Visitors' Corner

Here is where visitors' articles and reminiscences will be placed. With your help, we can make this site a place of continuing enjoyment and interest for all! Since I am a visitor to this site too, I will start things off with some memories. Please click on the following links or scroll down.

  • The Old Neighborhood
  • Visitor #1 - The Cello (poem)
  • Visitor #2 - A Guide to the Standard Cello Repertoire (Minsky makes the list)
  • Visitor #3 - Eddie "Von Cello" ??? A Reminiscence (article)
  • Visitor #4 - The Breaking The Sound Barriers CD Contest Results (Von Cello vs. The Grammys)
  • Visitor #6 - A View Of Canarsie From SPE2
  • Visitor #7 - Life Is But A Dream (Von Cello remembers the Grateful Dead)
  • Visitor #8 - AN INTERVIEW WITH A ROCK CELLIST (Von Cello, the subject of a college term paper)
  • Visitor #9 - From the Desk of the Assistant Principal!
  • Visitor #10 - A Very Good Year
  • Visitor #11 - Are Guitars overrated? An Exploratory Essay Through the Murky, Myriad Variety of Sound-Makers From All Over the Globe

    by Aaron Von Cello

    If the names Ruby the Knish Man, Harvey Kayro, or Sedio, mean anything to you, then you must be from the old neighborhood. Canarsie was a one of a kind place. People from Canarsie often stay friends for life, and if not friends, they still have an intense interest in hearing about the people they knew. What was it about growing up there that left its mark so strongly on those who lived there?

    We didn't know it at the time, but we were witnessing the end of an era. It was a time and place where the spirit of the old Brooklyn still survived. The Brooklyn of the Brooklyn Dodgers, the Brooklyn of WC Fields, Woody Allen, and so many other characters. It was an extremely friendly place. It took a long time to get home from school because you had to talk to everyone you knew. You might stop four or five times on the way home and stretch a five minute walk into a half hour or so. But you couldn’t imagine it any other way: how could you pass a friend and not talk?

    When we were very young we were catching a final glimpse of the era of the peddlers. Even though it wasn’t all that long ago, some of the streets were still dirt roads and down the streets came the knife sharpener, the milk man, the seltzer man, the ride vendors (like King Kong), and, of course, the omnipresent Ruby the Knish Man. But that wasn't all...what about the guy who would take his glass eye out for a nickel? Or the mothers who brought beach chairs into the middle of Glenwood road and sat there every day until the city agreed to put in a traffic light? Remember the stick ball games and the stoop ball games? Remember Ringalevio and Monster? What about street hockey, tops, and snowball fights with a dozen guys? How about the rope? You know, how a bunch of us would make believe we were pulling a rope, like a tug of war, across a street, stopping cars! Though on the map of New York City, it was truly a world of its own.

    In some ways it was like Mayberry RFD or a Norman Rockwell painting, except for one thing: the hitters. It was a place where on the way to school you would get confronted by a hitter who would say, "Hey, you got any money on you?" To which you would reply, "No". To which the hitter would say, "Anything I find I keep?", and you would either hand over your money, get searched, or run. It was a place where one day this hitter started punching in the stomach, everyone who was in the school hallway. Well actually, guys got it in the stomach, girls got it on the ass. Boys were doubled over throughout the hall. Girls were holding their behinds.The teachers looked the other way. (Of course, once anyone had their school books knocked down, everyone would start kicking their books yelling, "Hey kid, you dropped your books".) Many of the hitters in later life wound up getting killed. One killed a cop and was later killed in jail. One was found outside a supermarket, in a shopping cart - dead. I guess our neighborhood was like Andy Griffith meets the Sopranos! (I visited an old friend who had moved far away from New York. We were reminiscing and I asked him, " When you were growing up in Canarsie, did you ever get punched in the face?" He said, " Who grew up in Canarsie and didn't get punched in the face?")

    I learned about the power of music in Canarsie. One day I was playing in a band in someones’ backyard. As would always happen in Canarsie, a large crowd gathered. Suddenly this kid who was " after me" appeared and recognized me. He came strutting over yelling, "Hey, there's the schmuck I'm after. I'm gonna kick your ass". Meanwhile, I'm standing there with a guitar around my neck wondering if I should ditch the guitar and make a run for it, or use it as a weapon. Once the kids in the crowd realized that he was talking to me, they surrounded him. One said, "Do you know who that guy is? He’s a great guitar player! You can't touch him". Others started saying similar things. Finally he walked away screaming. Everyone was laughing and dancing and I played my heart out for hours!

    I could go on and on, but check it out: if you are from the old neighborhood and would like to share some memories, email, and we’ll try to post your article in the Visitors’ Corner. (If you have pictures of me playing in a band, I'd love to see them.) Otherwise leave your thoughts in the guestbook. The world needs to know that there once was a place like Canarsie. (Why, I don't know...but it's true!) And if you are from some other wacky neighborhood and have some good stories to share, why not share them too? Hey, the world is full of bizarre neighborhoods ...isn't it?

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    Visitor #1

    Allright! Someone has been brave enough to break the ice! Tracy Doyle has a site that promotes ragtime music. You can check it out at She sent me a poem that she wrote about the cello. Anyone interested in publishing the poem in a cello or music related magazine or newspaper can reach her at Here follows the poem and it's introduction:

    (July 31, 1995) I was listening to a little sonata by Albinoni (the one in G) and there's a little part in there where the cellos just start droning out this ascending bassline and I began to think about why I'm so fond of the cello ...

    By Tracy Doyle

    Lo, the poor cello - your song is neglected;
    In most ensembles, you're overprotected.

    You pick at the bassline the orchestra plays
    As the violin flutters and wheels and sways.
    You build the foundation in dolorous dronings
    As the brasses hoot haughty their euphonic tonings,
    And oboes and clarinets joyously toot
    The melody line, along with the flutes.

    Oh, sing to me, cello, in long oval tones;
    In sonorous yawning, in wails and moans.
    Your round, wooden voice may be pitched from your strings
    As they shirk off the rubbing the rosined bow brings.
    But your protest finds voice in your hollow inside -
    Your emptiness rings every shrug you provide.

    So, sing it out, cello, your solo is brief.
    Your song may be gay, but you sing it with grief.
    Throw back your head and stretch open your jaw,
    And sing it out loud with a yowl and yaw.
    And remember, your song would not be near as mellow
    If played on a filled-up and satisfied cello.

    ©1995 by Tracy Doyle

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    Visitor #2

    Jeffrey Solow has become our second visitor. He is a world renound classical cello soloist, and the editor of the newsletter of the Violoncello Society, an organization made up of many of the world's greatest cellists. Jeffrey recently added my "Ten American Cello Etudes" to his list of standard cello repertoire. This is an important step in solidifying its position in the core of this incredible body of work. When I was composing this book, I dreamed that by the time I was an old man my music might join the standard repertoire like the etudes of David Popper, of the 1800's. Amazingly, in only twelve years from its publication, this book is getting there! (Standard cello repertoire is known to almost every cellist in the world and continues to be played for generations.)
    And now Jeffrey Solow:

    by Jeffrey Solow

    I have given each category four subdivisions according to relative degree of technical difficulty (listed from easiest to most difficult)...Within each subdivision the works are listed somewhat arbitrarily in order of study suggested by technical and musical difficulty and, in some instances, importance in the repertoire. The compositions in brackets are more peripheral; some are infrequently performed today but still hold a certain place in the repertoire, while others are gaining in acceptance.

