30 April 2024

In the Green Room with 2023 YCAT Music Masters Robey Artist Cellist Sterling Elliott

By Lark Music

American classical cellist Sterling Elliott’s mother picked up her first musical instrument during a school outreach programme and now her son is leading music workshops across London to inspire pupils to play

My mum, Dannielle, got to play her first instrument through a music programme when a visiting musician came into her Middle School class. From there she took to the violin and that musician ended up being her teacher through college, her mentor, and role model for life.

When my mum started a family of her own, she dreamed of creating the Elliott Family String Quartet and created arrangements of popular tunes. Along with my older brother and sister, we would play R&B, funk, gospel, jazz or bluegrass – we rarely, if ever, played standard quartet repertoire such as Beethoven, Mozart or Haydn.

Now I have been going into schools on Music Masters Pathways projects in London, taking much of the work my mum arranged for our quartet and passing it along to these kids. It’s not just an extension of me, it’s an extension of her!

The Elliott String Quartet

Before I came along, my brother Brendon and sister Justine played the violin and took very naturally to it. Brendon started at the age of three and Justine, as the second child, couldn’t wait to play and she had a violin handed to her at the age of two.

It was a little bit different when it came to me. My mum, having had this idea of a family string quartet, went to the music store while she was pregnant with me and purchased a cello – so I was sort of destined to fill the role.

When I reached the age of three, my mum would put the cello in my hands but I would just not take to it. I was throwing fits and really crying as I wanted to do what everyone else did and play violin.

I didn’t want to be an outcast, so within the first week I managed to tear the neck off the cello! My mum though is a very smart woman and she told me a secret that sealed the deal for this three-year-old, that cellists made more money than violinists, and that’s all I needed to hear. It was smooth sailing from there on.

We would practice every day immediately after school, then do our homework which kind of took up most of our time.

I always wanted to play on a sports team like my brother, who used to play football. However, my mum quickly realised the time commitment for sports and music do not go hand in hand.

My friends would ask to hang out during the weekend and I would always say “Oh, I have to go play a concert”. So my friends, who were not knowledgeable about music, sort of treated me like a cool guy. They admired my dedication and supported me, especially as my career started to grow and I began to travel abroad.

Talking to kids

I have been going into US schools since I was about 14, talking to kids and playing for them. Most of this outreach experience has been with touring chamber ensembles or during solo concert tours that can go on for seven weeks at a time and I would typically go to one school in every single city where I performed a concert.

I was accustomed to this experience, however my recent visits to London schools, working with Music Masters students, were some of the most gratifying outreach I’ve ever done. The care and dedication given to the primary schools via Music Masters educators was unlike anything I’ve ever witnessed. It was what I imagine the pinnacle of music education to look like, and I was so happy to see the kids take to the music so joyfully.

Most days began with an assembly performance for the entire school, which was nice to connect and for them to see what I do, and who I am, before a workshop project.

I tell them I’m a professional classical cellist and that when I was their age I was playing with my family string quartet, performing bluegrass and rock tunes.

As an American the kids ask cute questions, “Why do you sound like that?” and “Why did you come all the way here just for us?”. While quite funny, it’s important to show these kids that my journey from New York to London to share music with them was of the highest importance!

I play a diverse range of music for the children, introducing them to a broad array of both classical and non-classical music.

Through a simple workshop on melody and rhythm we first simplify, then expand our way of listening to music. We play many interactive musical games and have a really fun time, such as creating our own improvised tunes with the two concepts of melody and rhythm.

Some of the workshops had six kids, some just one. Some of them were very open and some of them were quiet at first, but within minutes they were showing their true colours!


One of my goals, when I started my Master’s degree in 2021, was to start branching out internationally, and YCAT has made that dream a reality. It’s incredibly helpful to have them provide so many opportunities to perform around the UK and be introduced to audiences abroad. 2024 will feature many exciting debuts across the sea including a UK recital tour, and in the autumn a concerto debut as well as recitals in Europe.

As the Robey Artist, YCAT has simultaneously helped me realise my international goals in performing and also in education, through their partnership with Music Masters. I can’t wait for what’s to come in the future!

About Sterling Elliott

Sterling is the 2023 YCAT Music Masters Robey Artist, a two-year programme where YCAT provides UK booking and management and Sterling leads workshops and engages with young learners in schools across London to enhance their musical education.

He is a 2023 Classic FM Rising Star and performs on a 1741 Gennaro Gagliano cello on loan through the Robert F. Smith Fine String Patron Program, in partnership with the Sphinx Organization.

He has appeared with the Philadelphia Orchestra, the New York Philharmonic, the Boston Symphony, the Cleveland Orchestra, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Detroit Symphony and the Dallas Symphony and this season, debuts with the Minnesota Orchestra, Grand Rapids Symphony, Charlotte Symphony, Pacific Symphony, San Antonio Symphony and New Jersey Symphony. He also performs the world premiere of a new orchestral version of John Corigliano’s Phantasmagoria, commissioned for him by a consortium of orchestras including the Orlando Philharmonic and music director Eric Jacobsen.

In Summer 2023, Sterling made his orchestral debut with the San Francisco Symphony and performed chamber music with Nicola Benedetti, Stefan Jackiw and others at the Edinburgh Festival.

In April 2023, he was selected by The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center for its Bowers Program, a three-year residency.

Sterling is pursuing an Artist Diploma at the Juilliard School under the tutelage of Joel Krosnick and Clara Kim, following completion of his Master of Music and undergraduate degrees at Juilliard. He is an ambassador of the Young Strings of America.

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