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Cellist Hellen Weberpal: A ‘Suite’ Alabama Climb

ArtWorks@TheDJD series will kick off with "Suite for Solo Cello - Alabama Climbs” by Hellen Weberpal, a cellist with the Alabama Symphony Orchestra and Cahaba River Strings. (Eric Arbiter Photo)
By Javacia Harris Bowser
For The Birmingham Times

If you think climbing a boulder and playing a cello are two completely unrelated skills, Hellen Weberpal is eager to prove you wrong. For the ArtWorks@TheDJD series, she composed “Suite for Solo Cello—Alabama Climbs,” an original cello piece that viewers will hear while watching video of her doing three different rock climbs. This presentation will open the series on January 29.

Weberpal, a cellist with the ASO and Cahaba River Strings, has a lot of practice making unexpected connections with orchestral music. Before joining the ASO, she was with the Houston Symphony Orchestra, where she took on several community engagement projects.

“I was expected to come up with ideas for how to tie classical music to things in everyday life so we could be a more relevant and accessible association,” she said. “I would go into kids’ classrooms, and we would talk about ways to make classical music something they can understand. So, my brain has been wired to look for these patterns.”

Over time, Weberpal realized that the better she got at climbing, the better she got at the cello.

“So much of what I do in rock climbing is similar to having to learn how to play the cello at a high level because so much of it is learning about your own body and your own hands,” she said.

Just as a composer might write music for a ballet, Weberpal felt that writing music for the movements of rock climbing made sense. With live musical performances on hold, the pandemic has been tough for Weberpal, but she has had more time to climb.

“I’ve spent so much time outside climbing in the last eight or nine months, and I’m different for it,” she says. “I sat down at the cello and had different ideas and different ways of processing everything.”

Hellen Weberpal, a cellist with the Alabama Symphony Orchestra and Cahaba River Strings and an avid rock climber, combined her two passions for the ArtWorks@TheDJD series to compose a piece for solo cello in three movements to be played along with the viewing of three different rock climbs. (Kelsey Crafton Photo)

Weberpal admits that the pandemic caused her passion for playing the cello to dwindle at first. In the long run, though, it made her more creative.

“The pandemic has been horrible in so many ways for so many people, but in some ways the alarming break from the norm has broken me from a rut that I think a lot of classical musicians get into,” she said, adding that she hopes that her piece for ArtWorks@TheDJD will spark something in others, too.

“I want to bring awareness to the arts … and the music we have here in Birmingham and to the natural beauty that is all around us in this state,” Weberpal said.

Click one of the links below to read the stories about more artists. 

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