Shortly after getting this site on line, I was contacted by Todd Cushner, the drummer of my junior high school band, Hang Nail. I hadn't heard from him since 9th grade! We had some great talks during which he expressed to me how traumatic it was for him when I started playing the cello! Todd put his memories into the article below. The title is a play on the name, Eddie Van Halen, the famous rock star.
Here follows an honest yet humorous review of Von Cello's CD by Perry Seigle, the rhythm guitarist of "We're Only In It For The Money", my High School band. Perry went on to play with “Slipknot”, the top Grateful Dead tribute band of New England.
Eddie "VON CELLO" ??? A Reminiscence
by Todd Cushner
Seventh grade is a rough time for a boy in a tough neighborhood. Picture ajunior high school where a "Goldberg-esque" ruffian is the assistant principal and stands guard over the lunchroom ruckus. Head locks and body slams are standard operating procedure while standing on line to consume yet another plate of ravioli so incomprehensible that the venerable Chef Boy Ar Dee would be at a loss to describe it's contents. For those lucky enough to get through lunchtime, the trip home from school was often met by other urban foibles including local tough guys eager to help you earn your statutory share of ass kickings, and school yard druggies who would steal your "Spalding" only to sell it back to you for a nickel. A truly disturbing loss, considering how much a nickel could get you in that school yard. Take for example the old guy in the filthy raincoat who would gladly pull out his glass eye for that nickel. A treat even Coney Island in it's heyday couldn't reproduce. Where does a kid turn to escape the pathetic lack of enthusiasm permeating this middle class arena...How about Norman Greenbaum's "Spirit in the Sky", the Rolling Stones "Sympathy for the Devil", Credence Clearwater 's "Heard it through the Grapevine" or perhaps a sound unfamiliar but amazingly exciting like Santana's "Black Magic Woman"? Well that music caught my attention, consumed my imagination, and answered for any free time I had, including those hours pretending to be doing homework.
Apparently, Von Cello, a year older, was caught up in the same fascination and beit by fate or the machinations of the gods above, we were to meet. In actuality, it was Eric Davidson's mother who brought us together in an effort to push her son into the limelight of the Bildersee Junior High talent show. In fact, Von Cello at the time was merely Aaron Minsky, a typical eighth grader, but armed with some amazing talents and charms. Not the least of which was his 70' s rock star, Yanni meets Jack Daniels, come on girls touch me, rock and roll good looks. His weapon of choice: a sunburst Hagstrom, Viking IV ES 335 lookalike, guitar. The venue, my well equipped Canarsie basement. Me on my vintage blue sparkle Sam Ash special drums and Eric with his brand spankin' new, hot out of the box, Gibson Electric, were ready for rock stardom or at least the talent show. First rehearsal was a blast and it was clear to me and Eric that fame, fortune and maybe even sex were soon to be ours. Aaron was our deliverer, our Mick Jagger, our Hendrix , a smokin' guitarist , a great vocalist for an eighth grader, and the chicks loved that long wavy hair. We were in like flint. Stardom was a home room session away!
Well, the talent show went okay, in spite of a broken guitar string, and so came a minorflurry of performance opportunities, such as a local block party, a Canarsie Day eventand an awards show at Brooklyn College. Not too shabby for three kids who didn't even finish spending their Bar Mitzvah money yet. Eric and I were planning strategy and coming up with new song suggestions while Eric's mom was frantically trying to book us anywhere. ("Mrs. Mandelbaum, give me one good reason why you cant have a band at a circumcision?") Little did we know it was all coming to an end. Where was Aaron? Why wasn't he showing up anymore? Didn't he love the Stones as much as we did? Didn't he see the girls in the front row looking at him as if he were David Cassidy (and "getting happy")? Something had to be done, so we hopped on our Schwinn banana bikes and rode to his house. Eric went in and I waited outside. Five minutes later Eric returned with the bad news . Aaron was inside playing his cello. "His what?", I shouted with horror and dismay! Yes it was true, Aaron really didn't dig the guitar, nor was he into the "scene" and I guess he hadn't noticed the girls either. He was a kid with a real passion and a passion for a music that at the time I didn't yet understand. A passion for an instrument not nearly as cool as a guitar, at a time in a kids life when being cool is a major force to be reckoned with. A Cello??? I couldn't even imagine the "shlep" factor in dragging that thing around from gig to gig, did Aaron? Apparently he did, as he was willing to forgo everything a typical kid dreams of, for completely unorthodox and uncharted territory.
