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

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Ed Holden owns and operates The Christmas Store at Potters, located on 48th Avenue in Surrey. (Photo: Tom Zillich)
‘B.C. Buy Local Week’ kicks off with urgent plea to holiday shoppers

‘Local businesses are just hanging on,’ says organizer of the week-long campaign

File photo
Man, 68, charged with arson, assault and threatening in Whalley summer fire

David Thind charged in connection with a house fire in the 13000-block of 112A Avenue on Aug. 28

The South Surrey ‘Underground House’ includes skylights and just one side ‘window’ – this glass door that leads out to a patio. (Contributed photo)
South Surrey ‘underground house’ set to go up for sale

‘Unassuming’ John Kay-designed home include skylights, just one window

Swimmer Arianna Hunsicker outside the pool at Surrey Sport & Leisure Complex. The Surrey Knights swim club member is aiming to compete at the Paralympic Games in Tokyo next summer. (Photo: Tom Zillich)
Surrey swimmer aims for Paralympic Games amid COVID-19 challenges at Fleetwood pool

Arianna Hunsicker and other Knights club members train at the only public pool open in Surrey

One man is dead after a shooting in Fleetwood Sunday evening. (Shane MacKichan photos)
One dead after targeted shooting in Surrey

Incident took place near shopping complex at the corner of 152 Street and Fraser Highway

A bus shelter in White Rock is emblazoned with an ad from B.C.’s Office of the Human Rights Commissioner on Sunday, Nov. 29, 2020. (Black Press Media files)
VIDEO: ‘Am I racist?’ campaign asks British Columbians to confront their unconscious biases

Signs asking British Columbians to think about racial injustice have been put up across the province

Black Press Media and BraveFace have come together to support children facing life-threatening conditions. Net proceeds from these washable, reusable, three-layer masks go to Make-A-Wish Foundation BC & Yukon.
Put on a BraveFace: Help make children’s wishes come true

Black Press Media, BraveFace host mask fundraiser for Make-A-Wish Foundation

Jim Neufeld, 55, was last seen leaving his home in Penticton Jan. 21, 2009. (RCMP photo)
Human remains found off U.S. coast in 2009 identified as Penticton man

Jim Neufeld, 55, was last seen leaving his home in Penticton Jan. 21, 2009

Pitt Meadows Mayor John Becker at his former law office. (News files)
Former Pitt Meadows mayor suspended from practising law for 14 months

Statement from John Becker says anxiety and depression played role

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond speaks to a reporter in Vancouver on November 13, 2015. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck)
No evidence that B.C. ER staff played blood alcohol level game, but Indigenous racism ‘widespread’

Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond releases findings of independent investigation

(Dave Landine/Facebook)
VIDEO: Dashcam captures head-on crash between snowplow and truck on northern B.C. highway

Driver posted to social media that he walked away largely unscathed

Menno Place. (Google Street View image.)
B.C. care home looks to hire residents’ family members amid COVID-19-related staff shortage

Family would get paid as temporary workers, while having chance to see loved ones while wearing PPE

B.C. Finance Minister Carole James and Premier John Horgan announce $5 billion emergency fund for COVID-19 unemployment and other relief, B.C. legislature, March 23, 2020. (B.C. government)
Carole James stays on to advise B.C. Premier John Horgan

Retired finance minister to earn a dollar a year

Most Read