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The Mind Over Finger Podcast

Apr 12, 2019


Today, I’m so happy to bring you the incredible cellist Joshua Roman!  Joshua is a multifaceted artist with a remarkably vibrant career as a soloist, chamber musician, composer, curator, artistic director, and philanthropist!  In this episode, we discuss practicing purposefully and building a meaningful career, and he tells about the impact and mission of his popular Popper Etude Project and Challenge.

As you’ll see Joshua’s journey and approach to music-making are rooted in authenticity and a sense of purpose and are highly inspiring!  I know you’ll find value and a source for a deeper reflection in this conversation!

In our discussion, Joshua elaborates on:

  • How he feels that the multiple facets of his career are all parts of being a complete musician
  • His beginnings in Oklahoma and his studies at the Cleveland Institute
  • How it’s we should follow our heart and use our skills to explore what we love - pushing passed the bounds of what we were “taught” and explore further
  • What he thinks about building a meaningful career – how we get the career that we build
  • Why it’s important to figure out what we want and focus on that
  • The importance of questioning ourselves, getting to know ourselves, exploring our passions, and see if and how we can incorporate them into our career
  • “Find your voice and build your career around your voice”
  • Why there is no luck: “it’s a series of things that you build on”
  • Why we need both to be prepared and get opportunities
  • Some of the challenges he faced on the way to his dream career
  • How important it was for him to feel like what he did mattered
  • The Popper Project and the Popper Challenge – what and why
  • How it turned into a way for cellists to come together and created a supportive and inspiring community
  • “Why do we need to practice etudes at all”
  • How he maximizes practice




YouTube channel:






Cellist / Composer / Curator

Joshua Roman has earned an international reputation for his wide-ranging repertoire, a commitment to communicating the essence of music in visionary ways, artistic leadership and versatility. As well as being a celebrated performer, he is recognized as an accomplished composer and curator, and was named a TED Senior Fellow in 2015.

Recent seasons have seen Roman perform recitals and concert with orchestras around the US and the world, including performances of Mason Bates’s Cello Concerto (which was written for him) and his very own concerto.  Roman is also a very active chamber musician and shares the stage with today’s finest musicians.

Roman has demonstrated inspirational artistic leadership throughout his career. As Artistic Director of TownMusic in Seattle he has showcased his own eclectic musical influences and chamber music favorites, while also promoting newly commissioned works. Under his direction, the series has offered world premieres of compositions by some of today’s brightest young composers and performances by cutting-edge ensembles. In the 2015-16 season at TownMusic he presented his own song cycle, … we do it to one another, based on Tracy K. Smith’s book of poems Life on Mars, with soprano Jessica Rivera. He has also recently been appointed the inaugural Artistic Advisor of award-winning contemporary streaming channel Second Inversion, launched by Seattle’s KING-FM to cultivate the next generation of classical audiences. The cellist additionally took on a new curatorial role last summer, as Creative Partner of the Colorado Music Festival & Center for Musical Arts. The same organization sponsored him in April 2016 at the 68th Annual Conference on World Affairs on the University of Colorado campus, where he contributed his innovative ideas about how classical music is conceived and presented.  Roman performed at the Kennedy Center Arts Summit that same month and is a member of the 2016 Kennedy Center Honors artists committee.

Roman’s cultural leadership includes using digital platforms to harness new audiences. In 2009 he developed “The Popper Project,” performing, recording and uploading the complete etudes from David Popper’s High School of Cello Playing to his dedicated YouTube channel. In his latest YouTube project, “Everyday Bach,” Roman performs Bach’s cello suites in beautiful settings around the world. He has collaborated with photographer Chase Jarvis on Nikon video projects, and Paste magazine singled out Roman and DJ Spooky for their cello and iPad cover of Radiohead’s “Everything in Its Right Place,” created for the Voice Project. For his creative initiatives on behalf of classical music, Roman was named a TED Fellow in 2011, joining a select group of next-generation innovators who show potential to positively affect the world. He acted as curator for an outdoor amphitheater performance at the TED Summit in Banff in the Canadian Rockies this past summer.

Beyond these initiatives, Roman’s adventurous spirit has led to collaborations with artists outside the music community, including his co-creation of “On Grace” with Tony Award-nominated actress Anna Deavere Smith, a work for actor and cello which premiered in February 2012 at San Francisco’s Grace Cathedral. His outreach endeavors have taken him to Uganda with his violin-playing siblings, where they played chamber music in schools, HIV/AIDS centers and displacement camps, communicating a message of hope through music.

Before embarking on a solo career, Roman spent two seasons as principal cellist of the Seattle Symphony, a position he won in 2006 at the age of 22. Since that time, he has appeared as a soloist with the San Francisco Symphony, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Mariinsky Orchestra, New World Symphony, Alabama Symphony, and Orquesta Sinfónica Nacional del Ecuador, among many others. An active chamber musician, Roman has collaborated with established artists such as Andrius Zlabys, Cho-Liang Lin, Assad Brothers, Earl Carlyss, Christian Zacharias and Yo-Yo Ma, as well as other dynamic young soloists and performers from New York’s vibrant music scene, including the JACK Quartet, Talea Ensemble, Derek Bermel and the Enso String Quartet.

A native of Oklahoma City, Roman began playing the cello at the age of three on a quarter-size instrument, and gave his first public recital at age ten. Home-schooled until he was 16, he then pursued his musical studies at the Cleveland Institute of Music with Richard Aaron. He received his Bachelor’s Degree in Cello Performance in 2004, and his Master’s in 2005, as a student of Desmond Hoebig, former principal cellist of the Cleveland Orchestra. Roman is grateful for the loan of an 1899 cello by Giulio Degani of Venice.


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Most sincere thank you to composer Jim Stephenson who graciously provided the show’s musical theme!  Concerto #1 for Trumpet and Chamber Orchestra – Movement 2: Allegro con Brio, performed by Jeffrey Work, trumpet, and the Lake Forest Symphony, conducted by Jim Stephenson.

Also a HUGE thank you to my fantastic producer, Bella Kelly!