Modesto Cello Choir strikes a note for charity

Teens in the Newsroom ProgramJune 11, 2013 

Since 2009, the Modesto Suzuki Society Cello Choir has been producing music for the greater good.

"It's a group that's made up of the most advanced students in our program," says Jana Hunn, Suzuki Society director, of the seven middle and high school students.

The Cello Choir has maintained a charitable attitude, performing at retirement homes, doing benefit concerts and making public appearances at events such as the Modesto Certified Farmers Market.

"Our tour group goes out and does a lot of donating of their time to different organizations," Hunn says. "I think it really enhances what's happening musically in Modesto."

The choir strives for a mix of pop and classical pieces, says Hunn.

"When we have people come to listen, they love to hear 'Viva La Vida' (by Coldplay), but they also love to hear a proper requiem. … We do the whole range."

The group has performed in the lobby of the Gallo Center for the Arts, and is looking forward to taking the stage when it opens Saturday for the Piano Guys. The American musical group, known for its YouTube performances of alternative arrangements of classical and pop songs, is a major inspiration to the Cello Choir, Hunn says.

"We're really trying to have dinner with them as well," says Hunn, with a laugh.

Members have different reasons for participating.

Says Maddie Hawkins, a recent graduate of Modesto High School: "It's the most fun part about playing the cello for me. It's something you want to invite your friends to."

Adds Caroline Neville, a graduate of Johanson High School in Modesto: "It's taught me a lot. I'll appreciate music all my life because of it."

Says Olivia Peltier, a recent graduate of Modesto High: "For me, at least, playing the cello is a nice break from the stress. … Cello Choir is super fun, and we're all really good friends."

Their dedication is evident to parents.

"It's because she loves it so much that she wants to commit so much time to it," says Shannon Hawkins, the mother of Maddie.

Learning teamwork

When asked what they believe is the most valuable skill they've acquired through Cello Choir, the entire group responds with a single word: teamwork.

Continues Caroline, "Playing a duet with someone is difficult, but with all of us, it took some time to get used to playing with each other."

Elaborates Hunn, "While they're playing, there's so much interaction going on with everyone, and that's really difficult to do."

With three of its members graduating, the Cello Choir will have fewer members.

"Next year, it's going to be a quartet," Hunn says. "It just ebbs and flows with what students are able to play the repertoire."

Liah Kim, the group's youngest member, will be entering seventh grade at Prescott Junior High School in Modesto.

"At all the recitals, I would always look forward to the Cello Choir songs," she says, "because they were so pretty, and it was all connected."

Hunn says many Suzuki Society students aspire to become members of the Cello Choir.

"Several of our members here have started writing their own music and coming up with their own arrangements of different songs. … It really inspires the younger members that we have. … They look at this group and they want to be a part of it."

Of Liah, Hunn says, "She's a good example of a student that's been looking up to this group for a long time, and now gets to be a part of it."

To see the Modesto Suzuki Society Cello Choir perform "Pavane," by Faure, and "I Dreamed a Dream," from "Les Misérables," go to

Zachary Senn is a home-schooled junior and a member of The Bee's Teens in the Newsroom program.

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