I want it to sound like a whole f*ckin’ orchestra.” That’s how Sarah Chaffee explains her orchestral arrangements. “Even if it’s two people,” it’s gotta be big.
And when you watch a duo or trio perform Chaffee’s pieces? That’s when you know she’s the real deal. It’s the way she captures every single vocal variation and chord change, like in her recent YouTube cover of Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ on a Prayer.” You can even see her crack a smile because she knows she’s nailed the arrangement, like a figure skater landing a perfect jump. “I want it to sound awesome, and I want to get all the cool harmonies in there that I can get in,” Chaffee says.
A self-professed metalhead, Chaffee is a professional cellist and freelance musician bringing “unconventional cello artistry” to the fore. She performs with David Perrico’s Pop Strings Orchestra at Caesars Palace and the wedding ensemble Sympholynn, and soon she’ll be onstage playing cello next to Steven Tyler for Aerosmith’s Park MGM residency. “Just the variety of stuff that you can do here as a string player is insane,” she says of Vegas.
Originally from the Chicago suburbs, Chaffee moved to Las Vegas in 2012 to join the electric orchestra ensemble Phat Strad. “I really had no idea the extent of what was going on out here. Once I got asked to be in Phat Strad, I saw that Vegas is one of the top 10 cities in America to be a musician [in],” she says.
Her boyfriend, a musician in Blue Man Group, encouraged her to start selling her own arrangements. “People will buy charts for arrangements off the internet, and they aren’t necessarily great, so it kind of dawned on me,” she says. “This is something I’ve been doing for me and groups I’m in, but a lot of people would probably appreciate it if I was doing charts that they could access, too.”
That’s where her Cellobat YouTube channel (youtube.com/user/vampyresonata) comes in. It started as a passion project in college, a place where she could share the metal and pop covers she couldn’t perform in music conservatory. Her early videos boast little to no production value, yet her electronic cello cover of Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance” has chalked up more than 50,000 views. Today, Chaffee spends hours working on each arrangement, then records each performance and sells the sheet music at cellobat.com. She has performed everything from David Bowie’s “The Man Who Sold the World” to Children of Bodom’s “Triple Corpse Hammerblow” to Rihanna and Calvin Harris’ “We Found Love.”
It’s Chaffee’s way of tweaking a traditional medium—breaking classical music’s stereotypes by creating her own innovative versions of popular songs. “It just never occurred to me to do anything else,” she says. “It was always like, this is what I do.”