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Wednesday, February 07, 2007

The rental cello... an Israeli story

[Some stories just have to be shared... this is one of those.]

My company recently finished a long and complex project in which we had partnered with a German company.  This project required several engineers and specialists from the German company to spend extended periods of time here in Israel.

On one such scheduled visit that was to last three weeks, one of the German engineers decided he wanted to bring his 13-year-old daughter along with him.  It would be a mini-vacation for her, and he figured she would keep him company in this strange desert city of Beer Sheva.

However, as this German engineer was preparing for the trip, a problem arose.  It seems his daughter is an accomplished cellist and was scheduled to perform at a festival two weeks after they returned to Europe... so she would need to practice daily while she was in Israel.  The problem was that her instrument was extremely valuable and their insurance company wouldn't cover it in a 'war zone'.

The German engineer contacted my coworker and explained the situation... and asked if there was anywhere in Beer Sheva to rent a cello for three weeks.

My coworker did some asking around and quickly discovered that finding a rental cello in Beer Sheva would be only slightly less likely than finding a lake... so he expanded his search.  After umpteen phone calls to friends and associates he finally received a lead... the phone number of a place in Jerusalem that repairs violins.

He called the repair shop and spoke with a pleasant individual who owned and managed the place.  The problem was presented and the question asked: 'Did he have a cello that could be rented to the young visiting musician for three weeks?'

Without missing a beat, the repair shop owner replied that it shouldn't be a problem, and gave directions to his shop.  My coworker promptly relayed the news to Germany via email and the plans for the father-and-daughter trip went forward.

Fast-forward a few weeks.

The day the German engineer and his daughter arrived in Israel my coworker and his family hosted the two visitors at their home for dinner.  Over the meal it was agreed that they would drive to the Jerusalem workshop the next day to pick up the rental cello.

The hour-and-a-half drive to Israel's capitol went smoothly and by late morning they were all standing in the 'violin repair shop' chatting with the owner... a mid-thirty-ish Israeli with a ponytail. 

In truth the place was far more than a violin repair shop.  It was a workshop filled with violins, violas, cellos and double basses.  Repair was only a tiny portion of what went on in this shop as the owner was the third or fourth generation in his family who had been crafting and repairing classical string instruments by hand.

Every wall, nook and cranny was filled with stringed instruments of every type and vintage...the smell of wood and lacquer were heavy in the air...  wood shavings littered the floor... and several work tables were strewn with components of unfinished instruments. 

The owner of the shop brought my coworker and the two German guests tea and asked how he could be of assistance.  My coworker reminded him of their phone conversation and all attention turned to the young woman in need of a practice cello.

The owner sized her up with his eyes and grabbed a cello that had been standing in an open case near his workbench.  "Try this one to see if it's a fit" he said in a mishmash of English and German, handing her the instrument.

The young German girl sat down and began to expertly tune the cello and rosin the offered bow.  After making a small adjustment to the height of the bottom peg she began to play one of the Bach Cello Suites.  The instrument sang beautifully in her hands and the owner looked on appreciatively... clearly surprised at the young musician's skill.

After a few minutes he stopped her and had her try two other cellos... one which was slightly larger and finally a third that seemed older than the first two.

When she began to play the third cello the room was suddenly filled to overflowing with the sound coming from the instrument.  The first two cellos had sounded nice to my coworker's untrained ears, but the third seemed to make everything in the room vibrate and resonate with each note played.

The girl stopped abruptly and stared in disbelief at the instrument.  A few rushed words in German were translated to English by the engineer and then into Hebrew by my coworker for the shop owner:

"What kind of cello is this?  I've never heard or felt music like this in all my years of playing!"

The owner of the shop beamed with pride and replied that it was nearly 300 years old and was one of his favorites.  In fact, it was normally kept locked away and the only reason it was out on the shop floor was that he liked to make sure all the instruments were inspected and played regularly.  He explained that he had just finished making a small adjustment to the placement of the bridge under the strings and was preparing to put it away when they had arrived.