So ended my first Rock and Roll band "Hang Nail". It was short but the excitement of itis burned indelibly in the back of my brain. It was a promising time and a spring boardto many other musical experiences. What I didn't realize at the time was how cool Aaron Minsky really was. He was a man who followed his passion and walked his own musical path. He never looked back, uninterested in doing what everyone else was doing, he had a mission or perhaps a vision. That my friends is the root of greatness. That dedication to the sounds swimming around in your head is the thing that produces musicians who move the envelope forward, guys like Miles Davis, Django Reinhardt, Copeland and Lennon. It was my good fortune to share some musical moments in time with Von Cello!
An Interview With A Rock Cellist
by Siobhan Solberg
Hendrix and Beethoven, to most people, are the two most different musicians that one could think of, but are they really? Both Beethoven and Hendrix were composers and musicians that pushed boundaries with their playing and composing as well as influencing a lot of other musicians that followed, just in two different worlds 200 years apart. Those two worlds come together as one under one greatly talented composer and musician, namely Aaron Minsky. Aaron Minsky has been fusing rock and classical music trying to make the cello a more popular instrument in the popular music world. By doing this he has accomplished some great changes in music, composing, and making other musicians aware of a new style of playing. Aaron Minsky has taught the cello, and others, to rock.
As a musician Aaron Minsky has accomplished a lot. He had established himself as a great rock guitarist and a songwriter early on and then took on the cello and became an acclaimed classical musician on the cello, playing in various orchestras and ensembles, as well as solo. Now he has combined his multiple talents by fusing all elements and types of music into one.
Aaron Minsky started taking guitar lessons at age 7 and by middle school played guitar in his first rock band "The Sound Smashers". In high school he joined "Spunk" at 14, his first professional band. Playing the party circuit in his neighborhood in Brooklyn he achieved local fame as a guitar player. Meanwhile he picked up the cello in middle school and joined the orchestra at age 11 without any formal cello lessons. By age 15 he started to experiment with new sounds on the cello and realized that if he really wanted to make the cello a standard in popular music he had to have some classical training first. Hence he gave up the guitar and shocked his friends by dedicating himself solely to the cello.
His venture had started and with less then two years of official cello lessons he got accepted at the Manhattan School of Music (though he entered a year later) and graduated from there with a Bachelors and Masters in Music Performance. While studying cello he took lessons from numerous teachers at various schools, thereby expanding his horizons as a cellist. After his graduation he joined the Filarmonica de Caracas in Venezuela learning to hate dictatorial conductors and, that it was time to go back to his rock roots. Back in New York he played with various other orchestras, ensembles and rock bands, and started freelancing, at the same time pursuing his goal of changing the style of cello playing and maybe even introducing a new style of music. A successful performance with the short lived band "The Aaron Minsky Trio" at the University of Connecticut inspired him to find the right combination for a band that would let his cello rock. Hence the band "Von Cello", a band where the front man plays cello, to be specific rock cello. He has successfully shocked and inspired both his rock and classical friends with his performing career.
Minsky didn't just perform to introduce his ideas; he also composed a number of etudes, duets, and teaching aides to introduce a new way of playing. Having written songs from his early rock days on he has had experience in the field of songwriting and he has taken this a step further with his notable "Ten American Cello Etudes" and various other pieces for all levels of playing. But unlike the standard cello repertoire, these pieces include all elements of music and some techniques not ever used before such as arpeggiated "licks", jazz and rock rhythms, double stops, and various techniques that he himself invented, in his duets he has rhythm cello as well as a melodic cello. Aaron Minsky has been putting the limits of the music and the player with all of his compositions to the test, encouraging the player to improvise and use all elements of music possible to them. His compositions have been very well reviewed and have been added to the standard repertoire for the cello. They have been included in the curricula of the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music, U.K., and the American String Teacher's Association. Numerous cellists and some violists have performed his music as well, and judging by the reviews and acceptance of his compositions he has accomplished his goal of creating a new style of cello playing.
