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Ivan Katz Headshot

Have Cello, Will Travel

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Several years ago, my wife and I attended the wedding of one of her professional colleagues. At the reception we were seated with eight other people, none of whom I knew. After being introduced to the gentleman sitting at my right, I asked him what he did for a living. "I am a Notary Public" he replied with a straight face. During the course of an increasingly bibulous evening, the aforesaid Notary Public remarked "All things in moderation, including moderation! When you really want a corned beef sandwich and a beer, go get it!"

These days, that eloquent paean to moderation seems as dated as high button shoes and the good five cent cigar. Moderation -- a lovely word meaning "adult behavior" -- is difficult to discern in a world in which Extreme Sports and Extreme Entertainment can be found on television all day every day, and at only the finest hockey and cattle auction arenas near you. But even with the abundance of extreme sports, the existence of The Extreme Cellists is hard to figure.

Clare Wallace, James Rees and Jeremy Dawson are The Extreme Cellists. Their shtick is to perform on their cellos in unusual places. In 2006, for example, they set out to perform on the roof of each of the 42 Anglican Cathedrals in England ("A cellist on the roof! Sounds crazy, no?") They actually played on the roofs of 31 of them; sanity and a decent respect for public safety and liability issues caused 11 of the Cathedrals to insist on performances in somewhat more sane locations.

Starting on Monday, July 21 and scheduled to go until July 30, The Extreme Cellos are slated to embark upon The Four Peaks Challenge. Their plan is to carry their instruments up the four highest peaks in Scotland (Ben Nevis), England (Scafell Pike), Wales (Snowdon) and Ireland (Carrauntoohil) and to play a concert on each promontory. The stated purpose of this activity is to raise money for the charities Aspire and Mountain Rescue.

It goes without saying that the top of a mountain is a deucedly bad place to play a concert. Howling wind makes hearing difficult. A total lack of what we have come to call "audience conveniences" cannot be avoided, since the Extreme Cellists plan to carry their instruments, not port-a-potties, to yon craggy heights. The entire effort seems uncomfortably akin to the notion of skateboarding down the side of the Washington Monument.

Roughly 97 years ago, H.L. Mencken wrote the following:

To play the 'cello one must be sound in wind and limb and the 'cello, on its part, pays back, with interest, the muscular energy expended in performing upon it. Remove the vestments of a veteran 'cello player and you will find muscles as round and as hard as mock oranges. The extensor carpi radialis longior, in the upper right arm, stands out like an Ionic pillar in front of a colonial home. And in the lower arm the flexor sublimis digitorum has the thickness of a piano leg and the unyielding texture of a clarinetist's intellect.

Note that Mencken refers to soundness of wind and limb, not intellect or reason. I thumpingly endorse the idea of raising large sums of money for charity, and as a result I wish the Extreme Cellists every success in their forthcoming venture. But as an exercise in self-promotion, this sort of circus act can only lead to no good.