Concert Cellist Spends 100 Days Carving Cello From Scratch—and Its Sounds Will Give You Goose Bumps

Louise Chambers
By Louise Chambers
September 20, 2022NTD Good Morning

After falling in love with the sound of the cello as a child, a Copenhagen-born cellist eventually decided to build one of her own from scratch. She gave herself 100 days to finish the complex task, and, with the support of the internet, realized her dream.

Ida Riegels comes from a musical family. Her grandmother played the cello, and married a violinist; her chosen instrument had her granddaughter spellbound from the beginning, and young Ida began playing the cello at school.

“My sister started at the music school, and I also got to try it,” Ida told The Epoch Times. “I was probably 8, and so hooked that my parents also let me start taking lessons. … Every day during lunch break, I ran home from school, just to practice for 20 minutes.”

NTD Photo
(Courtesy of Ida Johanne Kühn Riegels)

Ida was educated at the Royal Danish Academy of Music. Today, she is a touring concert cellist, who often plays solo and likes to explore the limits of her instrument.

Her goal in building a cello was to make an instrument that matches her own “palette of expressions,” but also has its own character and inspires new interpretations of music.

“I had actually started working a bit on the cello some time before, but it was hard finding time for it in between concerts,” Ida said. “I decided to dedicate 100 days to really work on it. I had no idea if I would finish it in that time frame.”

NTD Photo
(Courtesy of Ida Johanne Kühn Riegels)


NTD Photo
(Courtesy of Ida Johanne Kühn Riegels)

Ida’s blueprint matched a tailored cello with a “deep, powerful, and projecting tone,” she said, one that could “sing, grunt, and whisper”—with some minor changes to the standard proportions to fit Ida’s frame and playing style. She felt that a wide cello made of light wood would fit the bill, one with low-tension strings to emulate the human voice.

She began sharing videos on Instagram under the hashtag #100daysofcellomaking, and was surprised by how many people started following her progress. “Suddenly, I had a deadline,” Ida said. “I think making a deadline for yourself is one of the best ways to get things done!”

NTD Photo
(Courtesy of Ida Johanne Kühn Riegels)

Making a cello from scratch in 100 days was not Ida’s first venture building one. After a two-week course at Cambridge Violin Makers Summer School, she spent nine months at home finishing her first cello. She kept in touch with her teacher Chris Beament, read books, and gleaned useful insights from YouTube.

In making her second instrument, the challenges kept coming.

“The back plate was a challenge!” she said. “I started out with 15.5 kilograms of maple wood and ended with a thin, arched plate weighing only 700g. Removing 14.8kg of wood by hand is hard work; I got so many blisters, and very sore arms.”

NTD Photo
(Courtesy of Ida Johanne Kühn Riegels)

“Another kind of challenge was to decide on a design for the sound holes, the curled holes on the front where the tones exit,” she added. “I had spent weeks cutting out different types in black paper to test what they looked like on the front plate. I was down to four final versions, but felt completely stuck.”

Working from morning till evening every day on her project, Ida turned to her internet following for guidance. She settled on a curly, “smiling” design of her own creation after tallying votes, saying, “I was really glad to get help from a lot of people.”

On day 96 of the project, Ida decided she could wait no longer; she played her cello for the very first time.

NTD Photo
(Courtesy of Ida Johanne Kühn Riegels)

“It was quite a special moment,” she said. “For so long, for every single cut with the gouge, I had been asking myself, ‘Will this curve sing?’ ‘How is the resonance of that corner?’ I had been enjoying the whole process so much that I almost didn’t want it to be finished.”

But at the first note, she knew she had crafted a magnificent instrument.

“The first half-hour of playing is amazing, because that is when it comes to life,” she reflected. “In the beginning, you can still hear the crisp wood, and you get a feeling of what kind of instrument you have made.

“I was in love from the first moment; it is deep and loud, very resonant, and easy to play.”

On day 100, the cello was complete. On day 101, Ida took the instrument to a fellow cellist’s house to “hear it from the outside.” She said that her friend “played it so beautifully” and didn’t want to stop.

Ida’s following is diverse. They were with her every step of the way. One of her videos was even viewed more than a million times.

Next came the fine-tuning, and experimenting with different strings, endpins, and bows.

“Wooden instruments are almost alive,” Ida said. “They develop constantly and need adjustments according to climate and weather. Cellos are young for about 100 years. After that, the wood starts to harden more and the tone matures to a new level. But I must say that the sound of fresh wood is very appealing, too.”

Ida grew up near Copenhagen in the small town of Birkerød, amidst beautiful forests, lakes, meadows, and wild animals. She developed a love for cycling; today, one of her favorite things is to go on concert tour via bicycle with her cello on the back.

The longest bicycle tour for Ida was a two-month, 40-concert trip from the Swiss Alps to Holland, along the Rhine River, totaling 1,233 kilometers. For her playing, Ida has won two Danish Radio awards, including one for her debut album of original compositions on a self-made instrument, “Cello Stories.”

Since completing her 100-day cello-building challenge, she became absorbed in getting to know her new instrument. But she still has one job left: to varnish the wood using walnut shells and black tea. After, she will compose new music.

NTD Photo
(Courtesy of Ida Johanne Kühn Riegels)

“It fascinates me that a human life is so much shorter than a cello life,” she said. “I can’t help but think if the cello I just made will survive the next 250 years, and what the world will look like at that time.”

Of the craft itself, Ida recommends anyone to spend 100 days on any project.

“That time frame allows you to work in depth,” she added. “It is wonderful to get absorbed in something that has your interest and see it develop, and see how you develop, too.”

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