    Etudes and Studies

    Klengel: Technical Studies Vol. I (scales)
    Dotzauer: 113 Studies, Vol. I
    A. Schroeder: 170 Foundation Studies, Vol. I (various composers)
    [Lee: 40 Melodic Studies, Op. 3]
    [Sevcek: 40 Variations, Op. 3 (originally for violin)]


    Cossmann: Excercises for developing agility, strength of fingers and purityof intonation
    Feuillard: Left Hand Studies (Daily Exercises)
    [Kummer: 10 Melodic Studies, Op. 57 (with 2nd cello)]
    Dotzauer: 113 Studies, Vol. II
    Schroeder: 170 Foundation Studies, Vol. II (various composers)
    [Franchome: 12 Caprices, Op. 7]
    [Minsky: 10 American Cello Etudes]
    [Starker: An Organized Method of String Playing]


    Dotzauer: 113 Studies, Vol. III
    Schroeder: 170 Foundation Studies, Vol. III (various composers)
    Duport: 21 Etudes (with 2nd cello)
    Popper: "12 Studies Preparatory to the High School of Cello Playing," Op. 76,No.1


    Popper: "High School of Cello Playing," Op. 73
    Piatti: 12 Caprices, Op. 25
    [Servais: 6 Caprices, Op. 11 (with 2nd cello)]
    [Grützmacher: "Technology of Cello Playing," Op. 38, Vol. II (with 2nd cello)]

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    Visitor #3

    Shortly after getting this site on line, I was contacted by Todd Cushner, the drummer of my junior high school band, Hang Nail. I hadn't heard from him since 9th grade! We had some great talks during which he expressed to me how traumatic it was for him when I started playing the cello! Todd put his memories into the article below. The title is a play on the name Eddie Van Halen, the famous rock guitarist, and seems to suggest how surprising it was for Todd to see his favorite rock guitarist suddenly become Von Cello! Many other Canarsie people have told me similar things, but Todd was in my band, so I think it hit him harder. Yet he did manage to get over it and he kept playing. Today he owns a finance company and is finishing up a law degree. And now, my old friend Todd...

    by Todd Cushner

    Seventh grade is a rough time for a boy in a tough neighborhood. Picture ajunior high school where a "Goldberg-esque" ruffian is the assistant principal and stands guard over the lunchroom ruckus. Head locks and body slams are standard operating procedure while standing on line to consume yet another plate of ravioli so incomprehensible that the venerable Chef Boy Ar Dee would be at a loss to describe it's contents. For those lucky enough to get through lunchtime, the trip home from school was often met by other urban foibles including local tough guys eager to help you earn your statutory share of ass kickings, and school yard druggies who would steal your "Spalding" only to sell it back to you for a nickel. A truly disturbing loss, considering how much a nickel could get you in that school yard. Take for example the old guy in the filthy raincoat who would gladly pull out his glass eye for that nickel. A treat even Coney Island in it's heyday couldn't reproduce. Where does a kid turn to escape the pathetic lack of enthusiasm permeating this middle class arena...How about Norman Greenbaum's "Spirit in the Sky", the Rolling Stones "Sympathy for the Devil", Credence Clearwater 's "Heard it through the Grapevine" or perhaps a sound unfamiliar but amazingly exciting like Santana's "Black Magic Woman"? Well that music caught my attention, consumed my imagination, and answered for any free time I had, including those hours pretending to be doing homework.

    Apparently, Von Cello, a year older, was caught up in the same fascination and beit by fate or the machinations of the gods above, we were to meet. In actuality, it was Eric Davidson's mother who brought us together in an effort to push her son into the limelight of the Bildersee Junior High talent show. In fact, Von Cello at the time was merely Aaron Minsky, a typical eighth grader, but armed with some amazing talents and charms. Not the least of which was his 70' s rock star, Yanni meets Jack Daniels, come on girls touch me, rock and roll good looks. His weapon of choice: a sunburst Hagstrom, Viking IV ES 335 lookalike, guitar. The venue, my well equipped Canarsie basement. Me on my vintage blue sparkle Sam Ash special drums and Eric with his brand spankin' new, hot out of the box, Gibson Electric, were ready for rock stardom or at least the talent show. First rehearsal was a blast and it was clear to me and Eric that fame, fortune and maybe even sex were soon to be ours. Aaron was our deliverer, our Mick Jagger, our Hendrix , a smokin' guitarist , a great vocalist for an eighth grader, and the chicks loved that long wavy hair. We were in like flint. Stardom was a home room session away!

    Well, the talent show went okay, in spite of a broken guitar string, and so came a minorflurry of performance opportunities, such as a local block party, a Canarsie Day eventand an awards show at Brooklyn College. Not too shabby for three kids who didn't even finish spending their Bar Mitzvah money yet. Eric and I were planning strategy and coming up with new song suggestions while Eric's mom was frantically trying to book us anywhere. ("Mrs. Mandelbaum, give me one good reason why you cant have a band at a circumcision?") Little did we know it was all coming to an end. Where was Aaron? Why wasn't he showing up anymore? Didn't he love the Stones as much as we did? Didn't he see the girls in the front row looking at him as if he were David Cassidy (and "getting happy")? Something had to be done, so we hopped on our Schwinn banana bikes and rode to his house. Eric went in and I waited outside. Five minutes later Eric returned with the bad news . Aaron was inside playing his cello. "His what?", I shouted with horror and dismay! Yes it was true, Aaron really didn't dig the guitar, nor was he into the "scene" and I guess he hadn't noticed the girls either. He was a kid with a real passion and a passion for a music that at the time I didn't yet understand. A passion for an instrument not nearly as cool as a guitar, at a time in a kids life when being cool is a major force to be reckoned with. A Cello??? I couldn't even imagine the "shlep" factor in dragging that thing around from gig to gig, did Aaron? Apparently he did, as he was willing to forgo everything a typical kid dreams of, for completely unorthodox and uncharted territory.

    So ended my first Rock and Roll band "Hang Nail". It was short but the excitement of itis burned indelibly in the back of my brain. It was a promising time and a spring boardto many other musical experiences. What I didn't realize at the time was how cool Aaron Minsky really was. He was a man who followed his passion and walked his own musical path. He never looked back, uninterested in doing what everyone else was doing, he had a mission or perhaps a vision. That my friends is the root of greatness. That dedication to the sounds swimming around in your head is the thing that produces musicians who move the envelope forward, guys like Miles Davis, Django Reinhardt, Copeland and Lennon. It was my good fortune to share some musical moments in time with Von Cello!

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    Visitor #4


    The winners of the "Breaking The Sound Barriers CD Contest" have been chosen! They will be announced below! Von Cello will also respond to some of the comments culled from the entries not chosen. We are very pleased by the turnout. Over a thousand people hit the contest page and many people entered!

    The contest was created in response to the fact that Von Cello's CD was entered in the Grammys in the Classical Crossover category and was moved by the classical committee into the Vocal Pop category. The contest worked as follows: contestants were supposed to listen to the CD and then write a comment as to whether or not they felt the CD should be classified as Classical Crossover or Vocal Pop. In other words, it was a chance for people to weigh in on the appropriateness of the classical committee's decision. To review how the comments were to be judged, here is a quote from the original announcement: "Comments will be judged on wit, insight, humor and creativity".

    The Grand Prize is a free subscription to the Indiebiz website, a $100 value, and an autographed copy of Von Cello's CD "Breaking The Sound Barriers". The other prizes are an autographed copy of Von Cello's CD. There are five winners.

    We also tallied up all the opinions expressed in the entries. The vote went as follows: 77% felt the CD was classical crossover, 23% felt it was vocal pop. And now...the winners!


    The Grand Prize goes to David White. He was very clever in the way he tied his comments to a current event. His insight was apparent in his recognition that what was really at stake here was a person's dream. He also peppered his comments with humor.

    Grand Prize : David White
    Subject: No Choice
    I'm fifty one years old now , no longer a beach boy type. I started playing the piano at the age of five, notice I said "playing" and not the "study" word. The truth of the matter is this - my piano teacher of long ago taught me to do one thing, love music! I've listened at one time or another to just about every type of music. I think I know what would be "Classical Crossover" verses "Britney Spearmint Gummy Bear Blues". Someone missed the boat here. I think I know the type. "We have to meet a dateline and I think I'll put this here." That is about as logical as a submarine captain in the United States Navy sinking a ship full of high school students, without a torpedo, in the worlds largest ocean! We live in wonderful times. DNA, NASA, NRA, and BS. "Voncello" was robbed of the chance to compete! Someone goofed here and probably elsewhere too. I don't pretend to be an expert, but this one is not stupid. This one can recognize stupid. Stupid is what happens when someone abandons thought. Stupid sometimes takes lives, sometimes an arm or leg or even an eye. Sometimes stupid is called an "accident". When stupid takes away someone's dreams, it is no accident- it is just plain STUPIDITY!

    Winner: Maggie Council DiPietra
    Subject: *Classic* classical crossover
    There is no music outside Von Cello's sphere of influence; he effectively deconstructs musical genres with his work, reconstructing in unique, but still recognizably classical ways.

    Someday the NARAS people might have to deal with expanding their categorization concepts to be more inclusive. It's not like the guy took a sample of the LSO (London Symphony Orchestra) and laid a rap on it! There is no question in my mind that the CD is Classical Crossover; although Von Cello could go for a Pop Vocal award if he wanted to, his album is much more than that, and should stay where the *artist* entered it. I hope it makes him smile, too, the thought of the classical committee acting all afraid of his music...

    Winner: Paula Bright
    I have long been a fan of Von Cello's classical work, as well as his newer "crossover" material. Are these Grammy "classical committee" members aware that he has numerous serious music books published by Oxford press? Are they aware that he spent years studying with some of the finest classical cello teachers in the world? Are they aware that he has performed with some of the top orchestras in several continents?

