Culture | Not so mellow cello

Portland Cello Project builds bridges between musical communities

A small-scale cello orchestra that collaborates with independent musicians, covers Guns ‘N’ Roses, and has been known to bust out the occasional heavy metal tune sounds pretty… well, pretty awesome actually.  The Portland Cello Project, or PCP, is such a group.  Comprised of 11 classically trained cellists, PCP started out as a bit of an experiment in 2007.   
“There’s a bunch of cellists in Portland, all classically trained, but we all play different music like jazz and rock. Eventually we were like, why don’t we get together to read some classical repertoire, [perform] at a rock club, and see what happens,” explained Doug Jenkins, one of the cellists and PCP’s primary composer.

With PCP, you can hear a serious classical piece, a cover of “Toxic,” by Britney Spears, and a collaboration with indie rocker Thao Nguyen, all on one album.  As Jenkins described, “[PCP] just kind of evolved into this group that plays funny covers and collaborations with other musicians and with a little bit of classical music thrown in.”  
As a genre, classical music is often seen as inaccessible and highbrow. But PCP defies that notion; their unique combination of musical forms ensures that one of their albums or live shows has a little something for everyone.

“If there’s a goal…it’s to bridge the two [musical] communities, to make classical music more accessible to people who wouldn’t normally listen to it, and make indie rock music more accessible to people who listen to classical music,” said Jenkins. “Our audiences are very diverse – [it’s] a nice feeling to have this room full of completely different people listening to classical music and something like the Dandy Warhols.” 
If you listen to PCP at all, you will notice that they’re big fans of collaborations. To begin with, the band was formed by throwing together 11 different musicians, who then worked together to produce different arrangements for their first show. 
“I think that [collaborations] are kind of the future of the music world,” Jenkins explained. “[You] can’t go wrong with a community, as opposed to a world that is very competitive.”  PCP encourages a sense of community in the music world, even when they go on tour.  “Whenever we’re in a town, we try to bring on extra cellists with us from that town,” Jenkins said. 
PCP is currently on tour with Nguyen with The Get Down Stay Down. They’re making their way from Oregon to Montreal and back to California.  PCP loves to be unique, and for every Portland performance they prepare entirely new arrangements.  Because their current tour is two months long and consists of 26 shows, it was impossible for them to write new material for each show, said Jenkins.  Instead, they learned about two hours of music that they can change up depending on the audience and venue.  As a result, a live PCP performance is very different from the CDs they produce. 
“We record most of our live shows, [and] online you can subscribe and you can get recordings from the live shows, because we’ll play a song once and we may never play it again,” Jenkins explained.  This originality encourages people to come out to hear the band live, because they know that they will be guaranteed something new and exciting.   
PCP’s approach to music is rare. Jenkins, however, believes that their collaborative style, if nothing else, will stick and expand into other aspects of the music world.   
“[PCP] is something that at its base [is] admittedly [a] gimmick, but it’s something that we’ve given real life to,” Jenkins stated.   If cellists, indie rockers, and pop covers sounds like your cup of tea, be sure to check them out; this group won’t stay a West Coast secret for long.

The Portland Cello Project plays Il Motore (179 rue Jean-Talon O.) on November 2.


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