman next to me: “She's never behaved like this before.”

“I heard that, Grandma,” Susan peeled a few strands of hair off her bow. “You're right. I have never behaved like this before. I spent my whole life doing what I was told. No fun for Susan. If I had just once let myself go, learned some stupid licks, I could play in a bluegrass band and people would worship me. The bluegrass cellist. If I had started on the electric guitar instead of the cello I would have been a virtuoso by the time I was twelve. I'd be in an insipid band and we'd fill the Bluebird and the Boulder Theater every three months. You know how mad—no, jealous—I get when I see all those incompetent musicians on TV, at the bar, on Pearl Street ? They have FANS. People like them. And they didn't have to practice six hours a day and bury themselves in student loans to get there. What's more, I suspect that those people are actually HAPPY.”

A friend in the crowd yelled, “Please play, Susan.”

Three other people, holding clipboards, stood up and exited the auditorium.

“Too late. Those people who just left…those were the judges. I failed. Damn.”

A woman, weeping, spoke through a handkerchief, “You can't give up now. You have such a future—“

“FUTURE? You know what my future is? I'll try out for a couple of symphonies and fail. Because there are a million cellists in this world and most of them are better than me. Then I'll feel relieved and I'll think about putting down the cello forever. Except this is the only thing I know how to do. So I'm going to teach. I'll teach kids the Suzuki method and the Kawasaki method and—if they pay me enough—the Rhythm method. But I don't expect I'll ever teach them how to love music. Too late for that. Instead, I'll create more and more bitter people just like me.”

The woman, Susan's mom, regained her composure, and spoke with incredulity, “Don't you love music?”

“I used to. Not any more.”

“What happened?”

“It ended. I have nightmares. Stomach problems. I'm haunted by regret. But that ends now. So thank you, Mom and Dad. Thanks Grandpa. Thanks friends. I quit.”

And then she lifted her cello by the neck, swung it three times and slammed it on the stage. It bounced but suffered no apparent damage. Anticipating this, Susan pulled a sledge hammer out of the wings and swung that into the cello, splintering the wood with a shriek. Evidently, this still did not achieve the desired effect. She walked to the grand piano at the back of the stage. She opened the lid, removed a chainsaw and revved it up. Stench of burning cello and 2 cycle engine exhaust. Stunned silence. Coughing. Chunks of cello rained on the audience. A string tangled in the chain and killed the engine. So far no one was dead, but Susan was bleeding from a cut to her forehead. She threw the remaining pieces of the cello at the front row, tossed the chainsaw back inside the piano with a KERRRANNNG! Then she kicked over her music stand and pulled a bottle of champagne from her cello case, popped the cork, and sprayed the entire, meager, stunned, crowd.

Mom screamed and screamed, piercing notes that threatened to break eardrums. Dad slapped mom twice, quickly, “Dammit, Woman, get a hold of yourself.” The screaming stopped. Susan removed her thumb from the lip of the bottle and shivered slightly.

Dad turned to Susan, “Look what you've done! Dear God! Is it worth it? Is all this…this carnage worth it?”

Susan squinted one eye and poured champagne down her throat and over her face. She swung the bottle against the piano (KONG!) and, holding the broken neck in her hand, grabbed a rope that hung from the ceiling. With the broken neck, she slashed another rope nearby, which released a weight, yanking her into the rafters. “Worth it?” she cackled, “Every miserable minute.” Her laughter echoed from above and she scrambled ever higher until we could see her no more.

--Strapping Danforth, August, 2003

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