Is That a Cello, Or Are You Just Happy to See Me?

Matt and I both took Band in school.  He played the Trombone and I played the Oboe.  Neither of us stuck with it for very long.  Matt had trouble reading the music and basically made it through by copying the slide position of the kid next to him.  I meanwhile could read the notes perfectly, but was unable to translate that into actual music because I couldn’t play my instrument and keep time at the same time.

We knew that in 5th grade Brendan would have the opportunity to take up an instrument himself.  Having been down the Band path ourselves we felt that if Brendan wanted to try it we would encourage him to do so.  What neither of us realized was that in 4th grade the kids can take Orchestra lessons.

For various reasons, neither of us ever took Orchestra so our knowledge on that subject is quite limited.  I knew enough to be able to tell Brendan what his four options of instrument would be in Orchestra, but that was about it.  I knew nothing about the pros and cons of each instrument.  Lucky for us, there was going to be a musical intstrument display night at the middle school Brendan will go to.  The teacher would be on hand to answer any questions, and a few different dealers would be available to show off the instruments and rent them to you.

So we took Brendan up there to see what he wanted to play.  Our first stop was to his teacher.  We had lots of questions for her.  Would taking Orchestra prevent Brendan from being able to take Band the following school year if he wanted to?  (No)  Would Brendan’s troubles with dexterity impact his ability to finger the strings properly?  (She didn’t believe so)  And finally, could she recommend an instrument since Brendan was so unfamiliar with them.

She began to describe the instruments and as a family we quickly took two off the list.  She explained that the violin is very high pitched and (especially when first learning to play it) would make some very high pitched squeals.  Knowing Brendan’s aversion to loud, high pitched sounds we thought it best to avoid an instrument that we knew would cause him aggravation.  The other instrument we nixed was the bass.  Knowing how huge those are I knew Brendan wouldn’t have the upper arm strength to haul it back and forth to school.

That left him the viola and the cello.  The teacher was pushing the viola pretty hard because she had so few kids wanting to play it.  We decided to take Brendan over to the display before he made up his mind and show him what she was talking about.

We walked into the gymnasium where the instruments were all set up and were instantly overwhelmed.  It looked like absolute chaos, and we had no idea how we were going to find our way through.  As we walked in the door a gentleman handed us a flyer for one of the music shops.  We thanked him and stood there for a moment still looking over the gym as lost as ever.  That was the queue for the salesman at that booth to corner us.

I say that like it’s a bad thing, but in actuality the salesman knew how to do his job very well.  He recognized the overwhelmed look on our faces and called us over to answer our questions.  He further explained the differences between the 4 instruments and showed Brendan an actual viola.  We had him mostly convinced that this was the instrument he should take and were about to head back out of the gym to get him measured for the right size viola when he ran into a friend from his class who had just finished getting herself a cello.

We’d run into the same girl while we were in line waiting for the teacher.  From the conversation we heard between her and Brendan we got the impression that he might have a small crush on her.  Since Brendan had agreed to the viola but didn’t seem entirely convinced, I talked him into going up to the girl and asking her if he could try to lift her cello.  While considerably smaller than a bass is I thought it might still be more than he would be able to carry himself.

I was wrong.  He lifted up her case and saw how light it was.  From that moment on he became very sure about his decision and wanted to play the cello.  Matt and I suspected it had less to do with the instrument itself and more to do with his little girlfriend playing it, but at least he had made the choice himself.  The teacher recommended he get a 1/2 cello for now because he was right in between sizes and a 3/4 would probably be a bit too large.

So it was back into the chaos for us.  Despite how crazy things appeared to be with that many parents and students roving around the gymnasium, we found it was actually quite organized.  Within moments we were sitting down with someone to write out our contract.  We would be renting the instrument rather than buying it because (especially with the stringed instruments–I don’t remember this as much with my Band instrument) as Brendan grows he will have to change sizes a few times until he’s big enough for a full sized cello.

The rental agreement is actually a pretty good one in my opinion.  We are basically doing a rent to own on the instrument.  Each payment we makes goes toward the balance on the instrument.  But if and when Brendan needs to change sizes, the money we’ve already paid in transfers over to his new instrument.  Even if he finds he hates Orchestra and gives it up after a few months, we can keep that balance in there until the following school year and apply it toward the Band instrument of his choice.

The final thing we agreed to was insurance.  There are a lot of times where sales people will try to talk us into additional warranties or other things like that and a lot of the time they are completely unnecessary and a waste of our money.  So as a general rule we don’t buy the added insurance.  However, with this we did.  It’s only a few extra dollars a month and as they so accurately pointed out, even if Brendan is extra, extra careful with his instrument, any kid could walk by and accidentally knock it over.  Besides we have the two year old tornado at home to worry about.

On our way home we had a very frank conversation with both Cameron and Kaylee about Brendan’s instrument.  They were told that under absolutely no circumstances were they ever to touch Brendan’s instrument.  We told them that “it was an accident” would not be an acceptable excuse when it came to the cello, and that if they thought they were close enough to it to have an “accident” then they should back away even further.

Meanwhile we had a different conversation with Brendan.  He was told that in the event he A) did not take care of his cello and keep it put away properly or B) didn’t practice his instrument on a regular basis or C) started doing poorly in school and stopped turning in his homework (like he did in second grade) then we would force him to drop out of Orchestra.  We also told him that if, at any time, he found he did not like doing it that he would be allowed to drop out of Orchestra.  We would not force him to continue with it if he hated it.

We found a home for his cello that will hopefully keep it safe and secure when he’s not using it, and there it sits just waiting for his first lesson on Wednesday morning.

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