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Thursday, August 5, 2021

East Coast cello rock band meets Davis

SINGAPORE NIGHT LIVE / COURTESY

Yale’s Low Strung stops in Davis for West Coast tour

Yale is often recognized for its high academic rigor and quality. One facet of such a demanding community that may find itself unsung could prove to be one of Yale’s most unique. A 12-person cello band hailing from New Haven, Conn. plays music ranging from the rock of the ‘60s to present-day pop in its own energy-filled rhythm. Low Strung makes its way out to Davis on March 15 to present the Aggies with the jam power of 12 cellists. Such a distinctive combination of genre and instrument found its start from Yale’s own music-loving students.

“Low Strung was founded in 2006,” said Chloe Zhou, the tour manager of Low Strung. “It was started by a group of cellists in Yale’s orchestra. They decided they didn’t want to play just orchestra music, so they got together and started Low Strung.”

All the while, the organization has been completely student-run.

“We have four positions: we have tour manager, business manager, president and music director,” Zhou said. “Everyone in [that] group is a cellist and a good one at that.”

Zhou plays a large part in greasing the touring engine, making certain all parts fall into place where they should.

“When we have local gigs, such as the New York area or anywhere within driving distance, we just rent two cars and one U-Haul,” Zhou said. “[We] put all the cellos in the U-Haul, get in the cars and drive there. It’s a bit of a project.”

U-Hauls from New Haven to New York City may work, but given the greater distance between New Haven and the West Coast, these cellists fully feel the weight and size of their instruments.

“[When we] travel within the U.S. with expensive airline fares, we don’t bring our own cellos,” Zhou said. “You can’t put your cellos in the cargo, usually. You have to buy a seat for the cello! Which would double prices and would not be feasible, really.”  

A solution is typically found in the neighboring areas.

“We usually, at the location where we’re touring, we rent cellos,” Zhou said. “We are going to be renting from a store from El Cerrito [for our Davis concert].”

New Haven and Davis are quite a far distance apart, so what brings Low Strung out to the West Coast?

“We really just care about our audiences, so we’re looking for people that are going to enjoy it and who will really give us back the energy, that’s why we do everything from nightclubs to schools,” said Sofia Checa, the PR and business manager of Low Strung. “They have kind of the same reaction. In terms of why Davis, we traditionally travel to the home of one of our members, once a year. One of our members is from Davis, Calif.”

Han-ah Sumner, the Davis native, could not be reached for a comment, but the expanse of Low Strung’s touring was touched upon, having sold out notable venues in both Los Angeles and Washington D.C.

“The largest place I’ve been in was for the grand opening of the MGM National Harbor Casino in Maryland,” Zhou said. “We had all the people coming who had come for the grand opening, so that was thousands of people […] It was a great experience.”  

Low Strung has also rung out on foreign soil.

“Just last spring we toured in Singapore, which is the home city of one of our members,” Zhou said. “Prior to that […] [Low Strung] toured in Costa Rica and played in schools there. The group has also been to Switzerland, not as a tour, but to play in a music festival there, which is also really exciting.”

Checa found interest in the trip to Singapore.

“Singapore was at spring break for us,” Checa said. “We got off the plane in this paradise location […] We played at Universal Studios there. [We played] theme parks there, and we did a few country clubs, a few schools […] We had a concert outside, in a kind of outdoor market kind of area.”

Like their touring, their setlist parallels in variety.

“We got a ton of new arrangements of songs,” Zhou said. “We got ‘Hips Don’t Lie’ and we have older songs, like ‘Tragedy’ by The Bee Gees […] We do play a lot of The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, that kind of stuff […] [People] should come in with an open mind, to all sorts of of different pop and rock songs. I don’t think we are really the type of band that plays just one thing.”

Checa perceives such diversity as an advantage.

“I think the main draw is in the variety,” Checa said. “The fact that we can go from, in one concert, playing ‘Daddy Lessons’ by Beyonce to ‘Living on a Prayer’ by Bon Jovi […] It’s fun to be all over the map like that.”

Low Strung doesn’t shy away from more contemporary music; they even play music with substantial electronic production.

“We have ‘Bad Romance,’ Lady Gaga, and a lot of the synthesizer effects happen on the offbeat,” Zhou said. “I thought that was really hard to kind of play, as a person, what a machine would usually do.”

Their unique style of music brings in a wide audience.

“Our audience tends to be very diverse,” Zhou said. “We get everybody from younger students who want to play cello to college-aged students when we do performances at Yale and then people who are a bit older who like hearing these throwback songs because we are a cello rock group.”

So what should a Davis audience expect from Low Strung?

“I really like playing ‘Sweet Child O’ Mine,’” Zhou said. “What’s really fun about it is that we really get to rock out. There are parts we stand up and flip our hair crazy and have a good time.”

Low Strung also seeks an exhibition of a healthy band environment.

[The band] is extremely collaborative,” said Emily Cornett, the former president of Low Strung. “As much as we’re a group of cellists, we’re a group a friends […] Its very much like a big family because we do travel together so much.”

Checa had similar sentiments about the band.

“For me, [the band] is just the most fun thing ever,” Checa said. “It’s my favorite part of Yale, and my favorite part of being a college student is that I’m this lucky, that Low Strung is part of my life, and I can’t imagine what my life would be without it.”

This organization has left lasting impressions on its members.

“It’s pretty amazing to see how talented each person in the band is, but not only playing cello, also what they can bring to the group,” Cornett said. “Even people who aren’t in leadership positions are just always helping out and have ideas and opinions. It’s just a super immersive and active group.”

From the sound of Low Strung, the only thing their cellos won’t be offering Davis is classical music. If your ears are tuned to the energy of ‘60s rock or the jump in today’s pop, Low Strung may be able to kick a little rhythm into your step. Tickets are on sale for $15 on their website.

 

Written by: Nicolas Rago — arts@theaggie.org

 

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