There are not many ensembles that can boast of a fresh new sound after four years of intensive classical training, but the group Break of Reality does just that. This rock band quartet is composed of four Eastman alumni including three very talented cellists (Patrick Laird, Erin Keesecker and Christopher Thibdeau) and one fast-handed percussionist (Gordon Stout), who have collaborated on a relatively new crossover genre of music.

Combining the solid, technical milieu of classical music with the stunning theatricality of acoustic and electric rock, the ensemble has created a style that caters to both the avid concert-goer and punk Metallica fan alike.

The group got its start when the four members met during their undergraduate studies at Eastman. They started sight reading some rock music that was arranged for cello, and the band hit it off from there. They began playing gigs at Spot Coffee and Java’s, and before long the band’s unique style catapulted them into the national spotlight.

After a week of sponsoring workshops for high schools around the Rochester area (including Harris Hill, Laird’s old elementary school in Penfield), Break of Reality made its way to the UR campus to perform for an almost sold-out concert this past Saturday night, Dec. 1. The group members had just contributed to Eastman’s “The Gift of Music: A Prism Concert” and expressed that they were all “glad to be back” at their old alma mater.

The concert in the May Room provided an intimate setting between the performers and the audience, with its low-rise stage and jazz club lighting. Despite the fact that the concert started almost half an hour late, the chairs surrounding the stage had been completely filled by 9 p.m.

The program was split into two halves, with the first half portraying an acoustical style that showcased the cello’s stereotypical tendency toward lyrical melancholy themes. The quartet juxtaposed somewhat classical-sounding melodies over a gruffly rhythmic line. Although the musicians stayed within the guidelines of the classical form as far as their performance techniques, the effect was a widespread realization that beautiful harmony can and does exist beyond the realm of the classical music genre.

During the second half of the concert, which was introduced with an enthusiastic “You guys ready?,” the performers added a more visual style of theatricality. The cellists hooked up to amplifiers, the percussionist took his seat behind a drum set and the audience waited with eager anticipation to hear what this unusual rock ensemble could achieve. The cellists were able to emulate a stunning electric quality on their instruments, and each of them took turns standing at the front of the stage to perform solos, to the amazement of the audience. The concert finally culminated in Laird hoisting his cello above his head while Thibdeau stood above him and sawed at the strings.

What is even more impressive about this group’s performances is that most of the pieces were actually composed by Laird. In addition, the musicians were able to perform the entire concert by memory, proving not only their endowed musicality but also their fantastic chemistry on stage.

The great thing about this group is that though its members have obviously devoted a great deal of time to perfecting their performance as an ensemble, much of their music seems spontaneous.

“I know very little about cello,” percussionist Stout explained. Nevertheless, this group has a clear connection on the stage as it continues to expand the limits of this multi-faceted instrument.

In fact, most of the time it would be difficult to decipher the sound of these cellos from that of electric guitars. The band mentioned the Finnish group Apocolyptica as one of its greatest musical inspirations. Keesecker described the group’s collaboration as an “outlet from all the individual cubicle practicing.” The audience could tell very easily that each musician preferred this genre for its delightful lack of rules and boundaries.

Break of Reality has released two albums so far, “Voiceless” and “The Sound Between,” and they promise that they are “working on some new things.” They were unabashed to perform some of their works in progress to the UR audience, and they seemed very comforted by the audience’s positive response.

At the conclusion of the concert, Break of Reality was given a standing ovation from an audience as diverse as the campus itself. The modest performers gave an encore performance after expressing a wish to someday have their own performance in Eastman Theatre. It seems they are definitely on the right track.

Rankin is a member of the class of 2010.



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