    For a cellist of his caliber who has "created" these new sounds, songs, and style -- to be denied the label "classical crossover" is not just an injustice--it is an outright joke and insult!

    If this is the way in which artists achieving the so-very-coveted place in the Grammies are treated, then I'm not so sure it is something that we in the music world should aim and work for with the dedication we do.

    What are these people THINKING? Surely they are joking? I'm stunned, and to tell you the truth, outraged. Well, I'm beginning to grind my teeth in frustration, so I'll end this missive before I start asking for names and addresses!

    Winner: Tamika English
    My name is Tamika English, and I've been recording for 11 yearsnow, Choir was nominated for a Grammy this year. And I know mymusic!!!!!! and I thank it should be a classical crossover !!!!! And whoever said it shouldn't needs to get out of the industry..."WHY?" Because they don't know good classical music at all !!!!!! And I'll be glad to tell them !!!!!I love music and know good music......let me win this please!!!!!!Because I would love to meet that person to tell them to CLEAN THEIR EARS !!!!!!!

    Winner: J.J. Hagger
    Subject: To be or not to be. that is the competition! We sit in judgment all the time about what something should orshould not be, is it modern rock or classic rock, can a new Robert Plant song be modern rock by a classic rock artist?

    We get tangled up in genres & the inability to recognize a musical piece for just that, we now have moved into so many sub-genres because we still have to have that little box to put something into when we live in an age where the public doesn't do that anymore. Rockers like Rap & Rappers like Rock, on the streets it's 4-Real, yet all those nice marketing personnel will tell you it ain't so.

    When you think of classical music I'm sure that we all have thought about a bunch of old farts playing to a crowd that just shakes it's jewelry instead of clapping, John Lennon was right. But when you look at the bigger picture you could call Nigel Kennedy or Charlotte Church pop music, yet they are classical artists that cross over into all sorts of areas & influence.

    Look at Steve Vai. Is he a metal artist, not if you talk to Korn fans. Is he a classical guitarist, well the "Beethoven Brigade" certainly would view what he does with distaste. Yet if we could really get "Bill & Ted" to go back in time with a synth & a guitar then we can all imagine what Ludwig would come out with.

    There is the problem, old stuck in their ways people with nice cars & nice houses & a history of what is right or wrong. I feel after listening to the Von Cello music that all sides have a valuable point, yet they should make the decision based on the music on the shiny disc & not what they feel they should do. Ten reviewers from tengenres would give the album ten very different reviews, This does not mean they are all right or all wrong, it's just an opinion & like a***holes, we all have them but some are more full of s**t than others.

    You can set your watch by what will win certain genres of music because of the blinkers on the higher level at most companies. Free your mind & the rest will follow. If only the music industry took that on board.


    Thus ends the entries of the winners. Now Von Cello will respond to sections of some of the entries not chosen. Some are positive and others negative. The reason they weren't chosen was that the entries above were judged to have fit the criteria more closely.

    Lev "Ljova" Zhurbin wrote: The CD is really neither.

    Von Cello responds: I can see your point. I wanted this CD to walk that fine line between the genres of classical and rock. In fact, I wanted to create a new type of music. I'm glad that you picked up on that.

    Victoria Boland wrote: Love the flavor you've given the classics! It's today!

    Von Cello responds: I'm happy that you said it's "today". I do feel that I have entered new territory. Perhaps it is too new for certain people to understand.

    Marc Wagnon wrote: After listening to a few tracks I am convinced that this is not across over album, but a provocative publicity stunt. Von Cello should be congratulated for the latter.

    Von Cello responds: I don't know if I should say thank you. The fact that you only listened to a few tracks makes me wonder what you might have thought had you listened to the whole thing. This CD is like those wonderful "concept albums" from the classic rock era. It tells the story of a cellist "crossing over" from classical to rock. Every song is either an arrangement of a classical piece, has lyrics about a crossover cellist, or has references to classical music. Yes I do want publicity, but this is not a stunt. Bringing the cello into popular music is my life's work!

    Nicola Cosmo Salerno wrote:
    I think that "Breaking The Sound Barriers" is simply a very bad trial to make innovative music. My opinion is that if a classical musician is trying to do something else....well...usually he's not able to do anything interesting simply because rock/pop is not his background. The result is really pathetic. I've been listening to some pieces andI found them simply ...old and anachronistic! For example, does the composer know that the kind of use of violoncello with distortion is something already done, for example, in avant-garde improvised music during the 70s? Bad taste dominates the whole work, lack of ideas is the must of this album. The sublime kitsch on the "Air on the 4thString" by Bach is unreachable!!!!

    Von Cello responds: Wow! If only you had a sense of humor you might have won an autographed CD! (I'm sure you're upset.) I noticed that you think I am a classical musician trying to sound like a rock musician! That's excellent! You provide living proof as to just how successful I have been at becoming accepted as a classical cellist. This is quite an achievement considering that I grew up as a rock guitarist!

    You asked if I know that cellists were using distortion in the 70's. Of course I do, I was one of them! But even if I were the young upstart that you imagined me to be, what's wrong with using distortion? What you're saying is something like, "Does the cellist know that vibrato was first used in the 1670's? How anachronistic to still use vibrato today". Just because someone used a certain sound at a certain time, does not preclude it from ever being valid in the future. After all, guitarists are still using distortion. Do you have a problem with that too?

    You commented that this CD has a lack of ideas. A cellist playing everything from Bach to rap to folk to rock to Americana to new don't find any ideas? How about basing a folk rock tune on a Schubert lieder, or using whole tone melodies mixed with industrial percussive sounds to describe feelings of alienation caused by the internet, or writing a pop tune in the style of a Bach cantata, or making the cello sound like a train, or like Hendrix and then combining that sound with hip hop drum loops in a rap about an angry cellist forced to rap for a living due to the fact that our culture gives more support to rap than to classical music? This is the only album that I know where a musician actually describes his journey from classical music to popular music: it's a classical crossover CD about CROSSING OVER! No ideas? If there's one thing this CD has, it's ideas!

    I'm glad that you found my "Bach To The Future" sublime. I find it beautiful and moving myself. Your kitsch comment reminds me of a comment I heard from a writer who said that fall foliage was nature's kitsch. Funny...I always thought it was nature's artistry. One man's art is another's kitsch. In any case, the best art always provokes a reaction. By the way, you never did answer the question. You were supposed to have written about whether my CD is classical crossover or vocal pop. Oh well...I guess you were too busy reacting!

    John Pomplin wrote:
    Yep that's it, classical crossover. You are right, you got screwed by NARAS on that one. Consider this my vote (and entry).

    Von Cello responds:
    If the prize were based on getting quickly to the point you would have won! Your handful of words speaks volumes!

    I'm thankful to all of the contestants for their entries. Whether your comments were pro or con, I am grateful for the time you spent listening to, and thinking about, my music!

    Aaron Von Cello

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    Visitor #5

    Here follows a very honest yet humorous review of Von Cello's CD by Perry Seigle. Perry was the rhythm guitarist in "We're Only In It For The Money", my High School band. We played many hilarious gigs together. Recently, Perry joined Slipknot, the top Grateful Dead tribute band of New England, with a 25 year history! I got a chance to play live with them. It was great! In his "spare" time, Perry is a middle manager at a major internet software company.

    by Perry Seigle

    I urge everyone at all interested in what Von Cello is doing, to order his "Breaking The Sound Barriers" CD and give it a listen. Wait. No. Give it about ten listens. Then ten more. Then give it one more. I have to admit that after hearing nothing but the sound clips, though impressed with the sounds and production, I thought, "I could never actually listen to this stuff if it wasn't my friend's". Don't let the little sound snips on his website represent to you what this CD is. You will be cheating yourself.

    I have now been in receipt of my very own "Breaking the Sound Barriers" CD for a few days and let me say, I cant stop listening to it. To be honest, at first it was a novelty. It's my friend's CD. I hear all the hard work he put into it, but still struck me like a "CD only a mother could love". Well, here I am, writing about it after listen number 20 or so. What at first seemed like an exercise in over indulgence and just another "artist" with a computer and multi tracking software musically masturbating, all of a sudden became a CD that has not left my CD player. It plays, and the more it plays, the more I like it. And the more I listen closely, the more I like it. The less I listen and just let it play, the more I like it. Damn it, I am loving this CD!

