This is the second year Surrey’s Clara Shandler has offered free cello concerts – which include everything from Bach to Nirvana – each Saturday from her sidewalk ‘stage’ in Vancouver. Her goal is to make classical music accessible to everyone.

This is the second year Surrey’s Clara Shandler has offered free cello concerts – which include everything from Bach to Nirvana – each Saturday from her sidewalk ‘stage’ in Vancouver. Her goal is to make classical music accessible to everyone.

‘It’s not all nice, tea party music’

Clara Shandler, otherwise known as The Sidewalk Cellist, rips classical music out of the concert halls and takes it to the streets.



Her grandfather played cello, so when he passed away, it wasn’t entirely surprising that Clara Shandler’s dad – already an accomplished violin and piano player – took up the larger bowed stringed instrument.

It was about then that toddler Clara’s ears perked up and her little hands got busy.

She started making cellos out of Tinkertoys. And when her parents had dinner parties or get togethers, she’d stage impromptu performances on her makeshift instruments.

“It was terrible,” she laughs.

Finally, at age three, she got a real cello, a 16th-sized one just slightly bigger than a viola.

That was nearly 20 years – and numerous cellos – ago.

Now Shandler, a Fraser Heights Secondary grad who this spring finished her bachelor of music degree at UBC, hopes to bring her music to the masses.

But it’s not just in stuffy concert halls and auditoriums. She’s taking her sound to the streets.

For the second year, the 22-year-old self-proclaimed Sidewalk Cellist is setting up each Saturday beside a park in Vancouver and performing for anyone who wants to listen

photo by Jonathan Dy“One of my really big values is making sure that music is accessible,” she says. “When I was studying musicology, one of the things that I was really looking at… was how do we get classical music into public spaces so that everyone can experience the genre live? Because so much of classical music is the beauty of the live performance.”

She had busked before. In fact, when she was 15 and working for pocket change at a library, she quickly discovered that she could make more money by hauling her cello downtown and putting out her case.

This time, however, she wanted to test a new concept and simply set up an outside show without asking for money. Last summer, she chose a regular spot and a consistent day and time for her sidewalk performances.

“I wanted to give people the opportunity to experience classical music on a regular basis for no charge, in a nice, accessible outdoor space where nobody has to feel like they have to dress up.”

At the beginning, folks would trickle by, some stopping to listen to a song or two. But toward the end of the summer, she was drawing regular audiences of 50 or 60 people.

“It was so positive.”

One teenage boy, she recalls, came a half-dozen times, and has been back to listen again this year since she returned to her location in May.

Shandler plays music by Vivaldi, Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, Debussy and other classical composers. She has also asked her music colleagues to compose pieces that she performs at her outdoor shows.

However, making her music accessible has also meant choosing a variety of styles that appeal to a wide range of listeners.

“I try to play as many different genres as I can.”

To mix things up, she finishes each show with a few more original compositions, she says, which include everything from heavy metal to gypsy sounds, as well as a couple of Nirvana cover tunes and “Thunderstruck” by AC/DC.

“It’s really cool to see that my project is kind of working,” says the young musician. “People are getting to realize that classical music doesn’t just mean Beethoven. Classical music can mean this crazy, weird, loud, obnoxious, really rhythmically percussive, dissonant music. It’s not all nice, tea party music.”

Her sidewalk shows take place every Saturday from 2-4 p.m. through the end of June at Grandview Park on Commercial Drive.

After that, Shandler is embarking on a 60-day Greyhound bus tour in July and August that will take her across Canada as far east as Montreal, down to New York, New Orleans, Nashville, San Francisco (and everywhere in between) and back up the coast home. She plans 30 concerts over the 60 days.

For more on Shandler, check www.sidewalkcellist.com

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