In a very business-like manner the owner said with finality that this was the instrument she must use while she was visiting Israel.  The father hesitated a bit and began to politely protest at the idea of taking responsibility for such an old and valuable instrument... and clearly he was worried about what kind of rental fee such an instrument would command.

The owner waved off the objections and told him to take the instrument for his daughter. "After all", he reasoned, "she has a festival to perform in, so she needs to practice on an instrument worthy of her skills."

All attempts by the German engineer to fix a price for the rental were waved off by the owner.  The only thing he would say was "We can talk about money when you come back in three weeks". 

Being unused to the informality of Israeli business practices, the German really wanted to sign something or at least leave his credit card information, but the shop owner waved all this off and simply ushered the group - including the beaming young cellist now holding the instrument in its case - to the door and wished them a good day.

The three week visit passed quickly and on the day before they were scheduled to leave, the German engineer asked my coworker if he would take them to Jerusalem again and act as translator/adviser when they returned the cello.

When the three of them walked into the Jerusalem workshop together the owner greeted them like family and asked how the practicing had gone.  The young cellist gushed in a combination of German and English over how much she had enjoyed playing the instrument.  Again - as when she had first complimented the cello - the owner of the shop beamed like a proud father.

After a little small talk over tea, the German engineer whispered nervously to my coworker that it was really time to set the price for the rental and be on their way.  My coworker dutifully asked the shop owner several different ways in Hebrew about the cost of the cello rental... but after each attempt, the conversation wandered off track leaving the question unanswered. 

Finally, in frustration, my coworker turned to the German engineer and whispered "I can't seem to get him to set a price.  I don't know if it's because hasn't decided on a price or if he is simply waiting for us to suggest one.  What do you think?"

The German shrugged helplessly having no idea what to make of these crazy Israeli business arrangements... much less the present impasse. 

Suddenly, the shop owner stood and picked up the cello case that had been sitting next to one of the chairs like an extra member of the group.  He opened the case and took the instrument out.  But instead of looking it over for scratches or damage as one would expect him to do, he handed it to the young woman and said "Play something... let me hear what you've been practicing for the festival."

The young cellist moved her chair back a bit to give herself some room and quickly checked the tuning.  Once settled, she closed her eyes and launched into a passionate classical piece (my coworker was so taken by the beauty of the playing that he forgot to ask what piece it was as he had after their first visit to the shop).

Her playing was spectacular!  My coworker described the sound of the soaring high notes making his face feel warm and the sonorous low tones making his chest ache (in a good way).  When she was finished they all applauded loudly and the young German girl smiled shyly... clearly pleased with her performance.

As she put the venerable instrument back in its case, the German engineer made one last attempt to raise the issue of the rental price with the shop owner.  The owner smiled and said "But your daughter just paid the rental fee!  There is nothing more to talk about... have a good trip back to Germany."

The German engineer couldn't believe his ears but he didn't have a chance to even thank the shop owner as the pony-tailed craftsman had turned away and was busy addressing the young musician:

"I'm so glad that this old cello had someone worthy to play it.  I hope you'll come back to Israel and visit... the cello will be waiting.  Good luck with your festival!"

Most of the car ride back to Beer Sheva was spent discussing this odd transaction.  The German engineer asked over and over if this kind of thing was typical in Israel... and my coworker tried to explain that while he wasn't terribly surprised by the outcome, there really was no such thing as 'typical' in this country. 

In other words, if he was asking if Israeli's always conducted business this way... the answer was 'no'.  But if he was asking if most Israelis were nice and more than a little bit sentimental... the answer was 'yes'.  The Engineer and his daughter just shook their heads and smiled.

Only in Israel can a priceless cello be rented for a song. 

220_81

Posted by David Bogner on February 7, 2007 | Permalink

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» What Music Is from Wry Mouth
Musicians will get this one through and through. [Read More]

Tracked on Feb 9, 2007 7:22:07 AM

» Rented For a Song: from Pajamas Media
The story of a rented cello. (Treppenwitz)... [Read More]

Tracked on Feb 9, 2007 6:30:10 PM

Comments

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Only in Israel can a priceless cello be rented for a song.

