17 Aug 2017

Classical music for headbangers

From Upbeat, 1:20 pm on 17 August 2017

The words 'Bach' and 'metal' don't often appear in the same sentence. But American cellist Aaron Minsky is closing the divide between the two genres - and in turn generations - using his cello.

The classically-trained cellist, and enthusiastic guitarist is travelling the country taking his unique style to schools and is premièring his new cello concerto 'Summer Haze' in New Plymouth this weekend with the Taranaki Youth Orchestra.

Jimi Hendrix, Ian Anderson and the Beatles are the inspiration for Minsky to combine different genres with classical music.

The Grateful Dead and Black Sabbath also feature in his repertoire along with Bach.

He realized early on that to be taken seriously he had to become a classical cellist.

"I didn't wanna be a guy that people say, 'he can play rock, but can he play Beethoven'?" he says.

It wasn't Beethoven or Bach who sealed his musical path… it was a music festival.

He was sent to a summer camp as a child and it had a huge influence on his life.

"Little did they [my parents] know that my camp was down the road from Woodstock," he says. "We were in the middle of all that craziness."

He wanted to see if he could sound like Hendrix but with a bow and acoustic cello. Then when he was 15 he pondered whether he could play the cello like a guitar.

It turns out he could. The c-rib fitted perfectly over his right knee. He pulled out a pick and started to pluck away, drawing on his experience as a guitarist in his younger years. He's dubbed this the "celtar" style.

Minksy has been teaching the celtar to children around New Zealand, and it seems Kiwi kids have taken to it well.

He says other children around the world have been tentative about trying out the style, but here, especially kids from Pasifika backgrounds, picked up the style instantly.

He's also played around with music in other ways, including creating his own variations of the Bach Cello Suites; which he refers to as "the Bible of cello playing". The result? A Bach cello suite that you can head-bang to.

For Minksy though there is a higher purpose to his work.

"I'm trying to eliminate that barrier between popular and classical music," he says.

"I think back to composers like Schubert. A lot of his music was based on Viennese dance forms. Even the Bach Suites were dance forms. So I got the idea of using Bach and taking our modern dance forms like rock and roll, and tango and swing… and putting those dance forms with Bach's music."