From thundering bass notes to high, soaring melodies, the cello boasts the widest pitch range of commonly played string instruments.
While most cellists play music in the traditional Western canon — the sounds of Haydn, Dvorak or even Shostakovich — Saybrook College Orchestra’s cello section in 2006 decided to play rock music. The musicians formed Yale’s all-cello rock band, Low Strung.
Thirteen years later, Low Strung — which now has 12 cellists — performs at clubs, schools and concert halls around the world. The group, self-described as “rock-cello rebels,” will present their concert “Snow Strung” this Saturday in Dwight Chapel on Old Campus. The show will feature a range of genres including rock, pop and soul.
“All the members are really, really incredible musicians, and you’re getting into a completely different mindset when you’re playing the kind of music Low Strung plays,” said Low Strung’s music director Matthew Udry ’22.
Saturday’s concert will include Low Strung favorites, such as “Livin’ on a Prayer” and “Hotel California.” It will also feature two new arrangements: Aretha Franklin’s “Respect” and Aeromsith’s “Cryin’.”
The group’s members have arranged over 50 songs throughout its history. According to Udry and Low Strung president Dayle Chung ’21, this semester’s performance aims to showcase a wider range of songs than previous years’ concerts.
“My goal has been to try to find new arrangements or old arrangements that we’ve overlooked in recent years,” Udry said. “Half of the songs this semester are songs nobody in the group has ever played, which is really exciting.”
Chung expressed a desire to diversify Low Strung’s repertoire beyond their go-to “classic rock that is usually dominated by white male artists.”
In each of the new songs, two cellists take the spotlight. One plays the vocal line, and the second often plays the guitar part. The remaining 10 cellists play the roles of backup singers or drummers.
“Rehearsals are, of course, a lot of work, but also really fun,” Udry said. “There are moments where we can allow ourselves to just let go, and it feels like a jam session, which is really freeing.”
The members’ training in cello performance helps them play the arrangements, but the different styles of playing required by the rock genre exercises an augmented set of performance and communication skills.
“Everyone starts playing AC/DC like it’s Bach,” said Giacomo Glotzer ’22, Low Strung’s tour manager. “You learn to loosen up and play with a core projective sound, but you also have to be extremely tentative and listen to the group constantly.”
To better communicate with each other, the ensemble performs all of their shows from memory.
In addition to performing one show a semester at Yale, the group tours each year over spring break. This year, Low Strung will tour Germany and perform concerts and host workshops at several international schools. The group is also scheduled to perform at a 14th-century barn and a well-known nightclub in Berlin.
In recent years, the group has performed at the Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland and Las Vegas’ Aria Resort and Casino, in addition to venues in Singapore, Costa Rica, China, Chicago, Atlanta and Los Angeles.
“Sometimes we deconstruct one of our arrangements with a group of young cellists,” said Glotzer. “We pair up students with group members, and they get each get assigned a part. They work on it, and we bring it all back into one big ensemble.”
Low Strung also conducts outreach in New Haven. Low Strung played for Pathways, a free program which allows high school students to take Yale courses.
“It’s a shame how so much good musical talent at Yale is so separated from the city,” Chung said. Low Strung hopes to increase the amount of outreach concerts they perform.
The group has recorded two albums: “Low Strung” in 2007 and “Quadruple Moon” in 2014.
Phoebe Liu | firstname.lastname@example.org