Many years ago, during my four years at the incomparable High School of Music and Art in New York City, I treasured my opportunity to study the cello. However, once I entered college, other demands on my time forced me to give up my music. During the next forty-two years, I embarked on a career, raised four children and only intermittently thought about my cello.
Still, I didn’t relinquish the silent instrument. I kept it safe, untouched, encased and hidden in the back of my closet. When I retired, I took up the cello again.
Often, people who hear that I’m now enjoying this magnificent instrument react wistfully. “Oh,” they say. “I love the sound of a cello! I wish I could do that. But I know I can’t.”
I feel both sorry for them and frustrated. Why are they so sure they can’t? Are they comparing themselves with Yo-Yo Ma? If so, I’d have to agree. But one can enjoy enormous pleasures playing as an amateur. And those skills are within reach. But most people don’t realize that. If I have to state my thesis in one sentence, it is this: Playing the cello on any level will give anyone who loves music enormous satisfaction. If you always wished you could do it “in your next life,” do it now.
I admit that starting over when I retired was easier for me because I didn’t have to start from scratch. In addition to the four years of cello lessons I had had during high school, I’d had four years of piano lessons (from age eight to twelve). But many people who took music lessons for years during childhood now feel as if that knowledge is completely lost. It isn’t. It’s tucked away somewhere in the back of your brain. This book will help you to bring it forward again. And for those who’ve had no prior training at all, this book will help you discover the joy of playing music for the very first time.
Music making, even among beginners, rewards its acolytes enough to keep me and many others studying for years with astonishing tenacity. There’s a saying that dancers do not age while they are dancing. I think musicians don’t age while they are playing, either. Why is that?
Amateurs have been lovers since the word was coined from Latin, where amare means “to love.” We amateur musicians are lovers, putting our hearts into our playing. You can’t play while you are “retiring.” The very act of making music keeps us amateurs vital and happy in our sixties, seventies, eighties and nineties. In the words of one five foot tall retiree who played the fiddle until her death at ninety-one, “It helps me keep my chin up!”
When Vera Mattlin Jiji studied the cello in high school, she received a cello scholarship from Janos Scholz, co-founder of The Violoncello Society. However, like many other music lovers, she had to abandon the study of music in adulthood to focus on another career field: in her case, the study of literature.
After receiving her Ph.D. in English, she taught at Brooklyn College for over twenty years. During her years as a professor, she learned to organize material clearly and logically. She made complex subjects simpler and more enjoyable for her students. She developed original courses, and adapted American dramas for television under a grant from NEH.
In the 1990’s she chose early retirement, largely to study the cello again. Having benefited from excellent teaching as an over-60 student herself, she decided to write this book in order to give others the gift of playing music. Vera Jiji now plays chamber music regularly with friends and enjoys her family, including her four children and three grandchildren.