By Teri Vance
Nearly every day Betsy Gillett, 85, retires to the back bedroom of her Washoe Valley home where she keeps her cello. Clancy, her 10-year-old yellow Lab, often sits at her feet, as if listening, while she practices.
“I think the cello is the most beautiful of all the stringed instruments,” she said.
But that’s not her only motivation.
“It gives me something to think about and focus on,” she said. “It makes me sit up straight and keeps my fingers nimble.”
After she and her husband, Earl, retired 34 years ago, they spent 16 traveling in a motor home. They were forced to settle down, however, when Betsy’s back was permanently damaged due to scoliosis.
It was followed by major surgery where she had rods inserted in her back from her shoulder blades to her pelvis.
She and Earl could no longer train Labradors, a passion they shared for many years.
“I had to do something,” she said. “I’m still alive, and my brain is working.”
Gillett was around 12 or 13 when she took up the cello.
“An old German couple lived down the street from us,” she recalled. “When Mr. Held died, my mother bought his cello for $50. Each week, she’d give
me a quarter or 50 cents — whatever she could afford — until we paid it off.”
Not even knowing what a cello was, she took the instrument to her El Paso junior high for lessons.
In high school and in college, she played in the El Paso Symphony. After getting married and having kids in her 20s, she gave it up.
After her back injury, she decided to try it again — at age 77.
Although solid-back cello are rather rare, she had her heart set on getting one, like the one her mother bought from Mr. Held.
“That’s the one I started off with, and that’s the one I wanted again,” she said. “Bless his heart, Earl got on the Internet and found me one.”
It’s a kind of therapy for her.
When this happened to my body, this was something to fall back on, something to keep my mind and body working,” she said.
It wasn’t an easy task at first.
“It was like a lifetime ago when I was doing it,” she said. “I remembered some of it, but all of my skills were gone. ”
But it came back in time, and even improved.
“In some ways I’m better,” she said. “My musicality is much better.”
Looking back, she said, she’s grateful for her mother’s foresight in insisting her daughter learn to play both the piano and the cello.
“Mother said she always wanted to learn music. She didn’t. But, by gum, I did,” Gillett said. “I wish I could go back and thank my mother.”