What It Takes

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“What It Takes,” New Era, Aug. 1987, 30

What It Takes

Becoming a world-class cellist has taught Allison Eldredge that in order to achieve something, whether it’s spiritual or temporal, you have to put in the time and make some sacrifices.

If you were to meet Allison Eldredge walking down the street, you’d think she was just like any other 16-year-old. She might be wearing black stirrup pants and a large sweater, and she might be on her way to see a movie with a friend, going shopping, or getting ready for a Super Saturday activity.

But if she’s carrying a large brown cello case in her hand, look out. This “average” 16-year-old may be on her way to play a concert at the White House, to solo with the Los Angeles Philharmonic under the baton of André Previn, or perhaps to be featured in New York under Zubin Mehta.

Such performances are old hat to Allison, a Laurel who lives in New Canaan, Connecticut. She’s played them all, and in addition has played the Kennedy Center and Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C. She’s been heralded as one of the most promising musicians of her generation, yet, she off-handedly explains, “I don’t consider myself a star. I just consider myself a normal teenager, except I do one extra thing.”

That “one extra thing” takes up the major portion of her day. She has received special permission to go to school from 7 to 11 A.M. Then she stops by the YMCA for a brief workout. After that, she goes home and practices for six hours, more if a major concert is coming up. Twice a week she makes the hour-long commute from New Canaan to New York City to study in the Juilliard PreCollege Division, and she spends the entire day there most Saturdays.

When she’s not playing music, she’s listening to it—live at concerts or on the stereo. And even though it’s classical music she’s listening to, Allison, like teenagers everywhere, is often asked to “Turn that music down!”

That usually happens only when the phone rings or guests come to visit, however, because Allison’s parents love classical music just as much, if not more, than she does. Allison’s mother, Yoshie Akimoto Eldredge, is a world-renowned concert pianist in her own right.

Allison’s mother grew up in Osaka, Japan, where missionaries tracted out and taught her family. At age 12, Sister Eldredge was baptized, and shortly thereafter she began using her musical talents to perform benefit concerts for the Church all over Japan.

While still a teenager, Sister Eldredge went to New York to study at Juilliard. It was in her ward in New York City that she met her husband, Dr. Stephen Eldredge, and she continued performing after Allison was born.

Allison lived and breathed music. Her mother promised her that if she was good backstage while Mommy was performing, she would take Allison on stage for her last bow. “I loved that,” Allison said. “And I hoped that someday I could be out there on my own.”

It wouldn’t take her long. Allison began playing the piano at age three, and although she was very talented, she had no affinity for the keyboard. “My mother was a concert pianist, my aunt was a pianist, my grandmother was a pianist, my cousins were pianists, all my mother’s students were pianists,” she says. “Everything was piano, piano, piano. I just got tired of it.”

Then came the cello. When Allison was nine, she decided she wanted to play in her school orchestra, which already had a pianist, so she decided to switch. “I didn’t know the cello very well, but my mother loved it, I loved the sound, and I thought it would be a good size for me,” she says.

Within six months of her first cello lesson, Allison won her first competition, against children who had been playing for years. She seemed to be racing ahead, winning competitions right and left. She was invited to play with some of the world’s finest symphonies.

But her success is not without its price. With all that practicing and performing she’s involved in, there’s not a lot of time to spare for other activities. “Of course I feel like I’m missing out on other things all the time,” she says. “But with Church, schoolwork, and my cello, there just isn’t a lot of time for other things.”

It hasn’t been an easy choice for Allison to give up those other things, but she puts her shoulder to the wheel and follows through. “I know that if I want to accomplish the goals I have in mind, I have to make sacrifices,” she says. “Yes, I wish I could go out and socialize with my friends more, and go to all the activities, but if I don’t allow a certain amount of time for my music, it just isn’t going to go anywhere.”

So what makes it all worthwhile? What is the reward for all this work and effort? Just watch Allison play, and you’ll understand. As she draws her bow across the strings, Allison closes her eyes, and you note a visible transformation. It’s as if she becomes one with her instrument, a part of the music. You begin to believe she was born to play the cello, and she becomes enveloped in an unmistakable rhapsody.

To Allison, the music is worth it. At 16 years of age, music has taught this “average” teenager that if you want to go somewhere in life, decisions and sacrifices have to be made. Whether you’re studying for a test, preparing for a mission, or doing anything else, to excel you’ve just got to put in the time.

Maybe Allison Eldredge isn’t such an average teenager after all. She’s learned an eternal principle at a young age. In music, as in everything else, the satisfaction you take out is proportionate to the effort you put in. Allison knows that effort and determination are just what it takes.

Photography by Brent Petersen

“I never perform in a concert without saying a prayer,” says Allison. “I’m always asking for Heavenly Father’s guidance. Without it, I wouldn’t be as successful. It feels like there’s always someone there to help. I couldn’t do it on my own.”

The Eldredge family, which consists of Brother and Sister Eldredge, Allison, Elizabeth, 10, and Andrew, 7, enjoy more than just music together. Their home is one of open communication and support. Allison says this has helped her to relate well to people in all walks of life.