    Though the CD starts with a cut ("I Used To Be an Orchestra Player") very reminiscent of the Mothers Of Invention, its really the music of early Pink Floyd and Moody Blues that keep popping into my head each time the entire CD plays. This is definitely a concept style album, not just dictated by the lyrical content of the songs, but also flows conceptually at the musical level. Many cuts are playful and tongue in cheek, (i.e. Anthem/Cello PlayersRap) but what really works is that the music supports the lyrical content at all times. Though much of the CD's cuts are steeped in a retro sound, the cut "Lost in Cyberspace" has a more alternative edge to it and melodic style similar to Stone Temple Pilots. And let me say that "Holes In the Sky" is one of the most beautifully sounding pieces coming out of my CD players speakers recently. (And for the Grammy argument, this must be a crossover album, as I refer to a song as a "piece", and do it without getting slapped!).

    The production on the CD is excellent and I would bet that the track "Cello Man" pays some intended homage to early rock's production pioneer, Brian Wilson in his Pet Sounds days. Von Cello's layers of sounds and effects, some subtle, some over the top, reward the listener after repeated listening. As I let the CD play and do other stuff, whenever I stop to randomly "pay attention to detail" I'm always rewarded with something in the production that makes me smile, be it a musical phrase lifted from a well known classic or a sound effect that I can only imagine I know what its reference really is. That's the fun of it.

    It is music that makes you think, but only if you want to. It's also music that plays by itself, waters and feeds itself, and you only have to let it out once in a while. As Ron Popiel of Ronco says, you can "set it and forget it". But, I have to keep going back to it and give it some attention. And I am glad I do.

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    Visitor #6

    Another old neighbor from Canarsie somehow made his way to the Von Cello guestbook. His name is Allan Cohen, and he posted many details of his memories of Canarsie, proving once and for all that the place was totally sick (and I mean that in a good way...sort of)! I found his memories of the hitters particularly interesting. Allan was in my grade, in the other Special Progress Enrichment (SPE) class, at Bildersee Junior High School. (I was in SPE1.) Here are sections of his posts, interspersed with my comments.

    by Allan Cohen

    Wow! Great memories. I remember Mr. Reiser's pulleys. I was also on the committee that evaluated Neil Korman's Zabotsky dance. He got a possible four out of four points and on to Miss Binder's talent show, I was a stage hand and in the chorus. God bless Barry Lederman and his math team jacket. Believe it or not, Ruby the Knishman has his own site. Anyone remember, protesting the Vietnam war to get a day off from school? Bernard Chicanowski was the greatest talent ever. It was Howard Stern who ripped off the Bernie Belch. Anyone remember SPE2, we had five Alan's: Botwinick, Cohen, Jaslove, Thomas, and Zucker. Other people I recall from that class: David Azus, Paul Bernstein, Michael Liebowitz, Ira Rosmarin, William Cooper, Scott Ditman, and Steven Goodman.

    (Editor's note: Mr. Reiser was a quirky science teacher. Neil used to do a mean Kazotsky dance; the Russian dance where you kneel and kick out with your feet. I don't know how it came to be remembered as his Zabotsky dance. Miss Binder's talent show is one of the most vivid memories that most of the people who were in our elementary school have. Barry Lederman was a very intelligent guy who decided to make a statement against the promotion of football as such an important thing in high school; he had a football team jacket custom made with the school colors, but on the back it said "Math Team"! Barry, went to study math at Princeton, only to go on to become a rabbi. You can view his thoughtful Jewish website here: Rabbi Lederman. Ruby the Kinishman was also mentioned by me in my essay above. He was one of the main Canarsie characters, as was Bernie and his famous belch. You can view an amazingly detailed tribute to good old Ruby here: Ruby The Kinishman.)

    I wound up in the world famous Von Cello web-site by searching for "mank the tank" on I figured if anyone wrote about "mank the tank" they had to be from Canarsie. Currently, I live in Boro Park in Brooklyn. I remain single and unamarried. I have a CPA firm and I also work as a stand-up comedian from time to time, however my real occupation is cruising for chicks on the net.

    (Editor's note: Mank the Tank is none other than our junior high school printing shop teacher, Mr. Mankowitz, whose picture can be found here: The Mank. We got into a discussion on the guestbook about whether or not the Canarsie hitters were anti Semitic. "Hitter" was our term for the tough kids who used to constantly threaten and attack us. I suppose the definition of hitter would be: one who hits. Allan weighed in with his opinion on the subject.)

    Hey Aaron, don't you get it? We were Jewish, they were anti-Semetic, we were intelligent, they chose to be uneducated and violent. They also possessed sharp weapons. Besides that we looked like easy marks! Their real motivation was to rip us off so they could by various types of inhalants such as tobacco, marijuana, beer, and pizza. Do you think they really wanted a quarter for those sugar filled orange drinks they sold at the cold lunch table? Those drinks were only a dime at the time (circa 1969 or 1970). Actually, sugar flavored orange drinks are still sold in Brooklyn for a quarter a pint, that's one thing inflation never hit too severely over the years. Anyway, I was partial to the ice cream sandwiches for 15 cents. So getting ripped off for that quarter a day was something I had to consider dying for on a daily basis. Now a quarter could have went for five scooter pies as well; well really four scooter pies and a four cent milk, and I would have a penny left over for a tootsie roll at Lutone's on the walk home. But like I say, I was a sucker for that ice cream sandwich.

    I remember one day my grandfather gave me a whole dollar bill. Then an Italian hitter came over and demanded a dime, to which I replied that I didn't have any money. So he made me jump up and down to see if I had any loose change. Naturally, the dollar bill didn't jingle, so I got away that day without the extortion, so I thought. But like I say, I was a sucker for the ice cream sandwich and I gave into temptation. The hitter saw me eating my ice cream and indulging in the orange drink and said to me, "I thought you didn't have any money." So being the intelligent SPE2er I was, I retorted, "I don't, a friend lent it to me." So the Italian Hitter says to me "jump up and down." So I did, and guess what? No jingling, I put one quarter in my right pocket, one in my left, and the last one in my sock. I even had a malted on the way home that day to celebrate!

    I remember, Canarsie constantly developing. When I was about five or six. The family that lived on the corner of 84th and K owned over a quarter of the block. They even kept a pony. The horse had a slumped back, but it was a horse and those kids rode it. On the block of 83rd and J. There was a guy who had a farm and raised goats and chickens. I recall attending PS276 on the day it opened. It opened in the winter of 1964. I was attending PS 115 prior to that and rode there by bus each day. However, once 276 opened, I just had to walk two short blocks. My teachers were for 1st grade: Mrs. Finer, 2nd,Mrs. Kaufman, 3rd, Miss Rind, 4th Mrs. Cashman, 5th, Mrs. Goodman, 6th, Miss Binder, where I will never forget the talent show, with Stephen Fisher playing flight of the bumble bee. Wayne Smith on the clarinet. The Sound Smashers (the drummers name was Sandy, I forget his last name), I think June Silfen, Dr. Silfen's (the dentist) daughter, Karen Weisberg singing, and Neil Korman and his Zabotsky dance.

    (Editor's note: The Sound Smashers was Von Cello's first band. He even picked the name.)

    Who can forget Avenue L and its five pizza places and Del Dios? Which reminds me, the best thing was the bagel store on 81st and Flatlands, and the Bialy Store across the street. Sometimes I forget my life's purpose. Its impossible to find a bagel that equals the one's produced in that store at 81st and Flatlands. I can't find one. Can anyone here please help? Its as though every bagel shop today lost the recipe, even H&H. It seems that bagel stores today place too much emphasis on producing volume. They rush the bagels out before they are done. They look pale, and taste mushy. I remember having to wait at the bagel store for the bagel to be done, but it was worth it. They were well done to a dark brown color, and the crusts were delightfully crunchy. I am getting fat just remembering them. I am the kind of person who complains to every bagel maker today that they can do better, but what does a person who was born in Mexico or Korea know about bagels? You know what I think? I think bagels are the ties that bind us. If we could only get the real bagels back we can die satisfied!!!

    The only regret I have about that (Miss Binder's talent show) was not thinking to put Bernie Chicanowsky in it! He could have gone through a whole six pack of Coca-Cola and brought the house down. That is why I only achieved the fringes of showbiz. If I would have conceived of Bernie as a talent, I would be running Hollywood now! I remember Miss Binder got only one vote on the talent evaluation committee, same as every kid in the class.She didn't have absolute veto power over the acts, I am sure I could have convinced a majority to vote for Bernie. He could have done his act and stole the show. Then he could have harmonized with the Sound Smashers. By the way, didn't you do Stepping Stone?

