Several years ago I came across George Dennehy, the boy who played the cello with his feet because he was born without arms and hands. Every once in a while I’d take a look to see what other differently-abled* folks are doing with the cello (or other instruments) since I have a driving curiosity to learn about alternative string techniques.
I was actually doing an image search for SciFi Cellos (as I like to post weird and experimental cellos on my Facebook page) and came across Chloe Crust, who has found a way to bow with her prosthetic arm with a pizzicato attachment even! This is not to say that the images of Chloe (or George) are weird–her picture just happened to pop up in the image search.
Feel so privileged to have been able to hear this little girl play the cello and write her inspiring story. pic.twitter.com/rQbFgSim0e
— Janelle Miles (@janellehmiles) June 22, 2014
How Chloe has adapted to playing the cello is very different than how Tad Lietz has adapted to as he uses his left leg to bow in lieu of his missing left arm. Both Chloe and Tad, as you can see, finger with their right hands.
(Image source)What I’ve found curious is that of all the folks bowing with their legs, invariably I’ve only seen them bow with their left leg.
I don’t know if this just seemed like a natural thing, or if, given the unorthodox nature of the technique in the first place, then there was no incentive to adhere to a right-handedness bias which we tend to normally see (I can’t seem to find this wonderful youtube video of two sisters playing a cello duet with their feet–and I believe they also bowed with their left feet).
Obviously, not having a left arm means that leg (or side with prosthetic) will bow by default as having a hand with fingers is useful to use for fingering technique, but I really why we bow one way as opposed to another way is simply a convention that has little to do with any physiological quirk we may have. In fact, given that more people are right-handed than not, one could argue that using that hand for fingering might be more advantageous (for reasons I’m not going to get into here).
The most interesting thing is how much the cello and its position has to be adapted to the new playing styles, and as you can see from the articles, videos, and images, there are some very creative solutions which I think is wonderful as it gives these children a chance to do something some of them may have only dreamed about doing.
*I really prefer not to use “disabled” or “handicapped” because, obviously, these kids are having no problems learning to play the cello.