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Classical rocker

Cellist Bethany Joyce bridges the gap

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“More cello!”

Not exactly the most common thing heard at a Missoula rock show, but this was the adjustment local rockers The Good Neighbor Policy requested from the sound engineer after their first couple songs at a recent Friday night Badlander performance. In particular, they were asking for more volume on the microphone directed at all-everywhere cellist Bethany Joyce. It’s just one example of how in-demand Joyce’s services are at the moment.

In the past year, Joyce has become an orchestral fixture in a predominately rock-driven music scene. She currently plays with four different local bands: The Good Neighbor Policy, Travis Sehorn and the Pebble Light, The Wartime Blues and Fredrick’s Teeth. And when she’s not accompanying late-night indie rockers, Joyce has spent time playing with both the University of Montana Symphony—the recent graduate joined her freshman year and never missed a performance—and Missoula Symphony Orchestra (MSO).

It’s a full plate, but one that has her getting noticed throughout the local music scene.

“She’s a student and a wonderfully great player,” says MSO Music Director Darko Butorac, identifying Joyce as a leader among the cellists. “Everything has worked out so well.”

“She’s basically the most musically knowledgeable and formally trained out of our whole band—most of us are just self-taught,” says Ben Prez, mandolin player for Wartime Blues. “Even though she’s way more experienced, she doesn’t like to steal the spotlight, even though at any given time she could.”

According to Joyce, this meshing of musical worlds comes naturally. She lived from age three to eight in a small Irish town south of Dublin, and grew up listening to classical and Irish folk music. Her father played the bass and piano, and taught her basic music theory. It wasn’t until her family moved to Missoula that she started cello lessons at Roosevelt Elementary School. Private lessons followed, and in high school she decided music was what she wanted to study in college. That insatiable desire to learn more continues today.

“There are so many styles of music that I want to continue to explore,” she says. “I’m most interested in more folk and traditional Irish music, but Eastern European and classical Indian music as well.”

In fact, the cello is but one of Joyce’s preferred instruments. For her senior project at Hellgate High School, Joyce learned to play and perform the musical saw. Now, whether it’s her 36-inch mini bass saw designed specially for musical performance or the saw she picked up at ACE hardware, she still finds time to play.

“I first heard the saw from a group when I was living in Ireland,” she says, “and it was just such a haunting sound, I wanted to play like that.”

Considering her training and background, Joyce’s range of musical talent isn’t surprising. What has shocked those who know her best, however, is how she’s personally evolved.

“She’s really blossomed as a performer,” says Fern Glass, Joyce’s cello instructor for the last four years at the University of Montana.

Admittedly shy, Joyce has grown increasingly comfortable with being front and center in most rock band lineups. She’s even developed a sense of subtle stage presence. At the recent Badlander show with The Good Neighbor Policy, Joyce looked perfectly at ease, deftly playing as if she was in a tiny soundproof practice room working on her classical repertoire instead of jamming in front of a raucous crowd.

“Playing with my bands has helped my classical playing in that it’s given me more personal confidence,” she says. Plus, she adds, “It’s nice to play something and know that it’s not right
or wrong.”

This summer finds Joyce in unfamiliar terrain as a non-student. She currently teaches cello to two adults and an 11-year-old, and is looking to expand her clientele.

In addition, some of her bands are in transition. The Good Neighbor Policy is relocating later this summer, and some members of the Wartime Blues are considering a jump to Chicago. Joyce says she hasn’t decided her long-term plans, but she’s committed to Missoula for at least a year and will see  what happens. 

Glass, for one, isn’t concerned about Joyce’s future. To hear the instructor talk about her prized pupil, Joyce—who also minored in Russian—should land on her feet no matter what she decides to do. Glass points to a concert last semester when Joyce played with the brass heavy UM Wind Ensemble and was the sole cellist. The moment Joyce started to play, the audience
was transfixed.

“She was in an unexpected place as a string player in a band group,” says Glass, “and I really think a lot of people were moved by her.”
Lately, they’re not alone.

Bethany Joyce plays with Travis Sehorn and the Pebble Light Friday, June 6, for the CDB record release of Hits from the Hive (see Scope this issue). $3.

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