Meet the Musicians!
By Ellie McKinnon
Meeting the Cello
The cello found Brian Hodges when he was about 10 years old; a 5th grade orchestra visited his 4th grade class at his San Antonio Texas elementary school. For Brian the mellow tones of the cello served as a siren call. That was the instrument he wanted to master. His parents, both professional musicians and university professors, were delighted and connected him with a fine teacher, Mary Ruth Leonard. A kind and adept music coach, she challenged young Brian to achieve excellence. He studied with Ms. Leonard through high school and continues to carry on her legacy. The cello he plays today belonged to her and was given to him after her death.
While in high school Brian studied at music camps, met many professional musicians and became aware of Strad Magazine. Strad is an authoritative and influential magazine focused on stringed instruments, and young Brian read each monthly issue cover to cover. “Never as a teenager,” he says chuckling, “would I have believed that someday I would be writing for that magazine.” Hodges has written numerous articles and has gone beyond the mark with his book, Cello Secrets, in 2019. Its focus is on cello technique and tips, covering everything from effective bowing, to suggestions for overcoming stage fright, to ideas for assuring success while playing in string quartets. And Brian knows what he is talking about.
Eastman School of Music
He plays more than one string instrument. While still in high school, Brian studied not only the cello but also the viola de gamba. It’s an instrument related to the cello, but one that is rarely played today. While the two instruments are cousins, the cello has no frets and an overhand bowing technique, the other has frets, and requires underhand bowing. Understanding both instruments served him well. He went directly from his Texas high school to the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York. There, he had the opportunity to work some early music studies into his schooling, allowing him to play the viola de gamba in addition to his cello. He relates that while at Eastman, he felt like he had landed in heaven; there he was in the company of so many musicians who shared his love and dedication to classical music. But he also felt he was behind because of the level of musicianship his classmates had attained prior to coming to the conservatory. If he was behind, he certainly caught up. He played in quartets and orchestras and dedicated himself to 4 or 5 hours of practice daily. He received his undergraduate degree and continued on at Eastman
en route to a Master’s degree. And, then he met a pianist named Betsi.
Ellie McKinnon is a fan of the orchestra and a dog lover. She served as founding director of Boise State’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute. Currently she is a freelance writer and offers memoir writing workshops.