It straddles the line between bass and treble. Baritone, the voice of the confident, sexual, but also mature man. Neither the petulant, immature romance of the tenor, burning hot and fast; nor the basso profundo so reminiscent of Darth Vader or Iago. Baritone, sturdy, confident, and lurid, a little like a more rakish George Clooney when he flashes his effortless smile, and then confidently says precisely how and where you will succumb to his charms.
I speak of the cello.
Violins, a tempestuous soprano, a diva, the star of the orchestra or the quartet takes the lead. Viola, a mezzo soprano in formal circles and a backup singer in the smoky recording studios of Detroit, rarely takes center stage, preferring instead to complement the star. The bass, large, clumsy, and the butt of countless jokes, sets the foundation on the which the orchestra sits.
The cello sits between viola and bass, yet it neither complements, nor is it large and clumsy. Its range begins at low A, a stern and unforgiving bass, and extends to high G above the top of the treble clef. This range almost perfectly overlaps most vocal ranges, replicating the human voice.
One does not listen to the cello, one has a conversation with it.
Cello argues, it seduces, it charms, it persuades. Cello never pleads or cajoles. Cello insists that you come to it, it will not meet you halfway. It is masculine and persuasive, but not condescending.
The cello does not mansplain or manspread. Cello will open the door for a lady, but only because he will also open the door for the men in his company.
It is the gentlemanly thing to do, after all.
It goes from stern to fanciful and back in a few measures time. It moves the piano from its glorified status back to the percussion section. It has none of the bombast of brass, but all of brass’ urgency.
Winds cower in cello’s enormous shadow.
Yet the cello never takes advantage, every bit as comfortable in a supporting role, playing root and fifth double-stops. Confidently aware that it can stand out, cello doesn’t need to do so all the time.
It soars. Swirling vortices of tones and timbres circle space and time itself, filling the rafters and reverberating back down. Poems without words reach out across the dimensions, to touch the face of the persistent child within us all, the blind dog that yaps out at the darkness knowing something is there, but never quite sure what.
Persistent and steady, it has the soothing voice of a father who has never left your side, who will always come to check for the bogeyman under the bed one more time and remind us that everything will indeed be all right.
The closest I will ever come to direct communion with the divine will be listening to the cello.