It was intermission of a garden concert for a local charity- we’d just finished the Dohnanyi Serenade for String Trio and were milling about the lawn while the punters downed their pinot noir and brie.
He was easy to pick out even in a crowd. On a very casual afternoon, he was dressed rather smartly- grey trousers and a navy blazer with a tie, everything perfectly ironed and organized. He had a distinguished head of silver hair and gold framed glasses. My first thought was that he looked clever. My second thought was that he looked like he’s served in Margaret Thatcher’s cabinet. No, he didn’t look that old. He looked like he’d just come from a meeting of Margaret Thatcher’s cabinet. Very big and chaotic eyebrows.
He’s spotted me even before I’d spotted him. He elbowed his way through the crowd and came up to me with something just less than a smile.
So far during the intermission, everyone I’d talked to had had something nice to say about the music so far, but his opening gambit was a bit different….
“Cello….er, cellist, eh? Cellist, eh?”
“Hello! Thanks for coming out this afternoon,” I attempted to respond.
“Yes, er, cellist, cellist.”
“Lovely afternoon,” I ventured, “we all appreciate you coming out this afternoon to support the House,” (a care home for autistic adults).
“Yes, ahm… So, ahm, how much does a cello cost?”
Now, this is one of my least favorite questions because the next question is almost always “okay, how much did your cello cost.” Still, I had to say something, as it was still a good ten minutes until we could get back onstage.
“Well, it depends entirely on the cello. You might find something at an estate sale or an auction for almost nothing, a decent student cello might cost a thousand pounds, but it can go up into the millions.”
“Ah yes, ah yes. Well… Yes…. Well, how much for a normal cello?”
“Well,” I didn’t know exactly how to respond, “I’m not sure you can really say there is a normal cello. It depends on what it is, when it was made, what kind of condition it’s in and so on.”
“Well, we’ve been given one. Given a cello…. I think it’s German, yes maybe German, 18th Century, but it’s been reconditioned. It’s been given to us, but I have no idea what it’s worth. I don’t know anything about it.”
Aha- he has a cello! Okay! “I see. Well, it would be difficult for me to guess the value having not seen it. You should take it to a couple of shops and see what they think it’s worth.”
“Yes, well, I, ah, don’t know anything about it, about cellos. It’s been reconditioned. Completely reconditioned. German, I think”
I was no longer sure where this was going, but I thought maybe he wanted me to guess the value, which I’m completely unqualified to do…. “Do you know if it is from a particular school of makers?”
“Makers? No, don’t know anything about it. Reconditioned, though. Completely reconditioned.”
“Well, that’s a big project- did they have to patch a lot of old cracks?”
“Well, they put new strings on it. Brand new strings…”
“I see. That’s great. Well, if you want to sell it, I’d get a couple of estimates from luthiers.”
“Millions, well, we’ve got to put it on Ebay.”
“Of course, but maybe get it appraised first.”
“It does have new strings.”
“Fantastic!” Eight more minutes until we get back on stage….
“Yes, on Ebay. Someone played it for us. It’s very loud. I had no idea how loud one is!”
“Hmm… I suppose if you’ve only heard one from back in a concert hall, it’s probably surprising to hear how much sound they make up close.”
“Really loud. Amazing. Loud! I had no idea.”
“You know, I was quite shocked just how loud they are. Really a lot of noise. I’d always thought of cellos as a nice sort of instrument, but they’re quite loud. Loud. Well, we’ll put it on Ebay.”
And then he was gone….
c. 2007 Kenneth Woods