Columbia students use cellos to keep classical music current

ByChristina Zapata WABC logo
Tuesday, April 21, 2015
string theory cellos

NEW YORK (WABC) -- A series of divine coincidences joined five students from across the country to form a band that makes classical music current.

In the fall of 2011, Nathan Chan, Steven Bennett, Maddie Tucker, Justin Zhao and Corinna Boylan came to Columbia University and became known on campus as the String Theory Cellos, all before finals.

Some members met their first day away at college, and all became connected soon after by being drawn to the sound of the others practicing cello on campus.

"It was really a series of serendipitous events that brought this band together," Chan said. "And I think that can only happen at such a versatile and inspired place like Columbia."

Each member has been playing the cello since before the age of 10, out of their own love for the instrument.

"One night early during our first semester, we put our practice to use at a community event on fraternity row," Bennett said. "We got such a great response, we knew we had to start a band."

The name, String Theory Cellos, is a play on words, alluding to the physicist theory merging creativity and intelligence.

"We wanted the name to acknowledge that we are a part of an academic institution," Boylan said. "We recently found out a few potential students wrote their college essay on our band, saying that is why they are inspired to come to Columbia."

"Moves Like Jagger," by Maroon Five, was the first song they featured on YouTube, and it now has more than 310,000 views.

Two of the bands best hits are their classical covers of "Viva La Vida" by Coldplay and "Applause" by Lady Gaga, available on iTunes.

Using just his ear, Zhao composes all of the cover songs in accordance with how well the notes will convert over to their cellos, keeping each member's personality in mind with every key.

"We wanted to take this instrument that was made over 300 years ago and show people, especially youth, that it is still relevant and beautiful," Chan said. "The best way to do that is through pop music."

Chan and Maddie are also enrolled in a five-year music program with Juilliard, where the group has performed several times.

Along with Columbia and Juilliard, throughout their college career. the cellists have played in front of hundreds at conferences and schools around the country.

The String Theory Cellos are hosting a final concert before graduation at Columbia University in the John Jay Lounge at 9 p.m. on Wednesday, May 6.

"It has been really nice to see audience's reaction to our music and how we have broken the stigma that often comes along with classical music," Tucker said. "And the best part is probably just that we all became such good friends."