My most recent story (my first for Scientific American) combined all the elements of what I love about my work– the chance to meet interesting people, learn and experience new things, and allow my eclectic interests to co-mingle, at least for a little while. In other words, this former chamber musician got to flex my chemistry muscles, learn about carbon fiber stringed instruments and even do a little firsthand reporting at a chamber music concert.
Synergy is powerful. I happened to call Louie Leguia just a few days before a concert on the Upper West Side. The instruments are fascinating– oddly light, slick, and yes, plastic, though that word makes them sound cheap in a way that these instruments are not. Their sound– at least in the hands of pros– is both rich and expansive. His idea came from his hobby, and I had the good fortune to get to combine my work with an opportunity to feed my lifelong love of music.
And for an hour or so during the concert, my mind drifted back to playing piano (and flute) in chamber music groups while I was in high school. I lacked the patience to memorize music and solo performance fried my teenage nerves, though I did it anyway. But chamber music was a pleasure– less exposed, collaborative, and community-building. The cellist I played with most often was a childhood friend from my neighborhood, Iris, a far better cellist than I was either pianist or flutist. Last I knew, she’d gone to Eastman School of Music, but I lost track of her after high school graduation.
But, I wish Iris had a carbon fiber cello in 1992, when we both played at our high school graduation. We’d each auditioned for the privilege of playing at the ceremony in the O’Connell Center, the acoustic death trap that mostly serves as the basketball arena at the University of Florida. Somehow, after playing my flute solo, I managed to knock over her cello, which gave a hollow wooden gasp after it fell the 18 inches to the floor, fortunately unharmed, echoed by the collective gasp of the friends and family looking on.
I covered my embarrassment in the moment, but I’m still mortified by my klutziness. So, Iris, wherever you are, here’s another apology, nearly 17 years later. Writing about sturdy cellos, I couldn’t help but think of you.