Violist Finds Favor In Indie Rock And Classics

Lauren Chipman

After 10 years of From the Top broadcasts, alumni from the show are popping up all over. I recently played with the New West Symphony in Thousand Oaks, Calif., and there in the viola section was Lauren Chipman, a fabulous player who'd been on From the Top as a 17-year-old high schooler.

I remember her first performance on From the Top. She brought us Alan Shulman's Theme & Variations for Viola and Piano, a great piece with a difficult piano part that really had me working to keep up.

Fast-forward a few years, and I'm at a concert at the House of Blues in Cleveland. There on stage, as a member of a band called The Rentals, is Chipman jamming on her viola alongside lead singer Matt Sharp. She was a total rock star. So what happened? How did this amazing classical string player end up touring with an indie-rock band?

It turns out that, after Chipman finished her undergraduate studies in viola performance at USC, she was playing with symphonies in Los Angeles and had formed a string quartet with some friends. The quartet was about to go out on an international tour when she received a life-changing phone call. It was Sharp, looking for a violist.

Chipman had never played outside of a classical setting, but she and Sharp hit it off. Before she knew it, she was playing viola and keyboards, and even singing in the band.

"After a few records and tours, I went from playing simple string parts to being truly creatively involved," she says.

Today, in addition to touring with The Rentals, Chipman plays with the Section Quartet, a self-described "rock band-disguised-as-a-string-quartet," and writes and records her own film scores. She's even started a new project with a friend, decorating violins and string-player accessories with Swarovski crystals, called "Baroque Bling."

But in case you think Chipman has given up on her classical roots, nothing could be further from the truth.

"I still love classical music, and I've discovered that I love teaching — both kids and adults," she says. "I teach with a strong technical foundation, but I always encourage my students to compose their own songs and write parts for rock songs. I mean, that's what I do."

Chipman says she couldn't be happier with where her passion for music has taken her.

"My musical life is so varied and so full in ways I could have never imagined back when I was on From the Top," she says. "I absolutely love it."

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