By Miranda Wilson (Article reposted from

Strangers see my cello in airports and approach me. “I love cello! I’ve always wished I could play.”

I say, “Why don’t you?”

They demur. “I don’t have time.”

“I’m too old.”

“I’m tone-deaf.”

“I’m broke.”

But behind these easy excuses generally lies the real deterrent.

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What’s really stopping them? “I felt ridiculous,” admits 32-year-old Nadège Berckmans, a schoolteacher in France. “I thought that people would mock me and find it was absurd to want to do that at my age; that I shouldn’t spend so much time, energy, and money on things I could never have the ability to do really well.” Floridian Ashley Foss, 33, echoes this. “I was embarrassed by my lack of skill,” she says. “I felt like I had to learn a few things to catch up to an acceptable level besides total beginner.”

Luckily, in both cases, love of music overcame the initial reluctance. “I felt irrepressibly drawn to the cello,” says Berckmans. “So many things appeal to me—the sound, the look of it, so elegant and noble . . . the vibrations echoing all over the body and touching the soul!”

It takes bravery to start lessons, but according to the mature beginners I interviewed, no one is ever too old. Floridian Frank Nichols, 68, started playing cello in retirement after realizing it was what he wanted to do “when I grew up.” Coloradan Nancy Rangel, 63, believes age is actually an advantage: “It’s easier as an adult to make the cello a priority if you want to. Once the kids are out of the house is a great time to start.”

Other adult beginners feel inspired to start alongside their children. Virginian Carolyn Smith, 52, started in her 40s so she could help her son practice, and worked through eight volumes of the Suzuki Cello School. Music became central to their family life: “My practicing and struggling role-modeled the grit and perseverance necessary for the long-term goal of learning an instrument,” she says. Foss started cello after her daughter began trumpet lessons. “I was hooked!” she says. Time and money were tight, since Foss has five children, so she took a dog-walking job and found a teacher who would let her come bi-weekly.

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