Acclaimed cellist Joshua Roman shares his thoughts about a career in music
Joshua Roman has some exciting stories to tell from his musical adventures around the globe. He recently visited Sri Lanka for two concerts for the Sunera Foundation.
“They all thought I was crazy,” he laughs, hazel eyes twinkling, as he describes how at six years old he’d tell people he was going to be a concert cellist. Joshua Roman simply “always knew”. It is truly a rare gift to go through one’s formative years with an understanding of where one is called to be once ‘grown up’, when many of us continually shift and change. “I went through some phases too,” Joshua reminisces with a smile, “I thought if I broke my arm and I’d never be able to play the cello again, I’d be a fighter pilot, I thought that was cool.”
Joshua grew up in a Christian family of four children (of whom he was the eldest) all of who received a musical education, although it was only he who decided to pursue classical music professionally. “When I’m home at Christmas we’ll play string quartets together at church or something,” he shares, adding in a slightly wistful tone that sometimes he wished for more full-time music in the family. “There were times when I’d think “Wow wouldn’t it be cool, being up on stage with your little brother or your little sister, really making something powerful,” he says. He is quick to add though, that he is glad they are able to still experience music, minus the pressure of being professional musicians.
Joshua Roman was the principal cellist of the Seattle Symphony Orchestra from 2006 until 2008, the youngest principal player in the symphony’s history at age 22. At this time I was still living and going to school in Washington and frequented the steps of Benaroya hall. At one community event I had an opportunity to meet Mr. Roman for a brief moment. He spoke to us about the importance of passion.
Of the pressure itself, he does not worry much. Smiling confidently he assures “it’s not the sort that bothers me.” His early (and growing) success in the global classical music arena does not however, make him insensitive to the plight of all artists who simply can’t make the cream of the crop. “It’s not the normal pressure when financial/professional problems are tied up with something you care deeply about. I really love what I do and mostly feel lucky about that.”
So much so that Joshua is secure in the belief that he has never had a second thought about his choice of career and lifestyle. In fact, quite unlike many a performer who relishes time off a heavy tour schedule, a week maybe two without having been on stage and he is found “a little grouchy, and off, I get told!” Joshua confides, laughing rather embarrassedly then pushing his thick rimmed glasses up his nose.
His love of exploration has taken the cellist (and of course his – literally – constant companion, the nearly century and a half old instrument) to a variety of places with his music. He shares stories of encountering different cultures and traditions in performance (and the confusions these sometimes cause!), as well as what he calls the “realities of life.”
Called a “fearless explorer” in his musical ventures by none other than Yo-Yo Ma, Joshua Roman does not limit himself to the classical tradition in which he was trained but takes part in various artistic ventures that aim at a fusion of forms, mediums and cultures. Nevertheless, his firmest belief is in the school of thought that music, being universal as it is, need not be changed in order to be appreciated by different audiences, but that the presentation of different ‘types’ may be adapted to suit the audience. And thus he is often found playing classical music with friends at local pubs and bars in NY where he makes his home. “It’s sad that people try to put a box around classical music,” he shares, suggesting rather that performers “invite people to relax and have popcorn and hot dogs while they’re listening to the Beethoven Symphony.”
What means more to Joshua than being a potential change-maker in his chosen field is the importance of being able to pursue a career that he can remain passionate about. “When you do the thing that you love [for] a living, there’s freedom, because you really get to say something with your work.” And “say something” he does!
In January 2008, Mr. Roman resigned from the position as principal cellist in order to pursue his solo career. Although he has long left the stage where he debuted, the place that the Seattle PI’s Phillpa Kiraly described as giving birth to an “auspicious beginning,” Joshua Roman now shares the joy and passion he has for music with audiences worldwide.