My Viola-Playing Mother

Published May 13, 2022 in Voices of the North American Post.

Several months ago, I joined the Rain City Symphony Orchestra. I hadn’t played cello for over 40 years! And even when I did play, I was definitely no Yo-Yo Ma. But I knew doing this almost impossible challenge would help me get my mind off my burned out, sick of the pandemic, “what am I doing trying to write a novel at my age” despair. The reason I knew this was because of my Japanese immigrant mother.

All during my childhood, Mama nagged me every day to practice my cello.

“Renshu shinasai,” she said.

As a teenager, I finally snapped back at her, “Do it yourself!”

And she did. As a middle-aged housewife with limited English, Mama started private lessons on the viola. She practiced diligently. I can still hear her struggle with the viola. She joined the Timberline community orchestra where she was the only foreigner.

She practiced daily for the next forty years. She practiced despite breaking her arm. She practiced after Dad died. She practiced until she had a stroke in 2018 when she was 86.

As I struggle every day now to remember the scales, the fingering, the bowing and the million other details of playing cello, I keep Mama in my mind — her determination to play a string instrument and connect with others. Despite her age, her language handicap, and her isolation, she managed to do her best. The essence of Gambaru.
I’m hoping to learn to play a lovely orchestral piece by Samuel Coleridge- Taylor without mistakes. But that’s not likely. The June performance is coming up soon. So I’ll just practice every day, or as much as I can, until then. Anyway, the performance is not the important part — it’s the daily efforts which challenge me and bring me joy.

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