William Carey Locke, alumnus, cellist: music in a post-coronavirus world
Associate News Editor
The show is about to begin. A large concert stage temporarily sits in the middle of Bayfront Park, Miami. Thousands of ravers line the area around the venue, awaiting the performers. The stage is covered completely in blue digital screens, except for near the top where flames shoot up from the exposed racks like dragons. Norwegian DJ Kyrre Gørvell-Dahll, better known as Kygo, takes center stage with a 50-piece orchestra backing him.
This would have been the Ultra Music Festival 2020, an annual electronic music festival held in Miami.
Crossover cellist, teacher, producer, entrepreneur and university alumus, William Carey Locke, 26, also known by his internet handle “dopecello,” was going to be the principal cellist for this year’s festival before it was abruptly canceled by coronavirus.
Locke performed at Ultra before. In 2017, he was onstage with Niles Hollowell-Dhar, an American DJ better known by his stage name KSHMR, and an orchestra consisting of himself with violin, viola, flute, trombone, piano, sitar and Japanese taiko drums .
“People say [to me] that I’ve done something that 99% of people will never get a chance to do,” Locke said.
Locke is from Laurel, Maryland and started playing the cello when he was in the third grade. He played throughout his entire life and joined the orchestra at Reservoir High School in Fulton, Maryland.
“I had a really nice, really inspiring teacher and conductor named Colin O’Bryan,” Locke said.
Locke said O’Bryan primarily taught his students standard classical repertoire such as Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story and Antonín Dvořák’s Symphony No. 8 in G Minor. Many of the students were not ardent classical music fans, but Locke stuck with orchestra through high school.
Locke said he was initially unsure if he wanted to pursue music as a career, and he applied to the university as a mechanical engineering major. He continued down the engineering track for several semesters.
“My dad believed in me and forced me, so to speak, to take an audition,” Locke said.
Lawrence Stomberg, a professor of cello studies at the university, taught Locke during his time at the university. Locke said that Stomberg was not supposed to give him more than 30-minute lessons because he was not a music major, but gave him hour-long lessons anyway.
“Eventually [Stomberg] told me that I was good enough to switch to a bachelor’s of music,” Locke said. “I was like ‘Oh, crap. I don’t know if I’m ready for that.’”
Locke was also formerly on Delaware’s men’s crew team and said he had to make “a choice between his coach and his conductor.” He ultimately chose to become a music major.
“I don’t think I chose music at all,” Locke said. “I think I was always kind of directed towards the direction of music. There were people who believed in me.”
Locke graduated from the university in 2016 and said he felt like “a big fish in a little pond.” He applied to graduate school and is now studying cello at the Frost School of Music at the University of Miami.
Locke said he got accepted to The New School in New York City and would have played with Jeffrey Zeigler, a former member of the Kronos Quartet, a renowned string quartet based in San Francisco. However, factoring in the cost of tuition and rent, Locke said he would have been “$100,000 to $120,000 in the hole” upon graduation.
Miami paid his full tuition and gave him a stipend to play in the orchestra at the Henry Mancini Institute (HMI) at the Frost School. The HMI is a paid, sponsored orchestra that plays a range of musical genres as well as the music of its eponym, Henry Mancini, the famous jazz and film score composer.
Locke said that while at the HMI he got to play with John Williams, Quincy Jones and Kristen Chenoweth, among others.
“I got to meet John Williams; I shook his hand, and I took a selfie with him,” Locke said. “I also told him, ‘Just so you know, Star Wars is pretty dope.’”
After coronavirus threw a wrench into Ultra and made physical concerts impossible, Locke said he uses his entrepreneurial skills to make a living during the pandemic. He has a lot of ideas that could benefit musicians and told them to think of “crazy ways” to make money and to retain their audiences.
“I’m investing in a stock market that’s kind of volatile right now,” Locke said. “I have a friend who’s also a cellist, but he’s doing his doctorate in math and is writing his own algorithms to trade stocks.”
Locke said he was not always a big user of social media, but as the world gets increasingly more digital, he understands the importance of it. He creates content for both his personal accounts and his “dopecello” accounts. All musicians, regardless of specialty, can benefit from making content, spending the time making said content and building up an online network for the post-coronavirus world, he said.
Locke gives lessons during the pandemic and has his own “studio,” which is his living room. In addition to his chair, cello, music stand and sheet music, he bought a studio microphone and an audio interface. The audio equipment ensures that his lessons are of high quality even when teaching through Skype and Zoom.
“You have to provide enough value to the students,” Locke said. “One of my students bought an electric cello because I can’t help them tune it. The [tuning] pegs are much easier to turn, but not everybody has that kind of money.”
