Elena Smith – Cello Teachers

elena smith

Elena Smith


Cello Performance, Temple University

Jazz, Classical, Pop

I teach cello. I was born and raised in Philadelphia, and studied Cello Performance with Jeffrey Solow at Temple University. I currently keep busy as a performer and teacher! I have performed with the Pennsylvania Ballet Orchestra, the Reading Symphony, the Bay Atlantic Symphony, and other orchestras in the greater Philadelphia area. I am also the core cellist and manager of Blue Line Quartet, and I frequently perform with many other local chamber ensembles.

I also have a passion for historical string instruments and perform regularly on baroque cello and viola da gamba. I am a founding member of Filament (a chamber ensemble that specializes in performing early music on period instruments), I have appeared on tour with Venice Baroque Orchestra, and I was the viola da gamba soloist in New York City Opera’s production of Los Elementos by Antonio Literes. I have participated in the American Bach Soloists Academy in San Francisco, the International Masterclasses Festival in Gaming, Austria, and Juilliard at Piccola Accademia in Montisi, Italy.

In addition to teaching cello at Philly Music Lessons, I am also the Operations Director and Cello Teaching Artist at The Common Place Orchestra, an arts education program that provides musical instruction to children in underserved communities in Southwest Philadelphia.


When did you begin playing cello, and why?

I began playing cello when I was nine years old. I was born into a musical family, so it was natural for me to pursue a life in music! As to why I picked the cello: I believe when I was very young I wanted to play the violin. When I told my older sister this, she said “That’s silly. Why would you pick violin when there are so many violins in a orchestra?! You should play cello instead.” While this sage advice from my teenage sister did not immediately convince me, I eventually picked the cello because of its beautiful, rich, dark tone. I have never regretted this choice!

What other instruments do you play, and what is your experience with them?

I also play the baroque cello (gut strings, no endpin, baroque bow) and the viola da gamba, which is another early instrument with six strings and frets. It is held between the legs without an endpin, and the bow is held underhand (as opposed to the overhand cello technique).

What are your personal goals as a musician?

Music is a powerful tool that has the power to heal and change lives. I believe that artists have the ability, and responsibility, to share their gifts and bring positive change and inspiration to their communities. This is my goal as a musician. As a teacher, my mission is to give my students the skills to create a positive, satisfying life, to inspire them to appreciate and share beauty, and thereby improve the world around them.

Do you have a memory of a time when a musical concept or technique really clicked? Something you’ll remember forever?

I had a difficult time learning how to shift to high positions accurately. My teacher at the time taught me how to launch my shifts in my arm in a relaxed motion as if I was going to pitch a ball, instead of tensing up and praying that I make the note! This seemingly simple technique revolutionized the way I approach shifting.

What is your favorite piece of advice from one of your past (or current) teachers?

My favorite piece of advice that one of my teachers gave me is to separate problems into manageable pieces, and to practice them slowly and methodically until you can put them back together accurately. It works for learning music, as well as so many other areas of life!

What was your most challenging moment learning an instrument?

The most challenging moment learning the cello for me was re-learning how to play correctly after recovering from a minor injury. I developed a bad habit early on of playing with extreme tension, and I eventually had to go back to square one. I spent months re-learning how to play the instrument in a healthy, relaxed way. This was an incredibly slow process, and while it was very frustrating, it taught me patience and perseverance. I know that this experience made me a better teacher as well as a player, because I strive to give my students the same grounding in healthy technique that my teachers gave me.

Favorite thing about teaching?

My favorite thing about teaching is discovering the different ways that each individual student learns and what makes them succeed. It gives me so much joy to see my students succeed and I love to learn how I can support them throughout their studies.

What is a piece of advice you would like to share with anyone learning music?

Always approach learning music with love: love for the instrument, love for the composer, love for the legacy of past musicians, love for your teacher(!),love for your audience, and love for the world! Art is one of the few things that holds this world together, and it must be created with selflessness and love, otherwise it is artificial.


Philly Music Lessons specializes in connecting students of all ages and skill levels with great teachers in the Philadelphia and Main Line areas.