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The Summer of Cello

Curator’s Note: We are so fortunate to have cellist Jonathan Simmons on our Cello Museum team as an intern. Many of you supported his fundraising efforts so that he could travel abroad, and he had an extremely busy summer that included flying halfway around the world with his cello. Thank you to everyone who supported his work! I was curious about his travels and his other summer cello activities, so I asked him to share his adventures with the entire Cello Museum family. The following is his account of his summer with the cello. Thank you, Jonathan!  – B. Neece

Jonathan Simmons: Summer of Cello

Perhaps you have seen “a day in the life” vlogs where people take a video tour of a normal daily routine. Consider this article an expanded version—“a summer in the life” of a cellist. While this was anything but a typical summer for me, it was filled with cello activities, including flying halfway across the world with my cello to attend an international music festival. More about that later! Let’s start at the beginning of the summer.

Cellos for Trees

The summer started off with a recording project organized by Clíodhna Ní Aodáin of The Celtic Cello and the Cello Museum. Cellists from around the world recorded parts of a virtual cello choir in front of their favorite trees. The project supported planting up to 10,000 trees in reforestation efforts. You can watch the video below to see the finished project.


Selah Grey Foundation Camp

Following the Cellos for Trees recording came International Make Music Day on the 21st of June. On that date, I was making music for a young audience at the Selah Grey Foundation Camp. The Selah Grey Foundation hosted a summer camp for special needs children, including a time to make music and learn about the different instruments. I was privileged to introduce the cello to many of them for the first time. Everyone had lots of requests ranging from “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” to “Baby Shark.” I played as many requests as I could figure out by ear.

Summer of Cello

Performing at the Selah Grey Foundation

Cellos in White and Black

Over the course of the summer, I played several different types of cellos I had never played before. One cello was an instrument being built by local luthier Jim Clinton but still “in the white.” In other words, the cello had been built to the point that it was playable but had not yet been varnished. This was the first cello he’s made, and I was the first person to play it. What a special opportunity!

I’ve always had an interest in how instruments are made, so allow me to geek out for a moment. The cello is patterned after a J.B. Vuillaume cello from 1865. Not only did Jim Clinton build the cello from scratch, but he also built the mould around which the cello was shaped. The whole process takes hundreds of hours from start to finish. Pictures of the process are available on the Jim Clinton Violins website, and you can listen to more of my testing the cello on my YouTube channel.

Another interesting instrument I played this summer was a carbon fiber cello. Not only was the cello constructed almost completely of carbon fiber, but the top and back were flat instead of arched, and much of the instrument was 3D printed! I had no idea that a flat-top cello existed before I tried it, but I was pleasantly surprised at the sound quality and playability for the price. The brand was Forte3D, and if you are curious about what it sounds like, you can watch an advertisement for it here.

Summer of Cello

A 3D printed cello by Forte 3D

[Curator’s note: To learn more about carbon – and other – fiber instruments, please visit our exhibition on cello-making materials.]

Stellenbosch International Chamber Music Festival

A highlight of my summer was attending the Stellenbosch International Chamber Music Festival (SICMF) in beautiful Stellenbosch, South Africa, east of Cape Town. The flight from the USA was a direct 14-hour flight that crossed six time zones, and of course, my cello got a seat on the flight. My cello’s seat was even upgraded when my own seat was not!

Before attending SICMF came the fundraising for the trip. I presented several benefit recitals, some of them solo recitals and some chamber recitals. One of the lovely venues was the church pictured below. Although I did not play with the organ this time, I have performed an organ-cello duo there before and also wrote an article about organ-cello repertoire for weddings. During the fundraising process, I learned how to write grants to cover some expenses, and I’m so thankful to the Cello Museum for their generous support.

Summer of Cello

The SICMF brought together over 250 students and faculty from over a dozen countries to participate in the 10-day festival full of chamber music concerts, orchestral concerts, and faculty recitals. The nightly concerts were packed every single night, and judging by the applause, you would think that classical music was the national sport! You can view one of the orchestra concerts and an excerpt of Boris Andrianov soloing on YouTube.

Summer of Cello

SICMF Cellos

I was able to arrive in South Africa a week early and stay a few days after the SICMF for sightseeing and other activities. I have posted a more detailed overview of the trip with lots of pictures on my personal blog. You can read it here.

Summer of Cello

250+ SICMF participants

Teaching and Learning

Returning to the USA, I immediately put my learning to use by teaching at the Orion Chamber Music Society (OCMS) String Camp. It was a joy to coach a cello quartet, teach lessons and a masterclass, and impart much of what I had just learned in South Africa. I also traded my cello for a double bass to play in the orchestra. Bigger is better, right?

Summer of Cello

OCMS Teaching

After teaching at OCMS, I got right back into studying, this time cello history. Comprehensive exams for my DMA (Doctorate of Musical Arts) were scheduled for the beginning of the fall semester, so it was time to get to work learning and reviewing the details of everything cello. I study at the University of North Carolina – Greensboro with Dr. Alex Ezerman, grandson of Elsa Hilger, the first full-time female musician in a major American orchestra. UNCG is home to the world’s largest collection of cello-related materials, so I had plenty to study!

Summer of Cello

DMA Comprehensive Exam Study Material

My dissertation will focus on a previously unpublished work by Croatian cellist-composer Rudolf Matz. Stjepan Hauser of the 2Cellos is also from Croatia and has performed Matz’s music. (Interestingly, in my research, I learned that Matz was also acquainted with a Mr. Arthur Hauser. I wonder if there is any relation.)

Thank you all for reading. Feel free to let me know about your own summer cello adventures!

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