Locke said that he provides weekly material to his students, such as YouTube videos, etudes (musical compositions designed to improve technique and skill) and diagrams. He wants to show them that “he still cares about them.” However, he said that depending upon his students’ skill levels, the effectiveness of virtual lessons varies significantly.
Locke is a self-proclaimed “useful connection to other live instrumentalists, professional and amateur.” He said that if someone needs musicians, such as a string quartet for a wedding, he could easily find them.
Radmila Lolly is an opera singer and composer who recently came out with a new single entitled “Rule 1.” Lolly contacted Locke to help her make a video to accompany the song. This was his first time doing a remote collaboration of this scale, and he described the experience as “a learning curve.”
Locke was the director, music engineer and personnel manager while his girlfriend, Kristina Schaberg, made the video. The video was a project for both Instagram and TikTok and had 15 musicians in total, including saxophone, synthesizer, harp and a Chinese erhu.
Locke said his main focus is better lessons for his students, doing remote gigs, providing post-coronavirus content and contracting musicians. He said he is glad that he made the investments that he did.
“If you spend $700 and make $1,400, you’ve made profit,” Locke said. “Some people don’t think that far through.”
Locke said that most orchestras have either rescheduled or canceled the remainder of their seasons. He has friends who work for orchestras, but they did not tell him much, so he is uncertain about their current situations. Many orchestras received stimulus checks from the government, but Locke is unsure how sustainable the checks will be in the long-run.
One such example is the John F. Kennedy Performing Arts Center in Washington, D.C. The center planned to furlough the National Symphony Orchestra and its librarians, despite receiving $25 million from the government. As of April 7, the Kennedy Center and the orchestra’s union agreed to a 35% pay cut as opposed to a full furlough.
Twitch is a video live streaming service owned by Amazon . Although it is used primarily for gamers, Locke suggested it could be used for live orchestra concerts or at least a similar platform that allows donations to be given virtually through the screen.
Locke said he uses quarantine to focus on schoolwork. He has “a bunch of content on the back burner” and still gives lessons through Zoom. He said he also uses the time to be with Schaberg as she lives and works in Jacksonville.
“The cat really wanted food at four in the morning for some reason,” Locke said. “Instead of going back to sleep, I just did some assignments for class.”
Locke also said he transcribes electric guitar solos onto the cello, which is a bit of a challenge due to the different tuning and clefs. He recently transcribed “Cliffs of Dover” by Eric Johnson and finds transcriptions helpful to learn about music theory and pentatonic scales, which have five notes per octave as opposed to the usual seven.
“This is a super testing time. It’s like a litmus test for [musicians],” Locke said. “Basically can you support yourself? Do you have the safety to take the beating you currently are? And do you have the drive to manipulate the situation in your favor?”
Locke said he feels fortunate that he acted fast and built up an online network. However, he is cautiously optimistic that once the pandemic ends and everything is “back to normal,” his online profile will help him obtain work.
Locke enrolled in a marketing class at Miami and uses his knowledge from the class to advertise on Google Ads and create pilot campaigns to drive traffic towards his social media and online content.
“[My professor] really taught me how powerful Google is,” Locke said. “Who wants to book me? How do I make sure I’ll get a return on investment? Those are the kinds of questions I ask myself.”
Locke said that he has skills in Ableton, which is a digital audio workshop for both macOS and Windows. It can be used for composing, arranging and mixing music right from a computer. This is especially helpful when trying to make virtual concerts through Zoom, he said.
Locke explained that trying to layer all the videos of 40 to 50 musicians together would be discord and described the cacophony as “a meme when it gets really loud.” Some musicians play quieter than others and some play really loudly.
“If you have eight cellos, and everybody is playing mezzoforte [somewhat loudly], that’s going to be very loud,” Locke said.
Locke said that a click track, a series of audio cues played through headphones, is necessary for allowing all the musicians to keep the tempo and to stay together. There are delay issues as well, meaning that even playing a live duet through Zoom is impossible, he went on to say.
“You have to put a lot of effort into it, it’s like putting makeup on a donkey,” Locke said. “You need to recreate a live experience through a non-live experience.”
Locke said that while the coronavirus pandemic is a hindrance and a tragedy, he also sees it as an opportunity to focus on his musical craft.
“[Coronavirus] really makes you think about your career. I’ve definitely had a lot of self-doubt and wondered if I should go into real estate instead or get a ‘real degree’ instead,” Locke said. “Either step up or give up, but capitalize on the situation. It’s not a matter of if the pandemic ends, but when.”