Who: Juliana Soltis
An extra: She has a greyhound named Rain who loves his grandpawrents and loves to hide when Juliana plays her cello (see below for more details).
Q: When did you know, or feel like, you were doing the right thing? Did you have a moment where all of a sudden you realized, ‘this is what I’m supposed to be doing’?
JS: I’ve often told the story about how I started playing the cello, which involved a string quartet coming to my elementary school in South Charleston, West Virginia. They were armed with Beethoven and some Christmas tree lights. But, that’s a whole other story.
I don’t often get asked about the moment when I knew I was on the ‘right’ path, but I think that I was about eleven years old. I’d been playing the cello for two years. I was a rather inward-looking child, and like many kids, I did tons of school activities, and I was also a figure skater. I knew that someday I’d have to give up skating because I wasn’t going to do it as a profession. That didn’t bother me.
But, then, when I started thinking about going to college, I realized that I might have to give up cello, and I decided right then and there that I was going to be cellist. I didn’t want to live without it, which I know is a little unusually profound for an eleven year old, but it still rings true today.
Q: What is a life responsibility you always try, or that you always want to try, to avoid?
JS: Getting married. When I was in my 20s, there wasn’t so much pressure about getting married, but now when I meet people and they learn that I’m in my 30s and not married, the first thing they say is, ‘Oh, don’t worry, it’ll happen.’
I guess people assume that I’m unhappy because I’m not in a relationship. And honestly, to do what I do and be partners with someone is really difficult. For at least right now, it doesn’t feel in the realm of possibility. I think about how pumped I am that I can have a dog and we can go for walks. [Laughing].
I don’t know that I’ve consciously avoided marriage, but it’s just that I haven’t gotten married. And I’m quite happy. I love working; I love the work that I’m doing; I love that I get to travel and play music for all these people. I have my family, my friends, and my greyhound, Rain.
Q: Interesting you should mention Rain because I was wondering: Who is the person, or any living species, that you love to watch hearing you play?
JS: Actually, having Rain here while I play isn’t always the best thing in terms of self-esteem. He definitely keeps me humble. There are a lot of pictures on my Instagram, in particular of him hiding his head while I practice. He’ll be buried under a blanket to keep from listening to me play.
But, in regard to who I like to watch, I’d have to say strangers. There’s nothing quite like looking at an audience full of people you’ve never met before in your life and knowing that the experience that you’re about to have is something special and never to be repeated.
That’s the wonderful nature of live music. I get to see their faces come alive while I play. It’s incredible to see the way music can make its way into people’s hearts, and that once-in-a lifetime experience happens with someone you may never see again. It’s fascinating and unbelievable.
Q: If you were only allowed to bring a personal item — think Spirit Airlines — for a trip where you’d be traveling for two months, what would be in that bag?
JS: Unfortunately, I don’t go anywhere anymore without my smartphone, so, I’d probably have my iPhone and a great pair of headphones. I have a pair of headphones that I just love. They’re big and old, analog, and produce just absolutely wonderful sound.
Besides that, I also always have to have a notebook of some kind. I’m very old school in my need and tendency to write down ideas.
And, I always carry a solid perfume. I buy these perfumes in Berkeley; they’re handcrafted solid perfumes in these antique containers. I have one that’s in a little silver watch case that has irises on it, and I just love it. It has this particular scent that smells of a garden and spring. If I ever feel stressed, I put a little behind my ears.
Q: How do you find that sound influences you as a person and as a cellist?
JS: I’m actually very sensitive to sound. When I was little, I would always test way outside the spectrum for what I could hear. It’s funny, because you’d think that would mean I shy away from urban areas, but those are the spots I love. I love being in the middle of Manhattan where you’ve got street noise, ten different languages being spoken, and a cab that goes by with its windows down playing Bangladeshi music. It’s almost like an IV of coffee for me.
It’s so energizing, and if I’m ever feeling a lag in my creative juices, I spend some time in the city, and it revitalizes me.
On the other side of the spectrum, though, I just went hiking with my father out in Rock Springs, Wyoming, which is in the middle of nowhere. We drove and then hiked to a place where there was absolutely no one.
I was standing there, and I noticed how unbelievably quiet, yet not quiet, it was. It reminds me of those rooms you’re in where they say there’s no noise, but you can hear your nervous system and your blood pumping. It was almost like I could hear the grass growing within this incredible stillness. There was a sound coming from the earth, and it made me think of Renaissance and Baroque philosophers and scientists, talking about the music of the spheres. Those are both incredibly inspiring environments; although, completely different from one another.
You can hear cellist Juliana Soltis, who will be making a stop in New Orleans for her Going off Script tour, perform on Friday, January 31 at the Duetsches Haus (1700 Moss Street) at 6:00 PM (Juliana’s set begins at 8:00 PM). To learn more about Soltis and her work, you can visit her website as well as follow her on Instagram.