Iowa cellists come together for festival


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Booming, resonant bass lines and soaring high notes will fill the air this weekend as dozens of bows touch dozens of strings at the Iowa City Cello Daze, a two-day festival celebrating all things cello.

Anthony Arnone, a cofounder of the Iowa Cello Society and organizer of Cello Daze, said there is a little something for everyone at the festival.

"Any cellist who wants to learn about cello can benefit a lot by coming," he said.

The 10th-annual Cello Daze will take place Saturday and Sept. 18 at the Riverside Recital Hall. Musicians wishing to participate in the full two-day event can fill out an application and pay $40 (for students) or $50 (for the general public). Admission to the Saturday night recital and the Sept. 18 concert is free. The public is also welcome to sit in on a master class for free.

Cellists of any age or skill level can participate and play in the cello choir. Arnone said he is looking forward to having 50-plus cellos on stage at once.

"I've never got to 50," he said. "I've come close, but I think I'm going to make it this year."

Carey Bostian, the principal cellist of Cedar Rapids' Orchestra Iowa and a teacher for many cello students in the area, will conduct this year's cello choir. He has participated in Cello Daze on and off since its inception and conducted the cello choir two years ago.

He said he values the festival from the perspective of a teacher, and he is excited about the opportunity for students to learn from masters and each other.

"In the orchestra, we've got everyone from really young students to adult beginners to some of the best professional cellists in the country and also adult amateurs," Bostian said. "It's a very rare thing to put that kind of diversity of level together, and they just share that bond of playing the cello and playing music together."

One student who knows the benefits of participating in the cello choir is Mousa Aboissa. The cellist, who has been playing for 13 years and attended his first Cello Daze last year, said the cello choir was his favorite part of the weekend.

"You meet people older and younger than you and they're all helpful, and they all motivate you," he said.

Cello Daze also features guests who conduct master classes and hold lectures. One is Zuill Bailey, a cellist becoming more and more famous and in demand worldwide. He has played at the Kennedy Center, Carnegie Hall, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, as well as many other places.

Arnone said Bailey is becoming more popular in the mainstream and possesses a charismatic personality. He is able to play for a lot of different audiences. Bailey will perform a solo Bach recital on Saturday night and teach a master class on Sept. 18.

The Daily Iowan reached the elite cellist on tour in Alaska, and he said he realized that playing cello was his calling during his début with an orchestra when he was 12.

"I'll never forget looking out at the audience and playing this concerto and seeing and feeling like we were all one, like we were all breathing together as an audience and as performers," Bailey reminisced. "That feeling was so invigorating and exhilarating that I thought at that moment, this is what I have to do in my life."

Making classical music accessible to all people is his mission. Wherever he travels, he tries to bring cello into the lives of the community members through his concerts or visiting schools and libraries.

"I realized as I began to travel when I was in my late teens that I was extremely lucky to be given [music] on a silver platter, and a lot of communities didn't have it that accessible," he said. "Classical music, at least, was not as easy to listen to for young people. It wasn't just everywhere like it was for me."

Kurt Baldwin, a native of Iowa City who now plays in the Arianna String Quartet at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, will join Bailey this weekend. He began playing cello in an Iowa City public school in seventh grade and said he appreciates growing up in place so open to and full of music.

"Iowa City is a nationally know place for the quality of the music students," he said. "Iowa City is a community that really takes advantage of things such as Cello Daze."

The nation's cellist population is small, and many cellists, Baldwin included, said that the small number makes them closer to each other. He said they feel like a tightly knit community, full of old friends.

"The best thing about getting cellists together is we love to be around each other and talk about cellos," he said. "It's mostly for the sharing of the music and the ideas and a few laughs."

Tim Janof, the head of the Internet Cello Society, will give a lecture at Cello Daze. He has interviewed approximately 80 of the world's greatest cellists; he said the only one he hasn't had the chance to interview yet is Yo-Yo Ma.

"I get to meet all of my heroes," he said. "I'm very lucky.

As he began doing interviews, Janof said, he expected to find a kind of magic potion for becoming a great cellist and a great musician.

"That was my big realization — that there is no secret," he said. "We all have to dig within ourselves to find that thing that sparks us and makes us the best that we can be."

Janof did not have a cello teacher until college; he taught himself through books, experimentation, and observing other cellists. This gave him a special bond with the cello.

"The cello has been like a close friend to me," he said. "I've known it since I was in first grade."
At the center of Cello Daze and at the center of these cellists' lives is their instrument. The cello has a sound that is closest to the human voice, the musicians say. It encompasses the entire human vocal range.

For Janof, this makes it the perfect emotional outlet for expressing how he feels.

"If you feel like singing, you can sing," he said. "If you feel like growling, it allows you to growl, too. It's a very versatile instrument."

For Bailey, the cello is calming, an intimate embrace among him, his cello, and the audience.
"It's all about the sound for me," he said. "It's very soothing. It is an instrument that you actually wrap your arms around and hug as you're playing it."

Bailey and his fellow cellists agree that they could not imagine life without music.

"I've never seen cello as something I had to do, it was something that I just do, and I just am, and music is what I am," Bailey said.

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