I would draw a different (or additional) moral from this story:

Musicians speak a private language that engineers will never understand.

Posted by: Simon | Feb 7, 2007 11:21:31 AM

(either way, this story needs a 2 kleenex alert)

Posted by: Simon | Feb 7, 2007 11:22:21 AM

You've done it again David *sniff* *sniff*

By any chance is this place in Old Katamon?

Posted by: Safranit | Feb 7, 2007 11:30:01 AM

Beautiful Story!

Posted by: Andy | Feb 7, 2007 11:42:17 AM

Simon: I think you've got it wrong. The engineers build the instruments and appreciated the young lady's playing, as well as paying for the lessons.

A good deal of modern engineering has gone into the effort to make music systems that record, transmit, and play music. Think of records, tapes, compact discs, radio modulation systems, Moog synthesizers, mixing boards, the Walkman, the iPod, music downloads, and Edison's original wax cylinder. A tremendous amount of creativity and effort went into the creation of systems that try to be non-creative, that is, systems that don't modify the music. High-fidelity can be thought of as low-creativity, in a sense, from the point of view of the music player.

A similar analysis can be made for photocopiers and Xerox devices, which aim to make 'Unimproved' reproductions of documents.

Engineering must understand music very well to do all this!

Posted by: Fred | Feb 7, 2007 11:47:01 AM

I sent the link to this story to a high school friend who is a string instrument maker. He makes about 6 to 8 instruments a year and each is a work of art. You can check it out here:
warrenellison.com

Posted by: Avner | Feb 7, 2007 12:32:33 PM

Thanks for such a heart-warming story... Without diminishing this man's generosity in any way, I think you're wrong that such a thing would only happen in Israel.. I've found that musicians who truly appreciate music will go out of their way to support it (and young musicians). Plus, on a practical level, string instruments need to be played to be kept in condition, so while it was without question incredibly kind, trusting and supportive of the shop owner, he also would have had the satisfaction of knowing that his prized cello was getting a well-cared for workout in the hands of someone who truly appreciated it.

Posted by: zemirah | Feb 7, 2007 12:54:45 PM

what a great post...wow

Posted by: m | Feb 7, 2007 2:59:44 PM

What a wonderful story! I just love your blog and the way you tell stories.
I've added you to my blogroll.

Posted by: Ilana-Davita | Feb 7, 2007 5:45:59 PM

Wonderful story David.

Posted by: westbankmama | Feb 7, 2007 5:51:26 PM

The story was music to my ears.

Posted by: Yaron | Feb 7, 2007 5:54:14 PM

wonderful story!

Posted by: Robert I | Feb 7, 2007 6:29:43 PM

Wow. Wow. Wow.
You never cease to blow me away.

Posted by: SaraK | Feb 7, 2007 6:52:38 PM

Another amazing story from the Master.

Keyn ayin hora, you should only have a platform that makes your words sing the way that 300-year-old instrument made that young cellist's notes sing.

Around here, we call it a "book." You need to write one, already, and fill it with these stories!

Posted by: Elisson | Feb 7, 2007 8:12:06 PM

I'll probably just the change the names and use it on my blog next week. I just have no idea how I'll relate it to the parsha.
Great story. The moral to me is that the beauty of music is universal. If the musician hadn't been German, I would have been forced to make her as such, or at least an Amalekite.:)
Larry

Posted by: Jersey Boy | Feb 7, 2007 11:15:21 PM

wonderful story, David.
I was also stunned by the way the music world worked this summer -- each shop would just let us take an instrument home and try it out for a week. as though cello players were inherently good folks who would take good care of it and bring it back on time.

Posted by: timna | Feb 8, 2007 4:54:53 AM

I've heard that informality is quite common in Israel - but this is such a heartwarming story!

Posted by: Irina | Feb 8, 2007 6:21:51 AM

I loved this story

Posted by: Seattle | Feb 8, 2007 6:47:42 AM

Thank you. You are a fine writer.

