Suite No. 3 in C major


I love the cello. I love listening to cello. I love playing cello. I love watching cellists play the cello.

Every cellist has played all or part of the “six suites for unaccompanied cello” by Johann Sebastian Bach (some contend the pieces were actually written by his second wife, Anna Magdalena). They are some of the most famous pieces written for solo cello. They weren’t widely known until a 13 year old Pablo Casals found a copy of them in a thrift shop in Spain in 1889 and began studying them. He was the first to record all six suites from 1936 to 1939.

Since then every cellist who has gained any kind of notoriety has recorded them. And every cello student has played them. Even I have mastered the first three bars of Bourree 1 (from Suite No 3).

Here are two of my all time favourite cellists playing the same piece, Suite No. 3 in C major. If you have time, interest and the inclination, listen to both and note the difference in interpretation. (Unfortunately there isn’t a copy on the internet of Yo-yo Ma’s recording which won him a Grammy in 1985.)

I hope you enjoy these. 😉 Let me know what you think!!!!!!

Yo-yo Ma
(playing for Mr Rodgers and his Neighbourhood)

Mischa Maisky

First Light


Somehow the cello enchanted me.
I don’t know how, but it wrapped me up in its magic and it has never let me go.

I grew up with a father who listened to Johnny Cash.  I knew the lyrics to all of Johnny’s songs before I went to grammar school.  And my mother played the accordion, so my sisters and I would accompany her with rousing choruses of “She’s Too Fat” every weekend.  Between country rock-a-billy and Oktoberfest polkas one would be inclined to believe that if I ever picked up an instrument I’d be a guitar or a harmonica.  But I went classical.

Our third grade class was led into the school music room.  The state had passed legislation which encouraged students to learn to play musical instruments.  They’d purchased and placed various instruments in our school, hired music teachers and now needed children to play them.  One at a time our class teacher Mrs Fitch held up the instruments which were on offer.  Recorder.  Guitar.  Drums.  Flute.  Clarinet.  Trumpet.  Violin.  Cello.  My heart stopped.  I was mesmerised by the beauty of the cello.  I didn’t hear about any of the other instruments.  I wanted the cello!

Mrs Fitch then passed out permission slips.  We were told that if we wanted to play an instrument, we had to get our parent’s signature on the loan form.  As soon as the form came back, we would get our instrument and begin learning.  I nearly ran the three miles home that day, dragging my little sister along behind me.  I presented the slip to my mom.  I’d already written “chello” on the (instrument) line.  She read the long form twice through.  She told me I would have to wait for my dad to read and sign it.  There were legal implications.

I’m not sure why, but it took my dad two weeks to sign the form.  Every day I bugged my mom.  Every day she told me to be patient.  Every day instruments were being loaned out.  I saw the first cello go and my heart sank.  The next day another cello went and I vacillated between hope (“There’s got to be at least one more cello!”) and despair (“They’ll all be taken!”).

I was at the front of the class line when the bell rang on the day I brought my signed form back.  I handed it with great enthusiasm to Mrs Fitch.  She smiled at me.  And then began the wait.  The minutes dragged along as we waded through reading and writing.  Our first recess came.  I reminded the teacher to hand my form to the music master.  She smiled at me again, this time a bit wearily.  But she took my form.  I couldn’t concentrate on my four-square game or small talk with my friends, so I waited for the bell as the first person in the class line.  It seemed then like the longest 15 minute break in the world.  Finally the bell rang and the teachers appeared.  One look at my face and Mrs Fitch said, “Don’t look so worried, Loreen.  There are plenty of instruments left.  Mr Larson will call you soon and you will go home today with an instrument!”  My heart soared and I beamed at her.

Just before home time I was indeed called to the music room.  There were several other students there.  One was taking possession of a clarinet.  Another was  fingering a trumpet.  I waited for Mr Larson to finish talking and acknowledge me.  Finally he sent the future clarinetist off and turned his attention to me.  He had my form in his hand.  “Miss Hansen?”  I smiled and nodded.  “Let’s see.  You want a cello.  Hmmm.”

I didn’t like the sound of that drawn out ‘Hmmmm.’  I glanced around but couldn’t see any cellos or cello cases.

“I don’t have any cellos left.”  I blinked rather rapidly because my eyes were filling with water.  “I do, however, have a lot of violins.  Violins are in the same family as cellos.”  He walked over to the stage and took a violin case.  Then he walked back toward me.  I didn’t want a violin.  I didn’t like violins.  They were high and squeaky-shrill.  They were held under the chin and looked stupid.  I didn’t want a violin!

