WILD CELLOS - Advertising Bellingham

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Sat, Feb 26, 2011, 12:51 pm  //  Kamalla Rose Kaur

Bellingham's wild cellist, Corbin Keep, is "Travelin' Light" with Mel Watson, at the Roeder Home, Wednesday March 2, 7:30pm.

Pacific Northwesterners traditionally talk our region down -- complaining about our mold allergies and fungal diseases, rain for months with dark overhanging clouds – that's how we speak about our lives to “outsiders.” Authentic Pacific Northwesterners invite family and friends from other places to visit us in June. June's a very rainy month here, and to hammer and nail down the bad impression, Pacific Northwesterners are genuinely SAD and grumpy in June, having fully forgotten about the possibility of sunshine.

”All is darkness here,” Pacific Northwesterners whine to the world. Extremists even advertise our high regional suicide rate to keep people from moving to this area.

Bellingham, known for our subdued excitement, remained a small, beautiful, and unusual town for most of our history. We've been hiding.

Suddenly everything changes. Out on YouTube the non-profit Sustainable Connections claims Bellingham is the best economy in the country, a paradise in hard times.

Bellingham, Washington - A Living Local Economy


Sustainable Connections is not the only entity advertising Bellingham as a great place to settle. Julie Carpenter, a local real estate broker, told NW Citizen, "Bellingham, and by extension, Whatcom County, have been named in several magazines as among the ‘top ten’ best places to live." She assured us, "But that isn't all bad. Maybe we have attracted more kayakers, boaters, bikers, hikers, retired folks and business people. Those are pretty desirable neighbors, I’d say."

Bellingham also has our cultural ambassadors dedicated to preserving our environment and our regional culture and history - authentic Pacific Northwestern performers making Bellingham famous.

1. Swil Kanim is an actor in Sherman Alexie's film "The Business of Fancy Dancing," local musician, and sooth sayer

2. Dana Lyons lives in Bellingham. Newspapers and magazines say Dana is a “leader of a moo-vement” and “a modern day Pete Seeger.” Captain Paul Watson, Sea Shepherd Conservation Society (as seen on CNN Headline News & in Entertainment Weekly Magazine) says: “Every movement has its minstrel. The unions had Woody Guthrie. The Peace Movement had Phil Ochs. The environmental movement has Dana Lyons.”

3. Dr. Linda Allen, story-singer, directs Bellingham's Threshold Choir - a group of women who sit close to our sick and dying, and sing softly. Linda visited thirty-two Washington State towns and cities last year with her show "Here's To the Women!"  celebrating a hundred years of suffrage for Washington State women. Recently, Dr. Allen was inducted into the Northwest Women's Hall of Fame.

4. Check out the The New Old Time Chautaugua, poet Kevin Murphy author and public speaker Dr. Clyde Ford, and so many other wonderful artists and performers, writers and environmentalists busy putting Bellingham on the map.

But for me, when I think of Bellingham, with its beauty and it's funkiness, I hear cello music!


I recommend cello music to advertise my hometown of Bellingham, Washington. Something about the resonance of a cello seems to express the heart of Bellingham - the mists and sunsets, the mountains and winds, the forests of Douglas fir and cedar trees, the lakes, the eagles, the salmon, the orcas.

I have long associated Bellingham with great cello players. Maybe because of the influence of Bellingham's elder great cellist, and cello teacher, Barton Frank?

Currently my favorite local cello player is Dylan Rieck  I'm friends with his mother. Dylan's setting off on tour with a band called Balmordea.

And I grew up with Corbin Keep, the wildest cellist imaginable.  Bellingham was a small town and Corb's cello playing impacted so many of us.

Swil Kanim told me that the first day he entered the Sehome High School orchestra room as a freshman, Corb was warming up, and goofing off. Corb could play Jimi Hendrix on his cello. "I was stunned," he said. "All I could think was 'I want to play like THAT!'"

Now Corbin Keep sits on the board of the New Directions Cello Association, an organization devoted to cello, particularly in promoting cello music styles other than classical. Corb plays futuristic and mixed genre music, but happily, he still runs Hendrix riffs.

“Foxy Lady” Corbin Keep, in the blue shirt, with Tom Culver.

Corbin Keep is coming home to Bellingham to perform with Mel Watson who is known for her work in the Australian band Fruit, . Two singer-songwriters who play from the heart, consummate musicians creating “acoustic sculpture, musical transfusion; an aural feast of genre-transcendent, emotionally charged original music. Elements of folk, classical, rock, blues, jazz and more are combined, creating a cello and horn driven sound which is all their own."
They're calling themselves, Travelin' Light and will be at the Roeder Home on Wednesday, March 2, 7:30 p.m. (sponsored by The Homemade Music Society and Whatcom Family and Community Network). 

Corb's upcoming show at the Roeder Home gave me the opportunity to catch up with him and reminisce about our school days and his passion for cello.

"Who were your cello instructors in Bellingham?"

"In university, Barton Frank. A huge musical and personal influence on me was Nicholas Bussard, my orchestra conductor at Sehome High. That man changed my life. I hold his memory very dear."

"Nobody plays cello like you. How did that happen?"

"I started on guitar at age eight, got my first one at Griffith Furniture for exactly $9.99. I remember pushing pennies - there were a lot of them - across the nose-high counter. Four years later, in sixth grade at Shuksan Middle School, there was a choice: play a wind instrument in band or a string instrument in the orchestra. Guitar back then was not an option. I chose the instrument that seemed closest to a guitar, the cello."

"Thank goodness for Bellingham's school music programs. Art save lives. Too bad they didn't offer guitar, still the cello obviously suits you."

"My aspirations as a guitarist informed my cello playing - songwriting, improvising; approaching the cello in this way always seemed quite natural to me. And seeing David Darling (pioneering non-classical cellist from Connecticut) playing at Western (WWU) when I was 17 definitely opened my eyes to what was possible on a cello. That same year, I got a pickup and a wah-wah pedal for my cello and played it in the high school jazz ensemble."

"I remember."

"That interest in experimentation and striving to try new things with the cello has never left me."

Perhaps Bellingham's interest in experimentation and striving to try new things is the secret of our success and currently emerging fame. Bellinghamsters remain open minded and allow talents like Corbin to grow in pioneering ways. As Bellingham becomes more visible as a green community, we celebrate the hard work of the people who grow and catch our food, who create our parks and greenways, music programs, and so much more.

Pacific Northwesterners traditionally talked our region down -- complaining about our mold allergies and fungal diseases, rain for months with dark overhanging clouds – that's how we'd talk about our lives to “outsiders.”

Bellingham remained a small town for most of our misty history. But no more. We've come out.


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