Couch to 5K for Cellists Week 7: Many Repetitions

By Miranda Wilson

Or, as I would describe it, actual footage from Dante’s Inferno. Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

All three days of Week 7 of C25K are the same. Brisk five-minute warmup walk, then jog 2.5 miles (or 25 minutes).

The fast-slow-fast-slow phase is over. All that remains is to run for long stretches until it becomes habitual and I can add more. That’s OK, I’m good at creating habits.

As I got more and more into this running thing, several runner friends said encouraging things to me. Common theme: “It’s not hard, it’s just one foot in front of another.”

“Yes,” I whined, “but you’re capable of putting one foot in front of another for entire marathons. I feel like I’m going to die after twenty minutes.”

“The only way to run a marathon is one mile at a time,” said my friend Karla, who somehow manages to be an amazing cellist and run marathons and be the most wonderful human you could ever hope to meet.

“Yeah, one mile twenty-six times over,” I said, grouchily. Even though I could now run for two and a half miles, I felt that I could no more fly to the moon than run twenty-six of them.

***

If C25K were really as simple as putting one foot in front of the other, everyone would be doing it. Lots of people wish they could play the cello, but again, if it were really as simple as putting your fingers on correct notes while pulling a bow correctly over a string, everyone would be doing that too.

No one comes out of the womb able to walk, let alone run or play the cello. I’m convinced, because I’ve seen it many times, that every skill involved in cello playing is a learned skill. People who say that musical artistry can’t be taught are repeating a pedagogically lazy platitude that causes great harm.

One of the more liberating maxims of Shinichi Suzuki’s educational philosophy is that talent isn’t inborn, and that “talented” is just an honorary title we give to people who have developed their ability. I have many qualms about Suzuki’s pedagogy (and I say this as someone who grew up Suzuki and trained as a Suzuki teacher, so I know of which I speak), but he was spot on about “talent.”

And yet, knowing and acknowledging this, I’ve dedicated my life to practising the cello, performing on the cello, teaching the cello, studying the cello repertoire, studying the pedagogical literature, studying physiology and anatomy, studying psychology, analyzing scores, analyzing recordings, and I still feel as if I’ve only scratched the surface of what it truly means to understand playing the cello.

Everyone can learn, but you can’t simplify something that isn’t simple.

***

I’m good at making habits because I’ve practised cello all my life. During the years of my life when people who don’t play instruments are backpacking around the world, working on organic farms, hitchhiking, having tempestuous love affairs, picking up and discarding hobbies, and otherwise figuring out who they were, I was locked in a room practising the cello. I practised four hours a day when I was at high school, six when I was at university. You have to, if you’re going to be in this stupid profession. They say practice makes perfect, but it doesn’t. If it did, you wouldn’t have to do it any more. Practice just means that you’ve practised, and then you have to practise tomorrow if you want to keep any of the things you improved today. (In other words, life sucks and then you die.)

I’m not saying that this is a healthy way to live your life. I’m just saying it’s the dominating feature of my skill set.

***

This week, I ran round and round the track, watching the moon rise over the pines, listening to the thudding of my feet and my heart and not much else. If I’m to be honest, one of the reasons I wanted to try running, as opposed to the long-distance walking and elliptical training that were my previous main forms of aerobic exercise, is that I hoped that if I sufficiently exerted myself I could burn off some of my chronic anxiety and depression as well as increasing my fitness.

I’ve always been a big walker, and before I started running I walked for at least an hour a day. I live in a mild climate with a lot of nice walking routes and beautiful things to look at. The problem with long walks is that they afford you many possibilities for morbid introspection, like they did last summer. The more I walk, the more I think, and the more I think, the more I work myself into a state of anxiety over the pandemic, over New Zealand’s borders being closed and quarantine hotels being full so that I can’t go there, and over my mother becoming increasingly frail right when I can’t get into any quarantine hotels so that I might be allowed out to visit her.

It’s a lot to burn off, that’s for sure.

I’m not going to lie, Zoloft helps. But practice also helps, and even though I’ve yet to experience enjoyment over it, so does running. The thing about practice is that you have to think about your posture, balance, and movements, and what’s on the score in front of you, and how you’re going to interpret the composer’s intentions, and how you’re going to memorize it, and how you’re going to perform it eventually. It feels meditative sometimes, but it doesn’t, on the whole, allow much time for morbid introspection. Even if only for a few hours, it turns off some of the noise.

Running has started to do the same for me. I’ve tried to apply the same approaches to it that I apply to practice: reading up about the ways to do it correctly, sticking to a stretching routine beforehand, gradually increasing my skill and speed, pacing myself. I’ve definitely found that evening is better for me than mornings, when everything is bright and hard-edged. Night is better because it’s quieter and softer. Other than the moon, there isn’t a lot to look at or think about. I just watch it rise, knowing I’ll see it again tomorrow, just a tiny bit bigger than it was before.

Read Couch to 5K for Cellists Week 1 – P. E. Trauma and Music Trauma

Read Couch to 5K for Cellists Week 2 – Permission to Be Bad

Read Couch to 5K for Cellists Week 3 — Slow-Fast-Slow-Fast

Read Couch to 5K for Cellists Week 4 — Belonging

Read Couch to 5K for Cellists Week 5 — Non-Linear Progress

Read Couch to 5K for Cellists Week 6 — The Steps to Possibility

© Miranda Wilson, 2021. No part of this blog post may be reproduced without permission of the author.

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