Before I begin

I just returned from a ten-day trip without a cello. It’s good to do that once a year or so, physically and mentally healthy, but I have to admit that I didn’t particularly feel like I needed it. Coming off the last Symphony season, which ended a month ago, I felt in tip-top condition, cellistically speaking, and raring to go. This is was unusual. I have often ended the season feeling depleted and a bit bruised and welcoming the clearing of the calendar and the sudden release from the pressure to perform.

One thing that was different about last season was that I had fewer students than in previous years. This was a conscious choice. Although we have weeks that are not all that busy and programs that don’t require all that much practicing, there are plenty of weeks when having even ten students can be a too much. It’s not only hours, it’s energy and mental space. The productive time in the course of the day, and especially the mental energy, that goes towards teaching a lesson has to come from somewhere, and that tends to be be from my own practicing. Or resting! I missed having more students, to be honest, but I know it was the right thing to do.

I genuinely enjoy teaching, I love the connection to the students, and to their families, who often give me a lovely sense of community. Since my family is far away and I only see them a couple of times per year, this is a nice icing on the professional cake. It’s true that teachers learn through teaching and my students are a source of inspiration and satisfaction to me. I share their struggles and triumphs, and I have the tremendous satisfaction of having the keys to their musical dreams. Their excitement feeds mine and seeing the music and the cello through their eyes keeps me from becoming jaded and stale.

Of course, a vacation helps that as well. I went to Belize with my adventuresome Mom. We stayed on Ambergris Caye and did some Scuba diving. We ended the trip at the Lamanai Outpost bird-watching and toured Mayan ruins.

At the base of one of the Mayan temples at Lamanai, Belize.

One of the highlights was a tour through the ATM cave:

A couple of months ago, someone dropped a camera on one of the relics — a skull from around 900 AD — and broke it, so cameras are no longer allowed. There is a 45 minute hike there and back through the jungle, and the time in the cave is more than half in water from knee-deep to chest-deep. When we emerged, my waterlogged fingers looked really strange. My cello callouses were stark white! Each of my slightly bulbous left finger-tips, two of my right fingers from pizzicato and a spot on the right thumb from the bow. I wish I had a picture. Even if I wanted to soak my hands into prunes now, I wouldn’t have such dramatic callouses after such a substantial vacation.

About cellonancy

Nancy Ives is Principal Cello of the Oregon Symphony and received a DMA and MM from the Manhattan School of Music and a BM from the University of Kansas. She has been featured soloist with the Oregon Symphony as well as orchestras in the Northeast, Midwest and Pacific Northwest. Nancy is Instructor of Chamber Music at Lewis & Clark College; a member of fEARnoMUSIC, the Palatine Piano Trio and the Rose City Piano Trio; and is active as a teacher and recording artist. She is a frequent guest of groups such as Chamber Music Northwest, 45th Parallel, Portland Piano International Summer Festival, Third Angle, Pink Martini and Portland Cello Project. Her composition Shard is featured on a recent PCP album, to e.s.. She is a founder of Classical Up Close, has served on the Board of Directors of the Oregon Symphony and currently serves on the Board at All Classical Portland. Nancy blogs at
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4 Responses to Before I begin

  1. Welcome to the blogosphere, Nancy! I’m glad you’re here, you’ll raise the level above that of the chattering nay-bobs such as myself!

  2. violindenise says:

    Beautiful thoughts! Thank you, Nancy–looking forward to much more!

  3. LaValle says:

    “My cello callouses were stark white!” My imagination is busy creating this now. What a wonderful opportunity to spend so much time with your mother and in such an exotic place too!

  4. Tara Burke says:

    We feel very blessed to have you as Hannah’s teacher and have always thought of you as a part of our family. Thank you for the weekly inspirations and treasure of cello knowledge that you share!

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