Cello Tangent

Day 10 Week 2 Q1  Tuesday, January 10, 2023

Day three of the crazy cello adventure. I got to where the cello was and photographed the manufacturer’s label inside the cello through the F-hole using one iPhone as a lighting source and the other as a close-up lens. Who would have ever thought you could use two phones in such a way for a photo shoot and get such high-quality results? We have so many megapixels to spare and the ability to manipulate images to make things extremely readable in an old musical instrument. I discovered via the model number and the serial number that this cello was, in fact, created in 1950, making it older than I am and also was designed as part of a fleet of instruments for school orchestras, meaning it is definitely a beginner instrument and also fairly bulletproof designed to survive high school students.

And why does this matter, as I am not a fine artist on this instrument by any stretch of the imagination? Well, it turns out that these instruments made by a company called Kay are still being used in orchestras to play classical music in community orchestras and universities. And they still stay in tune and sound relatively decent. How do I know? There is a website registry of Kay basses and cellos where 8200 people submitted their information out of the roughly 80,000 Kay cellos and double basses made between 1937 and 1969 when they ceased production. According to their records, the one in my hands with serial number 22360 places it as being manufactured in early 1950.  

At that time, they used maple veneer over laminate to make them fairly indestructible yet still sound decent and look pretty nice. This cello may possibly be worth on the open market a little more than the case I purchased to transport it, but to me, it is worth much more. It is a connection to my past and some unusually interesting relatives. In other words, it has a relevant story. And then there is the issue of does it work. Or could it be made to work?  And yes, it did come with a seventy-year-old bow but no rosin or case. I can report back that eventually, I got it properly working, and in tune and the bow tensioned.

I then submitted to the cello and bass registry the serial number and some background information which seems to have made me a member of a cello and bass community that has already emailed me back, beginning the conversation which could last a long time. While reading the many forms and websites and reviews and comments, I seem to have lost the better part of this entire day which is why this posting is called Cello Tangent.  While seemingly tangential to my planned trajectory for this trip and this day, it was a wonderful adventure during which I discovered there was such a thing as a Jazz Cello, which is sort of like a cello turned like a guitar. Cellos, violas and violins are tuned in fifths, while guitars and basses are tuned in fourths. That is a story for another time, but as a jazz musician who is also a guitarist, I find I may have accidentally or was it synchronistically stumbled upon a perfect instrument for my intended uses.

So, why am I so excited? Many reasons. As this is not a delicate instrument, I can take it out and perform without worrying about it.  As this is not a valuable instrument, I can perform experiments on it, such as adding a pickup or maybe another string, changing the tuning pegs, or altering the tuning and the subsequent changes in pressure upon the instrument. And best of all, it is better suited to produce darker jazz sounds than, say, Bach cello suite sound,s which is perfect for me as I am far more likely to play jazz than Bach unless I jazz it up.  

Basically, I think this instrument is already supporting me in moving in a direction to bridge jazz, my first love and classical music, always vying for attention but demanding more of me than I was willing to give. 

The main issue here is jazz requires improvisation, or real-time composition, which I love and am decent at, while classical music requires perfecting the past, which as an involuntary innovator, I am terrible at. The challenge here is to compose music that bridges the two, and I have a lot of ideas about how to do this, but that is for another day and time.

Sometimes there can be more meaning in the tangent than in what it is tangential to.