Posted by: Pam | Feb 8, 2007 7:07:45 AM

Most tourists will probably pass by this simple store and not realize what beauty they could find inside.

I expect that your story ended just where the story of this young cellist begins. By her reaction, she will divide her playing years into before and after this event.

When she becomes famous she will retell this tale of a humble craftsman and the price he exacted for renting his cello.

Beautiful. Simply beautiful.

Posted by: planck's constant | Feb 8, 2007 9:47:58 AM

A lovely story and so beautifully written!

Posted by: Frummer???? | Feb 8, 2007 11:59:56 AM

I wonder if the tax authorites will try to get the ponytail guy to to pay VAT on this uninvoiced payment. Then it would truly become an "only in Israel" story. Good thing you didn't say which shop it was.

Posted by: Andy | Feb 8, 2007 12:48:15 PM

What a beautiful story!

But it's just a middle. It needs a beginning and an end.

Maybe the engineer's granfather rescued Jews during the war, forging papers that allowed them to flee to what was then British Palestine. Among the families he saved were the owners of the old celo. This family settled in Israel and one of their descendents openned the instrument repair shop.

The end is that the young musician is irresistably drawn back, and each year returns to play "her" cello. She learns its history, converts to Judaism, and joins the Israel Symphony.

Posted by: Doctor Bean | Feb 8, 2007 4:22:25 PM

Simon... Two Kleenex? Man you're a softy. :-) And I would venture to say that musicians ARE engineers of a very particular discipline.

Safranit... Man, I had no idea this one would bring the tears. Go figure. As to location, I have no idea... I'll have to ask and get back to you. He did say that it wasn't a shop per se, but rather a floor of an older building.

Andy... Thanks, that's why I shared it. ;-)

Fred... As I said earlier, musicians are engineers of a very specific sort.

Avner... I'd love to hear the reaction. thanks.

zemirah... I agree, but think about it... this guy let a 300 year old cello walk out the door without even getting anyone's last name!

m... Thanks, I have good material.

Ilana-Davita... Thank you. I've done likewise.

westbankmama... Thanks. What I didn't share was the touching detail that the owner was making his violins and violas out of olive wood from Arab trees cut down in the middle of the night by settlers [ducking and running]. :-)

Yaron... Mine too. Let's face it, Israelis don't always put their best foot forward when dealing with foreigners. Either they come off as arrogant and pushy or they end up sounding hopelessly provincial. This kind of makes up for some of that.

Robert I... Thanks. I thought it was worth sharing.

SaraK... As I've said on many occasions: I'm blessed with very good material with which to work.

Elisson... I'll make a deal with you: You find me a publisher who likes my writing enough to want to work with me and I'll deliver the goods. At very least you'll get a mention in the dust jacket. :-)

Jersey Boy... plagiarism is the sincerest form of flattery. :-)

timna... Sort of like honor among theives. :-)

Irina... This goes WAAAAY beyond informality.

Seattle... Thanks, me too.

Pam... No, thank you!

planck's constant... What a wonderful thought. I hope so.

Frummer????... I can take a little credit for the vessel but everything inside is just as I heard it.

Andy... You're such a cynic! :-)

Doctor Bean... I agree that it would be fun to imagine such a beginning and ending... but that kind of stuff only happens in the movies. There was enough in this 'middle story' for me any day of the week.

Posted by: treppenwitz | Feb 8, 2007 5:38:44 PM

Thanks, David. This is so good, I need to visit it again tomorrow.

Posted by: Tim | Feb 9, 2007 3:20:10 AM

A great story, David. Bravo.

Posted by: K Newman | Feb 9, 2007 4:22:10 AM

A great story, David. Bravo.

Posted by: K Newman | Feb 9, 2007 4:24:58 AM

I will be linking over yet again, with the stern comment:

This story better be true, Trep!

I know it contains truth (I "got" it all the way through, and immediately), but I am especially fond of TRUE stories that contain the truth (as opposed to those "modern myths" we are subjected to in this age of internet e-mail).