I had the opportunity to interview Aaron Minsky and discuss why he has been so influential and what had influenced him as well as what he has and wants to achieve. Following are excerpts from that interview:
S.S - Why rock and classic and not jazz? Besides having played the guitar, was there another reason that you have been playing rock on the cello?
A.M. - I do play jazz, but I did not grow up with jazz. As a child I was surrounded by popular music. All of my friends listened to the radio and everyone was into the latest music. At home, my father was a classical music lover, and he was constantly playing classical music on the radio and spinning classical records. He had a few jazz records in his collection, but I rarely heard them. So I grew up with popular and classical music. It was not until college that I really started to listen to and play jazz.
While I have a great respect for jazz, I feel it reaches fewer people than popular music, and I want to reach as many people as possible, and I would like to see the cello reaching as many people as possible, therefore my interest has been primarily in playing rock music. The cello though has a great tradition in classical music, so it seems natural to me that in playing the cello in rock one would bring in some classical influence. However, I do bring some jazz influence into my music too. Had I not played the guitar, I doubt I would have decided to play rock on the cello. Originally I was a rock guitarist, and though I picked up the cello in school, I did not see it as a serious thing until I realized that I could do something unique with it. It was not a situation where I really wanted to be a cellist, per se, it was more that I was a person who always was looking to find an original path through life, and I found that in revolutionizing the cello I could blaze a new trail. Of course, I wouldn't have picked this path, if I didn't also love the cello as an instrument in general.
S.S. - Do you think that this movement (?) will have an impact on the way classical or rock music will evolve, or is this just a phase?
A.M. - I do believe the New Directions Cello movement, and my contribution to it; will have a lasting impact on the way the cello is played in the future. If the cello becomes accepted as a popular instrument that will change the sound of popular music. Classical composers will also change the way they write for the cello incorporating the new sounds.
There are high-level musicians who have made statements about the importance of my etudes in this process. For instance, David Johnstone, an English concert cellist living in Spain said the following: There are a number of works for the cello which, although not apparent in their time, have changed the course of cello writing or at the least have had a telling influence on the next generation of cello literature. We all know about the Bach Six Suites, a great and singular work of about 1720 that although the classical period composers did not 'dare' follow on, has been a major source of inspiration during the twentieth century. The concerto of Dvorak in the 1890's was also a major watershed in cello literature where the cello finally became the almighty king instead of a most promising prince. The Kodaly Solo Sonata of 1915 turned the cello on its head, for the first time being able to free itself from the wonderful melody instrument that it is, calling on even aggressive sounds and being able to obviously accompany itself in a number of ways. And too it's worth mentioning the Prokofiev Sinfonia Concertante which came to its finished state in the post World War II days, where the cello is used in extreme registers, at great speed and with all the technical tricks that a first-class virtuoso violinist would be proud to employ. And now we come to AARON MINSKY. Maybe at the moment less known than his renowned predecessors, I predict that his work for cello may well assume a similar importance.
S.S. - How do you think this is affecting the current trend of music?
A.M. - I don't think cellists have yet made much of an impact in today's music. You do find cellists occasionally backing up famous rock stars. There have even been groups that featured cellists, but those groups have been on the fringes. There is no cellist out there today who is looked upon like the great guitarists such as Hendrix, Clapton, Van Halen, or even Santana. Then again even they, for the most part, are on the sidelines. Today's music seems more and more dominated by singers, who dance, or dancers, who sing, entertainers who rap, or rappers who entertain, and engineers who scratch records and program musical computers. There is almost no interest anymore in a great instrumentalist, or a composer in the Western tradition. While pop music has always been involved with selling sex and style, today it has become so overt that it is hard to tell the difference between a fashion video featuring pop music or a pop video featuring fashion. The line between pop and porn is getting more and more blurred. So sadly, the efforts that are being made in the cello world to modernize our instrument are going pretty much unnoticed by the pop music world...at least for now.
S.S. - What is it that you are really trying to achieve besides for making music and fusing different types together?
