It’s like being lost in the house you grew up in. It’s like going to Wales and hearing people talking in what sounds like heavily (Welsh-) accented English only to realise that they really are talking in Welsh and you don’t understand them. It’s like suddenly losing your sense of smell, or spontaneously overnight growing eighteen inches taller, and suddenly the proprioceptive genius that got you this far is constantly slightly out of kilter.
I mean, actually, that I haven’t played the cello in a while. That I’m by and large good enough to play the orchestral cello parts for this that and the other, and had not realised how hideously out of practice I actually am. I used to go skipping up and down the fingerboard, always confident that the note I saw on the page was the note I would produce, and usually I was right. Now not only am I wrong more often than not – I’ve lost my way, of course – I’ve also lost the sheer guts I used to have that might make it OK, because I know how lost I am. I am timid, unsure, insecure, lost. I feel slightly mentally blindfolded. I’ve lost the knack of sightreading and making a thing into music at the same time and then also being able to communicate with the people I’m playing with so that it’s cohesive and alive and moves as one. I’ve lost it, and I know that I’ve lost it.
Which is irritating, and frustrating, and embarassing, and maddening, and all those things. But it’s also fascinating, because inevitably it makes me wonder what it was I did to learn those things in the first place – how does the brain do this, and that, and the other, to make music possible – how do we interpret this sequence of sounds as music, for a start, and then how do we do the practical muscular things to make that happen, how do we communicate almost intuitively – or not – with others, to make this something that flies rather than limps? What does all that learning entail, and what is it that happens when we don’t do it for a while, which bits is it that the brain loses the knack of? Because there is always an obvious difference, when you watch and listen, between players that are bad now but used to be better, and players that are bad now, worse in the past, and still learning, going to be better. Different things are problematic, different things are missing, and that’s interesting. How does the brain do that, and lose that, and…
…you can see why it was age-related neurodegenerative disorders like Alzheimers that got me back into this science business in the first place. Meanwhile, though, I have some serious practice to do.