In 1994 I started up the Internet Cello Society. I was the director for 12 years, after which Tim Janof continued to lead ICS. During the recent process of gifting the Internet Cello Society (cello.org) to the wonderful CelloBello organization, Paul Katz asked that I write a few words about ICS and its humble beginnings. During this pandemic, I first dismissed the idea as a personal nostalgic indulgence; however, as with all history, there are things past that inform our present state of affairs. So, if you will allow, here is a brief recount…
In 1994, when I first browsed the internet on a Mosaic browser app, the first word I typed into the search was “cello”. I was ecstatic to get 4 hits! Two entries mentioned the cello as the instrument that we know and love. But to my dismay, the other top entries referred to a new internet browser called “Cello”. I was horrified at the thought that the next generations would not think of the cello as a beautiful singing instrument but rather as a browser (like Netscape or Google)! This unwelcome branding of a browser inspired me to create the Internet Cello Society.
As most of us Boomers and Gen Xers first experienced the Internet, the realization that the instant sharing of information around the globe could be possible with a touch of a button blew us all away! We knew life would never be the same again. I was particularly excited to connect with my fellow cellists and could not stop dreaming about the infinite possibilities for cello playing and the sharing of our instrument.
At this early stage of the internet we were all pioneers. We freely gave our time, money and expertise to each other. At this point there were no images or sounds of the cello on the internet. Before the images of the World Wide Web that we now know as the Internet, we were connecting via other internet protocols that only used text: email, listservers, discussion boards, ftp and tcp/ip live chat rooms. Eventually I was able to post the first images and sounds of the cello on the internet. My first son modeled the parts of the cello (click on the f-hole link). I had fun documenting sound samples of the cello, simple tunes and sharing recordings of our great repertoire. I am so grateful to Paul and CelloBello for permanently archiving the legacy ICS website.
Isolated cellists especially were encouraged by connecting to their peers around the world– I recall a particularly grateful Sicilian cellist. This camaraderie was so inspiring; it was the motivating factor behind the Internet Cello Society. It was completely intentional that I chose the website cello.org rather than cello.com.
After spending endless hours answering the individual email questions of our voracious members and viewers, I decided to start an email newsletter. In February 1995, our first monthly newsletter was distributed via email, later re-issued on the World Wide Web. At this point we were already 100 members strong. We consumed and shared all manner of cello information. Our dial-up modems beeped and bleeped for minutes before establishing a connection to this new global network, and then we would wait and wait as pixels revealed themselves row after row at a time.
As the first editor and webmaster of ICS, I was consumed by creating and linking all cello related content available on the Internet. To my wife’s chagrin, I dedicated all free time and dozens of all-nighters to this consuming project. An all-night session would result in one new icon, graphic or webpage such as our newsletter page. A statement in my newsletter editorial ‘John’s Jabber’ predicted my life for the next decade: “As assistant professor of cello at Central Washington University, I find myself torn between work, practice, wife, computer and baby 🙂 John Michel 1/22/95”
Our esprit de corps never waned; it was a mutual labor of love. In the early days many volunteered their help with certain aspects of our fledgling online group. Some of their names are listed in the newsletters and the old ICS staff page. We are so very grateful for each of their individual contributions.
I would like to specifically mention two people who were integral to the development of the Internet Cello Society from start to finish. First, my violinist wife Carrie Rehkopf Michel was my supervising editor, checking and fixing every issue of our newsletter. And for every all-nighter I did, she was the one to pick up the slack caring for our house and three boys. (I did take charge of the diapers and dealt with late-night crying fits by improvising 30 additional verses to “Hush little baby”!)
Tim Janof was the president of the Seattle Cello Society and authored many informative articles for its newsletter as well as for the American String Teacher and The Strad. Since the very beginning we have featured his insightful articles and inquiring interviews of famous cellists. His inquisitive perspective always piqued our interest. In September 1998, Tim became our newsletter editor and continued to provide new exclusive interviews, membership spotlights, reviews, masterclass transcripts, and links to related websites (pre-Google search). We always enjoyed tracking our growing membership and by this point we had swelled to 3000 members from 66 different countries. I was no longer able to clear my inbox!! In 2006, Tim Janof graciously agreed also to take over the web-mastering and directorship of the ICS. A list of generous volunteers are listed on our newer database-driven ICS website
Many donated money to keep our server and programming going. Here is a dated list of generous individual sponsors. At one point contributions put us in a position where we would be able to hire an administrator, but we chose to continue as a purely volunteer venture. Eventually people came to expect free information and help on the internet. Over time, though receiving more demands, ICS received fewer and fewer donations to defray costs. As CelloBello inherits our mission to share the knowledge and joy of cello playing into the future, we need to remember that it does take time and money to develop a non-profit resource. This remains a labor of love. I hope you will consider the Amazon Smile fundraiser. Amazon allows you to direct a donation of .5% of your purchase to a non-profit of your choice, hopefully CelloBello!
Recently I read an inspiring New York Times article in which cellist Andrew Janss and friends played virtual bedside concerts to comfort patients and the hospital staff caring for them. During this physically isolated time, it is important to hear such stories. When despite our stress and depression we reach to others in need, it is good for us all. We don’t have to play as well as Yo-Yo Ma to connect and virtually touch someone. Just as we are, we can bridge the divide. My hope is that as cellists we continue to celebrate our extraordinary Esprit de Corps and together inspire our world.