Naoko Maruko got tricked into playing the cello at the age of nine.
And we are so incredibly happy that she did.
With a music teacher as a father and an older sister who played the piano and violin, Maruko grew up around music her entire life, learning to read music before she could even read words.
Despite initially taking on the piano when she was three, and eager to play the flute, she was encouraged by her father to pick up a bow and get familiar with the cello’s dark, wistful timbre.
Many believe that people are drawn to the cello because its range is so similar to that of the human voice (from bass to soprano, male to female). No other instrument speaks with the same voice or has such an exhilarating range of sounds to explore. Not surprisingly, Maruko was immediately attracted to the cello’s tonal range, the deeply satisfying human-sized dimensions of the instrument itself, and the way it provided an outlet for self-expression which words simply couldn’t.
“The cello just spoke to me in a way that piano didn’t. I felt more emotionally and physically connected to the cello and found I could more easily express myself through that instrument,” says Maruko.
From the looks of it, the whole craft of playing music on the cello involves integrated, balanced posture, with feet well-grounded and the ability to let go and allow for free-flowing movements. The way Maruko sits and wraps herself around the cello is a physical involvement that appears to be good for the soul.
Maruko’s former students used to be the only ones who seemed to be watching her YouTube videos, which include ridiculously amazing renditions of songs by Bach, Pink, Queen, The Lumineers, Adele, and Journey. That is, until one of her cousin’s kids posted the rendition she did of Muse’s “Knights of Cydonia,” up on Reddit, which is, to say the least, a phenomenal example of her talent.
“I woke up on the 2nd of January to an inbox full of subscription notices,” Maruko writes on her blog. “My Muse video jumped from a few hundred to over 24,000.”
She tends to choose songs/pieces that have musically intriguing aspects or anything that makes her stop and go, “Oooh…!”
“I’m a sucker for a song that has layered countermelodies or an atypical harmonic progression. But I also love a variety of musical styles, so I like my videos to reflect that, too,” says the former music teacher. “Yo-Yo Ma and I are best friends; he just doesn’t know it yet! I am inspired by anything, really. Sometimes, it can be very situation dependent. I used to be a 4th – 8th grade music teacher at two schools, so some of my fellow teachers or my students inspire me. Basically, anybody I look at and think, ‘Wow, I wish I was more like that,’ inspires me and motivates me.'”
On average, Maruko says it takes around 24 hours to complete these renditions, where you will often see her smiling, making silly faces and overall just having a great time, with the hardest and most time consuming part being the actual transcription of the music itself.
“It really depends. The recording part I do in a day, usually. Sometimes, I start the recording thinking I can play a part without really practicing it too much, only to discover that…it’s not true, and I have to return to it later. Sometimes, I can transcribe a song in one day, but sometimes it takes a week or so,” explains Maruko. “When I sit there with my headphones on listening to the same five seconds over and over again, while simultaneously arranging the parts, it can feel a little labor intensive. But considering this is a hobby of mine, I really do enjoy all aspects of it.”
When she’s not busy learning new songs on the cello or randomly playing gigs around the Bay Area (she recently played a Michael Bublé show), you can probably find her writing, painting or indulging in her biggest passion: sleeping, since she “never gets to do it.” Maruko also loves exploring the beautiful city of San Francisco, where she lives.
But more than anything, Maruko just “wants to be surrounded by good people.”
In a world of rising life-expectancy, music is likely to become a more important source of fulfillment and well-being than ever before. And its never too late to start learning how to play the cello. Anyone we’ve ever spoken to says that playing the cello is a therapeutic experience, and that the profound integration of mind and body which is required to play is not only absorbing and stimulating at the time of playing, but also positively influences the rest of life.
If you’re interested in mastering Maruko’s level of awesomeness, she’s has a little advice for you.
“Be unapologetically dorky about what you enjoy,” she says. “I think that’s good advice in general, as long as you’re not hurting anything or anybody. Work hard, have fun, be excited!”