Popular songs covered brilliantly on cello.
Doing a cover song of a popular song is not an easy feat. Especially if you choose a well-known song because everybody will know when you make a mistake.
You do get musicians who can do a rendition of a song exactly like the original. In a way that is how classical cellists are trained. From a young age, you are taught how to play the Bach Suite or Elgar Concerto exactly as it was intended. You even get graded on your rendition. So, cellists are actually doing covers of the masters since they start playing the cello.
None of the songs in my favourite list below were originally written for cello and that is why it is so inspiring to listen to these covers. The cellists where all able to do a cover of the original that is as good as the original and you don’t mind listening to either.
There are so many excellent covers out there, that I had to split it into two blog posts.
Here is the list for Part 1, enjoy!
#1 Stranger Things theme song covered by Nicolas Yee
Designed for beginners, student cellos are often made by machine. For high friction points such as pegs and the fingerboard, maple is sometimes used, often dyed to look like expensive ebony. These cellos are affordable for most budgets and make a great option for players still in the early development stages.
If you grew up in the ’80s and rode your BMX with your friends in the neighbourhood, you will love this series on Netflix!
The original soundtrack was composed by Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein of the electronic band Survive. It is bathed in synth keyboards and is therefore difficult to imagine being played on the cello. Bring in Nicholas Yee to change your perspective.
Nicholas Yee is a Canadian cellist and does the most unimaginable covers of popular songs on the cello. He even posts the sheet music of his arrangements for cellists in the bio of his YouTube videos. The sheet music is also available on his website www.nicholasyee.com and on www.musicnotes.com.
If you are a Stranger Things fan, you will appreciate these comments made on YouTube:
Dariyellow: “On a scale of one to ten I give this an Eleven!!!”
Carla A. Minghetti: “Those are not dislikes, it’s likes from the Upside down.”
Have a listen to this magical arrangement for 3 cellos here, courtesy of YouTube:
Needless to say, this song has been covered by numerous artists. If you think you have heard it all, you haven’t heard the cover by Kevin Olusola.
Olusola is a Nigerian-American musician and is best known as the beatboxer of the vocal band Pentatonix. He has also developed “celloboxing”, which is playing the cello and beatboxing simultaneously. You have to hear it!
He is also a master at using the loop pedal. Using a loop pedal can either be disastrous or a perfect performance, there is no in-between. Your timing and pitching need to be perfectly on point, otherwise you will just add layers to your mistake, making it terrible to listen to.
Olusola is able to loop everything. He starts with looping his pizzicatos and then creates these absolutely beautiful glissandos and loop that as well. The result is original cello playing at its best. At around 1:55 he shows off his celloboxing skills and it is a thrill to listen to. He creates a unique voice for the cello and himself as a cellist. Simply masterful!
#3 Smooth Criminal covered by 2Cellos
2Cellos is a duo of two classically trained cellists Luka Šulić and Stjepan Hauser. Šulić was born in Slovenia and Hauser in Croatia and they were rivals in music competitions before they became partners in 2Cellos.
They have covered numerous popular classical, pop and rock songs and also themes from popular movies. If you search 2Cellos on YouTube you will be able to find stunning covers from this dynamic duo. Both of them are also pursuing solo careers at the moment.
My favourite cover from this duo is Smooth Criminal originally written and performed by Michael Jackson. Every musician knows that if you want to cover a Michael Jackson song, you can’t be an average musician you need to be one of the best. His songs are not easy covers.
2Cellos does this song justice. Everything you hear is layers of the cello. No other instrument was used to create this musical masterpiece. Both Hauser’s and Šulić’s skills are incredible and it is evident that they can play even the most difficult classical piece. They demonstrate their versatility with the different bowing styles, left-hand positions, and sounds they create to build the layers of the cello.
It is a true classical duet with call and answer sections, difficult runs executed at incredible speed, but it is also a fantastic passionate performance of one of the best pop songs ever.
It is not difficult to see why this was the song that made 2Cellos famous. Watch this cello battle here, courtesy of YouTube:
#4 Roxanne covered by Ayanna Witter-Johnson
Roxanne is the very famous song by the group The Police and was written by lead singer and bassist Sting. It is ranked no 388 on the Rolling Stone’s Greatest Songs of All-time list and is also inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.
With all of these accolades, it can be very intimidating doing this cover, but Ayanna Witter-Johnson does it like no other. I am sure Sting will listen to this cover over and over.
Ayanna Witter-Johnson is a British composer, singer, songwriter, and cellist. She has created a unique way of performing by singing and playing the cello simultaneously. You will fall in love with either her, the cello, or both while watching this performance, it is simply mesmerizing.
Watch it here, courtesy of YouTube:
I will post Part 2 with more beautiful covers shortly, in the meantime let me know which ones are your favourites.
Please share this with at least one fellow musician.