    (Editor's note: Bernie was famous in Canarsie for drinking a whole can of Coke in one gulp and then letting out the loudest belch that is humanly possible! Kids would come up to Bernie in the street and beg him to "do the belch", to which Bernie would reply, "you buying?". So the deal was, if you would buy Bernie a Coke, he would do the belch! Bernie, now Bernard, is a successful government employee. His belching days are long gone...but for anyone who ever had the rare privilege of hearing it, the memory will never die! And yes, the Sound Smashers did do "I'm Not Your Stepping Stone" as one of their songs. The other was "Yellow Submarine".)

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    Visitor #7

    I was notified that a well known author was looking to include stories about memories of Grateful Dead concerts in a book. Memories of Grateful Dead there's an oxymoron! But believe it or not, I do have memories of my first Dead least I think I remember it. I sent this author an email telling him I had a good story but I never heard back, so I'll post it here instead. Remember kids: the events recounted in this story are for professionals only. Do not try this at home!

    Life Is But A Dream
    by Aaron Von Cello

    When I was a teenager, a couple of guys from my high school rented a bus and set up a trip from Brooklyn, New York, to RFK stadium in Washington, D.C. to see the Grateful Dead. I believe the year was 1973. This outdoor concert had three acts. A band that has faded into obscurity started the show. Was it Doug Shaum? The Dead were second, playing for most of the afternoon. Then, at night, the Allman Brothers played. They were later joined by some members of the Dead for a jam.

    We had a school bus full of kids, and a bus driver who was perfect for the trip. The bus became a non stop moving party, with the Dead's music constantly playing in the background, and the sound of laughter never-ending. We drove through the night, but I don't think anyone got any sleep. The driver just drove on, smiling, getting a great kick out of us.

    When we arrived at the stadium it was already a typical pre-concert zoo, with all kinds of people walking and gawking at each other, but there was a good vibe, and people were friendly and positive. Suddenly the gates opened and I made a mad dash to the front of the stage. I ended up in the front center, about as close as you could get to the stage in the field below.

    When the Dead finally came out, I was impressed by how big all of their pupils were. They looked like cartoon characters with big black eyes. They seemed to just stare at the crowd while they played. It seemed, when they jammed, that they were actually talking to people in the crowd. Jerry Garcia would lock eyes with someone and start to play as though he were communicating through mental telepathy to that person. The person would start to move trance-like to Jerry's notes, and smile from ear to ear. All the crowd at the front would notice this and clap for the guy. The people next to him would pat him on the back or shake his hand, I guess for the honor of being chosen by Jerry and going with the flow. I became aware that this was not going to be an ordinary concert. The audience was entertaining the band as much as they were entertaining us. In fact, in a deeper way, it was as if the music came from elsewhere and it didn't really matter who was playing it or who was listening to it. We were all being moved by it. I suppose it was the phenomenon that the Dead describe in the lyric, "The music played the band".

    At one point Bob Weir locked eyes with a very attractive young lady. I noticed that her eyes were as big and black as his. She had those "kaleidoscope eyes" that the Beatles sung about in Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds. Next thing I knew she approached the stage as if drawn by a magnet. As she got within a few inches of it, people moved out of her way and a few of the band's security guys smoothly reached out their hands and pulled her up. She seemed to float up to the stage and then disappear into the blackness of the backstage area. Bob Weir smiled with pride and the crowd went wild.

    Meanwhile, "all hell" was breaking loose in the stadium. It seemed like the whole place was taking off into outer space. Balloons and frisbees were flying everywhere. Large water melons were being passed around like peace pipes. Everyone just took a bite and passed it on. As far as the eye could see there were endless little scenes of people dancing and partying, like a triptych by Bosch.

    There was a couple dancing near me who were getting more and more personal. After a while they had their hands all over each other. Next thing you know, they were on the floor and the guy started taking off the girl's halter top. It looked like they were about to attack each other in wild abandon. Instantly, a group of people surrounded them...but they surrounded them with their backs to them! It was amazing, but this group of people just seemed to be drawn together to create a screen to give this couple privacy. I, like everyone else, tried not to look, but I kept glancing over every once in a while, and saw this group of human screens just watching the Dead, completely ignoring what was going on behind them. Suddenly the group broke up, just as they had come together, and there was the couple sitting up, getting dressed. It was clear that something had been going on, but soon they were dressed and back to dancing and watching the show as if nothing happened. I wondered if they even knew each other.

    Just then I remembered seeing bumper stickers that read, "There is nothing like a Grateful Dead show", and I thought to myself that this must be what they were talking about. The whole crowd was forming a type of group mind. And the group mind was about nothing but pleasure and good times.

    At one point I was drawn to look behind me, all the way to the back of the stadium. I could see head after head turning back to look. No one knew why we were turning, but it was like an energy wave just swept through the stadium like a strong wind that turned us all around. There was one guy all the way in the back who suddenly realized that the whole stadium was looking at him. He screamed a blood curling cry of joy and the wave snapped back to the front. The Dead seemed to feel it too, and they started playing with double the energy. Then the energy wave went sideways. It was as if the energy was being whipped around by a gigantic windmill with the Dead no more able to direct it or stop it than anyone else.

    And that's the way it went for hour after endless hour. "The sky was yellow and the sun was blue"; even the clouds seemed to be dancing along with the music. I remembered another Dead lyric: "What do you want me to do? To do for you? To see you through? It's all a dream we did one afternoon long ago". I knew even then that that lyric would only get more meaningful to me as the years went by and I looked back at that "afternoon long ago" to wonder...did that really happen, or was it "all a dream"?

    P.S. - Von Cello is now the leader of a cello led jam band that incorporates elements of alternative rock, space rock, hard rock, and classical music. He is a Yamaha Artist, a D'Addario Artist, and in Who's Who in America and the International Who's Who.

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    Visitor #8

    When you start becoming the subject of college term papers, that must be a sign of something! Here is just such a paper written about Von Cello by a viola student for her music history class at the State University of New York at New Paltz (SUNY New Paltz).

    by Siobhan Solberg

    Hendrix and Beethoven, to most people, are the two most different musicians that one could think of, but are they really? Both Beethoven and Hendrix were composers and musicians that pushed boundaries with their playing and composing as well as influencing a lot of other musicians that followed, just in two different worlds 200 years apart. Those two worlds come together as one under one greatly talented composer and musician, namely Aaron Minsky. Aaron Minsky has been fusing rock and classical music trying to make the cello a more popular instrument in the popular music world. By doing this he has accomplished some great changes in music, composing, and making other musicians aware of a new style of playing. Aaron Minsky has taught the cello, and others, to rock.

    As a musician Aaron Minsky has accomplished a lot. He had established himself as a great rock guitarist and a songwriter early on and then took on the cello and became an acclaimed classical musician on the cello, playing in various orchestras and ensembles, as well as solo. Now he has combined his multiple talents by fusing all elements and types of music into one.

    Aaron Minsky started taking guitar lessons at age 7 and by middle school played guitar in his first rock band "The Sound Smashers". In high school he joined "Spunk" at 14, his first professional band. Playing the party circuit in his neighborhood in Brooklyn he achieved local fame as a guitar player. Meanwhile he picked up the cello in middle school and joined the orchestra at age 11 without any formal cello lessons. By age 15 he started to experiment with new sounds on the cello and realized that if he really wanted to make the cello a standard in popular music he had to have some classical training first. Hence he gave up the guitar and shocked his friends by dedicating himself solely to the cello.

    His venture had started and with less then two years of official cello lessons he got accepted at the Manhattan School of Music (though he entered a year later) and graduated from there with a Bachelors and Masters in Music Performance. While studying cello he took lessons from numerous teachers at various schools, thereby expanding his horizons as a cellist. After his graduation he joined the Filarmonica de Caracas in Venezuela learning to hate dictatorial conductors and, that it was time to go back to his rock roots. Back in New York he played with various other orchestras, ensembles and rock bands, and started freelancing, at the same time pursuing his goal of changing the style of cello playing and maybe even introducing a new style of music. A successful performance with the short lived band "The Aaron Minsky Trio" at the University of Connecticut inspired him to find the right combination for a band that would let his cello rock. Hence the band "Von Cello", a band where the front man plays cello, to be specific rock cello. He has successfully shocked and inspired both his rock and classical friends with his performing career.

    Minsky didn't just perform to introduce his ideas; he also composed a number of etudes, duets, and teaching aides to introduce a new way of playing. Having written songs from his early rock days on he has had experience in the field of songwriting and he has taken this a step further with his notable "Ten American Cello Etudes" and various other pieces for all levels of playing. But unlike the standard cello repertoire, these pieces include all elements of music and some techniques not ever used before such as arpeggiated "licks", jazz and rock rhythms, double stops, and various techniques that he himself invented, in his duets he has rhythm cello as well as a melodic cello. Aaron Minsky has been putting the limits of the music and the player with all of his compositions to the test, encouraging the player to improvise and use all elements of music possible to them. His compositions have been very well reviewed and have been added to the standard repertoire for the cello. They have been included in the curricula of the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music, U.K., and the American String Teacher's Association. Numerous cellists and some violists have performed his music as well, and judging by the reviews and acceptance of his compositions he has accomplished his goal of creating a new style of cello playing.

