What would you do if someone fell on your cello?

Olivia Quintanillacourtesy the artist

February 11, 2015

It's every musician's worst nightmare. Cellist Olivia Quintanilla came home from a party where her band had played to find that her century-and-a-half-year-old instrument was severely damaged. She turned to her community to help through crowdfunding and now, a little over two months later, she has her cello back good as new.

Quintanilla, 24, studied cello performance at Lawrence University. After college she worked with AmeriCorps Vista and since then has worked at getting her feet off the ground as a freelance musician based in Minneapolis. She plays in the bands Blas Meala, a Celtic Fusion ensemble; and Little Star, a cello/guitar duo. She also plays around town at churches and theaters, has subbed with a tango group at the Loring Pasta Bar, and played at Northern Spark.

On Dec. 1, Quintanilla was performing at a private birthday party where there had been an open jam session. At the party, Quintanilla and her bandmates kept their equipment in a safe spot in the house, but towards the end of the night as they were loading out, something happened to cause an extreme force on the instrument.

While Quintanilla's not sure exactly what occurred, she found out later that a person may have fallen on her cello. The person who had fallen — a friend of a friend — didn't remember doing so. "Honestly, at that time of the night, they may have been inebriated," she said.

When she get got home, Quintanilla realized the extent of the damage. The instrument's body was completely crushed, with huge cracks along its bass side and three smaller cracks in off its bass f-hole, above the sound post and underneath the tail piece. She took her instrument to two repair shops and she was told the damage was most certainly not from cold weather or negligence. "There was an extreme force on the bridge," she said. All of the evidence pointed to someone falling on it.

Unfortunately, since no one saw the full incident, she couldn't file any charges. "I decided to let it go," she said. "It wasn't done maliciously. It was an accident."

"I just felt really sad and concerned and somewhat guilty," she remembered. "It was 'I'm a bad cello owner' guilt."

At the repair shop, she was asked if she was interested in buying a new cello, but the answer was no — unless it was completely unfixable. The cello itself had been appraised as being 125 to 150 years old. "It's its own piece of art," she said. "I need to keep it alive."

The timing couldn't have been worse. Quintanilla had just sold her spare cello — the one she had played in high school and had used for bar and music festival gigs — to buy a car. That was ten days before the damage happened.

For her day job, Quintanilla works in the nonprofit world, so she's seen first hand how crowd-sourcing can be used to raise money. "I've helped with Give to the Max Day for public schools, so I knew it was effective," she said. "It doesn't hurt to ask. So I decided to just swallow my pride and go for it."

Her community responded, and Quintanilla ended up raising $1,730 on gofundme.com over the course of seven days — plus she raised another $550 at a small fundraiser held by the people who had hosted the party where the cello was damaged in the first place. That got her the $2,200 that was associated with the damage. She then put her own money into making a few extra repairs, like fixing a chip in the corner of the instrument that had been bugging her for a while, as well as a new case that she could cover herself, making the investment a grand total of $5,000.

Quintanilla's also looking into cello insurance, something she tried to get in the past, but was denied. When she was filling out the application, one of the questions was "Have you ever left your instrument in a car?" Quintanilla answered truthfully that she had, because when you perform at music festivals, that's the safest spot for it. "They didn't understand the culture," she said. She still hopes to find some sorts of insurance, however.

For now, she's got her new hot pink case for protection. "That's part of making sure it doesn't happen again," she said.

Quintanilla will be celebrating her repaired cello by playing at Lee's Liquor Lounge on Thursday, Feb. 12 at 9:30 p.m. "It almost feels funny," she said. "It's one of those welcome-to-adult-life type of situations."

Sheila Regan is a Minneapolis-based writer. She writes frequently for the Twin Cities Daily Planet and City Pages, among other publications.

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