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Novato, California 94947

Mark Summer, solo cellist, composer and co-founder of Turtle Island Quartet. Percussion and pizzicato cello techniques. Sheet music and lessons available for purchase. Winner of two Grammy awards (2005 and 2008), nominated four times, most recently in 2014.

Here's To The Touring Life


Occasional blog posts by cellist Mark Summer.

Here's To The Touring Life

Mark Summer


I’m sitting in a middle seat on an Airbus A321, with my trusty cello, Friede strapped in the window seat next to me. I’ve got my trusty Bose noise-cancelling headphones on, although at the moment I’ve got nothing playing through them. I’ve just finished watching a movie on my laptop. Today, I’ve only been asked the usual question a couple of times:”did you have to buy a seat for that guitar?”. For some reason that I still don’t understand, I always feel I have to explain to them that it’s a cello. Once, a guy asked me if it was an oboe. “I didn’t think so”, he replied after I set him straight. Many people have asked if it’s a violin. I try to get them to see the absurdity of such a large instrument being played under the chin. They smile and usually enjoy the exchange. It gets tiring for me really fast.

On my last flight, only a few days ago, my seat mate laughed uproariously when I explained why I buy a seat for my instrument. “Would you ship your parents in baggage?” I ask. She had told me she had traveled to Chicago to visit them. I normally would have said something more like “given the way baggage handlers tend to throw things around, would you check a $50,000 item that’s extremely important to you?” They always nod with understanding, while eyeing my white stormtrooper-like case with a deeper appreciation. “Wow, that’s a lot of money to spend on an instrument”, they must be thinking.

I’m finally getting better at touring. After 30 years! My father used to tell me that after 24 years of teaching public school he was finally getting the hang of it. I understand now. I’m getting more comfortable with the idea of leaving my beloved wife, two dogs who are like pseudo grandchildren and my comfortable home in Marin for the dubious pleasures of the road. 

Due to the time changes I invariably experience when I leave the West Coast, I never know when I’m going to be hungry, and sometimes eat extra meals when my normal mealtime comes around 2 or 3 hours later. This makes it difficult to stay healthy and thin. Good sleep is much more difficult to get on the road for so many reasons: strange hotel rooms, strange beds, strange food before bed, uncomfortable phone calls to home before bed, etc. etc.

So why do I do it? The traveling, I mean, not the calling home. I sincerely love to perform. It feels incredible to write that, given that I am prone to anxiety that can be fairly crippling at times. But being on stage, and playing my heart out are so validating. I get to experience myself at my absolute best, and to share it with an audience

 I am extremely grateful for the opportunity to play for you. Not many people are fortunate to be able to make a living doing what they love. It is a good life in spite of the constant travel, the frustrations and the exhaustion. My soul is nourished and I am rejuvenated again and again.

May You Enjoy the Music Always-