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State of the Arts: ‘Sidewalk cellist’ aims to open minds

Free cello concert series launches this weekend
sidewalk cellist
Clara Shandler launches the third season of her free cello concert series Saturday.

It all started when she was a teenager.

Clara Shandler used to bus from Surrey to Vancouver to busk with her cello.

Most of the time, transit riders couldn’t guess what was in her case.

“I would get asked if it was a violin, a guitar, a bass,” Shandler said. “I’ve actually been asked twice if my instrument was a tuba.”

She’s a “big believer” in education and using music to reach people, so Shandler brings her classical instrument to the street to open people’s minds. She plays everything from Nirvana to Bach, jazz to metal and compositions she’s written, arranged and sings.

The “sidewalk cellist” launches the third season of her free cello concert series at the PropHouse Café on June 7, wraps up with a grand finale concert June 28 at Café Deux Soleils, and will play outdoor matinees at various East Vancouver locations in between.

She played in a punk band when she attended Fraser Heights secondary in Surrey at the same time she attended a chamber music school in Coquitlam and discovered Russian composer Dmitri Schostakowitsch.

“That’s when I realized that the world of rock ’n’ roll and classical music aren’t two totally separate things,” the now 24-year-old said. “There’s this grey area in between modern, really out there twentieth century compositions that are frickin’ badass.”

Each June concert will be free but Shandler will give any money, donations of instruments or musical supplies she receives to music students in Canada and Cambodia, split 50/50.

It’s been three years since this holder of a bachelor’s degree in music from the University of B.C. quit her job at the deli at IGA to teach music, play and record with a variety of musical groups and work as a musician for hire.

“I don’t make a lot of money but I just don’t spend a lot of money and focus on being happy and not surrounding and filling my life with things,” she said. “I’m so happy doing what I do. I get to make music and make a living making music and teaching other people how to make music.”

In contrast, when she recently asked her “best friend” in Burma, how he was, he replied, ‘I’m just so hungry.’”

Shandler saves “every extra dime” to travel to Cambodia and Burma in December and give money to music programs there.

She previously used donations to offer affordable music lessons around Vancouver.

Shandler wants to bridge social and economic gaps.

“One of the things that’s really important to me is bringing people together and building community,” she said.

Shandler secured a grant from the Vancouver Foundation for her series and will mount “a particularly big show” in the Oakridge area this month.

“It’s my belief that if I can help open up people’s ears and eyes, then their minds and their hearts will follow. And for the global crisis that we’re in of a huge disparity, a huge gap between the rich and the poor and the east and the west, we can start to bridge that gap,” Shandler said. “And then all of that through music. What better way to bring people together?”

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