Cello brings out the passion in student, teacher

October 29, 2013

By Evan Pappas

It’s not often that a birthday present can change your life in a meaningful way, but that’s what happened to Shari Van Cise.

The Sammamish preschool teacher loved music and had always wanted to play the cello.

Cello instructor Valerie Doerrfield leads student Shari Van Cise through a recent lesson. By John Vasko

Cello instructor Valerie Doerrfield leads student Shari Van Cise through a recent lesson.
By John Vasko

She had originally purchased a cello online and tried to learn, but it never worked out for her; other responsibilities got in the way. However, on her 50th birthday, Shari’s husband bought her cello lessons from Valerie Doerrfeld and changed her view of the cello forever.

As a child you have a vast amount of free time and are much more adept at learning new things. As an adult with important responsibilities and little free time, the prospect of learning an instrument can seem impossible.

But Valerie Doerrfeld, a professional cellist and instructor, wants to encourage more adults to pursue their dreams of learning an instrument.

“Many people think they can’t do it after a certain age, but they can,” she said.

Doerrfeld studied at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, N.Y., and eventually moved to Issaquah, where she joined the Northwest Sinfonietta and Yakima Symphony.

Alongside performing, Doerrfeld also teaches music to students of all ages. She started teaching on the East Coast and continued when she moved to Issaquah.

“I didn’t know it would be a passion until I started to teach,” she said. “It went from income, to something I love to do.”

Doerrfeld teaches about 30 students that run the gamut from grade school kids to older adults looking to pick up a new hobby.

Carol Stewart, 54, of Redmond, is another of Valerie’s adult students. Stewart majored in music in college; she started with the piano, picked up the harp at 40 and has now started the cello.

“Valerie is one of the best private teachers I’ve had in my life, and I have had a lot,” Stewart said.

Despite a musical background, the cello has been more difficult for Stewart to learn than other instruments. The strings of the harp are laid out similarly to the piano, so Stewart’s transition from piano to harp was not terribly difficult. Despite the cello being remarkably different, the new challenge has been enjoyable for her.

“Part of me always wanted to play a single-line melody instrument,” Stewart said. “I find it fascinating to have to focus on tone, intonation, bow speed. It’s a whole different ball game.”

Challenging yourself with something like learning a new instrument lets you focus on one thing and forget about distractions in day-to-day life. Because of that, the cello has become a big part of Van Cise’s life. To her, playing the cello is akin to therapy.

“You can’t think about anything else. If I have any stress during my day, I have to throw it all away,” Van Cise said. “The cello just has a rich, mellow, expressive sound to it.”

But getting to the point of appreciation that Van Cise has wasn’t easy. It takes practice, dedication and a willingness to learn.

“I never realized how much mental focus it takes to learn the cello,” she said. “I have a lot more respect, now that I know how long it takes just to learn a couple of measures.”

Doerrfeld, Van Cise and Stewart agree the enjoyment one gets from learning and playing the cello is extremely personally fulfilling.

“I’m not trying to earn a grade or anything like that. I’m just doing this for myself,” Van Cise said.

Making your own decision to learn an instrument instead of having a parent pressure you to choose one to learn greatly increases your enjoyment playing and learning, Stewart said.

Being able to push past your comfort zone and do something new is part of what Van Cise enjoyed.

“Everyone should do something in their life to stretch themselves.” she said.

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