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Q & A with Cris Derksen

Cris Derksen is an acclaimed Canadian cellist and composer, and a graduate of UBC’s School of Music (cello performance, 2007), who performs in a special digital edition of the Chan Centre’s Roots and Shoots Music Education Program.

Here, she shares a bit about her instrument, her background, who and what influences her, and some of the coolest destinations her work has taken her.

Why do you like the cello?

The cello has the biggest range of string instruments which means I can play it like a bass and like a violin.


Why was it important to you to use the cello in new ways?

I wanted to make the cello relatable, take it from the symphony hall and put it on the street level.


Do you have a name for your cello?

Not for this one.


Do you still play the piano or any other instruments?

Yup I still play piano, I’m way better on the cello. I compose for all instruments, and have written for symphony orchestras around Canada.


How long do you practice each day?

I don’t have the most time to practice as life goes on, I try to get two hours of playing in a day and I also try to take some days off.


When did you know you wanted to be a musician?

I was pretty young when I started creating my own music, like around seven years old.


Did you study music in school?

Yea! I have a Performance Degree from the University of British Columbia’s School of Music.


Before the pandemic, did you collaborate with other artists or musicians?

I collaborate with so many different folks! Some are Tanya Tagaq (Inuit throat singer), Leanne Betasamosake Simpson (poet and author), Laakkuluk Williamson Bathory (Greenlandic performance artist), and I guess I’ve performed with Kanye West a few times as well.


Who or what inspires you?

Nature inspires me, the sounds of the urban world around me, Indigenous music inspires me, really everything influences my sound.


If you could work with one other artist or musician, who would that be?

I work with amazing people. I like to work with kind, hard-working artists towards a shared goal for a kinder world.


How do you usually get inspired to compose a song or score? How does that process begin?

I find the best pieces come when I’m just playing around on the cello. It’s like when I take my ego out of it, creating some great things come through.


In what ways does your Indigenous background influence your work?

It influences everything. I do it is a part of who I am.


How do you incorporate powwow drumming and music into your songs?

I work with powwow groups to create works. I tour with a group called the Chippewa Travellers.


What is one piece of advice you would give to young people who are learning or want to learn a musical instrument?

Never give up, and don’t quit – I also think in all careers if you really like it, it makes it feel like less like work. I like to say in the end the “nerds win”, because they put their heart and soul into what they like and aren’t hindered by what other folks think. I’m a big music nerd.


What is your favourite place to travel to?

I think the most mind-blowing place I’ve been to is Mongolia. Hong Kong is super beautiful and reminds me of like four Vancouvers with five Times Squares put together.


In your digital edition of Roots and Shoots, we meet your awesome guinea pigs. How old are Gary, Alfred, and Lloyd? What is their favourite food?

They are two and a half years old now, they really like herbs the best. We call parsley dessert cause we have to serve it to them last or they won’t eat their other greens.


WATCH: A special digital edition of the Roots and Shoots Music Education Program featuring a video performance by Cris Derksen can be found here.



Wed Jun 17, 2020