A cello recital where enjoyment comes first

''Wait a minute, I'm slipping!'' yelps Laura, but too late. The cello peg holder flies across the floor, eluding her grasp. Carol, her violin-playing partner, pauses, propping her violin on her knee. Neither appears ruffled in the least. Far from being a catastrophe, this is a playful break before they tackle the last movement of their Mendelssohn duet.

Another cellist, Muriel, preparing for a later rendition of a Debussy piece for cello and piano, chats amiably with the audience. The piano player smiles. There is no rush to move the show along.

On the wall are vividly colored fabric montages from Latin America, and intricately carved Wayang shadow puppets from Indonesia grace the mantlepiece. A candlelit buffet awaits the players. The atmosphere is relaxed, laced through with the thrill of hearing and playing beautiful music.

An elegant musicale?

Could be, but it's not. It's a bona fide recital of beginning and intermediate students of the cello. Not one is under 30 years of age.

As the musicians play, the audience (fellow students and friends) strains to catch every note. A slender dark-haired woman stands behind the players listening intently, studying their fingers as they find their places on the instruments' necks.

The room is littered with cello cases, looking for all the world like a party of beached whales as they lie around the fringes of the group. A few naked cellos bedeck the chairs and couches, crowding the listeners, who must take second place to the precious instruments.

Two small children giggle upstairs, then quickly run back to their rooms.

Conversations with the group reveal a cosmopolitan gathering: Henry, a physician from Korea; Barbara, a businesswoman; Debbie, a film producer and screenwriter; and Arthur, another physician with three children.

We are in fact gathered in the front living room of Arthur's home, an exotic yet homey setting.

Only a few have taken lessons more than two years. Banished are the nightmare recitals of youth, complete with black patent-leather shoes and itchy Sunday dress. This time around it's fun.

Debby took cello lessons for six years as a child. She dropped it in 9th grade when she became bored with the music her teacher was giving her. No one suggested she look for new music or perhaps even a new teacher (a big problem if the teacher is a family friend). It wasn't until almost 20 years later, when she ''felt something was missing'' in her life, that she thought perhaps playing music was what she needed. She rented a cello and dragged out her old music. She was surprised to find she remembered more than she thought. Soon she was taking lessons, because that made her ''take it more seriously.'' Now three words sum up her feelings: ''I love it.''

Barbara had never been involved with music at all. She turned to the cello when her mother and sister encouraged her to take up a musical instrument to unwind from work. She had to learn to read music. The experience has inspired new friendships and communication with people. Now she looks for special programs at the symphony, something she would never have done before.

Henry began lessons three years ago. He had little time or money as a child, but always wanted to play music. Now he has not much more time, but certainly more money.

Arthur also started playing three years ago. Just deciding to do something, he says, is the most important thing one can do. An activity is much more enjoyable, he maintains, when it is something that is chosen by the one doing it.

The teacher, Sandy, beams as each takes his or her turn.Soon it becomes clear what makes this recital different from anything music students may have done as children. They're doing it for themselves, not for Mom or Dad or Mrs. Martin, the piano teacher. And they're having the time of their lives.

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