Sure, you see your share of cellos in chamber groups, in orchestras, and even in rock 'n' roll bands where the instrument's tones resonate deliciously alongside a juiced-up electric guitar.
But an entire orchestra of big fiddles? For such a powerful sight and sound, you need to turn to the Portland Cello Project. Also known as PCP, the ensemble plays Peery's Egyptian Theater next Friday.
The group came to be in 2007 in Portland, Ore., through casual gatherings of cellists from that city.
"This actually happened by accident," said Doug Jenkins, the group's organizer and primary composer/arranger, calling from Portland. "There are a bunch of people in Portland who play cello in other types of music -- folk music, classical, jazz, everything really. And we would go to each other's shows and support each other."
The cellists decided it might be fun to informally play classical music at each other's homes.
"Then we thought, 'Well, what happens if we brought this idea into a club?' And so that is what we did. Pretty quickly, within six months, we invited our friends onstage to collaborate. It became this huge extravaganza pretty quickly."
Though there have been multi-cello pieces before -- perhaps the best known is Bachianas Brasileiras No. 5 for voice and 8 cellos -- Jenkins is all but forced into arranging things for the group to have enough material to draw from for his shows.
"Cello has nice textures. I think it has always been an underutilized instrument, even in classical music. It's as if the composers did not realize how many types of sounds we can make on this instrument. There is nothing quite like the sound you can get with a bunch of us doing stuff together.
"We do grab from all across classical music. For instance, we take Beethoven's 7th and arrange it for cello. It has such a huge range, so it can handle a lot of pieces you might not expect."
But these cellists aren't limited to old-style long-hair music. Rock 'n' roll is anything but a foreign language to them. And like snowflakes, no two PCP shows are exactly alike.
They play a mean version of "Hey Ya" by Outcast. And their take on "Mouth for War" by thrash metal band Pantera is a guaranteed crowd-pleaser.
"A lot of it just comes down to the programing for the performance," he said. "It depends what is needed. We have to ask, 'What is the hall like? What will the audience likely be like? What will confuse them the most?' " Jenkins laughed. "We see if we feel sublime or silly, and make that decision for that show."
Expect the unexpected
Jenkins believes the group's versatility and virtuosity is due in large part to where the members are based -- lesser-known as a music city than places like Austin, Texas, or Nashville, Tenn., but nevertheless a genuine hotbed of American music innovation.
"I am not sure this could have happened in an other city than Portland," he said. "There are 10 good shows a night at beautiful venues. And that is part of the challenge of being from here, too. We would never, ever think of repeating a program in Portland. We could not get away with it, not and last as long as we have. It's sad sometimes hereabouts. There are so many great, wonderful bands fizzling out after a year, as people move on to the next big thing. But you know, it keeps us vital. I could not ask for anything more."
Jenkins also notes that there is no such thing as a typical PCP crowd.
"It is all over the place -- all ages, all backgrounds. So we might play Fargo, N.D. at The Aquarium, a hard-rock club, going on at midnight. And it is sold out, people screaming the whole show. The next night, it might be at Minneapolis at the Cedar, a really mellow venue, and then next we are at Millennium Park in Chicago, with families and thousands of people.
"It is totally random, and that is the funnest thing about it. We bring as much music as we possibly can -- we stay in tune with the audience. It is not like typical classical, where the programing is done years in advance."
The strangest tour the group has done to date was with guitarist Buckethead, an avant-garde guitarist who has played with such groups as Praxis and Primus. And yes, there is a reason for that nickname. He keeps his identity a secret by wearing a KFC bucket on his head.
Said Jenkins: "I wondered how we would play with him and not have the audience throw things at us. So we learned video-game theme songs and heavy-metal covers. That Pantera song remains from that tour. It goes over well, even with older people."
Jenkins said the group plays with up to 15 cellists. In Ogden, there will be nine.
"We will bring eight cellos -- but we will have nine, because one, Gideon Freudmann who will be on our upcoming record, will be there for this show as well. He will jump on stage with us. Justin Power from Kill Rock Star, will also be there. Justin plays the uke and is a singer/songwriter.
"This will be our first time there," he added. "So you can expect the unexpected."
Watch "Hey Ya" live in Portland, Ore.