Sterling Elliott: A Day in the Life of a Cellist

Thursday, Mar 04, 2021
Juilliard Journal
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Sterling Elliott playing cello in rehearsal

Getting ready for a performance in a socially distant world

Fourth-year cellist Sterling Elliott, a Kovner Fellow, writes about a Friday that culminated in recording a piece by Michael Abels for solo string quartet and strings. It was part of a Juilliard Orchestra concert conducted by Xian Zhang that will be streamed this spring.

7:50am I wake up earlier than expected after a restless night. I had a strange dream that I somehow missed three rehearsals with the Virginia Symphony—the stress felt very real considering I have a few concerts with the VSO in a week, so I hope this doesn’t foreshadow anything.

8:30am Excitedly browsing Expedia to book flights and hotel for an engagement in California next month. What a rare activity during the pandemic :)

8:45am Start warming up into my practice with some scalar passages in Delights and Dances by Michael Abels, a solo quartet piece my group is performing with the Juilliard Orchestra today. Recently I have been pretty busy, so this is one of the first chances this week that I got to sit down for some time and practice. It feels really, really great!

8:55am The alarm originally meant to wake me up goes off and nearly scares me to death …

11am Time to get myself looking charming for tonight’s concert, so I head to Harlem for my regularly scheduled haircut. Denny Moe’s Superstar Barbershop has been my place of choice for two years now, but I can promise any of the barbers on Frederick Douglass Blvd. between West 135th and 130th streets will get you straight.

11:33am The C train has stopped for almost 10 minutes only to finally skip my stop, so I have to finish the journey on foot. Making a mental note to leave extra early tonight for the concert. Relying on the MTA can get you into trouble if you’re not careful and, as you can tell by my nightmare last night, I am not a fan of being late.

12:15pm I walk out with a huge grin under my mask. My barber was taking videos throughout the entire haircut, a real indicator they’ve got you looking gooood!

12:30pm: On the way home, I stop at Lenwich, an NYC staple, to grab some lunch to go. It’s also a great excuse to revisit the neighborhood of my old apartment on Columbus Ave. and West 75th Street.

12:55pm I get home and rush to my laptop prepared to spend all my money on a limited edition merchandise release at 1pm of my absolute favorite brand, Soulection. I have been a massive fan of their weekly music radio show since I was 13 years old!

1:45pm I head to Juilliard for the orchestra dress rehearsal. My quartet is just getting accustomed to a new formation where we stand behind the conductor (I sit on an elevated cello podium) and face the orchestra. The combination of this adjustment along with difficulty hearing ourselves in this spaced-out setting throws us off slightly. This run-through isn’t as smooth as we had previously played it, but I assure them that a bad dress rehearsal is a good omen for the concert.

3:10pm I arrive home and contemplate whether to practice, work, or sleep first!

4pm My engagement next month in California has just been cancelled— and so I decide to accompany this sad news with a nap. Recently I have really enjoyed the experience of taking a nap just before a concert, so I’m hoping for good results again tonight.

6:45pm I head to school and get ready to perform for an audience of cameras! There are two alternating feelings I’ve had performing concerts in a recorded setting: being overly relaxed and feeling as though we are running through the program in a rehearsal setting, or a typical case of recording perfectionism that we usually experience while recording for festival auditions. Once we are able to have our performances livestreamed, then even a virtual audience will return some of the adrenaline that’s crucial to our performances.

8pm I head home feeling really great about how the performance went, and once home, I arrive at yet another challenge: deciding how to spend the rest of my night. Do I celebrate with take-out and video games or practice and finish some work? My fate seems predetermined as I look down to see Uber Eats already open on my phone.