    I had the opportunity to interview Aaron Minsky and discuss why he has been so influential and what had influenced him as well as what he has and wants to achieve. Following are excerpts from that interview:

    S.S - Why rock and classic and not jazz? Besides having played the guitar, was there another reason that you have been playing rock on the cello?

    A.M. - I do play jazz, but I did not grow up with jazz. As a child I was surrounded by popular music. All of my friends listened to the radio and everyone was into the latest music. At home, my father was a classical music lover, and he was constantly playing classical music on the radio and spinning classical records. He had a few jazz records in his collection, but I rarely heard them. So I grew up with popular and classical music. It was not until college that I really started to listen to and play jazz.

    While I have a great respect for jazz, I feel it reaches fewer people than popular music, and I want to reach as many people as possible, and I would like to see the cello reaching as many people as possible, therefore my interest has been primarily in playing rock music. The cello though has a great tradition in classical music, so it seems natural to me that in playing the cello in rock one would bring in some classical influence. However, I do bring some jazz influence into my music too. Had I not played the guitar, I doubt I would have decided to play rock on the cello. Originally I was a rock guitarist, and though I picked up the cello in school, I did not see it as a serious thing until I realized that I could do something unique with it. It was not a situation where I really wanted to be a cellist, per se, it was more that I was a person who always was looking to find an original path through life, and I found that in revolutionizing the cello I could blaze a new trail. Of course, I wouldn't have picked this path, if I didn't also love the cello as an instrument in general.

    S.S. - Do you think that this movement (?) will have an impact on the way classical or rock music will evolve, or is this just a phase?

    A.M. - I do believe the New Directions Cello movement, and my contribution to it; will have a lasting impact on the way the cello is played in the future. If the cello becomes accepted as a popular instrument that will change the sound of popular music. Classical composers will also change the way they write for the cello incorporating the new sounds.

    There are high-level musicians who have made statements about the importance of my etudes in this process. For instance, David Johnstone, an English concert cellist living in Spain said the following: There are a number of works for the cello which, although not apparent in their time, have changed the course of cello writing or at the least have had a telling influence on the next generation of cello literature. We all know about the Bach Six Suites, a great and singular work of about 1720 that although the classical period composers did not 'dare' follow on, has been a major source of inspiration during the twentieth century. The concerto of Dvorak in the 1890's was also a major watershed in cello literature where the cello finally became the almighty king instead of a most promising prince. The Kodaly Solo Sonata of 1915 turned the cello on its head, for the first time being able to free itself from the wonderful melody instrument that it is, calling on even aggressive sounds and being able to obviously accompany itself in a number of ways. And too it's worth mentioning the Prokofiev Sinfonia Concertante which came to its finished state in the post World War II days, where the cello is used in extreme registers, at great speed and with all the technical tricks that a first-class virtuoso violinist would be proud to employ. And now we come to AARON MINSKY. Maybe at the moment less known than his renowned predecessors, I predict that his work for cello may well assume a similar importance.

    S.S. - How do you think this is affecting the current trend of music?

    A.M. - I don't think cellists have yet made much of an impact in today's music. You do find cellists occasionally backing up famous rock stars. There have even been groups that featured cellists, but those groups have been on the fringes. There is no cellist out there today who is looked upon like the great guitarists such as Hendrix, Clapton, Van Halen, or even Santana. Then again even they, for the most part, are on the sidelines. Today's music seems more and more dominated by singers, who dance, or dancers, who sing, entertainers who rap, or rappers who entertain, and engineers who scratch records and program musical computers. There is almost no interest anymore in a great instrumentalist, or a composer in the Western tradition. While pop music has always been involved with selling sex and style, today it has become so overt that it is hard to tell the difference between a fashion video featuring pop music or a pop video featuring fashion. The line between pop and porn is getting more and more blurred. So sadly, the efforts that are being made in the cello world to modernize our instrument are going pretty much unnoticed by the pop music least for now.

    S.S. - What is it that you are really trying to achieve besides for making music and fusing different types together?

    A.M. - Ultimately, music is a reflection of the culture that produces it. In America today, we have a divided culture. On one side is popular music and the culture that surrounds it, on the other side is classical music and the culture that surrounds it. Jazz is somewhere in the middle. Very few people can fit into both cultural and musical extremes, and there is often animosity between those on each side.

    I would like to see the cultures coming together; to have the barriers broken. One way to start to achieve this is to break the barriers between the musical worlds. The cello seems the perfect instrument to do this because it is still considered a "classical instrument" yet it is very well adapted to popular music. If we can get "rock people" to appreciate classical music and "classical people" to appreciate rock music, and have the two musics and cultures influence each other, I think life in America would be a better over all.

    S.S. - Does your goal now differ form when you first had this idea or have you achieved your goal and are just taking it further?

    A.M. - I have the same basic goal, and I feel in some ways that I have achieved it beyond my dreams, but in other ways I still have a long way to go. In the cello world, the success has happened much sooner and stronger than I could have allowed myself to imagine. My etudes are now considered "standard cello repertoire" by many cellists around the world. They are in the curriculums of prestigious musical organizations such as the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music (U.K.) and the American String Teachers Association. They are taught in colleges and performed worldwide. I have received royalties from over twenty countries, and I'm sure they are performed in many other countries from which I haven't received royalties. So on the classical side, I am happy with the acceptance I have found.

    On the rock side success has been slower and harder to achieve. There actually seems more resistance to classical music on the rock side than resistance to rock music on the classical side. I think classical musicians have learned the hard way that they need to embrace popular trends in order to stay relevant and make a living. The pop music establishment feels no such pressure. They are making billions of dollars, and the last thing they care about is reaching out to music of the past, or instruments that are perceived as old fashioned. It is the pop world today that is the one that is narrow minded and resistant to change. Trying to get accepted as a rock star cellist is like climbing up a steep, tall mountain. Yet I feel I must keep trying.

    S.S. - How did you come about starting to compose and what elements influence your composing most? Playing your music I can tell there are both rock and classical influences. Is this your way of mixing them both?

    A.M. - I started composing popular songs in my early teens, but even earlier I wrote some crude compositions in a classical style. I was always fascinated by the great classical composers and dreamed of being like them, but mostly I listened to popular music as a child and naturally started composing in that style. I was also influenced by one of my early guitar teachers to improvise and write songs. I found it easy to write a song and wrote many songs throughout my teens.

    During my college years I started to think that I could use my abilities as a popular songwriter to write cello etudes. I felt that through etudes I could use my melodic sense, and combine it with the classical techniques that I was studying, and come up with unique music that would be of interest, if not to the masses, at least to cellists around the world. I felt that I might not get a "hit" on the radio that would be listened to by millions of people, but I could possibly get a "hit" in the cello world that would be listened to by hundreds of thousands of people.

    Knowing that I wanted to compose, I took extra theory classes at Manhattan School of Music. I analyzed melodies and harmonies, from simple baroque inventions to the complex quartets of Beethoven, and the revolutionary ideas of Debussy. I was always interested in songs, listening to songs from other countries, even going back to songs from the Middle Ages and Renaissance. I also listened to ethnic music from Africa, the Middle East, South America, and other lands. I tried to stay open to every possible influence, with the hope that one day it would all somehow have an affect on my music. If you listen carefully to my various etudes you will find rock influence, but also country, blues, jazz, folk, Caribbean, African, Brazilian, French, Jewish, and other influences.

    S.S. - What do you think about all the string quartets etc. that are out there such as Ethel, Turtle Island, etc. playing Pink Floyd and Radio Head? Do you think they are aiming for the same that you are, or do you think they are just proving that they can play rock too?

    A.M. - I think that the quartets that are out there playing arrangements of rock music are doing an important thing. They are showing what string instruments are capable of doing. They are probably aiming in the same direction as I, but they are not going as far. I am not a classical musician playing rock, or a rock musician playing classical: I am equally a rock and a classical musician. I can't even tell myself which one I am more. I grew up with an interest in both musics, and though I started out as a rock guitarist, when I became serious about music I went full throttle into classical cello, all but giving up on my rock past. So what I am trying to do is break down the barriers to the point where there is no difference between a rock musician or a classical musician.

