The Celloship of the Strings (think Lord of the Strings, which the cello well may be!) is my affectionate name for an ever evolving network of cellists, mostly adult amateurs, whom I've come in contact with. Often, at the end of a concert, someone will approach me and say that they've just started cello, or want to, or played in high school and want to get back to it... We exchange contact information and then and there, we are both part of the Celloship. At essence, the Celloship is about connection, and support for fellow cellists. When there are enough cellists in a particular area, I will go there and lead a workshop, with a focus on helping people to get playing more in their home communities. They may want to participate in jams with people singing and playing guitars, or accompany their local community choir on a piece at Christmastime, or...
What follows is a bit of the history of how the Celloship came to be.
For years, I have been witness – and party to – the following scenario: Someone feels passionate about playing the cello. They obtain an instrument and perhaps get a few lessons, but then, in fairly short order, they stop playing. Taking a weekly lesson and practicing on one's own, with no other outlet for playing, especially as a beginner, can be a difficult thing to sustain. I have seen this play out again and again. In some cases, a beginning cellist will have the tenacity and drive to get to the point that they can play with other musicians, and break the "lessons/practicing alone cycle." However making that leap can sometimes seem – especially from the perspective of the amateur cellist – quite onerous.
There is so much joy waiting to be expressed via all those fallow, or all-but-fallow cellos sitting quietly in people's houses! There is so much that one can play on a cello right away – and with other musicians. I love to see cellists – from their very first notes, from their very first pluckings of open strings – be able to jump right in and play with others. Indeed, the learning goes much faster than what can be accomplished in only private lessons. How to get this knowledge across and under cellists' (and aspiring cellists') hands? I have come to realize that making this happen is a matter of creating the right kind of support. To find out what that support might actually look like, I started in my own back yard.
In 2011, here in my own small community, I pulled together a group of about 10 local cellists. We call it the Bowen Island Cello Collective, or "Cellective" for short. We meet for a couple of hours every week. Most participants are amateurs, with some rank beginners. Anyone who wants to play the cello can be in the group. When people can make it to a meeting, it's great, when they can't, that's great too. There are a couple of moms in the group who have young kids, so a Saturday afternoon practice may be usurped by a birthday party. When we have a performance, there is naturally a bit more intensity of focus in our practices, however such focus occurs naturally, and is fun rather than stressful. No one plays anything beyond what they feel happy and comfortable playing, which seriously lessens stage fright!
We play music in a multitude of styles. I create the arrangements, so they are custom-made for the cellists at hand. There are parts for everyone, from absolute beginner to more accomplished. Because there are often a number of players "laying it down" with open string parts, the ensemble tends to sound much more together and in tune than one would expect from an amateur string group! Sometimes the open string parts are the most fun of all to play! The most inexperienced players are often playing very important parts; often, they're like the "sonic ground" of the ensemble. Thus, rather than feel like they are having to play something boring until some glorious "someday" when they are "good," they are instead an integral and indispensable part of the group right away.
Ultimately, the Celloship exists to give support to cellists who need it. It may be as simple as email exchanges between cellists in different small towns who don't have any other cellists in their community. Just being able to speak with someone else about what you're practicing can make a big difference. But those solitary cellists, with support, can also play with others. It may mean crossing over from studying exclusively classical repertoire to learning to play backup parts to John Prine songs, or plunk out bass notes to accompany Irish jigs. Playing is playing, and exploring different styles will help one's classical studies and vice versa.