Austin High School orchestra repairs 19th century cello
Published 5:03 am Monday, May 4, 2015
Austin High School eleventh-grade cello player Cole Navoa didn’t know he would get the chance to play a 19th century cello when he became a cellist in fifth-grade.
“It’s actually quite a bit frightening because it’s very expensive,” Cole said. “It’s definitely a nice thing to have in the orchestra.”
The cello, donated to the school in 2000 by former teacher Jean Miller, who since passed away, was made in the 19th century in England and is currently appraised at $38,000. For Cole — who doesn’t have his own cello and uses the rentals at school — having the chance to play this instrument is a great experience.
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“Having this really rustic cello, it has so much more capabilities than one of the rentals here,” Cole said.
One reason he enjoys playing the cello is the different sound the instrument makes compared to much of the music his family enjoys, such as saxophones and pianos.
“Having a cello mixed in with it is different,” Cole said.
When Austin High School Orchestra Director Gene Schott came to Austin in 2009, he found the cello had fallen into disrepair and was unusable. After saving about $5,700, the cello was finally brought into the Claire Givens Violins repair shop in Minneapolis at the beginning of this school year.
The cello took about six months to be repaired, and Schott picked it up over spring break. Now the cellists in the three high school orchestras get the chance to use it during class.
“First of all we’ve talked, me and the cellists, about what’s expected of them when it comes to working with this cello,” Schott said. “And Jean Miller, she was here before my time, but I heard that what she really wanted was for this instrument to be continued to be played. She wanted it to be played by the students of Austin High School, and we are fulfilling her wish.”
Junior cellist Abby Sencio has her own cello at home, but trades off playing the “Jean Miller” cello to get the experience of playing the instrument, as well as to cut down on travel, since her cello is large.
“We try to trade off [playing it] because it’s a nice instrument and we don’t want to hog it,” Abby said.
“It’s definitely a step up from a beginner’s instrument because there’s some things that you can’t do on a beginner’s,” she added. “And there’s some things you can speak through more with the Miller cello. It’s so advanced, the tone is so beautiful.”
Abby said it’s also nice because the instrument is a bit smaller than a full-size cello and fits her small hands better. She is glad the orchestra has the opportunity to see what such a nice instrument is like to play.
“It’s really nice that a public school like Austin has something this fancy, and being able to play it,” she said.
“Students here in orchestra should be thankful for the cello because not a lot of people have this [opportunity],” she added.
Schott, a cellist himself, also gets to play the Miller cello at times. He said the students were very excited when they learned the cello would be fixed this year, and getting the chance to play it has been good.
“It’s such a treat,” Schott said. “It sounds great, it feels great, and my students are just like overjoyed. They’re like, ‘I can’t believe we get to play an instrument like this,’ and it’s a great feeling for them to be able to do something like that.”
“I mean, it’s not every day that you get to play an instrument that’s literally worth tens of thousands of dollars, it’s crazy,” he continued. “And here we are, we have it every day and it gets used every day. So it’s really neat.”
The students take extra precautions with the instrument, making sure to put it in the case when it’s not being played and cleaning the rosin from the strings. The instrument is locked up when it’s not in use. Schott hopes there won’t be a need to take the instrument in again, though he plans to take it in every two years for routine maintenance so it won’t fall into disrepair again.
“We went through the safety protocols with the cellists, ‘This is what you’re going to do’ and things, and they’ve been really safe and been really respectful of the instrument,” Schott said.
The cello will get the chance to shine at the last orchestra concert of the year — the senior recognition concert — at 7 p.m. Thursday in Knowlton Auditorium at the Austin High School. Tickets are $5 and will be available at the door. The orchestras will perform pieces by Mozart, Bizet and others, such as songs from “The Phantom of the Opera” and “Schindler’s List.” The evening will end with all the orchestra members —over 100 students — onstage performing the grand “Great Gate of Kiev.” The concert is open to the public.