Standing in a crowded elevator in midtown Manhattan with a cello strapped to your back is no way to win a popularity contest. For one thing, you are taking up nearly twice your normal footprint; for another, you can barely make a move without sideswiping someone. But there I was, jostling people with my cello in the elevator of a Manhattan loft building on my way to my very first rehearsal with the New York Late-Starters String Orchestra.
In truth, the cello on my back was the least of my worries. I was en route to what I feared would be a mortifying encounter. My orchestra experience was limited to playing in a middle-school ensemble with my son plus a handful of sessions with adult amateurs where I often felt lost and overwhelmed. Humiliation was assured. I was destined to play out of tune, out of time, out of rhythm—crimes akin to having your cell phone go off in a crowded theater. Why was I even going?
The players, a smattering in their 30s, but most of them approaching 60, like me, and still others well beyond it, were readying their instruments and setting up their music stands when the conductor—a tall, thin, blond, serious, and yet stunning-looking woman, decidedly younger than her late-starter participants—silenced us all with an A note on her violin.
There’s a lot you can do with a string orchestra. We played Dvořák, Offenbach, Vivaldi, and Mozart that first day alone. The music was challenging but possible. I avoided any major embarrassments.
Clearly some of us did not know what we were doing but that didn’t stop us. Built into the system was the realization that the more accomplished players would carry the less adept, and that, eventually, with repetition and hard work and support, everyone would be brought up to a higher musical level. Playing cello in this group made me part of something larger than myself. Although there was hardly any conversation between the players, a true sense of camaraderie developed. Without even talking, I could feel it in the air. As members of the New York Late-Starters String Orchestra, we were making music.
—from The Late Starters Orchestra, by Ari L. Goldman © 2014.
Reprinted with permission from Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill.
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