Pre-eminent cellist in ‘pursuit of musical excellence’

One in a series of stories about graduates from the class of 2016

Ever since he first picked up a cello in the fourth grade, Ben Rogers has always been driven to improve his musical abilities. And after receiving his degree in cello performance from the DePaul University School of Music he will be attending the graduate program at the Cleveland School of Music in the fall. (DePaul University/Jeff Carrion)

CHICAGO — Ben Rogers sat in the audience as the Chicago Symphony Orchestra performed Tchaikovsky’s Sixth Symphony. As the piece began to swell, and the sounds of sorrowful strings and woodwinds haunted the room, Rogers found himself so deeply moved by the piece that he couldn’t help but cry. While there were tears on his face as the symphony concluded, Rogers was by no means melancholy. He couldn’t have been happier to have had such an experience.

“Music changes people,” said Rogers. “If you’re willing — if you allow yourself to become vulnerable, to really hear what’s being so masterfully communicated without words, necessarily — it changes you.”

That philosophy is what makes Rogers proud to be a musician, and he will be graduating at the top of his class from the DePaul University School of Music with a Bachelor of Music in music performance for cello.

“Most people don’t get to experience really powerful, beautiful music every day,” said Rogers. “But fortunately, I do, and I get to be part of the creation of that and affect people.”

Mellow cello

One might never guess the profundity of Rogers’ passion for music from just a first impression. He is a relaxed and gifted conversationalist whose approach to music may seem, at first, blasé. When asked why he chose the cello, he replied that he wasn’t quite sure, having chosen the instrument in fourth grade. “I think I basically just wanted the biggest one,” said Rogers.

This laid-back attitude, however, belies a torrent of passion, knowledge and interest. He will talk at length about his experiences with music and its importance to the world, with an enthusiasm he owes in part to his inspirational instructors.

Rogers transferred to DePaul from the University of Tennessee after receiving a lesson from DePaul’s Stephen Balderston, whose influence and instruction in particular shaped his development as a cellist. When asked, the proud professor had nothing but praise for his protégé. “Ben is a wonderful student: bright, inquisitive, creative and motivated,” said Balderston. “He has a very musical soul and always strives to be the best possible musician and artist he can be. Working with him has been an engaging and fulfilling activity.”

Learning from a legend

Balderston wasn’t the only cellist who inspired Rogers along the way. In his senior year at DePaul, Rogers had the opportunity to perform with one of the biggest names in his field. “I applied for a master class opportunity with the legendary cellist Lynn Harrell, but I wasn’t sure if I would get it,” said Rogers. “I figured that I would just send in my application and see what happens, but then I was selected to perform. That was definitely one of the most nerve-wracking and humbling experiences I’ve ever had.”

What was most fascinating about this class, however, was that Rogers had only been one degree of separation from the legendary cellist to begin with. Balderston, who taught Rogers at DePaul, was a former pupil of Harrell’s.

“Lynn Harrell was actually my teacher’s (Balderston’s) teacher, from back at Julliard where he started. It was cool to see the lineage of my instruction,” said Rogers.

Musician on a mission

Rogers is endlessly motivated to improve, and he never stops looking for new ways to excel. He believes part of that comes from the company he keeps.

“I thrive when I am surrounded by stronger musicians. I can see what people do better than I do, because then I can adapt that to myself and improve,” said Rogers.

Rogers’ journey as a musician has brought him from private lessons as a teenager to the University of Tennessee and then to DePaul. His next challenge awaits in Ohio: Ben was accepted into the Cleveland Institute of Music’s graduate program.

Rogers’ goal for the future is simple: “I just want to become a more excellent cellist at this point.” Graduating from DePaul is hardly the finale for his personal pursuit of musical excellence — it’s the next movement of the symphony, full of possibilities and potential.

Read more stories from the class of 2016. ​

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Media Contact:
Jon Cecero
jcecero@depaul.edu
312-362-7640​