65 (An Open Letter to Sky)

Dear Sky,

You asked me to write about 65, and I confess, until a few hours ago, I had nothing but the half-remembered chorus to a pop song, ” ’65 love affaire.” Oh, I could talk about how 65MPH is a popular American speed limit (on signs anyway, I’ve found that actual drivers generally go 80 or 40 instead), or mention that 65 is the expected age of retirement from the workforce, but those have no real meaning for me. I mean, speed limits are universally applied to everyone, and the only time the age is a concern of mine is in connection with work – we’re not allowed to decline loans to people based on age, etc.

But the song was haunting me, and that drove me to Napster to find more inspiration in music, where I stumbled upon a recording of cellist Jacqueline DuPre playing Chopin’s “Sonata for Cello and Piano in G Minor, Op. 65” and I was struck dumb in a completely different way. I’m not sure how much you follow classical music, if at all, but Ms. DuPre is one of those brilliant but mad genius types, socially awkward, artistically amazing. When she played, she bared her soul, and you could feel the bite of the strings beneath her finger tips.

People said she played like a lunatic, because she rocked her cello back and forth. Many cellists since have done the same, and for some it works, and for others it’s simply a contrivance. Myself, I’m very still when I play, but a lot of that it’s because I have a 4/4 sized cello, and I really need a 7/8, or “lady’s” cello, because of my height, and the size of my hands. Actually, when I was shopping for instruments, when I decided to reclaim my music several years ago, I looked at 3/4 size cellos (celli is correct, but sounds stupid, so forgive the lapse in grammar), but the owner of the luthier I’d chosen emailed me and counselled against it, explaining that while he understood I was strictly an amateur, if I had any kind of love of music, I’d be displeased with the sound of the 3/4.

But I digress. I was supposed to talk about 65.

Anyway, “Op. 65” is the catch phrase that resounded in my head, and as a result I spent a lovely couple of hours listening to Chopin. Personally, I like the Bach cello concerto’s better, but Back can be a little too fluffy sometimes. Chopin’s more sensitive. Thoughtful. Moodier, somehow, and gentler, even during the crescendos.

While I was listening to DuPre layer her emotions onto Chopin’s I kept looking for more inspiration. The cello music reminded me that I snapped my c-string last summer, and haven’t bothered to replace it. I haven’t been in the mood to play in so long, that it hasn’t been an issue, but, prompted by the number 65, and half-remembering that there’s a kind of string that costs about that, I went looking for actual strings.

Currently, I’m using D’Addario Helicore Silver/Tungsten, medium weight strings for my lower two. My cello has fine-tuners, so heavy strings aren’t really a good idea. I’ve had a recurring issue with the tuning peg for the c-string, where I have to retune that string far too often, and I’ve had two C strings unravel after less than a month of use, so am considering buying either several cheaper strings (The D’Addario Helicores run about $30 each) or one really expensive string, to see if it’s mee or the cello. (I think it’s both, as I’m so afraid of the string snapping and hitting me in the face, and I don’t want to spend the money on an actual luthier rebuilding the peg box until I’ve had a chance to do a bit more experimentation. I know several other cellists who swear by Pirastro as a string supplier, but I’m torn. Also, every time I look at the website for Just Strings, I click on the Pirastro Gold Label link, and realize that I’ve always wanted a baroque cello. (The Gold Labels use actual gut as the core of the string, but are still wound with tungsten.) Of course, I’ve always wanted a Gagliano too, but I don’t have a spare $10k to buy one just now.

Still undecided, I decided to surf the web for instances of the number 65, and wait for a couple people from whom I’ve sought advice to get back to me. I came across this link for the Trilobis 65 floating home, which strikes me as a fun place to spend a weekend in, and reminded me that I went through a phase when I was nine or ten during which I wanted to be a marine biologist. I still have, as you know, an obsession with sharks, and I think I’d feel safe observing them from one of these.

And on that note, dear Sky, and with the knowledge that I was supposed to be in bed about 65 minutes ago, I shall end this, having enjoyed the journey of discovery I’ve just taken.

Thank you.

CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 65 (An Open Letter to Sky) by Melissa Bartell is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

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