A.M. - Ultimately, music is a reflection of the culture that produces it. In America today, we have a divided culture. On one side is popular music and the culture that surrounds it, on the other side is classical music and the culture that surrounds it. Jazz is somewhere in the middle. Very few people can fit into both cultural and musical extremes, and there is often animosity between those on each side.
I would like to see the cultures coming together; to have the barriers broken. One way to start to achieve this is to break the barriers between the musical worlds. The cello seems the perfect instrument to do this because it is still considered a "classical instrument" yet it is very well adapted to popular music. If we can get "rock people" to appreciate classical music and "classical people" to appreciate rock music, and have the two musics and cultures influence each other, I think life in America would be a better over all.
S.S. - Does your goal now differ form when you first had this idea or have you achieved your goal and are just taking it further?
A.M. - I have the same basic goal, and I feel in some ways that I have achieved it beyond my dreams, but in other ways I still have a long way to go. In the cello world, the success has happened much sooner and stronger than I could have allowed myself to imagine. My etudes are now considered "standard cello repertoire" by many cellists around the world. They are in the curriculums of prestigious musical organizations such as the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music (U.K.) and the American String Teachers Association. They are taught in colleges and performed worldwide. I have received royalties from over twenty countries, and I'm sure they are performed in many other countries from which I haven't received royalties. So on the classical side, I am happy with the acceptance I have found.
On the rock side success has been slower and harder to achieve. There actually seems more resistance to classical music on the rock side than resistance to rock music on the classical side. I think classical musicians have learned the hard way that they need to embrace popular trends in order to stay relevant and make a living. The pop music establishment feels no such pressure. They are making billions of dollars, and the last thing they care about is reaching out to music of the past, or instruments that are perceived as old fashioned. It is the pop world today that is the one that is narrow minded and resistant to change. Trying to get accepted as a rock star cellist is like climbing up a steep, tall mountain. Yet I feel I must keep trying.
S.S. - How did you come about starting to compose and what elements influence your composing most? Playing your music I can tell there are both rock and classical influences. Is this your way of mixing them both?
A.M. - I started composing popular songs in my early teens, but even earlier I wrote some crude compositions in a classical style. I was always fascinated by the great classical composers and dreamed of being like them, but mostly I listened to popular music as a child and naturally started composing in that style. I was also influenced by one of my early guitar teachers to improvise and write songs. I found it easy to write a song and wrote many songs throughout my teens.
During my college years I started to think that I could use my abilities as a popular songwriter to write cello etudes. I felt that through etudes I could use my melodic sense, and combine it with the classical techniques that I was studying, and come up with unique music that would be of interest, if not to the masses, at least to cellists around the world. I felt that I might not get a "hit" on the radio that would be listened to by millions of people, but I could possibly get a "hit" in the cello world that would be listened to by hundreds of thousands of people.
Knowing that I wanted to compose, I took extra theory classes at Manhattan School of Music. I analyzed melodies and harmonies, from simple baroque inventions to the complex quartets of Beethoven, and the revolutionary ideas of Debussy. I was always interested in songs, listening to songs from other countries, even going back to songs from the Middle Ages and Renaissance. I also listened to ethnic music from Africa, the Middle East, South America, and other lands. I tried to stay open to every possible influence, with the hope that one day it would all somehow have an affect on my music. If you listen carefully to my various etudes you will find rock influence, but also country, blues, jazz, folk, Caribbean, African, Brazilian, French, Jewish, and other influences.
S.S. - What do you think about all the string quartets etc. that are out there such as Ethel, Turtle Island, etc. playing Pink Floyd and Radio Head? Do you think they are aiming for the same that you are, or do you think they are just proving that they can play rock too?
A.M. - I think that the quartets that are out there playing arrangements of rock music are doing an important thing. They are showing what string instruments are capable of doing. They are probably aiming in the same direction as I, but they are not going as far. I am not a classical musician playing rock, or a rock musician playing classical: I am equally a rock and a classical musician. I can't even tell myself which one I am more. I grew up with an interest in both musics, and though I started out as a rock guitarist, when I became serious about music I went full throttle into classical cello, all but giving up on my rock past. So what I am trying to do is break down the barriers to the point where there is no difference between a rock musician or a classical musician.
