Jimi Hendrix. Jimmy Page. Keith Richards. Yo-Yo Ma?
Confused? Meet Low Strung.
The ensemble may be composed entirely of cellists, but don’t expect to hear Brahms at these performances. Low Strung only plays classic rock hits, cleverly arranged for strings.
The idea of one instrument — and the mellow tones of the cello at that — playing all parts of your favorite Van Halen song may seem less than thrilling, but the members of Low Strung praise their instrument for the intrinsic variation it can provide. “It’s the general-purpose instrument,” David Rector ’07 proclaimed. “It’s not weak in any particular register. It can do anything.”
Rector takes this musical range into account as the group’s primary arranger; cellos take on the bass line as well as the percussion, guitar and vocal lines in any given song. Low Strung also occasionally performs with guest artists (flutes, harps, etc.) to add an extra musical layer to its repertoire, which includes Aerosmith’s “Dream On,” Metallica’s “Nothing Else Matters” and Led Zeppelin’s always-epic “Stairway to Heaven.” Rector notes that songs with “thick harmonies” tend to make the best arrangements, but occasionally he arranges a song just because he “heard it on the radio.”
The selections are often a departure for most members, who played and listened to primarily classical music before joining the group. “Low Strung is educating me about rock!” Agnes Coakley ’08 said.
This radio-ready repertoire is a world away from that of other musical ensembles at Yale. Surprisingly, Low Strung has its roots in a traditional orchestral setting; after playing Metallica covers by Apocalyptica, a Finnish cello group, for fun during Saybrook College Orchestra cello sectionals, the musicians began to arrange similar pieces on their own. They held their first concert in the spring of 2005, and Low Strung was born.
In rehearsal and performance dynamic, the unconventional group offers a break from the confines of classical music at Yale. “We’re all used to demure performances in concert halls; Low Strung is a lot crazier,” Coakley said. “As a classical musician, it’s a huge rush and a pretty funny experience to get up in front of an audience wearing denim and eye makeup and hair gel, and to hear people shout out your names during a concert.”
Rector agreed. “It’s all about positive energy,” he said. The rehearsal process is also less rigorous, which, according to Rector, avoids the tedium and repetition of many orchestra rehearsals. Although they emphasize a fun and more carefree dynamic, this spirit doesn’t diminish the learning experience. “We get to trade around who’s playing top and bottom lines, and we can communicate and learn from each other easily,” Coakley said.
But the members concur that the group’s magic lies in its cohesion. “It really makes a difference in the music,” Veronica Wallace ’08 said.
What seems to hold the group together, however, is one member in particular: Rector himself. A founding member and the only arranger of the bunch, Rector also leads the group in their rehearsal on Wednesday, yelling the chord progressions over the sounds of eight cellos. As his time at Yale draws to a close, the future of Low Strung seems to hinge on his ability to train a replacement.
The closeness of the group suggests that a returning member will step up to the plate to lead the ensemble. “I love classical music, to be honest,” Anna Graber ’08 admitted. “But the reason I come back [to Low Strung] each year is because of the people in it.”
Low Strung is slated to release its first CD at the end of the semester and will perform two more concerts before Winter Break, including one at Harvard-Yale. The concerts feature predominantly new arrangements, although this Saturday’s show introduces something else new. While all prior concerts have been acoustic, Low Strung is adding one more rock element to their performance: major amplification, to the tune of $6,000. The group will use the equipment in concerts throughout the year to better imitate the blaring sound of the rock legends they cover, as well as to accommodate their growing audience.
But don’t hold your breath for post-concert instrument-smashing à la Pete Townshend. Cellos are just too expensive to burn.
Saybrook Stone Courtyard (weather permitting) or Saybrook Dining Hall
Saturday 9 p.m.