    There are very few people who have done this before. I think of George Gershwin as the best example from the past. He wrote classical masterpieces like An American In Paris and Rhapsody in Blue, yet his songs are still popular standards today. Miles Davis is a good example of a musician who broke the barriers between popular music and jazz, although jazz started out as a form of popular music, so one could say he reestablished its connection. In order to really make the cello accepted by the masses of pop music fans, we have to do more than play rock arrangements in string quartets. We have to become bandleaders, and rock stars ourselves. Who is the Hendrix, the Elton John, and the Ian Anderson, of the cello? Who gets up and jams on cello with the other rock stars at the Grammys? Who has a following of kids across the country that are listening to cello music and think it is cool? Who is making people rethink their ideas and prejudices about the cello, about music, about culture? I didn't see anyone else out there doing it, so I figured it might as well be me. I will keep trying, but if I don't succeed, maybe someone else will in the future.

    When we have gotten to the point in music history when the cello is a part of popular music we'll have Aaron Minsky to thank, even if he isn't the one to achieve it. Aaron Minsky has influenced so many musicians to expand their horizons and encouraged them to improvise and to try new sounds. He plays at most classical and rock venues to bring his music to all people possible. His dedication to this movement has changed the course of music history and will continue to do so. He has proven and keeps on doing so that someone can cross over from rock to classical and back to rock again and be both a great rock and classical musician. We have Aaron Minsky to thank for a new style of playing the cello and other classical instruments.

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    Visitor #9


    I could hardly believe it, but one day the guy who was one of the assistant principals of Bildersee Junior High School showed up on the guestbook. At first I didn't believe it was him, but we exchanged some private emails and it became clear that it was him, and he was eager to share some memories about Canarsie from his unique perspective. So, here are some thoughts from Mr. Murray Soltano:

    Aaron, as I said previously, I would like to give some of my memories of Bildersee. In the way of background let me say that I was one of six individuals, that came with Irving J. Levine who was the principal of P.S. 68, to open the school in September of 1963. First IJ, as he was fondly called, was both an outstanding educator as well as an administor. I for one owe a great deal to IJ for whatever success I might have had as an educator.

    But for memories do you remember that we had teachers checking footwear as you entered the school? Those wearing sneakers were sent home to change into shoes. How about the need to wear a white shirt or white blouse at assemblies? Or how many remember the Dance Band, led by Howard Goodrich? Or does one remember the parent boycott for 29 days, because we were to receive black students in our school, forgetting of course that when Bildersee opened in 63 we had black students enrolled? I could of course relate details of various unsavory stories of breaking up parties in homes during school hours but that is for another day. Or driving to court with parents and children who were arrested in school for bring contraband to school. Do you remember the student-teacher basketball games on friday afternoons after school? On one occasion a teacher broke both wrists. But I suppose the best of all memories are those of former students who went on to college and became successful professionals, and more importantly positive contributors to our society. In the interest of fairness, those who unfortunately met an untimely end to their lives due to substance abuse or by violent acts.

    Aaron I hope this contributes something to your archives.

    Murray Soltano

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    Visitor #10

    Larry Cuocci is a friend of mine from Canarsie. Today he is a successful photographer and free lance writer, having been published in several major magazines. He has written a book about his experiences growing up in our crazy neighborhood. It is a story about triumph over adversity. Below you can read the beginning of chapter 1. You can find out more at:

    A Very Good Year

    by Larry Cuocci


    The Little Savior

    When I was seventeen, the world was both incredible and incomprehensible, as I suspect it is for most seventeen-year-olds. My mom was dying, my sister wouldn't speak with me, my dad hated me, and every morning I'd wake up hoping that today was the day I would finally get laid and end my eternal purgatory as a virgin.

    My dad was Catholic, my mom was Jewish. Neither of them participated in religion unless you count the silver foil Christmas tree we put up every mid-December. Having inherited no religious beliefs, I was called a Jew-Woppy by my friends from an early age. When they asked "What are you?" I could only shrug and say, "I was baptized and circumcised." Then I'd often add, "I'm Jewish from the waist down."

    What I remember most about that year was my preoccupation with the three D's: drugs, death, and driving. Drugs: by the time I turned eighteen I had inhaled whippets of nitrous oxide, smoked grass, hash, and angel dust, dropped acid, taken peyote, mescaline, THC, ludes, Demerol, black beauties, and crystal meth. Death: my mom was dying of malignant melanoma, the form of skin cancer where tumors, the size of grapefruits, erupted all over the surface of her body. In 1976 it was ninety-five percent fatal. Now it's only ninety percent fatal. Ah, the marvels of modern medicine. Driving: from my seventeenth birthday until my eighteenth, I failed the driving test four times. Not the written; you'd have to be a total moron to fail that even once. No, the driving exam itself; you know, hand signals and parallel parking. My dad taught me how to drive. He never let me go over twenty miles per hour while he was in the car. All my driving examiners thought I was too scared to drive, and they were right. But it wasn't driving I was scared of, it was my dad.

    My dad used tell me that I was either "incapable" or "insane." He'd hit me, call me names, and make fun of me. Whenever I had done something wrong, like daring to leave a glass perched precariously on the edge of the dining room table, he'd chase me around the house, ready to beat me with his slippers. Although my dad was born in Italy, he had lived for a number of years in Mexico, where he married and had a child, my half-sister, Connie. After divorcing, remarrying, and fleeing Mexico with my sister in tow, he married Grayce, the woman who would become my mom. After his travels, he spoke mostly Spenglian, a bastardized concoction of Spanish, English, and Italian. Spanish was his preferred language for cursing. As I'd run screaming from him, trying to keep as much furniture between us as possible, he'd terrorize me by whispering the following: "Te comes crudo" (I'll eat you raw), "Me toma tu sangre" (I'll drink your blood), and my all-time favorite, "Me comes tu huevos" (I'll eat your balls)! I tried real hard not to get caught. Whenever a child rode a bicycle over our front lawn my dad would come running out of the house in his T-shirt with no underpants on, shouting, "I kill you!" One time, after he was provoked by my sister, I watched from the top of the base- ment stairs as my father upended Connie, held her by her ankles, and proceeded to pound her head into the basement floor. One thing I can say about growing up in my house: it was never boring.

    My sister, seven years older than myself, was thrown out of the house when she was seventeen. My mom, thinking my sister was a drug addict, rolled up my sister's shirtsleeves looking for heroin track marks. She found none—all my sister had done up till then was smoke pot and take one real bummer of an acid trip. My dad then called my sister a puta. My sister retaliated by calling my mom a dirty Jew. On a cold January day, with snow falling and the sun shining, my dad threw my sister out of the house, rolled-up sleeves and all.

    As soon as my sister was gone, my buffer was gone as well, and my dad turned his full-flamed wrath upon me. At ten years old, I started taking these little green pills to calm my "nervous stomach." I never found out what those little green pills were, and since they didn't help me, I stopped taking them. If my dad didn't happen to hit me on a given day he would still chase me around the living room coffee table, mocking me by saying, "You no can do nothing till you seventeen. Then you be a man." I took this as a kind of prophecy, and I looked forward to the day when I would finally turn seventeen and be a man, so that I might kick the shit out him.

    My dad's loud tenor voice was omnipresent throughout our house. He was either yelling at us or singing opera—sometimes I couldn't tell the difference. Up until my seventeenth year, I had seen him cry only once. We had just moved into our new house on East 99th Street when I was four years old. It was the day after my best friend, Petrooch, punched me in the stomach while we were playing hide-and-go-seek. I ran crying up the stairs to my mommy, and the next day we moved. I thought, as any child might, that my crying had caused us to move. The first thing I remember in our new house was my dad receiving a letter from his mother in Italy. The letter said that his own father, Lorenzo—whom I was named after and whom my dad hadn't spoken to in fourteen years—had just died of a heart attack. I discovered that my dad's last memory with his own father was when they were saying goodbye to each other, fourteen years earlier. My dad was about to leave Italy and the family farm on a journey that would take him to France, Mexico, and finally America. At their final farewell, they didn't hug or shake hands. His father had simply raised a wineglass and said, "Buona fortuna," then turned his back on his son, raised his other hand in their air, and snapped his wrist—his way of saying "big deal." And now my grandfather— a man who had never shown affection to anyone, a man who used to tie my dad to the bed to keep him from going out at night—was dead. And now my dad would never get to hear his own father say that everything turned out all right, that the house in America was wonderful, that my sister and I were beautiful grandchildren, that Grayce was a perfect daughter-in-law, and that he was proud of my dad. None of that would be said. All the things my dad had wanted to say to his father but couldn't would be gulped down, but not forgotten. They would emerge time and again in fights with me, my sister, and my mom. My dad's hand would rain down upon us again and again and someone would cry out in pain to stop it. But the person who needed most to cry out was not me, my sister, or my mom, it was my dad.