There are very few people who have done this before. I think of George Gershwin as the best example from the past. He wrote classical masterpieces like An American In Paris and Rhapsody in Blue, yet his songs are still popular standards today. Miles Davis is a good example of a musician who broke the barriers between popular music and jazz, although jazz started out as a form of popular music, so one could say he reestablished its connection. In order to really make the cello accepted by the masses of pop music fans, we have to do more than play rock arrangements in string quartets. We have to become bandleaders, and rock stars ourselves. Who is the Hendrix, the Elton John, and the Ian Anderson, of the cello? Who gets up and jams on cello with the other rock stars at the Grammys? Who has a following of kids across the country that are listening to cello music and think it is cool? Who is making people rethink their ideas and prejudices about the cello, about music, about culture? I didn't see anyone else out there doing it, so I figured it might as well be me. I will keep trying, but if I don't succeed, maybe someone else will in the future.
When we have gotten to the point in music history when the cello is a part of popular music we'll have Aaron Minsky to thank, even if he isn't the one to achieve it. Aaron Minsky has influenced so many musicians to expand their horizons and encouraged them to improvise and to try new sounds. He plays at most classical and rock venues to bring his music to all people possible. His dedication to this movement has changed the course of music history and will continue to do so. He has proven and keeps on doing so that someone can cross over from rock to classical and back to rock again and be both a great rock and classical musician. We have Aaron Minsky to thank for a new style of playing the cello and other classical instruments.
Von Cello CD Doesn't Brake For Sound Barriers
by Perry Seigle
I urge everyone at all interested in what Von Cello is doing, to order his "Breaking The Sound Barriers" CD and give it a listen. Wait. No. Give it about ten listens. Then ten more. Then give it one more. I have to admit that after hearing nothing but the sound clips, though impressed with the sounds and production, I thought, "I could never actually listen to this stuff if it wasn't my friend's". Don't let the little sound snips on his website represent to you what this CD is. You will be cheating yourself.
I have now been in receipt of my very own "Breaking the Sound Barriers" CD for a few days and let me say, I cant stop listening to it. To be honest, at first it was a novelty. It's my friend's CD. I hear all the hard work he put into it, but still struck me like a "CD only a mother could love". Well, here I am, writing about it after listen number 20 or so. What at first seemed like an exercise in over indulgence and just another "artist" with a computer and multi tracking software musically masturbating, all of a sudden became a CD that has not left my CD player. It plays, and the more it plays, the more I like it. And the more I listen closely, the more I like it. The less I listen and just let it play, the more I like it. Damn it, I am loving this CD!
Though the CD starts with a cut ("I Used To Be an Orchestra Player") very reminiscent of the Mothers Of Invention, its really the music of early Pink Floyd and Moody Blues that keep popping into my head each time the entire CD plays. This is definitely a concept style album, not just dictated by the lyrical content of the songs, but also flows conceptually at the musical level. Many cuts are playful and tongue in cheek, (i.e. Anthem/Cello PlayersRap) but what really works is that the music supports the lyrical content at all times. Though much of the CD's cuts are steeped in a retro sound, the cut "Lost in Cyberspace" has a more alternative edge to it and melodic style similar to Stone Temple Pilots. And let me say that "Holes In the Sky" is one of the most beautifully sounding pieces coming out of my CD players speakers recently. (And for the Grammy argument, this must be a crossover album, as I refer to a song as a "piece", and do it without getting slapped!).
The production on the CD is excellent and I would bet that the track "Cello Man" pays some intended homage to early rock's production pioneer, Brian Wilson in his Pet Sounds days. Von Cello's layers of sounds and effects, some subtle, some over the top, reward the listener after repeated listening. As I let the CD play and do other stuff, whenever I stop to randomly "pay attention to detail" I'm always rewarded with something in the production that makes me smile, be it a musical phrase lifted from a well known classic or a sound effect that I can only imagine I know what its reference really is. That's the fun of it.
It is music that makes you think, but only if you want to. It's also music that plays by itself, waters and feeds itself, and you only have to let it out once in a while. As Ron Popiel of Ronco says, you can "set it and forget it". But, I have to keep going back to it and give it some attention. And I am glad I do.
Are Guitars Overated?