[insert playful finger-wag]

Posted by: Wrymouth | Feb 9, 2007 7:06:08 AM

I hope it is ok to respond to other commenters.. Jersey Boy- excellent use of the emoticon. Also.. answer your d@#m telephone.
David- As an incredibly amateur cellist I can only thank you for your story but point out as one of the other Treppies already has, the story is great because it could be anywhere.. recently, the Luthier who fixes my cello, offered me a cello for a few weeks to use while overhalued mine and would not take a penny for it. it turned out to be an 1830's european ( what was Croatia called then) instrument of wonderful color and tone. When I asked how valuable it was.. he told me to enjoy- as the instrument is only as valuable as the music that springs forth from it. You are a master story-teller!

Posted by: shabtai | Feb 10, 2007 12:12:18 AM

I hope it is ok to respond to other commenters.. Jersey Boy- excellent use of the emoticon. Also.. answer your d@#m telephone.
David- As an incredibly amateur cellist I can only thank you for your story but point out as one of the other Treppies already has, the story is great because it could be anywhere.. recently, the Luthier who fixes my cello, offered me a cello for a few weeks to use while overhalued mine and would not take a penny for it. it turned out to be an 1830's european ( what was Croatia called then) instrument of wonderful color and tone. When I asked how valuable it was.. he told me to enjoy- as the instrument is only as valuable as the music that springs forth from it. You are a master story-teller!

Posted by: shabtai | Feb 10, 2007 12:13:00 AM

I hope it is ok to respond to other commenters.. Jersey Boy- excellent use of the emoticon. Also.. answer your d@#m telephone.
David- As an incredibly amateur cellist I can only thank you for your story but point out as one of the other Treppies already has, the story is great because it could be anywhere.. recently, the Luthier who fixes my cello, offered me a cello for a few weeks to use while overhalued mine and would not take a penny for it. it turned out to be an 1830's european ( what was Croatia called then) instrument of wonderful color and tone. When I asked how valuable it was.. he told me to enjoy- as the instrument is only as valuable as the music that springs forth from it. You are a master story-teller!

Posted by: shabtai | Feb 10, 2007 12:13:04 AM

Hi David,

Truly beautiful story. Thanks for sharing it.

I linked to you and quoted a partial excerpt from your post. Thanks!

Not Shabbat here, but...

Gut Shabbos!

Shalom,
Maksim-Smelchak.

Posted by: Maksim-Smelchak | Feb 10, 2007 1:17:48 AM

I had to come back and read it again . . . just too good. After my Valentine's Day series, I have to link to this. Thanks again.

Posted by: Tim | Feb 10, 2007 2:17:08 AM

Nice story!

Posted by: Benji | Feb 10, 2007 1:58:42 PM

Beautiful. Absolutely beautiful.

Posted by: mercurial scribe | Feb 11, 2007 3:48:23 AM

what a beautiful story....wow.

Posted by: shosh | Feb 11, 2007 6:04:51 AM

Hello
We are coming to Israel with our son for three weeks and would like to rent a cello for him - can you please give the name or phone number of this store?
Many thanks!
-Michal

Posted by: Michal | May 20, 2011 1:51:15 AM

Any idea where this shop is? I would like to rent a cello for my daughter to practice when she is in Israel with me. We are visiting for 2.5 months and we will be staying in Beersheva. My friend lives in Jerusalem and we could drive over and rent a cello. Any details of places in Beersheva or Jerusalem or even maybe Tel Aviv where we can rent a cello would be great.

Posted by: Prasenjit Mitra | Nov 22, 2012 8:47:42 AM

I wish I could help you, but as I tried to point out several times, I know the story only via my coworker who espcrted the engineer and his duaghter during their visit from Germany. I will see if my coworker recalls the name of the shop, but can't promise anything... All I know is that the shop is in Jerusalem... and there can't be that many classical string repair shops in Jerusalem, can there? :-)

Posted by: treppenwitz | Nov 22, 2012 3:24:14 PM

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