Monday, March 09, 2009
Left Hand - Right Hand
As the book begins, at midnight on New Year's eve, all deaths cease in the (unnamed) country of 10 million people. The first part of the story deals with the social/political consequences of that event. Eventually the story turns to death, herself, and her attempts to "collect" a cellist. [No more spoilers; read the book.]
Saramago presents the musical aspects of the cellist quite engagingly, but he makes one statement that got my attention and caused me to think about our craft. On page 192 of the Margaret Jull Costa translation: "She admires the cellist's strong fingers, she guesses the tips of the fingers on the left hand must have gradually grown harder [referring here to an earlier comment about death's own fingers just being bones], perhaps even slightly calloused, life can be unfair in this and other ways, the left hand is a case in point, for even though it does all the hard work on the cello, it receives far less applause from the audience than the right hand."
I used to think that too, when I first started learning the cello. So much effort was needed to teach my left-hand fingers where to intonate each note, then how to move fluidly between the strings, and later to move up and down the strings. Eventually they had to learn various refinements such as trills and vibrato and double-stops. No doubt the left-hand fingers have a lot to do.
But now I disagree with Saramago. I've realized that the right hand has just as much or more work to do in controlling the bow. Not the least of which is simply producing each note cleanly, then being able to play them legato, stacatto, tenuto, spicatto, tremelo, pizzicato, etc., and of course slurred. Learning how to hold the bow, how to use the fingers, wrist, arm and shoulder to control the bow, how to play loud, soft, fast, slow, long, short, and so on. Clearly both hands have a lot of hard work to do.
Of course the real learning challenge is within our nervous systems as a whole as we must integrate all these actions with all of the feedback coming in from the ears, eyes and tactical sources.
"Death With Interruptions" is not an easy read, nor did I find it to be all that satisfying as a novel; yet at the end, I am glad I read it.
Well worth the read.
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