An Exploratory Essay Through the Murky, Myriad Variety of Sound-Makers From All Over the Globe
By Edward Burke of WWPV 88.7-FM "The Mike" (http://www.wwpv.org/)
So you may be asking your self who I am, well....I'm just a small-town guy from Vermont who recently met the illustrious Von Cello on his recent trip up to my little state. Upon meeting him and asking him how he approaches his music, I have decided, or rather, come to the conclusion that Von Cello is doing something I've always wanted a musician to do (besides Jethro Tull, that is). Why do I like and appreciate Von Cello's work? Because I have been waiting for a musician to make it big without playing a guitar. Those of you out there in college who play guitar might be saying "Hey man, I play guitar...what do you have against guitars"? The answer is simple...nothing, except for the fact that I think they have been fairly over-played since the invention of the electric guitar in the twenties or thirties.
Sure, it was Jimi Hendrix who played guitar (and played it rather well, of course,) on "Purple Haze" and "Burning of the Midnight Lamp", it was George Harrison, (my favorite Beatle), in collaboration with Eric Clapton, who masterfully whined his way through "While My Guitar Gently Weeps", it was Carlos Santana's guitar that sang the "Blues for Savador", and got our feet movin' on "Smooth". It was Eric Clapton's guitar that cried tears for his son in Heaven, it was Frank Zappa's guitar who "Wanted To Kill Your Mama" and it was, of course, bluesman supreme B.B. King who named his guitar "Lucille".
Please understand now, that I am not dismissing, nor putting forth a vote of no confidence in guitars or guitarists all around the world, yet as instruments themselves, I feel guitars are so passé, so run-of-the-mill, so Twentieth Century! This is the Twenty-First Century and I feel it's time for a new sound to come to the forefront of popular music around the world. Von Cello is, of course, already making headway in that epic quest, but let's look at some other instruments and see how they fare against the cello. But first, let's take a break here, shall we?
You may be asking yourself, "Why is he writing this essay in favor of other instruments? Is he insane"? Yes, my friend, that is more then likely true than false. It may also be that I have way too much time on my hands, but it's mostly because of this: have you ever seen an accordionist or flute player get angry or violent? Or drink or smoke too much? Or be offensive to women? Well, you can never predict human nature, no matter what instrument you play, but I was watching a special on Vermont Public Television not so long ago on famed American singer/songwriter/guitarist Woody "This Land is Your Land…." Guthrie. Sure, the guy is an icon, (perhaps the very first, true, "American Idol"), he had a poetic penchant for word and note, and he wrote hundreds of brilliant songs in his lifetime, many of which have come to emphasize the modern American spirit. But as for acting in public away from his music, he had a mouth that no mother could love and a blood-alcohol level that I don't even want to know. He did marry but was never too fond of his wife. Now Guthrie suffered from disease and depression, but I can't help think that his guitar was part of the problem…can't you picture all major rock stars today in the incomplete historical biography above? And what do most major rock stars play? Guitar! Now, I'm no authority here by any means, but I tried to play guitar back in high school, and it was then that I started having these thoughts: "Why am I learning guitar when I could be playing something else?…There are so many strange and beautiful instruments out there just waiting for me to play them"! I learned early on from my guitar teacher, a good friend of my Dad, that after a while I'd start developing calluses from pressing my fingers into the strings so much. I conclude, in my not-very-authoritative nature, that calluses must be contributing to part of the bad-boy rock, folk and country-guitarist image….they must hurt like hell once a guitarist forms them, and even more before one develops them. This physical pain must cause the rocker psychological pain as well, not to mention an attitude. Notice that I did not include jazz guitarists in the paragraph above….I know a jazz guitarist and I even sang in a church choir under one, but I am not playing favorites here…..I am most certain that jazz guitarists develop calluses too, but if all of them are anything like my choir director, then all jazz guitarists must be fairly laid back, suave, wine-drinking hipsters with a love of fine Italian dining…..that is if they're not a jam-rock/jazz guitarist who takes most of his free time to smoke some weed. (My apologies to all the jam-band fans out there for that gross sterotype).
