November 7, 2018
Writer: Bryanna Willis

TED fellowship member and former principal cellist of the Seattle Symphony Joshua Roman has led an exciting life as a musician and now enjoys his time as a solo musician.

Growing Up With Music

Roman comes from a musical family. Both of his parents played classical music through high school and college. To help their children get scholarships, his parents started them on string instruments. His other three siblings play the violin and for all members of the family music still plays an active role in their lives.

However, Roman says neither of his parents really intended for music to become his career. His other siblings have used music for what their parents originally intended.

“They used music, not as a means to become professional classical musicians, but to pay for scholarships to go to college to study other things,” Roman said.

His sister plays in a Christian rock band with her husband. One of his brothers works at Boeing and plays violin in the community orchestra while his other brother is currently on tour with an Irish Christian rock band called Wend Collective.

Roman wanted to go a different way though, even from a young age.

“I fell in love with the cello before I remember remembering things, I don’t remember not loving the cello,” Roman said.

Cellist Learning From a Violinist

Starting on a three-quarter sized cello, Roman started playing at age three. For the first ten years, he had a violin teacher teach him cello. Which he says largely attributed to his dream of becoming a soloist.

“He would demonstrate things on the violin and I would play them on the cello and he didn’t always know whether or not it was supposed to be difficult,” Roman said. “So the assumption was that it wasn’t supposed to be difficult.”

His teacher was the concertmaster of Oklahoma City Philharmonic. Taking Roman on was really an experiment to see if a violinist could teach cello.

“I had a different idea about what was difficult than other cellists and I also think that I really gravitated towards melody,” he said.

Soloist Goals

By the time he was 6, he knew he wanted to be a solo classical musician.

“I really wanted to make that what my life was about,” Roman said. “I wanted to take it as far as I could be, as creative as I could, and show people parts of themselves that they might not otherwise see,” Roman said.

Roman says music can be used to help people feel things they might not normally feel.

“There is that aspect of emotion and communication which is so powerful it can take you to places that maybe people are afraid to, it can be vulnerable, it can be scary, it can be joyful, but it can really take you there if you let it,” Roman said.

After graduating from the Cleveland Institute of Music, he auditioned for the Seattle Symphony and became the principal cellist. He was the youngest principal musician playing in Seattle Symphony history, but he says, even from the beginning, he had planned to leave to do a solo career.

He only stayed for two seasons and used those two years to pay off all of his student loans by spending as little money as possible.

“I didn’t buy any furniture, nothing – just a TV,” Roman said. “I have been really grateful and lucky that it worked out.”

Artistic Director of TownMusic in Seattle

In addition to traveling and performing, he also works with the Seattle Chamber Music Series. They often involve the Seattle Symphony to get talented kids to play with professional musicians.

“The professional players bring their A game because they don’t want to look bad sitting next to the people who look up to them and of course the young people are doing the best that they can, it’s a great spirit,” Roman said.

When he is not putting together these mentorship-type of chamber music groups, he will bring in other musicians, colleagues and friends to put together smaller chamber music groups.

“It’s been a really special thing to be able to give people that experience rather than just playing myself,” Roman said. “It’s a very different way of sharing music and I love it.”

Collaboration with Other Artists

Since becoming a soloist, Roman has had the chance to perform all over the world and collaborating with many different creators like Yo-Yo Ma, Bill T. Jones and Anna Deavere Smith.

He says each artist brings something different to the table making each experience special.

His current collaboration is with Jessie Lewis, a recording engineer and producer. They have been friends since school and are doing a project Roman is excited about.

“We do this thing now where we go into a studio and just make something up, we just make it up!” Roman said. “No idea what it’s going to sound like nothing is composed, multitrack cello layers come out.”

Monday, they are releasing their first video from this project.

“It’s a different kind of collaboration,” Roman said. “This sort of collaborative effort of creativity and execution at the same time is really, really engaging and stimulating, so I can’t wait to share that.”

Does he have a favorite type of music to play?

For Roman, he wants to make sure the pieces he plays connect with listeners.

“So, accessibility as far as the connection goes, and rigor,” he said.

He said the “Dvorak Cello Concerto” is probably his favorite to play and he also has greatly enjoyed playing Bach.

From a more recent time period he has been playing “Capriccio per Siegfried Palm” by Penderecki, which was written in 1968 and is an extremely abstract piece.

“It’s got this wild energy and sensibility to it that’s totally, in my opinion, accessible and definitely provokes a reaction, no one tunes out in this piece,” Roman said. “And I love that, accessible doesn’t mean that it has a simple melody it means that it has some sort of energy that grabs you and keeps you.”

Rigor has its own meaning to him as well.

“Rigor means that it honors that energy by taking you somewhere that is interesting or at least sparks something inside,” Roman said.

Coming to BYU-Idaho, he says he plans to play some of these pieces and is glad to be here, the sunsets, in particular, are something he enjoys seeing.

“I’m disappointed to not have caught all of the sunsets, they are amazing!”