.Chasing Cellos: Rebecca Roudman’s virtuosic musical ‘elasticity’

Rebecca Roudman is a busy woman.

A classically trained cellist, many know her as the dynamic performer rocking the cello in the Marin-based band Dirty Cello, which has achieved global recognition for its raucous live performances

But wait there’s more: Roudman also performs with the Renegade Orchestra and the Death and Taxes Swing Band. And they all have gigs over the next few weeks—four local shows, four different venues, each showcasing a distinct genre. From a swing dance to a live movie soundtrack and lots of rock in between, we had to ask how she does it.

Bohemian: Your upcoming gigs are a kind of whirlwind of different genres — rock, swing, an orchestral soundtrack, and an eclectic mix of American moments — what has prepared you for such sonic diversity?

Rebecca Roudman: To prepare for all these diverse shows coming up, I have to dig deep into my background, as do the other musicians in the various ensembles. The upcoming shows see us bouncing from rock shows to a movie soundtrack, to orchestral rock, to a swing dance, and what allows us to do all this is our training. Throughout all the various ensembles I lead, both myself and the musicians I’ve gathered are all music-reading, classically-trained players. What makes this crew special is that we use that classical training as a starting point for bigger and better things. 

B: Throughout your career, you’ve boldly gone into genres the cello has seldomly gone before. To what do you attribute this elasticity in both the instrument and your musical interests?

RR: I love the word “elasticity” to describe my diverse projects, but in my mind, it’s more of a short attention span. With all the great music in the world, I would hate to be stuck doing one thing, and this is what gets me going with all the various groups. I love the music, but I also love the adventure of not just doing one thing. With the Renegade Orchestra (a 16-piece rock orchestra), we do a crazy intersection of classic rock and the orchestral world. With the Death and Taxes Swing Band, it’s all about 1940s big band jazz, and with Dirty Cello (rock and blues band), all bets are off, and we try to do a bit of everything. For the movie soundtrack at the Sebastiani Theater on Valentine’s Day, I get to make my cello sing in a romantic way. 

B:  Is there any music you wouldn’t/couldn’t/shouldn’t play on cello? 

RR: In my mind, playing the cello needs to be an emotional experience for me and the audience. That’s not to say I’m looking to convey a sappy emotion, and what I prefer to convey is energy, excitement and fun. To answer what a cello shouldn’t play, I guess I would go with “a cello should never be used for the evil of boring music.” Unfortunately, I fear boring music from personal experience, having been stuck playing the cello part to Pachabel’s Canon which consists of only 8 notes played on a loop, usually while a bride slowly walks down the aisle.

B: As a singer as well as a songwriter, what are you most attracted to in terms of subject, and how do these upcoming performances speak to that?

RR: For subject matter, they always say, write what you know. So, I try to base anything I write, or anything I write with my partner, Jason Eckl, on our personal experience. These personal experiences are rarely the typical singer-songwriter moaning about the unfairness of life. Instead, we write about our crazy adventures, like what happens when you take a 4 piece band to Iceland on a shoe-string budget or what happens when you accidentally end up providing the soundtrack for an overly amorous jilted man from Chicago trying to win his ex-girlfriend back. These songs will be performed at our Hopmonk Sebastopol show on March 2. 

B: All of these shows cluster in Sonoma County, which is ironic since you’re often touring the country or other countries entirely. Have you noticed any differences between local audiences versus your other fans throughout the world?

RR: I could talk about the differences in audiences for hours, but here are a few generalizations. In Sonoma County and all of Northern California, there’s a great appreciation for the music of the 60s. In Germany, the audiences always want more encores than you would expect. In Ireland, people come out for music and party hard any day of the week, and in some of the more unusual places we’ve performed, like China, people are still the same in that they love a good beat and an enthusiastic performance. Whenever we’re away for a while, we always look forward to coming back home for local performances. In fact, we just got back from Florida, and while the shows were great—the food was not. 

The Shows

7:30 pm, Saturday, Feb. 3 — Renegade Orchestra performs at the California Theater, 528 7th St., Santa Rosa. “This will be a rock and roll show with an orchestra or an orchestra show with rock and roll—we’re not sure, but it’s going to be a lot of fun. Featuring some of the area’s top string musicians,” says Roudman. caltheatre.com

7 pm, Saturday, Feb 10 — Death and Taxes Swing Band Valentine’s Dance at Viansa Winery, 25200 Arnold Dr., Sonoma. “This is an old-fashioned swing dance at the beautiful Viansa Winery. The group features seasoned professionals mixed with rising stars from a local college. Also, free dance lessons,” says Roudman. viansa.com

7:30 pm, Wednesday, Feb. 14 —Renegade Orchestra Live Soundtrack to a Silent Movie at the Sebastiani Theater, 476 1st St E., Sonoma. Says Roudman, “We’re taking the movie, ‘Flesh and the Devil’ with Greta Garbo and presenting it with a newly composed soundtrack that will be performed live as the movie plays, with members of the Renegade Orchestra” sebastianitheatre.com

8 pm, Saturday, March 2. Dirty Cello at HopMonk Tavern, 230 Petaluma Ave., Sebastopol. “The Dirty Cello band has been traveling around the United States, collecting songs from the places they’ve visited and writing new ones inspired by their adventures,” says Roudman. “These songs will be presented at the band’s yearly extravaganza at Sebastopol’s Hopmonk.” hopmonk.com/sebastopol

Daedalus Howellhttps://dhowell.com
Daedalus Howell is the writer-director of the feature filmsPill Head and the upcoming Werewolf Serenade. Learn more at dhowell.com.


  1. Watched the Renegade Orchestra at the Firehouse theater in Pleasanton CA on Sunday Feb 4th at the 2 PM performance. Rebecca Roundman along with the other virtuoso’s of the group brought tears to our eye’s in the beauty and energy of her personal expressions during the performance. – – Really enjoyed Rebecca’s energy and emotional input to her excellence in performing. Many are great performers, but she excels.

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