by Chase Morrison

I had the good fortune of being involved with the last year's New Directions Cello Association Festival at the University of Connecticut. The vibe was very nice -- the venue is already a hotbed of cello activity during the rest of the year thanks to cello instructor May Lou Ryland and her camp of very talented students. The hall is great -- good sight lines, good acoustics, good piano, and good audio equipment.

Originally, I submitted my works for multiple cellos, "Things Past," and was hoping to hear back from them as to whether or not they'd like to include them on the cello Big Band program. Well, not only did they respond in the affirmative, they asked me to conduct the whole cello Big Band program! What a treat that was, with all kinds of cellists (electric, acoustic, country, jazz, and rock backgrounds) coming together to read and perform works by cellist composers.

There was a lot going during the festival's three days. Max Dyer came from Texas with his trio PICO (cello, piano & drums) -- sort of a fusion, funk, jazz sound. Max has a classical background with special interests in jazz, folk, renaissance and Indian music. Aaron Minsky and his trio kicked you-know-what in a more rockin' vein, using many of his own arrangements. Hank Roberts came with his trio from Ithaca to spice things up with music from folk to avant garde. He also gave a master class, as did Eugene Friesen, Jami Sieber and Akua Dixon (these cellists all gave night-time concerts as well). Sieber plays an electric cello, a 5-string Jensen, which was of great interest to many -- great for arpeggios, and you don't even have to get out of first position for anything if you don't want to. Dixon did a jazz set of some great classic jazz composers. And Trevor Extor did a great afternoon of Brazilian music.

There were companies present who showed off the latest in electric cellos and accoutrements, sheet music, tapes, and CDs. My personal favorite discovery: Sean Grissom's STOPPIN, the best little end-pin holder I've ever seen -- looks like a high-tech eraser and holds on any surface. I still get people asking me about it everywhere I go. Most of all, it was a high to just be around a lot of cellists who think there's a lot more to cello than just etudes, concertos, and orchestra playing.

This June, New Directions Cello Association will again present three days of festival at UConn Storrs, with Dave Baker, Nioka Workman, John Pointer, and myself (leading the Big Band cellos, giving a workshop on getting the bow moving, and a concert of Scottish music). Such variety under one roof! I hope you'll attend this June 11-13, 1999. New Directions Cello Association & Festival, 501 Linn St., Ithaca, NY 14850-3764.

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