Quincy native Natalie Hagwood may be the changing face of the modern-day cellist.
Unbridled by past conventions of what her instrument could and should do, the 28-year-old Sacramento transplant, who began formal cello training at age seven, continues to blossom, as do her fellow musical bandmates, heralded Sacramento trio Dear Darling. As her ascent with Dear Darling continues, her desire to explore new musical horizons and expand the changing role of cello in contemporary music continues with solo releases that have helped her find her “true voice” and quench her self-professed “hunger for creativity.”
As a child, Natalie grew up with the music of the church, sang harmonies with her singer/songwriter father, and was encouraged to further her musical education by her mother. She fell in love with youth symphony in her junior high years, and during her high school years took cello lessons from a University of Nevada Reno cello teacher who encouraged her to pursue a degree in Classical Cello Performance, a degree she would eventually receive from the University of Nevada in 2017.
A brief post-graduate stint at the University of Washington allowed her to study with UW Professor Sæunn Thorsteinsdóttir and Dr. Kevin Krentz while teaching privately with the Seattle Cello Academy. During her time in Seattle, she won the University of Washington Concerto Competition, soloing with the UW Symphony in 2018. She has performed with piano-cello Duo Libra and Los Angeles Philharmonic Concertmaster Martin Chalifour and held benefit concerts in Los Angeles to raise funds for the Paradise Campfire victims.
Finding herself locked into a narrow “classical vortex,” she left the university and began ravenously listening to non-classical music and exploring her folk and singer-songwriter roots. Collaborations with Celtic, Americana and jazz bands eventually brought her together with like-minded bandmates Dear Darling, recently selected to perform as one of three opening acts for the 14th annual Cayamo Sixth Man Soundcheck Festival, a 7-day Caribbean cruise featuring Americana artists Emmy Lou Harris, Punch Brothers, the Indigo Girls, and Grace Potter. Additionally, Ms. Hagwood performs as a member of Solabel, a Sacramento-based ensemble of established jazz, folk, and Broadway talents whose message of joy, hope and community crosses musical boundaries
Her first solo release, “Steady Love,” co-written with a college friend, is a luscious ballad built on intricate polyrhythms and beautifully layered harmonies. Admittedly, one of her many coming-of-age tunes, the track chronicles a particularly rocky time during her marriage when she realized that the institution wasn’t always going to be “shiny and new.”
The heartfelt “Mama” speaks to the changing dynamics with her mother over time, while “Spider Song” addresses her frustration with fear cycles controlling her actions. The latter two tracks, performed pizzicato with solo cello and Hagwood’s ethereal mezzo-soprano voice continue to expand the evolving role of the instrument in contemporary music, while helping shape her own unique musical voice.
“It’s like quenching a thirst,” Natalie says. “The more that I prioritize my new music, the better I can show up for my other ensembles, and I’ve got to keep chipping away at expressing myself.”
Expressing herself also includes time mentoring others through her Concert-Ready Cellist Program. Natalie’s unique curriculum confronts the isolation and stage fright inherent in traditional private lesson models, opting instead for a community-based model inspired by team sports that encourages the sharing of one's gifts. Students in The Concert-Ready Cellist Program perform together regularly, playing free concerts in the Sacramento area in senior homes and farmer’s markets. Twice-a-week, virtual supervised practice lessons allow students to meet and share their experiences, while monthly masterclasses featuring guest cellists keep things fresh and exciting.