“I’ll tell you what,” Mr Larson bargained.  (The look on my face must have revealed the thoughts in my head.) “If you learn violin this year, I will switch you over to cello next year.”  He tried to hand me the violin. When I didn’t respond he continued, “You are eight years old, right?”  I nodded.  “Well, eight year olds do not have long enough fingers to play cello!  You have to stretch to play the notes.”  He held up his fingers to illustrate what he meant.  “Learn on the violin and then you can switch next year.”  Again he pushed the violin toward me.  This time I took it with resignation.

I walked to the door and barely heard Mr Larson explaining that I would have to stay after school three days a week for lessons.  I was grieving for the cello, MY cello, which some other student had taken.  The violin case I carried at my side felt as if it were filled with bricks.

I learned to play violin.  It wasn’t quite as bad as I’d imagined.  I persevered and waited, waited for my chance to switch to cello.  When the next school year came Mr Larson explained that the four people who had borrowed cellos were still using them.  Since they were older than I was, they had priority.  Besides, I was still young at nine and he needed violinists.  If I worked hard I could make second chair violin in the school orchestra.  Quite an honour, he explained.  And he promised he’d get me a cello in fifth grade.

I never got a school cello.  I did make second chair in fourth grade and first chair (or concertmistress) in fifth grade. Despite my “success,” I was never really satisfied.  I continued playing violin until I was 16, and then for many different reasons, I put it down and never picked it up again.

To this day it is the cello that lifts my heart and soothes my soul.  I disappear somewhere in the deep, rich tones of this amazing stringed instrument.  I recently discovered Adam Hurst, an incredibly gifted cellist and composer.  Have a listen to “First Light” .


Oh, by the way, I did eventually get a cello.  A few years ago I began teaching myself to play the instrument of my dreams.  (Living in a rural environment means one is less likely to have local classical musicians in the neighbourhood who would be willing to teach.) Having learned violin was a major advantage in learning cello.  Now I lovingly draw the cello from its case only when the house is unoccupied and I know no one can hear.  Then the two of us get lost in the music.

Making Pies

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Making Pies.  This is one of my favourite songs.
It is an amazingly poignant poem.  Written and recorded by Patty Griffin, it is an unadorned tale told in bare, first-person words.  The protagonist doesn’t talk about her feelings, but in her description of her life we hear her pain and resignation. See how much you can learn about her in her words: (Click here to listen to the song.)
(I printed the lyrics here in case you want to read them after a listen.)


Making Pies

It’s not far, I can walk

Down the block to table talk.

I close my eyes

And make the pies all day.

Plastic cap on my hair.

I used to mind, now I don’t care.

I used to mind, now I don’t care

‘Cause I’m grey.

Did I show you this picture of my nephew

Taken at his big birthday surprise

At my sister’s house last Sunday?

This is Monday and I’m making pies.

I’m making pies, making pies.

Thursday nights I go and type

Down to the church for Father Mike.

It gets me out

And he ain’t hard to like at all.

Jesus stares at me in my chair

With his big blue eyes and his honey brown hair.

He’s looking at me

From way up there on the wall.

Did I show you this picture of my sweetheart

Taken of us before the war,

Of the Greek and his Italian girl

One Sunday at the shore.

We tied our ribbons to the fire escape.

They were taken by the birds

Who flew home to the country

As the bombs rained on the world.

Five a.m., here I am

Walking the block to table talk.

You could cry or die or just make pies all day.

I’m making pies, making pies.


Did you catch how she talks about her sweetheart? He is the Greek, she is the Italian girl. But he died in the war. She never married. She spends time with her sister and her sister’s son; she has no children of her own. Making pies is a mindless job for her. She could resign herself to a life of tears. Or she could just give up and die. But she makes pies. She has chosen to face life, and she has grown old making pies. Making pies, in this story, is such a brave thing to do. There is something so noble in this woman’s character. She is a hero, an every day, one-of-a-kind hero.

I love this song. Very few of us have epic “Taylor Swift” lyrics with which to illustrate our lives. (My daughter got Swift’s latest album for Christmas and so I have heard it quite a few times in the last few days.) But that doesn’t make our stories any less interesting or beautiful.

This year I want to spend time listening to the songs of the lives of those around me. I want to hear their simple, exquisite, unique stories.

And who knows, maybe I can translate some of them into written songs.