    My mom used to call me her Little Savior. It's ironic she called me that, because: she was always rescuing me, I felt like I was constantly disappointing her, and most significantly, I had often failed to rescue her...

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    Visitor #11

    Edward Burke is a Vermont radio DJ who interviewed Von Cello for three hours. He also reviewed the Von Cello CDs. Here Edward expresses his ideas about expanding rock music to include new instruments, and he includes his observations about other aspects of rock along the way.

    Are Guitars overrated? An Exploratory Essay Through the Murky, Myriad Variety of Sound-Makers
    From All Over the Globe

    By Edward Burke of WWPV 88.7-FM "The Mike" (

    So you may be asking your self who I am, well....I'm just a small-town guy from Vermont who recently met the illustrious Von Cello on his recent trip up to my little state. Upon meeting him and asking him how he approaches his music, I have decided, or rather, come to the conclusion that Von Cello is doing something I've always wanted a musician to do (besides Jethro Tull, that is). Why do I like and appreciate Von Cello's work? Because I have been waiting for a musician to make it big without playing a guitar. Those of you out there in college who play guitar might be saying "Hey man, I play guitar...what do you have against guitars"? The answer is simple...nothing, except for the fact that I think they have been fairly over-played since the invention of the electric guitar in the twenties or thirties.
    Sure, it was Jimi Hendrix who played guitar (and played it rather well, of course,) on "Purple Haze" and "Burning of the Midnight Lamp", it was George Harrison, (my favorite Beatle), in collaboration with Eric Clapton, who masterfully whined his way through "While My Guitar Gently Weeps", it was Carlos Santana's guitar that sang the "Blues for Savador", and got our feet movin' on "Smooth". It was Eric Clapton's guitar that cried tears for his son in Heaven, it was Frank Zappa's guitar who "Wanted To Kill Your Mama" and it was, of course, bluesman supreme B.B. King who named his guitar "Lucille".
    Please understand now, that I am not dismissing, nor putting forth a vote of no confidence in guitars or guitarists all around the world, yet as instruments themselves, I feel guitars are so passé, so run-of-the-mill, so Twentieth Century! This is the Twenty-First Century and I feel it's time for a new sound to come to the forefront of popular music around the world. Von Cello is, of course, already making headway in that epic quest, but let's look at some other instruments and see how they fare against the cello.
    But first, let's take a break here, shall we?
    You may be asking yourself, "Why is he writing this essay in favor of other instruments? Is he insane"? Yes, my friend, that is more then likely true than false. It may also be that I have way too much time on my hands, but it's mostly because of this: have you ever seen an accordionist or flute player get angry or violent? Or drink or smoke too much? Or be offensive to women? Well, you can never predict human nature, no matter what instrument you play, but I was watching a special on Vermont Public Television not so long ago on famed American singer/songwriter/guitarist Woody "This Land is Your Land…." Guthrie. Sure, the guy is an icon, (perhaps the very first, true, "American Idol"), he had a poetic penchant for word and note, and he wrote hundreds of brilliant songs in his lifetime, many of which have come to emphasize the modern American spirit. But as for acting in public away from his music, he had a mouth that no mother could love and a blood-alcohol level that I don't even want to know. He did marry but was never too fond of his wife. Now Guthrie suffered from disease and depression, but I can't help think that his guitar was part of the problem…can't you picture all major rock stars today in the incomplete historical biography above? And what do most major rock stars play? Guitar! Now, I'm no authority here by any means, but I tried to play guitar back in high school, and it was then that I started having these thoughts: "Why am I learning guitar when I could be playing something else?…There are so many strange and beautiful instruments out there just waiting for me to play them"! I learned early on from my guitar teacher, a good friend of my Dad, that after a while I'd start developing calluses from pressing my fingers into the strings so much. I conclude, in my not-very-authoritative nature, that calluses must be contributing to part of the bad-boy rock, folk and country-guitarist image….they must hurt like hell once a guitarist forms them, and even more before one develops them. This physical pain must cause the rocker psychological pain as well, not to mention an attitude. Notice that I did not include jazz guitarists in the paragraph above….I know a jazz guitarist and I even sang in a church choir under one, but I am not playing favorites here…..I am most certain that jazz guitarists develop calluses too, but if all of them are anything like my choir director, then all jazz guitarists must be fairly laid back, suave, wine-drinking hipsters with a love of fine Italian dining…..that is if they're not a jam-rock/jazz guitarist who takes most of his free time to smoke some weed. (My apologies to all the jam-band fans out there for that gross sterotype).
    Anyway, back to the point….have you ever seen an accordionist drink and smoke to a great extent, or start fights? Unless he's an Irish accordionst, (I'm Irish-American so I think I'm safe here), then I'd say that accordionists are pretty much all gentle, loving people. This probably goes for harpists, sitar players (among the many reasons why George is my favorite Beatle), didgeridoo players, bagpipers (although I've heard some members of this "tribe" can be rowdy too, unless they're playing "Amazing Grace"), you could almost fill in any other ethnic, exotic, unique and strange musical instrumentalist on this list.
    I might as well come out and say it…I am a drummer. Note now that I am not a rock drummer with sticks and stones, and cymbals and toms, and racks and keys, and heads and pads…..nope….I'm a hand drummer. I pick up anything and try to make music out of it. (I'm not a professional by any means, but I used to play percussion in church with that self-same jazz guitarist). I figure that percussionists like me are too busy trying to keep time with the band and searching for that elusive, all- important "sound" to care about drinking and smoking and starting fights, but I still have music insde of me, and I improvise, or "jam' whenever I need to lift my spirits. I find that whenever I feel upset all I have to do is plink away on my mbira, or African thumb piano, and I'll feel much better about what ever is bothering me, and much more at peace. Even though I don't know a heck of a whole lot about chords or time signatures, or harmonics or arpeggios, there seems to be something deep in my soul that always allows me to make music on whatever I find….it's almost spiritual. What I'm saying is that while guitars are capable of writing someone's song, so is a keyboard, or an accordion, or a cello…all are capable of producing melody and chords….why not let an accordionist come into the musical limelight besides "Weird" Al Yankovic? But let's look at the big picture here….look at all the instruments of the world….even the ones who can only play melody or the ones who can only play chords, or even the tiniest ones who can only keep the beat. I believe Frank Zappa (a guitar god who was definitely a wild man, but an intellectual genius as well), said it best in his 1988 autobiography The Real Frank Zappa Book:

    …What is music? Anything can be music, but it doesn't become music until someone wills it to be music, and the audience listening to it decides to perceive it as music
    (pg. 141)

    From the very beginning of human history, when ever anybody wanted to express a thought or emotion, they would tell stories to their neighbors….when the invention of the first musical instrument came along (God knows when or what that was), mankind now had a tool to help him or her tell his or her stories. Indeed, even young Australian aborigines are sent from their home village into the forest with a didgeridoo. They are not allowed to return home until they learn and master the instrument; until the boy becomes a man. Imagine how peaceful, how serene that Aborigine must feel out in the woods with an instrument made from the woods….he is the prime example of the human need to make music on whatever they can find. A didgeridoo would seem to me like the perfect instrument to learn because you have to practice circular breathing to play it, (which could help you when swimming or scuba-diving); you can get a wide variety of neat tones and drones out of it with which to scare your neighbors, and the best part? NO CALLUSES! I firmly believe that the didgeridoo would keep a person happy enough to stay off the streets!
    So no matter what your instrument is, be it guitar or cello, mandolin or concertina, (two of my favorites by the way), bagpipes, bongo drums, conch shell, maracas, or perhaps a simple, comb-and-tissue paper harmonica, just play it and try to tell your story with it….don't be lost in the hype and your ego through the dense fog of the huge corporations; those megalomaniac cronies who tell you playing guitar gets you laid….it might, but that's not why you play music, is it? Play from your heart on what ever you want. Here's another quote from Frank that I believe will sum this weird little essay up:

    Information is not knowledge, knowledge is not wisdom, wisdom is not truth, truth is not beauty, beauty is not love, love is not music, music is the best. (The Real Frank Zappa Book, pg. 139)

    I guess what I'm trying to say is that guitars are ok, but expand your ideas a little and enter the world of choice! Since Von Cello himself played guitar for many years, and chose on his own free will to play the cello instead, I think we should hand this over to him and maybe he'll bring some perspective to all of this…. In the meantime, I'm going to go listen to his new album "Excalibur", available at his website at and he's not paying me to say that!

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