Anyway, back to the point….have you ever seen an accordionist drink and smoke to a great extent, or start fights? Unless he's an Irish accordionist, (I'm Irish-American so I think I'm safe here), then I'd say that accordionists are pretty much all gentle, loving people. This probably goes for harpists, sitar players (among the many reasons why George is my favorite Beatle), didgeridoo players, bagpipers (although I've heard some members of this "tribe" can be rowdy too, unless they're playing "Amazing Grace"), you could almost fill in any other ethnic, exotic, unique and strange musical instrumentalist on this list.
I might as well come out and say it…I am a drummer. Note now that I am not a rock drummer with sticks and stones, and cymbals and toms, and racks and keys, and heads and pads…..nope….I'm a hand drummer. I pick up anything and try to make music out of it. (I'm not a professional by any means, but I used to play percussion in church with that self-same jazz guitarist). I figure that percussionists like me are too busy trying to keep time with the band and searching for that elusive, all- important "sound" to care about drinking and smoking and starting fights, but I still have music insde of me, and I improvise, or "jam' whenever I need to lift my spirits. I find that whenever I feel upset all I have to do is plink away on my mbira, or African thumb piano, and I'll feel much better about what ever is bothering me, and much more at peace. Even though I don't know a heck of a whole lot about chords or time signatures, or harmonics or arpeggios, there seems to be something deep in my soul that always allows me to make music on whatever I find….it's almost spiritual. What I'm saying is that while guitars are capable of writing someone's song, so is a keyboard, or an accordion, or a cello…all are capable of producing melody and chords….why not let an accordionist come into the musical limelight besides "Weird" Al Yankovic? But let's look at the big picture here….look at all the instruments of the world….even the ones who can only play melody or the ones who can only play chords, or even the tiniest ones who can only keep the beat. I believe Frank Zappa (a guitar god who was definitely a wild man, but an intellectual genius as well), said it best in his 1988 autobiography The Real Frank Zappa Book:
…What is music? Anything can be music, but it doesn't become music until someone wills it to be music, and the audience listening to it decides to perceive it as music
From the very beginning of human history, when ever anybody wanted to express a thought or emotion, they would tell stories to their neighbors….when the invention of the first musical instrument came along (God knows when or what that was), mankind now had a tool to help him or her tell his or her stories. Indeed, even young Australian aborigines are sent from their home village into the forest with a didgeridoo. They are not allowed to return home until they learn and master the instrument; until the boy becomes a man. Imagine how peaceful, how serene that Aborigine must feel out in the woods with an instrument made from the woods….he is the prime example of the human need to make music on whatever they can find. A didgeridoo would seem to me like the perfect instrument to learn because you have to practice circular breathing to play it, (which could help you when swimming or scuba-diving); you can get a wide variety of neat tones and drones out of it with which to scare your neighbors, and the best part? NO CALLUSES! I firmly believe that the didgeridoo would keep a person happy enough to stay off the streets!
So no matter what your instrument is, be it guitar or cello, mandolin or concertina, (two of my favorites by the way), bagpipes, bongo drums, conch shell, maracas, or perhaps a simple, comb-and-tissue paper harmonica, just play it and try to tell your story with it….don't be lost in the hype and your ego through the dense fog of the huge corporations; those megalomaniac cronies who tell you playing guitar gets you laid….it might, but that's not why you play music, is it? Play from your heart on what ever you want. Here's another quote from Frank that I believe will sum this weird little essay up:
Information is not knowledge, knowledge is not wisdom, wisdom is not truth, truth is not beauty, beauty is not love, love is not music, music is the best. (The Real Frank Zappa Book, pg. 139)
I guess what I'm trying to say is that guitars are ok, but expand your ideas a little and enter the world of choice! Since Von Cello himself played guitar for many years, and chose on his own free will to play the cello instead, I think we should hand this over to him and maybe he'll bring some perspective to all of this…. In the meantime, I'm going to go listen to his new album "Excalibur", available at his website at www.voncello.com and he's not paying me to say that!
This is perhaps the first college term paper written about Von Cello, by a viola student for her music history class at the State University of New York at New Paltz.
Edward Burke is a Vermont radio DJ who interviewed Von Cello for three hours. He also reviewed the Von Cello CDs. Here Edward expresses his ideas about expanding rock music to include new instruments, and he includes his observations about other aspects of rock along the way.