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Cellos and the Great Northwest

I moved to the Pacific Northwest nearly twenty years ago, and one thing that I still find surprising is how many people here play the cello. Before I came here I always felt in demand because there always seemed to be a shortage of cellists; but here there are so many we almost get in each other’s way. Perhaps it is something in the water, or something in the air. Of course, in this part of the world the water is in the air.

This excess of celli had led to summer music camps having to create special cello ensembles just to deal with the excess that could not fit into the orchestra; being told that elective courses are not open because “we have too many cellos”; and orchestras with more cellos than violins. On the other hand it may have had something to do with the creation of a couple standout organizations, the Seattle Celloship and the Portland Cello Project.

The Portland Cello Project was founded in 2007. The group was formed with three goals in mind: To bring the cello to places it usually is not found; To play music not usually associated with the cello; and   to “build bridges across all musical communities.” They certainly accomplish this – they have played in venues ranging from sports bars to basketball game halftimes, doing Beethoven, Arvo Part, Hip-hop, movie themes, and jazz standards. They’ll be playing in Portland on Feb. 25 at the Wonder Ballroom. If you can’t get down for that, keep an eye out for when they come to Seattle.

The Seattle Celloship started out as an idea for an evening playing cello quartets, and like anything involving cellos in this part of the world it quickly grew. By the time we actually met for the first time it had become an octet. Two things soon became clear: first, that there were a lot of cellists with an interest in playing ensemble music; and second, that getting regular personnel nailed down was akin to herding cats. Today the Celloship is a loose aggregation of players from around the Seattle area who meet irregularly, whenever schedules match up. However, its mere existence is another testament to the need we have here to haul around large unwieldy instruments.

So many cellists – so little time.