Helen Newby


Helen’s Music Story

Helen Newby continually seeks ways to expand the technical and expressive boundaries of her instrument through close collaboration with other innovative performers, composers and artists. She is widely recognized for her “warm tone” and “intimate balanced sound” (The Washington Post), and as a “superb” and “committed champion” of new music (Cleveland Classical). Newby’s passion for collaboration and experimentation has led her to work with a number of both emerging and established composers, including Steve Reich, Chaya Czernowin, Marcos Balter, Sabrina Schroeder, Ashley Fure, and Tania León, among others. Her premiere solo album, Dialogue, featuring commissions by David Bird, Danny Clay, Adam Hirsch, Kurt Isaacson and Haley Shaw, was released in early 2017 on Ephemeral Stream Recordings.

Newby has performed with and alongside ensembles such as the JACK Quartet, San Francisco Contemporary Music Players, Eco Ensemble, Real Vocal String Quartet, One Found Sound, and Contemporaneous, among others. She is a founding member of Amaranth Quartet and Chartreuse. She has been in-residence at several new music-focused festivals such as Bang on a Can, the Banff Institute, New Music on the Point, SICPP, the Barnes Foundation and Music in Bloom (Bloomington, IN). Recent and upcoming collaborations with pop, electronic and indie artists include Kygo, Michael Bublé, Gregory Porter and Aish, among others.

In addition to an active career as a performer, Newby is equally dedicated to education and working with emerging composers, performers, and communities of listeners. She has given concerts and workshops for undergraduate and graduate students at institutions including Oberlin College, Brown University, Georgia Southern University, DePauw University, SUNY Fredonia, Hillsdale College, Tromsø University, and the Norges Musikkhøgskole. She maintains a private teaching studio in Brooklyn, NY.

Newby studied at Oberlin College with Darrett Adkins (B.M.) before continuing her education at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music with Jennifer Culp (M.M). She began her studies in Los Angeles, CA with Rachael Lonergan.

"I am very open to having students explore music outside the classical canon in addition to experimenting with improvisation and composition."

What was the San Francisco Conservatory of Music like?

One of my favorite parts about studying at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music was its emphasis on chamber music. While at the SF Conservatory, I formed a string quartet named Amaranth Quartet that I played in for about 7 years. I received lots of amazing opportunities and learned so much through playing in this group.

Where would you suggest people buy a cello from?

I actually think that renting a cello is a great place to start, particularly if you’re brand new to the instrument. While I hope that all my students never quit playing the cello, renting is a relatively small commitment, particularly in terms of cost. If you eventually decide that you’d like to buy the cello you’ve rented, many luthiers/string shops will apply the money you’ve spent on a rental towards the cost of buying the instrument.

What age do you recommend starting to play the cello?

I think that it is possible to start cello at just about any age! I generally recommend that students be at least 5 years old when they start the cello.

So, what are you like as a teacher?

My studio is a positive, encouraging, and sensitive environment, where I believe every person can begin or continue a life-long journey with music. My teaching philosophy is largely centered around the importance of individuality. The “one size fits all” approach is hardly ever adequate–every student has different needs, strengths, and challenges. While I certainly place emphasis on technical work and mastery, I also want all students to feel comfortable in expressing their individual voice and interests. I believe that it is incredibly important to encourage students to explore a number of creative avenues within music. Therefore, I am very open to having students explore music outside the classical canon in addition to experimenting with improvisation and composition. An additional component of my teaching style is finding unique and interesting ways to keep students motivated and teaching them how to effectively practice and learn on their own.

What has been your career highlight to date?

I put out a solo cello album several years ago called “Dialogue”. The album is made up of 5 commissioned works by living composers (and friends of mine!) This is a project that I’m super proud of. Another highlight for me is my main project of the last year, which is writing and recording multi-cello pop covers. You can see some of these here: youtube.com/helennewby

What cello pieces would you recommend people listen to, to inspire them to play?

The Bach Cello Suites are so great – would definitely recommend checking those out if you haven’t already! Here are some others that I love:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uGVBgHbNLZI (Julie-o by Mark Summer)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ytepXpkBOnY (Cello Solo Sonata by Zoltan Kodaly)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wkmzXHTrixI (Petals by Kaija Saariaho)

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