Cello Fury a musical inspiration for kids

By on July 6, 2016
 Classical-cellist-turned-rocker Nicole Myers is an Ephrata High School graduate, now based in Pittsburgh with her Cello Fury bandmates. Photo by Dick Wanner

Classical-cellist-turned-rocker Nicole Myers is an Ephrata High School graduate, now based in Pittsburgh with her Cello Fury bandmates. Photo by Dick Wanner

To cellist Nicole Myers, music is a tool that helps teach discipline and transform brains.

The thought that some elementary school students no longer get the opportunity to pick up an instrument or find inspiration in live performances is heartbreaking.

Myers’ unique classical-rock group, Cello Fury, has built a career around promoting music education and helping students see the many possibilities music holds.

“When I was in third grade, I had no idea I wanted to be a rock cellist,” she says. “I didn’t even know that could exist.”

The Ephrata native and her three bandmates descended on the Cocalico School District in the spring to play a fund-raising gig for the local education foundation and a second show at Denver Elementary School’s Fine Arts Day.

During an afternoon assembly, Myers and fellow cellists Simon Cummings and Ben Munoz-along with drummer David Throckmorton wowed hundreds of students by turning the stodgy-looking cello into the star of a rock concert.

“The bow can bring out all the different tone colors in the instrument,” explained Myers, “just like when you paint.”

They demonstrated effects like the pulsating vibrato, the scratchy ponticello and the sliding glissando. As they played snippets from classical composers like Vivaldi and several of their own compositions, Myers encouraged the kids to clap overhead to the beat.

From their seats, two first-graders played air drums while a kindergartner one aisle over did her best head-banging impersonation.

“Our main message is just to get kids interested,” said Myers, who took up cello as a third grader at Ephrata’s now-shuttered Lincoln Elementary. “We grew up in different states, but we all had public school string programs.”

While Cocalico has maintained its arts and music programs, many district nationwide have slashed classes and after-school programs when faced with budget pressure or the time crunch created by standardized testing.

Cello Fury plays 50-60 school concerts each year, and schools often pay for the band’s appearance through grant funding. The band also tours, usually playing intimate shows for audiences of 100 to 300 people. But they’ve had moments on some pretty big stages: Cello Fury played in a halftime show before 67,000 fans at a Pittsburgh Steelers game and made an appearance at the South by Southwest music festival.

The band members also offer lessons and host a rock-classical crossover camp.

Part of the band’s appeal is their movement and style. At Denver, Myer’s black sequined top was the only nod to formal orchestra attire. After helping to lug in instruments and amps, she slipped into a pair of strappy black heels. Her bandmates slinked onstage in jeans and Puma sneakers.

“Oh, they’re a rocking group,” one first grader whispered excitedly to a classmate. “They have long hair!”

Cello Fury rocks the house.

Photo by Dick Wanner.

Denver music teacher Kristin Burkholder told the students that she’d gone to school with Myers, and that they both found ways to make music their livelihood.

“I became a music teacher because I never wanted to stop doing it,” she said.

Myers describes Cello Fury as a “band without lyrics.” The students didn’t seem to mind, raising their hands eagerly when asked about the tone of their songs, and how a classical piece might differ from a rock-and-roll performance.

“You can just kind of experience the music and interpret it however you feel,” Myers said.

About 200 hundred people felt the power of the band’s show the night before the Denver presentation; that event raised $784 for the Cocalico Education Foundation.

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