It has been twenty years now that the cello has been my life companion. The same four strings: A, D, G, and C that have been with me since childhood. The “is this a guitar?” question that I receive multiple times a year. And the hours and hours of practicing —sometimes with two jumpers, sometimes with a dress—that accompany me throughout the seasons.
People might just see it as a profession, or a passion, but classical music involves more than that: your life choices, the people you meet, your character development, your physical and mental health. Being a professional player surrounds so much of your life. It is impossible to disassociate from it—or at least I still haven’t been able to.
My journey began in a little town called Manresa, were I was born. An antiquated town in the middle of Catalonia, not far from Barcelona. Somehow freezing cold in winter and hot as hell in summer. It’s that kind of town where old people stop on the road to talk to each other. That kind of town where if you run out of salt you can just ask your neighbor. That kind of town where you play in the school concerts and your grandma comes and cooks you paella afterwards. Embellished with its medieval ensembles, it was a strange place for me to grow up with such big ideas.
I was born into a family of five. With me, it became six. My mother makes pig products (ham, sausages, you name it) and my dad has a little—but very noisy—metal factory. They don’t know how to read a score, neither had they ever learned to play any instruments, but as they work such long hours, they decided to send us to extracurricular activities in the afternoons to keep us busy.
That’s how my relationship with music started. At the mere age of five, I went to see my older sister play violin at an orchestra rehearsal. I saw a big violin and I was fascinated. I asked around what that thing was called, and the answer was “cello.” I was so captivated I asked If I could start taking lessons right away, but the school told me I was too little and that I should wait a bit. I got annoyed by that answer and I thought —my middle sister plays the guitar, the other one the violin. If I take the guitar and I add the bow, I have a cello. In my mind, it made perfect sense. On the practical side, spoiler alert, less.
The following year, I finally started cello lessons. By the time I reached my teenage years, I already had the idea of playing professionally in my vision. But the international classical music scene felt distant to me. I went to your average, run of the mill high school. Nothing geared specially towards classical music development. I only performed casual concerts in my school, and during the summers I worked a full-time job at my fathers metal factory. And somehow, was still able to get my four hours of practice in a day. This was a slightly unusual life style. Never mind for a normal teenager, but also those being fine-tuned by their parents for the classical world. Summers spent in festivals and masterclasses, early assignment to music conservatories. That kind of hardcore development—I had no idea how the industry worked, but I had my cello practice, and that’s all I needed.
Things changed when I finished high school. At 18, I could finally pursue a Bachelor’s in Music. I was accepted into a course in the Netherlands, and off I went. This was my first formal exposure to the “music world.” I thought this would be my personal heaven. A place where everyone cares, loves, and devotes themselves to classical music.
But it wasn’t quite like that. I had some very happy moments, but like with most things in life, I also learned lessons the hard way. I experienced how tough the environment can be with your colleagues. The tension, the excruciating nerves before a performance, the judgment, and the whispering concealed behind the music stands. My small town persona needed to vanish fast if I was going to keep up. It seemed that people’s focus was on who got the best chair in the orchestra, and to get there by any means. I worked hard on my technical dexterity to keep up, but my passion and creativity diminished and was faltering in this diehard world. Weirdly enough, being closer to the music than ever, I had also never felt so detached from it. As soon as I finished my bachelor’s I decided to take a step back and move back home
I wanted to regain that initial passion I felt when it all started, and I thought that joining the classical rat race might help—masterclasses, international competitions—those things I felt I had missed out on. This is where I started to collect some of the best memories in my life. My choices led me to far out places, like crossing the ocean to perform in the New World Center in Miami, and bitterly cold Helsinki, where I had to trudge my cello from rehearsal to rehearsal in two-meter deep snow.
This stuff was pretty cool, it was what being a musician was all about. But that was stripped away from me, from everyone, in the last year and a half. No gigs, no festivals, no masterclasses—the arts world was devastated. This was one of the most challenging adversities I had felt as a cellist.
The fear, the uncertainty, and the loss of income which led me to stay at home for months. Suddenly, without my career I felt like I was nothing. I had an empty schedule and 24 hours a day to think. I had all the time to practice and yet I couldn’t because I felt everything I worked for all these years had been ripped from beneath me. All the wild opportunities, the dreams, the back to back concerts and extensive projects had suddenly dissolved. And if they were, I was too.
And that is the dark side of being a musician. We value ourselves and those around us on how good they are. On how many concerts they are playing. On how many competitions they have won. On impressive curriculums and record deals.
We tend to forget that behind the instrument there is a person, and a story. We work so hard and we sacrifice so much that we tend to forget that the instrument is our companion, not the driver. But we are in the driver’s seat. And if we don’t learn to see beyond people’s failures and successes, we will lose touch with ourselves, our voice, and our relationship with music will fade. And as the world is slowly opening up again and concerts seem to be again a reality, it is time for us, the performers, to bring the joy back through what we do best: music.