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Ra Ra Cello

Our latest episode of All Songs Considered features the New York rock group Ra Ra Riot. I've always been a sucker for the warm sound of a cello, and the band's new album has plenty of it. ("I Am the Walrus" by the Beatles and "10538 Overture" by E.L.O. are a couple of others.)

I wrote a note to the cellist of Ra Ra Riot, Alexandra Lawn, to see what it's like to play cello in a rock band. She sent back this wonderful little note:

"Cellists sit. Sitting with our instrument is as important as our bow-hold or our left-hand technique. We sit in orchestras, quartets. We are the ones that require the wedding planners to make sure they have an extra chair for us. We sit well. We sit right. We can bob our heads furiously and shimmy in our seats, but that's where the cello dance ends.

"I guess I got 'Angelina Ballerina Syndrome' (the ever and always ballet-dancing mouse) when I began playing cello in Ra Ra Riot. Here was this group of people who could jump, whirl, rock out... WHILE PLAYING... what? I was not going to just sit there. I'd look like a bobbing turtle. I was going to stand, too. I found a block of cement that I began bringing to every show with me so that I would have something to stabilize myself and the cello with. Think Captain Morgan stance. Eventually, I graduated: No cement block needed here. We played and toured so much that it became a very intense practice for standing and dancing with the cello. Some might say it looks dumb, but it's more fun than sitting. Now it feels as if I have my 'electric-cello-rock-goddess' (right, Allie) technique, as well as the 'I'm-still-a-classical-
cellist-dammit!' technique. Whatever the reaction to my new technique and lack thereof is, I am having the time of my life."

I shared this story with producer Robin Hilton, who immediately remembered a scene we both love from Woody Allen's Take the Money and Run:

Got any great moments in cello history?